Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on American Indians
May 4, 1977

A summary and paraphrase by Gerald Darring

The building of community must be based upon respect four different people's traditions, customs, institutions and ways of life. Dialogue and respect for diversity can produce greater unity than conformity forged by dominance. Often in the past missionaries learned the Indian languages and adapted themselves to Indian cultures, but at other times the Church's efforts to promote the Gospel failed to respect Indian cultures. Our reflections in this statement are offered in the spirit of reconciliation.

Faith and Culture

The Church must proclaim that in Jesus Christ salvation is offered to everyone as a gift from God. The good news of salvation transcends cultural differences and other divisions and cannot be identified with any particular culture. At the same time, cultural institutions are important for our full development as persons. The Gospel message must therefore take root and grow within each culture, and the Christian faith should celebrate and strengthen the diversity of cultures.

The Church and Justice

The requirement to promote and defend human rights and human dignity is related to the church's mission of evangelization, for the Church has the duty to proclaim people's liberation. The Church must therefore seek greater justice for all people and cannot neglect violations of human rights resulting from realities that are incompatible with our faith, realities such as racism, poverty, poor housing, inadequate education and health care, widespread apathy and indifference and a lack of freedom.

The American Experience

American Catholics in particular should have an awareness of the need for change and dialogue in building a free and independent nation. We are challenged today to reflect upon past injustices and the need for both unity and diversity.

American Indians

The American Indian peoples migrated here long before the Europeans, developing over two hundred distinct languages and a variety of social, economic and political institutions. Their ways of life were challenged by a the European immigrants, and the story of building a nation in America has been a story filled with sorrow and death. Today American Indians belong to more than 250 tribes and bands but they comprise less than one percent of our total population. Many tribes live on reservation lands held in trust for them, and but many other tribes have been deprived of their communal lands. An increasing number of American Indians have migrated to cities, where they have often found new frustrations and broken dreams. They must contend with a sense of uprootedness, economic hardship and social prejudices. Today the American Indians are struggling to renew their special values and to achieve social justice without compromising their unique cultural identity. America must respond to these efforts if it wishes to be faithful to its national commitment and to contribute to a truly human future for all.

The Role of the Church

As individual Catholics and as a Church, we must promote and defend the human rights and dignity of all people. This means that we have a responsibility in to John in with the American Indians in their struggle to secure justice. In dialogue with them, we must increase our understanding of their needs, aspirations and values. There have already been many hopeful Catholic initiatives in this direction. Several dioceses have worked to improve the Church's ministry among American Indians, and we would like to see more efforts along these lines.

Government policy and legislation deserve our special attention because American Indians are vitally affected by them. We must examine these systems and policies in light of the Gospel and the Church's social teachings, and advocate resolution of treaty questions, protection of Indian land rights, better housing, education, and health care, and increased assistance so that American Indians can become politically and economically self-sufficient.

These efforts must take place within the context of a larger reflection that would include our liturgy, our social and educational services, and our use of property and facilities adjacent to Indian lands. Most importantly, we must try to develop Indian leadership within the Church and to make sure that American Indians have a voice in church decisions. We hope to fashion a renewed commitment of service to Indian peoples by drawing on two themes: faith and culture, and the Church and justice.