The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has commenced participation in the Truth and Healing Movement.
First developed a few years ago by Indigenous leaders in the United States, the movement builds momentum toward developing a Truth and Healing Commission on the U.S. Indian Boarding School policy and seeks to raise awareness about the history of boarding schools in our country, including the long-lasting effects on boarding school survivors, their descendants and their families, as well as tribal nations and Indigenous communities.
This awareness-building is essential, as most Americans remain unaware of Indian boarding schools and the widespread annihilation, erasure and generational trauma the schools and those who ran them — namely churches and the U.S. federal government — caused for countless Indigenous people.
Since its inception, the movement has supported the Truth and Healing Commission on U.S. Indian Boarding School Policy Act, along with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s report on U.S. Indian Boarding Schools. Although the report was released last year, legislation to create the commission was passed over by Congress.
The ELCA continues to support lawmakers and their resubmitting and addressing the act, while also supporting the work to expand the movement to address the myriad of other injustices perpetrated against Indigenous people — both historically and presently — by colonists, settlers, churches, U.S. citizens, and state and federal governments.
One of these grave injustices is the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis, abbreviated as MMIW, another issue lacking awareness. In 2020, there were over 5,000 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women, but only 690 have been listed in the federal government’s missing persons’ database
There are many Native people, organizations and allies doing the work to call attention to MMIW, and this work is vital to bringing healing and justice to the families, communities and tribes who are mourning the loss of a loved one.
Many of us still have hope that our sister or sibling will return to us, and we all are committed to the cry of “No More Stolen Sisters.” However, there are immense systemic challenges to bringing this crisis to an end, and the need for raising awareness cannot be overstated.
One way we can raise awareness is by participating in the National Day of Awareness for MMIW, which falls on May 5.
This year, and every year, the ELCA is encouraging the church and its congregations to participate by wearing red in solidarity with Native families, to learn more about the MMIW crisis, and to join the work of educating others about the MMIW crisis in our country and our missing sisters and siblings.
Supporting MMIW is just one of many steps we can take, as the ELCA’s Truth and Healing Movement is also meant to be expansive in learning and action. Indeed, there is so much learning to be done by our church, its congregations and parishioners about the complicity of the church in perpetrating the genocide and erasure of Indigenous people in our country, both over time and today.
To further the movement, the ELCA will highlight more opportunities this year and in the future to act and join in the work of justice for Indigenous people.
It is important for the church to recognize that Indigenous people are not separate from the church, as many are a part of our congregations and ministries. Yet, our churches are implicated in negatively impacting their lives and the lives of those who are not a part of our church, even to the present day.
The Truth and Healing Movement is an effort to be in right and better relationships with Indigenous people, as charged by our Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery and the Declaration of the ELCA to American Indian and Alaska Native People. However, it is not only a challenge to Lutherans of this church, but also an invitation for our Christian siblings from other churches to join us in the learning and the work as well.
In order for healing to occur for Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people alike, we must start by learning, telling and embracing the truth.
To learn more about the ELCA’s participation in the Truth and Healing Movement, the ways you can join in, and the MMIW crisis, go to www.elca.org/Indigenous.
An Indigenous theologian and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Blackfox is the founder and director of Other+Wise, a multi-site cultural education and cultural immersion program for youth and student groups from across the country. He also serves the church-wide organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) as the Director of Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations.