|Native American group seeks support|
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)
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.
The group will travel 6,800 miles, visiting
22 sites of U.S. Indian boarding schools.
A UMNS Web-only image courtesy of
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
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
“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,
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
“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
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.
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.
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
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 schools still in operation,
including Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, the
lone higher education institution. Haskell will include the visit,
scheduled for June 5, in its 125th anniversary celebration.
*Coleman is a United Methodist freelance writer and video producer in Washington, D.C.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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