Contending with our Dark Legacy

The Rt. Rev. Craig Loya

Contending with our Dark Legacy

Beloved in Christ,

Last week, the remains of nine Lakota children who died at a residential boarding school more than one hundred years ago were returned to their home in South Dakota, on the lands of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate. Many of you know that I was sponsored for ordination and served my first cure on the Rosebud Mission, home of the Sicangu Lakota. Watching that solemn procession on roads I have driven hundreds of times, and seeing photos of the ceremony in a university gymnasium where I attended a number of celebrations, funerals, and other gatherings, was a particularly heavy personal moment in the reckoning around the grim legacy of boarding schools for Indigenous children that has been emerging since the discovery of the remains of more than 1100 children in Canada early this summer.

These discoveries are a painful reminder of what we have long known: our nation, even as it was being founded on the principles of equality and justice, carried out a program cultural genocide against the Indegenous peoples of this land, and Christian churches, including our own Episcopal Church, often helped the government carry out that program. 

Government and church boarding schools attempted to erase the cultural identity of children, who were often removed from their families against their will, through intentional and violent tactics. Even more shameful and tragic for us is that this program was often carried out by followers of Jesus, who believed they were helping to carry out God’s will. 

As a bishop of a church that inherits such a dark legacy, it is my duty to continually apologize and repent of the horrific sins carried out by people like me, in the name of the God I love and the church I have given my life to. I invite all of you who are members of our church to do the same. While the Diocese of Minnesota did not directly operate any boarding schools, we share in the complicity of these atrocities, and we have our own complex and often sinful legacy with the Dakota and Anishinaabe people on whose lands we still live and minister. While the recent discoveries in Canada are a fresh reminder of the harm done, we have known about the dark legacy of boarding schools for a long, long time. 

ECMN has made a priority of racial justice and healing, and the ongoing work of healing from this legacy will need to be a central part of the unique way we carry out this work in Minnesota. Our principle sin was not simply racism against Indigenous peoples, but the ways in which we were quick to collude with the forces of political power and confuse our mission of building God’s reign of love with the state’s agenda of empire and conquest. 

As followers of Jesus, we are always called to help the nation we live in become the best version of itself, and to use our political and economic influence to help shape it in a more just and loving direction. However, we are also called to remember that the cross and the flag mark different identities, and our legacy with boarding schools is a reminder of the danger of draping the cross with the flag, of to easily blurring the mission of God with the mission of a particular culture or state.

I have said before that the work of racial justice and healing must form a core part of the work of the rest of our lives. In May, I outlined some of the next steps in our work as a diocese together. For us, this work is not an issue of social justice, but a core part of what it means to be disciples of Jesus, committed to repenting whenever we fall into sin, to seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and respecting the dignity of every human being. We are called to offer the world a preview of God’s perfect reign of peace, the Beloved Community, where diversity and difference are gifts to be received and celebrated, and where connections across difference offer us a fuller preview of God’s kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. 

Grace and peace,

The Right Revered Craig Loya
X Bishop
Episcopal Church in Minnesota