To Our Brothers and Sisters,
We have gathered from the Four Winds, People of the Land and Seas, to listen carefully to the voice of God in our midst, to consider the theme of the larger assembly, and to prepare ourselves for the effective expression of the voice of Indigenous Peoples in the General Assembly. We have, already in our theme for our Pre-Assembly gathering, phrased the overall theme of the General Assembly in terms of the fundamental reality of our identity as Indigenous Peoples: God of Life, Renew the People of the Land. In our preparations and in our gathering, we have noted the urgency of this moment, for Creation and for all our Peoples. We have also noted that, for us, the issues are whole and one: the spiritual and physical renewal of our people, their survival on the Land, and their hope for the future. It has been a pleasure and honor to be together, to affirm and proclaim life, despite the very real pain and death that is all too present in many of our communities.
Our Time, Our Context
Besides spiritual and theological colonialization, Indigenous People continue to experience various forms of oppression, exploitation, marginalization and suffering of a vast number of peoples and nations. The ancestral lands and sacred forest, grounds of Indigenous People are being commercialized, desecrated and abused through unmindful extractive developmental activities. Many Indigenous communities have been displaced, dispossessed, uprooted, evicted and even annihilated in genocidal scale. Indigenous Peoples cultures, practices, customary laws have been abused, misused and misrepresented and commercialized without respect. Today Indigenous People constitute the poorest section of the society. Many of them are poor, landless, homeless and hungry. Those Indigenous Peoples who organized themselves to resist for their right and justice are being killed, harassed and persecuted. God of life, lead us to justice and peace will have little relevance without addressing the ongoing and historical oppression of Indigenous People, and mobilizing solidarity among Indigenous Peoples to collectively resist against unjust systems, forces and institutions. Affirmation of God of life, justice and peace involves reclaiming of our identities, wisdoms, language, re-possession of our lands and sacred grounds.
In our conversations at the Pre-Assembly, we noticed a remarkable convergence of our concerns and vision. We are from many different contexts, languages, and histories. We have joyfully experienced a common and unshakable understanding of the God-given living relationship we have with Creation; a reality that all Creation and all of humanity shares. We have also experienced, in the presentation of the various urgent concerns from our diverse contexts, the commonality of an on-going and accelerating displacement and dispossession of the Indigenous Peoples from the Land. This, we believe, is directly and intimately related to the alienation of so many societies and economies from the Land and an inability to acknowledge or even perceive the God-given moral and spiritual communion that humanity has with Creation. It must be admitted that a globalizing culture of money has captivated the minds and hearts of much of the world and many in our churches. This was a great part of the history of colonialism. It is a devastatingly present reality in our contemporary global economy, especially in regard to the welfare of Indigenous Peoples. Virtually all of us had stories of intense conflict with the forces of so-called development, especially in mining and other extractive industries. Modern development amplifies the destructive legacy of colonialism. Among us, the trail of this development is poverty, suicide, human trafficking, and the despair of our youth. Often, Indigenous Peoples face illegal and immoral seizure of their lands, paramilitary and extrajudicial violence and death, and a marginalization that increases the already unacceptable pace of the disintegration of our families and way of life.
Global climate change has added a new level of threat to Indigenous Peoples – disappearing islands and lands, stress on wildlife and subsistence lifestyles, and an increased dispossession from the Land. This threat is real and direct to Indigenous People, but we feel that we must also point to the larger threat that looms to the whole of Creation and, with it, the spiritual and physical well-being of our human community and the community of Creation. Though we make this witness for Creation in love and compassion for Mother Earth, the communion of Creation, and the human society sustained by it, we feel it necessary to remind the General Assembly of the urgent, pressing, and unavoidable reality of this for Indigenous Peoples. Again and again in our gathering, we have witnessed a direct connection between Indigenous justice, environmental justice, social justice, and human rights. One cannot be dealt with adequately without dealing with all.
Our Call Together
Indigenous Christian communities constitute a significant population in World Christianity. As Indigenous Christians, we affirm our Peoples distinct earth-centered view of God and spirituality, cosmology, and ancient traditional practices of making communities of justice and peace. We discussed the resonance of this spiritual legacy with the Gospel of Jesus. In this gathering, we have felt a call to return to the deep values of the Gospel. We believe that the Indigenous spiritually oriented understanding of the communion of Creation – the cosmology of the Peoples of the Land and Seas - is a perspective that can assist the renewal of the whole Church’s relationship with Creation and the Creator. Further, Indigenous theologies continue to provide a new paradigm of a wider ecumenism by challenging the occidental, anthropocentric, androcentric and white character of “normative” theology, as well as its continual North-Atlantic point of reference.
Despite their cultural and ethnic diversity, the Indigenous communities all over the world uphold a similar earth-centered spirituality and cosmology. They perceive their cosmology in an organic way. In this organic understanding, everything is organically related to each other. Everything is linked together, even values. The Sacred Power affects each one and all creatures. Humans see themselves as an integral part of the total cosmic life. Though the Sacred Power and the Spirit(s) are understood as Creator and Sustainer of all living beings, they are also perceived, though distinct, as part of the total cosmic life. This organic relationship is possible because of Mother Earth. Mother Earth is the foundation of cosmo-centric spirituality. From the giving nature of Mother Earth, Indigenous Peoples have learned to share and show hospitality as the foundation of a culture and community of humanity and Creation. This view of life gives a concrete and wider vision of justice and peace that need to be explored for ecumenical engagement.
In the past, the churches have often joined with the Principalities and Powers that have de-humanized Indigenous Life, placing it in a category of pre-civilization that has allowed this dehumanizing of Indigenous Peoples and the destructive exploitation of Creation. In faithfulness to the God of Creation, we must all participate in a new community and economy of Creation, a practical and living expression of our communion with God, each other, and Creation. This will involve both repudiation and repentance from the systems of thought and action that lead to the destruction of Indigenous Peoples and the harmful exploitation of the Land. It will certainly require a careful and critical examination of our church communities’ participation and investment in the worldwide economic system.
We ask you to join with us, in promoting a world-wide partnership of Indigenous Peoples and a church related network of peoples dedicated to the self-determination of Indigenous Peoples and to the renewal of Creation. To this end, the Pre-Assembly expressed its desire that The World Council of Churches keep the Indigenous desk operating. The WCC could express solidarity by denouncing the oppression of Indigenous Peoples, by sponsoring an Indigenous Sunday once a year and supporting the work of the Indigenous ecumenical community. The Church must stand with Indigenous Peoples and advocate and promote respect for their culture, their Land, and their way of life. In this, there must be a commitment to create a space for them in the World Council of Churches and in the family of nations and peoples around the earth.
Though we have spoken with alarming terms of the many threats to Indigenous life, we must close with a reminder of God’s presence and grace among us and the resilience of our Peoples in the face of a massive development aggression, of unbridled globalization, and formidable racism and dehumanization. Despite this on-going conflict, the churches of the People of the Land have developed a theological and spiritual history of both substance and promise. They still stand as a prophetic witness to the communion of Creation.
The churches must admit and confess that, for many, the goal of ministry with Indigenous Peoples was their disappearance. The nations have proposed an ungodly end for Indigenous Peoples, too often with the cooperation of those who call themselves Christians. But God, in justice and mercy, had a different plan. Our elders still give us guidance and, despite the challenges, we are trying to live as faithful members of our clans, families, and nations. Indigenous Peoples rightly and equally belong to the household of God. The communities are sustained by their determination to assert their human rights and protect their dignity. We claim our place in the wider worldwide ecumenical community and place upon ourselves the responsibility to enrich that community when our place is acknowledged and given space.