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Acknowledging Our History

“Some may rightly say, ‘When the pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the church.’ I say this to you with regret: Many grave sins were committed against the Native people of America in the name of God. I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the Native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.” (Pope Francis, Bolivia, 2015)

Honoring Indigenous Roots

The global social movement and practice of restorative justice owes a great debt toward numerous Native American and other Indigenous peacemaking traditions. We humbly honor the many Indigenous teachers who have generously shared their knowledge and wisdom for the benefit of all peoples.

We recognize that knowledge has often been taken — along with land and other resources — without permission, in the aftermath of violence aimed at eradicating these very peoples’ cultures, traditions, relationships, and livelihoods. 

These are collective national harms and injustices deserving of cross-institutional truth-telling and reparative processes.

Remembering Ever Anew

Furthermore, Catholic institutions played a particular role in justifying, motivating, and actualizing this colonization in varied ways, most notably through Indigenous boarding schools and the enslavement of African peoples. 

As Catholics, engagement with restorative justice is an invitation to understand the extent of participation in these historical harms and how it shapes our identities, responsibilities, perspectives, relationships, and involvement. This work of healing alongside acknowledgment is complex and ongoing.

Native American Catholics will attest that it is possible and necessary to hold these identities, histories, and aims in tandem and in tension with one another. In doing so, an increased understanding of this history and a willingness to wrestle with it and guard against cultural appropriation are vital to authentic ministerial engagement with restorative justice efforts.



"Repairing Historical Harms" (Virtual Workshop from CMN's 2020 Conference on Restorative Justice.)


Reflection Questions

“We cannot allow present and future generations to lose the memory of what happened. It is a memory that ensures and encourages the building of a more fair and fraternal future. Neither must we forget the persecutions, the slave trade and the ethnic killings that continue in various countries, as well as the many other historical events that make us ashamed of our humanity. They need to be remembered, always and ever anew. We must never grow accustomed or inured to them.” (Pope Francis, "Fratelli Tutti," 248)

  • How can Catholic tradition, in pursuit of restorative justice and systemic change, better reckon with its historical participation in harms against Native Americans in the U.S.?

  • What are the implications of these complexities in my/our particular area of ministry?