Native Americans

Some See Junipero Serra, Pope Francis’ Next American Saint, as Less Than Holy

Photo via Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Oil painting of Father Junípero Serra from the 1700s. Photo via Wikimedia Commons / RNS

When Pope Francis unexpectedly announced last month that he would canonize the Rev. Junipero Serra during his visit to the U.S. in September, he thrilled the many fans of the legendary 18th-century Spanish Franciscan who spread the Catholic faith across what is now California.

But the pontiff who has decried the “ideological colonization” of the developing world by the secular West is now facing criticism from those who say Serra — called “the Columbus of California” — abused Native Americans and pressured them to convert, aiding in the devastation of the indigenous culture on behalf of the Spanish crown.

“Serra was no saint to us,” Ron Andrade, executive director of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, told the Los Angeles Times.

Some of Serra’s sharpest critics say he was part of an imperial conquest that beat and enslaved Native Americans, raped their women, and destroyed their culture by forcing them to abandon their traditional language, diet, dress and other customs and rites.

Add in the diseases introduced by these Old World invaders, and the original indigenous population of perhaps 300,000 was decimated by as much as 90 percent.

“If (Serra) is elevated to sainthood,” Nicole Lim, the executive director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa Rosa, told The New York Times, “then (Serra) should be held responsible for the brutal and deadly treatment of native people.”

The Underside of Thanksgiving

Photo via mythja/

I love Thanksgiving.

I love the food, the fellowship, the friends and family, the football, and did I mention that I love the food.  Unashamedly it might very well be my favorite holiday.  Yet, despite all my warm feelings about Thanksgiving, I am not blind to its historical shortcomings. 

As Jane Kamensky says, “…holidays say much less about who we really were in some specific Then, than about who we want to be in an ever changing Now.” I think she’s right about this.  In so many cases, our national celebrations and observances are mere expressions of our collective aspirations and not our actuality.  One clear example of this is the history and practice of the Thanksgiving holiday.

As it goes, every year people throughout this nation gather for a commemorative feast of sorts where we give praises to God for the individual and collective blessings bestowed upon us.  This tradition goes back to the 17th century when the New England colonists, also known as pilgrims, celebrated their first harvest in the New World. 

On the surface, this seems harmless enough but a closer reading of history tells a more dubious story. 

From the Archives: August 1998

A GROUP of Native Americans appeared before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to argue that “Redskins,” the name of Washington, D.C.’s football team, is racist and not deserving of federal trademark protection. Federal law states that a company name may not be “scandalous” or “disparaging.” ...

Offering an opinion is Chief Billy Redwing Tayac of the Piscataway Indian Nation, a Native American people who have been in the Washington area for roughly 10,000 years longer than the football team.

“‘Redskins’ is a racial slur,” Chief Tayac said. “The term has only continued to be acceptable because native people have been decimated and don’t have the political or economic clout to stop it. One only has to look at the origin of the term ‘redskins’ to see that it is not neutral. When [Europeans] first came to our country, a bounty was offered on Indians, and the dead were brought in by the wagonload. But that got to be a problem, so they started asking for just the scalps of Indians. Just like the hide of a deer is called a ‘deerskin,’ and the hide of a beaver is called a ‘beaverskin,’ the scalp of an Indian was called a ‘redskin.’

“People want to see us riding horses and living in tepees, but Indians are modern people and we want the same respect that has been applied to other peoples. We are men and women—not animals.” 

Aaron McCarroll Gallegos was assistant editor of Sojourners when this article appeared.

Image: FedEx Field, Anders Brownworth / Shutterstock

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Coalition of United Methodists Won't Hold Event in Atlanta Due to 'Racially Offensive Practices' of the Atlanta Braves

A coalition of United Methodists has decided not to host an event planned for the summer 2015 in Atlanta due to "racially offensive practices" of the Atlanta Braves.

The Love Your Neighbor Coalition consists of ten “official” and “unofficial” caucus organizations of The United Methodist Church, including the Native American International Caucus of United Methodists, Affirmation: United Methodists for LGBTQ Concerns, and Black Methodists for Church Renewal, among others.

The group sent letters to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s Communications Office received a letter (via email) from the Love Your Neighbor Coalition explaining why their coalition of ten United Methodist-related caucus groups have changed initial plans to hold an event in Atlanta in the summer of 2015. Members of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Braves Executive Offices also recieved emails.

The letters included this message:

“While we give thanks that the Atlanta Braves organization has changed its mascot from ‘the screaming Indian, Chief Noc-A-Homa’ to ‘Homer,’ we also note that they have not done anything to remove the offensive caricature of “Chief Noc-A-Homa” from screen savers and Facebook pages that still connect it directly with the Atlanta Braves. If recent news stories about racism within sporting organizations have shown us anything, it is that organizations can attempt to outwardly placate the public while systemically continuing to promote prejudice and racist attitudes through their words, actions and deeds. The use of the name Braves and the symbols of the tomahawk and ‘tomahawk chop’ do nothing but offer up racist and demeaning images and stereotypes of our Native American citizens and friends.”

Without Exception

Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock

Pope Francis Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock

The other day I observed a Twitter exchange between Pope Francis and Miroslav Volf.

Pope Francis (‏@Pontifex) Tweeted:
“God does not reveal himself in strength or power, but in the weakness and fragility of a newborn babe.”

To which Miroslav Volf (‏@MiroslavVolf) replied:
“@Pontifex How true! And yet the babe grew and taught with power and authority, and the crucified one was raised from the dead in glory.”

Since moving to the Navajo reservation more than a decade ago, I have done much thinking, studying, praying, and reflecting on the dynamics between power and authority. And God has given me a few insights over the years. So when I read these tweets I had an instant desire to jump in and be a part of the discussion. 

D.C. Clergy Join Push to 'Change the Mascot'

Washington Redskins fans at training camp on August 13, 2012. Photo via RNS/courtesy Keith Allison via Flickr

The Oneida Indian Nation’s campaign against the Washington pro football club’s team name picked up new supporters this week when more than two dozen clergy in the Washington region committed to taking the fight to their pulpits.

“Black clergy have been the conscience of America,” Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter said to a gathering of roughly 40 people on folding chairs in the basement of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. “This is not a fight we could do by ourselves, or should do by ourselves.”

The Rev. Graylan Hagler, senior minister at Plymouth, asked for a show of hands Wednesday to indicate which clergy members in attendance would be willing to preach against what he termed the “R word.” More than a dozen raised their hands. Hagler said that a different dozen committed to the cause at a clergy breakfast meeting Wednesday and that, all told, he has commitments from roughly 100 clergy members to talk to their congregations in coming weeks.

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.  

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.

The Selling of the Sacred: Pe’ Sla, Colonialism and Christianity

Recently the owners of a large tract of land in South Dakota began looking to sell their property. The problem is that the land that they own is Pe’ Sla, land sacred to the Lakota Native American people. Currently the Lakota are organizing efforts to raise money to buy back their sacred land in hopes of preserving access to it and to prevent the building of a highway the state has planned.

This situation would be top news if it were any other religious site were involved, but this has barely made it into mainstream media.

Editor's Note: The family involved in auctioning off the land canceled the auction. According to the Rapid City Journal, the fund raisers hoping to purchase back the land are unaware what the move means for them. 

"It could be good and it could be bad," said Rodney Bordeaux, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. "We just don't know what the family wants. That's kind of the unknown. We'll just have to wait and see."