Misshaping Created Identity

There are many reasons to remember, tell stories, teach, and learn history.  Of them all, one, is to learn the mistakes of our parents.  For therein lies the why of who we are.  To know their mistakes does not negate their gifts or strong points.  Rather, they allow us to understand our own better.

Those who live in the US and Canada often find truth-telling, that breaks through nationalistic history, hard to hear.  When considering the public education system, it is little wonder we do not hear our stories of atrocity.  For the full truth rubs the national system—who does the teaching—the wrong way.  For instance, we are taught of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, however, most of us were never taught of his support for the greatest mass lynching of Indigenous people in US history.  Quiet, hidden, truth gives US and Canadian citizens a false sense of superiority.  If our American History teacher taught the bad, ruthless, corrupt, and regretful stories—Sand Creek, Manzanar, exactly what chattel slavery means, the Dakota 38 plus 2—alongside the good, we would be a better people.

To become a better people is to recognize the truth of Wallace Stegner’s words, “Evil, if it exists, is not all lumpy and ugly like a toad.  It is often more attractive than what people call good.”  To be good is to learn what seems good is not always the case.  When Disciples opened the American Tepee Christian Mission they thought good was plowing and Christ.  An “it depends…” never crossed their minds.  It never occurred to them that they were being manipulated by a racist/nationalistic system.   Yet, this manipulation changed both their identity and that of many Yakamas.

What happened to Disciples identity is for another time.  For now, let us consider one core impact on the Yakama due to the Mission.  The Mission’s most tearing act was the removal of children from their parents.  This removal was different from that of the local US government Boarding School, located five-miles from  the Mission at Fort Simcoe.  When the Fort Simcoe Boarding School opened in 1860, children were forcibly removed from their parents and placed at the school.  There they were to become civilized and Christianized.  After fifty-seven years the government closed the Boarding School.  Two reasons for closure.  One, was the cost of institutional maintenance.  The second, and perhaps more important reason, was a public school, which welcomed Yakama children, opened in White Swan, seven-miles away.  Believing the closure of the Boarding School a terrible mistake, Disciples opened the Mission.

Disciples child removal policy looked different than that of the US government.  After fifty-seven years of government child removal, Yakama familial structure had begun to change—for those who attended the Boarding School.  How is this?  When one imagines a mother and father being raised in a boarding school, and so the case was for their mother and father, and the same was again true for their grandmother and grandfather, a change in familial structure, that included children being raised by outsiders, became normalized.  When we grasp this change is what was envisioned by the US government, we begin to also grasp the evil of the Boarding School system.  The crux of Disciples American Tepee Christian Mission is they bought into this nationalistic system by providing the institutional space to raise children away from their parents.  In the teaching of traditional boarding school principals—plowing and sewing, herdsmanship and housekeeping, and Christianity—Disciples tacitly accepted the US governmental policy of Indigenous child removal.

History should teach us a little about when and how our folks did well as well as the when and how they did wrong.  Only in the truth of our human experience do we come to know who we have been, who we are, and who we might become.  To claim the identity of Disciple is to recognize our fore-folk experienced hardships of creating a new way of Christian thinking.  Yet, we must also to recognize Disciples colluded with the US government to impose childhood and parental trauma in the landscape of the US and Canada.  Being Disciple is recognizing imposed trauma misshaped Yakama created identity. Being Disciples is also to discern the enacting of Yakama trauma also misshaped Disciple identity: individually and institutionally.  Such history is not a highlight or a reason to become or reman Disciple.  Clearly, the longevity of Disciples is limited without an intentional path toward healing and health.  How might this be done?  First, engage in a close listening to Indigenous truth stories.  Second, root out racial and nationalistic policies, concepts, and ideas buried in Disciples governing documents (congregationally and nationally).  Third, rethink and reconstruct Disciple theology (recognizing there is no “one” Disciple theology) to favor Creation’s landscape.  Forth, re-create institutional structure where listeningrooting-out, and reconstructing is repeated.

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