Local church to memorialize early Indigenous children 

By Chase Scherr chase.scherr@go.mnstate.edu 

Messiah Lutheran Church in Fargo recently displayed a large banner, with an arrangement of colors and symbols which are meant to represent a tragic time in history. In June of last year, it was discovered that the bodies of at least 215 Indigenous children were found buried in unmarked graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. 

Image submitted by Linda James.

In honor of the lives lost during this enormous tragedy, Messiah Lutheran commissioned a few local quilters to help make a banner. One which would consist of 215 individual pieces and hung up for 215 days. 

“This was a tragedy like no other,” said quilter Marsha Johnson. “We wished to acknowledge what had happened to these children the best way we could.” 

Johnson and two other quilters, Linda James and Lori Martindale, helped work on the 215 piece project. The banner had taken them over three months to complete.

“We had just collected all kinds of fabrics and shown off what we had sewn,” said James.

Most of the color scheme for the quilt was mainly orange in relation to a story from one of the Native American survivors admitted to the school that was gifted a t-shirt of the same color from her grandmother. When she was sent to the residential school, she had that shirt taken away from her. She never got it back. 

“The thing with the students at this school was that they were pretty stripped of every part of their identity,” said James. “They tried to make them into different individuals and made them forget about their Native heritage.” 

During the late 1800s and continuing into the 1920s, Native American children were forced out of their homes and away from their parents in order to better be acclimated into a more, “civilized lifestyle”. They could not be heard uttering anything in their native language or risk being severely punished as a result. 

“It’s important that something like this should not be ignored,” said Johnson. “Hopefully we can honor these children in a way that is acknowledged.” 

The banner is being displayed at Messiah Lutheran’s entrance. Several other businesses and other organizations in the Fargo-Moorhead community are also planning on ways to honor the children in remembrance.

“We have hoped to encourage awareness within the communities that this isn’t something that should be forgotten and it’s something that we can learn more from,” said Johnson. 

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