Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a Confession

On the eve of the anniversary of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) shared its Declaration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to American Indian and Alaska Native People.

(Puiblic Domain)
(Public Domain)

Adopted by the ELCA Church Council in September 2021, the declaration includes confessions of the denomination’s role in oppressing Indigenous American and Alaskan communities and cultures:

“We have treated American Indians and Alaska Natives as a ‘minority group’ rather than as sovereign nations. We have not taken seriously the importance of land and how complicit we are in accepting the benefits of stolen land,” the document states.

“We confess that we are complicit in the annihilation of Native peoples and your cultures, languages, and religions, and that we have refused to truly recognize the harm that we have caused our Native siblings.”

It acknowledges “that no document, no matter how carefully crafted, will accomplish the actions of truth and the work of justice as it relates to our American Indian and Alaska Native siblings. We also understand that what has developed over hundreds of years will take enduring commitment to address.”

A resolution encouraging ELCA entities to consider returning land to Indigenous groups was approved by voting members of the Churchwide Assembly on Thursday, August 11. These actions grew out of the denomination’s repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery at its 2016 Churchwide Assembly, which created the task force that wrote the Declaration presented this week.

The Doctrine of Discovery, first expressed in 15th-century papal edicts before the Reformation and later extended and reinforced by royal charters and court decisions, justified the discovery and domination by European Christians of lands already inhabited by indigenous peoples. It was also the policy behind removing Native children from their families, not permitting them to speak their native languages, and preventing the relay and preservation of the culture of these nations.

Vance Blackfox, director for Indigenous ministries and tribal relations for ELCA and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, said that in the 1960s and 1970s, Lutherans set a standard with their work to pursue justice for Indigenous peoples.

“We have a history, we have a heritage of doing the right thing, and we will continue to do that. I truly believe it,” he said.

Many attending wore red in response to the request of the American Indian and Alaska Native Lutheran Association to do so to call attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Fawn Sharp, National Congress of American Indians President and vice president of the Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah, Washington, thanked the denomination for the declaration on behalf of the 574 tribal nations across the United States.

“Our ancestors long foretold a day of reckoning when this world and this life was not consistent with our values. At some point, there would be a day of reckoning—a moment of truth, healing and reconciliation. Those predictions from so long ago were for our generation,” she said. “We are that generation.”


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Native Americans Alaska Native People Doctrine of Discovery Declaration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to American Indian and Alaska Native People