Posted: August 29, 2022
Resource highlight: Statement of solidarity with Indigenous Peoples
We exhort the Church at all levels – ecumenically, denominationally, and globally - to reject erroneous interpretations of the Bible that justify the mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples. We renew our commitment to embody the spirit of Jesus as indicated in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
“Indigenous solidarity hits the heart of what we do in the Philippines with Coffee for Peace,” says Joji Pantoja, chair of the Peace Commission (2015-2022). The Peace Commission drafted a Statement of Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples that was accepted by the Mennonite World Conference General Council in 2018.
“The statement is there now, but the hard work is to use it: to admit that unless we are Indigenous, we are likely the colonizer; to amplify the voice of people whose voice we didn’t hear at the time; and to accept the truth when it hurts,” Joji Pantoja says.
The statement was formulated after 2015 when MWC leaders visited La Iglesia Evangélica Unida Hermanos Menonitas de Panamá, an MWC member church comprised of Wounaan and Emberra peoples.
“When I was invited to join the delegation in Panama, I said yes. I wanted to see if the plight of Indigenous people [in Panama] would be the same as Indigenous peoples here,” says Joji Pantoja.
“It’s so sad when you hear of a community getting their resources stuck because they are controlled by government. This was visible in Panama. Even some leaders in tribal communities were the ones selling the cocobolo trees to [commercial interests] and allowing to cut more.”
While in Kenya for General Council meetings in 2018, Joji Pantoja was also able to meet with Indigenous peoples. “They don’t have a say or they don’t know what to say. As long as the government allows them to use the land, they keep quiet.
“When I was living in Vancouver, Canada, in 1986, my husband and I saw First Nations [Indigenous] people living outside. How can this be possible that I’m in the developed world while in their backyard there’s this kind of living? That’s when my heart got pinched in terms of marginalized First Nations.
“Observing that in other countries made me thankful how the Philippines are well advanced in educating Indigenous people in the right to self determination as written in the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”
UNDRIP “isn’t perfect,” she says, “but there are systems.”
Joji Pantoja hopes the MWC statement will help member churches advocate for and stand with Indigenous peoples who are oppressed.
“Where we are part of settler communities, our churches should be asking for forgiveness.”
“This is all related to the doctrine of discovery. Even though we (our ecclesiological ancestors) were not the ones who persecuted Indigenous peoples through the Doctrine of Discovery, we should respect them because they are human beings created by God.
“I hope we come to that level wherein the churches recognize that our ancestors did these things. We are now trying to rectify this. The MWC solidarity document has passed in the General Council but it hasn’t sunk in in the minds of the colonized and the colonizers.”
“With the world issues happening right now, this document is useful for people in our churches to start dialogue so we can really reconcile and correct the page.”
Through dialogue, churches can learn to see from the perspective of Indigenous people. “How can we help them without creating another conflict? How can they voice out what they are feeling, what they could not say before? That takes wisdom too,” says Joji Pantoja.
“Read the document, become aware. See how God talks to you. Then be ready to use it to amplify the voices of marginalized people when they need help… So they have something to fall back on and say, ‘oh, thank God, the Mennonites are behind me!’”
“Realization is a journey. Acceptance is a journey. Once it hits you in the head or the heart… you need to act.”