September Social Justice Focus: North American Indigenous People and the First Principle

Introducing Our Focus

While there is not an obvious focus for worth and dignity for September, apart from the Jewish day of Atonement, Yom Kippur on September 28, 2020, there is a compelling focus: Native Americans and Canada’s Indigenous peoples. In America, the occasion of this focus is the Cherokee National Holiday in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. In 2020 it will be held virtually from September 1-6 to mark the September 6, 1839 signing of the Constitution of the Cherokee Nation after the Trail of Tears Indian removal ended. (See Among all of the horrific assaults on Native Americans, the Trail of Tears remains infamous. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes, “The 1838 forced march of the Cherokee Nation, now known a s the Trail of Tears, was an arduous journey from remaining Cherokee homelands in Georgia and Alabama to what would later become northeastern Oklahoma.” Happening in the dead of winter, she notes that close to 8,000 of the 16,000 Cherokee men, women, and children died on the march. Other tribes including the Muskogees, Seminoles, Chickasaws, and Choctaws (who actually were removed first) traversed the Trail of Tears from the southeastern United States across the Mississippi River to Indian Territory. They all lost thousands of tribal members. Notably, these removals resulted in additional plantations being created with a commensurate increase in slavery.

The UUA’s Common Read for 2019-2020 supports this focus: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. It was published by Beacon Press in 2015. In 2019, Beacon Press published An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese (Beacon Press, 2019). For an overview of First Nations in Canada see a History in six periods at https://www.rcaanc-
. While the colonialization in Canada was relatively peaceful, large amount of land was taken through treaties followed by sustained efforts at assimilation, including Residential schools to assimilate indigenous children. Dunbar-Ortiz’s history is readable, compelling, and essential if America is to transform itself into a more perfect union. As might be assumed, most Americans don’t know the true history of America. Beacon Press is working to address this reality through their ReVisioning History series. The other books focus on Black Women, Queers, Disability, and African American & Latinix.

Beacon Press writes, “Today in the United States, there are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly three million people, descendants of the fifteen million Native people who once inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocidal program of the US settler-colonial regimen has largely been omitted from history.”

Dunbar-Ortiz makes the point that the lens of racism is not adequate to understand the experience of indigenous peoples in America. Hence, her focus is on land theft from and genocide of Native Americans through the process of settler-colonialism, which shatters the myth of American exceptionalism. She also argues that the focus on multiculturalism that emerged in the revision of US history in response to the civil-rights movement further disenfranchised Native Americans by making them an oppressed racial group, a move that ignored the fact that they were and are territorially and treaty-based peoples.

Native Lives Matter! With this as a focus, we have an opportunity to place our first principle in support of America’s and Canada’s First Nations.

AUUF Initiatives

Seal of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation

Starting this month, AUUF will be doing a land acknowledgement at the start of each Sunday service, acknowledging which Native American nations’s ancestral land we are on. This has become a custom in many Unitarian Universalist congregations. We hope that, by acknowledging the past of the land we are on, it will help us be aware of our complicity in indigenous issues and move us towards taking action for indigenous rights in our region and nation.

AUUF is located on occupied ancestral land of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. We encourage members and friends of AUUF to learn about the history, customs, and traditions of the Muscogee (Creek) people whose land we occupy today. More information about the Muscogee (Creek) Nation can be found on their web site.

There will also be a Second Hour on September 27 at 11:15 am about this month’s social justice focus.

Background Resources

Unitarian Universalist Initiatives & Resources