Psalm 137 – Columbus Day?

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
    on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
    “tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.

I started drafting this post for Thanksgiving last year, and I don’t remember what got in the way of my posting it.  But tomorrow is Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day – yes, both are listed on my Apple Calendar. It is the official kick-off of the country suddenly remembering its First Peoples for a few weeks, so some words seem in order.

It’s a bleak passage to chose, as I originally did, for a holiday where we are supposed to focus on the good things in our life.  But Thanksgiving, and indeed this time of year in general, is a complicated time in our house.  We all love eating, and being with family, and sometimes even getting a day off of farm work. But Chris (and my girls) are Native American.  Chris is a registered member of the Piscataway tribe of Maryland.  Thanksgiving is one of the best examples of white-washed cultural appropriation and re-writing history.  The story I learned as a young child was: the Pilgrims came to America, were hungry and didn’t know how to farm this strange new land, so the Indians came and taught them how to plant corn and then at the end of the season they all sat down and had a big feast together and everyone lived happily ever after.

So. Not. True.  Just as their tormentors demanded songs of joy from the Israelites, America at large demands a minstrel-like performance from Native culture while ignoring its pain.  Sports teams like the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redskins – not to mention the thousands of colleges and highschools – used or continue to use racist and reductive imagery and terms as mascots, flattening and cheapening Native culture.  We’ve turned culturally significant regalia into cheap Halloween costumes.  A quick search on Amazon for “Indian Costume for Women” comes back with pages of options, almost all of them over-sexualized Pocahontas references that have nothing to do with the varied dress worn by native women through the centuries. We enjoy the fruits of this land – turkey and corn, for sure but also tomatoes, sugar cane, and so much else – while minimalizing it’s first stewards.

And the true history of America’s relationship with its original inhabitants just gets worse from there.  My own father-in-law went to an Indian Boarding School.  Indian Boarding Schools were created to forcibly assimilate Native youth into White culture.  These children were taken from their families against their (and their families’) will, forced to convert to Christianity, and suffered malnourishment and abuse so bad that these schools had graveyards on-site to receive the number of dead children they generated.  As a reminder, this isn’t stale history hundreds of years old, people who are still living suffered through this!

These are just some of the reasons why, when my youngest came home from pre-school last year singing “Ten Little Indians,” we got upset.  Some people may roll their eyes and think we’re being overly sensitive, that it’s “just a song.”  But that song reduces my daughters and indeed, all Native peoples, into a nursery rhyme character no more real than Bo Peep or Mother Goose.  Not to mention that this “harmless nursery rhyme” has racist ties to minstrel shows where the actors played at massacring Indians, or where the words were changed to “One little, two little, three little n***er babies…).  So yes, I do find it as overtly racist as the Washington Football Team’s recently retired name (and the handful of high school and college teams still using names like Redmen and Orangemen), and it’s definitely contributing to the erasing, flattening, and denying Native cultures.

My girls (and all native youth) are being bombarded with lessons – both overt and subliminal – that their heritage is nothing more than a fairy tale for white people.  That “Indians” – a term which in and of itself reduces the myriad of peoples and nations it refers to – were a mystical race of people waiting here to guide the true, European inheritors of this land, a people that faded away to almost nothing-ness in a passive manner, again allowing the New America to grow westward.  At best, mainstream culture overshadows – and at worst flat out ignores – the genocidal history of this country we have yet to come to terms with and make amends for.  I didn’t learn about the Trail of Tears until I was in high school.  I didn’t learn about forcible adoptions of Native children until I was in my late twenties. I didn’t learn about the systematic, state-sanctioned genocide of California Indians that happened in the late 19th century, where it is estimated over 9,000 Natives died, many of whom were women and children, until I was in my thirties. I don’t want our children to continue the inexcusable ignorance in which I (as I’m sure many of you) were raised. 

As an aside, there are almost 6,000 missing Native women and girls right now.  Sadly, many of them are presumed dead.  And that’s just the number that’s been reported, the actual figure is estimated to be much higher.  I share this fact to point out that racism and aggression towards America’s Indigenous people is not just a sad historical relic, but a very real fact of today’s society.

Native Americans are neither ancient history nor romantic fairy-tale.  They are real people, they are my family.  Their land has been turned into a foreign land, one where they have been forced to forget their own proverbial Jerusalem, peoples and nations torn down to their very foundations and below.

I’m not saying don’t enjoy Thanksgiving.  Anything that encourages us to be grateful and spend time with family has to have some good in it.  But let’s not ignore the very troubling roots of this holiday.  And let’s not exacerbate the problem.  There are plenty of decorations we can use without relying upon paper cut-outs of “Indians” in our school windows.  We don’t need to scare our kindergarteners with tales of genocide, but let’s not pretend that Wompanoags and Separatists (for those are much more accurate terms than “Indian” and “Pilgrim”) were BFF’s.  

If you feel so moved – and I hope you do – perhaps work with your school to design an age-appropriate, culturally appropriate Thanksgiving curriculum. There’s still time to talk to your childrens’ teachers to make sure such a curriculum is in place. Resources like NMAI and Oyate are great places to start if you’re looking to build a curriculum, too. Also, this article from NEA gives a great overview for how to design a curriculum, especially for younger students. Finally, if you want to start with some books to read with your young children, the ones that our family has read and enjoyed are When We Were Alone by David Robertson, Wild Berries by Julie Flett, and We Are Grateful by Traci Sorell. All of these touch upon the idea of gratitude, and reflect Native cultures in a respectful and relevant way. All three had an Indigenous individual write or illustrate. There are probably many more, but these are the ones I’ve read and can recommend.

As Christians, it is our duty to fight for the justice and equality of everyone. This fight is part of my family, but we need everyone we can get. The first step of joining in is knowledge. I’ve outlined how you can help better inform your children, above. If you want to familiarize yourself with some of the battles I’ve been watching, you can read My response to events at the 2019 Indigenous People’s March, my first mention of the Wet’suwet’en Land Protectors when discussing Job 16, and my two-part entry entitled “Reconciliation is Dead.” Of course, my husband is much more first-hand source and you can read his thoughts on some of his Medium articles. Robin Kimmerer (author of Braiding Sweetgrass) seems to be everybody’s go-to Native author, but I’d also like to suggest Kaitlin Curtice, both her books are near the top of my to-read list. If you have Native authors that you have learned from, I would love to hear about them! Drop a comment below so we can all share. Let’s vow to do better by this land’s first inhabitants. In doing so, we will all be better for it. I promise.

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Job 20 – Reconciliation is Dead Part 2: Joining the Broader Fight

17 He will not enjoy the streams,
    the rivers flowing with honey and cream.
18 What he toiled for he must give back uneaten;
    he will not enjoy the profit from his trading.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Zophar tells of all the wicked man will be forced to do: his own hands must give back his wealth, he will spit out the riches he has swallowed, when he has filled his belly, God will vent his burning anger against him.  I like Zophar’s latest speech better than Eliphaz’s recent one because it more fully acknowledges the greedy, opulent, and oppressive nature of the proverbial “wicked man.”  Of course we must remember that Zophar is implying that Job’s fortune was the “mirth of the wicked” and “joy of the godless.”  In Zophar’s mind, it wouldn’t have been taken away from Job if it hadn’t been so. As such, we must take Zophar’s words with a grain of salt.  But it still leaves me wondering, as I continue to ponder the phrase “reconciliation is dead,” is it appropriate for us to be agents of God’s anger, and if so, how would we go about doing it?

As a reminder, this is a blog about finding Biblical evidence of God’s radical love for all.  And I think it might be time – past time, really – for some tough love.  Let me fall back on a parenting analogy:  I try corrective behavior as much as possible in my house, trying to redirect frustration away from hitting and pinching when I see those little hands start to raise.  But sometimes, no amount of redirect is going to keep one sister from hitting the other, and the only recourse is a time out.  A swift, unceremonious scooping up of a child any way I can grab them, plopping them in their room, and shutting the door.  Talking comes later, after they calm down and aren’t a slappy, bite-y threat to the other one.  Perhaps a collective time out is needed for certain people, organizations, and governments, as well – and that gets me back to the call to action listed in this article (the same one mentioned in Part 1 of this series).

To recap: this article was written by native people for native people, at a time when First Nations in Canada are blockading railways and otherwise disrupting the economy in an effort to protect their unceded homelands from being stolen for pipelines and infrastructure that would be environmentally and culturally damaging.  There is no love lost in it for the Canadian government, and it’s outright anarchist in passages.  As I’ve said before, I still urge you to read it. It contains some very salient points that, if we are to stay true to Jesus’ message of love and stewardship, I think we are called to do as Christians.  Of course, these apply primarily to the land reclamation and defense movements going on but I think these points can also inform our larger role of Progressive Christian Activists.  Let’s examine them:

  1. Change the rules, breaking them if necessary.  The Wet’suwet’en have exhausted all other outlets for peaceably and legally challenging these land grabs.  The greed and destruction they are fighting against is wrong, so I fully support their “illegal” actions.  Remember, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.  Didn’t we have a whole civil rights movement in this country to change the laws oppressing black citizens?  Remember that?  I don’t see thoughtful law-breaking as anarchy, I see it as fairness in action.  So let’s support these rail blockades, and look closely at the laws governing the lives of women, minorities, immigrants, children…are they fair? If not, maybe it’s time we stop following them.
  2. Widen our scope. The article talks about dreaming big – past just blocking the pipelines and into full reclamation of land and indigenous governing structures replacing the Canadian state.  I’ll admit, my knee-jerk reactions are “that’s impractical” and also “how many lives would that negatively impact?”  But what if we lean into that dream?  We need to shake off this image we have of red savages circling the wagons of innocent white folk.  No one is going to scalp us if  we actually start meeting these revolutionaries halfway, and truly figure out ways to: reduce and improve government, turning more of it over to local councils; encourage landowners to return that land to native stakeholders (I’m particularly thinking about farmland that would otherwise be bought by developers, and parks and public spaces that are the current responsibility of government); and just generally put more ecologically and culturally sensitive practices into place in white society.  All of these efforts would benefit not just native society, but broader society as well.  I’m not going to lie – we as white people are going to have to put a lot of good faith efforts out there to start this ball rolling, as we as white people have a long history of broken treaties and unfulfilled promises.  And that’s going to take some courage on our part.
  3. Unity. Again, this article was written by native people for native people, so its focus was on infighting and backstabbing between different nations.  But I’m going to go ahead and give the same strongly worded sentiments to women more or less in my situation (white, middle class) who refuse to pull the wool from over their eyes, like the neighbor up the road with a giant “Women for Trump” flag in her front yard.  Why, ladies, do you keep voting men into power that do not have your best interest at heart?  Men who lie, men who abuse women, men who rape the earth for their own gain?  I can forgive you your first vote for Trump, or McConnell, or whoever…but can you not now see the depths of their depravity? I know many of you are one issue voters who are only interested in seeing that abortion bans are put in place and upheld…but please, do not let that one issue blind you to the children – the same children you are so desperate to support when they’re in the womb – that they are hurting at the border, in reservations, in economically disadvantaged families.  If you would but stop and look, you have more in common with the Wet’suwet’en than you do with the oppressive men in power.  Please, I pray, that you recognize it.
  4. Prepare for a battlefield with multiple fronts – The author of the above article ends with a call for settlers to not fall into tired solidarity traps.  I hope I haven’t, and I’m encouraged by their call to fight parallel battles towards the same goal.  I stand with Wet’suwet’en, but I’m not standing idly by.  I’m looking around my own little community and seeing what needs to be done, teaching my own children the way they should treat the world, and the way they should demand it to be treated.  Doing the same with your children is an act of resistance.  So is reclaiming spaces where you are underrepresented or flat out discouraged (yay @accessibleyoga @queerswhofarm and @blackgirlstrekkin for just three examples of such initiatives on Instagram); interrupting the cradle to prison pipeline through education and restorative justice efforts; supporting ecological initiatives in your community (the plastic bag bans in certain states are just the tip of the iceberg); and just continuing to speak up, speak out, and create alliances with like-minded people whenever possible.

I want to close with some words from the original article (which again, you can read in full at the link above): “Being determined and sure is not the same as being unafraid. There are many dangerous days ahead of us. It is dangerous to say, ‘I will not obey.’ ” It is, and there is no guarantee that, even if we are the ones proverbially putting those currently in power in time out, that we will live to see the “fate God allots the wicked” which Zophar so illustratively describes in this chapter of Job.  But even if I don’t see all the changes that I hope and dream for in my lifetime, I want to at least make it a little better for my girls, and they’ll make it a little better for their kids, and so on down the line.  But none of that is going to happen if we don’t start working for it, now.  The battle cry has been issued: reconciliation is dead.  Let it be our invitation to join the fight.

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Job 19 – Reconciliation is Dead Part 1: International Women’s Day

28 “If you say, ‘How we will hound him,
    since the root of the trouble lies in him,’
29 you should fear the sword yourselves;
    for wrath will bring punishment by the sword,
    and then you will know that there is judgment.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here)

Sitting with the term “Reconciliation is Dead”

A few weeks ago, I came across the phrase “Reconciliation is Dead,” a term being used by those in the Wet’suwet’en protest and blockade efforts.  It’s been echoing around my head a lot as I read Job, a book about suffering through undeserved injustices.  Perhaps for the first time in the story (or maybe in his last speech, depending whether you think it is spoken in sarcasm or not), Job is angry almost to the point of seeking vengeance.  He looks for his “Reedemer,” the one who will bring judgement upon those who judge him.  Job has been pushed to his breaking point, and now lashes out verbally, warning his friends that their time will come.

Truly, how much abuse can a person suffer before striking back?  How much abuse can a people suffer before revolting?  Treaty after treaty has been signed between the Canadian government and indigenous nations, and they are always ignored.  Reconciliation efforts are started when convenient, and just as easily put aside.  And we can not nod sympathetically from down here, as all of this is true in the States as well.  Job has had enough of his friends’ empty words, and First Nations have had enough of ours.

International Women’s Day and Missing Indigenous Women

Today happens to be International Women’s Day, which I fortuitously remembered while preparing this post over the weekend.  I was not planning to write about it (quite honestly because I forgot when it was), but I’m still wrestling with exactly what needs to be said, from a white woman’s perspective, on the idea that reconciliation is dead. It happening to be International Women’s Day, I believe, is a divine coincidence that allows me to break up that thought process into parts.  It seems only fitting to start my focus upon the ongoing plague of missing indigenous women, and what it means for the broader community of women.

First, some sobering statistics:  Due to a number of factors (including poor reporting and mis-identifying ethnicities, among others) the number of missing indigenous women and girls is hard to pin down, but across the US and Canada it is in the thousands.  The most consistent number I’ve seen is around 4,000, but others estimate upwards of 6,000.  Even more sobering, one in three Native women are predicted to be the victims of sexual assault.  Couple this with the disturbingly high number of disappearances and you can see the compounding effects of police brutality, sex trafficking, domestic abuse and addiction issues that has been wrought upon native communities for decades – centuries, if we’re honest with ourselves.

Clearly, the prevailing laws are failing these women.  As human beings, I believe we should care about this just because it’s the right thing to do, but as women we should care about it because if a law is failing one of us, it is failing all of us.  God forbid you are ever abducted, but if you were, what would you rather rely upon: a slow media day and the hope that you are attractive enough (and have an interested party, such as a case worker or husband, savvy enough) to make you headline news? Or a strong, well-funded, well-staffed system of effective investigative work that makes every missing persons a top priority?

And while technically “better” than the one-in-three statistic for native women and sexual assault, the national statistic for female victims of sexual assault is still one-in-six.  Let me repeat that: one in six women, across the United States, will be the victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault.  Neither of those statistics are acceptable.  The prevailing laws are failing all of us.  The platitudes, reminders of “how far we’ve come,” and empty symbolism of one day of remembrance mask will no longer distract us from the imperialist and chauvinistic agendas that still dominate this country.

Broad Strokes for Moving Forward

The statistics above make me angry enough to want to strike back, to seek my redeemer and warn my enemies, as Job does.  So what is to be done?  I’m still figuring that out, and there are going to be a lot of right answers, but for now, I want to share three important thoughts with you:

  1. We need to form alliances and demand change.  A rising tide lifts all boats, so to speak, and we need everyone possible to be a part of that movement. That includes reaching out beyond gender lines, not only to sympathetic men, but to non-binary peoples as well, for they face similar discrimination and abuse issues that women do. I commend the MMIW, Sovereign Bodies Institute, and others for already including two-spirited peoples in their efforts, we would do well to follow their examples.
  2. A multi-faceted approach is needed. We’re not all going to agree on all topics, but let’s try to find common ground wherever possible, and make some unexpected coalitions that will force people to pay attention.  We need to tackle reducing the stigmas attached to addiction and mental health, increase the availability of women’s health and mental health services, raise awareness about domestic abuse, child abuse, and sex trafficking, and cut through red tape and biases in police departments, to name a few areas that need work.  The expertise of social workers, community support networks, healthcare workers, lawyers, and investigative journalists are all going to be needed in this fight, so let’s start (or keep) reaching out to them.
  3. White women need to be more engaged.  We have the white privilege that allows for social power and mobility second only to white men.  Liberal, well-educated white women also usually have the economic stability, social support networks, and ability to change jobs or even locales that make speaking out less dangerous than it would be for, say, a Latina mother of three on an expired green card, or a Lakota teen who has run away from an abusive home situation. These women can and should be heard, but at the time and place of that person’s choosing, when it is safe to do so.  White women, with very little to lose, need to do more to share the load. Now, before anyone goes accusing me of white savior syndrome, let me just say, the first part of becoming more engaged is listening to the experiences and needs of non-white women. Listen to (and believe) the experiences that are shared with you, and ask what you can do to help.  Then do it.  If we can reduce the rate of violence against native women, we are on the right path to reducing violence against all women.

I fear that today’s post is a little rambling, even after many restarts and heavy editing.  Like I said, I am trying to figure out exactly what my role as a Christian and a white woman are, particularly when those two identifiers have a history of being so detrimental to the very group I want to lift up.  Whatever structure today’s post does have comes from this particularly powerful article that was directed to other native readers, but has much to offer non-indigenous readers as well, particularly those of us who consider ourselves “allies.”  It’s a strongly-worded call to even stronger action, and may put some people off with its anarchist overtones, but nevertheless I recommend it.  My calls to form alliances and take a multi-faceted approach come directly from the author’s call to action.  I’ll be referencing it again when I revisit the “reconciliation is dead” theme in a few days’ time.

“Though I cry, “I have been wronged!” I get no response. Though I call for help, there is no justice,” Job laments at the beginning of chapter 19.  On this International Women’s Day, let’s recommit to each other, and especially to our missing native sisters, to do better, to make this world a safer place for ourselves and our daughters. No one’s cry for justice and help should go unanswered.  We have the power to be agent’s of God’s change, truly be the the Redeemer such as Job looks for and so many of us need.  I urge you one last time, do not turn a blind eye to this crisis.  If for no other reason, in helping them we also help ourselves.

Sovereign Bodies Institute is staffed and directed predominantly by native women dedicated to understanding and promoting healing from sexual violence in Native Communities.  They now run the MMIWG2 (Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirited) database, an effort to fill the void of a central database that can be used by community members, advocates, activists, and researchers in their work towards justice.. They are one of many organizations that deserve our fiscal support, so please donate if you are able. Also, if you are learning from what you read here, please follow the blog for more.  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  God Vs. The Patriarchy is also on Instagram and Twitter, too.