Truth and Healing

Indian Boarding Schools: ELCA Truth-Seeking and Truth-Telling Initiative


Organize Lutherans for truth-seeking and truth-telling about Lutheran involvement in Indian boarding schools in the United States and their impact on Native peoples, then and now.


A nationwide network of ELCA members who . . .
  • Commit to and carry out research to identify Indian boarding schools and day schools sponsored or supported by Lutherans (approx. 1820-1970).
  • Participate in an ongoing truth and healing process for both Native peoples and white ELCA Lutherans.
. . . with the goal of members throughout the ELCA knowing and claiming their complicity in the history of church-sponsored Indian boarding schools and these schools’ deliberate, devastating impacts on Native people and their communities, then and now.

Why this process matters

  • Many white Lutherans participated in the physical and cultural genocide of Native peoples in the U.S., settling on stolen Indian land and actively supporting Indian boarding and day schools that deliberately stripped Native children of their language, culture and family/community ties.
  • Most white people don’t know that they need to heal. White people carry a type of perpetrator trauma that often leads to shock, disbelief, denial and blocking of the truth-telling necessary for healing.
  • Many Native people experienced verbal, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of staff at Indian boarding schools. Some children were murdered at these schools.
  • The terrible legacy of Indian boarding schools lingers in the bodies and minds of direct survivors and their descendants. They suffer tremendous trauma that impacts their well-being — spiritual, economic and more.
  • Native people deserve to heal. Truth allows for that healing to happen.

Why now?

  • More than 200 unmarked graves containing children’s bodies were found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Canada in 2021 (see New York Times article). With this news, the white public’s awareness of the existence and impact of Indian boarding schools has risen sharply. We in the ELCA are asking ourselves: What was our involvement here in the United States? What can we do about it?
  • Federal legislation moving through Congress this year would establish a truth and healing commission on Indian boarding school policies in the U.S. In hope that this legislation will become law in the near future, we must anticipate that churches will be asked/required to produce information about their involvement in Indian boarding schools. We want to begin that research now so that we can promptly provide crucial information to this commission. (See complete legislation or a summary.)

What we’ll do

  • Education — There is much to learn about the history of Indian boarding schools in the United States and their devastating impact on Native American peoples and communities. We will provide reading materials, videos, online events and critical discussion in our ongoing process of understanding.
  • Research — We will work to identify primary and secondary sources of information about Lutherans involved with Indian boarding schools, including interviews and church archives. We will collect information and strive to make meaning of what we find. And we will share our findings with the church and the impacted Native tribes.

Getting involved

ALL backgrounds and experience are welcome. We have a particular need for skills in research, data collection, education and organizing.

To find more information or express interest in participating, please send an email to Elizabeth Andress, initiative co-lead, at with the following information:

  • First and last name
  • Address / City / State / Zip code
  • Phone Email address
  • Congregation / City / State
  • Synod
  • Why are you interested in participating in this initiative?
  • What particular skills and experience do you bring to the work?
  • Is there any other information you want to share with us?
  • Do you have any questions for us?