From the boarding school to the border, the common history between Native and immigrant children
By Raggatha Rain Calentine*
Prayers are important; yet, God calls us to action.
When our Native youth group, the Peg-Leg Flamingos, heard about immigrant children being taken from their families here in the United States, they got angry. In the news media, the youth witnessed children alone in caged cells. Their hearts hurt. You see, this group of youth has a unique understanding of what is taking place.
For several years, our ministry, has worked to educate our Native children and youth from the Northeast and North Central jurisdictions of The United Methodist Church about our history. In October 2014, we visited Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. From 1879 to 1918, more than 10,000 children from over 141 tribes attended this boarding school. Native students as young as 4 years old were forced to attend. The children were separated from their families and stripped of their culture and identity.
This government practice impacted generations and still has negative effects today. Our Native youth wept when they visited the children’s cemetery at the school. They held a special ceremony honoring those who died there. The youth promised to go back to their communities and tell the boarding school story. They promised to make some kind of difference in the world to honor children they never met.
They lived up to it.
Wearing ribbon skirts and tribal regalia, on one of the hottest days this summer, the youth marched. They joined the march in Dover, Delaware, to recognize the current travesty unfolding along our borders. They wanted to be seen standing in solidarity with children of the past and the present.
When you place people in a category such as “immigrant,” they change from human beings to something else. When this happens, it becomes easier to overlook their needs and their rights. It was a beautiful experience to watch our Native children remind the world that the children who have been separated from their families are not statistics. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are human beings who deserve better.
I fear we will continue to face challenging times. As a people who have survived some of the worst attacks on our culture by the U.S. government, we need to stand up and say, “Enough!” If you can’t march, donate money. If you can’t call your elected officials, send a letter. The point is to do something. Raise your voice and help stop history from repeating itself.
When children are ripped from their mothers and fathers, prayers are important, but so is action.
*Ragghi Rain Calentine is a member of the Indian Mission United Methodist Church, Millsboro, DE. She is a co-founder of the Peg-Leg Flamingo ministry. She is also a board member of the Native American Comprehensive Plan of The United Methodist Church.
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