We honor the past, present, and future of native peoples in Abya Yala
How often have we stopped to examine and marvel at the greatness of architecture, agriculture, and spiritualities practices in Abya Yala* before the “encounter”?
The bountiful nature of Abya Yala allows us, native peoples, to live in harmony with the extensive rivers, high mountains, beautiful deserts, enormous sequoias, and sprawling jungles. In the middle of this paradise, we learned to live in community, cultivate the land, and give thanks to the sun, moon, and rain for being part of the creation for thousands of years.
A millenary history of cosmovision and traditional practices were abruptly and brutally upended by the arrival of European colonizers over 530 years ago. This “encounter” was a ruthless, oppressive colonial regime that changed our ancestors’ way of life. The colonization process with the face of “salvation” and “civilization” would appear in the stories and memories of the original peoples as constant pain and as a cross to bear.
In the eyes of the European colonizers, our identities, languages, and spiritual practices needed to change, as we were seen as “uncivilized.” They forced assimilations into their languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French) and standardized forms of worship of God as they brought European Christianity as a formula of salvation. For native populations, adapting and assimilating were the only way to survive. At the same time, colonizers confiscated the land, enslaving native peoples to work in mining and cultivating the land ( for cotton, sugar, and cacao, among other export crops) so that European kingdoms could prosper. The original people were pushed to the peripheries of knowledge, without voice, and into the shadows of history.
Today, 530 years later, amid the magical realism of encounters of cultures about this date, we are encouraged by controlled history books and history classes to forget the true story of this genocide. Though it is painful, we need to recognize that being here is an act of courage and resistance during slavery, genocide, and the forced process of assimilation to which the native peoples have been subjected for centuries. We still suffer the consequences of these centuries of trauma and pain. A deep look at our roots, identities, and ancestral memories is so far questioned.
In the way of decolonization and liberation today, we remember and thank our grandmothers and grandfathers for keeping our history and ancestral memory alive. For the new generations, this is our most incredible legacy and heritage. We have a sacred task and an opportunity to honor our people’s past, present, and future. Our cultures, languages, and ancestral spiritualities must be recognized on this date.
*Abya Yala comes from the Guna language and means “land in full maturity and land of vital blood.” The Guna people inhabit the meeting points of the north and south geographically, and the use of their language symbolically represents the connectivity of the lands. In the 1970s, the term Abya Yala was adopted by many native activists, farmers, historians, politicians, and theologians as the unified name instead of using North America (primarily English speakers) and Latin America (predominantly Spanish and Portuguese speakers), which perpetuate colonial divisions.
She is a doctoral candidate in the Psychology of Religion at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). Yenny has a master’s degree in Public Theology (United States) and a master’s degree in International Cooperation (Spain). Degree in Psychology (Peru) and Degree in Theology (UBL, Costa Rica). She has worked with social movements, local churches, and regional governments to promote equity and inclusive education in Abya Yala. Founder and Director of PUBLICA. Ruling Elder in the PCUSA. Convener of Women Doing Theology in Abya Yala.