Preparing a long-term strategy to support and protect Indigenous spirituality and rights around the world was the center of discussion for members of the Ecumenical Indigenous Peoples’ Networks Reference Group meeting June 24-27, 2019 in Hualien, Taiwan. The group is a subcommittee of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The Rev. Chebon Kernell, executive director of the Native American Comprehensive Plan, participated on behalf of the denomination and served as one of two North America representatives.
“Our goal as a committee is to create a strategy that will allow work with Indigenous communities to flourish and thrive through collaborative support from the World Council of Churches and ecumenical communities globally,” said Kernell.
For the first time, the Indigenous Peoples group met in a joint session with the WCC’s Working Group on Climate Change during the three-day meeting. In many cases, catastrophic climate events globally such as rising sea levels often impact Indigenous peoples first.
Kernell referenced the challenges facing members of the United Houma Nation who live on the Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. The island is sinking due to a combination of subsidence and rising sea levels. State officials are now working with residence of the island to leave their ancestral home and relocate an hour north to a new town. This will mark the first climate resettlement of its kind in the United States, according to state officials.
“Our Indigenous societies have been in existence for thousands of years without creating the trauma we are seeing today, so something must have worked,” said Kernell. “As the world learns to heed voices of Indigenous communities hopefully climate trauma can be avoided in the future.”
Learning to live in a healthy relationship with mother earth is key and the premise for guiding future work for the Reference Group.
Kernell says he also hopes the ideology becomes a part of United Methodist culture.
“I hope leaders with the denomination will begin to recognize the wisdom of our Indigenous communities and move toward aligning our policies within the Church more closely with the views of Native American and Indigenous peoples when it comes to protecting mother earth,” he said.
Kernell says the NACP has the opportunity to support this ideology by identifying critical areas of need for Indigenous peoples across the United States and North America.
The Indigenous Reference Group meets annually and will focus on crafting a comprehensive strategy to guide WCC work through 2029. The WCC has a longstanding commitment to work in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples with the priority of healing and transformation.