General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Partnering with Original Nations & Peoples: Protect Cultures & the Earth

General Assembly 2015 Event 333

Program Description

What can we learn from Original Nations and Peoples’ views of the world? How has the claimed right of Christian Discovery and domination brought us to where we are today? How do we create healing, beneficial relationships with Original Peoples, and form alliances for tackling the cultural, environmental, and climate issues of the day and for the future?


  • Beth Brownfield
  • Rev. Katherine Jesch
  • Jewell Praying Wolf James

“How To” Handout

Download this handout (PDF, 7 pages) by Beth Brownfield (


  • Indigenous Peoples have always known that it isn’t only about their own survival, but also the survival of humanity, and of all life and sustenance. We are in this together as partners and allies.
  • We have an obligation to educate ourselves, learn the true history of our country from an indigenous perspective, and bridge the gap by connecting personally and strategically with our indigenous neighbors.
  • Do not act out of guilt, but rather out of a genuine interest in challenging the larger oppressive power structure

Developing Relationships

  • Show up at events open to the public: powwows, music and theatrical.
  • Support by ‘partnering with’ / not ‘helping’. ‘Work with’, / not ‘Speaking for’.
  • Advocate for treaty rights and tribal sovereignty.
  • Be an informed neighbor about past history and current situations.
  • Take directions from, not leading in working on issues together.
  • Listen more, Talk less.
  • Trustworthiness, Respect, Reciprocity, Flexibility and Adaptability.
  • Appreciate the diversity of Original Nations and Peoples.
  • Authencity, live with gratitude and in relations with all beings and elements. Don’t just speak it, express through action.


  • Identify and learn the history of the indigenous peoples who previously lived, or currently live, in your region or state.
  • Observe and understand the pervasiveness of the “Colonial mindset” in oneself and in society at large.
  • Acknowledge and honor the specific first inhabitants of your region.
  • Develop a relationship with indigenous neighbors and join forces to support them in partnership and/or advocacy for local programs and national issues.
  • Visit Native American cultural centers.
  • Attend events open to the public such as powwows, art exhibits, workshops, celebrations, and performances. Be visible to them.
  • Form a Native American Ministry or Connection group in your congregation to Support, Honor, Appreciate, Serve and Support Indigenous Peoples locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
  • Recognize how political, social justice and environmental issues are inter-related, how they feed each and perpetuate injustice.

Suggested Educational Actions

  • Become familiar with the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (Google “UUA Doctrine of Discovery” for information and actions.)
  • Read Beacon Press book: An Indigenous People’s History of the United States” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Hold several sessions to discuss the chapters with others.
  • Subscribe FREE to Indian Country Today: Fantastic resource on all topics from health, education, economics, environment, news, art, music, movies, etc.
  • Sign up for Native American Issues & Legislation on Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) website.
  • Learn about: Federal Indian Policies, Acts, Treaties and practices: Indian Removal and Relocation, Concepts of Self-Determination and Sovereignty, Termination programs and efforts, Allotments, Child Welfare, Gaming, NAGPRA, etc. Also understand the relationship of Original Nations to local, State, and Federal Governments.
  • Find out about current cultural challenges: sex abuse, violence against women, sex trafficking, teen pregnancy, drugs and alcohol, housing shortages, unemployment, education, health issues and services, etc.
  • Understand the affects of cultural and historical trauma: Boarding Schools, removals, relocation, broken promises, genocide, devastating diseases, etc.

Suggested Personal or Group Actions

  • Encourage your community and the greater community to always consult with Original Nations and Peoples in matters that concern them.
  • Show films produced by, or documented about, Indigenous Peoples: Human Rights Film Festivals, local theatres, through Lifelong Learning programs.
  • Invite Indigenous Peoples to speak at forums, services, workshops, and conferences.
  • Devote at least one special collection, a year, of your congregation to a 501c3 Native American organization or effort.
  • Join protests and actions for retirement of sport team logos and mascots that dishonor Indigenous Peoples; Anti-Indian activities; Idle No More Rallies; blockades of mega-loads; pipeline marches; write letters in support of tribal efforts to stop fossil fuel extraction, transport across territories without consent and disrupting fishing and hunting at traditional territories, extraction and abuse of other natural resources on their sacred lands and in their sacred waters.
  • Be supportive: write letters of support to Original Nations to newspapers; write letters of condolence when tragedy strikes; post information about Native issues on your Facebook pages.

Specific Local Ideas

  • How can your local community, county honor the first inhabitants? Create a proclamation signed by the mayors, county executives, city and county councilmen.
  • Is the local indigenous history accurately portrayed and understood?
  • Work with your City Council to pass a resolution to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day.
  • Provide space for: indigenous performance, speakers, art exhibits, art sales, and fundraisers.
  • Send out a monthly “Native Events” emails to interested individuals. It can include performances, art exhibits, workshops, speakers, films, and current events that call for action.
  • When appropriate read a statement acknowledging your indigenous neighbors before a service, committee meeting, or large gathering that acknowledges your indigenous neighbors: We acknowledge that this land is the traditional territory of the Lummi and Nooksack Peoples. Their presence is imbued in these mountains, valleys, waterways, and shorelines. May we nurture our relationship with our Coast Salish neighbors, and our shared responsibilities to this Place of their homelands where we mutually abide.”
  • Put up a plaque, engrave a stone, acknowledging the traditional territory of indigenous Nations and Peoples near the entrance to your congregation acknowledging that the land where we sit and stand is the traditional territory of whatever indigenous peoples once held the land on which you meet.
  • Stand up for Treaty Rights of indigenous peoples in regards to water, land, and cultural rights.
  • Nominate local Native Americans for recognition when opportunities arise: Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center Peace Builders, Human Rights Awards, etc.
  • Request or Suggest Native American films for film or documentary festivals.
  • Design and submit classes for community Lifelong Learning programs on indigenous topics of importance: Sovereignty, Tribal Government, Education, Health, Natural Resources, History, etc. Do not speak on their behalf; find some from the Nation to speak. Your job is to facilitate not teach.
  • Work with other social justice, environmental, political and faith organizations to sponsor community events, speakers that showcase Indigenous people worldview, and special events.
  • Seek participants from both the Native and Settler communities for a Cross Cultural Discussion group (indigenous and settlers): articles, speakers, movies, topics of mutual interest, or discuss a particular book together.
  • Collect food, money, soaps and hygiene supplies for tribe’s food shelf or commodity program.
  • Write letters to support the removal of all offensive sports logos.
  • Write letters to Congress supporting particular legislation.
  • Write letters to State and Federal agencies reminding them of their federal trust responsibilities.
  • Write letters to editors bringing Native issues to the consciousness of the greater community.
  • Work with religious educator to see that indigenous to see that Indigenous curriculum is part of Lifelong Learning program.

Action Issues

(Incomplete List, new issues arise constantly.)

  • Redskins name is the most offensive name to an American Indian.
  • Pope Francis’s decision to grant sainthood to Father Serra, canonizing him celebrates the genocidal legacy of the Spanish Catholic mission system of domination. Devastation of the Spanish Catholic Mission system.
  • Art sales of sacred masks of the Hopi in France.
  • Being understood, appreciated, and acknowledged.
  • Disregard of consultation in matters that affect Indigenous Peoples.
  • Environmental and Cultural Destruction: Pipelines, mining, damning up rivers, Mt Top removal, environmental pollution, fracking, tar sands, coal mining, transport of fossil fuels, melting ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels,
  • Acknowledge tragedies and cultural attacks with letters from the congregation and signed by members: i.e. shooting deaths by Tulalip High School student of six of his friends, The picketing, ”Stop worshiping dead religions” of the Native Cultural Center in Anchorage, by Westboro Baptist Church.“
  • Oak Flats, Sacred Apache Land Grab (there are sacred site issues all over this continent, from Hawaii, North to Alaska, the Northeast, the Southwest, the Northwest, and South America).

Contacts and Resources


UU Congregations and Individuals Working on Indigenous Issues

  • East Shore Unitarian Native American Social Justice & History Ministry Team (Bellevue, WA): Kate Elliott, (425) 747-3780.
    Focus is to host other Native American heritage groups for gifting and culture sharing;
    Provide a positive environment for ongoing inter-actions between Elders, the people of East Shore and the broader community; Support the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery & Washington State tribes in restoration/sustainment of Treaty rights with the U.S.
  • UU Church of Peoria, IL, Dave Weiman, (309) 264-3561, Universalist Unitarian Church of Peoria sponsors the Council at Pimiteoui, an American Indian Interest Group which meets in the church and presents educational and ceremonial events at the church. These have included a Sunday Worship Service, Adult RE classes concerning the Peoria Nation at first encounter and the years through the War of 1812, and a pre-worship Gathering the first Sunday of the month. The church makes a statement of respect and honor for the Peoria Nation at the beginning of each Sunday Service, and there is a Peoria Nation Stone in our Memory Garden engraved with a commemoration to the Peoria’s ancestral land upon which we gather.
  • Kanenuiakea and First Unitarian Church of Honolulu: Dr. George Williams, On January 29, 2012, Hawaiian worshipers of the Kanenuiakea, a continuing, original Hawaiian faith, worshipped openly inside First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, sharing of values and prayers. Subsequently they become partners in religious dialogue to begin publicly worshipping and sharing each other’s faith. Together they have created what is called “ohana” (an extended family). The congregation has also created a Hawaiian values curriculum for the children and youth, and the congregation often sings songs in Hawaiian at services and social events. George Williams works with this as historian for the Koa Ike Foundation Preserving Hawaiian Religion and Culture.
  • Northwoods UU Fellowship, Brainerd/Pine River, MN: Mary DeYoung The Fellowship has been active on Native American issues for several years, and currently is working on Goodbye Columbus Minnesota, an effort to change Columbus Day to American Indian and Indigenous Peoples Day, state wide. We feel this will be a vehicle for addressing problems of a wider scope in our state, for education on pressing issues of poverty, racism, alcoholism, sex trade, drug trafficking, other social concerns. Another effort is working with Honor the Earth (Winona LaDuke’s organization) to oppose pipeline expansion in Minnesota, which is of environmental concern to the native population as well as the general public.
  • Port Townsend UU Fellowship: Rick Doherty,, (206) 409-4918, Newly formed Native Peoples Connection. They have with Green Sanctuary awarded Port Jamestown S’Kallam, Port Gamble S’Klalam, and Elwah Kallam an Eco Hero award for what their ancestors and current members are doing to preserve the ecology of the Olympic Peninsula. Future plans center around supporting local Nations’ participation in the regional Canoe Journeys, and educating people in their congregation, local community, and region on indigenous issues.
  • UU Congregation of Whidbey Island, Freeland, WA. Gary Piazzon,, (360) 678-5131. UUCWI is committed to learning from and about the Native American experience to promote healing and mutual evolution towards right relationships. To that end, and to begin with, we are working towards incorporating an acknowledgement of prior occupation of Indigenous Peoples into the workings of the congregation. We are planning a forum to share the experiences of our spring intensive with Lummi Nation with the congregation in the Fall. Also in the fall we plan on showing the documentary of the 2014 Totem Pole Journey, Our Sacred Obligation, again in collaboration with the Island County Museum with an accompanying workshop.
  • UU Church of the Palouse, Boise Idaho Pat Rathman, (208) 882-8262.
    Congregation is reading “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.” They are creating a cross-cultural discussion group with members of the Nimmiipuu (Nez Perce) Nation, and are co-sponsors of the “Nimmipuu Protecting the Environment” which brings activists together on a quarterly basis.
  • Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Corvallis, Corvallis, Oregon, Jesse Ford, 541-929-4240, The Climate Justice Committee is supporting Lummi Nation’s efforts to stop the proposed coal terminal on their traditional territory. A successful service auction salmon dinner and discussion about the April UU College of Social Justice immersion experience at Lummi Nation looks like it may be inspiring an Indigenous Connections network.
  • Rev. Katherine Jesch, Community Minister, affiliated with 1st Unitarian Church of Portland,, (503) 758-6662: program leader for UU College of Social Justice; working on Columbia River Treaty Advocacy.

Recommended Books

(So many books, so little time!)

  • An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Beacon Press), Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
    That the continued colonization of American Indian nations, peoples, and lands provides the United States the economic and material resources needed to cast its imperialist gaze globally is a fact that is simultaneously obvious within—and yet continuously obscured by—what is essentially a settler colony's national construction of itself as an ever more perfect multicultural, multiracial democracy…
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer. “Everyone who cares about the environment—and everyone else, period—should have Braiding Sweetgrass on their table. It captures the true reverence between Native Americans and the earth, the relationship that we need to survive”—Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper, Onondaga Nation and Indigenous Environmental Leader (Your life view will be altered reading this delicious book-Beth)
  • Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, Nathanial Philbrick.
    Nathaniel Philbrick's narrative tracks the Pilgrims from their perilous 1620 transatlantic crossing to the bloody battles of King Philip's War (1675-76). With compelling detail, he describes the delicate social ecology achieved by the Pilgrims and Native Americans before it was broken by a deadly war of attrition. His carefully modulated story blends acts of settler courage and kindness with those of savagery and cowardice. A major nonfiction work.
  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Charles C. Mann.
    When does American history begin? The old answer used to be 1492, with the European arrival in the Americas. That answer is no longer politically or historically correct. For the last thirty years or so historians, geographers, and archaeologists have built up an arsenal of evidence about the residents of North America after the ice receded and before the Europeans arrived. Mann has mastered that scholarship and written the most elegant synthesis of the way we were before the European invasion. Joseph J. Ellis.
  • The Man Who Planted Trees: This is a wonderful animation of the fictional short story by the French writer Jean Giono about Elzéard Bouffier, a shepherd who single-handedly reforested a desolate region of France. The acclaimed film was directed by Frédéric Back. An inspirational 4,000 word story about one-man’s efforts that brought life back to a desecrated land. It is an inspiring story of commitment and action. Available on youtube and story about it on Wikipedia. It might still be available for sale, and a wonderful story to real aloud.
  • This Changes Everything: by Naomi Klein. Climate change, Klein argues, is a civilizational wake-up call, a powerful message delivered in the language of fires, floods, storms, and droughts. Confronting it is no longer about changing the light bulbs. It’s about changing the world—before the world changes so drastically that no one is safe. 

Either we leap—or we sink. Includes a section on the 2013 Totem Pole Journey.