Act of Repentance

Acts of Repentance with Native American Peoples: A Reflection

Acts of Repentance with Native American Peoples: A Reflection
Native American women during the closing of the service at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

I was born in New Mexico, a state where Native Americans make up more than 10 percent of the population. As a little girl, I remember seeing the Navajo women in their beautiful skirts in downtown Tucumcari on a Saturday during broom corn harvest. The Navajo were a large part of the migrant farm workers who labored in eastern New Mexico in the 1950s.

But while Native Americans were clearly part of the community, they were also marginalized as “the other.” Name calling and disparaging talk about the Navajo was common. My family didn’t condone or participate in this hateful habit, but neither did we act to heal the divide. We had no Native American friends. There were no Native Americans in our local church.

I thank God for United Methodist Women because through this community I’m connected with women from many racial and ethnic backgrounds, including Native American women. Being a part of this Sisterhood of Grace is helping me engage the Church’s Act of Repentance and journey to reconcile with Native American peoples.

United Methodist Women’s 2008-2009 mission study, Giving Our Hearts Away: Native American Survival and the denomination’s 2012 General Conference Acts of Repentance have helped prepare me for the necessary journey that we as a church have embarked upon.

Facing difficult truths is a part of this journey. As a member of the United Methodist Women Act of Repentance Working Group, I’ve learned about systemic offenses committed against Native Americans in the United States—and the church’s role in the offenses, including:

  • The notorious Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1864, in which a Methodist pastor led 675 soldiers in killing and abusing the bodies of about 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho, including women, children and elderly, in a surprise attack on a camp flying both a U.S. flag and a white flag of surrender.
  • Church-run boarding schools that took Native American children away from their families, homes, culture and language.
  • The Doctrine of Discovery. This was basis for the church’s sanction of Manifest Destiny, which in essence said, “It’s God’s will for us to take this land.” It justified the massacres and dispossessing Native Americans of land and rights.

The Doctrine of Discovery

The Doctrine of Discovery is something I knew little about until recently. The 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church condemned the Doctrine of Discovery as a legal document and as a basis for seizing native lands and abusing the human rights of indigenous peoples.

The 2012 General Conference called the church into a journey of repentance, which is more than simply apologizing. Repentance means to turn around and go forth in the opposite direction. But what does it look like? What will we do to show the “fruits of our repentance”?

One important thing we can do is make the Doctrine of Discovery something of the past. Sadly, its basic tenets are still impacting policy decisions that dispossess Native Americans of land, rights and voice. We are witnessing an example of this in the Dakota Pipeline. Despite a year of Native American peoples’ protests and warnings of the environmental dangers the pipeline posed to Native sacred lands, the pipeline was allowed to operate. Now, within months of the policy change, the pipeline has a leak, spilling more than 200,000 gallons of oil onto the land.

We have much work to do. We understand better, and we cannot turn a blind eye. The Church’s Act of Repentance requires action that can pave a path for reconciliation. Please pray for United Methodist Women, so that we will be bold in our work, and with God’s help will lead the way to justice for and reconciliation with Native American people.

Posted or updated: 11/21/2017 12:00:00 AM
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Suggested Pages:

*Justice for Native Americans

*Racial Justice  

United Methodist Women teamed up with Creation Justice Ministries to publish this collection of worship and education resources. (10 pages)
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