Broken in Our Attitude Toward Land and Those Who Dwell There

The Navaho and the Anglo look at land use and ownership in very different ways. Maybe it is best said indigenous peoples and Western civilization view this in very different ways, for this struggle is not limited to the United States. I will not try to make a case that either one is right or the other is wrong for much depends on one’s perspective. Again, it breaks down to our historic culture. The curse is not our difference but the failure to consider the difference or to force ones understanding upon another people.

Many visiting mission teams who see the “high desert” of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, which is the home of the Great Navaho Nation, often comment “I see why they gave them this”! It looks barren and dry to the Anglo, but this is home to the Navaho people and they know how to live here. (Read the 1868 treaty between the Navaho Tribe and the United States). For instance the average water usage in the U.S. is 80 to 100 gallons per person a day. In the Navaho Nation it is 10.

A story that might help bring insight to land use and our differences took place several years ago on a trip to some of our mid-west churches. One of the Navahos was along with us. After about the third church with an extensive campus of grass from around the building all the way to the hard road, the Navaho said to no one in particular “all this grass and no sheep”! Then later she said these “bushes and grass next to your church and house how do you ever keep the snakes and scorpions away”. I distinctly remember thinking, upon first arriving in the Southwest and seeing clear, hard packed dirt up against the houses, “these people are not property proud”. I failed to consider the cultural difference. When we do, we conclude “they” use land wrong.

The “Discovery Doctrine” has driven Western civilization to claim land belonging to sovereign foreign nations and indigenous people groups, often in the name of the church. This happened during the “age of discovery” all over the world. According to the Church, only non-Christian land could be colonized under the Discovery Doctrine.

Brothers and Sisters, all our homes, schools, roads, and yes, all our church houses are built on land that once belonged to indigenous people groups! This land has been acquired by force, false pretenses, outright fraud and yes in some cases by fair purchases or honorable treaty. None of us took part in the wrong, but we have all benefited by the moving of the markers (Deuteronomy 19:14) of the land God set these Native Americans to dwell upon (Acts 17:26).

I have heard James Manning Sr., a Native American himself, often preach of some of the things the Anglos have done to the Navaho People; the atrocities, stealing of land, removing the language and culture (Think boarding schools). However, James never ends such a message without saying, “We must thank them and God for, without these horrible things, we would not have our sweet Jesus!”

Lord, WE REPENT of making land more important than preaching the true Gospel. WE REPENT of not even realizing the casting aside, by our fathers, of some of your people. Lord, show us how to untangle this. Show us how to reconcile with our brothers, to make right.


2 thoughts on “Broken in Our Attitude Toward Land and Those Who Dwell There

  1. John – Thank you for sharing with us. We’re getting just a little glimpse of the immense amount that you must have learned along your journey there. Thank you for bringing some uncomfortable truths back to the front of our attention.

    I’d love to explore more deeply what we can do today about this reality, besides admitting where we’ve gone wrong.

  2. John this is a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. It is easy for US Americans to look at this culture as the norm and judge other cultures by ours. Just as people from other cultures see their culture as the norm. I have had the privilege of living outside of the US in non English speaking countries and my first reaction was “They don’t do it like we do it”.
    That is true but it doesn’t mean it is wrong–just different.
    We also tend to read the Bible with our cultural lenses on. Your post is a good reminder to change lenses.

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