A Mexican proverb states, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
It reminded me of another that I learned from my mother.
Speaking of an unsolved murder mystery, she told me, “The ground doesn’t talk.” But it does.
Blood cries from the ground, from Abel’s mouth in Genesis until now (Genesis 4:10).
What have we done? Do we think that God does not hear the sound?
Now three so-called residential schools could potentially be the sites of mass murder.
The bodies of hundreds of Indigenous children have been found in unmarked burial sites in the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, at a cemetery at the former Marieval Indian Residential School and at the former St. Eugene’s Mission School, all in Canada.
The bodies were found using ground-penetrating radar and due, in part, to an oral history passed down.
The children were forcibly separated from their parents and sent to these residential schools set up by the Canadian government and administered by local churches. Here, they were indoctrinated into Euro-Canadian and Christian values while erasing their cultural distinctions often through violence.
The children were not allowed to speak their native language or to acknowledge their heritage or culture. These children lost their lives due, in part, to an educational system used to impart “salvation.”
Before we attempt to bury our heads in the sand, what do you hear? Before we rush to bury the hatchet, how do we respond theologically to the claims of white supremacy and its repeated attempts to deface and deny the imago dei in First Nation people?
As Charles M. Blow, op-ed columnist for The New York Times, says, “One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.”
As persons debate the use of critical race theory in America’s schools – which posits race as a sociopolitical construct, centers the African American experience and affirms their voice in telling their story – Canada is being confronted with its own history.
How else can it be explained or understood other than white supremacist notions of salvation through cultural assimilation?
“Kill the Indian; save the man,” they said. Because if you are “Indian,” then you are not a human? But if you deny yourself, you can be?
There is a reckoning not only in Canada but also in the U.S. as calls for accountability, apologies and reparations increase.
Following the news of the discovery, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland called for an investigation of U.S. boarding schools.
The “Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative” will provide the location of boarding schools and burial sites as well as the names of the children who attended and their tribal affiliations.
I hope this is not an attempt to get ahead of the story or to save face because the attempt is misplaced and more than a little too late.
Besides, it is not enough to provide school records; the historical record must be corrected.
Ida B. Wells, an African American journalist and author of The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States, said, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
Howard Zehr writes in The Little Book of Restorative Justice, “An important element in healing or transcending the experience of crime is an opportunity to tell the story of what happened.”
Canada, the U.S. and the churches that did a grave disservice to the Indigenous children that they feigned a call to serve must commit to telling the truth.
If they, if we refuse, then the ground will. The earth will not be complicit in our acts of violence and hatred.
Furthermore, we don’t need more press conferences or press releases. We don’t need another statement. We need more shovels to dig up this dirt.
Perhaps, it will be “an education in belonging,” the subtitle of Willie James Jennings book, After Whiteness.
Christians can do the work of deconstructing their faith and reconsider what it means to be a Jesus follower apart from colonial Christianity.
We can begin to ask questions that lead to restorative justice, of which Zehr offers several:
- Who has been harmed?
- What are their needs?
- Whose obligations are these?
- Who has a stake in the situation?
- What are the causes?
- What is the appropriate process to involve stakeholders in an effort to put things right and to address underlying causes?
When we answer these questions, we answer the cries coming from the ground. Because history is not dead and buried. It’s not even dead.
Can’t you hear it crying from the ground? If you don’t, then it will repeat itself.