2018. As an investigative journalist, I visited the Navajo Nation. I went under the aegis of the Presbyterian Church (USA), an institution I served for decades, one that still supports “missions” among the Diné.
A question with profound implications guided me. Given how white Christians historically savaged the Navajo—armed attacks, land stealing, forced relocation to Bosque Redondo, broken treaties, reeducation centers—had my denomination learned from its past? Or (inconceivably!) does it still engage in practices that disrespect the Diné’s indigenous identity?
You can read the article here (they sanitized it a bit). It grieved me that one of our supported pastors, a full-blooded Navajo, called traditional beliefs of his people “the work of the Devil.” A young Navajo Park Ranger at Canyon de Chelly put it succinctly as she spoke of Christians in her extended family.
“I have attended their memorial services,” she says, “where the message is loud and clear. Unless I follow this Jesus, I have no salvation on this earth and I’m not going to heaven. I cannot accept this kind of thinking!”
One afternoon, I drove out to Shiprock Peak. In Navajo its name is Tsé Bitʼaʼí, “rock with wings,” after a mythic bird that brought the Diné to their present lands. Along a lonely stretch of desert road, I came upon this deserted building.
Decolonize your mind! To the Dine, this injunction has power and immediacy, a call to resist the forces of European colonialism that are still aflame in white America. But it is also a phrase that challenges each of us.
Why? Because history is repeating itself in our troubled nation. There are still malignant outposts of racism, homophobia, sexism, and nationalism in our collective psyche. It is especially crucial for white people to understand the systemic biases of privilege and to join with others as we tear them down. Yes, tear them down!
But just watch how the colonial beasts rise up! Our own president stoking racial fears with his base, many of whom call themselves Christians. People waving confederate flags, blaming the victims of police brutality, or openly spreading messages of hate. Others who think they are tolerant, but who still trumpet American Exceptionalism and the monopoly of their own brand of faith.
Quite simply, our future is at stake. We must decolonize our minds.
If you are a Star Trek fan, you remember the chilling assimilation of Jean Luc Picard into the Borg Collective. This reasonable, compassionate, free-thinking human being—sworn to protect life throughout the galaxy—becomes Locutus, a cog in the Borg mind hive.
It’s an enduring metaphor, because all of us can succumb to group-think. It happens in American classrooms where history is taught from the perspective of oppressors. It happens every time the incessant ads of corporate America convince us to become more materialistic. It happens when any racial or homophobic slur goes by unchallenged. It happens every time a politician gets us to focus on an external “enemy” rather that the inner foe of our twisted thinking. It happens every Sunday as preachers in antiquated pulpits proclaim their truth as the only way. It happens when we toe party lines—right or left—without carefully examining every tenet.
Now, as always…now, more than ever…we must decolonize our minds. Replace hatred with love, privilege with partnership, intolerance with inclusion!
The Dalia Lama is right: “A spiritual practice is a constant battle within, replacing previous negative conditioning or habituation with new positive conditioning.”