Confessing the Past: Mennonites and the Indian School System

2013, 2 pp
Between 1870 and 1996, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children in Canada and the United States were separated from their families and forced to attend Indian residential, boarding and day schools that were run by government and various Christian denominations. The goal of these schools was to assimilate Indigenous children into settler society; as the heads of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (U.S.) and Department of Indian Affairs (Canada) put it, “to kill the Indian in the man” and “to get rid of the Indian problem.” Indigenous languages, histories, religions and cultures were routinely suppressed and condemned. Indigenous children were often beaten and sexually abused. Many ran away from the schools. Many died and their bodies were not given proper burial.

Mennonites (from various conferences and assemblies) were a part of this colonial education system. Though imbued with good intentions, we too were touched by paternalism and racism as we sought to bring a “civilizing gospel” to our host peoples. As one Mennonite leader regrettably said in 1963, “We feel that saving the Indian out of his squalor, ignorance and filth is step one in bringing him to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.”

Provides a simple timeline of Mennonite involvement in the Indian school system.

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