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Land Justice

Note: The following was co-authored by Providence Associates Jane Fischer and Suzie Ray.


In the Scripture verse Genesis 1:26-28: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

The keyword to examine in this scripture verse is dominion. What does “dominion” mean today? Does it mean “care and look after” or is it more like “plunder and make use of”? Indigenous people align with the former – to care and look after; however today we see a preponderance of “plunder and make use of,” in lifestyles, in government and legal policies/decisions and in business practices.

In this newsletter, we will delve into the relationship between humans and land. We will question commonly held beliefs and practices, and examine how human thinking and behavior have influenced society over the centuries. Be prepared to explore and discuss topics related to the earth beneath our feet.

As we embark on our journey to Turtle Island, also known as North America, let’s remember that this land is the ancestral home of hundreds of Indigenous nations. Recent revelations have brought to light the existence of boarding schools and institutional programs and policies that caused great harm to the homes, cultures, and lives of these nations who have been present here since ancient times. Are you ready? Then remember the words of John 8:32: “The truth will set you free.”

Vocabulary in Chronological Order

The Doctrine of Discovery is a series of publications from the Vatican called papal bulls. Each document has a lead seal bulla that dates back to the late 1400s. The Doctrine is not a book or a single document. Collectively, these bulls known as “The Doctrine,” have been used as religious and legal standing by Europeans who ‘discovered’ new lands. “The Doctrine” allowed these Europeans to violently seize land from people who had been living on their land for generations.

The papal bulls, which were written by Popes and issued from the Vatican, were used not only by the Catholic Church. They asserted that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be discovered, claimed, and exploited. These words provided inspiration, solace, and justification to many individuals and entities seeking land and resources. The Doctrine has been cited in various contexts for centuries, including in the U.S. Supreme Court – as early as 1823 and as recently as 2005.

When taking land, “if the ‘pagan’ or ‘saracen’ inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.” The legacy and horror practices are still present today. While decisions about lands such as Turtle Island (aka North America) were made elsewhere in the 1500s and later in the United States during colonization, there are a plethora of rules and beliefs still operating today throughout the world and within the U.S. government and society.

Click on this link and watch in slow-motion the land size and population movement of the U.S. here: Indigenous Land Loss on Turtle Island.

Repudiation – July of 2023. Pope Francis stunned many when he recently renounced cultural or racial superiority … the objectification or subjection of people. He strongly condemned any attitudes or actions that threaten or damage the dignity of the human person. What an enormous difference from the 1500s to today. Let’s be clear here… it was wrong to take the land of others. It was wrong to move Indigenous people off their land. It was wrong to take Indigenous children from their families and put them into boarding schools, give them “Christian” names, cut their hair, force them to speak a new language and sever their ties with their families and ways of being.

Many of us remember cleaning our plates at each meal because the “pagan” children were hungry. Our faith, our Christian faith, taught us this from the mid-1900s. We regularly collected money for the missions and these “pagan” babies. And in some sense, we still do during Lent. These acts of charity, in some cases, fostered and continue to foster attitudes of superiority and the belief that our way is better.

“We need to start the process of making reparations and embracing restorative practices. First, we should apologize. Then, we can work on repairing relationships – both with the divine and with our fellow human beings. It’s important to help restore culture and ways of life, as well as to restore the dignity of those affected. We must commit to upholding, respecting, and loving others. Exploring other ways to show our rejection of past wrongs is also crucial.”

“These changes in our hearts will extend beyond the acts perpetrated on the Indigenous People living on Turtle Island. We need to free ourselves from the shackles of prejudice, biases, and domination by learning and speaking the truth. We need to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8).”

Land Justice is the “practice of centering social, racial and eco justices in decisions about how land is used, loved and governed by people.”

No matter how uncomfortable it may feel, we must acknowledge that the United States is rooted in settler colonialism. The founders of the United States required and tried to force the assimilation of Indigenous peoples into what we called a White society. Policies attempted to remove, displace, and dispossess all Indigenous people of their lands and cut off their access to the natural and cultural resources necessary for their survival. This is genocide. This is our history of genocide. While we did not create it, as descendants of Christians living in the 1500s, we were raised in the period of domination and we have been unintentionally and unconsciously complicit in carrying it out ever since.

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