By Lisa Demer, Alaska Dispatch News. For the first time, a church organization has apologized to the Alaska Federation of Natives for its treatment of Native people and especially for abuses in boarding schools.
The Presbyterian Church’s national general assembly agreed in June, at the prompting of Alaskans, to issue an apology to all Native Americans abused, mistreated or diminished through church schools and boarding schools or otherwise.
An expression of sorrow for long-ago wrongs was delivered in person at the AFN convention on Saturday by the Rev. Curt Karns, the Anchorage-based executive presbyter – or administrator – of the Presbytery of the Yukon.
“To those individuals who were physically, sexually and emotionally abused as students of the Indian boarding schools in which the (Presbyterian Church USA) was involved, we offer you our most sincere apology. You did nothing wrong; you were and are the victims of evil acts that cannot under any circumstances be justified or excused,” Karns told the AFN convention.
The apology was a notable moment on the final day of the convention at the Carlson Center. Delegates also considered some 35 resolutions on everything from Chukchi Sea polar bears to the need for tribal courts to food security — which some village residents said needs to encompass the importance of walrus hunts, reindeer herding and other rural practices.
Fairbanks last hosted AFN in 2013. The convention brought in thousands of delegates who celebrated accomplishments by Native individuals and institutions, listened to speeches by key government officials and took stock of what to get behind next.
They filled hotels and shopped for kuspuks, seal hats and ivory earrings at the AFN arts and craft fair. They danced on stage at Quyana night and spun off for side events including fiddle dances, a Mt. Edgecumbe reunion and an open-mic talent night for young poets, musicians and storytellers called Indigenize It.
In the main hall Saturday, delegates welcomed the apology, standing up and applauding when Karns finished.
Rev. Dr. Curtis Karns, Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Yukon, the Presbyterian Church in Alaska, apologized for past abuses made by the church in Interior Alaska Native communities.