Dear Mitakuyapi (“Relatives” is a traditional greeting in the Lakota language),
Cante Waste ya Nape Ciyu zape ye (“I shake your hand with a good heart”). Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! The advocacy work around Indigenous Peoples Day and the Doctrine of Discovery is work I know well, due to my previous position on the staff of the Presiding Bishop at The Episcopal Church. It is work I hold close to my heart and while we celebrate Indigenous People, we also must understand the history that brought us here.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day, also known as Native American Day, is a counter-holiday to Columbus Day promoting native culture and history. The advocacy for Indigenous Peoples’ Day began in 1992 with protests in Berkeley, California and Denver, Colorado led by non-profit International Indian Treaty Council. Indigenous people called for an accurate portrayal of Columbus’ 1492 arrival. In fact, the first settlers carried with them the belief of the Doctrine of Discovery, which relied on a fifteenth-century document by the pope (called a Papal Bull), gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” for their Christian monarchs. Land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered” and claimed. If the “pagan” inhabitants could be converted, their lives might be spared.
The idea of Manifest Destiny guided the colonization of North, South, and Central America—a racist belief that European settlers were “destined” to claim land from coast to coast. This attitude guided the behaviors that pushed western expansion and promoted the forced removal of Native Americans from their traditional homelands.
In the name of God, the Indigenous people of this land were forced from their homes and made to walk the Trail of Tears. Many died, both along the journey and when they reached the reservations (also known as prison camps). Many tribes, cultures, and languages were decimated on these long, forced marches. The very last goal set by the government was assimilation of the “Indians.”
In 2009, The Episcopal Church became the first denomination in North America to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, after which several other denominations followed, and to acknowledge this shameful era of human history. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stated, “This is also a matter for healing in communities and persons of European immigrant descent. Colonists, settlers, and homesteaders benefited enormously from the availability of ‘free’ land, and their descendants continue to benefit to this day. That land was taken by force or subterfuge from peoples who had dwelt on it from time immemorial—it was their ‘promised land’. The nations from which the settlers came, and the new nations which resulted in the Americas, sought to impose another culture and way of life on the people they encountered. Attempting to remake the land and people they found ‘in their own image’ was a profound act of idolatry.”
In a 2012 pastoral letter, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori decried the Doctrine of Discovery: “These religious warrants led to the wholesale slaughter, rape, and enslavement of indigenous peoples in the Americas, as well as in Africa, Asia, and the islands of the Pacific, and the African slave trade was based on these same principles. Death, dispossession, and enslavement were followed by rapid depopulation as a result of introduced and epidemic disease.”
This is where a theory of healing and action was born. The theory that education will provide an avenue for communities to reconcile and come together for action. Those who do the vulnerable work of healing feel a need to rebalance society, learn to forgive, learn to trust, and begin to dream again. This is an individual and communal rewiring of possibility. This transformational point of intersection is where truly meaningful, long-term intergenerational grassroots action can occur.
This is where you see a place like the protector camp come together at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe — a place that reminds me of what it must have been like before Columbus’ arrival. Many tribes coming together as one unified voice to protect the water and sacred sites. A place filled with songs and dances of different tribal languages from as far away as South America. A place where the tribe is seeing the lowest rates of native teen suicide, due to the collective love demonstrated like no other occurrence in 150 years.
Native Americans in Philanthropy is honored to partner with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to support a regional Generation Indigenous convening to bring a Funders Tour to the camp near Cannonball, North Dakota on October 19-21, 2016. We invite funders to learn from Native youth and community leaders addressing the immediate and long-term issues of tribal sovereignty, community and economic development, health and the environment at the center of the DAPL protest. Engage with NAP, Standing Rock leaders and fellow funders on how to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as they fight against the pipeline and achieve impact in their community. More information and registration can be found here.
Finally, at least four states do not celebrate Columbus Day (Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Dakota) and over 20 cities in the United States recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the United States. Please consider joining the advocacy movement in your local cities and states to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Wopila (“deep gratitude” in the Lakota language),