Oral Intervention of the General Board of Church and Society
of The United Methodist Church

Item 11 (e) Religious Intolerance

Submitted to the 55th Session of the UN Commission on Human
Rights Geneva Switzerland
April 13, 1999

Read by Liberato C. Bautista and Peggy Francis Scott

Dear Madam Chair:
I am speaking on behalf of the General Board of Church and Society of
The United Methodist Church. Our church has a long standing commitment
to and solidarity with Indigenous Peoples and against religious
intolerance.
It is our church's policy "to support the needs and aspirations of
America's native peoples as they struggle for their survival and the
maintenance of the integrity of their culture in a world intent upon
their assimilation, Westernization, and absorption of their lands and
the termination of their traditional ways of life" (1996 Book of
Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, p.181).

Ms. Peggy Francis Scott continues my statement:

The traditional Dineh living in Black Mesa, a remote region of
northeastern Arizona, in the United States are a spiritual people
whose identity, ways of being, and ways of knowing and doing are
intimately bound to the land. Dineh religiosity is inseparably bound
to the land. Every fabric of Dineh daily life is intrinsically woven
to this land and the earth.

We come before you as a people proud of our tradition and our
religiosity. But we also come with wounded souls and broken spirits.
Our religious identities and constructions are intimately tied to the
land we live on. When our land is wounded, our religion is wounded.
When our spirits are broken, our spirituality is broken.

Madam Chair,

The traditional Dineh welcomes the report of Mr. Abdelfattah Amor
[Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance on his visit to the
United States early last year (E/CN.4/1999/58/Add.1)]. Mr. Amor
inscribed in his report some of the hitherto unheard voices, pleas and
dreams of Indigenous Peoples of the world. His visit in Black Mesa is
historic and symbolic in that, at a low point in the struggle of our
people, he lifted our hopes, awakened our dreams, and lent an
understanding ear to our prophecies. But more remains to be said about
the Dineh situation.

Mr. Amor is on target in his observation that the jurisprudence of
the US Supreme Court points to "no enforceable safeguards for worship
at sacred sites" (52-55). In our case, Dineh sacred sites intermingle
with our homes, livestock, and farms. Today, more than 12,000 Dineh
have been relocated from their homes, plucked away from their
livelihood and their sacred ritual and burial sites. Our religion
binds us inseparably to our land which we believe is sacred. Coal
mining violates the integrity of our land and therefore tears apart
every fabric of our religious identity. The Navajo relocation program
instituted by the US government deprives our people of ancestral lands
and their inherent property rights. It also severs our sacred ties to
our land and denies us the venue to practice our religious ceremonies.
The unsustainable environmental practices of runaway multinational
mining corporations inflict environmental racism upon us. Current US
governmental laws such as the Native American Grave Protection and
Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the Antiquities Act remain to be
enforced.

Madam Chair,

The US government must recognize that no territorial settlement should
ever deprive Indigenous Peoples of their right to remain on their
traditional land or to practice their religion thereupon. Our land is
sacred and we do not believe it should be expropriated from us. The US
government cannot and must not subordinate our survival as a people to
economic interests whose dividends we do not partake from. The tribal
councils operate on behalf of these economic interests more than in
support of Indigenous Peoples interests.

Our religious ties to our land requires that we remain its
caretakers. This is the instruction given to us by our Creator. We do
not want US governmental laws to deny us our religiosity. We are a
people who wish to be in community with other peoples of the earth.
We wish to manage the bounty of our land for ourselves and our
children's use. We, much like you, wish for a good education and a
religiously tolerant world for our children.

We wish for a life in which we are able to sustain our livelihood and
practice our religiosity, in order to live in peace, dignity,
security, and harmony. How we use our land and grazing areas must be a
decision our people make. The barbed wire fencing of our lands forces
us to live as prisoners and trespassers on our own ancestral land.

Mr. Bautista will conclude this statement:

Madam Chair,

We wish to draw your attention to the reference in the Report about
the Dineh being a "small religious minority in a democracy shaped by
the will of the majority." Why was "religious minority" used in the
same sentence as "democracy"? The Dineh are part of the US democratic
process, that is clear. They could be described as a minority within
that majority. But what is meant by describing the Dineh as a
"religious minority?" We ask, a religious minority of what majority?
Who is the religious majority in the United States? This reference may
serve to further marginalize the Dineh.

The United Methodist Church prays for a rule of law for all
peoples based on respect for justice, human rights, religious freedom
and tolerance. We therefore lend our continued support in
strengthening the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Religious
Intolerance. We urge the Commission to mandate an extension of the
investigation of religious intolerance in the United States. In
addition, we support the recommendation of the Special Rapporteur to
change his title to Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or
Belief. We further support the call of our colleague indigenous NGOs
for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Human
Rights.

Thank you Madam Chair and distinguished delegates.

 

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