For those of you who are not aware, literally thousands of bodies of Indian children are being discovered and exhumed from boarding school sites all across the continent. Yes, Unitarian Universalists also had missionaries running board schools. Sec. Haaland has ordered review of all US Boarding Schools (https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/secretary-haaland-announces-federal-indian-boarding-school-initiative) and UUs have been identified (https://boardingschoolhealing.org/healing/for-churches/ ). The UUA is preparing to receive notice of burials at the site of at least the Bond Mission school.
Several years ago I did some research on UU role in boarding schools and this is what I came up with.
As of 1902, UU historian Rev. George Willis Cooke’s writings stated there were 3 attempts on the part of Unitarians to undertake “educational work amongst the Indians.”[i] One mission was among the Chippewa/Objiwa in Minnesota in 1855 that failed due to the lack of funding. In 1871, President Grant assigned to the Unitarians the responsibility of education the Utes on the reservation near White River, Colorado that was attempted in 1885. This attempt failed as well due to “not getting sufficient encouragement.”[ii] In 1886, the American Unitarian Association established a boarding school on the Crow reservation in Montana called the “Montana Industrial School for Indians” or “Bond’s Mission School” run by Unitarian Rev. and Mrs. Henry F. Bond.
J.F.B. Marshall, then Secretary of the Bureau of Southern and Indian Educational Work of the American Unitarian Association, wrote about a Crow girl at the school: calling her “a forlorn, homesick little savage” and “watched with great interest her gradual and progress from barbarism to civilization.”[iii] (Pg 447). Of all the Crow students, Marshall said “Here are fifty children taken out of the lowest and most degraded forms of savage home-life . . . and they are taught to love neatness, cleanliness and practical Christian life.”[iv] He went on to say of the students, “instead of being thrust back into a sea of barbarism with no career open to them, and no one to look after them, [they] will enter at once upon a life of usefulness, and like the negro graduates in the South will do credit to their training, and become zealous and successful laborers for the civilization of their race.”[v]
Rev. Bond himself is recorded as saying this about the Crow students: “They are all bright promising
boys. How such good appearing fellows come of an ignorant, lazy squalid, orphaned race is a constant
surprise to us. I shall dread the time, if that comes, when they slip back into their old abodes and
“The Crow parents wanted to be close to their children, but the Rev. Bond would not allow it in order to maintain discipline and to pursue indoctrination without the outside influences of the family.”[vii]
The school was taken over by the federal government in 1895.
The Mountain Dessert District of the UUA website states “The Mountain Ute Tribe was visited in 1871 by the Rev. Jabez Nelson Trask. The Harvard School graduate was sent by Massachusetts Unitarians to serve as government agent to the tribe at Los Pinos, near Gunnison, Colorado. during that period many Protestant denominations pressured the U.S. government into allotting official posts to missionaries. Extremely confident of his righteousness and comfortably narrow in his view, Trask did not get along with the Utes, though they found him a great source of amusement because of his customary garb: large green goggles and flared trousers. Neglecting to spend any of the monies granted for the benefit of the Ute, Trask was removed from his post after one year. Following Mr. Trask was one General Charles Adams, whom the New England Unitarians were horrified learn was a Roman Catholic. Through political shenanigans the good general, well-liked the Ute, was soon succeeded by the Unitarian, Rev. Henry Bond. Mr. Bond left quickly when a shortage in the cattle fund was uncovered; he resurfaced in Wyoming in the late 1870s.”[viii]
[i] Unitarianism in America: a history of its origin and development, pg 340 By George Willis Cooke, American Unitarian Association, Boston, 1902
[ii] Ibid., p. 341
[iii] Lend A Hand by edited by Edward E. Hale, 1887, Vol. 2, “Montana Industrial School For Indians” by J.F.B. Marshall, 447
[v] Ibid., pg. 448
[vii] Unintended Consequences: How the Crow Indians Used Their Education in Ways the Federal Government Never Intended, 1885-1920, Peter P. Holmanhttp://www.montana.edu/wwwhi/Papers/PeterHolman.pdf
As a member and UU representative in the Interfaith Network for Indigenous Communities, we were advised by a Native minister that any response however inadequate we felt it might be, would be better than silence. So, the Network drafted and encouraging its member faith communities to adopt this statement.
A statement from the Interfaith Network for Indigenous Communities regarding Indigenous Boarding Schools, July 2021
While we know that any response to the horrible news of unmarked mass graves at Residential Schools in Canada is inadequate, we also know that our lament must lead to action. We recognize that, though these atrocities are making headlines and receiving the attention of the world now, tribal communities have been testifying for years to the truth of forced removal, assimilation, abuse, and death perpetrated through boarding schools. We also know that within the developmental history of the United States, several Christian-based denominations were complicit in the cultural genocide of indigenous people in the United States and that the full story and truth has not yet been told in our country.
Tribal communities have been calling upon complicit Christian-based denominations and state and federal governments to respond to these atrocities for many years. We also know that the trauma of this history lives on in the lives of people and communities, and all of us are affected. Telling the truth is a critical step to healing. So, our first commitment as the Interfaith Network for Indigenous Communities (INIC) is to listen to our indigenous siblings, to hear the truth they have been telling, to do what they have been asking, and to do all we can to advocate for this truth to be heard.
We call upon our member faith communities here in the Northwest and throughout the country to tell the truth about their own association with Indian Boarding Schools in the United States. We pledge to advocate and work within each of our judicatories to identify boarding schools sponsored by or in any way associated with our faith communities. Though in many cases records of these schools have been lost or intentionally destroyed, another sign of the devaluing of indigenous lives, we call upon our various faith bodies to do all they can to conduct research in order to reconstruct this data, make the history of indigenous boarding schools public, and take this important step towards acknowledging accountability.
We pledge to work closely with the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition in their efforts to document these truths and advocate for a National Truth and Healing Commission. We support and pledge to work with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as she establishes a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. We call upon all our member faith communities to establish their own boarding school truth and healing initiatives to proactively work with, provide information to, and complement the work of Secretary Haaland’s initiative.
INIC also pledges to make available on its website (fanwa.org/INIC) a list of boarding schools by faith community, as an aid in our efforts to advocate and raise awareness and work toward healing. We also will gather resources for liturgies of lament and make these available as communities continue to do the hard work of telling the truth, moving through pain, trauma, and sorrow toward healing.
Finally, we know that a radical shift must occur in our own theologies as we seek to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and the way Christianity has been used to justify colonialism, domination, slavery, and genocide of indigenous people. We will make available the growing list of faith communities who wholly reject the premise of the Doctrine of Discovery as we collectively take steps to listen and speak the truth to heal the legacy of boarding schools that are a direct result of this racist theology of domination.
We pledge ourselves to discovering anew the Spirit that unites us all, in whom we live and move and have our being, and pray for the continual transformation and healing of all.