Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issues Call to Action in observance of Native American Day

Events to bring attention to the Church’s involvement in unjust practices

By Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

A mural painted on the outside of the American Indian Community Housing Organization’s Dr. Robert Powless Cultural Center, in downtown Duluth, Minn., acts as a peaceful protest in favor of gender equity, education and renewable energy. The mural also symbolizes the plight of missing, murdered and abused Native American women, and is a reminder that Indigenous voices often go unheard. Jeff Frye/CPL Imaging

LOUISVILLE ­— The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will celebrate Native American Day by hosting two of the first events in an ongoing series. The events were created to bring attention to the Church’s involvement in the unjust practices that have been imposed on Indigenous people in this country for centuries, as well as its more recent commitments to join in solidarity with Native Americans in their efforts for sovereignty and fundamental human rights.

The events will start on Tuesday, Sept. 22, from 5–6 p.m. EDT with a “Speak-In,” which will be a roundtable conversation about the Doctrine of Discovery and how it has affected practices and theology in the Church.

The Speak-In, titled “Turning from Anti-Indigenous Practice and Theology in the Church,” will feature members of various Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Native American committees. They include Fern Cloud (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Tribe), Stated Clerk of the Dakota Presbytery; June Lorenzo, J.D., Ph.D. (Laguna Pueblo/Navajo [Diné]); the Rev. Holly Haile Thompson (Shinnecock), the first Native American woman to become a minister of Word and Sacrament/teaching elder in the PC(USA); and Anthony Trujillo (Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo), M.Div., Ph.D. candidate in American studies at Harvard University.

Individuals may join the Speak-In by registering here.

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, from 9-9:30 a.m. EDT, Elona Street-Stewart, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020), will offer a meditation. The title of the service is “Living in a Land of Delight, Destiny and Disease.” The service will be livestreamed on the PC(USA) Facebook page.

The events are hosted by members of the Native American Coordinating Council, Native American Consulting Committee, American Indian Youth Council and the Office of Native American Intercultural Congregational Support.

“Native American Day is an annual event celebrating the gifts which Native Americans bring to the Church,” said the Rev. Irv Porter, Associate for the Native American Intercultural Congregational Support Ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries. “The Stated Clerk, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, is issuing a Call to Action as requested by the General Assembly ‘for the engagement of mid councils and congregational members to start a flow of ideas … directed at understanding how the Doctrine of Discovery has been present in our history and our theological positions and continues to be present today.’

“The Speak-In is just one of the events being planned throughout the rest of 2020 to help the denomination understand the various Native American issues that we face,” said Porter.

“Today’s realities of social distancing won’t allow us to gather face-to-face, but the Native American leadership will not be deterred in getting this important information to the people of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Call to Action by our Stated Clerk, the Speak-In and the annual Native American Day worship service help the denomination to understand these issues, discuss them and work toward confession and repentance of our country’s treatment of her Indigenous people,” Porter added.

Trujillo, a member of the Native American Coordinating Council whose report and recommendations were approved by General Assembly 224 in June, said: “Within the last decade, the PC(USA) has issued a repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery — the white supremacist theological and legal doctrine the Church’s Reformed predecessors used to dispossess Native nations from their homelands, and to suppress their cultures, even though Native people have vigorously resisted these practices.

“My question has always been: What does repudiation mean in real, tangible terms? To be frank, a repudiation without decisive paradigm shift and long-term commitment to relating differently with Native people is really just something to make Church people feel good, but that really has no positive effect for Native people and nations,” he said.

“The recommendations the Native American Coordinating Council put forward and that were approved with overwhelming support is a good sign that the PC(USA) is willing to accept the influence of Native people in the in the church’s life rather than marginalizing our perspectives and voices. The events next week and over the fall are opportunities for the PC(USA) to listen to us as we name white supremacy as many Native people have experienced it and engage with us in a conversation about what it might look like for the church to ‘turn around and walk in the other direction from the Doctrine of Discovery,’ not only in word but in practice.”

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