indigenous people

Moving Forward in the Dark

GKI-TP / Matheus Adadikam

GKI-TP / Matheus Adadikam

ONE GAUGE OF global policies is how they affect people we may have never heard of. West Papuans, for example.

In March, I met Matheus Adadikam while he was visiting Washington, D.C. He’s the general secretary of the Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua, representing 600,000 people. Located between Australia and Indonesia, West Papua shares a South Pacific island with New Guinea. It’s basically on the other side of the world from D.C.

Pastor Matheus told me about his country. Well, not exactly his country, he says. Indigenous Papuans have lived there for 40,000 years, but in the colonial era—and more recently, as a province of Indonesia—they’ve had no right of self-determination. “As a Papuan, we have no right to speak about our rights as Papuans,” he says. “Forty years ago we ‘became Indonesian,’ so we can no longer speak of ‘Papuan human rights.’”

The story is starkly familiar. Since the establishment of colonial economic forces, the land of Indigenous Papuans has been held in chattel slavery by those more powerful—English (1793), Dutch (1828), Japanese (1944), United Nations (1962), and now Indonesians (1963). “Killings, torture, and rape of Indigenous people are routine,” according to the Center for World Indigenous Studies. A conservative estimate is that 100,000 people have been killed since 1963. “Even to raise our Morning Star flag is to die or be in jail,” says Matheus. (One man is serving seven years in jail for flag-raising.)

In 1960, a rich vein of gold and copper was discovered in the Jayawijaya mountain range in West Papua. After some back-room deals, the U.N. “gave” West Papua to Indonesia. Indonesia promptly welcomed the Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan mining company to open what became the largest gold and third-largest copper mines in the world.

“Justice, peace, and care of all of the Lord’s creation is the main mission of our church,” says Matheus, “but our experience has been that change happens fast, and external influences are changing who we are as a people.” His main mission now is traveling the world asking for help.

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Do You Drink Water? Welcome to Idle No More

 Photo by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen

Round dance, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Dec. 31. Photo by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen

I grew up in the Canadian north of Watson Lake, Yukon. My elementary years were spent in a public school with children of the Kaska nation. As I became an adult I was pretty proud of my exposure to and knowledge of indigenous people. But it took a return to Canada after a seven-year sojourn away to make me realize that I knew very little. I did not like the discomfort I had as I walked the city centre streets in Winnipeg, Manitoba, home of the largest urban indigenous population in Canada.

It was then I decided I had to learn. Over the last two years I have pushed myself to read and sit and listen.

The Truth About Thanksgiving: Why You Should Celebrate

Photo by SSPL/Getty Images

Engraving made in 1847 after Captain Seth Eastman meeting Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag. Photo by SSPL/Getty Images

"The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honest and inclusive history." – James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, 92.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving, as we take turns around the dinner table sharing why we are thankful, a sense of awkwardness settles in. The awkwardness is not only due to the “forced family fun” of having to quickly think of something profound to be thankful for. (Oh, the pressure!) The growing awkwardness surrounding Thanksgiving stems from the fact that we know that at the table with us are the shadows of victims waiting to be heard.

Humans have an unfortunate characteristic – we don’t want to hear the voice of our victims. We don’t want to see the pain we’ve caused, so we silence the voice of our victims. The anthropologist Rene Girard calls this silencing myth. Myth comes from the Greek worth mythos. The root word, my, means “to close” or “to keep secret.” The American ritual of Thanksgiving has been based on a myth that closes the mouths of Native Americans and keeps their suffering a secret.

My (Native) Vote

Retro vote poster, pashabo /

Retro vote poster, pashabo /

My early voting ballot is almost complete. I have done my reading, finished my research, and ignored a sufficient amount of robo-calls and attack ads. I have made my choices for county school superintendent, state representatives, and even U.S. Senator. But there is a gaping hole at the top of my ballot ...

It is November 6, 2012, and after more than a year of carefully following the presidential campaigns I still do not know which candidate I am going to vote for. I am an independent voter but registered as a democrat. On my Facebook page I identify my political position as "a morally-conservative Democrat or a fiscally-irresponsible Republican."

A More Perfect Union

Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

If I had to translate her words into Navajo, I would say “ádin.” Ádin means nothing, none, zero.

I couldn't believe my ears. I was visiting Iowa in the first week of January during an election year. Presidential candidates were crisscrossing the state — kissing babies, shaking hands, and pleading for the vote of everyone they met. Campaign events were taking place in high school gymnasiums, community centers, and local businesses throughout the state. Many of the people I met had personal stories of meeting one of the candidates, shaking their hands, and talking about their issues. There are 99 counties in the state of Iowa, and a few of the candidates were taking the time to stop and hold campaign events in each and every one of them. But there I was, just a day before the caucuses, standing in the community center and tribal offices of the Meskwaki Settlement near Tama, Iowa, with the tribe’s executive director telling me that not a single presidential candidate had held a campaign event in their community.

I shouldn't have been surprised. After all I live on the Navajo Reservation. Our reserve is nearly 26,000 square miles with about 300,000 enrolled tribal members, and I cannot recall in my lifetime a presidential candidate visiting our reservation and campaigning directly to our people.