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Ecclesial and Social Visions of Indigenous Peoples Consultation Report

Around 35 theologians and leaders representing communities, churches and organizations of indigenous peoples in 16 countries in many parts of the world attended a consultation from 21-26 October, 2008 in Baguio City, Philippines. This consultation was called in response to a proposal by the Ninth General Assembly of the WCC to facilitate the theological contributions of indigenous peoples to enrich the life and work of the WCC. In solidarity with the struggles of the largest indigenous peoples' population in Asia, Baguio City in the Philippines was chosen as the context for this theological conversation.

24 June 2009

21-26 October, 2008, Baguio, Philippines

Around 35 theologians and leaders representing communities, churches and organizations of indigenous peoples in 16 countries in many parts of the world attended a consultation from 21-26 October, 2008 in Baguio City, Philippines. This consultation was called in response to a proposal by the Ninth General Assembly of the WCC to facilitate the theological contributions of indigenous peoples to enrich the life and work of the WCC. In solidarity with the struggles of the largest indigenous peoples' population in Asia, Baguio City in the Philippines was chosen as the context for this theological conversation.

Our Experience in Baguio

We journeyed to Baguio City from different parts of the world with our stories of celebration of life, struggles, resistance and hope. When we arrived, we were informed that one of our indigenous brothers, James Balao has been abducted by armed men on 17 September, 2008 in La Trinidad town in Benguet province, a few metres from the Cordillera police headquarters in Camp Dangwa, for speaking out for justice.

Balao is an active researcher and trainer of the Cordillera People's Alliance (CPA). His research on the Oclupan clan, tracing their roots, gave the indigenous peoples a sense of identity and solidarity. It also fed into the work of the Cordillera People's Alliance campaigns against multinational companies to expose government misdoings and to assert the land and resources rights of the indigenous people. As a result of his involvement in community organization, Balao was seen as a threat to government.

Balao's family members and friends believed that his disappearance was perpetrated by the state. The CPA also believes that Balao has been targeted especially because of his vocal campaigns against the government's anti-people and anti-indigenous people's policies.

Some of us from the conference joined the International Solidarity Team in calling attention to the abduction of this advocate of indigenous' rights. We were surprised to discover that the community is very afraid of the police and military; the long history of Philippine leaders using the state security forces as a tool of repression has bred deep mistrust amongst the population. In Lower Tomay, this mistrust has been compounded by the presence of suspicious faces, assumed to be plainclothes intelligence officers, in the area since the abduction. It was shocking to the group to see how real the fear of retaliation is within the community.

We were prevented from meeting by the Military Intelligence Group (MIG) even after prior notification, which suggests arrogance and a feeling of impunity which is unhealthy within the state security forces of a democratic country. After meeting several important officials, we realized that some were unwilling to provide the facts, sometimes contradicted each other and were wilfully ignoring the facts in order to protect the state. We were especially disappointed that government institutions dominated by people of indigenous origin were not sympathetic to indigenous peoples' rights in general, and to the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera in particular, but instead appeared to be serving national, anti-indigenous interests.

We were unanimous in feeling that cooperation with the interests of multinational corporations in exploiting Philippine natural resources was making repression in the country and in the Cordillera worse. In the long, global history of human rights abuses against indigenous peoples and indigenous people's activities, there has always been an element of corporate and government collusion. We further felt that the Philippine government's labelling indigenous people's rights activists as communists/terrorists, and the subsequent human rights abuses was part of a long, global history of violence against indigenous peoples who dare to stand up for their individual and collective rights.

In the midst of the struggle, we experienced a great sense of solidarity among the members of CPA, the Oculpan clan and the community in fighting against unjust forces. Some people came forward to bear witness to the abduction and to stand with the family and the CPA in their efforts to find James Balao. We were deeply moved by their great determination to fight for their rights and protect their land and culture. In the midst of great despair and uncertainty about their future, indigenous peoples are united in their determination to continue to struggle. There is hope, and it is our prayer that James Balao will be found some day.

Some of us visited the victims of dam construction and deforestation. We were touched by the stories of farming communities' struggles in the context of the market economy, the building of dams for electric power and mining on indigenous lands without prior consultation or approval of traditional landowners. We met people who have been forcefully evicted from their sacred ancestral lands. We saw that the way state and corporate forces work against indigenous peoples gives the impression that they are too mighty, big and powerful to fight. But we were convinced that through the international solidarity of indigenous peoples, we can combat these forces. Thus, the group reiterated the importance of international solidarity among indigenous people.

In this context of abduction, threat, pain and despair, but also of the resistance, hope and life of our brothers and sisters in the Cordillera region, we started our theological reflection on the theme "Our common social and ecclesial visions". Our stories, symbols, sounds, colours, dances and chants celebrated the rich diversity of God's good creation.

As we began to reflect together, we became aware of our differences. We realized that we need more time to communicate with and understand each other. We see this as the beginning of a journey towards mutual appreciation, and of a new, common theological paradigm that affirms the splendour of God's creative freedom that has made us different and wants us to appreciate each other. So, as we embark on this journey, we shall not homogenize our theological reflections but affirm the purposes of God for all God's creation, with the help of our resources of culture and values.

As is customary in our indigenous communities, our reflection was in narrative form, full of colours and flowers, songs and dances, symbolic elements and rituals. We articulate theology in the symbolic language of our stories, myths, dances and songs, not only in the conceptual language of the brain.

Having listened to and heard each other, we identified several areas for further reflection in groups. Our reflections are summarized below:  

I. Living in a Globalized World

When all the trees have been cut down,
When all the animals have been hunted,
When all the waters are polluted,
When all the air is unsafe to breathe,
Only then we will discover you cannot eat money.

A Native North American proverb

 ….Not greedy for money, but eager to serve;
not lording it over those entrusted to you,
but being examples to the flock

I Pet. 5:2-3

We, the indigenous peoples are the first people/first nations, the original settlers of the land, who gave names to the mountains, rivers, rocks. They are bound together as peoples and nations by creation stories, customary laws, rituals and practices. Those name-givers are called indigenous people, and they are the true stewards of the land.

Indigenous peoples are a non-dominant sector of society except in a few countries like Bolivia and Guatemala. In Latin America, indigenous peoples struggle to preserve and develop as peoples in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems. Latin America offers us a rich history of struggles in which indigenous peoples became political subjects with specific agendas. Resistance became public power, and new constitutions in Ecuador and Bolivia include indigenous peoples as part of the state. This achievement encourages the struggles of other indigenous peoples for their own self-determination, which is a human right recognized by the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Rights (September 2007).

While the dominant sectors give priority to rationality and an anthropocentric view of life that exploit and devastate nature, the indigenous peoples honour and care for nature because they know that nature sustains their lives, their existence. Their respect for the land is respect for life, knowing that life is sustained by the land given by God.

Interestingly, the majority of Christian community members in most of the global South are people from indigenous backgrounds. Indigenous peoples were the first communities to welcome Christians, but also to suffer from Christian missionaries' misdoings. The process of Christianization implied violence against indigenous peoples, cultures, languages and lands. It also involved real killing of body, soul, and identity. In search of liberation and also in some cases for a new identity, we opted for the Christian faith in some places in the world. In other places, we realized that to be part of the Christian majority but a minority in the context of the religious world involved many sacrifices – job loss, denial of rights, persecution and so on. Being a minority or even a majority of the population in some places, we have faced the reality of being excluded, discriminated against, and marginalized and in some places even threatened with death. But struggling as a minority has also provided an opportunity to use our dynamics and creativity to make a contribution to our people and society.

Socially, we, the indigenous peoples are the most exploited, excluded, poorest, the most powerless and divided people in the world. We suffer higher rates of poverty, landlessness, malnutrition and internal displacement than other members of society. About 1.2 billion indigenous people live on less than a dollar a day. We are looked down on as backward, primitive and uncivilized people living in the hills and forests. After so many years of slavery and subjugation, we indigenous peoples have lost our self-esteem and confidence. This developed into a feeling of inferiority that prevails even today. Despite this, we as indigenous peoples are proactive subjects, willing to share our wisdom in order to generate "a new heaven and new lands" for all the life on our planet.

Politically, too we are the most powerless of all peoples. "Majority" politics favour dominant sectors of society. Majority democracy is an instrument to assimilate minorities, like indigenous peoples, into the majority's value system. Therefore, within nation states, indigenous peoples are not only economically marginalized, but also politically disenfranchised. They are relegated to second-class citizenship in many democratic countries. It should also be noted that political oppression, militarization and forms of ethnocide are taking place every day on a large scale. Violence, forced disappearance of indigenous peoples' leaders, conflict and killing have become everyday realities all over the world. In all these barbaric onslaughts, we see the hands of politicians and industrialists. All these inhuman activities are designed to create fear and to drive people away to forests and mountains, to take over the land, forests and mineral resources of indigenous peoples.

A testimony from Thailand:

The Government asked the people to plant only one kind of plant and allowed them to borrow money for this endeavour. They planted trees according to government advice using chemicals. They borrowed money and used it for business. But after they planted and got the fruit, they could not sell it because the companies oppressed them. People have lot of debt. After they work off the debt, they want more things. The people from the villages go into the cities to work, especially the young people. But they get a very low salary.

 

In today's world, everything that touches the life from spirituality to sexuality, ethnic politics, the oppressed communities' resistance movement, the ecological movement and the human rights movement is related to capital control and economic manipulation. Indigenous communities are now in a new context characterized by economic competition and consumerism under the global market regime. The global empire and the greed of global capital are making a tremendous impact on world geo-politics and destroying and threatening all life, especially the lives of the poor and marginalized like the indigenous communities, women and children.

In today's world, "growth" is considered as the only route to liberation. Concepts of "care for one another", "a just economy" and "Sabbath rest for creation" (Det. 25) are considered as non-productive and the root of all human problems from poverty to sickness or to political instability. Any attempt to slow down economic growth is labelled as immoral. The global market turns indigenous peoples with our cultural activities and natural resources into commodities for profit. The weak, namely the migrant workers, farmers, consumers, small entrepreneurs and the whole eco-system are the victims of globalization. The value of life is determined in the speculative market. Those who fail to participate in the capital market remain marginalized. The vast majority of people remain poor in spite of their active participation in production because of their inability to enter the market of finance capital. While capital is an asset, or a cause for celebration, labour is viewed as a curse, a source of distress.

The land, the mountains, the deserts, the rivers and forests have been the home and life-sustaining resources of indigenous people for centuries. But today, they are being misused and raped to meet the growing demands of consumerism. Forest and fishing resources are depleted for quick profits. Mining companies rape resources with little regard to the environmental and social costs. The earth's sustaining power to nurture life is being destroyed. The whole planet is in danger, and climatic change is the biggest threat in today's world, a world in a deep and complex crisis of civilization.

The fact that land and resources have become the greatest single cause of strife and warfare between nations and people of different communities within nations today cannot be denied. Resources are hoarded by a few and denied to others. Instead of using the ownership of resources as an opportunity to share as one would with unmerited gifts of God, ownership has become a pretext for conquest and seizure, a tool of oppression, greed and power.

By globalization, we mean forced liberalization of trade markets, privatization of land and resources, commodification of human beings, labour and indigenous cultures, and the imposition of western cultural hegemony which promotes rampant consumerism. The driving force behind these globalizing forces is the maximization of profits without regard to communities, relationships or the environment. In the dominant economic paradigm, these are seen simply as externalities. Such destructive forms of globalization contribute to a widening gap between the rich and poor. These strained relationships are made manifest in the way humanity has broken its spiritual relationship with creation.

We are aware of each other as a wider, global population of indigenous peoples. We do not exist in isolation from each other. And this, our ability to stand in solidarity with one another, is an expression of the Suma Qamaña/Sumaj Kawsay1 or Good life. We do not dismiss the abstract concept of "globalization". Technological advances can aid us in our witness to each other's struggles, as long as the intention is to ensure life in abundance and good living for all creatures. Technological advances can help us to solve problems, but can also become harmful when motivated by greed and profit. Any vision for the Good life, no matter where, should be affirmed by all people everywhere. We seek to reclaim the Christian tradition of the common good informed by indigenous worldviews of abundance, community and sharing.

While our distinct cultures can set us apart from dominant societies, they should not be understood merely as colourful relics from the past; less civilized and archaic. Indigenous peoples can offer concrete responses to the global forces which we see as harmful to all peoples, as we are already doing. The common values that we wish to share with the world are:

  • community over individual interests;

  • a logic of relationality or interconnection between all living beings, even inanimate beings such as rocks, sites, etc.;

  • simple functionality over luxury;

  • a respectful and reciprocal attitude to and use of natural resources:

  • sharing over accumulation of wealth; and

  • alternative definitions of privilege, power and prestige.

We see ourselves in this world supported by the biblical imperative to seek justice and peace, especially as directed by the witness of the prophetic books and witness of Jesus. Social stratification, abuse of power in economic and political structures, and violence against humanity and all of creation are condemned by our scriptures and traditions just as they are in the Christian Bible. We are compelled to speak out with the communion of saints and our ancestors when injustices continue to be perpetrated in the contemporary world.

In the context of growing inequalities, different forms of injustice and conflicts in a globalized world, we affirm:

  1. Trade and economic cooperation on the basis of equality and sharing of life and resources; mutuality of support and respect for one another's life;

  2. Self-determination as indigenous peoples in our different countries and control over natural resources existing in our ancestral lands;

  3. Respect and protection for our rich ethnic, cultural and religious diversity;

  4. Affirming the sanctity of and respect for human life, dignity and the integrity of God's entire creation;

  5. Spirituality that promotes justice, peace and reconciliation;

  6. Cultural solidarity to resist the impact of globalization and to find new ways to overcome the problems of division;

  7. Protection of diversity irrespective of religious and ethnic differences; and

  8. Policy and values that guarantee diversity as well as the uniqueness of each culture.

We want the church to affirm itself as a steward of all of God's creation (including human beings). Theological concepts of stewardship can be developed under the leadership of indigenous theologians to rethink the way we live in the world. Likewise, our emphasis on community in the journey of Christian pilgrimage can offer the church a renewed sense of hope for its ecclesiological understandings. Sharing, community, relationality or interconnection, and love of one's neighbour are indigenous values that can inform the Christian theological task.

I inherited this vineyard from my ancestors. The Lord forbids that I should let you have it.

(I Kg 21: 3)

Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bears fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.

(Gen 1:11)

 

A story from the Philippines:

My friends, King Ahab's proposal to Naboth is not new for indigenous peoples today. They have already heard this kind of proposal many times before. For instance, the indigenous peoples of Binga and Ambuclao heard such a proposal when they were forced to resettle in Palawan to make way for hydroelectric plants. A similar proposal was made to the Ibaloys of Benguet when they were displaced and their land used for the vast Marcos Sports Complex and a huge bust of President Marcos was erected. The Tinguians of Abra also heard it when the government decided to give almost all the mountains of Abra to the Cellophil Corporation as a logging concession. The Kalingas heard it when the government was negotiating to build several dams along the Chico and Abulog rivers that would submerge at least sixteen municipalities.

 

Around the world, indigenous peoples' sayings speak of their land:

"The land is God's land."

"One cannot become rich by selling land."

"Do not be greedy for the land, if you want to live long."

"Land is life."

"The land cries in the hands of greedy people."

"The land never lies; do not lie to the land."

"The land is like a bird, it flies away soon in the hands of greedy people."

"You can sell other things, but not land."

"You are a stranger without land."

 

Land is fundamental. Without land there is no life, no culture and no identity. Land is everything for indigenous peoples. Even their multiple cultural expressions come from land, from nature. As indigenous peoples, we affirm that we need our land to live and to restore the life of our planet.

Indigenous people's identity is a central concern in the light of the efforts of empires, establishments and dominant groups to rob us of our identities or to impose identities that are not our own upon us. Re-naming or erasing indigenous peoples' identities has always been, in history, a form of control and domination. It is an instrument of the powers that grab and exploit the ancestral lands of indigenous communities. Hence, the struggle for self-identification is the same as the struggle for self-determination. Self-determination is a naming, self-identifying process. To be able to chart one's own destiny based on traditional economic, political and socio-cultural systems and processes – within the framework of unity, justice and genuine development – is a naming, self-identifying process. However, it is necessary to emphasize the point that self-identification and self-determination are community processes and must be guarded against bourgeois individualistic interests.

A testimony from Sami perspective:

The Southern Sami word Maadtoe – the sense of being born into the sïjte – means both a land area and the people living there. As a person, you are born into a relationship to the land that your ancestors belonged to. "It is the land that owns the people," as the Southern Sami priest Bierna Bientie puts it. The relationships to relatives and to land are fundamental, together with the relationship to God. A Sami boy or girl will always be asked by adults: "Whose daughter/son are you?" This is an important question, because a person is not seen as an isolated individual. He or she is always considered as someone's daughter/son, father/mother, and aunt/uncle. Through the baptizing ritual, the child is also put into a lifelong relationship to his/her Godfather/Godmother. These are seen as "ritual relatives". They sometimes have stronger bonds than blood relatives. And the children of Godparents will become the child's "God-siblings". The sense of collectiveness and relatedness is basic. And this is also true for the relationship to land. As a Sami, you will always be from your ancestors' land, wherever you settle down. There will be ties. And when you move through the land, you will learn how to show respect for the spirits of the land. The Northern Sami word Sivdnadusat means creatures as well as blessings. All creatures are referred to as Sivdnadusat. The responsibility humans have towards other creatures is as co-creatures manifest by the will of the Creator – the Sivdnideaddji – the Blesser of all of creation.

 

Our identity Our identity is radically related to the land: to mountains, rocks, forest, seas, the entire cosmic universe and everything therein. Contrary to the colonizers' description of the land as "wilderness" or "empty space", the land is our temple, our university, our hospital, our market, the vast hall where we congregate and celebrate, our parent, our life. It is in the land that we worship; with land we heal the sick, educate our children, and feed our people. The loss of land and the destruction of the indigenous peoples' environment is an affront to our identities, the loss of our life-ways and our self-determining existence.

A testimony from Cambodia:

In Cambodia, some ethnic groups (for example, the Cham) are not given equal opportunities for jobs and education. If they want a job, they have to change their name to a Khmer name. They hide their own identities in order to survive. Even though some indigenous communities are given official recognition, there is still discrimination in employment, political and economic opportunities.

 

A testimony from Nicaragua:

In Nicaragua, rivers have dried up because the trees are felled indiscriminately. But it is not the "Indians" who do this. Others come from afar to seize our land. Our identity as Miskito is rooted in our land. The land, as we have said is the Mother; the giver of life, she gives everything for life to go on.

 

Our sacred sites In many indigenous peoples' communities, some specific sacred sites inform and reveal who we are, our roots and identities. On these sites, we renew and affirm our bond to the land and our ancestors and we reaffirm our proposal of Good living. The so-called "civilizing" and Christianizing processes were hostile to our sacred sites. The declaration of sacred sites as belonging to the colonizing states and their corresponding "Christianization", i.e., desacralization, contributed to the destruction and exploitation of indigenous peoples' lives, spirituality, customs and livelihoods.

Our stories, myths and utopias Indigenous peoples' stories and myths are markers of our identity. They serve as our spiritual resources in our struggle for self-determination. We tell our stories to protect our names and identities against attempts by the dominant culture to relegate us to oblivion. Our storytelling is our struggle, and to listen to them or construct rituals around them is a re-assertion of who we are. In our myths, we give an account of our origins and destiny, our past and the future we hope for in the midst of our painful lives.

Our languages – Our indigenous languages are on the verge of extinction due to the imposition of dominant languages and globalization. In the name of national integration, we have been prevented from teaching our children in their own ethnic languages. Some indigenous peoples have intentionally adopted the language of the dominant community, out of fear of discrimination. But some still maintain their own languages as a way to resist domination. The use of local languages was not only forbidden, but people were also led to believe that the use of and command of a local language revealed their inferior position in society. With the loss of language, indigenous people have lost sight of their distinct social and cultural values. indigenous peoples' languages are the core of our identity and express our special relationship with the land. Our languages carry our original instructions, and encode indigenous knowledge of our history, ceremonies, medicine, understanding of the stars, the sun and the moon, and inform us about how to live in the world. The use of our languages, including the right to name children with indigenous names, is a vital expression of our self-determination and our sovereignty. There are some few places where the indigenous languages have been acknowledged by the national government, as in Norway or Bolivia. We see the potential of growing self esteem and reclaiming of identity after centuries of forced language loss. Some indigenous communities are forced to articulate theology in the colonial language, but our original languages are crucial for any authentic indigenous theology. We reclaim our language to reclaim our identity and dream our future2.

Our struggles as peoples – In the past, our primary identifying marker was our resistance to invasion and colonization. Today, it is our resistance to one-sided development aggression. In our struggles to defend our ancestral lands and rights, we define who we are as guardians and caretakers of the last frontiers. Control of our traditional spaces and lands is central for our survival and success as indigenous communities.

A Sami testimony from Norway:

In 1903 a Land Act stated that to be allowed to own land you should have a Norwegian name and speak Norwegian. For many Sámi, the real threat was to the right to land and the right to be heard. As a colonizing strategy the government encouraged Norwegians to move into the Sámi areas to start farming. They came with papers in hand and settled on the homelands of the Sámi. This created a lot of conflict, and in 1917 the first official Sámi meeting was held. It was organized by a woman, Elsa Laula, who has written a pamphlet called "Facing Life or Death". She raised the issue that Sámi were considered second-class citizens, were driven from their homelands, and their rights were not acknowledged by the government. This was the beginning of the Sami organization which resulted in elected Sami parliaments in all the three Nordic countries by 1993.

 

Our rites and ceremonies - Who we are and what we envision as communities are also defined by our rites and ceremonies. Without these rites, our communities are in danger of disintegration. Our rites demand space and require struggling for the spaces that we actually own where our rituals can be performed again. Where space has been lost, indigenous peoples seek new expressions for our "indigeneity", and we find it in our solidarity with the poor and others on the margins of the dominant societies. Our rites are related to nature and connect us with all living beings as part of a huge life system/organism. The surviving, living, indigenous soul is one that seeks and maintains connectedness, inter-relatedness. In a new cultural environment, indigenous spirituality remains a living spirituality celebrated in the solidarity of peoples on the underside of society.

A testimony from Bolivia:

Pachamama is the origin of everything. My daughter was sick, and as one from a Christian family, I was hesitant to ask the Yatiri, the wise person in a community or neighborhood. The doctor said that there was nothing wrong with my daughter, but she was still sick and grew weaker day by day. Finally, I decided to go to the Yatiri, and she said me that Pachamama was asking for reconciliation among family members and a ritual meal. We did these and since then my daughter has been healthy again and my family has recovered peace and happiness. I thank God and Pachamama for all the blessings that I have every day. I understand that family, land, animals and everything is in interrelationship so, when something bad happens, the balance is broken and we need to ask for forgiveness in order to reestablish life and the interrelationship. Pachamama let us know what we need to do.

 

III. Our Theological Articulations and Resources

Testimony from Australia:

We have been taught about God, but until recent years we were not taught to pass that knowledge on to others as we did prior to 1988. This has been the prerogative of the missionaries. This, like other facets of life in the church, has now changed and we are encouraged to be more active in church life, including, expressing our thoughts on theology.

It is our responsibility to teach theology our way, to teach our understanding of God, like the creator spirit within the Christian context, and our relationship with God and the land. There will be times when we will have to be strong and perhaps some powers within the church will disagree with us.

No person or community can have a monopoly over theology, and there is no universal theology which is timeless; every theology is contextual. To express our knowledge of God in one's own way is the inherent right of all human beings. Our experience of hardship and exclusion and our land-centered culture become a vital source for doing theology, always in the framework of Good living between all the beings or living creatures. Our faith reflection is a theology from "below", from the "underside of history". Marginalized, abandoned and excluded people are the locus of the divine.

In our faith journey as indigenous peoples, we are no longer treated as the objects, but as subjects of history. We can apprehend God by what God has done to our ancestors even before the arrival of Christianity, and what God is still doing for the people in the concrete historical context. A focus on the liberation of indigenous people is the critical principle in our faith journey.

Our theology is a theology of Good Living, of peace and justice for all the creation, feeling and thinking that all creation is interconnected in a delicate balance. We nourish our theology with our worldview, wisdom, tradition and with our communitarian memory of our history. Our theology begins and is nourished by a strong and vital spirituality which knows that every being and all the things in creation have life and spirit. This spirituality affirms the right to life of all creation. It denounces the danger in which our planet is because of ecological injustice, that is just another face of the well-known social, economic, financial, age, gender and other forms of injustice.

 

Our theology is an articulation of our millennial self-understanding, of our current lives; and expressed in the symbolic language of our words, acts and lifestyles.

a. Our cosmology and worldview

Testimony from Chile:

For our people, all beings of nature are our brothers and sisters, like dogs and cats… They are part of ourselves, they all are creatures created to coexist with us. All that moves or crawls is a manifestation of God. Just because we value all beings in nature and rocks, we are called animists. This term devalues our spirit manifestations. Cultures are necessary tools to mediate, express and bear the Gospel. Cultures are also the womb of incarnation. Without culture, we are not only unable to understand the Gospel, but provide no ground for the Gospel to exist. If we take seriously our confession of divine creation and incarnation, we will find it makes no sense to describe any culture as pagan or ungodly.

We affirm that without re-rooting Christian faith in our culture in a deep process of intercultural dialogue, faith reflection will have no meaning. God was at work among indigenous people from the beginning, and God continues to work even today. We recognize that indigenous worldviews differ from one community to another; however, the following traditions and values are common to most indigenous peoples all over the world:

 

  1. The land is the basis of all realities – human selfhood and identity. We perceive all realities from creation/holistic perspectives and seek the Good living of all creatures.

  2. The land is also our political claim and our way to articulate our struggles.

  3. The world is sacred. Land is our mother. How can we sell and exploit our mother?!

  4. Relationship between individuals in society and cooperation is more important than the simple performance of tasks. Giving and sharing is valued over saving.

  5. Our worldview is highly community-oriented.

  6. There is no sharp dualism or clear-cut distinction between sacred and secular, religion and non-religion, politics and economic matters, etc. Our thinking is holistic and interconnected.

  7. The self of the Supreme Being is seen in creation and an inseparable relationship is maintained between them. God, who toils with the soil and farms with poor people comes out of the soil and floods everything with Her/His presence and sanctifies everything.

  8. We cannot perceive the Supreme Being apart from creation. The world is full of mystery; God is in creation, and the whole world is the temple of God.

  9. Though indigenous peoples' religion is the oldest religion, there is no scripture or creed. The mother earth/Pachamama is sacred and central for life, and the wisdom of our ancestors guides us.

  10. Our religion is not centered in any historical person. The earth is the focal point of reference, and all religious activities are centered in the earth. The Spirit works and is present in all life, especially in life in community of all living beings.

These are some of our common cultural heritages. Such a view of life is not primitive or uncivilized. It is just a difference of emphasis and priority. Indigenous people give more priority to community and preservation of the earth. These values are also not mere abstract concepts, but part of people's life and existence. In spite of the process of Christianization and globalization, such value systems continue to liberate, sustain and nourish life. These cultural resources by creatively co-relating with the Gospel can empower and transform people in favour of our historical struggle for social, political, economic and ecological justice and identity.

b. Biblical testimony of creation

Indigenous peoples' communities recognize several "scriptures", including oral traditions, in their understanding and construction of their identity and struggles. The Bible is one of the most important sources of indigenous peoples' theology. It is the book of indigenous people, an important part in daily life. The Bible speaks of people's relationships in society, of cultivation, animals, nature and of people's encounters with the sacred power in their search for liberation.

The Hebrew Bible starts with accounts of humanity as created from the earth/land. It says that humanity is created in God's image, and that each race and nation was assigned a space in God's world (Deut 32: 8). The land, from whose womb humanity was formed (Gen. 2:7), is also viewed by the Bible as really alive. It is not a mass of dead matter, but a living, pulsating organism.

From our land-centered lenses, the mountains and hills and trees sing and clap their hands. These are not mere metaphors or poetry. The land or the whole creation is alive, and it is so intimately interwoven with the lives and struggles of the indigenous communities that creation groans in travail (Romans 8: 19, 22) whenever we, the people of the land, suffer displacement, exile and persecution.

The New Testament Gospel, too, proclaims how the redemption of the margins is central in the divine economy. Jesus always located His ministry within the farming context and worldview. Jesus' language, metaphors and symbols are drawn from the day-to-day experience of the farmers and fisher-folk and their struggle for justice against the empire. In other words, the Judeo-Christian gospel of the reign of God affirms the indigenous worldview and spirituality that constructs our understanding of who we are and what we struggle for.

c. God in creation

Creation is the first act of God's revelation. God cannot be perceived without water, wind, trees, vegetation, the sky, light, darkness, animals, human creatures. In God's first act of revelation, God revealed Himself/Herself as co-creator with earth. The most striking aspect in this first act of God's revelation is "God is present in creation". The presence of God makes this earth sacred. That is why God entered into a covenant relationship with all creatures. There are many stories, myths, parables, and even fairy tales of how the Sacred Power and the land sustain life together. Totems, taboos and other customary laws further uphold this divine confluence. This means that "the whole earth is full of God's glory" (Isa. 6:3). Therefore, the indigenous peoples conceive of God and world as very attached to each other. To perceive God as detached from creation/earth or a mere transcendental being who controls life from above is not the biblical faith.

 

We believe in God because God as the Creator is present and continues to work in the land to give life and hope. This affirmation is the foundation for life. Justice to creation/earth is the key to liberation, human dignity and fullness of life. When we do justice to the land, then love, nurture, care, acceptance and peace flow naturally and necessarily. When there is justice in the land, the fields and forests and every living thing will dance and sing for joy (Ps. 96:11-12). The major problem in theology is the articulation of faith in human history without reference to the other members of the earth's family. One cannot understand the problems of poverty, oppression, war, ethnic conflict and identity without relating them to the integrity of the earth's family.

Testimony from the Andean region:

Pacha is an Aymara word which simultaneously means both time and space . We think that there is more than one beginning; Pacha goes by cycles in eternal and spiral movements. The present and the concrete place in which we are include the past and the future, the possibility of living in a perfect balance with justice in the present time.

 

d. Liberation and integrity of creation

The Bible is the book that affirms life, not death and destruction. A striking element in the Bible is the institution of the Sabbath and Jubilee. Jubilee, in the Biblical tradition, is an invitation to participate in the dreams and designs of the Divine to recreate relations among living beings through restoration and renewal of history. Jubilee epitomizes the hope for an eschatological possibility in historical terms, creating systems that are free from the possibilities of exploitation and oppression.

Ancient seers introduced the concept of Jubilee through principles of economic, political and social justice within a cosmic framework which inherently negates the marginalization of any living beings. To actualize this vision, God revealed Himself/Herself as the liberator in the Exodus event. More precisely, God is revealed as the God of liberation of the oppressed. "I am Yahweh your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." (Ex. 20:2; Deut. 5:6). Israel as a people came to know God as liberator through the Exodus. By delivering the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage and inaugurating the covenant on the basis of that historical event, God is "revealed as the God of the oppressed, involved in their history, liberating them from human bondage." In the Exodus event, God took the side of the oppressed community; the people who had been denied human dignity and earth's resources as they are denied to indigenous peoples today.

Jesus' Nazareth manifesto reaffirmed liberation by proclaiming the Year of the Lord's favour. Jesus reiterated the importance of the Jubilee tradition for liberation (Luke 4:18 ff.). The proclamation of the Year of the Lord is a message of liberty to those who have lost their land, personhood or status. It is a promise that they can return to their former position and ancestral land, both the rich and the poor, the master and the servant, the empowered and the weak, and even nature itself were all to return to their original state.

The conflict with Satan and the powers of this world, the condemnation of the rich, the insistence that the kingdom of God is for the poor, and the location of His ministry among the poor for liberation threatened the oppressors, which cost Jesus His crucifixion, are the convictions that we cherish and uphold.

Unless life is reorganized as prescribed by the values of Jubilee, just community is no more than an empty word. Jesus' spirituality is martyrdom as the testimony of struggle and that is why it is "costly discipleship". The resurrection conveys hope in God. That is why Jesus becomes the symbol of the struggle for justice for indigenous people. To fight against and resist the new empire of the global market and contemporary anti-people development activities is justified, and it is the Divine mandate to participate in God's liberating act in history.

IV. Our Ecclesial Vision

All who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.

(Isa. 56: 6-7)

 

The church is a house of prayer for all nations, races and languages. There are no barriers and discrimination in the house of God. Indigenous people, women, children and persons with disabilities are all invited to celebrate and share their gifts for common Good living.

We need to understand the household of God on the basis of the richness of God's creation. This is expressed in its plurality. Attempts to exclude other forms of expression are to deny God's richness. No culture, no community is excluded from God's structure of creation. All are unique in their own ways and, therefore, no one has the right to dominate and suppress the other. Life is protected, and it can grow to its fullness only by affirming the beauty of plurality.

In our history, we recognize that some Christian missionaries did a great deal for the liberation of indigenous people. They were the first to open mission schools, printing presses, hospitals, do translation work and much more. Recognizing their genuine interest in the well-being of the oppressed people and commitment to bring the gospel message of salvation to them, many oppressed people who were searching for a more dignified life converted to the Christian faith.

While acknowledging many dedicated and selfless efforts by the missionaries, we are also aware that the church has been an ally of empires in the marginalization, oppression, exploitation and even obliteration of indigenous peoples' communities. In the name of God, many Christian missionaries have demonized indigenous cultures and traditions, forcing them to hide and, consequently, robbing the younger generations of their own heritage. Christian faith and churches became the Trojan horse of empires, and to this day continue to be an instrument of subjugation of indigenous people's communities. The church has consistently played a role as the cultural partisan in our colonization, consistently breaking our will to resist subjugation and domination and, tragically, standing silent in the face of the destruction of our habitat, our livelihood and culture.

Indigenous peoples affirm a church for people and for creation, with ecumenical unity but not a church for power, hierarchy, expansion, extension and conquest. What we envision is a church that respects, recognizes, affirms, supports, promotes and advocates for us and with us in our struggle for self-identification and self-determination. We envision a church that makes full use of its resources - liturgy, pastoral services, evangelization, educational, advocacy and accompaniment programs, for the promotion of our visions and struggles and the provision of space for us to celebrate who we are and what we contribute to the construction of a just and inclusive world. We envision an indigenous church in which we can live freely the blessings of God, in which we can reveal something of the mystery of God that was revealed to our peoples in history.

Indigenous ecclesiology starts from concrete facts and lives, and goes deeper into indigenous peoples' experience not only as an object of study but especially as the subject of ecclesiological and theological elaboration.

Our wider family

Indigenous peoples across the globe share a common theological imperative to serve as stewards of God's creation in a brotherhood and sisterhood relationship with creation. Our epistemologies recognize the world as a sacred place of abundance where we are free to partake of God's goodness with thanksgiving; we do this with a profound sense of gratitude, responsibility and spiritual connection to the land. When the world is seen as a place of abundance, we are compelled to take only what we need for a dignified life. Such an economic worldview displays great faith in the ability of God to provide life as our Creator.

This worldview of trust in God's goodness and providence and in the close relationship between life, land and survival is not easily reconciled with the current system of economic, cultural, political and religious globalization which views the world as a place of scarcity. We do not feel that we are the only ones to nurture this kind of worldview, however. There are also many other communities, like social movements, ecologists, feminists, human rights activists, etc. who are seeking change in the world, and we call on them to join us so that, together, we can speak with a single and renewed voice in favour of the life of our only world. We are aware that if we join them not only in our struggles but also in our visions, we will not be a minority.

We are part of wider struggles for survival and life in abundance. To be part of these struggles is to affirm the sacredness of the totality of creation as viewed by indigenous peoples, as part of the central as well as the wider ecumenical theological concern.

V. Our Solidarity

 

While we express our solidarity with each other, we also urge the World Council of Churches and its member churches to stand in solidarity with indigenous people and to:

  1. promote exchange programmes to enable us to learn from each other and provide common ground for mutual support. A stay of one to three months in a specific context will enable the indigenous people from another context to learn and be inspired by one another on how to work for more just and inclusive communities in their home places;
  2. create an international solidarity platform for annual meetings of indigenous people to build networks and to support one other;
  3. promote consultations and publication of theological reflections from indigenous perspectives; and
  4. encourage and integrate the use of artistic expressions, spirituality and rituals of indigenous culture in worship;
  5. have an indigenous representative and listen to an indigenous voice in all WCC projects;
  6. create international solidarity support groups in different countries to fight for the rights of indigenous peoples.

The group urges the global ecumenical community to express its solidarity with, guarantee and safeguard the indigenous peoples by:

  1. promoting knowledge and awareness of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples within indigenous communities that are part of WCC member churches, and also support the Declaration's recommendation of implementation in their nations;

  2. initiating a study on the violation of the indigenous peoples' land rights, including systematic and massive land-grabbing, which causes the death of indigenous communities, especially children;

  3. joining indigenous communities' resistance to anti-people developmental activities; starting a study on "development aggression", that is, the state-enforced dispossession and plunder of indigenous communities' lands and resources by big foreign capital and local business operations;

  4. starting an inquiry on extra-judicial killings, human rights violations, forced disappearances, persecution as terrorists, and threats against indigenous people's leaders in different countries by governments or transnational companies;

  5. initiating a study on the militarization of indigenous communities and violations of indigenous peoples' human rights.

  6. launching a study on misrepresentation and subversion of indigenous socio-political systems; institutionalized discrimination and cultural chauvinism; commercialization of culture; and historical government neglect of basic services, resulting in worsening marginalization, poverty and food insecurity among indigenous peoples.

Conclusion

Theology is an ongoing reflective activity. The perspective on indigenous peoples' theology offered in this document does not claim to be final. It is an ongoing process, and we invite you to join us in our theological journey that we began in Baguio, Philippines in October 2008.

Report finalized: 24 June 2009


1 These are words in Aymara and Quechua (cultures of South America located in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, north of Chile and Argentina) mean Good living and are related to the concept of the Kingdom of God in the Bible. Nowadays, as a paradigm of life, it is a Latin-American indigenous people's proposal for the world.

2 It is important to say that even in this input, we are struggling with language, because we are thinking as indigenous theologians in a language which is not our own. In these conditions, it required a big effort to generate some consensus between us and to offer our cultural and spiritual riches.