This post is in celebration of Native American Heritage Month, which is celebrated every year in November.
Sarah Augustine, who is a Pueblo (Tewa) descendant, is a co- founder and executive director of the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition. She is also the co-founder of Suriname Indigenous Health Fund (SIHF), where she has worked in relationship with vulnerable and Indigenous Peoples since 2005. She has represented the interests of Indigenous community partners to their own governments, the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations, the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the World Health Organization and a host of other international actors, including corporate interests. In 2011, she co-wrote the World Council of Churches’ “Statement on the Doctrine of Discovery and its Enduring Impacts on Indigenous Peoples,” and shared in the creation of the ecumenical Indigenous Peoples network. She is a columnist for Anabaptist World and co-hosts the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery podcast with Sheri Hostetler. She has written for Sojourners, The Mennonite, Anabaptist Witness, Response Magazine, and other publications, as well as a variety of academic journals. She has taught at Heritage University, Central Washington University and Goshen (Indiana) College. In Washington State, where she lives, she serves in a leadership role on multiple boards and commissions to enable vulnerable peoples to speak for themselves in advocating for structural justice. She and her husband, Dan Peplow, and their son live in the Yakima Valley of Washington. She is author of the book “The Land Is Not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery.”
By race, I am Indigenous. For many people in American society, this is obvious because of the way that I look. My Indigenous culture is a big part of who I am, and within it, I practice Indigenous spirituality. A special practice in this spirituality is acknowledging the divine in creation and the faithfulness of the creator, every morning at dawn. This has been practiced by my people for generations untold, and I am grateful to acknowledge the presence of Creator and the gifts I receive as part of the process of creation. I participate in this act of reverence each morning, as my grandmother did in her time.
I am also an Anabaptist, and a big part of who I am includes Mennonite cultural practice. Many people do not think of practicing a faith tradition as part of a cultural identity, but I do. As a Mennonite, I worship in community on Sunday mornings, and I take part in communion to acknowledge my place in the body of Christ. I also farm, quilt, preserve and store food, as expressions of simple living. Simple living honors Jesus’ call to be peacemakers. I do not believe I can participate in structural violence and claim to be a peacemaker — like using excessive amounts of fossil fuels or toxic chemicals in farming, or like participating in conspicuous consumption. I also actively seek peace in my community, using methods of mediation and restorative practice — all tools I learned in my Mennonite tradition.
Some Christian friends ask whether I feel tension practicing Indigenous spirituality and Christianity. I do not, because the spirituality of my people is consistent with the message of Jesus, in which all are welcome.
Some Indigenous friends ask how I can be a Christian, given how the legacies of boarding schools, child removal and displacement have shaped my life, and the lives of so many.
Honestly, it can be hard, sometimes, for me to find common ground with theologies that justify the removal of Indigenous Peoples from their lands as biblical. Many settler narratives justify conquest by situating themselves in the place of Israel coming into the promised land. I choose to focus on engaging these ideas through the lens of Jesus and his ministry. From my point of view, Jesus states his mandate clearly in Luke 4. He claims that he has been anointed to bring good news to the poor. That is, to bring release for the captive, liberation for the oppressed, sight for the blind and the year of our Lord’s favor, or Jubilee. Nowhere does Jesus call for genocide or conquest.
I am a Christian, because I believe in Jesus, because I love him. I spend my life struggling to practice discipleship. There is liberation for my people, both Indigenous and Mennonite, in the kingdom of God that Jesus calls us to. I believe the year of our Lord’s favor, or Jubilee, entails the just reorganization of human systems.
I work each day to accompany Indigenous and vulnerable peoples who are subject to structural violence. I am called to do this. The dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition responds to a call into right relationship — a relationship where power is balanced. We engage with Indigenous Peoples as siblings, not helpers or saviors. We seek to identify where those of us who live with privilege benefit from the suffering of the oppressed and to turn away from those privileges. We seek to empower the self-determination of those who have been historically excluded. Together with our Indigenous relatives, we seek to imagine a world of Jubilee, where the powerful are not enriched by the suffering of the dispossessed — a world where power is balanced. I invite you, my Anabaptist relatives, to join us.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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