The Carlisle (Pa.) Indian School was one of more than 500 Indian boarding schools established by the U.S. government beginning in the late 1870s. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
By John Coleman*May 18, 2009 COLORADO SPRINGS, Co. (UMNS)
The group will travel 6,800 miles, visiting22 sites of U.S. Indian boarding schools.A UMNS Web-only image courtesy ofWhite Bison.
Trinity United Methodist Church and the Rocky Mountain United Methodist Conference are helping a Native American organization take a forgiveness journey cross-country in search of healing from two centuries of oppression.
Leaders of White Bison, an organization that helps Native Americans recover from substance abuse and addiction, are traveling 6,800 miles to visit the 22 sites of U.S. Indian boarding schools where thousands of children were taken to live and learn the dominant U.S. culture. The journey began May 16 at the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Ore., and will end June 24 at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington.
The group hopes to present a petition to President Barack Obama seeking a national apology for the federal government’s role in establishing the schools.
Trinity, the oldest church in Colorado Springs, contributes space and participates in the organization’s community meetings and events. A ceremony was held May 2 at the church to bless the journey. The church is also helping with plans to develop a Native American community center to provide expanded services and activities to the estimated 12,000 native people living in and around Colorado Springs.
“This once-declining congregation is growing again, partly because of our friendship and ministry with White Bison and our supportive outreach to the native community here,” said the Rev. Jerry Boles, pastor.
The Rocky Mountain Conference’s Committee on Native American Ministries has helped raise funds for the journey and mailed letters to bishops in areas where the White Bison team will make stops, asking them to promote United Methodist attendance at the healing ceremonies and donations to support the expedition. White Bison is also hoping to receive more help from United Methodists to defray costs for the 40-day trek.
“We feel it is important to support native people who show an effort to heal themselves and restore the health of their communities,” said Suzanne Aikman, former chairwoman of the conference committee and a board member of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. “We see unhealthy, abusive lifestyles and loss of cultural integrity and values in our homes and communities every day. We’ve lost generations to the boarding school experience. This journey can help bring healing to native people and to non-native people who carry intergenerational guilt.”
The Rev. Jerry Boles (left) is pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Don Coyhis is leader of White Bison. A UMNS photo courtesy of Dan Coyhis.
Don Coyhis, a Mohican, is founder and president of White Bison. “We’ve approached all the denominations in this religiously conservative area, but the Methodists have responded with open arms to welcome us along with our traditions and self-help programs,” he said.
The U.S. government established more than 500 Indian boarding schools beginning in the late 1870s. Many were run by religious denominations, including the Methodist Church. The schools were intended to prepare Native Americans for assimilation into mainstream U.S. society through education and cultural retraining. This intention was a departure from previous general assumptions that Indians were inherently so different and inferior to whites that no education could "civilize" them.
The schools were deliberately located far from Indian reservations in order to separate the students from the influence of their families and traditional ways of life. Historians cite tragic consequences from that separation, including loss of family relationships, parenting skills and social cohesion in Native American communities, but also frequent, often horrific abuse of children at the schools, many of whom reportedly died there or never returned home.
Although the U.S. government changed its policies encouraging cultural repression at the schools in 1934, many aspects of that repression—at church-run and state-run institutions—continued into the 1960s. Most of the schools have since closed.The Journey for Forgiveness will follow a serpentine, cross-country route touching every region but the Southeast. The White Bison sojourners hope to draw hundreds of participants for their events at 22 boarding school sites in 15 states: Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania. At five of those sites, they will be welcomed by