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WCC 11th Assembly, Karlsruhe Report

Indigenous pre-assembly concerns included in statements


By Gen Heywood

In welcoming people to pre-assembly discussions with Indigenous peoples before the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Seforosa Carroll, a Rotuman Australian and minister in the Uniting Church of Australia, acknowledged that the space (sitting in rows) and the structure (limits of time) of the session were not the ways her people gathered.

She said the goal of two days of panels was to develop a message to the WCC and a joint message with the other Pre-Assembly groups. She asked delegates to listen carefully so they could advocate for the proposals. They did, and many of the proposals were included in the statement on Indigenous people the Central Committee adopted.

The Assembly theme, "Christ's Love Moves the World to Reconciliation and Unity," brought forth pain for speakers because important steps are missing for Indigenous People

An Indigenous Taiwanese pastor said the elements fundamental to healing are self-determination and storytelling.

"The church must repent for its part in blocking self-determination of people. Roman Catholic Pope Francis recently apologized for boarding schools in Canada, but actions must follow, including overturning the Doctrine of Discovery," he said.

"Storytelling is fundamental to indigenous life. It heals with transformational power and affirms our common humanity," he said, telling how stories uncover the truths of the past so "the truth can set us free."

Many speakers talked of the harms they experience.

Sarah Elena Eva of the Sámi people in the Norwegian part of Sápmi—the traditional homeland of Sámi that extends through Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia—said climate change alters winters so reindeer cannot find food, permafrost melting has caused the land to collapse in places, and berries harvested for winter food are no longer growing.

"The Sámi have contributed the least to the climate disaster but suffer greatly from it," she said. "Suffering also comes from 'green colonialism,' which includes corporations wanting to set up wind turbines on their land. It has already started without the permission of the Sámi.

Others spoke of the destruction of the earth by "green corporations." They said it is a lie that these corporations will respect the environment and land they want to build on or mine.

"It is not acceptable to the Sámi to 'save the climate' by destroying nature," Sarah said.

June Lorenzo, a Laguna Pueblo and Navajo (Diné) tribal judge in Southwest New Mexico, called for the group to go beyond the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

She spoke of 30 years of uranium mining, adding that nuclear energy is not clean energy.

"There is no nuclear plant in New Mexico, but hundreds of tribal people have died from the cancers caused by mining uranium for nuclear energy," June said.

People from Nigeria, South Africa, small islands in the Pacific, South America and Mexico all told stories of harms that must be addressed before reconciliation and unity can be achieved.

Proposals for the "Reconciliation with Indigenous People" statement were developed, refined and incorporated—including the suggestion to form a desk on Indigenous Peoples at the WCC. Their suggestions to address inter-generational trauma and embrace traditional spiritualities along with Christian spirituality were also included.

Hearing testimony at the pre-assembly, developing proposals, presenting them to the Policy Reference Committee and creating the statement exemplifies the process to guide the WCC in its future programs.

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, October 2022