How Do We Talk About Our Unpeopling A People?


February 15, 2015

Last fall I came across an article about a partnership between Disciples Center for Public Justice (Center) and Disciple Home Ministries (DHM). In this article the author wrote,

This…ministry deals with such diverse issues and concerns as criminal justice reform, human trafficking, gun violence, capital punishment, and the rights of Native Americans in the United States and First Nations in Canada.

My first read through I wanted to say, great! Second read though had me saying, again? Fair enough, I read church articles through a pair of glasses with one anti-racist lens and one Christian Doctrine of Discovery lens. Sometimes they have trouble focusing, but sometimes they lead to a question or comment.

This time, the again led to comment. I find the above sentence problematic because the author created a list of items. I have no problem with the first four items, “criminal justice reform, human trafficking, gun violence, capital punishment.” The kicker is the fifth item, “and the rights of Native Americans in the United States and First Nations in Canada.” By including the rights of Native Americans and First Nations in the list, the author converts Native American and First Nation (Native) people from people to items.

Grasping at straws? Well, consider the first item. Criminal justice reform is concerned with the rights of all people, African-American, Latino, White, Asian, etcetera. There is no mention of concern for African-American, Asian, or Latino rights. Perhaps the Center has no intention to engage in those non-Native rights, but my guess is the reader is to assume that is the case. That being the (assumed) case, when the author places Native people at the bottom of the list, they lose their identity and become no more than an item on a list.

Now, let’s face it; clearly, the unpeopling of Natives is not the author’s intent. I have little doubt the author intended to loudly say Natives know the brunt of US injustice and this partnership will work to righting such injustice.

I use this writing only as an example of how deeply embedded the Christian Doctrine of Discovery is in our mindsets. Though it is not our intent to engage in or create otherness, we do. Though it is hard to imagine, our raising in the US public and private educational system has indoctrinated all of us into the DOD. Thus, DOD thinking has become our—the US people of North America—normal.

Important to give the last sentence a little clarity. First is to say, the embedment of the DOD into people’s mindset is worldwide—this is not just a US people problem. Second is to note that when I say the DOD is part of all US people, I am saying ALL PEOPLE—White, People of Color, Natives. In other words, the DOD is part and parcel of the US education system, all US people study under this system, and therefore, we all process our thoughts through a DOD mindset.

The significance of the above sentence is to recognize it matters little how progressive, conservative, liberal, Native, non-Native we are, we are all in the same fix. Consequently, it is important to find/develop safe venues, public and private, where each of us can process our thoughts and our writings without fear of being called out as unenlightened or worse an idiot.

Currently, I know of no such venue, though there are safe groups processing the ins and outs of the DOD itself and working towards change. Therefore, I’m led from comment to question. Is safe space needed for folk to offer their thoughts or writings for conversation prior to presentation—article, sermon, or speech?


  1. Dave, I whole-hearted agree with you comment about “unpeopling” people by making them “items” or “concerns on an agenda.” It’s your question that gives me pause. Safety, a safe space for dialogue, especially among Native Americans, does not come easily. It takes time of being with folks before they can learn to trust the spirit and intent of those in the church.


    1. A reasonable pause, I think! For safety is not a “knowing” as much as a “trusting.” And just because all folk have been assimilated into the DOD, and though all people are damaged by this assimilation, we must remember we come to this conversation from multiple heritages…and that matters. Therefore, safe space must be a place where our thoughts are freely challenged, but challenged with a deep care for us.

      Hence, for instance, I have to “trust” the critical voice of my sisters and brothers of color and of Native ancestry to have my best interests at heart when responding to my White non-Native thoughts. The richness is those voices do not confine my voice, but rather temper my thinking (even if I maintain my original construct).

      Having the critical voice of others and having our ideas challenged are difficult to accept though, without established relationship. And relationship is hard to form when we are more likely to first know one another through internet conversations rather than across the table from one another with a cup of coffee in our hands. As such, to engage in conversations based on our thoughts or writings must initially be our trusting in others having our best interest at heart. Then in time, over many conversations, we begin to know how the spirit is leading our brother or sister.

      Liked by 1 person

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