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Dec. 15 is the deadline to apply for PC(USA) travel study seminar

Explore Native lands of the Southwest in spring 2023

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Anticipation is building for a 2023 travel study seminar to the U.S. Southwest that will help participants understand the richness of Native American culture and how Indigenous people have been harmed by the Doctrine of Discovery and other forms of white supremacy.

Thursday, Dec. 15, is the deadline to register for the “Native Lands of the Southwest” seminar, which will take participants on a journey from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Phoenix, Arizona, from April 28 to May 7.nar

“This travel study will allow participants to embrace and cherish our lands and culture,” said Nelson Capitan, a Navajo (Dine’) person who serves as a ruling elder at the Laguna United Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of Santa Fe.

The seminar is one of three being offered by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, which will accept late applications as space allows, for the Southwest seminar as well as journeys to Hong Kong and the Philippines in February and to Puerto Rico in March.

According to promotional materials, the main goals of the Native Lands of the Southwest seminar are to help participants

  • appreciate the rich history, cultures, and resilience of Indigenous peoples in the Southwest
  • learn about the impact the Doctrine of Discovery had on Indigenous peoples in the past and how it continues to do so today
  • explore peacemaking issues, such as land and water rights, intergenerational trauma, poverty and addiction, border town conflicts, environmental racism, the health effects of uranium mining and the impact of boarding schools.

The travel study seminar is a collaborative effort by the Peacemaking Program, the Presbytery of Santa Fe and the Synod of the Southwest that grew out of a trip that the presbytery  embarked on a few years ago as part of a year-long conversation about the Doctrine of Discovery, said the Rev. Roger Scott Powers, pastor of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque.

As part of that conversation, “we planned a bus trip from Albuquerque to Gallup, New Mexico,” Powers explained by email. “Our keynote speaker was Mark Charles, co-author (with Soong-Chan Rah) of ‘Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery.’ Half of the group visited nearby Zuni Pueblo, and half visited the site of the Church Rock uranium mill spill, which contaminated Navajo lands. It occurred to us that our one-day bus trip could be expanded into a Peacemaking travel study seminar.”

Planning commenced, but the seminar had to be postponed twice due to the Covid pandemic, Powers said.

“I’ve been looking forward to this Peacemaking travel study seminar since we began planning it three and a half years ago,” he said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to visit Indian Pueblos in New Mexico and the Navajo Nation in Arizona, to see significant Indian sites such as Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly that Native peoples hold sacred, and to learn directly from Native Americans who we will meet along the way.”

The travel study seminar intersects with the church’s Matthew 25 goal to dismantle structural racism. One of the ways that racism has flourished is through the Doctrine of Discovery, which gave permission to colonists to treat Native Americans as enemies of Christ, according to a Presbyterian News Service article.

“As the pastor of a Matthew 25 church in a Matthew 25 presbytery and synod, it’s become clear to me that dismantling structural racism will require taking out its very foundation, which is the Doctrine of Discovery, more appropriately termed the Doctrine of Domination,” Powers said.

Although the church has repudiated the doctrine and reported on its implications to congregations, Capitan sees the need for more work and understanding. For those who embark on this travel study seminar, “I believe their takeaway experience will lead them to fully understand our indigenous history and allow them to voice the importance of our forgotten Native peoples of this continent.”

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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