There are no words in the English language adequate to confess the impacts of white settler colonialism on the Indigenous People of this nation and this world.
The first step in the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit that we have a problem.
We come today, this first Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Oberlin, Ohio, and acknowledge that this nation was founded on white supremacy, forced assimilation, and genocide, much of this wedding Christianity with the colonization of the Americas.
This brutal legacy has continued in many forms to this day. The United States as a nation has held no formal hearings on these crimes of lasting magnitude. There has been no national Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There has been no societal reckoning.
Predominantly white Churches sometimes set aside a Sunday a year for “Native American Sunday,” to confess historical Christian complicity in this genocide while also highlighting Native contributions to our society. All the while, the white Christian church too easily continues to perpetuate white hegemony, failing to challenge the impact of white supremacy both in the past and today-- on people and on the very planet itself.
The acts of governmental powers and hired paramilitary actors at Standing Rock remind us that the oppression of indigenous people in this country continues in many violent forms, as does the oppression of the water and land our indigenous neighbors seek to protect on behalf of all peoples and all generations.
Words are so inadequate, yet we have to begin somewhere. So, today, the City of Oberlin’s second year to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we speak groans too deep to turn into language. We speak silence too profound to transform into speech. We voice our sorrow, our agony, and our grief. We acknowledge our complicity in the structures of injustice.
[Let us take a few moments of silence]
Whether we call this a prayer or simply a heartcry, we long for it to be heard. The proof of its authenticity will come, not today, but in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.
The proof will come as we challenge dominant historical narratives and mythologies told from the standpoint of white settler colonialism, not from the standpoint of the nation’s first peoples and others who have been oppressed by white supremacy.
The proof will come as we work for truth and justice. The proof will come as we stand up and stand out, again and again. May this 2018 celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Oberlin, Ohio, be a step along this process and a seed scattered in many places.