The Land is not Empty

An excerpt of Rev. TJ Smith’s response to Sarah Augustine’s book The Land is not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery. This is re-posted from the book forum hosted by Anabaptist Witness.

As I work with younger First Nation and First Alaskan, my hope and prayer is for them to know they are wonderfully made as they are. I think of a young First Alaskan who asked me with tears rolling down her face, “You mean it is okay to follow God and speak my language, live my culture?” To help them understand that the community where they come from is more important than the idea of “conformed individuality.”

To think of the next generation of you Indigenous leaders that will be free from; you are invisible, you are nothing more than a merciless savage, to you are my daughter or son who I created…. How freeing and empowering could that be for them, for the generations to come? How do we, can we help free them from the bondage that we have carried?

I appreciate Sarah’s personal story of her healing she shared as she walked on the lands of her grandparents.  I wish I would have read this book before I went to Minnesota, the land that my grandfather as a 10 year old with his family were forced off onto a cattle car and “shipped” the Lummi Nation. It may have helped me heal, but I will go back and walk the lands my ancestors did. 

Sarah’s vision is calling us out as First Nations people to heal. That we, as the church, have reconciliation to do for ourselves, for the future. That we have to understand Scripture in a cultural and historical sense, both of the past and the present. Together we must reimagine the theology that has been imposed, and continues to be imposed, on Unci Maka (Mother Earth) and all our sisters and brothers that call her home.

For me, this is and will be the hardest part, “Solidarity is not symbolic” (169). Too often in our world we say, “We stand with you,” then…the storm comes and we stand alone. As we move ahead in our denomination, the ECC,  in living out the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, this will be a key thought and statement. You stood with us for the vote, will you stand with us and name the land your church is on? Will you take a stand for the MMIW? Will you take a look at where your money is invested and move it if it damages or devastates the lands around the World where our sisters’ and brothers’ lives and lifestyles are being taken from them as it was from us?

I appreciate Sarah writing this book, sharing that the Doctrine of Discovery is sadly still alive and active in our world in subtle ways that we do not see unless we ask the Creator to take our blinders off.

Creator, have mercy on us and help us to see those areas we are blind in. Help us not to stay blind but help us to stand for our sisters and brothers that have no voice. 

Mitakuye Oyasin Wolakhota (All my relatives, walk in peace with everyone)

Reverend TJ Smith is First Nations, Lakota, Winnebago, Cherokee. He is the President of the Indigenous Ministers Associate of the Mosaic Commission of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

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