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An Indigenous Manifesto

With the IV Latin American Episcopal Conference in Santo Domingo coming up in 1992, it is natural that the 500 years that have passed since the arrival of the Spanish to the continent be remembered. The theme of Santo Domingo in 1992, as is known, is the "new evangelization". It is of utmost importance to have present the voice of those who are the descendents of the ones who so suffered the most negative conseqences of the first evangelization. We refer here to the indigenous peoples. As much as we may pretend that they no longer exist or that they are ready to disappear, at the present time there are about 50 million indigenous people throughout Continental America who speak more than 500 different languages. Their voices, however, have been silenced because, if not they would be too troublesome. For this reason it seems very important to us to give them space so that they can express their complaints, their concerns and their hopes to the pastors who will meet in Santo Domingo in 1992 and to the entire world. Here is a rough draft:

1. Although the modernizing projects of the Nation-States have sentenced the poor to death, we indigenous people are not dead and we are not going to accept that destiny which is being imposed upon us. Consequently, we disagree with our pastors who assume the same language of the modernizers when they refer to us as a thing of the past, or as realities that, unfortunately, must die in order to give way to the "advent culture" or the culture of modernity. We indigenous people are alive and we believe that we are bearers of a life project that is valid not only for us, but also for all of us beings who populate this earth. Therefore, we urge the pastors of our Church to recognize the legitimacy of the indigenous struggle in the context of the struggle of the poor. We urge the opening of pastoral spaces for the defense and development of this struggle. Pastoral work has been the womb for many popular processes that, with time, have become adult and autonomous. Pastors must know how to accompany these processes without attempting to steer them, be godfathers to them or to pigeonhole them according to intraecclesial schemes. They are the inevitable consequence of the legitimate autonomy of temporal realities recognized and consecrated by the Second Vatican Council.

2. We indigenous peoples, although impoverished and devalued as a result of the centuries of oppression weighing upon our shoulders, do not wish to be treated with degrading paternalism that reduces us to the category of children incapable of taking care of ourselves. We are adults and we demand to be treated as such by society and Church. We require that our pastors take us into consideration when their ecclesiastical decisions affect our faith life; that they consider us true ecclesial interlocutors.

3. Let us once and for all rid the Church of the ignominy of continuing to consider, in its actions, that the indigenous peoples are beings incapable of the faith and conduct of our Christian life. It is unjust that in the ecclesiastical relationship with the indigenous people there is a prevailing prejudice that considers us to be second-class believers, suspected of heresy, apostasy or schisms, for the simple fact that we defend our right to be different in our culture and in the expression of our faith.

4. Let us now heal the injuries of the past. We indigenous people do not want to forever carry in our spirit the pain of crimes committed against our forebears. Social and ecclesial reconciliation is urgent today. Let us profoundly bond in the commitment to build a future where we will definitively eradicate the structural causes that gave rise to the crimes of the past. Let us guarantee all, but especially the poor, that such situations will never again be repeated.

5. For this reconciliation, only the humble acceptance of the historical truth will set us free. In the judgement of history, the Church will not be liberated if, as a point of departure, she does not recognize her responsibility for the crimes that for 500 years were committed against our peoples in her name and in the name of God. To the extent that she attempts to close her eyes to the truth, the Church runs the risk of losing the credibility that she now enjoys among the poor.

6. Although we too are marked by sin, we indigenous peoples consider that the Spirit of God is what animates our historical walk. We feel that if God has confidence in his poor people, then our pastors also should. Do not hinder our search, assuming that we are ignorant because we lack academic preparation. We poor are the chosen of God because we have the sensus fidei, the instinct for faith, that is capable of demonstrating the vacuity of the supposed wisdom of the intellectuals who write books.

7. Do not permit the contradiction of the facts with respect to the indigenous people. Support and accompany pastorally our processes for recuperating the land, the self-determination of the peoples, the affirmation of culture and the inculturation of the Gospel. Do not put out or allow others to put out the burning fuse of our efforts to inculturate the catechism, the theology, the liturgy and the ecclesiastical ministries. Encourage us to carry on with the construction of the Kingdom in history. Correct us if it is necessary, but with the clarity that must characterize the pastors, in order that the seed planted by God in our cultures would germinate, grow, flower and give the longed-for fruit to the Lord of the Harvest. In this way, with our own face and heart, let us integrate into the unity of the People of God, where people of every race and culture extend their hands, united in the same faith, but diverse in their cultural and religious identity.

8. Let us together, with audacity, assume the challenge of the "birth of the particularly indigenous churches, with autonomous heirarchy and organization, with theology, liturgy and ecclesial expressions that are adequate for a cultural experience of faith." (CELAM, Bogota, 1985.) The indigenous churches, with their new contributions, will revitalize and enrich the other churches in a truly multicultural and new scheme of Catholicism. Only in this way can we indigenous peoples, who have put our hopes in the Church see carried out in history that which our grandparents, our forebears dreamed and foretold.

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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.