Concluding response by Sarah Augustine
My journey struggling for liberation with Indigenous Peoples began in the rainforest of Suriname. In this context, I struggled alongside multiple tribes facing removal, disease, and death. Their traditional homelands contain wealth: gold, bauxite, biodiversity, and other assets, and that wealth the powerful covet. Beneficiaries create laws and policies that ease resource exploration and extraction, while the original caretakers of the earth hold no rights. This is also my story, and the story of my ancestors.
Organizing within the World Council of Churches from 2011-2014 afforded me the opportunity to hear, collaborate and conspire with Indigenous peoples around the globe. Christians from the Dominant culture I met while speaking across Europe and the United States often responded that the Doctrine of Discovery is “abstract” and “difficult to unpack.” By contrast, Indigenous and vulnerable peoples in the global south as well as in Europe and North America understood it immediately. Every story shared with me was another version of my own – removal from homelands; militarization and pollution of traditional territories; demonization of traditional language, culture, and spirituality. Every people I met was a people in crisis, many on the verge of extinction. Some had been resisting and surviving colonial forces for centuries; others were newly encountering colonization due to oil and mineral prospecting. But consistently, the stories shared with me were the same. Indigenous Peoples I collaborate with today are committed land and water protectors, while they simultaneously face structural and military violence, segregation, institutional racism, disease, and even death.
I established the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition, together with Sheri Hostetler and Anita Amstutz, to join the life and death struggle for climate justice and human rights, together with Indigenous Peoples and all of creation. The book “The Land is not Empty” is my attempt to sound a call to the church.
The responses of TJ Smith, Tina Schlabach, Wes Howard Brook, and Randy Woodley move me. These leaders of my beloved church have each taken the time to participate in this forum, and what I have heard from each of them is a call for action.
TJ Smith recognizes the ongoing legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery not as a historical story requiring lament, but as a paradigm that actively dictates reality for Indigenous Peoples today. He notes that only 4-5% of First Nations people participate in the church, stating, “Why would we want to enter into a church that has taken away our culture, language, traditions and much more from our people.” In sharing from his own story, he calls for healing for First Nations. He also calls his denomination to live out repudiation. He asks, “will you stand with us and name the land your church is on? Will you take a stand for MMIW? Will you take a look at where your money is invested and move it if it damages or devastates the lands around the World where our sisters and brothers’ lives and lifestyles are being taken from them as it was taken from us?” Smith’s call to the church is for solidarity with Indigenous Peoples that is not symbolic.
Tina Schlabach identifies the Doctrine of Discovery as the root heresy that underlies immigration injustice in the United States. She names the devastating colonization and displacement of people in Latin America that necessitates migration on the southern US border. She outlines the obligation of Christians to hospitably receive displaced people as the work of reparation, a process of repair, rather than as “white saviorism.” She explains extractive industry in the Congo likewise displaces people whose only choice is to migrate. She acknowledges the extraction of copper in her own home state of Arizona threatens the sacred waters upon which all depend, as well as the rights of the San Carlos Apache, with whom her congregation stands in concrete solidarity. Schlabach’s call to the church is for concrete accompaniment of the displaced, and those resisting extraction.
Randy Woodley explores the role of story in Christian scripture, and the role of the Canaanite story specifically. He calls for an expansion of Christianity’s understanding of covenantal relationship between a people and the Creator. This concept is especially relevant to Indigenous Peoples, given that our spirituality is rooted in our relationship to our homelands. Woodley notes, “Each of our North American peoples have their own stories of their covenants with the Great Mystery.” He describes the Canaanite story, as I do, as a story of warning, not celebration. He explains a new age is beginning, where the peoples of earth will listen and learn from each other through story, engaging in what I have described as the “reciprocal good news.” Woodley’s call to the church is to hasten in a new age of authentic relationship between peoples, “listening and learning from each other’s stories.”
Wes Howard Brook calls the church to decolonize scripture. He articulates that what we today call Christianity is a religion created to legitimize the hegemony of empire. “Christianity…became a vehicle for legitimizing both the Roman empire itself and its wars of conquest and exploitation.” Scripture, he argues, was appropriated by empire. He calls here for its decolonization. “If we were to engage in this perhaps scary but necessary act of decolonization, we could, as Jesus did, reject altogether texts such as Deuteronomy 7 while wholeheartedly claiming texts such as Genesis and Leviticus as “inspired” stories.
These responses to “The Land is Not Empty” encourage and inspire me. It is a privilege to be heard by friends: learned scholars, pastors, and leaders. How can we work together? How can we bring your inspiring words to life? We are of one body. We are alive now, on behalf of our ancestors, and on behalf of those who will come after us. Let us join our life energy to decolonize story and scripture, to creating authentic exchange and collaboration with Indigenous Peoples, to forming welcoming community with those displaced by colonization, by engaging in concrete solidarity with land and water protectors, by engaging in land return.
I call now to our readers. Friends! Let us reason together. Join us in this work. You can find me on our website: https://dofdmenno.org
join our repair network: https://dofdmenno.org/join-our-repair-congregations-and-communities-network/