The indigenous peoples and their descendants in America and in the entire world are the most ancient examples of civilisation. They have populated the earth for longer than anyone else, and their experience has made them wise people. The long process of these ancient civilisations has always been marked by the search of God.
Indigenous peoples forged spiritualities and deep religious beliefs whose process was interrupted by schemes imposed from the outside.
Achievements and defeats wrote the history of the Indian Americans, or ‘Indios’ and taught them important lessons that could turn out to be extremely useful, nowadays, also for the other brothers in faith.
Over the last 500 years, Indio Americans’ cultural and religious identity/otherness has been denied and trampled by several attempts of civilization by other peoples and by pastoral campaigns of the Christian Churches which, denied the diversity and the human, social and religious rights of these peoples who were considered as ‘savages or pagans’ that needed to be redeemed by progress or by the Christian God.
Today, these attitudes have been corrected and new forms of relationship with the native peoples have been implemented.
This change has been possible thanks to the new commitment and attitude of the dominant society as well as to the pressure made by indigenous peoples who have stood up for their rights and demanded respect and appreciation for their identities, and who claimed their right to build, in communion with the other inhabitants of the earth, their future according to their philosophy of life, theology and cultural anthropology.
Indigenous people in Churches and in the world
Until recently, native peoples, who are also called ‘Indios’ in the American continent were considered sort of second-class individuals by dominant society, including the Church. Indigenous peoples were given just the crumbs that fell from the table of the surrounding society, a table where the leaders of the Churches were also seated. Natives were not allowed to seat at the table along with the ‘adults’, since they were considered as children. The ‘adults’ decided what was best for them.
Nowadays, as a consequence of the stances taken by indigenous peoples and the new attitude by the pastors of the Christian Churches, the natives’ voice has gained official recognition. Aboriginal communities are becoming important actors and managers of change processes in society and in the Christian Churches. While in the past, after suffering imposition from the outside, we the natives, had to bear sorrow and defeats, as the great defender of the Indios, Brother Bartolomé de las Casas said; nowadays, we gather beautiful and fragrant flowers from the top of the several ‘Tepeyacs’ Hills where we live.
Our Indio theology and spirituality has brought valuable contribution even to the Christian Churches. Because, we the native peoples, besides being illustrious mathematicians, renowned experts of time and space, and skilled stone craftsmen, continue to be, first of all, worshipers and interlocutors of the true God that manifests Himself under different names and in different faces. We, the Aboriginal Peoples, do not speak about God, but we speak to God.
In recent years, Christian Churches have been gradually changing their attitudes towards indigenous peoples’ theology and ministry. There is nowadays a wide institutional presence of the Christian Churches in the autochthonous world, while it was absent in the past.
The major changes in attitude made by the Christian Churches consists in the understanding of the religious dimension of the Aboriginal Peoples, and their expressions of spirituality are now seen, by Churches, as ‘seeds of the Word’ that grow. There is, now, an institutional and permanent dialogue between the Christian Churches and the indigenous communities, which are not just beneficiaries anymore, but which have become protagonists. Furthermore, important improvement in the biblical translations has been made. The biblical texts have been translated and readapted by indigenous who were educated by Catholic priests. Descriptions of the rites of the sacraments of initiation of the faith and even those regarding the Eucharistic celebration have been translated into several native languages. It is also worthy of note that the number of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life among the indigenous people has shown a rise in several dioceses. (E.L.H.)