A Petition for Redress of Grievances
by Otter G'Zell
In 1987 a remarkable document was presented to Native
Americans. Titled "A Public Declaration to theTribal Councils and
Traditional Spiritual Leaders of theIndian and Eskimo Peoples of the
Pacific Northwest," this statement was signed by Bishops,
Archbishops and Executive Ministers representing ten major Christian
denominations, including Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopals, Roman
Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists and the United Church of Christ.
Addressed to "Dear Brothers and Sisters," the declaration proceeded
This is a formal apology on behalf of our churches for their long-
standing participation in the destruction of traditional Native
American spiritual practices. We call upon our people for recognition
of and respect for your traditional ways of life and for protection of
your sacred places and ceremonial objects. We have frequently been
unconscious and insensitive and not come to your aid when you have
been victimized by unjust Federal policies and practices. In many
other circumstances we reflected the rampant racism and prejudice of
the dominant culture with which we too willingly identified. During
this 200th Anniversary year of the United States Constitution we, as
leaders of our churches in the Pacific Northwest, extend our apology.
We ask for your forgiveness and blessing. As the Creator continues to
renew the earth, the plants, the animals and all living things, we call
upon the people of our denominations and fellowships to a
committment of mutual support in your efforts to reclaim and protect
the legacy of your own traditional spiritual teachings. To that end we
pledge our support and assistance in upholding the American
Religious Freedom Act (P.L. 95-134, 1978) and within that legal
precedent affirm the following: (1) The rights of the Native Peoples to
practice and participate in traditional ceremonies and rituals with the
same protection offered to all religions under the Constitution. (2)
Access to and protection of sacred sites and public lands for
ceremonial purposes. (3) The use of religious symbols (feathers,
tobacco, sweet grass, bone, etc.) for use in traditional ceremonies and
rituals. The spiritual power of the land and the ancient wisdom of your
indigenous religions can be, we believe, great gifts to the Christian
churches. We offer our commitment to support you in the righting of
previous wrongs: to protect your people's efforts to enhance Native
spiritual teachings; to encourage the members of our churches to stand
in solidarity with you on these important religious issues; to provide
advocacy and mediation, when appropriate, for ongoing negotiations
with State agencies and Federal officials regarding these matters. May
the promises of this day go on public record with all the congregations
of our commumnions and be communicated to the Native American
Peoples of the Pacific Northwest. May the God of Abraham and
Sarah, and the Spirit who lives in both the cedar and Salmon People,
be honored and celebrated. As we cheered the publication of this
formal declaration of apology to the indigenous people of the
American Pacific Northwest, some of us could not help but think how
nice it would be to have a similar declaration made by these churches
to the practitioners of the indigenous religions of Europe, which is to
say, Pagans. Much of what was said in that statement would be
equally applicable to us, for our temples, groves, libraries and peoples
were systematically demolished and burned as official policy by the
dominant Christian churches of Medieval and Renaissance Europe.
We continue being hounded to this very day, suffering discrimination,
persecution and harassment in numerous ways in the name of
Christianity. Today there is a growing fundamentalist movement afoot
called "Christian Reconstructionism." Their stated purpose is to take
over our government and impose Biblical law as the law of the land!
But at that time acknowledgement of wrongdoing by Christian
leaders, especially those of the Roman Catholic Church_whose
Inquisition, administered by the Dominican Order, engaged in the
brutal torture and murder of millions of our people_seemed a remote
dream. Then I received another remarkable report, this one from the
Los Angeles Times, dated Wednesday, Dec. 19, 1990, written by
William D. Montalbano, Times Staff Writer. It was titled "Pope
Assails Totalitarianism, Intolerance."
Proclaiming freedom of conscience as mankind's "inalienable
right," Pope John Paul II on Tuesday scored totalitarianism and
intolerance and called religious fundamentalists a threat to world
The 70-year-old pontiff returned to the theme of human rights for
the third consecutive year in his message for the Roman Catholic
Church's World Day of Peace on Jan. 1.
Entitled "If You Want Peace, Respect the Conscience of Every
Person," the 6,000-word message urges world governments to respect
the rights of minorities and to allow individuals to freely pursue their
"People must not attempt to impose their own 'truth' on others,"
the Pope said. "The right to profess the truth must always be upheld,
but not in a way that involves contempt for those who may think
differently. Truth imposes itself solely by the force of its own truth.
"Unfortunately," John Paul noted, "we are still witnessing
attempts to impose a particular idea on others, either directly_by a
proselytism which relies on means which are truly coercive_or
indirectly, by the denial of certain civil or political rights."
Published Tuesday at the Vatican in Italian, French,, English,
Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and Arabic, the papal appeal will be
distributed to governments around the world and read out in Catholic
churches on New Year's Day.
John Paul defended "the inalienable right to follow one's
conscience and to profess and practice one's own faith," warning that
those who violate such a fundamental human right risk causing
"strained and hostile relations within society or even...open conflict."
"A serious threat to peace is imposed by intolerance, which
manifests itself in the denial of freedom of conscience to others. The
excesses to which intolerance can lead us has been one of history's
most painful lessons."
Without naming them specifically, the Pope attacked
governments and societies that ban religious practices_a reference to
totalitarian Marxist states_and those that impose a single religion_a
reference to countries in which Muslim fundamentalism is the ruling
When religious law becomes synonymous with civil law, the
Pope warned, it "can stifle religious freedom, even going so far as to
restrict or deny other inalienable human rights."
"Intolerance can also result from the recurring temptation to
fundamentalism, which easily leads to serious abuses, such as the
radical suppression of all public manifestations of diversity, or even
the outright denial of freedom of expression," John Paul said.
Calling religion "a powerful force for liberation," he warned that
attempts to suppress it risk "fueling open or latent rebellion."
He insisted that individuals must have the right to choose their
own religion. Citing excesses in the history of his own church, he
asserted that "no one ought to be compelled to believe" and noted that
"even today much remains to be done to overcome religious
intolerance which in different parts of the world is connected with the
oppression of minorities."
Peace-threatening intolerance is born, John Paul said, when
individuals or minorities "are oppressed or relegated to the margins of
society. In public life, intolerance leaves no room for a plurality of
political or social opinions, and thus imposes a monolithic vision of
civil and cultural life."
This year is the 300th anniversary of the infamous Salem Witch
Trials, in which 20 innocent people were executed on charges of
Witchcraft. (Interestingly, 1992 is also the 50th anniversary of Hitler's
declaration of "The Final Solution"_total genocide_to "the Jewish
Problem," initiating the only other holocaust to compare with the
Burning Times.) Such slogans as "No More Witch Trials!" and "Never
Again the Burning!," long voiced in the Pagan community, are now
appearing in media interviews with various Pagans.
I believe we have reached an historic moment, in which for the
first time some of the most powerful churches in Christiandom,
including the monolithic Church of Rome, may at last be ready to
acknowledge and redress the evil oppression they have inflicted upon
the Pagan peoples the world over. The process of reconciliation
requires three phases from the perpetrators of an injustice: First, their
acknowledgement that a wrong has been committed. Second, their
sincere apology and assurance that it will never happen again. And
third, restitution to the victims of the injustice. The churches'
declaration of apology to the Native Americans and the Pope's 1991
World Day of Peace message are strong indicators that such a
reconciliation may now be possible. But this will happen only if we
Pagans bring this issue to the attention of the same Christian officials
who issued this earlier statement. This is one of the many reasons we
need a unifying body such as the Universal Federation of Pagans with
Pagan delegates authorized by our community to deliver our petition
We need not think we are alone in this. We have allies in
respected Christian authorities who know us and are committed to
justice. People such as Rev. J. Gordon Melton, Methodist minister and
director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa
Barbara, California. Rev. Matthew Fox, a Dominican priest (the same
order which waged the Inquisition) and director of the Institute in
Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names College in Oakland,
California. (Starhawk is on Fox's staff! ) I suggest we appeal to these
people to help draft a statement similar to the one presented to the
Indians, and sponsor its passage through channels to the appropriate
authorities. I want to see it signed by Pope John Paul II himself!
For our part, we Pagans must be willing to accept such an
apology and embrace reconciliation with the assurance of peace by an
end to this holy war. We must be able to offer forgiveness (though not
forgetfullness!) for the crimes of their ancestors against ours. Only
then will we truly be able to close the book on our Pagan Holocaust.