Nancy Kauffmann is denominational minister for Mennonite Church USA. Jason Kauffman is director of the Archives. This post is based on a statement they presented together on behalf of Mennonite Church USA on April 22, for Indiana Indian Day in Rochester, Indiana. To understand more about this one-time event and Mennonites’ connection to it, read the Mennonite Church USA news story.
We are here to represent Mennonite Church USA. Please know that we humbly stand before you to confess to you, the Potawatomi and the Miami people, our shortcomings and blindness to the atrocities done to your ancestors and the ongoing results of those atrocities.
- We confess that in the past we have not really known or tried to understand your stories of pain, suffering and injustice created by the violent acts toward your people.
- We confess that we have been ignorant of how our stories have intersected with your stories at your expense.
- We confess that it has been easy for us to absolve ourselves of any responsibility for what happened to you, because we weren’t the ones that forced you off your land.
In recent years, we in Mennonite Church USA have become aware of the Doctrine of Discovery, a philosophical and legal framework dating to the 1500s that gives “Christian governments” legal rights over indigenous lands and domination of indigenous people. This doctrine was firmly supported by the Christian Church over the centuries using a biblical framework to justify the various violent acts of enslavement, extraction of resources and extinction — the destruction of indigenous people and their way of life. It is an international legal structure so embedded into our society that it is still used today to justify oppression.
- We confess that the Doctrine of Discovery is a horrible misuse of the Bible and something that God does not condone for one people to do to another. Our awareness of this document has caused us to re-examine our behaviors in the past and in the future.
- We confess that we have never acknowledged that we benefited from the forced removal of your people when we purchased land that was stolen from you.
- We confess that we have been silent and blind participants in a society that has gravely sinned and continues to sin against you.
We firmly believe it is the church that must now work against the continued use of the Doctrine of Discovery and work toward right relationships with indigenous people here in Indiana, in the United States and around the world.
Therefore, we commit to learning and telling the stories of this tragic part of our state’s history so that the suffering of your people may not be forgotten. We pledge to support the efforts of educators like Adam Friesen at Bethany Christian Schools and instructors at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary who are teaching their students about the history of the Potawatomi and Miami people, their forced removal from Indiana, and the ways that various groups of people, including Mennonites, have benefitted at their expense.
Second, we commit to supporting the ongoing work of the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition, which is a movement made up of Mennonites and other Anabaptist people of faith, some of whom are here today.
- Part of the function of the coalition is to educate Mennonites and Anabaptists across North America about the Doctrine of Discovery itself. We affirm the work the coalition is doing to develop study guides and Bible reflections used by Mennonite congregations across the United States. As Christians, we believe these efforts are especially important because they help establish a Biblical foundation to expose the misinterpretation of God’s word that 15th century Christians used to justify their actions.
- We also affirm the coalition’s commitment to forming relationships and standing together with indigenous brothers and sisters in their efforts to actively dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery at every level of society — in our laws and policies, in our states, in our communities, in our church institutions and in our congregations.
Finally, we commit to seeking to learn with and from you, how the harm done in the past that continues today may be honestly named and in some way ameliorated. We admit that we don’t know what that may look like, but we understand that our well-being depends on your well-being. It is our prayer that Mennonite Church USA and its members can learn alongside you and that we can imagine and build a better, more just, future together.