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BY JO SCHONEWOLF

June 9, 2021
There is no real repentance for these unspeakable sins.
Photo Credit: Mi'Kmaw artist Whitney Gould of We'koqma'q
“Indigenous groups call for Canada to identify graves after remains of 215 children found,” via Reuters.

“Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced last week they had found the remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, buried at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, once Canada's largest such school.”
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.” –Ezekiel 37:11-14

How did we ever consider this a children’s story? 

How did we ever turn to this scripture and think, “Oh, that story about a valley full of bones, that’s a great one to teach to the little ones! We’ll even come up with a song about it! We’ll teach them what their bones are called! Brilliant!”? 

How, how, how did we hear this story, this story; a story about dried-up bones and dried-up hopes; a story about being completely cut off from anyone who could have known your name and your story; a story about the kind of loss that takes a miracle to undo - how could we ever have heard this story and thought of it as anything other than the deepest call to repentance? How did we mistake words that should shatter our souls as a dance for our children to learn at Vacation Bible School? 

I’m outraged, of course. Of course, the outrage I aim at this interpretation of scripture is misguided. At the end of the day, I’m not angry at the children’s minister at the end of their rope, trying to figure out what to share on Sunday. In many ways, the people who teach our children are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. No, who I’m truly angry at are my white ancestors who perpetuated genocide and my other white ancestors who pretended not to know about it. I’m really angry at the people who built countries on murder, theft, and lies and never once felt sorry about it. I’m furious at the God who allowed it to happen (but that’s my theodicy to work through; I trust that you have your own). 

I’ve felt my anger growing over the past two weeks as I’ve watched Indigenous leaders, scholars, journalists, and activists repeatedly call the Canadian government to account over the horrors at the Kamloops Residential School, pointing again and again to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings and calls to action. There could have been as many as 25,000 children who died in Canada’s residential schools, to say nothing of the countless others who were abused in every way imaginable, and yet there is no real national mourning for this loss. There is no real repentance for these unspeakable sins. There are no reparations, no accountability, despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s shameful. Canada had 130 of these schools

But the US had 357. 

How many bones cry out to us, in these lands? How many children were stolen from their families, never to return, in these states? How great a miracle would God need to enact to crack open our American hearts of stone so that we might begin to think about words like truth and reconciliation in this place? Can the Spirit dwell in churches who would keep Ezekiel from the valleys of bones in the United States and the breath of God from those who would hold us accountable for the sins of our ancestors? 

My friends, this is not a story for children. To be completely cut off from your people is not something that children should need to know about. It certainly isn’t something that children should experience. But as long as we think of stories of loss of life and land as biblical fairy tales, as long as we hide behind the veil that white supremacy and colonization have placed over our history, the bones in the valley remain dry. We may as well use this story to teach our children how their skeletons work. At least then they’ll know how to put the dead back together.

If you’re Canadian and happen to be reading this, start by reading through the Truth and Reconciliation findings and calls to action, linked above. If you’re in the US, learn about our boarding school history and, if you’re part of a faith tradition that participated in the boarding schools, call for reparations and land back within your tradition. Regardless of location, all of us can donate to organizations that support residential school survivors and their families.

God of all creation, God of water, earth, and sky, God who sees us and God who knows us, where were you? Where were you as these children’s lives ended and their bodies turned to bones? Where were you as people murdered and abused in your name? Where were you then and where are you now? 

Holy Spirit, though we question and rage and doubt, we trust that you are still working within us. Push us toward the truth. Guide us toward reconciliation. Teach us how to give away our stolen inheritance. Breathe life into these dry bones, that we may learn the ways of justice and joy. Amen.

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