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The Decolonization Dialogues: Repentance is Decolonization

June 30, 2014

United Methodist Women


The Decolonization Dialogues

A Discussion with the Faith Community and Indigenous Peoples

by Tequila Minsky

“Repentance is Decolonization.” This was the topic of a side event to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, held at the Church Center for the United Nations. Organized by The Decolonization Alliance, the afternoon event was a discussion with responsive members of the faith community in dialogue with indigenous peoples about responsibility, atonement and rectification for the annihilation of both their culture and population due to colonization.

At the root of colonization lies the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a 15th century papal edict that gave explorers entitlement of non-Christian lands for their Christian monarchs. Based solely on religious identity, this “moral and legal right” is how colonial powers laid claim to their newly discovered lands, ignoring aboriginal possession. The doctrine became the modus operandi and the basis for law for the colonizing countries, including the United States’ expansion. The ultimate effect was the perpetual cycle of subjugation and poverty.

Leading into the discussion with members of the indigenous community, the Rev. Kathleen Stone, executive for environment and economic justice with United Methodist Women, said, “By debasing others, we debase all of us.”

Menase W. Kaisiepo of West Papua Melanesia, living in the Netherlands, promotes the social and political interests of his ancestral homeland. He spoke of the subjugation and occupation of his country, the western part of the island of New Guinea, by Indonesian forces. “We want self-determination,” he said of the peninsula with a population of three-quarters of a million people. “We welcome this call for reconciliation and are happy to have the support of The Methodist Church.”

Activist Rosa Biwango Moiwend, living in West Papua said, “This is the first time I meet my brother in exile who lives in the free world.”

She spoke of how in her indigenous religion there is a father and son, and when the Catholic Church came, the concepts were similar and acceptable. Then, the occupying church banned their native activities and cultural practices. “My generation has to learn the history of the land,” she said, as she held up a small flag, a symbol of resistance that activists in her country can be arrested for possessing. She spoke of how churches are important, as some of them allow and amplify the voice of the people. She shared that “some pastors are targeted by the military.”

Unknown Struggles

Many of the indigenous struggles for recognition and respect are unknown to the general population.
Minister of Foreign Affairs for The Hawaiian Kingdom Leon K. Siu spoke of the violation of international law when a coup d’etat overthrew the Queen Lili`uokalani of Hawaii in 1893.

An Apology Resolution from Congress in 1993 acknowledged that “Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United States their claims to their inherent sovereignty.” Siu advocates the use of international law to regain sovereignty. “We must decolonize the mindset.”

Siu further commented that “The United Methodist Church and the World Council of Churches have a conscience of what’s been done.”

“Repentance is really contrition,” said respondent Sarah Augustine from the WCC Indigenous People’s Interim Reference Group, “and is different from acts of reconciliation. It’s not enough to say ‘We repent.’ Reparation and redress is necessary.”

During the day’s panels, Dr. Heather Murray Elkin of Drew University’s School of Theology said that resources must be made available so that theological educational institutions can provide necessary cross-cultural studies.

The Rev. Dr. Thomas White Wolfe Fassett, of Seneca Nation and emeritus general secretary of the General Board of Church and Society said, “I feel like a mole inside the institution…a Christian Native.”

When confronted with the idea that much of the decolonization issues are political, he said, “Spirituality is the higher form of political consciousness,” adding, “how does spirituality clothe our behavior?”

He drew attention to the Statement of Repentance by the Council of Bishops (2012, at the General Conference) that supports developing indigenous leaders, advocates for land and treaty rights, and supports tribal sovereignty, cultural preservation, and better health care, education and safety for indigenous peoples.

“People haven’t assimilated these statements,” he said. “We remain complicit in the oppression of indigenous peoples.”

Fassett commented that the panel was a good start for the fledgling organization. A following dialogue with The Decolonization Alliance would cover their goals and plans.

In addition to The Decolonization Alliance, which advocates for reform of the U.N. decolonization process, the dialogues were sponsored by the General Board of Church and Society, The United Methodist Church, United Methodist Women, and the World Council of Churches.

Posted or updated: 5/14/2014 11:00:00 PM

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