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It is time to call the world to truth and healing. Actually, it is past time in the United States and I celebrate with so many others who have been fighting for this moment of upheaval for decades. Our truth has finally broken through the clouds and is actually seen for the healing it has always been. Indeed, half of America is no longer afraid of facing the shame embedded in the truth. It is glorious. It is with the deepest gratitude I extend to the bridge builders and fearless advocates who helped to permanently change the name of the Washington Football Team and are working to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission just in time to celebrate on Indigenous Peoples Day. This time of truth of healing in the time of corona is huge because we are beginning to see true healed humanity on micro and macro levels. 

The coronavirus has put on full display the life-threatening injustice that people of color have dealt with for centuries, and we finally saw action in one of the most visible platforms: the National Football League. This moment has also been a time of calling in. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, movement leaders insisted on naming Indigenous people among the most egregiously affected by discrimination and police violence. In June, investors representing $620 billion banded together to call upon major brands like Pepsi, Nike, and FedEx to end sponsorships, and we immediately saw a permanent name change of the Washington Football Team. However, this wasn’t the first time there was a call for change. In 2014, The National Congress of American Indians called for a ban on FedEx for their investment in the R-word NFL Team, and Native American nonprofit organizations banded together to create narrative change videos highlighting the absurdity of carrying on the racist tradition. In 2002, a diverse intramural basketball college team in Colorado named themselves “The Fighting Whites” in satirical fashion calling attention to the racism of a local high school basketball team mascot, “Fighting Reds.” In 1994, even my own high school protest of the “Warrior Homecoming Ceremony” with my twin sister Emma made news in South Dakota among all of the injustices. Over 25 years of constant advocacy and education of many leaders brought us to this moment of change that I often doubted I see in my lifetime.

The summer of 2020 also brought news of congresswomen banding together for racial healing to bring new legislation examining slavery and institutional racism. In September, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced a bill to form a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy seeking healing for stolen Native children and their communities. This commission will investigate, document, and acknowledge past injustices of the federal government’s cultural genocide and assimilation practices through its Indian Boarding School Policy. This work follows the 1995 model of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission established post-apartheid and the 2008 forming of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission addressing the injustices of the Indian Residential Schools legacy. 

And yes, for Native Americans there have been decades of advocates working to lay out the connection of racial injustices resulting from the Indian Boarding School era and Manifest Destiny, including the nonprofit National Indian Boarding School Healing Coalition. The most visible advocacy came with Native American clergy and lay leaders who introduced the resolution that formed The Episcopal Church’s Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery in 2009. The World Council of Churches would also Renounce The Doctrine of Discovery in 2012. I happened to be in the room with advocates when both resolutions were written and passed. I am also a founding member of the National Indian Boarding School Healing Coalition. What I can tell you about this work is that it is grueling. 

Over a decade ago when the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery was passed, no one wanted to talk about healing including many of the elders who had attended Indian Boarding School. And even more grueling was educating non-Native clergy and lay leaders about this atrocious history—many who refused to show up for their dose of truth at organized events. However, we continued to educate by stating that across the board our culture and language had been impacted by these policies, therefore our daily lives as descendents of those traumatized Native children has been affected.

As a mother, I saw my own inability to express love to my sons as a direct result of my mother and grandmother being raised in a military style reform school that valued white supremacy. My generation experienced loss and dysfunction in ways that had become the norm for Native families. We focused on educating ourselves on gaps of Lakota history, spirituality, and culture. We saw our opportunity to mend the sacred hoop for our children. The sacred hoop, Cangleska Wakan, is based on the Lakota concept that everything in the universe is related. The medicine wheel represents four directions, four seasons, four stages of life, and is our foundation for Lakota culture. These teachings we learned in our teens and after observing the struggles of our own parents, taught us to focus on our own healing. Our focus became to gift our healed selves to our children, thereby demonstrating healing to our extended families.

I pray America is not only ready for their dose of truth, but welcomes it with open arms as an opportunity to transform and heal our society now. Happy Indigenous Peoples Day. 

Sarah Eagle Heart

Sarah Eagle Heart is an Emmy award-winning social justice storyteller, activist, media strategist, and producer focused on advocacy on behalf of Indigenous Peoples rooted worldview as an Oglala Lakota...