Bishops, deputies unanimously vote to adopt prayer to remember Indigenous children forced to attend boarding schools

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Jun 28, 2024

South Dakota Deputy Deanna Stands (right) leads the House of Deputies in reciting the Prayer of the Innocents, which is part of Resolution C032, after deputies joined bishops in adopting it. Supporting Stands are Navajoland Area Mission deputies the Rev. Michael Sells and the Rev. Cathlena Plummer. Photo: Screenshot

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] The House of Deputies unanimously voted on June 27 to adopt Resolution C032, “A Prayer to Remember the Innocents,” which expresses the church’s remorse for its role “in the irreparable harm suffered by Indigenous children who attended Indigenous boarding and residential schools in the 1800s and 1900s, and acknowledges that the effect of that harm carries on in boarding school survivors and their descendants.”

It also offers a prayer, titled “A Prayer to Remember the Innocents,” which the resolution says the church receives as a gift and a way to remember children forced into boarding schools:

Ohiŋni wičhauŋkiksuyapi kte.  “We will always remember them.” 

Dear Lord, Almighty God, we pray for all Indigenous children who were in residential and boarding schools in Canada and the United States.  Some died there; we ask that you give assurance to   their descendants that their souls are with you and their ancestors. Some survived there; we ask that you give your healing grace to all who endured hardship while there and are still struggling with those memories. Lastly, we ask you to help us guard our children against harm in this world. All this we ask in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever.  Amen.

Deanna Stands, who is Yankton Sioux and a deputy from the Diocese of South Dakota, is the daughter of boarding school survivors and a parishioner at Woniya Wakan (Holy Spirit) Episcopal Church in Wagner. She co-wrote the prayer with fellow Woniya Wakan parishioners Pat Roulette, LaHoma Johnson, Nadine Selwyn and Janice Provost, as well as the Rev. James Marrs, superintending presbyter of the Santee-Yankton Mission. The prayer was introduced and accepted in 2022 at the annual Niobrara Convocation in South Dakota, a gathering of Indigenous Episcopalians and mission churches, and later that same year it was adopted by the Diocese of South Dakota’s diocesan convention.

“Keep in mind that this prayer was developed because of the boarding school children and that we are not that far removed from that boarding school era,” Stands told Episcopal News Service. “While we wrote this prayer, we were asking God – asking in Jesus’s name – that the Holy Spirit guide us to use those words.”

South Dakota’s Diocesan Convention in 2022 originally proposed C032, which also encourages the church to set aside Sept. 30 on the liturgical calendar to remember the children. Sept. 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day; an annual day of remembrance and awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women, as well as Indigenous boarding school victims.

“I have had and continue to have very, very good teachers in the Diocese of South Dakota when it comes to Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Native American ways, and what has happened in the past what is still continuing to happen in the present,” South Dakota Bishop Jonathan Folts told ENS. “We have to deal with the atrocities of the Native American boarding schools, where native and Indigenous children were assimilated and taught how to dress and taught how to speak and taught how to pray.”

St. Mary's Rosebud

Students at St. Mary’s, an Episcopal school for Indigenous girls on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, are seen in an undated photo from the G.E.E. Lindquist Papers, held by the Burke Library Archives at Union Theological Seminary.

Hundreds — or as many as tens of thousands — of Indigenous youth are estimated to have died during the 19th and 20th centuries while attending boarding schools, which were designed to assimilate Native Americans into the dominant white culture and erase Indigenous languages and practices. In many cases, students faced physical, sexual and mental abuse, even death. The Episcopal Church is known to have operated at least 34 of the 523 identified boarding schools in the United States, including at least nine in South Dakota.

On a voice vote, the House of Bishops unanimously voted to adopt C032 during its legislative session on June 24. Retired Rhode Island Bishop Geralyn Wolf expressed concern about the prayer’s poetry, and retired Iowa Bishop Alan Scarfe suggested it be reconfigured for its flow. Massachusetts Assistant Bishop Carol Gallagher noted that the prayer was written by people for those who need it.

Folts reminded the bishops that the prayer came from Native folks, “and they don’t need white people telling them again how to pray.”

“As an Indigenous prayer, it’s genuine and authentic,” the Rev. Bradley Hauff, missioner of The Episcopal Church’s Office of Indigenous Ministries, told ENS. “Why should Indigenous people subscribe or be held to expectations to conform to the esthetic standards of their oppressors? That’s an absurd notion, and all that serves to perpetuate the oppression.” Hauff, who is Lakota and a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is the son of boarding school survivors.

Stands said the prayer isn’t meant to sound poetic because “we are asking God for his help.”

“When the bishops and deputies voted to adopt this prayer, I knew the Lord is working and that people are putting it into their minds and in their hearts that things have been done,” she said. “But now it’s time to do the hard work.”

The Episcopal Church has two Indigenous boarding school groups that are working together yet have distinctive mandates. General Convention’s fact-finding commission focuses on researching and documenting the church’s historic involvement and complicity in the boarding schools. Executive Council’s committee focuses on advocacy work. The two groups first met in person in October 2023 in Seattle, Washington, to discuss how to interpret and apply the resolutions that enacted the boarding school groups, General Convention Resolution A127 and Executive Council Resolution MW062, and met again in January 2024.

After the deputies voted to adopt C032, Stands and Navajoland Area Mission deputies the Rev. Michael Sells and the Rev. Cathlena Plummer led the entire house in reciting “A Prayer to Remember the Innocents.”

Stands said everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, is welcome to use “A Prayer to Remember the Innocents” in their parishes and dioceses.

“We ask that you think about the children when praying,” she said. “We need to keep our children safe.”

— Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.


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