The Church in the World: Reconciling with our American Indian/Alaska Native Family

April 9, 2009

"We are the Indigenous Peoples of this hemisphere. We are Native American and Native Alaskan Peoples. We are Native Hawaiian. . . We are the Episcopal Church. . . Representing these two expressions of our Church, we gather to make a Covenant of Faith between the Episcopal Church and its Indigenous Peoples. . . We lift this Covenant up as the sign of a recognition and reconciliation for all Indigenous communities and their neighbors in the Episcopal Church: may a new decade of respect and justice unify us all as we seek to be the family of God."
-The New Jamestown Covenant, 1997

In the last two decades, the American Indian/Alaska Native population has increased while disparities in income, economic security, health and health care, and quality of life continue unabated. Despite the growth in Indian gaming and asset building, life for many American Indians/Alaska Natives remains one of struggle and is all but invisible to the nation. On a range of measures of economic security, quality of life, and health care, American Indians/Alaska Natives routinely find themselves mired in a cycle of long-standing poverty and social and economic challenges.

The data make clear that the social and economic challenges facing Indigenous people are formidable. About 25 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives live below the poverty level, nearly twice the national rate. About 32 percent of the American Indian and Alaska Native children live in poverty compared with total child poverty rate of 18.5 percent. In 2007, approximately 32 percent of the American Indian/Alaska Natives lacked health insurance. Indian reservations, home to approximately 511,000 American Indian/Alaska natives, are found on 8 of the 10 poorest counties in the United States. More than 36,000 homes on tribal land lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation infrastructure. Only 33% of roads in Indian Country are paved and 72% are officially rated as poor, creating the highest rates of transportation accidents of anyone in the country.

As our American Indian/Alaska Native family strives to overcome a historic legacy of violence, dislocation, and broken promises, we must renew our covenant with Indigenous people. As people of faith, we are called to honor the culture, dignity and heritage of indigenous peoples through reconciliation and advocacy, encouraging renewed commitment to the health and well-being of the first inhabitants of America. We stand with our American Indian/Alaska Native family to secure their inclusion and empowerment to find solutions to the social and political challenges they encounter.

Lenten Discipline: Reconciliation
This week, reflect on your relationship with indigenous people in your church and in your community and be intentional in doing the following:

  • Remember. Visit a museum or library dedicated to recalling the years of colonization and suffering of Indigenous people to become informed about the legacy of violence, dislocation, and broken promises they have endured. Click here for more information about The 2009 Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness.
  • Recognize. Engage in an intentional effort to recognize the presence and contribution of Indigenous people in your church and community. Learn about and honor sacred observances and integrate sacred rituals in your program offerings. Write to your lawmaker about attention to the concerns of American Indian/Alaska Natives.
  • Reconcile. Reflect on the biblical and theological call to reconciliation and commit yourself personally and corporately to renewed study, action and prayer. Implement theological and spiritual discussions and bible studies about Indigenous people to explore intersections with sacred traditions of the American Indian/Alaska Native culture.