The missing narrative in ‘Angels Unawares’

Native Americans and enslaved Africans included in the sculpture were neither immigrants nor refugees

Angels Unaware, with sculptor Timothy Schmalz. Photo: Screen shot of the Angels Unawares website.

On Friday, the sculpture “Angels Unawares” arrived in front of the Minneapolis Basilica of St. Mary, an effort to call attention to both the suffering and sacredness of immigrants and refugees and the importance of welcoming them with an open heart.

The statue is a replica of one commissioned by Pope Francis, installed in St. Peter’s Square in Rome in 2019. It was the first new sculpture in the Square in 400 years. A replica statue is on a U.S. tour; previous stops included Boston and Miami.

The sculpture includes 140 immigrants and refugees crowded on a boat, representing different cultures from different historical times. Its 140 figures echo the 140 statues of saints on St. Peter’s Square.

I’ve been updating this blog since I posted it. I want to acknowledge up front the good intentions behind this project. During a time of anti-immigrant sentiment, the sculpture brings an important message of tolerance and compassion. It encourages empathy instead of hostility towards more recent immigrants and refugees, such as Somali, Hmong, Mexican and Central American people. Kudos for that.

At the same time, the sculpture includes a Native American and enslaved Africans on a boat full of immigrants and refugees, suggesting some commonality. There is little if any commonality.

I worry this is too preachy, but I also want to be direct: At a time when faith communities are wrestling with racial justice and truth telling, this sculpture miscasts the Native American and enslaved African experiences. By including them as just two narratives in a boatload of immigration stories, it ignores their unique experiences and arguments for reparations that are now gaining steam.

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Rev. Pamela Ngunjiri will help lead the Minnesota Council of Church’s truth-telling and reparations work

“We don’t always see the face of God in everybody’s face,” Rev. Pamela Ngunjiri tells her congregation. “And that’s the problem with racism. Somewhere along the line the humanity of that particular group has been taken away and that has to be restored.”

Ngunjiri (pronounced Go-jiri) was recently hired as the Co-Director for Racial Justice for the Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC). She joins the other Co-Director and Healing Minnesota Stories’ founder Jim Bear Jacobs. Together they are leading the Council’s multi-year effort at truth telling, education and reparations with both the African American and Native American communities.

Ngunjiri and Jacobs say the Council’s first truth-telling event will be held in September, details coming soon. Until them, please meet Rev. Ngunjiri.

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To stay current on Line 3, follow Indigenous social media

State issues MMIW report, and other new and events

In this blog:

  • List of Indigenous social media links to stay current on Enbridge Line 3 resistance
  • Fundraiser for Indigenous media makers covering front-line Line 3 resistance
  • First report from Minnesota’s MMIW Task Force
  • Jesuits return 525 acres to Rosebud
  • Cleveland baseball team to change its name, just not right away
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MN Council of Churches to launch community process for truth telling, repair around the historic harms done to Native American, African American communities

The goal: To build a structure for racial equity in the church and the state and make repairs

The Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC’s) Board of Directors this week approved a Racial Justice Vision Statement and Rationale to begin a decade-long process to engage faith communities — and the community at large — in truth telling, education, and repair around the United State’s twin sins of slavery and Native American genocide. Continue reading

A People’s Hearing on Minnesota Reparations Legislation, Friday, Jan. 4

A People’s Hearing on making reparations to African American and American Indian Minnesotans will be held Friday, Jan. 4, 9:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., in Room 120 of the Minnesota State Capitol.

The hearing will revisit and rekindle House File 2928/Senate File 3767, a bill introduced last session “acknowledging the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity suffered by certain groups in Minnesota’s history.” The bill would have established a “commission to study and report recommendations to provide appropriate remedies.” Continue reading

Judging the Past Based on Current Morality and Considering Today’s Moral Blind Spots

We need to start a Frelinghuysen Award.
Sen. Frelinghuysen

How are we to judge the actions of our ancestors in light of “modern morality”? And what obligation do we carry for the moral failings of our ancestors and cultural predecessors?

These are difficult question and ones that emerge when discussing how to address the grave injustices done to Native American peoples by white explorers, settlers, and the United States government.

A 2013 BBC magazine article headlined: Should we judge people of past eras for moral failings? wrestles with these broad moral questions. It teases apart the issues of “blame” and “responsibility.”

The article quotes philosopher Miranda Fricker, who says the test for blameworthiness is whether the person could have known any different. “It’s unfair to blame people for failing to be moral pioneers, she says. “The attitude of blame presupposes that the person was in a position to have done better.”

Let’s use that statement as a jumping off point to look at U.S. history. It seems one key question to explore would be: “Did people involved in the Native American genocide in the 19th Century know better?” It is important to hold up the voices of the moral pioneers who spoke out against the injustices of their day and who tried to chart a different course. That brings us to U.S. Sen. Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey. Continue reading