By Shantha Ready Alonso.
Burns-Paiute tribal council member Jarvis Kennedy asks protest…The Burns Paiute tribe has asked armed protesters to leave and stop desecrating the land. Read more: http://on.kgw.com/1JXQLVL
Posted by KGW-TV on Wednesday, January 6, 2016
An armed “militia” of white men has taken over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. They plan to stay. They demand “return of local control” of the land to the mostly white population in the area. They are recruiting others to mine, log, and graze livestock there. They promise food and a place to sleep, and ask their recruits just to bring guns. As I watch this bizarre scene unfold, I am praying the law will be enforced without bloodshed. I am also cringing at the repetition of U.S. history of white men dominating the natural world, foregoing consideration of the wider community of people or the eco-system.
The philosophy of the white men who are occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is unfortunately unsurprising. They are taking land they perceive as not being used, because those currently using it must be less worthy. The historic and pervasive philosophy of land use in the United States has been informed by bad theology that can be traced back to the Papal Bulls of the 1400s. Out of the Papal Bulls came the Doctrine of Discovery, which gave Christian explorers such as Christopher Columbus the perception that they had a right to claim ownership of lands they “discovered.” Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was fair game for takeover, and any non-Christian inhabitants could be enslaved or killed. Of course, the Doctrine of Discovery did not in any way address any moral mandate to protect the integrity of the “discovered” eco-system, either. The primary concern was spreading a Christian empire that would amass wealth.
Over the centuries, the Doctrine of Discovery has been used to justify, normalize, and even divinely sanction land takeovers and the genocide of Native Americans. The Genesis 1:26 call to have dominion over land and creatures was widely misinterpreted as domination of land and creatures by adherents to the Doctrine of Discovery. From President Andrew Jackson’s horrific Trail of Tears, to President Polk’s annexation of a large chunk of Mexico in 1848, to the Manifest Destiny propaganda that drove many settlers westward, white men have consistently justified taking control of land and any people or creatures who happen to live there.
A piece in Indian Country Today Media breaks down the history of the currently occupied land at what is now the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge:
President U.S. Grant established the Maiheur Indian Reservation for the Northern Paiute in 1872. It is no coincidence that the historical reservation shares a name with the Maiheur National Wildlife Refuge, site of the current armed standoff.
White settlement nibbled at the Maiheur Indian Reservation until the Bannock War in 1878, which ended with surrendered Paiutes and Bannocks on the reservation being removed, officially to the Yakama Reservation in Washington Territory. Unofficially, Paiutes had scattered all over the Western States that comprised their aboriginal lands. The Burns Paiute Reservation is the remains of the Maiheur Reservation and the Maiheur Wildlife Refuge is an alternative use for the federal land.
The men occupying the refuge claim they have a divine calling to take that land. Of course, nowhere in the “militia” men’s propaganda is there mention of restoration of local control to the Northern Paiute. Most mainstream media coverage will not raise the question of who originally inhabited and cared for this land for generations before.
The Doctrine of Discovery has deeply damaged U.S. cultural perceptions about what land is and what it is for. Over the centuries time and time again, our nation’s thought leaders and land developers missed opportunities to learn from Native American insights about how they have long responded to the divine call to till and keep the earth.
Our nation’s tacit acceptance of domination of God’s creation has not only put relationships among people in jeopardy, but also with God’s creatures. Consider for a moment that the occupied land is not just any piece of land, but a Wildlife Refuge. What concern, if any, are most of us hearing about how the creatures that need this refuge could suffer if the land is indeed mined, logged, and grazed? Scientists are telling us we are in the midst of the Earth’s sixth ever mass extinction event, and it is primarily being caused by humans. Species are disappearing at a rate that is 100 times to 1,000 times higher than before humans were present. Today, one in five animal and plant species in the United States is at risk of extinction. Over 320 species of birds and 58 species of mammals take refuge in the land currently being occupied. Creatures in peril such as the Sage Grouse call the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge home.
Let’s not allow this national moment of tension to pass without reflection. The Doctrine of Discovery persists in U.S. laws that we continue to use today, but it doesn’t have to be that way. By analyzing the forces that have shaped ideologies in our culture, we become self-aware. In that self-awareness we can find new freedom to re-mix culture and live differently. White supremacy fed by domination philosophies has wounded our relationships with the land and each other. We have not healed. There is no better time than now to think critically about current events, understand more of our history, and humbly acknowledge that neither white men, nor humans, are the center and pinnacle of God’s creation. Dominion does not need to be domination.
Shantha Ready Alonso is the Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries, an ecumenical organization that educates, equips, and mobilizes 38 Christian religious bodies in the United States to do justice for God’s planet and God’s people.