A Call to Repentance


genocide day

12 October 1492 – Landing of Columbus, painting by John Vanderlyn

Last week at chapel, I had the opportunity to read a litany I wrote for our Indigenous Peoples’ Day observation. As the chapel planning team discussed the service two weeks ago, I had admitted to the group I knew so very little about indigenous people except to say that I was angry that we are still observing Columbus Day and that I really didn’t know what to do considering I was an ancestor of those who took these lands from its native peoples. Then, after hearing the story of a Native American student and her pain and her hopelessness, I accepted the opportunity to write–and then lead our community in–the following litany, my first. For perspective, I am also including my prefatory remarks. Also of note, the student–now my friend–performed two different Native American rituals on those of us participating: one, to protect us from spirits who are still angry and another after the service to remove anything negative that might have attached itself to us. I can tell you that after this experience, I am forever changed.

Call to Repentance
Pacific School of Religion Chapel, Chochenyo (Ohlone) Territory — October 6, 2015
Delivered by PSR student Todd Whitley as a part of PSR’s Shared Blanket: Honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day Service

Thanksgiving, 1976
As a young second grade boy, I played pilgrim #2 who stepped out of our faux Mayflower and danced and parlayed with my classmates dressed in feathers and brown paper bags. I sang, rather loudly,

    This land is your land.
    This land is my land…

 I did not know better.

Today, that little boy has become middle-aged man, who daily steps onto the lands whose resources I consume. From the plains of Texas to the redwood forests of the land I now call home, I inhabit a land that neither belongs to me nor to my ancestors.

 I can no longer claim that I do not know better.

This land is not my land.
And unless you are of an indigenous bloodline, it is not your land either.

Yet, those who are indigenous to this land have been relegated to scraps, callous disregard, precious little respect, and an abundance of scorn.

Generations of my ancestors—some who likely could be traced to those original barbaric colonizers—are buried here. This land is my home. It is the home of my children, and my children’s children; yet, I am the sojourner, a stranger in a land that is not mine.

What am I to do?

      What are we to do?

All I can think of is repentance, repentance that is on behalf of my self and my people.
Repentance that opens my eyes, pours out my heart, and seeks to atone.
And perhaps, repentance that may bring us, if it is granted, forgiveness; that may bring a greater commitment to the sanctity of this land; and just maybe bring hope to those indigenous among us who long ago lost all hope that things can ever be made right.(1)

I ask you to join me now in a call to repentance, reading aloud the words in bold.
At the appropriate time, if you are willing and able, follow me in meeting knees to ground and hand to sky. Please know that doing so is not required of anyone to participate in this act.

Spirits around and moving among us:
Some of us are descendants of those who pillaged this land and killed its people.
Some of our ancestors brought here as captives and forced to work these stolen lands, to build and construct, plant and harvest, bleed and die.
Some still flock to these lands, looking for a better life for themselves and their families, working the lands, contributing to society, building lives.

But they are not our lands.

Spirits around and moving among us:

We call on you to hear our feeble words and the lament of our souls, from us and on behalf of our ancestors, as we confess: [community moves to knees]

For hundreds of years, we have sung songs of the conquerors, proclaiming this land as our land.
We lauded the colonizers and religious leader, and empires and beheld them as saviors, saints, holy.
Those songs are lies.
These people, neither heroes nor saints.
This nation, not holy.
For this idolatry, we repent.

We claimed Divine authority gave us the right to take what was not ours.
We used sacred texts to prove our supremacy and justify our pillaging.[2]
We used prayer and piousness to dole out false charity and mock righteousness.
For these acts of blasphemy, we repent.

With blatant disregard for Mother Earth, we have rent forests asunder, destroyed habitats, built sky-reaching monuments to ourselves, and over-drafted earth-resources using checks we never had the dominion to write.
Our earth is hurting and for that, we repent.

Some among us today are indigenous to this land stolen from their people.
They have been hurt and relegated to a status
as the least among this land.
Many hold bitterness and pain in their hearts.
For disregarding, neglecting, and causing them pain,
we repent.

Spirits around and moving among us: [community raises hand]

As I wake each morning,
I will remember that my home is on someone else’s land —a land that was stolen.

As I inhabit this land as a being of both body and spirit,
I will call on the Divine daily for healing of the land and reconciliation for its native people.

As I walk and live among the people who now inhabit this land,
I will use sacred texts to justify only acts of goodness and mercy.

As a guest, visitor, sojourner on this land, myself a foreigner
I will be hospitable to those who themselves cross these human-made borders to seek a better life.

From the red-wood forest, to the gulf stream waters,
I will take better care of this land that was not ever and is not now truly mine.

With my words and my deeds,
I will honor the native ancestors of this land and their descendants.

Let my repentance be true.
Let my repentance be a way of life.

Indigenous people of this land,
Spirits of the indigenous natives of this land,
whose remains are buried on the plains and in the forests and in mass graves under parking lots, freeways, and shopping malls[3] who live on in the strength of the trees, in the wind that blows across the fields, and in the life-giving fertile soil:

Our hearts are rent open.
We repent of the evils of our forbearers against you;
we repent of our own complicity, ignorance, and apathy;
we repent of our disregard for these beautiful lands.

We ask that you grant us forgiveness so that we may, with your blessing, find peace in this land together.

This land is your land.

[1] Inspired by a conversation with Nikira Hernandez, September 28, 2015

[2] Inspired by “Prayer of Healing and Confession.” 29th General Synod of the United Church of Christ, Cleveland, OH, June 28, 2015, www.uccfiles.com/rtf/Healing-Prayer-and-Confession-from-Sunday.rtf.

[3] Inspired by Rev. Deborah Lee, “My Heavy-Hearted Reflection on the Canonization of Junipero Serra.” Facebook post, September 24, 2015 (11:00 a.m.), accessed October 1, 2015,  https://www.facebook.com/rev.deb.lee/posts/10154341651165961.

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