You’ve probably not heard the news.
Most news about Native Americans first gets circulated on things like NDN Twitter and other indigenous social media outlets, in places where you’d only know the event took place because you have people who are already sharing it.
Last week, Jason Pero, a 14-year-old boy, was shot and killed by a police officer on the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation. The news circulated early on Native News Online and other sites like it, but it took five days for it to reach places like CNN. Jason’s family and community, as well as other indigenous people throughout America, are calling for justice: We are asking for more coverage, and for more attention aimed at an issue that is largely ignored by our society and the church.
Native Americans are killed in law enforcement actions at a higher rate than any other race or ethnicity, according to CDC data from 1999 to 2015. And while CNN did cover this fact, in tandem with its Jason Pero coverage, little is otherwise spoken about it — especially in the church, where we’ve grown more adept at calling out injustices toward many groups of oppressed people.
November is Native American Heritage Month. NPR is sharing a story about discrimination of Native Americans in the workplace, while Jason’s family is holding a funeral. Jason was known for being a gentle and kind young man, and in the days before his death, seemed depressed. It’s the story that is not told enough, the story of struggling Native Americans in the United States today, the story of generations of oppression and forced assimilation. And while we struggle, there are churches that pray for us and churches that send missionaries to save us. But not many are willing to do the hard work of reconciliation that would begin to reverse the many problems colonial Christianity has caused for so many years.
When it comes to justice for Native Americans today, there are no rallies in the streets — because violence done against Native Americans in the United States is largely unnoticed. It’s not talked about.
As the church, we can only hold so much. We can only put so much heaviness and grief on ourselves. But the American church has a very particular part to play in reconciliation with indigenous peoples. The American church has often been complicit in the wrongs done toward indigenous peoples, by support of boarding schools and forced assimilation and conversation and silence toward injustices. The American church needs to speak now.
We need to be speaking Jason’s name, and the names of so many others. The data from the CDC should be a large warning sign that something is wrong. But this data also only reflects injustices that are shared. So much more — including the stories of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls — goes without being spoken, and is never recorded. And so justice for Native Americans in the United States is often a far-off dream, instead of an up-close reality.
The situation is complex, and there is not one answer. But it is the role of the church to listen to the oppressed. And when we cry out for justice, there should be an immediate response, toward Jason’s family and toward Native American tribes who have suffered for so long in America.
Justice for Jason Pero is justice for the church — for a diverse and inclusive body that is called to model the love and compassion of Christ, who lived his life rescuing and fighting for justice on behalf of those broken by systems of oppressive power.
Our systems are broken, and we as the church are called to stand in the gap.
Today, that space is for Jason.