Tom & Eliacin and I are just back from the Native American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies Symposium in Langley BC. Ostensibly we were there to speak but in reality we had far more to learn than we had to teach.
It was one of the most challenging and eye opening conferences that I have been to for a long time. Saddest of all many Native American Christians feel abused and alienated from the white church which has practiced a theological colonialism. By that I mean that because of their Euro-centric worldview, white Christians have basically told Native Americans that to become Christian they must become like their western sisters and brothers. White Christians present the gospel as though it can only be interpreted in the midst of western culture. Integrating faith with Native American culture is seen as synchretistic. Integration with the materialism and consumerism of western culture is interpreted as God’s blessing. However as Richard Twiss from the Lakota/Sioux Tribe commented
Jesus was God and Jesus was human. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Our life comes from him and we are to be conformed to his likeness and image. In Genesis we are created in the “likeness and image of God”. We are not created to become Jewish even though Jesus was jewish. We are created to be fully Christ-like and fully human – whatever that human identity might be. Because of Jesus, I can be fully Christ-like and fully Lakota, not as compromised previously incompatible realities. Western dualism makes us see these realities as simply at odds, but diametrically opposed. To be fully human is to fulfill who God has intended, created us to be. For community to occur we must fully embrace our humanity as gifts, not to the exclusion of others, but as empowering us to love others in their unique humanity.
As I listened to First Nation’s people from Canada and the US share their stories of struggle with a world that has abused, disinherited and denied them basic human rights, I was challenged at many levels.
First there was the need for me to grapple with the fact that though I may not have directly alienated native peoples, my very ignorance of their plight has shown my indifference to their struggles. My position as part of the dominant white European culture is a direct benefit of the domination and abuse of native peoples. the asking of forgiveness and the need for restitution are obvious but I am not sure what that can look like for me
Second I struggled with how to be supportive and enter into the struggles of their life journeys without adding to the hurt and misunderstanding or worse still expressing the same paternalism and domination that has always been the white response. Neither do I want to react like so many of my American friends for whom friendships are disposable, being more geared to instant gratification than to long term mutually supportive relationship. I realize my need to just sit and listen to my sisters and brothers and to make sure that I create opportunities or respond to invitations to interact and learn.
I particularly enjoyed Jeanine Lowe LeBlanc’s paper on Indigenous Hospitality. I was profoundly challenged by her provokative comment:
In a world that often experiences fragmentation and individualism, hospitality and welcoming the Other, may seem to have been lost forever. However, indigenous peoples have been practicing (and living lives of) hospitality and welcome for many years. Consequently, practices of indigenous hospitality and welcome provide an excellent model of a community for whom hospitality and welcome are integral.
This was a great gathering to be a part of and I would heartily recommend the next gathering to be held at George Fox University June 10 – 12th or what should be an even more exciting gathering January 2011 in New Zealand – the International Gathering of Indigenous Peoples.