The Merriam-Webster definition: A: a result of perceiving: observation (see perceive) B: a mental image: concept. Another definition: The process by which people translate sensory impressions into a coherent and unified view of the world around them. Perception may be thought of as the orientation of your internal state of mind.
On Saturday May 30th after a Mission Area Confirmation service, we came together for the Central Metro Mission Area Gathering. A Symposium was offered on The Doctrine of Discovery and the Trauma of Indian Boarding Schools. An exercise that forced one to rethink their historical perceptions was followed by concurrent workshops. It was a great turn out, even surprising, for a beautiful sunny Minnesota day; folks came from White Earth, Leech Lake and Cass Lake reservations, southeastern Minnesota, and the metro area was well represented with community folks that included the Director & CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society, Stephen Elliott, and the former Executive Director of the St. Paul Area Council of Churches, Tom Duke. CMMA faith communities were represented, our Bishop and all of the ECMN Missioners were there to support us, and all were warmly welcomed by the people of Saint Marks Episcopal Cathedral. St. Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN), had a wonderful exhibit on display that gave a graphic account of the legacy wrought by the Doctrine of Discovery as it pertains to art in our capitol; it included the artwork of students and their perception of this history. There was a nice diversity of participants. The CMMA team was very pleased with this gathering. Unfortunately, I had very little time that day to have a meaningful conversation with anyone or even to catch up with old friends, but I did take my own very unscientific survey. There was a black man who perceived that the presenters were leaving out the history of the enslaved Africans of this country and ignoring the recent documented murders of black men. There were those who had done extensive research and written papers about Native American culture who perceived that perhaps there was another view the presenters should have. There were several people who were hurt that Bishop Whipple was reported to be flawed. All other comments were very positive.
I was quite pleased with myself the next day, enjoying coffee and conversation after the 8am service, when called to assist the verger and a clergy person who were attempting to calm a volatile situation; a woman was placing all of the SPIN art display face down on tables. As she was wrongly taking this action, the SPIN exhibitor arrived; needless to say he was offended. Although she had been informed that the display was being reset that morning, she perceived that the SPIN art should not be there now, it was in her way because it was obscuring something of hers.
We managed to get her out of the area; the upset SPIN exhibitor commented to me ‘this is how they treat Native Americans’. He perceived the woman to be a bigot. I have perceived all of this from my cultural context and insight too. We all see things from our own perspective.
The Doctrine of Discovery is an abomination that has affected the entire world; an edict that declared that all Christian Europeans owned all that they ‘discovered’ and were superior to all other people. It is my perception that this is rooted in greed and racism. I have no issue with beginning our conversation through the lens of the indigenous people of this country. It is fitting that they lead the discussion about the condition in this hemisphere. If your ancestors came to this land on the Mayflower or were forced to these shores in chains, they were all immigrants in this country. The first peoples of the Americas were not discovered, they were never lost.
A recently confirmed discovery of a slave ship that sank off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa reminds us of the millions of Africans lost in the Middle Passage. This discovery gave me pause as I have been aboard ship traveling from the mainland at Cape Town to Robben Island; I have passed near if not over those lost ancestors four times. Yes, we need to discuss that despicable history too and the current murders of not only black men, but children and women. In our collective history there are many sins we all need to address and we will do that together. Somewhere I heard that “the truth will set you free;” let us not be so arrogant to believe that we know others’ truth. We do not. The woman who placed the SPIN art face down was wrong and apologized for her actions. She realized it wasn’t all about her and the SPIN exhibitor forgave her misguided actions.
“Unconscious perceptions govern many important decisions we make and have a profound effect on the lives of many people in many ways.” – Howard Ross.
This discussion within the Episcopal Church is in its infancy; please join us in remembering our collective past and telling the truth so we can move on with God’s grace to healing and reconciliation. Your next opportunity to educate yourself about the Doctrine of Discovery and Boarding School Trauma will be on July 18, 2015 from 10:30am–3pm. It is sponsored by ECMN, together with Dr. Erma Vizenor, Chairwoman of the White Earth Nation, at 777 South Casino Road, Mahnomen, MN. The keynote speaker will be Steve Newcomb, Co-Founder, Indigenous Law Institute and author of Pagans in the Promised Land.