Atonement and reparations for Native American boarding schools

People carry several caskets
Tribal members carry the remains of nine Rosebud Sioux children who died more than a century ago at a residential boarding school in Pennsylvania, after the remains were returned home on July 16 on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.
Erin Bormett | Argus Leader via AP

Like many Native Americans, the family of the Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs has personal experience with the traumatic legacy of Native American boarding schools.

Bear is a parish associate at Church of All Nations Presbyterian Church in Columbia Heights, Minn., and a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation, a Native American tribe in central Wisconsin. His great grandfather was sent to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.

“The stated goal of the Carlisle Indian School was to kill the Indian and save the child,” Bear said in an interview Tuesday with MPR host Tom Crann. Bear’s grandmother also was sent to a boarding school at age five.

“Connection to culture was greatly damaged and greatly harmed. And returning to a family after such a traumatic experience — it really does damage to the family dynamics,” he said.

Minnesota group calls for commission to research Indigenous boarding schools

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland recently announced the United States will investigate boarding schools in the U.S., after the remains of hundreds of children were found at former boarding schools in Canada. While some schools were run by government agencies, many were founded and run by Christian churches.

Bear wants to see church members today grapple with the damage caused by their institutions and embark on restorative justice efforts such as the Truth and Reparations project launched in 2020 by the Minnesota Council of Churches where Bear is director of racial justice. 

“I believe that every predominantly white church needs to devote a significant amount of their annual budget to American Indian language and cultural reclamation projects,” Bear said. He also urges churches to explore ways to return land to Native tribes or Indigenous organizations. 

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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