Truth Telling

Truth Telling

Throughout November, we all shared in the theme of Holding History. In our Religious Education program, that involved a lot of “truthful telling” and honesty about some painful parts of our nation’s past. These truths can be very difficult for adults to share with children and youth, and doing so in a developmentally appropriate way can be a challenge. Nevertheless, my goal for our program is to push forward boldly, past our own hang ups as adults, and be honest with our children about the hard things in our history (and our present) in a way that we ourselves did not always experience in our youth.

This search for the true history is reflected in our Fourth Principle: “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning” and our proposed Eighth Principle: “journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.” Our faith has taken up this work and called on white UU’s to be especially vigilant about the work of correcting stories that have caused harm. It is only through truth-telling that we can bring about healing.

One topic we told the truth about with our younger group this month was Native American residential schools. Beginning in the 1870s and continuing into the 1980s, boarding schools were created to “educate” Native Americans about Western culture. Children—some as young as five years old—were removed from their homes and sent away. Families who resisted were threatened with legal punishment.

The schools were deliberately located far from home. It was thought that separating children from their communities would make the assimilation process faster and more complete. Forced to abandon their Native American beliefs, clothing, and customs, and to learn and speak only English, the children were stripped of their Native American identity, culture, and history. Physical abuse, malnutrition, and other horrific conditions were common. Generations of Native American children were traumatized by their experiences, and the repercussions of this national travesty are still being felt, as highlighted by this article that discusses how the loss of Native American languages has been accelerated due to the pandemic. Although many communities are now working to reclaim, revitalize, and preserve their rich and diverse cultures, some languages and traditions have been lost forever.

This truthful telling is important work. What could you learn more about to challenge the historical lies you grew up with? Is there a child or youth in your life with whom you could share some truth?

Karen Magoon Pearson is Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church's Director of Religious Education.