Truth and Relationship with Indigenous Communities

Paths to Understanding was invited by Bishop Shelley Bryan Wee to bring Indigenous leaders and Lutheran clergy together to engage in a question: How can Lutheran Christians begin to have a right relationship with Indigenous communities?

In my work to counter dehumanization in the Pacific Northwest since 2015, I have often sensed that underneath Islamophobia, Antisemitism, and racial bigotries and policies is the dehumanization and violence against Indigenous peoples. We often talk of racism as if it started and is somehow contained in the “South”. I often hear people say, “We never had slaves here.” This both discounts a deeper conversation about racism toward those enslaved in this nation, and the reality of the impact of colonization upon Indigenous peoples.

The dehumanization and violence toward Indigenous peoples is spiritually, emotionally, historically beneath the dehumanization of other groups. It is literally under my feet as I write this, under yours as you read it. On land taken through genocide, cultural genocide, germ warfare, boarding schools, and the threat of direct violence by soon-to-be governor Stevens.

I am humbled. I am humbled by the strength, wisdom, and generosity of the four Indigenous leaders who joined us. They engaged with us, the “new people”, with grace, truth, direct conversation, and a willingness to move into our future together.

There was also humor.

The photo was one of those moments. We were engaging the question: What do Lutheran leaders need to know and do to make relationship with Indigenous communities possible?

Going to local events. Getting educated. Listening and respecting. Asking questions. Doing our work. These were all a small part of what to do.

Then one Indigenous leader said a word of truth: “You know we don’t get points for collecting dominant culture friends.”

The room erupted in laughter, sadness, and realization.

The question is not just about relationship, but if people within the dominant communities are ready to stand behind Indigenous communities when they need support.

Quite often, people in the dominant culture are not willing to stand up because they sense a risk in doing so.

But there is a deeper risk in not doing so. When human beings live divided from one another and from the Earth we endanger everyone and everything. We endanger our stated values. We endanger our very souls.

Upper Skagit elder Kay Knott shared Vi Hilbert’s prayer with us: We are better together, we can help each other, we can see each other as humans.

We have gone far down the road of dehumanization and violence. But it is not too late, yet, to turn back.

The road to this is paved with truth, relationship, painful realization, change, and, yes, laughter.