So often, I’m blind to just how blind I am. The recent movie, Hidden Figures, about the brilliant black women who served as ‘computers’ at NASA was a part of our history to which I had been completely blind. So, too, this Thanksgiving I learned about the Navajo code talkers whose incredible efforts changed the course of history in World War II. There are so many inspiring and heartbreaking stories that remain hidden to us.
While working at Seabury Western Theological Seminary—the Episcopal Seminary that is now Bexley Seabury—I discovered the tragic story about the experience of Native American alumni whose experience as students was disastrous. They arrived on campus not knowing what to expect nor what was needed, and they received little to no support as they tried to adjust to such an unfamiliar setting and circumstance. It was the Rev. Bradley Hauff (now Dr.), himself a Native American alum, who patiently and courageously shared the truth with me.
It began with the Jamestown landing, April 26, 1607 when 105 men and boys landed after five months at sea. They arrived with an Anglican chaplain and a Book of Common Prayer, planting a cross as they claimed the land for James I. Motivated by the Doctrine of Discovery, the 1493 papal bull saying indigenous people were to be discovered and westernized, and later through Manifest Destiny, justifying and energizing Westward expansion, that westerners believed God gave them the right to dominate peoples and take possession of land without regard to the dignity of the people already here. The heartbreaking reality is centuries of murder, rape, systematic degradation, disease and captivity–an enormity of loss impossible to fathom. Religion intertwined with the pursuit of power and wealth resulted in the Gospel’s good news shot through with trauma, tragedy and violence, as is the age-old story that Jesus came to upend, only to have us embrace it once more.
In the 1980s, the Episcopal Church recognized the growing crisis of indigenous leadership. Due to historic ties to Native peoples, Seabury was chosen as the seminary, and the 1985 Evanston Covenant stipulated theological education provided would be ‘“reflective of and responsive to the unique cultural values and traditions of Native American people.” The promised flexible and respectful curriculum design never materialized, neither did basic hospitality for students far from home who were expected to just sink or swim. Begun with high hopes, it was an unmitigated disaster. Brad brought to light the painful story and worked with us to invite truth-telling, healing and reconciliation around the Evanston Covenant. Sadly, it was too late for many.
Periodically, the Episcopal Church remembers its original commitment made more than 400 years ago to bring the Gospel and renews its commitment to indigenous peoples. In 2012, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church officially repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery and called for a time of lament, lifting up the pain of the past in hopes of healing the future. The Rev. Dr. Bradley Hauff is the Missioner for Indigenous Ministries in the Episcopal Church. I’m honored that he and the Rev. Leon Sampson, transitional deacon from the Diocese of Navajoland, will be joining us this Sunday for the Making Connections Forum at 9 am.
Come join in learning from the past and opening ourselves to the present, that we may hear the wisdom of our brothers and sisters and discover together a future of healing and hope for all.