By Bethany Printup-Davis*
U.S. government practices to separate families was wrong historically, and it is wrong today.
Beginning in the late 1800s, and for more than a century, federal and state governments forced tens of thousands of Native American children into Indian boarding schools. Children were taken from their families and forcibly assimilated into dominant white-American culture. This practice and policy left many children psychologically battered for the rest of their lives. We know from our Native communities today that a deep-seated, embedded trauma such as this leaves a people and culture devastated.
As part of my studies as a Master of Divinity student at Wesley Theological Seminary, I recently spent 10 days in the borderlands of Tucson, Arizona, including the border towns of Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta and Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora. I witnessed our courtrooms shuffle in and out people who entered the United States in search of safety and a means of survival. They came in hopes of building and, ultimately, praying for the chance at a better life. Upon hearing and seeing breaking news of migrating families separating children and parents at the border, adults pleading in courtrooms not to be deported or sentenced without knowing the whereabouts of their child, all I could do was sit and listen to stories and try not to seep into a sense of re-traumatization.
America continues to repeat its history.
After my visit to the borderlands, I return to my life with more questions than I had when I left. How can we live in a society and participate in a government that separates families – literally ripping children from parents’ arms? America continues to repeat its history. We are all children of Creator God. As Native peoples, I especially think this current concern of family separation is one of several for which I urge us to fight – to stand for mercy and justice and to promote solidarity and support for others who are impacted by current happenings at the border.
Many of us have heard the term “seventh generation.” I am familiar with this concept from my own social context as a descendant of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Nations and our Great Binding Law, the Iroquois Constitution: “We must consider the impact of the seventh generation … even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.” Many Native American nations and tribes and other indigenous people around the world have lived and still live by similar philosophies as well: “Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.”
We care for one another. We are conscious of how our choices today influence or set the stage for future generations. But just as important are the acknowledgement and lessons learned from generations that have come before us. How are we learning from the past? I believe one cannot simply forget it because, in my observation, we live in a country that has not learned. America continues to repeat its history. Let’s continue sharing our stories, our support and our love for others.
*Bethany Printup-Davis is a member of the Tuscarora Indian Nation located outside of Niagara Falls, New York. She is a Master of Divinity student at Wesley Theological Seminary and a member of the board of the Native American Comprehensive Plan.