PC(USA) leaders issue apology to Native Americans, Alaska natives, and native Hawaiians

February 9, 2017

Utqiagvik, Alaska


By Jasmine Clark
Development and Communications Assistant, Presbyterian Historical Society

Randy Hobson
Manager of Design and Multimedia, Office of the General Assembly

Some of the historic wrongs done by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) against America’s native peoples are being made right this week as top leaders of the denomination issue a formal apology for harms inflicted.

The Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, and the Reverend Gradye Parsons, former Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, traveled to the northernmost city in the United States—Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska—to apologize to Native Americans, Alaska natives, and native Hawaiians.

The apology comes as the result of action by the 222nd General Assembly (2016), which directs “that the PC(USA) and its members apologize to United States citizens of Native American ancestry, both those within and beyond our denomination. We offer this apology especially to those who were and are part of ‘stolen generations’ during the Indian-assimilation movement, namely former students of Indian boarding schools, their families, and their communities” (Minutes, 2016, Part I, p. 711 of the electronic file).

On Wednesday during a celebration leading up to Kivgiq (Messenger Feast), a renewal and healing event, the apology was given.

The words of remorse and repentance offered up Wednesday came more than a century after the Reverend Sheldon Jackson and the Reverend A. L. Lindsley convinced the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Board of Home Missions to assume responsibility for the new territory of Alaska in 1878. Jackson recruited workers and raised funds to open a mission school that existed until 2007 in the form of a junior college.

Sheldon Jackson

Sheldon Jackson - PHS archives

In 1880 Jackson invited the secretaries of the mission boards of Protestant denominations to a meeting that divided the mission work in Alaska. The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. board accepted responsibility for Southeastern Alaska, where it had already initiated mission work, and for the far northern regions of the territory

Sheldon Jackson School Sitka

Sheldon Jackson School - PHS archives

The schools and other programs that came out of this agreement acted as vehicles through which a philosophy of “civilization” was carried out. In 1887 indigenous languages were banned from schools by the federal government. Materials coming out of Presbyterian mission schools at the turn of the century advertise their adherence to this policy and emphasize the Christian and industrial education being offered.

boys in sheldon jackson sitka school

These policies came at a crucial time for Alaska. The discovery of gold in the 1890s precipitated an influx of white settlers. Natives were segregated, pushed off their homelands, and paid less for work than white settlers—all while facing discriminatory hiring practices.

Eskimo family - PHS archives

The current Presbyterian presence in Alaska is through the Presbytery of Yukon, which is part of the Synod of Alaska-Northwest, as well as 6 congregations in southeast Alaska that are part of the Northwest Coast Presbytery. According to the Presbytery of Yukon website, four distinct language and culture groups are represented: Iñupiat Eskimos in the north who speak Iñupiaq; Yupik Eskimos in the west who speak St. Lawrence Island Yupik; and Koreans and English speakers in the Interior and South Central. 

Utqiagvik Presbyterian Church - PHS archives

Líderes de la IP (EE.UU,) piden disculpas a los pueblos Nativo Americanos, nativos de Alaska y de Hawái.

미국장로교 지도자들은 아메리카 원주민, 알래스카 원주민, 원주민 하와이 원주민에게 사과합니다.

  1. Thank you for this significant step toward establishing justice and peace.

    by Wanda Beauman, PhD

    August 11, 2017

  2. This living expression of repentance will be a part of the Lenten learning ministry that I will lead for the congregation I serve. Thank you and thanks be to God.

    by Rachel Srubas

    February 16, 2017

  3. I believe the best way we can show true apology for past discrimination and the pain shown forth by our ancestors is to remove our bias, (gain the understanding of the unconscious bias), no boundaries meaning no fences or walls to divide us, hire the qualified and diverse community members, ensure equity in our own congregations and families, and include/invite one and all to share this love. Love has no boundaries and our LGBTQ, seniors, emotionally challenged neighbors EVERYONE of this race--the HUMAN RACE--deserves a chance. Prayers for all churches, all denominations, all neighborhoods, all of our children. May we teach them to love one another as He first loved us....

    by Tina Ronders

    February 15, 2017

  4. I love that apology. We have a Moderator from the South, and I am from the South. I believe it is time to quit pretending that Montreat was a nice hotel where some German, Italian, and Japanese citizens were pampered during WWII. It was an interment camp with nice linens. The guards had guns. When will come that apology?

    by Dennis Blackmon

    February 12, 2017

  5. Thank you PC(USA)!

    by Shirley Hill

    February 11, 2017

  6. Even in the 1970's, when I worked in Nevada, the average age at death of Native Americans was 44

    by Mary Waddell

    February 10, 2017

  7. The journey toward healing must begin with acknowledgment and an apology. It's time. The journey has begun. Thanks be to God!

    by Veronica L. Ransom

    February 10, 2017

  8. Well thank God we took this step. This will really help us witness to the unchurched, help us stem our membership decline, and help raise our children.

    by Steve Gons

    February 10, 2017

  9. This is why I am proud to be a Presbyterian. Great work.

    by John Marshall

    February 10, 2017

  10. Thanks for this terrific account. However, PC(USA) mission is not just in the Presbytery of Yukon. Six churches in Southeast Alaska which were formerly in Alaska Presbytery are now part of the Presbytery of Northwest Coast.

    by Jerry Van Marter

    February 10, 2017

  11. Rev. Irvin Porter, the Associate for Native American Congregational Support in the Presbyterian Church (USA), is also present alongside Rev Nelson and Parson in Barrow, Alaska.

    by Anne-Cecile PORTER

    February 9, 2017

  12. Words fail me!

    by Bob Dawson

    February 9, 2017

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