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Statement on Indigenous Ecological Spiritualties and Christian Faith

Statement on Indigenous Ecological Spiritualties and Christian Faith issued from seminar in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 17-20 August 2015.

24 August 2015

As we come to the close of our meeting on Indigenous Ecological Spiritualties and Christian Faith, we recall the process we have undergone in order to understand the pain and suffering of the indigenous peoples (IP) as well as to appreciate the gifts their spiritualties bring. We began each day prayerfully, invoking God for light and listening to God through the Scriptures. Only then did we begin our reflections. Coming from diverse cultural backgrounds and different traditions of Christianity, we reaffirmed the willingness to work together for justice and peace. Presentations by speakers were complimented by open fora and small group discussions.

Assessing the challenges to ethics and spirituality arising from the recently developed discipline of ecology, we set to listen with our hearts to the pain and suffering of those who are both the most vulnerable and the least culpable - the indigenous peoples. Again and again, in the different presentations, mention was made of the commodification of land and culture for the sake of profit which results in loss and devastation of land and destruction of ways of life. Rampant land grabbing and destruction of the environment in the guise of development and the ruining of a people's culture pretending as the showcasing of their traditions are instances of this. We saw here the contestation between the IP's view of land and culture as life lived relationally in a cosmic community and that of the Enlightenment-influenced globalization as primarily in the service of monetary gain. In this contrast we are rightly being made to choose the path to life. These indeed are soteriological issues at stake.

It has been pointed out that in opting for the IPs view that "land is life" is to highlight the life-giving work of the Spirit, “ruah” in the Hebrew Bible. She was present in the beginning of creation. Therefore, we can say with the IPs, that God was really present to them even before the missionaries came. They were never without the presence of God. And God is present today in our midst, as “the lord and giver of life," as the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus sings.

With the intertwining of land and culture in the IP’s perspective, we saw the need to retrieve their basically positive spirituality within their culture that orients their way of life and that energizes them as a community. To this end we attempted to find the wisdom behind the practice of honouring ancestors and key concepts like "Khankho" among the Kuki people, “Tajahan” among the Ngaju Dayak, among others, while keeping in mind the ambiguities found in every culture.

We were also confronted with the challenges the youth are facing in Yogyakarta and how art and cultural interventions are being used to address them in a “praxis spirituality”.

While violent and peaceful solutions in order to preserve IP’s land have been tried with varying outcomes, the ways of education, strengthening communities’ identities, learning from their wisdom, seem to be promising. But only when they are respectful of the IP’s culture and operate with their cultural processes will they achieve their goals.

In response to the pain and suffering of the IPs, might not the consideration of asking an apology to them be a simple significant step to right the wrong we have done? After all, the theologies which had contributed to this woeful situation were the ones we held and propagated.

It is with deep humility that we have come together to say together with our indigenous sisters and brothers, "Land is precious and sacred; indigenous cultures and spiritualties are of inestimable value. We have to continue to believe. We have hope. We are together."

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This statement was issued at the Duta Wacana Christian University, 17-20 August 2015, at the seminar organized by the Faculty of Theology of the Duta Wacana Christian University, the Nijmegen Institute for Mission Studies and the World Council of Churches. It was attended by thirty people (church leaders, theologians, activists and staff of Christian organizations) coming from different parts of Indonesia (Java, Bali, Papua), from the Philippines and India, together with representatives from the organizing institutions.