At Grace University Lutheran Church, we gather on ancestral Dakota land, storied ground connected to its people. We recognize that our federal government, supported by the Christian church, removed our Indigenous siblings from this land by violence, coercion, and fraud. Our faith now calls and compels us to learn and live the truth; we commit ourselves to the journey of justice and healing.
– Grace land acknowledgement, adopted Jan. 2023
The Grace land working group convened in late 2021 asking the question – what racial equity work are we called to in our own congregation and denomination? We began to ask critical questions about the land on which we worship and invited the congregation on the learning journey with us. (Click on the embedded underlined links to open select resources.)
How is it that any of us “own” land in what is now the United States of America? And at what cost to Indigenous people?
We know that Indigenous people lived on and moved across this land for thousands of years before white Europeans arrived. They were displaced by a genocidal campaign of war, violence, fraud, re-education and more. This incursion of White Europeans into Indigenous lands was justified by the doctrine of discovery. It is essential that we understand this doctrine’s origins, its intentions and impacts, and the central role the greater church played in its creation and implementation.
What has been the ELCA’s response?
Our denomination – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) – passed a resolution in 2016 repudiating the doctrine of discovery. As is often the case, it “sat on the shelf” for several years until 2021 when leaders called on the church to take action and live out this repudiation in concrete ways. The result was the ELCA Declaration to American Indian and Alaska Native People. Following on the Declaration came an ELCA Land Acknowledgement Guide, calling on churches to make this part of our practice.
How do we at Grace repudiate the doctrine of discovery?
An initial step in our actions at Grace was to create a land acknowledgement (see above), which we use in worship and other gatherings. At the same time, we are challenged by critics of land acknowledgement and know that a statement only has integrity if we actively walk the path of justice and healing.
We have also researched the history of the plot of land where Grace is built. See Jean Stilwell’s A Beginning History of the Land Under Grace University Lutheran Church.
How do we go beyond land acknowledgement?
The Native Governance Center, a national organization based in Minnesota, provides a useful and challenging resource: Beyond Land Acknowledgement: A Guide. The Native authors state, “…We recommend creating an action plan highlighting the concrete steps you plan to take to support Indigenous communities into the future. Similar to a land acknowledgment, your plan will include information and research on the land you occupy, but it will primarily focus on action.” The process includes self-assessment, resource assessment, research, specific measurable actions, and ongoing reflection.
In 2023 we will invite the congregation to create such action plans – as individuals, families, small groups, and as a congregation together. We invite you to join us on this journey of learning, humility, action and healing.
Additional learning resources
Bdote Memory Map – The Minnesota Humanities Center describes this Native-centric website as a “beginning resource for understanding more about the Dakota people’s relationship to Minnesota. Try traveling the directions in a traditional way – East (We Are Home), South (Dakota Greeting), West (Mnisota: A Dakota Place) and then North for the core of the site – the Memory Map.”
Ways to honor Indigenous cultures during Native American Heritage Month – A brief article on the myth of Thanksgiving and alternative activities to do in November that promote the decolonizing process
(Webpage updated 4/21/23, Liz Andress and Drew Schwab)