October 8, 2023 ~ Native American Ministries Sunday
Rev. Beckie Sweet
While attending the UM General Conference in 2012, in Tampa, FL, I participated in a Service of Repentance and Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Some of the liturgy we have shared this morning was a part of that service. Similar to the emotional response that I have during Good Friday services each year, that service in 2012 was hard spiritual and emotional work. I was, and am, still learning about the atrocities committed by anglo-Europeans in this land against those who had been the stewards of this land for many generations.
While hearing even a few of the stories of terror, genocide, abuse, stealing, breaking treaties, etc.. broke my heart, it was relatively easy for me to return to my comfortable bed following the service and rationalize, “Oh, those who committed such atrocities may have been my ancestors, far removed from my generation. I, personally had nothing to do with such evil acts.” And I could go to sleep, not worried for my safety, the health of the earth, the relationships within creation.
In 2015 the Upper New York Annual Conference held a similar service of Repentance and Reconciliation, at which Rev. Dr. Thom White Wolfe Fassett spoke eloquently, yet forthrightly, about the experiences of his ancestors, and the people of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the natives of Upper New York. We think of the tragedies connected with Boarding Schools as those experienced long ago and far away, and fail to acknowledge that those Boarding Schools continued to operate in this area into the late 20th Century. There are neighbors among us who still awaken with nightmares of being taken from their families, beaten, having their hair chopped off, experiencing the pain of starvation, sexual abuse,….and being told it was good for them.
Are WE really complicit ~ in 2023? Are those of us participating in worship today responsible for harm among our Indigenous neighbors? Here are some alarming statistics:
- 84% of Native women and girls experience violence in their lifetime.
- 86% of sexual assaults against Native women and girls are at the hands of non-native men.
- Native women are murdered at a rate 10 times that of the national average.
- The US Bureau of Labor Statistics, since keeping such records, has never reported an unemployment rate for Native Americans which was less than twice the national average.
- The Institute for Policy Research reports that 1 in 3 Native Americans live in poverty with a median income of $23,000 a year.
- The American Bar Association reports that health care for Native Americans lags behind ALL other groups reported, which has had an effect of lowering life expectance by 4.4 years. Native Americans die of higher rates than other Americans of preventable illnesses.
- But the Center for Disease Control reports that murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women.
- Lastly, the Prison Policy Initiative reports that in the US, Native people are incarcerated in state and federal prisons at four times the rate of white people.
That is the reality today. We, as individuals, may not be imposing such violence and atrocities on our Native neighbors. However, when policies and laws concerning ending such acts arise, when we become aware of treaties being broken, and we remain silent, WE ARE COMPLICIT.
Our scripture text reminds us that “The Great Spirit has chosen us to represent the Chosen One in the sacred task of helping others find and walk this path of peacemaking and healing – turning enemies into friends.” That is exactly why our Justice Seekers ministry has chosen to address this, and other justice-related topics. Addressing those topics means more than just a casual mention, and then returning to our comfy beds for a good night’s sleep. It means doing the hard spiritual and emotional work of representing Christ by being an ally, even when that brings ridicule, of supporting a cause for justice with our time, talents, and most of all, our treasures, even when it means sacrificial giving. It means learning about painful issues, which we would be all too happy to ignore. It means taking a stand for the Creator and creation….all of creation.
In this time of repentance, we not only name our complicity and guilt, we seek to change our way of being in order to actively pursue healing and reconciliation among those harmed. Even for the Indigenous folks whose ancestors were whisked away in the night to boarding schools a hundred years ago, the generational pain associated with that genocide continues. The yearning to regain native language, culture, and partnership with the land is a wound that is yet to heal. The instinctual desire to live in peace with Creator, Creation, and neighbors is yet to be fulfilled.
We are called by the Creator to be an active part of the solution, rather than perpetuating the pain. Today, may we pursue grace for our complicity, and commit to living into the ganigohiyo (peaceful) future of God’s design. Amen.