Bemidji’s ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ Effort Deserves Recognition, Support

Interfaith dialogue in Bemidji: What Does Reconciliation Look Like?

Anton Treuer, Professor of Ojibwe at the University of Minnesota-Bemidji, succinctly explained why community conversations around race lose momentum.

On one hand, those conversation can feel self-congratulatory, more a pat-on-the-back event, he said. That can be frustrating for people who came hoping to dig in on difficult topics around race and the racism that exist today. On the other hand,  if the conversation gets too intense, some people get uncomfortable and just walk away.

Treuer has been trying a third way through a model called Courageous Conversations. And on a recent night, about 50 people, mostly white, mostly older, turned out for a conversation called “What does reconciliation look like?” at Bemidji’s First Lutheran Church.

The Courageous Conversations model is about engaging in difficult conversations but in a way that respects people’s stories, Treuer said.

“This isn’t about beating people up for the sins of their ancestors,” Treuer said. “We all landed here in an imperfect world and we don’t get a blank canvas to start painting. But at the same time, paint we must if we want to have a different picture.” …

We can’t get to “Healed” and skip “Healing.” We can’t get to “Reconciled” and skip all the Reconciling.” Ultimately we are going to have to do some heavy lifting: Everybody.

Treuer has been holding these conversations since at least 2014, (see this Bemidji Pioneer story). Last fall, Bemidji Truth and Reconciliation partnered with Peacemaker Resources to announce a year-long series of community dialogues titled: “Building the Bridge: Taking Courageous Action on Racial Reconciliation,” (see this Bemidji Pioneer story.)

This work is a powerful witness in the north woods, where tensions can run high around treaty rights and race relations. Treuer recalled a tribal boycott of Bemidji businesses back in the 1960s following a racial incident.

Other conflicts range from fishing rights to the recent and controversial proposal to expand a tar sands crude oil pipeline through areas where the Ojibwe have treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather.

The Bemidji community has seen strides forward, too. These include the rededication of the Chief Bemidji statue and efforts to incorporate Ojibwe language into city signs.

This is long-term and difficult work that starts with relationship building. The Bemidji Truth and Reconciliation events are no different than the work we at Healing Minnesota Stories are trying to do — create dialogue, understanding and healing between Native and non-Native people, particularly in the context of our religious communities. This work deserves both recognition and support.

For more information, here are the Bemidji Truth and Reconciliation’s website and Facebook page.

Continue reading

Red Lake Nation Votes to Evict Enbridge Pipelines; Native Youth to Visit Pope, Ask Him to Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery

The Red Lake Tribal Council voted last week to evict Enbridge crude oil pipelines from sovereign tribal lands. Enbridge, a major Canadian crude oil pipeline company, has four lines that cross 8 acres of Red Lake land; they were built decades ago, apparently without proper land title search.

According to the March 16 story:

The land in question was originally ceded by the Red Lake band to the federal government in 1889. But it was never sold, so in 1945, the U.S. Department of the Interior restored the land to the tribe.

In the 1980s, the BIA discovered that Enbridge’s pipelines appeared to be in trespass on Red Lake land.

The federal government never resolved the problem. Red Lake started pushing the issue back in 2007. Red Lake and Enbridge had negotiated a land swap and $18.5 million cash deal, but Red Lake pulled out of that deal earlier this year and now is taking the next step to tell Enbridge to remove its pipelines.

Pipeline opposition is sweeping through Indian Country. Red Lake and other Native nations opposed construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near Standing Rock in 2016. Red Lake strongly opposes the construction of a new Enbridge Line 3 across northern Minnesota.

Rerouting the four existing pipelines off of Red Lake land would cost Enbridge $10 million, the story said. (That’s less than the $18.5 million Enbridge had on the table, but that amount included back pay for the decades of trespass on Red Lake lands. That issue remains unresolved.)

Red Lake member Marty Cobenais pushed for the measure to force Enbridge to remove all of its existing pipelines from Red Lake lands. Continue reading

New Hampshire, Dartmouth College, Are Powerful Examples of the Doctrine of Discovery

One of four major paintings in the New Hampshire state Senate.

Dartmouth College, one of the Ivy League Schools, was established by the Royal Charter of King George III in 1769, when New Hampshire was still an English colony. The college’s main goal, according to the charter, was: “to encourage the laudable and charitable design of spreading Christian knowledge among the savages of our American wilderness.”

I first learned this history while taking a self-guided tour of the New Hampshire state capitol. As regular readers know, this blog has explored the artwork in various state capitols and critiqued how these buildings of political power continue to display historic art with images of Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery. (The Doctrine of Discovery refers to the 15th Century religious and legal justification used by European monarchs to seize lands of non-Christian peoples, and to convert or enslave them.)

One of four major paintings in the New Hampshire state Senate chambers pays tribute to education by depicting Dartmouth’s first commencement.

Enlarged portion of painting showing the Native man.

The caption reads: “The First Commencement at Dartmouth College: The Reverend Eleazar Wheelock Receives Governor John Wentworth, 1771.”

Center right in the painting, above Wentworth’s shoulder, the viewer sees the naked torso of a Native man. This is a common image of the Doctrine of Discovery: White people saving the naked savages.

So the question is: Why do New Hampshire’s leaders still deem this painting an appropriate image to place before a legislative body and the people of the state? It is not. It belongs in a museum with appropriate historic interpretation.

Let’s now look at New Hampshire history in more detail and see how it illuminates the Doctrine of Discovery.

Continue reading

Benefit Concert March 18 for Native Youth, Elders to Travel to the Vatican

Join First Universalist Church and Veterans for Peace for a Benefit Concert to raise money for a trip of 12 First-Nation youth and elders to visit the Vatican to discuss the historical and inter-generational trauma resulting from the Doctrine of Discovery.

The event is Sunday, March 18, at the First Universalist Church, 3400 Dupont Ave. S., Minneapolis. Food and a silent auction will be included. Doors open at 1:00 p.m.

Tickets: $20 in advance (; $25 at the door.

The event features artists: Dorene Day Waubanewquay; Max Gail; Prudence Johnson; Thomas LaBlanc; Larry Long, Joe Savage; Keith Secola; Mitch Walking Elk; and First Nation Youth Story-Tellers.

The Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Society helped organize the trip, and Society members will accompany the urban native youth — ages 8-18 — and elders to Italy to ask Pope Francis to rescind the centuries-old “Doctrine of Discovery.”

The Doctrine of Discovery refers to to the religious and legal justification used by Europe’s colonial powers to claim lands occupied by indigenous peoples, seize their property and forcibly convert or enslave them. The Doctrine has its roots in 15th century papal edicts granting Spain and Portugal permission to seize foreign lands as long as no baptized Christians had a prior claim. The “Discovery Doctrine” was put into U.S. law through a series of 19th Century Supreme Court decisions. It still applies today.

A number of mainline Christian denominations have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. There are ongoing efforts by indigenous peoples to get the Catholic Church to repudiate the Doctrine, too.

The fundraiser is co-Sponsored by Veterans for Peace, The Environmental Justice and Racial Teams of First Universalist Church, and American Roots Revue.

The Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Society of St. Paul is a program designed to teach a small select group of Native urban youth who attend school in the St. Paul School district traditional Native ceremonial life ways through once-a-week cultural sessions, language classes and actual participation in ceremonies. The five-year-old Society program is part of the Guadalupe Alternative Programs, funded by the St. Paul Children’s Collaborative. (More here.)

Facebook event here.

New Doctrine of Discovery Resources

A couple of Doctrine of Discovery resources came to our inbox, thought I would share them.

The Mennonite Central Committee recently posted a new page on its website titled: Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery education resources. It has a streaming movie (43 minutes) titled: Doctrine of Discovery: In the Name of Christ. The movie has three parts: History of the Doctrine of Discovery and its basis in Christian theology and scripture; Living the Doctrine of Discovery (starting at 20:21), and Undoing the Doctrine of Discovery (starting at 29:50). It includes both the United States and international implications of the Doctrine of Discovery.

A group called the Conscious Elders Network put together a list of documents and videos on the Doctrine of Discovery. The site includes fact sheets and short videos (5-8 minutes) by Mark Charles, Orin Lyons and Winona LaDuke.