THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH AND AMERICA'S NATIVE PEOPLE
Most white Americans are isolated from the issues of justice for the United States’ native people by the lapse of time, the remoteness of reservations or native territories and the comparative invisibility of natives in the urban setting, the distortions in historical accounts, and the accumulation of prejudices. Now is the time for a new beginning, and The United Methodist Church calls its members to pray and work for that new day in relationship between native peoples, other minorities, and white Americans.
The United States has been forced to become more sharply aware and keenly conscious of the destructive impact of the unjust acts and injurious policies of the United States government upon the lives and culture of U.S. American Indians, Alaskan natives, and Hawaiian natives. In the past, the white majority population was allowed to forget or excuse the wrongs that were done to the indigenous peoples of this land. Today, U.S. American Indian and Alaskan and Hawaiian natives are speaking with a new and more unified voice, causing both the government and the American people to reexamine the actions of the past and to assume responsibility for the conditions of the present.
A clear appeal is being made for a fresh and reliable expression of justice. The call is being made for a new recognition of the unique rights that were guaranteed in perpetuity of U.S. American Indians by the treaties and legal agreements that were solemnly signed by official representatives of the United States government. A plea is being raised regarding the disruption of Alaskan and Hawaiian natives who were not granted the legal agreements protecting their culture and land base.
The time has come for the American people to be delivered from beliefs that gave support to the false promises and faulty policies that prevailed in the relations of the United States government with the United States of America’s native peoples. These beliefs asserted that:
- White Europeans who came to this continent were ordained by God to possess its land and utilize its resources;
- Natives were not good stewards of the environment, permitting nature to lie in waste as they roamed from place to place, living off the land;
- The growing white population tamed nature and subdued the natives and thus gave truth to the assumption that the white race is superior;
- The forceful displacement of the natives was a necessary and justifiable step in the development of a free land and a new country;
- The white explorers and pioneers brought civilization to the natives and generously bestowed upon them a higher and better way of life.
Rarely are these beliefs now so blatantly set forth, yet they are subtly assumed and furnish the continuing foundation upon which unjust and injurious policies of the government are based.
These beliefs, in former times, permitted the government, on the one hand, to seize lands, uproot families, break up tribal communities, and undermine the authority of traditional chiefs. On the other hand, the beliefs enabled the government to readily make and easily break treaties, give military protection to those who encroached on native lands, distribute as “free” land millions of acres of native holdings that the government designated as being “surplus,” and systematically slay those natives who resisted such policies and practices.
In our own time, these beliefs have encouraged the government to:
- Generally assume the incompetence of natives in the management and investment of their own resources;
- Give highly favorable leasing arrangements to white mining companies, grain farmers, and cattle ranchers for the use of native lands held in trust by the federal government or historically used as supportive land base;
- Use job training and other government programs to encourage the relocation of natives from reservations or native territories to urban areas;
- Utilize government funds in projects that are divisive to the tribal or native membership and through procedures that co-opt native leadership;
- Extend the control of state government over native nations that are guaranteed federal protection;
- Terminate federal services and protection to selected native nations and further deny federal recognition to others;
- Engage in extensive and expensive litigation as a means of delaying and thus nullifying treaty rights and aboriginal land claims;
- Pay minimal monetary claims for past illegal confiscation of land and other native resources;
- Lump together United States natives with other racial minorities as a tactic for minimizing the unique rights of native peoples; and
- Punitively prosecute the native leaders who vigorously challenge the policies of the federal government.
The Church is called to repentance, for it bears a heavy responsibility for spreading false beliefs and for unjust governmental policies and practices. The preaching of the gospel to America’s natives was often a preparation for assimilation into white culture. The evangelizing of the native nations often effected the policies of the government.
The Church has frequently benefited from the distribution of native lands and other resources. The Church often saw the injustices inflicted upon native peoples but gave assent or remained silent, believing that its task was to “convert” the heathen.
The Church is called through the mercy of almighty God to become a channel of the reconciling Spirit of Jesus Christ and an instrument of love and justice in the development of new relations between native nations, other minorities, and whites, in pursuit of the protection of their rights.
The United Methodist Church recognizes that a new national commitment is needed to respect and effect the rights of American Indians and Alaskan and Hawaiian natives to claim their own identities, maintain their cultures, live their lives, and use their resources.
The United Methodist Church expresses its desire and declares its intention to participate in the renewal of the national responsibility to the United States of America’s native people.
The United Methodist Church calls its congregations to study the issues concerning American Indian and Alaskan and Hawaiian native relations with the government of the United States; to develop an understanding of the distinctive cultures and the unique rights of the native people of the United States; to establish close contacts wherever possible with native persons, tribes, and nations; and to furnish support for:
- The right of native people to live as native people in this country;
- The right of native people to be self-determining and to make their own decisions related to the use of their lands and the natural resources found on and under them;
- The right of native people to plan for a future in this nation and to expect a fulfillment of the commitments that have been made previously by the government, as well as equitable treatment of those who were not afforded legal protection for their culture and lands;
- The right of American Indian nations to exercise the sovereignty of nationhood, consistent with treaty provisions;
- The right of Alaskan natives to maintain a subsistence land base and aboriginal rights to its natural resources; and
- The right of native Hawaiians to a just and amicable settlement with the United States through federal legislation related to aboriginal title to Hawaiian lands and their natural resources.
The United Methodist Church especially calls its congregations to support the needs and aspirations of America’s native peoples as they struggle for their survival and the maintenance of the integrity of their culture in a world intent upon their assimilation, Westernization, and absorption of their lands and the termination of their traditional ways of life.
Moreover, we call upon our nation, in recognition of the significant cultural attainments of the native peoples in ecology, conservation, human relations, and other areas of human endeavor, to receive their cultural gifts as part of the emerging new life and culture of our nation.
In directing specific attention to the problems of native peoples in the United States, we do not wish to ignore the plight of native people in many other countries of the world.
From Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, 1996.
See Social Principles, § 66A; “Confession to Native Americans”; “Toward a New Beginning Beyond 1992”; “American Indian Religious Freedom Act”; “Native American Representation in The United Methodist Church”; “Rights of Native People of the Americas.”
CONCERNING DEMEANING NAMES TO NATIVE AMERICANS
In our society today, there is a growing debate and discussion about the appropriateness of using Native American names as nicknames for professional sports teams and university mascots. As the publication produced by the United Methodist Church, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, highlights, the use of names and language is a powerful instrument for good and destructive purposes. It is demeaning to an entire segment of our society to depict them as violent and aggressive people by calling a sports team the "Braves" or "Warriors." The implication is that all Native Americans are aggressive and violent people. This use of nicknames is not conducive to the development of a society committed to the common good of its citizenry.
In The Book of Resolutions, 1992, pg. 178 (The United Methodist Church and America's Native People) the United Methodist Church has issued a call for repentance for the church's role in the dehumanization and colonization of our Native American sisters and brothers. In light of this stand and the fact that we strongly believe the continued use of Native American names as nicknames is demeaning and racist, we urge all United Methodist-related universities, colleges, and schools to set an example by replacing any nicknames which demean and offend our Native American sisters and brothers; and we support efforts throughout our society to replace such nicknames, mascots, and symbols.
From Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, 1996.
See Social Principles, § 66A; "The United Methodist Church and America's Native People"; “Confession to Native Americans."
CONFESSION TO NATIVE AMERICANS
WHEREAS, the gospel calls us to celebrate and protect the worth and dignity of all peoples; and
WHEREAS, the Christian churches, including The United Methodist Church and its predecessors, have participated in the destruction of Native American people, culture, and religious practices; and
WHEREAS, the churches of this country have not sufficiently confessed their complicity in this evil; and
WHEREAS, the churches have been blessed by having members who are Native Americans as well as by engaging in dialogue with Native Americans who practice their traditional religions; and
WHEREAS, confession of our guilt is a first step toward the wholeness that the churches seek through the ecumenical movement;
Therefore, be it resolved, that the United Methodist General Conference confesses that The United Methodist Church (and its predecessor bodies) has sinned and continues to sin against its Native American brothers and sisters and offers this formal apology for its participation, intended and unintended, in the violent colonization of their land; and
Be it further resolved, that The United Methodist Church pledges its support and assistance in upholding the American Indian Religious Freedom Acts (P.L. 95-134, 1978) and within that legal precedent affirms the following:
- the rights of the native peoples to practice and participate in traditional ceremonies and rituals with the same protection offered all religions under the Constitution of the United States of America;
- access to and protection of sacred sites and public lands for ceremonial purposes; and
- the use of religious symbols (feathers, tobacco, sweet grass, bones, and so forth) for use in traditional ceremonies and rituals.
Be it further resolved, that the General Conference recommends that local churches develop similar statements of confession as a way of fostering a deep sense of community with Native Americans and encourages the members of our Church to stand in solidarity on these important religious issues and to provide mediation when appropriate for ongoing negotiations with state and federal agencies regarding these matters.
From Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, 1996.
See Social Principles, § 66; “American Indian Religious Freedom Act”; “Native American History and Contemporary Culture as Related to Effective Church Participation”; “Comity Agreements Affecting Development of Native American Ministries by The United Methodist Church”; “The United Methodist Church and America’s Native People.”