Colonization Stories

Broken Tree DSC01792The theme at my congregation for November is “What does it mean to be a community of story?” Of course, stories can be truth-telling, or truth-hiding. For example, I have mixed feelings about the Thanksgiving holiday. I am very much in favor of gratitude. But the stories American culture tells about the holiday have been used to hide the truth about a deep crack in the foundation of our nation, and have distorted and corrupted the high ideals many cherish as the basis of our American democracy.

I am speaking about the colonization of this continent, a destructive process unparalleled in history. Millions of Indigenous people were killed, or died from disease unknown to them. Land was stolen. Treaties were signed and then broken, and then never talked about again. Most of our senators and representatives in Washington know nothing about the legal responsibilities of our federal government to the Indigenous nations within our borders.

Why should we care?  Those of us whose ancestors were among the settlers of the continent?  We have benefited from this colonization, but we have also been harmed by it. Colonization is at the root of the many of the problems that all of us are facing now: the destruction of the natural world, climate change, oppression of one group by another, the overarching greed that has bankrupted our economy. (There is a longer list I could make.) I don’t believe we can fix any of those problems without revisiting our history.

Sadly, churches were/are a large contributor to colonization. I am part of a new project here in Maine, called “Decolonizing Faith.” A few clergy colleagues and I, under the auspices of the Wabanaki REACH program, are exploring the history of colonization, and the role of the churches in it. We recently spent a long weekend with a few partners from the Wabanaki people, having deeper conversations about the impacts of colonization on Wabanaki people, and building trust for future work together. We hope that we might begin to envision how people of faith could help in the process of de-colonization, non-Indigenous people joining together with Indigenous people for the benefit of all people.

Our next plan is to create and hold day-long workshops for people in faith communities to explore these questions together. But we realized this topic is so huge, that perhaps we should start by encouraging people to attend the Ally workshops that are already being offered here in Maine by Wabanaki REACH. These workshops look at the history of U.S. Government relationships with Native people, explore the dynamics of systemic racism, and ask what non-native people can do as allies. Once people have this basic foundation, they will be better prepared for looking at how churches were involved in the problems, and how we can be part of the solutions.

I would encourage folks in Maine to sign up for the ally trainings–you can find out more at the Wabanaki REACH events page.   These trainings will be a prerequisite for the first Decolonizing Faith workshops we hope to offer this winter or spring.

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Bearing Witness for the Future

PUC Hearing Net-Metering Rules Oct 17

Photo by Livio Filice, via Facebook. (I am in the front row in a yellow solar shirt.)

Yesterday I participated in the public hearing held by the Public Utility Commission for new net metering rules in Maine.  From one testimony, I learned that these proposed rules are the most regressive, anti-solar rules in the nation.  In another testimony, Conservation Law Foundation attorney Emily Green questioned whether this process is even legal, since the changes are drastic enough that they are no longer really net-metering rules, but rather serve to eliminate net-metering–and thus are not within the purview of the Commission. Also noted was the fact that no economic impact statements had been prepared, prior to the hearing, as required by regulation.  Sadly, none of this made it into the story run by the Portland Press Herald today.

I gave testimony, too, but not on technical details or the effects on jobs or existing solar customers.  I spoke in my role as a minister, taking a look at the bigger picture.  Here is what I said:

I want to speak of our responsibility to the future generations, our grandchildren and their grandchildren.  Every gallon of oil we use today is a theft from the quality of life for those future generations.  If we take our responsibility seriously, we should be doing everything possible to shift all of our energy use to renewables, as soon as possible.

That responsibility to the future generations is why my family downsized from a 2000 square foot home to a 1000 square foot home–so we could afford to put solar panels on our roof and use less oil.  It only works for us because of some kind of net metering–solar produces energy during the day, and more during the summer, so we need to draw from the grid at night and in the winter, from the credits we build up during the sunshine. Net-metering makes it work.

But even so, there are only so many things I can do as an individual.  We need to be moving collectively toward an energy policy that will leave a livable future world for our grandchildren.  It is that serious!  We are creating in our time the story that the future generations of human beings will live.  Will it be a story of hardship?  Wars over declining resources? Chaos, and violence? Or will it be a story of human beings living in mutually beneficial relationship to each other and to all beings of the earth?

I know which story I am committed to–and I think we all want that.  It means doing everything possible to encourage the transition to renewable energy.  I pray that you will go home tonight and think of those future generations–our grandchildren and their grandchildren.  I pray that we might leave them a beautiful world–a world we know is possible.

We were told that all testimony was recorded and will be able to be seen at the website of the commission, but it is not posted yet, as far as I can tell.  The website is very difficult to navigate. If you want to find out more about this rule making case, you can follow this link.  If you want to make a comment on these proposed changes, you can do so at this page, using the case number 2016-00222.

There is a lot more to say about all this, but for today I will leave it with my prayer–that we might leave a beautiful world for the future generations.

 

Future Fruit Trees

Wood chips JackWood chips LizThanks to help from Margy’s sister Liz and brother-in-law, Jack, we were able to spread wood chips over a part of our yard that we are envisioning for future fruit trees.  The soil in the yard is quite compacted, and we have a big pile of wood chips from the old maple tree that was cut down last year.  Lisa Fernandes of Resilience Hub had suggested that the best easy way to start improving the soil for growing trees was to spread wood chips now so they can percolate over the winter, and help the soil to develop fungal infrastructure.

It seemed like a huge job, and Margy and I hadn’t been able to start it on our own.  But when Liz and Jack came to visit for the weekend, they offered to help with a project.  Margy immediately thought of the wood chips.  The three of them began on Saturday afternoon, and then we all worked on Sunday afternoon to expand it and finish it.  Margy coordinated our efforts and documented it with these photos.

We had a wonderful visit, and this morning I feel so happy looking at the space that is no longer raggedy lawn, but imagined and hoped for cherries, apples and peaches, imbued with the spirit of the old maple, and the loving hands of family.dsc06784

 

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Why I don’t celebrate Columbus Day

Every October and November in the United States, we find ourselves once again in a season of false and misleading stories about European settlers and Native Americans.  First there is the story that Columbus discovered America in 1492.  (Later there is the story about the Pilgrims and the Indians at the first Thanksgiving.)  It is astonishing to me, after all the work done by Native activists and their allies in the last forty years, that these stories keep returning unchanged year after year.  In 1991, the organization Rethinking Schools published Rethinking Columbus, an excellent resource that pointed out for educators the fallacies of the stories we are told and offered practical alternatives.  Certainly in some places a lot has changed.  But there has also been a backlash.  Rethinking Columbus was one of the books banned from Arizona school systems in 2012.

Perhaps many people are willing to acknowledge, if pressed, that when Columbus supposedly “discovered” America, it was already full of people.  But the use of the word “discover” has a more sinister history that is not so often talked about.  Prior to 1492, European church leaders and monarchs had collaborated in a stunning series of proclamations, which became known as the Doctrine of Discovery.

In 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued a papal bull declaring that the Catholic king of Portugal had the right to conquer any Muslim and pagan peoples and enslave them.  A few years later he wrote a second letter, declaring all the Christian kings of Europe had the right to take the lands and possessions of any non-Christian people, and keep them in perpetuity.  If the pagan inhabitants could be converted to the Christian faith they might be spared, but otherwise they could be enslaved or killed.  The Doctrine of Discovery was also later claimed by the king of England in 1496, authorizing English explorers to seize any lands not already discovered by other Christian nations.

The Doctrine of Discovery became the legal basis for the “discoveries” of Columbus and others, and for the resulting attempts to conquer and colonize the western hemisphere, and unleash a genocide on its peoples.  It was also the legal basis for the slave trade.  And its influence did not remain in that distant past.  It is still a source of oppression to this day.  It became the basis of U.S. Indian Law, beginning in 1823, when Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that “Christian people” who had “discovered” the lands of “heathens” had assumed the right of “dominion,” and thus had “diminished” the Indians’ rights to complete sovereignty as independent nations.  He claimed Indians had merely a right of occupancy in their lands. This decision has never been overturned, and is still cited on a regular basis, as recently as 2010 in the Federal courts.

Responding to the requests of Indigenous peoples, several religious denominations have passed resolutions to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. Those of which I am aware are Episcopalians in 2009, Unitarian Universalists and the Society of Friends in 2012, and the United Church of Christ in 2013.  These resolutions are a first step toward reckoning with this history of stolen lands and stolen children.

But let’s go back to Columbus.  The stories of his “discovery” lead to another distortion of our European history in these lands.  This is the idea that the Europeans conquered the Native nations by their superior weaponry and military might.  This holds a partial truth.  The Europeans did try to conquer every Indigenous nation they encountered.  But it would not have been possible without another factor.  Between 1492 and 1650, possibly ninety percent of the Indigenous people of the Americas were killed by plague and other European diseases to which they had no immunity.  The Europeans, sometimes unwittingly but often purposefully, brought an unprecedented apocalypse to this land.

Estimates of the pre-contact population are hard to determine.  One scholar, William Denevan, tried to reconcile all the data and came up with fifty-four million in the Western Hemisphere.  But by 1650, the number had shrunk to six million.  Millions upon millions of people died.  In 1617, a few years before English settlers landed, an epidemic began to spread through the area that became southern New England.  It likely came from British fishermen, who had been fishing the waters off the coast for decades.  By 1620, ninety to ninety-six percent of the population had died.  Villages were left with so many bodies, the survivors fled to the next town, and the disease continued to spread.  It was a catastrophe never before seen anywhere in the world. Books on Shelf DSC00283

 

Decolonizing Faith, Part One

Dawn at the Pond

I am at a small gathering of Native and non-Native people exploring the topic of Decolonizing Faith.  We have been looking at the history of colonization on this continent, and the role of churches in that process, and the effects on Indigenous people’s lives.  We’ve listened to stories shared by Wabanaki folks of disrupted families, foster care, adoption, love and care of relatives, abuse by church leaders, the long path to healing…  We’ve been here since Friday evening, and will stay until Monday.

We are in a lovely house by Chemo Pond (pronounced Sheemo Pond) in Clifton Maine. The natural beauty of the pond is, in itself, healing.  The calls of the loons.  The breezes in the trees. The reflection of red leaves on the water. I took a swim in the pond on Friday, and Saturday morning I sat outside in the dawn watching the sky grow light in the east.  Today it is raining. Today we start to ask, what can be done to turn around the process of colonization (which has never stopped.)  And what might be the role of spirituality and the role of faith communities in that work? It is good to be here.

There will be much more to think about, to write.