Native Americans

Vatican Considers Rescinding ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ in Response to Request From Indigenous Leaders

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After Native American delegates met with Pope Francis and other Vatican representatives requesting an end to the Doctrine of Discovery, the Vatican said that it would consider rescinding the 500-year-old Catholic policy, reports APTN.

The Doctrine of Discovery is the name for a body of Catholic law that granted land rights to whichever European Christian nation settled territory in the New World. It considered as terra nullius (“nobody’s land”) any territory occupied by “heathens, pagans, and infidels” — in other words, the original inhabitants of the Americas.

The Generations of Racism Behind Clinton's 'Off the Reservation' Remark

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Unfortunately, the dialogue that is taking place this election cycle is not about broad-based equality or ending racism. The conversation we are having today is about the type of racism we want to settle for. Do we want Hillary Clinton to work to keep racism as our nation’s implicit bias, or allow Donald Trump to champion racism as our explicit bias? After all, isn't building a wall, banning Muslims, and personally funding a presidential campaign with a fortune made by buying and selling land that has been ethnically cleansed merely the fruit of a country that has learned all too well how to deal with the “merciless Indian savages” who sometimes get "off the reservation?"

How You Can Honor Both Sides of the Thanksgiving Table

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When we think about the meeting of the first pilgrims and the Native Americans, we usually connect vicariously to one side of that old Plymouth encounter, mysteriously linking our faith journey to the early pilgrims’ faith journey. But what about those long-ago Native Americans? Is there a reason to remember them as more than a foil for the pilgrims?

Year after year we think warmly of that first union of the pilgrims and the Native Americans — and then we continue on in the supposed faith tradition of one of those peoples without another thought to the fate of the others.

So what role do those old Native Americans play in our faith today, and how might we bring them to mind or honor them? Here are a few ways you can faithfully honor both sides of the Thanksgiving table this year.

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

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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 / Shutterstock.com
Retro vote poster, pashabo / Shutterstock.com

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."

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