“I’m here to ask you actually to stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples, and with each other, and with all of creation.” 

This was Sarah Augustine’s, a Tewa (Pueblo) activist and author, call to action at convocation on Wednesday. 

Augustine is the Executive Director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima

Kittitas Counties, co-founder of Suriname Indigenous Health Fund and the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition.

She is also the author of “The Land Is Not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery.”

Augustine’s goal for convocation was to cultivate support for The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which is being challenged in the Supreme Court. ICWA establishes safeguards to protect Native American children from continued forced removal from their families, tribes and tribal culture. 

“I am an Indigenous woman … but I’m not a member of a Pueblo or a registered member of a tribe because of forced removal,” she said. “It’s important to understand that tribal designation is a political designation.” 

Augustine spoke about the consequences of forced removal through her experience: “I grew up in an environment of poverty and violence and chaos as a result of child’s removal.”

“I claim the lineage of my grandmother,” she said. “I’m proud to stand as a descendant of this woman, as a descendant of my father, a little innocent baby, who was taken away from that young woman, and put into a Catholic institution for all of his childhood.”

“The primary reason Native children were removed from their homes was neglect. And this was a code word for poverty. Because they were living in environments and in cultural settings that were not well understood by the dominant culture, they were considered to be inappropriate as an environment to raise a child, and these children were removed.” 

Augustine believes that the violation of the ICWA is a violation of tribal sovereignty. Indigenous people and allies from all over the country will show their support for ICWA this week on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

Emphasizing the timeliness of the issue, Augustine said: “We often think, ‘oh, yeah, that happened, you know, a long time ago.’ But it’s happening now. It continues to happen now; the effort to remove indigenous peoples from their lands is going on now.” 

Augustine received a standing ovation after she spoke. 

“I found Sarah’s speech to be so eloquently informative and powerful. Through sharing her story and history of the forced removal of Native children, she provides undeniable evidence of the continued erasure of Indigenous peoples,” said Brandon Jiménez, a senior peace, justice and conflict studies major. 

“For many of us who are Mexican or Brown Latines, our families were forced to migrate out of fear of insecurity or economic instability which is perpetuated by systems that were set in place since colonization. In this way, out of necessity, we too have been and continue to be displaced from our Native lands. I think it’s time for us Brown Latines to reclaim our indigeneity and stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples across Cemanahuac [America]. El pueblo unido jamás será vencido.” 

After the convocation, there was time for gathering and conversation in the Fellowship Hall. 

Jane Ross Richer, who helped organize the convocation, provided materials to make signs for a demonstration that followed on the lawn between the Church-Chapel and Main Street. 

Ross Richer knows Augustine from her work with the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition. 

“What I love about Sarah is that she never misses an opportunity to teach. Every moment is a teaching moment. She gives a radiant smile and then speaks the truth. I love that she always makes a point of being on the side of her Creator and all that has been created. She is on the side of life-giving systems and her work is to dismantle the systems of death” said Ross Richer. 

“When we stand together and stand up for children, who face removal without the protections that the Indian Child Welfare Act, you’re actually standing in solidarity with yourself, with your own community, with all of us in the human family and the family of creation,” said Augustine. 

On Thursday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. at Waterford Mennonite Church, Augustine will speak on “Gathering of the Repair Network for the Coalition for Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery.”