2017-10-19

Steadfast in the Craziness

Oct 3

Hurricane Maria brought suffering to millions in Puerto Rico. Water is in short supply, the power is out on much of the island, communications are down, and temperatures are hitting 44 degrees C -- which is 112 F. It's a deadly dangerous situation for critically ill hospital patients. The San Juan airport is packed with people there to get a one-way ticket off the island.

In Las Vegas, Steven Paddock fired from a hotel into a concert crowd, killing 59 and injuring about 500 more.

Our distress at these two disasters is compounded by our country's tepid response. In the one case, thankfully, aid is arriving in Puerto Rico. Getting it distributed to the places it is most needed remains a huge challenge which we could do more to help address. In the other case, the most needed response is reasonable gun control legislation -- which our legislature is incapable of passing.

Other calamities of recent months include the Transgender Military Ban, the rescinding of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), violence and white supremacy in Charlottesville.

The world may seem to be getting crazier, harsher, crueler. Our task remains what it always is: to love, to connect in empathy and kindness, to seek understanding, to give help where we can, to keep doing the work of peace and justice. There are many so committed. We are not alone. As the poet Adrienne Rich put it:
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power
reconstitute the world.

2017-10-11

On Statues and Statutes, Part 3



As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We are called to bear witness to those whose worth, dignity and rights are denied. We are called to answer the call to love and defend those rights. Knowing this, delegates of the 2012 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Associations, our annual large gathering, passed a responsive resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. Delegates called it “a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases having no place in the modern-day treatment of indigenous peoples.” (See https://www.uua.org/action/statements/doctrine-discovery)

The resolution called “upon our Association to invite indigenous peoples into a process of Honor and Healing (often called Truth and Reconciliation) and to consider Unitarian, Universalist and Unitarian Universalist complicity in the structures and policies that oppress indigenous peoples and the earth.”

The work of truth and reconciliation, the work of justice-making and being good allies to Indigenous Peoples today rests not solely with our Association’s leaders. We, too, play an important role.

We can cultivate relationships with the Indigenous Peoples in our own area and learn more how they would like us to follow their lead in addressing their current challenges. For us, that would be the Ramapough Tribe in Mahwah, New Jersey which maintains the SplitRock Sweetwater Prayer Camp, working to educate citizens and protect sacred lands and waters from the environmental threats of proposed pipelines. The Westch­­­ester Indigenous Collaboration is in development in a neighboring UU congregation to offer support and partnership to the prayer camp. Stay tuned for ways to become involved.

UU minister Colin Bossen, in his award-winning sermon, “This Land is Your Land?” picks up on how the Doctrine of Discovery, which he describes as a “product of human imagination,” “is one of those hidden sources of human suffering that needs to be revealed [not only because of the atrocities][but also because] it remains present ….. within the way most European Americans think about our relationship to the land.”

He urges those of us who are primarily of European descent “to enter into right relationship with the land and her original inhabitants, our indigenous” kin, that is “to reconcile ourselves to our mother earth and all of her peoples who our ancestors harmed, and who we continue to harm, through the ongoing process of colonialism.” (http://colinbossen.com/the-latest-form-of-infidelity/13604898)
           
Neither we, nor any peoples, are owners of the land, of this earth, though we may “own” a sense of discovery as we encounter new lands, landscapes and people on our life journeys or legally own a title or rights to specified land.       
           
Rather, we are of this earth… waters, fire, atmosphere, sun, moon, the stars.
“Earth forms us,” we sang earlier. “Then, let us with justice, willing and aware, give to earth, and all things – [all peoples] – ­­­­living liturgies of care.” (“We are Not Our Own.” Singing the Living Tradition Hymnal, #317. UUA, 1992)

Let us “create a new inheritance for the future, … recognize and abandon the familiar attitudes and practices that do not serve the whole, … and assist in dismantling paradigms of oppression and suffering.” (Spoken Invocation: “Being Human Means We Are of This Earth” by Sweethome Teacup: https://www.uua.org/worship/words/invocation/being-human-means-we-are-earth)

Let us build the way to a future that “honors the gifts of the people who were here before … that heals wounds, makes amends, and honors the holiness of all humanity.” (Reading: “Call to Worship for Indigenous People’s Day” by Rev. Jason Cook. Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Fullerton, CA. October 5, 2017.)

Let us lift up, honor and celebrate Indigenous Peoples this day and every day.

On Statues and Statutes, Part 2


We can’t quite concur that what’s past is past with Columbus and the Doctrine of Discovery. That’s because the Doctrine of Discovery has been articulated and used in US courts and become part of a body of federal Indian law and that has been used to deny tribal sovereignty and land rights for almost two hundred years and continues to be used in case law. It has also been a key tenet in statutes that infringe upon the freedoms, rights and thriving of African Americans.

In 1823, US Supreme Court chief justice John Marshall used it to argue “that ‘superior genius of Europe’ claimed an ascendancy over the Indigenous peoples and that the bestowal of civilization and Christianity was ample compensation to the inhabitants (Dunbar-Ortiz 29).” He also argued that “discovery” of a land equaled conquest and the Doctrine “becomes the law of the land, and cannot be questioned (46).”

Later, beginning in 1887, the Doctrine was used in the Dawes Act, the General Allotment Act in effect until 1934 which divided treaty lands into privately held lots meant to undermine tribal communal life. This was also “a massive land grab by the United States, with a loss of two-thirds of Indian treaty lands by an act of legislation (55).”
                       
Lastly, as recently as 2005, the US Supreme Court has cited the doctrine in a decision concerning the Oneida Indian Nation of New York (doctrineofdiscovery.org).
                       
Cherokee anthropologist Russell Thornton estimates a pre-contact Indigenous population in North American of seven million plus. “By 1890, 228,000 American Indians were counted in the US, … a population decline of roughly 97 percent (Dunbar-Ortiz 28).” A complete litany of the genocide, cultural genocide, and other mistreatments of our Indigenous Peoples perpetuated by the Doctrine of Discovery and its way of shaping thinking, behavior and legal decisions, is best summarized and revealed, I think, by this confession, apology and pledge from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In September 2000, Kevin Gover, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, offered these remarks at a ceremony marking the 175th Anniversary of the establishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I share here excerpts that resonate with me, inspire my reflection and engender a similar humility as a white person benefiting from settler colonialism at the expense of our kin of color. Gover writes:

… this is no occasion for celebration; rather it is time for reflection and contemplation, a time for sorrowful truths to be spoken, a time for contrition. 

From the very beginning, the Office of Indian Affairs was an instrument by which the United States enforced its ambition against the Indian nations and Indian people who stood in its path, … to execute the removal of the southeastern tribal nations, …. and to participate in the ethnic cleansing that befell the western tribes. … The deliberate spread of disease, the decimation of the mighty bison herds, the use of the poison alcohol to destroy mind and body, and the cowardly killing of women and children made for tragedy on a (ghastly) scale. This agency and the good people in it failed in the mission to prevent the devastation. And so, great nations of patriot warriors fell.

After the devastation of tribal economies and the deliberate creation of tribal dependence on the services provided by this agency, this agency set out to destroy all things Indian … (it) forbade the speaking of Indian languages, prohibited the conduct of traditional religious activities, outlawed traditional government, and made Indian people ashamed of who they were. Worst of all, the Bureau of Indian Affairs committed these acts against the children entrusted to its boarding schools, brutalizing them emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually.

The legacy of these misdeeds haunts us. ... These wrongs must be acknowledged if the healing is to begin.

Let us begin by expressing our profound sorrow for what this agency has done in the past. ... On behalf of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, I extend this formal apology to Indian people for the historical conduct of this agency.

We accept this inheritance, this legacy of racism and inhumanity. And by accepting this legacy, we accept also the moral responsibility of putting things right.

Never again will this agency stand silent when hate and violence are committed against Indians. Never again will we allow policy to proceed from the assumption that Indians possess less human genius than the other races. Never again will we be complicit in the theft of Indian property. Never again will be appoint false leaders who serve purposed other than those of the tribes.

Never again will we allow unflattering and stereotypical images of   Indian people to deface the halls of government or lead the American people to shallow and ignorant beliefs about Indians. Never again will we attack your religions, your languages, your rituals, or any of your tribal ways. Never again will we seize your children, nor teach them to be ashamed of who they are. Never again.

Together, we must wipe the tears of seven generations. Together, we must allow our broken hearts to mend. Together, we will face a challenging world with confidence and trust. Together, let us resolve that when our future leaders gather to discuss the history of this institution, it will be time to celebrate the rebirth of joy, freedom, and progress for the Indian Nations. (Complete remarks at https://www.indianaffairs.gov/sites/bia.gov/files/assets/public/pdf/idc1-032248.pdf)

May we as a country be up to that formidable task.

On Statues and Statutes, Part 3
On Statues and Statutes, Part 1

On Statues and Statutes, Part 1


Columbus Day – Indigenous Peoples' Day. What’s all the fuss about? What’s up with the round-the-clock police presence at Columbus Circle in New York City and the guarding of the 70-foot granite column and statue of Christopher Columbus that stands there?

As debate and the toppling of Confederate monuments has filled our news, so too has a reassessment of Columbus’ place of honor in American history. Meanwhile, the fate of the more than 100 statues of Columbus across the country hangs in the balance.

As the Denver Post reports, statues from California to Minnesota have recently faced vandalism or removal. In New York last month, the Columbus Circle monument was vandalized with pink nail polish, symbolizing the blood on Columbus’s hands. And, not far away in Central Park, a seven-foot tall statue of Columbus was spray-painted with the words “Hate will not be tolerated.” The hands were covered in red ink. (http://www.denverpost.com/2017/10/07/christopher-columbus-statue-police-guard)

Geez, I grew up knowing Columbus as a hero, the explorer who first discovered America! I remember celebrating Columbus Day, a federal holiday since 1937, in elementary school. We recounted the tales of his voyages to the New World … the three Spanish ships a-sailing in 1492 … the Pinta, the Santa Maria, and the Santa Clara, nicknamed the Niña.

And today … well, today we assail that tale, as we deconstruct a history that’s been told impartially and through the lens of white superiority and the so-called “Age of Exploration” and colonialism. Today, we hear a more complete history of discovered lands and people – but, just who discovered whom? It depends on who you ask! There are two points of view, at least, in every meeting and border crossing.

Now, thanks to historical records, scholars, and the lived experiences of our Indigenous Peoples, we have an opportunity to face uncomfortable truths about how our country was so-called “founded” and “settled.” We have an opportunity, for those of us of European heritage, to acknowledge where we have been complicit in or benefited from centuries of wrongdoing.

We know Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who set out to reach the East Indies by a western route. His voyages to the Americas were financed by the Spanish Crown, which was eager to enter and profit from the spice trade. We don’t always remember – at least I wasn’t taught – that Columbus had been a slave-trader for twelve years before his first voyage to the Americas when he landed in what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. During a time of economic competition, his real search was for gold but the bounty he claimed was in the number of Arawak people he “discovered,” captured and enslaved.

Scholar Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and journalist Dina Gilio-Whitaker report Columbus took ten to twenty-five captives to Europe from his first voyage, with only seven to eight surviving the trip (Dunbar-Ortiz, Gilio-Whitaker. “All the real Indians died off”: and 20 other myths about Native Americans. Boston: Beacon Press, 2016. p 26). In his second voyage, he returned with “seventeen heavily armed ships, attack dogs and more than twelve hundred men (26),” capturing fifteen hundred men, women and children. Of those, five hundred were sent back to Europe, though only three hundred survived. All told, over four voyages, “Columbus is thought to have enslaved five thousand Indigenous Peoples throughout his voyaging career (26)” – he holds a record for any one individual. Something else I never learned in school!

Columbus set up large estates on the islands and enslaved the Arawaks to extract gold; when gold was not found, he systematically killed them, and many were driven to “mass suicide and infanticide to escape the cruelty of the Spaniards (Dunbar-Ortiz 27).” Historian Howard Zinn writes, “In two years, through murder, mutilation and suicide, half of the two-hundred-fifty thousand Indians on Haiti were dead. By 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand left…. By the year 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island (27).”

That’s a pretty gruesome and savage account, in my opinion.
Hmmm…. I didn’t learn this in school either! This man’s a hero?
Just who wrote my history text-books?

Columbus wasn’t the only explorer of his times to venture forth and capture lands and peoples for European monarchs. He and others had the Catholic Church’s urging, if not blessing, to declare religious wars on nonbelievers and to seize their lands. The Church issued legally binding edicts, called “papal bulls,” that justified such practices and set forth specific orders. Three of the edicts from the 1400’s form what we know as the “Doctrine of Discovery.”
 
The first edict issued, in 1452, gave Portugal the authority to “reduce Muslims, pagans, and other nonbelievers to perpetual slavery and to seize their property, and … facilitated the Portuguese slave trade from West Africa (Dunbar-Ortiz 29).” A second, in 1454, granted Portugal a monopoly on the African slave trade. A third, issued in 1493 after Columbus’s first voyage, granted the newly “discovered” lands to Spain.

The Doctrine of Discovery reflects beliefs in manifest destiny and Christian imperialism that hark back to the mindset, language, and practices of the Crusades between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. It is steeped in Christian superiority, especially of European white Christians, and is an early overtly racist document.

Now, hundreds of years later, we might consider this a closed case --- Columbus and other explorers have come and gone; and our churches don’t carry out Crusades of this type anymore, at least not to my knowledge. We can’t undo the past, we can’t bring back the lives that have been lost, we can’t undo most of the atrocities our Indigenous kin have suffered since Columbus’ days. We can agree that what’s past is past, right?

On Statues and Statutes, Part 2
On Statues and Statutes, Part 3