Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Native American Ministries: Intergenerational Trauma

By Glen Chebon Kernell, Jr.

Throughout the month of August, 2012, at four different locations throughout the Rocky Mountain Conference, representatives from United Methodist churches and communities, as well as several guests and visitors, attended one-day seminars on intergenerational trauma and its effects on the Native American and Indigenous communities.

The four events were scheduled throughout the conference so that participants could attend to study the effects, past and lingering, that government- and church-run boarding schools have had on Native American communities.

To some it is well-known that, throughout the history of the United States, Native American children and youth were taken to boarding schools throughout the country, in hopes of "civilizing" the community, but to many within the denomination, clergy and lay, it is a recently discovered part of the history of the first inhabitants of this continent.

Many of the schools were run by government agencies and Christian denominations, including the Methodist Church. Only now have survivors come forward to reveal various abuses that occurred, including physical, emotional, mental, and sexual. This decades-long chapter of US and church history has left a negative impact on Native communities to this day.

In 2008 The United Methodist Church called upon its members to engage in acts of repentance toward indigenous persons of the world, acknowledging the church's role in "cultural genocide and atrocities against tribal people." At the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Florida, during the Act of Repentance worship service, annual conferences were asked to engage in dialogue with Native American communities of their regions to heal relationships.

The Rocky Mountain Conference Committee on Native American Ministries' four seminars were also attended by participants from the California-Pacific, Desert Southwest, New Mexico, Oklahoma Indian Missionary, Oregon-Idaho, and Peninsula-Delaware Conferences. While the primary intended audience was the non-Native community, the majority of participants came from Native American churches, communities, and agencies. The trainings were held in Durango and Parker, Colorado; Casper, Wyoming; and Salt Lake City Utah during the month of August.

The trainings were led by Mr. Don Coyis, founder and president of the White Bison organization, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. White Bison is a nonprofit group whose purpose is to be "a sustainable grassroots Wellbriety Movement that provides culturally based healing to the next seven generations of Indigenous people."

Participants at the one-day seminars spent time viewing a video published by White Bison that documents the stories of survivors of the boarding school experience and exploring ways communities can avoid repeating past trauma and perpetuating it in future generations.

"What we do not realize is that, either by practice or by silence, the church has played a role in this part of the history of Native persons of this continent," said the Rev. Chebon Kernell, Executive Secretary of Native American and Indigenous Ministries of the General Board of Global Ministries.

"For the continued healing and wellness of Native persons within the church and those outside the church, we must recognize that this entire country was built upon the traumatic experiences perpetuated upon Native peoples and communities, and has a profound impact on Native communities to this day," said Kernell.

The events were sponsored by the Committee on Native American Ministries of the Rocky Mountain Conference, and funds were provided by the office of Native American and Indigenous Ministries of the General Board of Global Ministries.

The Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell, Jr., is Executive Secretary of Native American & Indigenous Ministries, Justice & Discipleship, General Board of Global Ministries.

Act of Repentance
Act of Repentance.
Credit: Mike DuBose