From our Ministerial Intern, Thu Nov 9

Native American Heritage Month

Since 1990, November has been recognized as Native American Heritage Month. It's a time when artifacts tucked away in museums and historical societies and cultural events related to the American Indian experience may catch our attention. It's also a time when it is difficult to escape the press coverage, editorials, and social media posts devoted to lifting up Native Americans and debunking difficult to erase stereotypes and myths. 

Lately, I've seen debates about the use of Indian imagery and language in mascots and logos for sports teams on the professional, college and high school circuits. When I was growing up, I never gave my hometown's "Big Reds" logo and cheers much of a second thought, but today I am more mindful of the way the graphics and implicit messages of this form of what author Philip J. Deloria calls "Playing Indian" are offensive to Native and non-native Americans. Likewise, today I can appreciate the column on why an Indian Princess costume for Halloween -- for a child or myself -- is a serious contender for "What Not to Wear." And, I notice the "flare-ups" of outrage followed by public apologies in the design and fashion worlds, where designers and run-way artists walk a fine line between claiming inspiration from Native American traditions and answering to charges of cultural misappropriation.... in textiles, clothing, hairstyles and make-up.

As the volume on these kinds of issues rises, I wonder.... Can we just stop long enough to put on our "liberty and justice for all" lenses and summon up some holy curiosity about our Indigenous kin? Can we embrace opportunities to meet in person, enter into beloved conversations, listen to history told from their perspective, and hear about current challenges? Only then can we honor our faith's call to mindfully dismantle paradigms, systems and practices of oppression and suffering. How else can we begin to become engaged in a process of truth and reconciliation for harms inflicted over the course of our nation's settler colonialist history?

CUUC’s Bice Wilson and I invite you to take such an opportunity on Friday evening, November 17, to hear the Voices of our Indigenous Neighbors, the Ramapough Lenape Nation. This film and speaker event features the 2015 documentary American Native and a talk with guest leader Two Clouds. Presented by the Westchester Indigenous Collaboration and hosted by Fourth Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Mohegan Lake, it takes place at 7:00pm at the John C. Hart Library in Shrub Oak, New York.

The Ramapough have a history of intermarriage among the Lenape, Dutch colonial settlers and African Americans dating back to the late 1800’s, and has fought hard to be recognized by the state of New Jersey, but has been denied federal tribal recognition. Their struggles for sovereignty continue and include defending treaty rights around water, land and freedom of religious practice. Although the tribe successfully mounted an environmental justice campaign against Ford Motor Company some time ago, I first learned of the tribe in 2012 as part of 350.org’s “Connect the Dots” climate campaign which highlighted the threat of proposed pipelines to waterways in the Ramapough Mountains. 

Last year, the tribe founded and now maintains the Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp in Mahwah, New Jersey, marked by a teepee erected in solidarity with the Sioux Standing Rock Prayer Camp and Keystone XL Pipeline resistance. The Ramapough’s camp is sited on land gifted to them in the late 1990’s by a local developer, which has long been used for tribal ceremonies and pow-wows. However, as Bice shares, “the tribe is currently under attack by the town of Mahwah, NJ which has sued them in the attempt to force them to stop their worship activities on the land. They need our support."  Bice is already engaged in advising them. What is your part, this congregation’s part, to play?

Let’s talk! We’ll carpool from CUUC, assembling by 6 pm. Join us by emailing me at intern@cucwp.org or signing up on the list at church.

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