Not too long ago, the Office of Race Relations was invited to facilitate The Blanket Exercise workshop for a class at Calvin University. It was a group of about 24 students.
As facilitators, it doesn’t matter how many times we read the stories presented in the workshop; it is always hard to go through those events full of evilness. That evening during the sharing circle, we heard the comment, “How come I never hear this in my school?”
For some, to watch The Cutting of the Tsiiyéél - Triumph Over Trauma, Susie Silversmith’s story as a survivor of Indian boarding schools was shocking. They thought this was ancient history! They had never imagined that Susie could be the same age as one of their parents.
When we think about history, we often consider it to be hundreds of years ago. But, whether unconsciously or not, we forget that our present reality is intimately linked to our historic past. A decision we made in the past will have positive or negative results for our future. I’m sure we’ve made decisions that later we regretted. We realized the impact, and we may not be able to change the outcome. Hopefully, down the road, we can make some changes. Then, in the future, we’ll measure the alternatives better, weigh the results, and make a conscious decision.
According to the Doctrine of Discovery (1452), the destiny of the inhabitants of Turtle Island—the Indigenous term for North America—was already doomed. The European's description of the native people was not just a stereotype, or simple innocent opinion because they had not met the inhabitants yet. The Europeans already had a concept about them.
The Native Americans’ future had been mapped out because they had already been classified as heathens, barbarians, and uncivilized. What the Europeans, settlers, government, church, and military did towards Native Americans was not a mistake due to lack of knowledge or experience. The horrors committed were done intentionally and with a specific purpose.
Since the days of wealthy planters in Virginia, almost 500 years ago, Native Americans have been a problem for settlers. The Indigenous population was greatly diminished by violence, enslavement, epidemics, broken treaties, forced assimilation, and removals. As if this were not enough, the destruction and annihilation of the Indians did not cease after the Civil War. It got worse. We began to see big massacres like the Sand Creek Massacre (1864), which stood out for the violence. Wounded Knee Massacre (1890), where Natives were ordered to surrender their weapons. Despite having a white flag, the militants killed 300 tribe people, mainly women and children.
The Native American culture, language, and spirituality has been destroyed. The genocide practiced against them was a genocide in every sense of the word. Natives, once self-sufficient, have been transformed into dependents. The decisions we made yesterday affect our present and future.
Today, the indigenous population suffers in the areas of education, plumbing poverty, addictions, suicide, alcoholism, health (including radioactive effects of uranium mining), criminal system, the missing and murders of Indigenous women; historical and generational trauma.
We tend to think of Natives in terms of their music, the sound of the flute, their art, their colorful blankets, and their beautiful regalia. We do this because these things don't challenge us like their present state today.
How many times in a week do you think about this? How is your congregation talking about it?