So where does this discussion leave me? How responsible am I for colonialism?
At the end of the day I cannot be held responsible for things beyond my control. I cannot take responsibility for the larger arcs of history that were driven by forces I could not stop. I cannot own the decisions my ancestors or parents made before I was born. Even after I was born as I was a child with limited knowledge, wisdom and agency.
I should note that I am not resentful at my ancestors. The decisions they made led to my existence and I am no more resentful at them than I am resentful at the fact that I have brown hair or brown eyes. My ancestors, like all members of my living family, and all humanity for that matter, were imperfect people doing the best they know how. I wish they had avoided participating in these injustices but that is judging them in hindsight and this is judging the people whose decisions enabled my existence. At the end of the day even if I wanted to change my heritage, I could not.
With that in mind I have been asking the wrong question. Indeed it is as Rachel Ann Snow suggested, the question should not be, “How responsible am I for colonialism?” but “How much responsibility will I accept for continuing colonialism for future generations?”
What really matters is not what my ancestors did a generation or two ago, or even how I have lived yesterday. What really matters is what I do today.
In regards to what I am going to do about colonialism today (and with the rest of my life) recently I have come to a very clear understanding of the two driving realities that have propelled me forward and the path for my life that I have chosen. I will close this post by sharing all three.
The first driving reality of my life is my faith. More than colonialism or any other factor in my life, I am shaped by my faith. I am a true believer. The reality and person of Jesus Christ is the most compelling thing I have ever known in this world and I seek to follow Jesus and obey Him as best as I can and know how. I grew up in the Christian church, I have spent seven years in deep academic study of the scriptures, Christian history, Christian theology and Christian traditions.
From all of that my deepest religious conviction is that there is one God, the God of Israel. This God was faithful to the promises made to the people of Israel and these promises were ultimately fulfilled in the work, the person and way of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was God incarnate, that is Jesus was God with flesh on Him, and He was fully human and fully divine. According to the sovereign will of the Creator Jesus was incarnated into the people of Israel during a very specific time in their history. Israel had been defeated, scattered and suffered many of the injustices all of who have suffered colonialism would be familiar with. Jesus set re-gathered the scattered people of Israel and He re-defined what it meant to be Israel. Now is the time where all people, of all cultures and languages, are invited to come into the commonwealth of Israel, as they are, and worship the one true God. Where the people who follow Jesus truly practice His ways, the way of self-less love, radical sharing, the way of peace and self-sacrifice, the way of justice, the way of solidarity with the poor and marginalized, this community truly is a light to the world and a blessing to all nations.
A deep part of the character of this God of Israel is that He demands justice for the poor and marginalized. The God of Israel has always judged His people as just or unjust by how they provided for the foreigner, the downtrodden and those who have no advocate. When Jesus began His ministry by proclaiming that He came to bring good new to the poor and liberty to the oppressed this was not a new or novel message. Jesus was announcing the time of promised blessing and the restoration of Israel had come, that the time for Israel to be a blessing to all nations and all nations to come to worship God had been initiated.
The past actions of Christians in regards to colonialism, especially towards the Native Americans have been directly antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and the will of God. We have used Jesus and faith to justify evils and horrors directly opposed to the God we have professed to serve. There is no excuse for this, only shame. I cannot change this dark part of our history or other dark parts, I can only seek to recognize them, ask for forgive, seek to live differently, and hope that in doing so I can salvage the besmirched name of Jesus for those who have been turned away from the God of Israel by the actions of Christians.
The second driving reality is the fact that I have chosen to remember.
I have chosen to remember the Arawak, the first tribe to suffer harshly due to contact with the Europeans.
I have chosen to remember the Mystic Massacre, the Bloody Island Massacre, the Yontoket Massacre, the Klamath river massacres, the Marias Massacre and many others.
I have chosen to remember the fact that the most Medals of Honor ever given in a single battle were awarded to the soldiers who had participated in the Massacre at Wounded Knee.
I have chosen to remember not just well-known names such as Sacagawea, Louis Riel, Sitting Bull, Goyalthlay (or as he is better known, Geronimo) Spotted Elk and Black Elk and the Navajo Code talkers, but also lesser known names such as Leonard Peltier, “Freddy Krueger,” “Psycho,” “Lasanga” and John T. Williams.
I have chosen to remember the true name of Chief Stanislaus. You see Stanislaus, the man whose name is immortalized in the river I was baptized in, is actually an English rendition of his Spanish name, Estanislao. Estanislao was in turn the name the Spanish had given him, in reference to the Catholic Saint St. Estanislao. His real name, what the Miwuk people called him, what his mother called him, was Cucunuchi.
I have chosen to remember treaty after broken treaty. The Hopwell Treaty, the Treaty of New Echota, the Ft. Laramie Treaty.
I have chosen to remember the Dawes Act of 1887 which privatized Native American land to open them up for continued theft.
I have chosen to remember that the reservations and racherias started as prisoner of war camps.
I have chosen to remember the fact that it was due to ecological destruction and the decimation of the buffalo, not military victory, that eventually forced many Native American tribes to sign treaties and agree to reservations. It was that or starve. (Even with their technological advantage, the U.S. military did not do to well against Native Americans when they were fighting actual warriors, not women and children.)
I have chosen to remember even when faced with this decision, some choose to starve.
I have chosen to remember the fact that a third of Native Americans finally became citizens fifty six years after freed slaves did when the Indian Citizenship Act was passed in 1924.
I have chosen to remember the Indian Termination policy which sought to end tribal sovereignty and force assimilation, encouraging many to leave their reservations, leave their cultures and setting up Native American ghettos in the cities.
I have chosen to remember events like the occupation of Alcatraz in 1971, the Wounded Knee Incident in 1973 and the Oka crisis in 1990.
I have chosen to remember Bev who I met on the streets of Vancouver, I have chosen to remember seeing her bruised and bandaged after she was savagely attacked and stabbed by her boyfriend.
I have chosen to remember all the Native Americans and First Nations people I met in Ft. Babine and elsewhere.
And I have chosen to listen. I have chosen to hear the simple message of a people who say, “We are still here.”
Today, at least the way I see it, Native American communities are the most oppressed, under-served, overlooked and victimized communities in the United States. This is not to be confused with them being weak. Statistically speaking I am all but certain that the most at-risk demographic in the United States are perhaps the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable: young Native American women.
These young women face the highest rates of preventable diseases, highest risks for sexual assaults, highest rates of suicide, high rates of addiction, high rates of cervical cancer (most likely due to the dumping of nuclear waste on Native American lands) highest rates of infant mortality and are five times more likely to die a violent death than any other demographic in the United States or Canada.
Believing in the God that I do, and choosing to remember and acknowledge these realities the bottom line is very simple.
The God of Israel demands justice for these young women and all Native American and First Nations people.
This is why I have decided to hone ever gift given to me by the Creator of this world and bring all that I am to Native American communities.
This is why Kevin Gonzaga exists.
I proceed with the humble recognition of knowing I am part of the dominant culture that has perpetrated most of these injustices. I go fully acknowledging my colonial and settler past. I am going to learn and to partner, not to save. I know there is only one savior of humanity, and whatever you think about that belief, I’m sure we can all agree I am not it.
To this end after recently finishing my Masters in Theology at Fuller Theological seminary, have chosen to apply to PhD programs in clinical psychology. I am looking to study under one of a handful of top-tier Native American psychologists and research indigenous, community and culturally based methods aimed at addressing issues relevant to Native American communities. Long-term I hope to be employed to work in Native American communities full-time, participating in an eclectic mix of advocacy, teaching, research, clinical practice, cultural revitalization and civic and spiritual leadership. If I end up staying in one area with one tribe or band I will learn the language and as much about the culture. I hope my future efforts will help alleviate issues facing Native American communities, as I work towards justice and peace in all ways possible, and be a true citizen of the people of Israel.
In all of this I am a realist enough to know that one person, no matter gifted or talented, will not be able to undo five hundred years of colonial oppression.
But I’m an idealist enough to try, and I encourage you to do the same.