World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Indigenous statement

Indigenous Peoples, men and women, are the voice of the land, the voice of the water, the voice of the air. We are the hope of the future. Indeed our hope is renewed to be meeting in what is now called South America where Indigenous peoples are reasserting their identity and making their voices heard.

14 February 2006

Transformation from within
Indigenous voices and the life of the church: a statement to the 9th Assembly

Indigenous Peoples, men and women, are the voice of the land, the voice of the water, the voice of the air. We are the hope of the future. Indeed our hope is renewed to be meeting in what is now called South America where Indigenous peoples are reasserting their identity and making their voices heard. We now have members of Indigenous communities now taking their seats even as heads of state for the first time since the beginning of colonialism 500 years ago. This gives us cause for celebration.

On the other hand, as caretakers of the earth our mother, we Indigenous peoples have observed and experienced the degredation of creation. We have experienced the highest levels of environmental racism. Despite pretenses, all of humankind lives in absolute reliance upon nature. Because Indigenous communities live in intimate relation with the land and seas, we are the first peoples effected by the destruction of the creation. We know, however, that what happens to the least of these will also effect all.

We, the represenatives of Indigenous Nations attending the Indigenous Pre-Assembly, have noted that the churches of Brazil, a land with more than 740 thousand Indigenous inhabitants formed into 215 separate Indigenous nations and speaking 180 distinct languages, have no Indigenous delegates to this assembly. Brazil is not the only country, but it highlights the problem of inclusion of Indigenous Peoples within the churches and the nations of the world. Words have been said but little action has followed.

Transformation is something that Indigenous Peoples are going through every day. We feel it is time for the mainstream to begin to make space in its own structures so as to listen more closely to, and learn from, the voices of Indigenous Peoples.

We applaud the consciencous inclusion of women and youth in the work of the WCC structures. We call for the same intentionality for the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples. Specifically, we call on this Assembly to establish a baseline of Indigenous participation for inclusion on committees as part of the balance in representation and delegations. Therefore we propose that the goal for Indigenous representation be set at 8 percent, in the same way as there are goals for specific percentages of participation for women and youth.

We, the Indigenous Peoples, have fought for many years to have space in the WCC offices in Geneva and now we feel we have been placed to one side. The Indigenous desk was moved to Bolivia in 2003. We are convinced that moving the desk out of Geneva sends the wrong message to already marginalized peoples. More importantly, it significantly cripples the effectivenss of the international coordination of Indigenous work. Decentralization is fine in theory, but we need to have a permanent presence where the decision making is taking place. Moving the desk back to Geneva would allow for direct input into WCC programmes that affect Indigenous Peoples.

Our rich cultures and our invaluable lands are being slowly eroded by the onslaught of Western mono-culture and by economic globalization through neo-Liberalism. Our languages are the key to our understanding of our world and our place in it. They are the vehicle for transmitting our original values and cultures to future generations. However, our languages are quickly disappearing and soon we too may be assimilated unless the current course is dramatically changed.

The churches have historically played a role in the suppression of Indigenous languages. It is time for the churches now to put an equivalent amount of effort into the reclaiming, preserving and enhancing of our languages. Our churches, too, peddles culture in the pretense of being the Word of God. We, as Indigenous Peoples, are fighting to ward off these attacks on our identity, but need the support of our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. Because our languages are disappearing at the rate of one language every two weeks (according to UNESCO) we must act together swiftly to reverse the silencing of our original voices. Churches can play a big role in helping our communities to revitalize our languages, reinvigorate our values and perpetuate our cultures. In support of, and in continuation with, the recent Statement on Human Rights and Languages of Indigenous Peoples from the WCC Central Committee in 2005, we call upon the church to help us effect positive change.

The stealing of our land, as well as the destruction of our homelands and forests, has left us where we are today. The world owes a lot to Indigenous peoples, as does the church. Increasingly the world is closing its doors to meetings of Indigenous Peoples. There are becoming fewer events for Indigenous peoples to meet locally, regionally, and internationally to celebrate their stories: both negative and especially the positive. The Church can support such gatherings and thus strengthen the Indigenous Peoples' global networking. It could sponsor an international Church event or series of gatherings during the next seven years for Indigenous Peoples to celebrate their stories and plan a better tomorrow for our youth and children.

In conclusion, we call on the Assembly and its member churches to:

  • place the Indigenous Peoples Programme desk back in Geneva and strengthen the effectiveness of the work of the program
  • give Indigenous peoples their rightful place by setting allocated seats for us in the Central Committee and its sub-committees, as well as a minimum of 8% representation in delegation to general assemblies
  • promote a United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, and a WCC Decade of Indigenous languages
  • consider ways in which churches can respond to this world-wide crisis in Indigenous languages by making practical contributions toward saving, promoting, and funding Indigenous languages, by calling attention to the critical issue of language loss and loss of identity and working towards remedies both in their local areas and at international levels