In 2014, the Totem Pole Journey would deliver a Totem Pole of solidarity and healing from the Lummi House of Tears Carvers, to the Beaver Lake Cree Nation whose Sacred Lands, Waters and Lifeways were being systematically destroyed by tar sands extraction. Blessed by thousands of hands and voices all throughout the North Pacific and Mid-West of the U.S. and British Columbia and Alberta Provinces of Canada, the Totem Pole had become a unifying symbol in our shared struggle to preserve the Earth.
Just prior to the 2014 Totem Pole Journey, another symbol was created and then also accompanied the Totem Pole on its Journey. This was a Declaration, signed by some of the leadership of the faith community in the Northwest to the Northwest Tribes, entitled A Public Declaration to the Tribal Councils and Traditional Spiritual Leaders of the Native Peoples of the Northwest. The text of the Declaration reads as follows:
c/o Jewell Praying Wolf James, Lummi
In 1987 and again in 1997, bishops and denominational executives of churches in the Northwest offered letters of apology to the indigenous peoples of our region. These letters acknowledged the historical disrespect of traditional Native American spiritual practices and traditions. In those letters, the leaders of our denominations promised “to honor and defend the rights of Native Peoples … [including] access and protection of sacred sites … [and to] end political and economic injustice against tribal communities.”
In this decade a new threat has arisen against Native Peoples: the mining, transport, burning, and disposal of fossil fuels. Proposed coal export terminals would damage native fisheries protected by long-standing treaties and poison our shared air and water. Coal trains servicing these terminals would cut across lands sacred to indigenous peoples, and impact the health of those communities. In this generation we also acknowledge that the mining and burning of fossil fuels creates the terrible threats of climate disruption, ocean acidification, and pollution to the harm of all God’s children, especially the poorest.
Tribal leaders have asked us to keep our past promises, and to stand with them in defense of their sacred lands and fishing rights. And so we call upon the Northwest Congressional delegation and other elected officials, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and all people of goodwill to uphold the treaty rights of Native communities of the Northwest. We ask that all environmental and cultural harm to Native lands and peoples be considered in making public policy decisions about the mining, transport, and export of coal and other fossil fuels.
As religious leaders we call for the protection of the life we have been given and the Earth we all call home. Our greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Putting this ethic into action, we stand in solidarity with our Native neighbors to safeguard the traditional lands, waters, and sacred sites of their peoples from destruction.
At the request of several northwest Unitarian Universalist congregations and activist groups, the Unitarian Universalists Association (UUA) Pacific Northwest District (PNWD) agree to consider becoming signatories to this document. At their annual meeting during the UUA General Assembly on June 27, 2015 in Portland, Oregon, PNWD delegates and board unanimously voted to become signatories.
It is now mid-September 2015. In the intervening time, UU individuals and congregations rallied behind the 2015 Totem Pole Journey. They organized, hosted, spoke, supported, fundraised, publicized and participated in Totem Pole Blessing stops that began in Vancouver, British Columbia, traveling through Washington and Oregon and into Montana. The Totem Pole would find it’s way to a new home in Lame Deer, Montana, home to Northern Cheyenne who’s Sacred Lands and Waters are threatened by coal projects along Otter Creek and the Tongue River.
Now, that our role in the Totem Pole Journey is complete, it’s time to turn our attention back to the Declaration we signed onto earlier. The 2015 Totem Pole Journey was just a beginning for UUs in bringing the Declaration to life. But our work is not done yet.
As UUs, we have a long history of supporting First Nation/American Indian issues reflected in our policies and statements as a denomination. Historically, we passed:
· 1970 Business Resolution on Indian Rights,
· 1975 Business Resolution on Native Americans
· 1976 General Resolution on Opposing the Extradition of Dennis Banks
· 1993 General Resolution on Justice for Indigenous Peoples
· 1997 Solidarity with the San Carlos Apache Regarding Mt. Graham
· 1998 Action of Immediate Witness for the Fair Treatment for Native Americans
· 2000 Statement of Conscience on Economic Injustice, Poverty and Racism
· 2000 Responsive Resolution for the Cleveland, OH Native American Community
· 2001 Responsive Resolution on Racism and the Sports Media
· 2007 Truth, Repair and Reconciliation Responsive Resolution,
· 2012 Resolution on repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery
· 2015 Act of Immediate Witness Act For a Livable Climate
· 2015 PNWD becomes signatory to A Public Declaration to the Tribal Councils and Traditional Spiritual Leaders of the Native Peoples of the Northwest.
On October 9th, as part of the NW UU Justice Network Annual Summit, UUs are gathering, with other representatives of the faith community, to learn more of the history behind the document that we signed, discuss and scope out our commitment to the NW Tribes and how to put action to that commitment. Lummi Elder and Indian Rights Scholar Jewell James will be speaking with us on what the Declaration means to the Native community and the Vision for what that document could become. This gathering will be held at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship in Bellingham, WA. More information about the Declaration event can be accessed at: http://tinyurl.com/Pre-Event-Oct9 and registration is at: http://tinyurl.com/RegisterOct9Event
The Summit (October 10th) information can be found at: http://www.nwuujn.org/topics/view/552c1b4c0cf24df5070a05b7/
We need all hands on deck and hope you’ll join us! If you are unable to attend the event, but still interested in working with a group of UUs and other interfaith folk, please let me know at email@example.com
Let’s erase the cultural, national and international borders that block our way from preserving the Earth and the Right to Exist for all Her Children.