June 07, 2015
After nearly fifteen years, the Yakama Christian Mission has changed its statement of mission from,
To enhance the wellbeing of children and youth through advocacy and education.
To enhance the wellbeing of indigenous children and elders of North America and Canada.
There are numerous reasons for the change. At the top is admitting an emphasis on children alone is not holistic. In hindsight, the fifteen-year old statement’s singular focus on children was little different from the Mission’s previous eighty-year approach. Both approaches hold today’s children as tomorrow’s future. Nothing wrong with that. However, as commonly lived out in the US (and certainly on reservations), this approach has a tendency to separate children from their elders—except those specific elders who carry and project the correct virtues of the community. From the eighty-year stance, the correct values were most always White values, which from the historical perspective of many in the church, few Yakama elders held.
The approach over the last fifteen years is similar insofar as programing focused on children and youth and, though I wish it were not the case, because of embedded White worldviews of staff, board, and church leaders. Due to this focus, there was a natural separation of young people and elders. Granted, this model is a societal norm. After all, US parents give their children to the “correct” people for their scholastic education, and children stay home while parents go to a school board or a church board meeting—interesting, isn’t it, when folk think it is groundbreaking to have a “youth” representative on a board? As one raised in such a system and one who raised his own children in such a system, I do not hold this as totally harmful, but it is to say, such a system does not intentionally require elders in every classroom, on every playground, and part of every afterschool program (Especially, elders of the same ethnic and cultural heritage.). Though the Mission has done wonderful and meaningful work over the last fifteen years, it is important to say, our actions were similar to those found in the White programs of our raising.
Perhaps it is important to flesh out the meaning of White values and White programs at this juncture. White in this case is not programs ran by white people. Rather White is that of US systemic racism. Simply put, White is the phrase used to recognize a system supporting those institutions who support historical virtues benefiting US white people. Over the last ninety-five years, it matters little whether those running the YCM institution were white or people of color, all worked (I’d argue “often unintentionally”) to support a White system which found virtue in separating children and youth (both European and non-European…though clearly an emphasis on non-European) from their ethnic and cultural elders.
Changing a Mission Statement from “wellbeing of children and youth” to “wellbeing of indigenous children and elders” is not an end all. It is hardly a beginning. However, it is a change to say intention of the Mission is to hold a perspective that ends the separation of children from their elders. The idea of a “youth group” or an “afterschool program” that is for children and youth only is to become something of the past. Rather, work is to create transformative models or support transformative programs, which bring youth and elders together into community. Such modeling recognizes life is better without a program, than to have children/youth participate in programs of art, sports, or academia without their elders. And to have elders in book groups, parenting classes, or bible studies without their youth.
What this holds for indigenous and non-indigenous folk whom the Mission works with is unknown. Its sustainability in a system of separation is unknown. How this unfolds is unknown. However, there is hope the simple naturalness of elders and youth engaged together in community lives toward a moment of wellbeing and harmony.