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Indian Boarding School Project Gets $2 Million Infusion

By Kirk Petersen

The Executive Council dealt with the happy problem of having a budget surplus by earmarking $2 million of it for a grim project: studying the Episcopal Church’s complicity in the Indian boarding school movement.

The allocation was made June 15 in the closing plenary session of the council’s four-day meeting in Providence, Rhode Island. As previously reported, the council also accepted the selection of Phoenix as the site of the 2027 General Convention, over the objections of a substantial minority who argued that the meeting should have been awarded to San Juan instead.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were removed from their families, sometimes by force, and shipped to boarding schools hundreds of miles from their homes. At the schools, the children were forced to cut their hair and wear European-style uniforms, and were punished for speaking their native languages. Some were subject to various forms of abuse, and some never returned home.

It was nothing less than an attempt at cultural genocide — described by one proponent as an effort to “kill the Indian and save the man.” Many of the hundreds of Indian boarding schools were run by the Roman Catholic Church — but there were at least nine Episcopal boarding schools.

The study was launched by Executive Council at its April 2022 meeting, and the 2022 General Convention allocated an initial $225,000 for the project in 2023-24. It had become apparent that the amount was woefully inadequate, as the research will involve scouring not just the Austin-based Archives of the Episcopal Church, but historical records from countless dioceses and individual churches as well.

The Indian boarding school study was the most specific purpose chosen for an estimated $5.2 million total surplus. The remainder is set aside for “strategic adaptive realignment of our institutional structures” under the next presiding bishop. The council heard on its opening day that the development office has a goal of raising $5 million in donations to help jump-start the tenure of the church’s new leader. These measures will provide flexibility that would otherwise be missing, since the June 2024 General Convention that elects the presiding bishop will also adopt a three-year budget for the coming triennium, and the presiding bishop’s nine-year term will not begin until November 1, 2024.

In separate action, the council registered its disapproval of a harsh new anti-LGBT law in Uganda, and called on Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba of the Anglican Church in Uganda “to reconsider his endorsement of this law due to the global impact of such action, inviting conversations to establish stronger bonds of affection and better protection of all in both of our churches.”

The October meeting of the council, which meets three times annually, will be in Panama City, Panama, and members were reminded to ensure that their passports are in order.

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