Letter to Pope Francis
In the Season of Thanksgiving, 2016
We, the undersigned, are diverse peoples who presently inhabit an area of the North American continent designated as the United States. We represent many generations of inhabitants who are becoming ever more aware that our presence here can be traced to an “authorized” theft and occupation of the homelands of nearly six-hundred different tribal nations of indigenous people who had lived here for over ten thousand years.
While we realize that our awareness of this “authorized” theft and occupation is not yet fully integrated into our national history and cultural identity, we are responding to the moral claims of indigenous people worldwide who bear witness to the suffering and injustices they have endured from centuries of colonial invasions, genocide, dehumanization, and domination of their lands and cultures. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, adopted by 144 nation states in 2007, is a testament to the enduring resistance of native peoples to any further domination and oppression through economies based on extraction and exclusion. We regret that the government of the United States has not fully adopted this Declaration.
Building on the scholarly efforts of indigenous historians and leaders to document the laws and policies legitimating the theft of their homelands and extermination of their cultures, we wish to be part of a deeper process of listening, dialogue and awakening which is emerging within the descendants of the occupying nations. Many of these awakening leaders come from religious, academic, ecological and human rights groups. They have explored the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, which laid the foundations for the consequent appropriation of this vast continent. They repudiate the distortion of the essence of Christian teachings that were twisted to legitimate the conquest of this continent and insist this error must be corrected. We are grateful for their initiatives to have the Christian Doctrine of Discovery repudiated, thereby revoking its use to justify any laws or policy of a western nation to violate the rights of indigenous peoples or their lands anywhere.
We, the undersigned, recognize that your stature as a representative of the religious institution that authored the papal bulls and the Christian Doctrine of Discovery/Domination, gives you an unprecedented capacity to both rescind it and also acknowledge that it reflected a deeply distorted sense of divine right. As a world figure who has had the courage to address many other ecological, social, political, and economic distortions afflicting our present historic moment, your repudiation of this Doctrine would communicate to the entire world, especially its political and economic leaders, the kind of humility needed now for the very survival of indigenous peoples and for the future of this planet.
We are inspired by the moral and spiritual leadership of indigenous people everywhere, and especially by the North American Water Protectors encamped at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. We choose to stand in solidarity with them. We join their efforts to stop the further desecration of water, which is life. Desecrating any region of Earth to support the addictions fostered by a toxic fossil-fuel economy must cease. The intensification of the suffering caused by climate change does not have to be inevitable. We join in the effort to reverse our national culture of addiction to materialism. We want to open the future to a pathway of healing.
We express deep appreciation for your moral leadership in these issues, and for pointing to the choices we have for supporting the entire fabric of life.
We have chosen this time of Harvest and Gratitude, designated as an “official national holiday of Thanksgiving”, to dispel the myths that continue to be perpetuated as Manifest Destiny for certain people over the rights of other people. We have confidence that this can be a new, transforming moment in the history of this continent. People of good will are ready to join you in rejecting the papal bulls that have become institutionalized in our government's policies and law toward Original Nations and Peoples. We hope you will do everything possible to revoke and repudiate them.