Yukon Presbytery Apologize to Native Alaskans; This Day in History: The Indian Child Welfare Act

OK, it’s election day, so we’re going to blog with some good news: Presbytery of Yukon offers apology to Native Alaskans. (The Yukon Presbytery covers all of Alaska.) As the Presbyterian News Service reported it:

Native representatives and the presbytery both acknowledge this significant gesture is the start of a long process to address the abuses of the past century, especially as it relates to the treatment of Native Alaskan children at church-affiliated boarding schools.

Some context is in order. In recent years, many mainline Christian denominations have issued apologies to Native American communities and made statements of support. One recent example: Several denominations have taken a stand supporting the Standing Rock Nation in its efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. (See recent Healing Minnesota Stories blogs here and here for details.)

Further, some denominations have formally repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, a series of 15th Century papal decrees that justified Christian empires in seizing indigenous lands. (Click here for details.) The General Conference of the Presbyterian Church USA just passed such a statement repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery this July.

In a separate action, the General Conference made an explicit call for local synods to make direct apologies for their role “in personal and cultural abuses against Native American groups,” according to the news story. “The Presbytery of Yukon was the first body to formally issue such an apology.”

This is a long way of saying these statements made by national church bodies are working their way down to actions by local church bodies, a slow process, but hopeful. (We offer the usual caveat that it’s one thing to offer an apology and another thing to make amends. Time will tell.)

The apology offered by the Presbytery of Yukon to the Alaskan Federation of Natives begins:

We apologize for the pain and suffering that our church’s involvement in the Indian boarding school system has caused. We are aware of some of the damage that this cruel and ill-conceived system of assimilation has perpetrated on United States citizens of Native American ancestry. For this we are truly and most humbly sorry.

Here is the full text of the Presbyterian apology to Native Americans.

This Day in History: The Indian Child Welfare Act

On this day in history in 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) went into effect. Similar to boarding schools, adoption policies were a major tool to try to assimilate Native American children into the dominant culture. According to the National Indian Child Welfare Association:

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a federal law that seeks to keep American Indian children with American Indian families. Congress passed ICWA in 1978 in response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. The intent of Congress under ICWA was to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families”

According to Wikipedia, prior to ICWA “as many as 25 to 35 percent of all Indian children were being removed from their Indian homes and placed in non-Indian homes, with presumably an absence of Indian culture.”

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