In November 2014, Seattle Mennonite Church welcomed four speakers who educated our faith community about the Doctrine of Discovery.
The Doctrine of Discovery is a body of laws that defines the rights of Indigenous people and nations, in addition to their access to water, land and other natural resources.
Under this framework, land has been taken from Indigenous communities for generations, invoking the Christian theology and church authority that originally gave it power.
Sarah Augustine, a member of Seattle Mennonite and co-founder of the Suriname Indigenous Health Fund, told us about her experience in advocating for dismantling this doctrine.
The next week, Erica Littlewolf and Karin Kaufman Wall of Mennonite Central Committee engaged us about the relationship between Europeans and Indigenous Nations of Turtle Island.
And the following week, Paula Killough of Mennonite Mission Network spoke to us about changing global practices with Indigenous peoples.
During worship we listened with open ears and spirits as provocative truths came to us for discussion. We learned about the impact of colonialism, Manifest Destiny and residential schools —ideologies and power structures that forced Indigenous peoples from their land, denied their identity and culture and led to physical and spiritual atrocities. We were called to remember, confess our complicity and engage a new way.
Between Sunday services, I sat with these stirring messages. I struggled with my presence in and claim to a mixed identity. I am the child of migrants and the grandchild of indios (people indigenous to Mexico). I share the restlessness of a people on the move. I know the disorienting reality of a home that is no longer your own. At the same time, as I sit in Seattle, on Duwamish land, I cannot deny that I am complicit in the oppression of Indigenous peoples, my own ancestors.
To help navigate this contradiction, I knew I needed to learn more. I picked up Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice and Life Together (Herald Press, 2013). This book wrestles with the same themes: the duality of our complicity, the call of our faith and the possibilities for listening, healing and action. Within its pages, the authors drive home the messages that Sarah, Erica, Karin and Paula had delivered weeks before. This is not solely an issue of becoming aware of our past but of learning how to heal the present and move forward into a just and faithful future.
These voices remind of the urgency of the Psalmist in Psalm 42:1, 7 (NIV): “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. … Deep calls out to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.”
The soul’s need for identity and community runs just as deep as the deer’s instinctive need for water.
Just as deep as the thirst that drives one to pant or gasp, so deeply planted is the loss one feels when he or she is no longer allowed to speak their native language or live out their customs and traditions.
As the deer pants, as its body changes and reacts to the absence of nourishment, so does the soul and heart react to the injury of displacement, the denial of identity, the neglect of a history erased and all but brushed under the rug.
Just as loud as the roar of a gushing waterfall soaring over a cliff’s edge, so loudly does the spirit call out for healing, for the dignity of mere acknowledgement.
Just as heavy as the weight of the waterfall’s crash into a calm pool, so lands the heavy responsibility of restorative collaboration and right relationship upon our shoulders.
White privilege and complicity in oppression are uncomfortable topics, to say the least. Regardless of one’s heritage, race or ethnicity, it’s hard to have open discussions about these issues without feeling accused, wounded or threatened at some point. I cannot speak for the multitude of Indigenous voices that came before me, and I would not expect a white friend to answer for the acts of her ancestors. But I can heed the voices in my own community, and I can take action. I can be a healing presence of God’s love now.
As a traveler at an intersection of identities and a young adult discerning God’s invitation in my life, I’m grateful Seattle Mennonite is asking these questions. If ever there is a place where one can wrestle with and air out wounds, our community of faith should be that safe place.
May we move deeper into these questions, because our relationship with our Indigenous neighbors is an urgent issue of restorative justice and a clear call that will only get louder.
Jenn Carreto is a member of Seattle Mennonite Church. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.