This Wednesday, on land formerly inhabited by the Tongva nation, we will be gathering at Full Circle Thrift for prayer for the Indian Child Welfare Act, an important piece of civil rights legislation that attempts to provide indigenous people with some protection from what has been centuries of cultural genocide. Pasadena Mennonite Church is responding to a call from our indigenous sisters and brothers and in an attempt to act on our commitment to work towards dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery, an unjust legal precedent that has been used to justify the confiscation of land and the dispossession of indigenous people on this continent for centuries. This doctrine has been used as recently as 2005 by Justice Ginsberg as legal precedent in a case against indigenous interests.
For more information on ICWA, see NICWA.org
For more information on the Doctrine of Discovery see the Anabaptist Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery
Please see this urgent appeal from Sarah Augustine:
In October a federal court in Texas struck down the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), what I consider to be an important piece of civil rights legislation for Native families here in the U.S. This important law, passed in 1978, strengthened the legal rights of Indigenous families and specified that when Native children are removed from the care of their families, they will be placed in the care of extended family members, families in their own tribe, or Indigenous families from another tribe.
My father was removed from his mother, extended family, tribe, and homeland when he was an infant – he was raised in a foster home 300 miles away under very harsh conditions. He never knew his family. The abuse and neglect he experienced as a foster child had a devastating impact on his life, and on my life as his daughter. A recent essay I wrote for The Mennonite explains in more depth why this is important to me.
Because I am a Native woman living in a Native community, I recognize that the child welfare system, in my community anyway, has challenges. However, I know that removing Native children from their extended families, communities, land and the larger whole of Indigenous Peoples of North America is not the solution.
Oral arguments will be heard in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 13. In preparation for this hearing, 325 tribal nations, 57 Native organizations, and 21 states joined the United States and four intervenor tribes by filing briefs to urge the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the Indian Child Welfare Act.
The only faith-based organization that filed a brief sided against tribal nations on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case (those who want to strike down the Indian Child Welfare Act). This brief voiced conviction that the law created to protect Indigenous children is actually racially discriminatory, and exceeds the authority of the U.S. Congress. This stance is consistent with the Church’s role in developing and enforcing the Doctrine of Discovery, a body of law and policy that justifies the removal of Indigenous Peoples from their land and communities. This logic resulted in the creation of boarding schools, and carries on in the current push to strike down the law that protects Native American children from a long legacy of family separation and removal.
Native tribes argue that as Sovereign Nations, tribes have the right to protect Indigenous Children.
We are working to organize candle-light vigils in our communities on March 13th in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. For this to have an impact in each of our communities, we ask that participating congregations send press releases to local papers explaining these vigils, so that they know we support Indigenous Self-Determination, and stand with the 322 tribes that wish to uphold the Indian Child Welfare Act.
Sarah Augustine is the executive director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima and Kittitas Counties. She is also adjunct professor of sociology at Heritage University. Sarah is the co-founder of Suriname Indigenous Health Fund (SIHF), where she has advocated for Indigenous Peoples whose health and communities are threatened by resource extraction since 2004. She co-wrote the statement repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery on behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC), and further organized indigenous leaders globally to found the WCC Indigenous Peoples Program. Sarah is a founding member of the Anabaptist Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery, where she serves as the chair of the Structures Committee.