indigenous peoples

Nuns to Pope: Revoke 15th-century Doctrine That Allows Christians to Seize Native Land

Sister Maureen Fiedler delivered a letter to Pope Francis’ ambassador in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Jean M. Schildz/RNS.

In November, Sister Maureen Fiedler hand-delivered a letter to Pope Francis’ ambassador in Washington, D.C., urging the pontiff to renounce a series of 15th-century church documents that justify the colonization and oppression of indigenous peoples.

She doesn’t know if the letter made it to the Vatican. But she’s hopeful a recent resolution by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will spur the pope to repudiate the centuries-old concept known as the “Doctrine of Discovery.”

“When I learned about it, I was horrified,” said Fiedler. As a member of the Loretto Community, a congregation of religious women and lay people, Fiedler first heard of the doctrine when her order marked its 200th anniversary by challenging “the papal sanctioning of Christian enslavement and power over non-Christians.”

An Enormous Sponge

The following reflection is a sidebar for "A Watershed Moment" by Ched Myers.—The Editors

I WORK FOR Kairos Canada, and we are trying to build in Canada and globally an ecumenical movement for transformative change in the areas of ecological justice and human rights. We particularly focus on the impacts of resource extraction on Indigenous communities.

For example, the Athabasca watershed is an enormous sponge that stretches north to the Arctic Ocean. Right in the middle of it is the Alberta tar sands, from which bitumen (a form of heavy oil) is extracted. We don’t know what kind of destruction is being left behind, because we can’t get verifiable, systematic, cumulative studies of the environmental impacts of this 40-year-old project.

What we do know is that traditional ways of life of the Indigenous peoples of the area have been disrupted. I’ve had elders tell me they can’t eat the meat they hunt, because when they butcher the animal the interior organs look really strange. They could be gathering berries or fishing, but because they live in a watershed that’s downstream from this incredible petrochemical industry, they’re terrified to eat it. So they have to eat flown-in food that’s alien to their culture, that’s bad for them, and that they can’t afford.

We have a responsibility to use the Earth’s wealth relationally, not exploitatively. For us in Canada, watershed discipleship in the churches focuses on right relationship with the land and with Indigenous peoples.

Sara Stratton lives in the Humber-Don watershed in Toronto.

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Respecting the Indigenous Hosts of This Land

Dancer in full dance regalia at the Cal State Long Beach Annual Pow Wow. March 11, 2007. Photo by Jose Gil/Shutterstock.

In December, I will be hosting a public reading of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

I am doing so because page 45 of this 67 page document contains a generic, non-binding apology to native peoples on behalf of the citizens of the United States.

The text of the apology included in the defense appropriations bill reads:

Apology to Native Peoples of the United States

Sec. 8113. (a) Acknowledgment and Apology- The United States, acting through Congress —

(1) recognizes the special legal and political relationship Indian tribes have with the United States and the solemn covenant with the land we share;

(2) commends and honors Native Peoples for the thousands of years that they have stewarded and protected this land;

(3) recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;

(4) apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States;

(5) expresses its regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together;

(6) urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land; and

(7) commends the State governments that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes located in their boundaries and encourages all State governments similarly to work toward reconciling relationships with Indian tribes within their boundaries.

This apology was not publicized by the White House or Congress. As a result, a majority of the 350 million citizens of the United States do not know they have been apologized for, and most of the 5 million Indigenous Peoples of this land do not know they have been apologized to.

A New Conversation: Addressing a 500-Year-Old Wound

U.S. Capitol Building, Greg Kushmerek / Shutterstock.com

U.S. Capitol Building, Greg Kushmerek / Shutterstock.com

On December 19, I am hosting a public reading of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. I am doing so because page 45 of this 67-page document contains a generic, non-binding apology to native peoples on behalf of the citizens of the United States.

This apology was not publicized by the White House nor by Congress. As a result, a majority of the 350 million citizens of the United States do not know they have been apologized for. And most of the 5 million Indigenous Peoples of this land do not know they have been apologized to.

... This apology is a part of our country's history. Our leaders wrote it, the 111th Congress passed it, and President Barack Obama signed it into law. Then, unfortunately, they buried it. I am not protesting this, nor am I celebrating it. I am merely attempting to publicize it in the most open, respectful, and sincere way I know how.

Neocolonialism and Cowboys & Aliens

1100801-cowboysandaliensAmericans have a hard time knowing how to respond to the sins of our colonial past. Except for a few extremists, most people know on a gut level that the extermination of the Native Americans was a bad thing. Not that most would ever verbalize it, or offer reparations, or ask for forgiveness, or admit to current neocolonial actions, or give up stereotyped assumptions -- they just know it was wrong and don't know how to respond. The Western American way doesn't allow the past to be mourned or apologies to be made. Instead we make alien invasion movies.

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