Street-Stewart to MN Council of Churches: “Acclaim the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”

Elona Street-Stewart

Elona Street-Stewart, a leader in both the Native American community and the Presbyterian Church, issued a forceful challenge to the Minnesota Council of Churches. Institutions — including religious ones — “are designed to maintain and protect systems of privilege,” she said, adding:

Please disavow and repudiate all doctrines of domination, and acclaim the rights of indigenous peoples.

Please learn from us, and do not preside over us.

Please accept a place in the circle, but do not occupy the center of the circle.”

Street-Stewart is a member of the Delaware Nanticoke Nation and the executive of the Lakes and Prairie’s Synod of the Presbyterian Church USA, which includes Minnesota. She was one of three people Curtiss DeYoung asked to speak at his official installation service as the new head of the Minnesota Council of Churches. The event was held Dec. 14 at Park Avenue United Methodist Church.

DeYoung previously taught Reconciliation Studies at Bethel University in St. Paul, leaving in 2014 to become the executive director of the Community Renewal Society in Chicago. If the list of people he asked to speak at the installation service is any indication, DeYoung will make racial justice and reconciliation a cornerstone to his work at the Council.

Along with Street-Stewart, speakers were Sindy Morales Garcia, a young Latina from Guatemala who works for the Wilder Foundation’s Community Initiatives; and Dee McIntosh, a young African-American pastor at the Lighthouse Church in Minneapolis.

I was deeply moved by all the talks, but for this blog I thought it was particularly important to share Street-Stewart’s words. They are reprinted, below. It is my hope that the Council can live up to the challenge. Continue reading

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Presbyterian Church USA Joins Growing List of Denominations Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery

Elona Street Stewart, Executive of the Presbyterian Synod of Lakes and Prairies and a member of the Delaware Nanticoke Nation: "Our work has just begun."
Elona Street-Stewart, Executive of the Presbyterian Synod of Lakes and Prairies and a member of the Delaware Nanticoke Nation: “The real work has just begun.”

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA met in Portland June 16-23 and voted to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. It also voted to develop recommendations of how Presbyterian congregations “can support Native Americans in their ongoing efforts for sovereignty and fundamental human rights.” It was part of the Church’s broader work on racial justice.

The Presbyterian Church joins a growing list of denominations which have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, which has old roots but an ongoing impact. The Doctrine refers to a series of 15th Century papal edicts that gave the religious and legal justification used by Europe’s colonial powers to claim lands occupied by indigenous peoples. It allowed colonizers to seize Native property and forcibly convert or enslave the people. The Doctrine was the forerunner to the concept of Manifest Destiny, and supported the thinking that led to Native American genocide. Later, the “Discovery Doctrine” was adapted into U.S. law through a series of 19th Century Supreme Court decisions justifying U.S. land claims. Those rulings still apply today.

Other denominations that have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery include: the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalists, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the World Council of Churches, and most recently the Community of Christ. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is scheduled to take up this issue at its Churchwide Assembly, Aug. 8-13 in New Orleans. The Healing Minnesota Stories website has a list of denominational statements.

Here is the specific language the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly approved: Continue reading