Home Christian News Reckoning With Their History, Lutherans Issue Declaration To Indigenous Peoples

Reckoning With Their History, Lutherans Issue Declaration To Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Lutherans lead a worship service during the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Aug. 10, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

COLUMBUS, Ohio (RNS) — There was a time when Lutherans were recognized as the advocates for Indigenous peoples, according to Vance Blackfox, director for Indigenous ministries and tribal relations for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United States’ largest Lutheran denomination.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Lutherans vocally supported the American Indian Movement, said Blackfox, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the first to hold his position in the ELCA. They set an example for how Christians can engage in justice work for and with Indigenous peoples.

Blackfox said it’s time for Lutherans to lead again.

“We have a history, we have a heritage of doing the right thing, and we will continue to do that. I truly believe it,” he said.

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Blackfox’s remarks came as the denomination — meeting for its triennial Churchwide Assembly in Columbus, Ohio, this week — shared its Declaration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to American Indian and Alaska Native People for the first time in person. Adopted by the ELCA Church Council in September, the five-page document includes confessions to Indigenous peoples inside and outside of the denomination, as well as a confession to non-Indigenous members of the ELCA.

“We confess that we are complicit in the annihilation of Native peoples and your cultures, languages, and religions, and that we have refused to truly recognize the harm that we have caused our Native siblings,” the declaration reads.

The assembly also heard an address from National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp, who is vice president of the Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah, Washington. Sharp, who thanked the denomination on behalf of the 574 tribal nations across the United States, said the work ahead of the denomination is “humanly impossible,” but that together they can overcome those barriers.

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“Our ancestors long foretold a day of reckoning when this world and this life was not consistent with our values. At some point, there would be a day of reckoning — a moment of truth, healing and reconciliation. Those predictions from so long ago were for our generation,” she said.

“We are that generation.”

Sharp’s address was followed by a worship service designed and led by Indigenous Lutherans that included drumming, smudging, prayers to the four directions, a time of repentance and an offering collected for the denomination’s partnership with the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Later in the day, voting members of the Churchwide Assembly introduced a resolution (approved on Thursday) encouraging ELCA entities to consider returning land to Indigenous groups.  At the urging of the American Indian and Alaska Native Lutheran Association, many in the convention hall wore red to bring attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

All of these steps are a result of the denomination’s repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery at its 2016 Churchwide Assembly, which created the task force that wrote the declaration presented this week.