A Beautiful ending to a sad story.

A group of worshipers join the Peters family as they pray over Sophia’s casket at the Sts. Peter and  Paul Church, St. Paul Island, Alaska, in July. (Courtesy of St. Paul Island Productions)

 As we continue to reconcile our country’s tragic legacy with our indigenous peoples and the specter of Residential schools, we should always remember that the same fate that many indigenous children suffered here in Canada, was also shared by the indigenous people of the United States,  and Alaska (whose people were Orthodox Christians since the late 1700’s).  

Sophia Tetoff, was a 12-year-old girl. Orphaned in 1896, she was taken from the people and home she knew on St. Paul Island, Alaska, to live eventually, at the Carlisle boarding school (the American version of Residential schools)  in Pennsylvania, where she died of TB in 1906.  A time consuming process of locating and returning Sophia to her home was undertaken by Andrew and Lauren Peters (distant relatives) where she was greeted by the whole of the community of St Paul’s Island.

Her funeral was one she would have understood; sung in her own language, with traditional melodies, and with customs she would have known. There is much we can learn from the work to honour Sophia, as we strive to understand and deal with the tragic legacy of Residential schools in Canada.

Oh that we might bestow such dignity and respect for those who had any dignity and respect taken away from them! Indeed “every child matters”. Truly may we strive to honour the lives of the thousands of children who perished at Residential schools across North America, like Sophia Tetoff, and commit them to the mercy and love of our Lord, and the Kingdom of Heaven. 

A beautiful piece that documented this journey can be viewed at https://www.ucdavis.edu/curiosity/news/uc-davis-family-rematriates-their-ancestor-alaska-native-school

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