Recently, people in the United States have been taking the month of September to reflect on the wrongs perpetrated against the indigenous peoples by the U.S. government and citizens.
(And yes, the perpetrators of wrongs against Native Americans were nearly all White, which means that Ron DeSantis doesn’t want this material taught in the Florida public schools because it might make some White kids feel ashamed of their race. More than 20 other U.S. states have laws similar to Ron DeSantis’s law in Florida, which means that this blog post is officially and legally banned in schools in more than one third of the U.S. But I digress….)
After the Civil War, various religious groups were assigned to Native American groups. The Christian religion, especially Protestant Christianity, was considered a “civilizing force,” a means by which White settlers could maintain control over Native peoples by forcibly integrating them into White culture. The Unitarians were still considered Christians in the 1870s (we got kicked out of the Christian club after 1900), and as a small denomination we were assigned “the Utes of Colorado,” a group of Native nations then living in Colorado, later forcibly removed to Utah. The Unitarians considered this “mission work,” a way of spreading the Unitarian religion through good works among non-White (and therefore less “civilized”) persons; and they classed it with the Unitarian mission in Kolkata, India, and the mission work done among African Americans in the Deep South.
Apparently, the Unitarians were fairly ineffective at this mission work. Given the history of Unitarianism, I suspect our ineffectiveness was due to our usual lack of organization and unwillingness to provide adequate funding. We established a school for Ute children, which is not listed in the first volume of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report, so perhaps it was not a boarding school. Nevertheless, given what we know now about how White-run boarding schools did so much damage to Native children, it seems important that we learn more about how this school operated.
(All this makes me think: The Universalists can be thankful that we were so small and disorganized and heretical during the 1870s and 1880s that the U.S. government never assigned them a group of Native peoples.)
In any case, I’ve collected some documents from the 1870s and 1880s pertaining to the Unitarian mission among the Ute peoples. They make for some pretty uncomfortable reading. Even though the Unitarian Universalist Association formally apologized to the Utes back in 2009, we still have a lot to do to reflect on how the Unitarian religion was used as a tool of colonization.
Scroll down for the documents….Continue reading “Documents relating to the Ute Indians and the Unitarians”