By Rodney M. Bordeaux
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead ... In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials. -1 Peter 1:3-6
Participating in the Amazon Synod as a North American Indigenous leader was a powerful experience. I was honored to meet with the people of the Amazon, with whom I felt a deep kinship. Hearing their stories and experiences brought back what our people dealt with in the United States in the mid- to late-1800’s. I told Amazonian leaders that we Indigenous of the United States and Canada are very supportive of their cause. The threats they currently face—natural resource extraction, loss of lands, and violence against activists—are the threats that nearly eradicated North American indigenous peoples over 125 years ago.
Although our language differences kept our group of Lakota leaders from communicating directly with Amazonian leaders, we easily connected with each other and shared commonalities. Our future collaborations will only be enhanced through the Synod, as we face the same racist attitudes and state policies.
Genocide is a common issue facing the Indigenous of the Americas and the entire world. Why? Our way of life is one with nature and in protecting Mother Earth. That is a great feeling! However, our cultures and ways of living do not matter to the wider society. Indigenous peoples are still looked upon as less than human, and too frequently decisions are made for us rather than by us. There’s a total disregard for our rights as humans.
The Catholic Church can continue to work with all Indigenous relatives in the Western hemisphere through the Synod. By standing in solidarity with Indigenous communities, we embrace the higher power of God and prayer. The Church and North American Indigenous can leverage our political connections to promote ecological justice rather than ignoring the environmental and human rights abuses facing the Amazon and my own people in the U.S.
As a leader from North America, it is my hope that we, too, can get an audience with Pope Francis and have a serious dialogue. I urge Pope Francis to revoke the Papal Bull “Inter Caetera” of 1493, which authorized Spanish and Portuguese colonizers to enslave, oppress, and rule the American Indigenous as subjects. Revoking this will demonstrate that the Catholic Church is answering the call of the Synod and open up a new future between the Church and Indigenous. We need to continue to build upon this dialogue and expand the issues of indigenous land and water rights, as well as human rights, to new arenas, such as the United Nations.
Threats to our natural resources continue to be an issue in North America. Indigenous lands and water are still being sought after by oil and gas corporations looking to exploit them—drilling and transporting fossil fuels across treaty territories. It seems to me that the states, the U.S. Congress and the White House continue to disregard our treaty rights when it comes to energy development. They attempt to consult with us only to disregard our input.
We are used to being exploited and disregarded, but this does not deter American Indigenous peoples. We are very proud of who we are as a people and want to remain who we are. Unfortunately, this identity also makes us a target. ▪
About the Author
Rodney Bordeaux is a member and current President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Rosebud, SD. His entire career has been in service to his people, the Sicangu Lakota Oyate, in the field of education, as a member of the legislative body and currently serving as president.