A few weeks ago, on June 12, we celebrated the feast of Enmegahbowh. I really didn’t know anything about him until I did some research for a sermon I was preaching that evening. In fact, I couldn’t even pronounce his name!! But after some reading, I learned that he was the first Native American Episcopal priest in our country (ordained in 1867) and that he served in a challenging mission field to his own people at a time when just being an “Indian” was very difficult. Not only did he face prejudice and misunderstanding from the white people around him, he struggled with hostility from other Native American tribes as well. His witness is quite a story and, because of his perseverance and commitment to the Gospel, the work he began continues to this day at White Earth Lake Reservation in Minnesota. His name, which means “One who stands before the people,” definitely fits this faithful brother, indeed!!
I bring this story up because we actually have two resolutions from General Convention which impact the Church’s response to the indigenous peoples of our land:
A128: Direct Dioceses to Examine Impact of Doctrine of Discovery
Resolved, That that the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, in the spirit of our Baptismal Covenant and in being inclusive, direct all dioceses to examine the impact the Doctrine of Discovery, as repudiated at the 76th General Convention, has had on all people, especially on persons of color, including racial discrimination, racial profiling and other acts of oppression; and be it further
Resolved, That the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church, the National Episcopal Historians and Archivists, and the Episcopal Women’s History Project, in consultation with the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation as well as diocesan historiographers and archivists, be requested to assist dioceses in documenting and explaining the effects of the Doctrine of Discovery, especially in the life of the church; and be it further
Resolved, That the Presiding Bishop, in consultation with the President of the House of Deputies, be asked to seek volunteer dioceses to develop appropriate written guidance about how a diocese may effectively document and explain the church’s historical role, negative and positive, in connection with the treatment of people of color, including African Americans and Native American people, as a result of the now-repudiated Doctrine of Discovery.
A131: Express Solidarity with Indigenous People
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention expresses its solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the world and supports the rights of Indigenous Peoples to live in and retain their traditional lands and territories, to maintain their languages and enrich their cultures, and to ensure that their traditions are strengthened and passed on for generations to come; and be it further
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention ask the Presiding Bishop and other representatives of The Episcopal Church to make protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples a priority in joint work with other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, in ecumenical work with other Christian denominations, and in interfaith work with other faith communities; and be it further
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention reaffirm the 76th General Convention’s repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, a misguided, unfair, and harmful legal doctrine which the Church helped promote in earlier centuries, a legal doctrine which has been used in English, Continental, and American law to justify the unfair treatment and exploitation of Indigenous Peoples; and be it further
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention urges the United States government and governments in other countries in which the Episcopal Church has dioceses to review their laws and policies, in consultation with Indigenous Peoples, and to identify and correct those which treat Indigenous Peoples unfairly or which, although neutral in content, result in invidious discrimination against Indigenous Peoples; and be it further
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention direct the Office of Government Relations, in consultation with Indigenous Peoples, to make protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples a high priority in its advocacy about United States foreign policy, including advocacy about trade agreements, human rights advocacy, and international environmental protection; and be it further
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention calls on congregations, institutions, dioceses, and corporate offices of The Episcopal Church, with the aid of resources such as “Exposing the Doctrine of Discovery,” to reflect upon their history and to encourage them to support Indigenous Peoples in their ongoing efforts to exercise their inherent sovereignty and fundamental human rights, to continue to raise awareness about the issues facing Indigenous Peoples, and to develop advocacy campaigns to support the rights, aspirations, and needs of Indigenous Peoples; and be it further
Resolved, That in consultation with Indigenous Peoples within their dioceses or Provinces that congregations and dioceses be urged to take tangible steps to help Indigenous Peoples, including:
- Action to preserve Indigenous Peoples’ language, history and culture, such as by supporting appropriate linguistic, historic, Bible (and authorized liturgical resources) translation work for language groups into which the Bible and authorized liturgical resources have not yet been fully translated,
- Action to obtain fairer and better treatment of Indigenous Peoples, such as seeking the repeal of unfair laws and policies,
- Formation of partnerships with congregations whose members consist primarily of Indigenous Peoples; and be it further
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention calls on congregations, institutions, dioceses, and corporate offices of The Episcopal Church to support continued use and development of theological reflections by Indigenous Peoples, with guidance from the Office of Indigenous Ministries, Indigenous Theological Training Institute, local Schools for Ministry and seminaries, which promote Indigenous visions of full, good, and abundant life and which strengthen their own spiritual and theological reflections.
I wonder if many of us are even aware if members of our congregations are also members of a Native American people. At the very least, as followers of Jesus, we should take the time to reflect on the actions of our ancestors toward the people who inhabited this land before us. But, we can do much more than that. We can look for opportunities to support the identities of the diverse peoples that live within our congregations and neighborhoods. As God leads us, we can become more knowledgeable about the struggles and challenges faced by those who have had to grapple with issues confronting indigenous peoples. We can use the “Exposing the Doctrine of Discovery” as a starting point for further understanding – http://library.episcopalchurch.org/sites/default/files/Leader_Guide_Oct_13_edited.pdf
We can commit to nurture healing and hope!
A Prayer for Healing and Hope
O Great Spirit,
God of all people and every tribe,
through whom all people are related;
Call us to the kinship of all your people.
Grant us vision to see through the lens of our Baptismal Covenant,
the brokenness of the past;
Help us to listen to you and to one-another,
in order to heal the wounds of the present;
And, give us courage, patience and wisdom to work together for healing,
and hope with all of your people,
now and in the future.
Mend the hoop of our hearts and let us live in justice and peace,
through Jesus Christ, the One who comes to all people that we might live in dignity. Amen.
– Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee of Diocesan Council