Five Steps for Faith Communities

This toolkit was originally created by the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice  and Commit2Respond to support congregations and communities in developing right relations with First Nations (also known as Native American tribes or Indigenous Peoples). It was further refined in 2016 by UUCSJ in order to help individuals and faith communities mobilize in solidarity with the Standing Rock #NoDAPL Movement in North Dakota.

Starting a “First Nations Solidarity Committee” is one way to begin. Others may want to start with a study or reading group. Whatever the approach may be for your community, consider following these five steps so that your actions will be guided by education and self-awareness.

1. Learn whose land you are on

  • If your congregation is in the U.S. or Canada, then the land where it is located was either seized by settlers or signed over by a First Nation to the U.S. government under duress. It is important to begin this work by exploring the local and regional history of original nations and peoples pre-contact and post-contact where you live, work, and worship.
  • Begin by researching: What nations were there originally, and after contact what transpired?  What are their current struggles? Consider using this resource to begin your investigation: Maps of United States Indians by State:
  • Consider beginning the practice of naming and honoring the original people of this land at the beginning of each worship service or community event.

2. Learn about the history and current issues

  • Many of us are aware of the true story behind Thanksgiving, and celebrate the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day rather than Columbus Day. However, even those of us who are somewhat conscious about First Nations issues are likely to find ourselves shocked when we go deeper into the history.
  • Host a reading group for An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, published by Beacon Press. There are two discussion guides to choose from: the UUCSJ  discussion guide, (four sessions) and the UUA discussion guide, which can be used in either one or three sessions.
  • Study and discuss the “Doctrine of Discovery” using these materials from the UUA. At the 2012 General Assembly, delegates voted to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and called on UUs to study its impacts and eliminate its influence on our own policies and structures.
  • Subscribe to  “Indian Country Today Media Network” which covers both news stories and opinion pieces from native voices and offers an excellent news-source for contemporary issues.

3. Learn about yourself

  • In order to become respectful, effective allies in the struggles of First Nations, we have a responsibility to understand where we are located in overall systems of power and privilege. This is especially important if we are of white and settler origin, because privilege that we take for granted is  linked to the oppression of First Nations.
  • A beginning point for those of us who are white is to read and discuss Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” a fundamental piece for understanding white privilege.
  • For people from all backgrounds and cultures, the concept of intersectionality is a useful one in studying ourselves and becoming more aware of the lenses through which we view our world. Take a look at this brief unit from the materials UUCSJ asks summer interns to study.
  • If you are white, consider studying the UUA’s “Examining Whiteness: An Anti-Racist Curriculum”.

4. Reach out to First Nations communities near you

  • It may seem unusual for this to be step four, but the kinds of relationships that you can develop will depend in part on the “homework” you have done first. Taking the time to do the educational and personal work of the first three steps will go a long way in ensuring a positive relationship.
  • See what partnerships already exist between First Nations and allies where you live, and get involved: you don’t necessarily have to start something new!
  • Attend First Nations public events and invite others along.
  • Invite First Nations speakers for an event or service.
  • Respond to requests from indigenous communities; volunteer to do behind-the-scenes support work at their events.
  • Remember to begin the relationship without an agenda. For example, you may want to partner with First Nations around climate and environmental justice, but if you start by listening, you may find that they have other top priorities in their communities. Solidarity means standing with them on the issues they choose, not choosing the issues.

5. Take action for indigenous rights in partnership — and commit to the long-term

  • First Nations have been particularly vulnerable to organizations, universities, and government agencies seeking to do short-term project. These “partners” often disappear when a specific project is over or when the funding ends, and leave little behind to show for it. There is often a valid suspicion of outside groups because of an exploitative history. Demonstrate that you understand, and that you (or your congregation) intend to be allies for the long-term. Show up when you are needed.
  • Be attentive to how you show up, by remembering to listen and learn, and to challenge yourself when the impulse arises to take charge.
  • Seek out and learn from other non-native people who have a successful track record as allies to First Nations in the area where you live.
  • Challenge misperceptions and biased reporting when you find them in the mainstream press, and seek ways to elevate First Nations voices in speaking for themselves.
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