[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]
In this article, MCC Central States Indigenous Vision Circle coordinator Erica Littlewolf reflects on the past, present and future of MCC’s work with Indigenous peoples.
How has MCC’s work with Indigenous peoples in the United States (and on Turtle Island more broadly) changed over the decades? What, if anything, has remained constant?
I first heard of MCC while working through the MCC U.S. Summer Service program for four months (2000-2004) in my home community. I then began employment with MCC in 2007 with the Oglala Lakota Nation Service Unit located in Porcupine, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. At that time, MCC gave small community grants to local organizations doing decolonization work, while also addressing humanitarian needs in the community, such as by providing firewood to keep people warm during the winter months. In 2009, following a long discernment process with the Pine Ridge community and MCC, we decided we would remove the unit from the reservation and begin the Indigenous Visioning Circle. We envisioned the work moving from the micro-level, serving one community, to the macro-level, looking at systemic issues. We were encouraged by the community to utilize the resources and networks to which MCC has access, such as MCC’s offices in Washington, D.C., and at United Nations in New York.
I think MCC is beginning to see that change needs to happen systemically instead of viewing things as the “Indian problem” that needs to be fixed with social services. This shift has been happening gradually for many years—we can take part in this ongoing change. Everyone is necessary and the more creative we can be the better.
What lessons has MCC learned from its work with Indigenous nations? What have been key successes and failures?
I think it remains to be seen what MCC has learned from its work with Indigenous nations. I think when MCC has truly changed, MCC workers will see themselves as beneficiaries of wisdom and relationship, not just as part of an organization that gives. It will be more of a question of, “How has MCC changed because of this work?” meaning they have implemented their learnings and not just talked about having learned things. I also think that each interaction and relationship MCC has had, has currently or will have in the future with Indigenous people is a chance for MCC to learn and change. Whether an exchange is good or bad in the moment is irrelevant—more important is reflection on past actions for the sake of improved relationships in the future.
What is your vision for how MCC will work with Indigenous peoples in the future?
My vision for how MCC will work with Indigenous peoples in the future is relational. I dream that MCC will co-journey with Indigenous peoples in mutual relationships and that fostering right relationships will be at the heart of this work. I dream that MCC would recognize Indigenous peoples in the United States as sovereign, as if they are working with peoples from another country. I dream that MCC can see the damage of the Doctrine of Discovery, while also embracing the opportunity we presently have to work toward change. My hope is that MCC can take leadership from Indigenous people, yield power and control and see what can come of a new-old way of doing things. I dream that we can look beyond one-year or two-year plans and think of the seven generations in all that we do, that our actions may be bold, life-giving and give way to life for those yet to come.
Erica Littlewolf is the Indigenous Visioning Circle program coordinator with MCC Central States.
Theme issue on “Overcoming the Doctrine of Discovery.” Intersections: MCC Theory and Practice Quarterly. 6/1 (Winter 2018). Available at https://mcc.org/media/resources/7621.