Thursday, June 28, 2012

Building a Web of Relationship: Two Stories of Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery

Second in a series of posts about "Justice GA" and the June UUA Board meeting. 

This post is from the Rev. Dr. Michael Tino, UUA Board member from Metro New York, about some of the connections and aftermath of the Doctrine of Discovery.  You can read more about the Doctrine and why the UUA Board asked the delegates to approve it on my January 27th post.

If I had ever been tempted to view the Doctrine of Discovery as an idea that lives only in our past, my experience working as a UUA Board member on our resolution repudiating that doctrine would have quickly disabused me of that notion.  Indeed, the relationships that began with our agreement to take up that resolution make it very clear that the Doctrine of Discovery infects our present with its outdated and oppressive ideology.

Two stories illustrate my experience in this process more than any others.

The first begins in the weeks leading up to General Assembly, when I was contacted by a UU living in Hawai’i and working with Native Hawai’ian people seeking to secure their rights to religious freedom and self-determination and the return of their sacred religious sites.  Dr. George M. Williams has long been a proponent of religious freedom, working with groups like the International Association for Religious Freedom, and now he is working with leaders of the Hawai’ian Kingdom (the Native Hawai’ian term for their people).

I learned through Dr. Williams that leaders of the Hawai’ian Kingdom had learned about our resolution, and expressed some concern over its language.  Native Hawai’ians, you see, are neither American Indians nor even indigenous North Americans (they are a Polynesian people).  They asked how we could make our resolution explicitly apply to their daily struggles to practice their religions and own their sacred sites (the Doctrine of Discovery gives title to these sites, as it does to all of the traditional lands of indigenous peoples and the Hawai’ian Kingdom to the U.S. Government).  Their hope is that this explicit inclusion can help the UUA and our Hawai’i congregations to advocate better for the return of these sacred sites.  It was an easy change to make, and an honor to make it.

The second story takes place in the minutes following the overwhelming passage of the resolution by the General Assembly, when Tupac Enrique Acosta, leader of the UUA’s partner Tonatierra, pulled me aside.  He wanted to introduce me to a delegation of indigenous people who had accompanied him to GA to witness our vote.  All of them were deeply appreciative of our partnership, and quite moved by our religious rejection of this oppressive doctrine.  All of them expressed to me what it meant to them to have their lives and struggles taken seriously by an entire denomination.

Next, Mr. Acosta invited me to participate in a religious ritual of his people, in which I offered a copy of the just-passed resolution to a leader of his nation, passing it four times over a sacred incense bowl.  After the fourth pass, my colleague accepted the resolution, and two members of our circle sounded shell horns to mark the sacred occasion.  Later, in a conversation with Mr. Acosta, we discussed how our resolution is one step in the journey of building right relationship with our indigenous siblings as well as with our common mother, the Earth.

It has been an honor and a privilege to work with the Board and the General Assembly to pass this historic resolution.  It will be more of an honor to take the next steps, side by side, with our new partners and those still to be identified—in Hawai’i, in Arizona, and here in New York as well.  Will you take up the call to partnership in your home?  If you do, I trust that you will find that our resolution was not just about the injustices of history, but about ongoing injustice affecting all of humanity.

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