In studying Bible commentaries, I came across a word “diaspora”. Historically, the word diaspora was used to describe the mass dispersion of a people from their original “indigenous” territories to different locations, in the Bible specifically the dispersion of Jews. That got me to wondering if this word “diaspora” could apply to Indigenous dispersal in North America.
Often “diaspora” is used to indicate a state of dispersal resulting from voluntary migration as with some emigration waves from the European continent to North America. In Indigenous dispersal, the term is laced with involuntary migration where there was violence and suffering.
Nearly one-third of the tribe interned there died of disease, exposure, and starvation.
In the Navajo Long Walk in the 1860s, more than 10,000 Navajos and Mescalero Apaches were forcibly marched to a desolate reservation in eastern New Mexico called Bosque Redondo. Nearly one-third of the tribe interned there died of disease, exposure, and starvation.
In 1956, the Canada federal government forced the relocation of the Sayisi Dene First Nation, 250 members, far away from their homes without their trapping supplies, to Churchill, Manitoba. In Churchill, many people suffered, died and experienced other losses and lived in deplorable conditions without heat, running water or proper sanitation. These events were an involuntary diaspora!
The term in the commentaries carried a sense of loss, as the dispersal of the Jewish population was caused by their loss of the promised land. To Western Christians, using the word diaspora meant the settling of the Jewish people outside of Palestine after the Babylonian exile thousands of years ago or expulsion of Jewish people from their homeland to Babylonia.
Native people have had a spiritual connection and powerful emotional connection to the land
Nonetheless, since recent times the concept has also been used in a positive way to refer to the colonization and manifest destiny of North America. For example the European emigration from the European continent to North America. However, I find that people in North America do not equate the Babylonian diaspora to Indigenous diaspora. Native people have had a spiritual connection and powerful emotional connection to the land in a similar way to the Jewish people.
As in the Jewish exile to Babylon the Indigenous experience, ‘diaspora’ carries a sense of betrayal, of broken treaties, loss of lands and culture. The U.S. and Canada federal governments implemented Indian removal policies in mid 1800s.
The policies forcibly relocated tribes to parcels of land to which they had no historical connection called reservations or reserves. Indigenous people see diaspora in the most egregious narratives that haunt North American stated public fundamentals of unlimited right to self-determination.
What must we do as Christian sojourners?
We see another diaspora happening even now for immigrants from North Africa and Latin American trying to move to Europe and American because of dwindling economic prospects and employment. Many people in the European and Latin American diaspora population labor to fit into European and American society, yet they no longer feel completely at home in their homeland.
What must we do as Christian sojourners? We must share our own stories and those of our lineages. To engage in compassion, we too should immerse ourselves in others narratives. We should seek out the tales of the oppressed sojourner, be an active and persistent searcher of their testimony and become an advocate for change.
Life on earth would never be the same
So, when was the first recorded diaspora? It is found in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve were the first diaspora couple, the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, their homeland and they were expelled from the garden and paradise was lost. As descendants of this changed Adam and Eve, we have this same disposition. Life on earth would never be the same. All of life became harsher and harder as they started their families outside of paradise.
As a result of this first diaspora, sin came into the world as an act of offence against God by despising his Christian biblical law, and by injuring others. This is true for the Jewish people, Indigenous people, and immigrants. People who are living on the earth in the present day are unable to find the homeland, kingdom, and the righteousness. God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness have been the hope of people who have lived throughout the millennia of history, and they remain our hope today.
We look forward to this hope; Jesus is the One who will return to vanish earth’s rebellious time and usher in His own eternal kingdom and homeland and by His salvation, diaspora is now and will be a homeland regained.
This post was written by Richard Silversmith and originally published on Do Justice