The Original Post: Growing Up Native
A couple of days ago I posted about the reality of anti-Native prejudice, discussing a few of the ways it was persistent for me throughout my 18-years of growing up in Alaska (honestly, I could have continued into all my years since living elsewhere. It’s common.). Though it is obviously not a topic directly related to wine, I wrote about it here because of a more recent incident of anti-Native prejudice I found particularly upsetting, and also because I felt that with my having shared here my being from Alaska, and being Alaska Native there was some small room to discuss the issue on this blog at a time I felt it was important.
The incident that upset me was news that two Native women had been asked to leave a church in Anchorage, Alaska for their being Native. It was something that had been discussed in multiple places online, and particularly in Alaska Native discussion groups online. My own family had heard about it both online and from people sharing it with them in person, until eventually I read about the incident, heard about it from others, and shared it here too. My original post on the issue appears here: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/05/24/growing-up-native/
I am writing about it now because new information has appeared about the incident that would seem to change the details of the original story. The change raises ethical questions about how it is appropriate for the church, and the public to respond now that the story appears so differently. With that in mind, I want to apologize for sharing misinformation, and also take the time to talk through what I see as the ethical issues raised.
The Story Correction
Two women have stepped forward to offer a correction. They have stated that the original reporting on the above incident at First Presbyterian Church was inaccurate. Apparently, the error occurred in that they shared their experience in attending church with a few people that misunderstood what was being told to them. Those people then went on to share the misunderstood version with others, and it was then spread further. The story continued through multiple sources online, and eventually I also wrote about it here.
In my original post I spoke of a simple response to the situation–encouraging people to quietly attend the service in numbers so as to emphasize the idea that all are welcome. It has come to my attention that other people also organized a sit-in demonstration at the park across the street from First Presbyterian Church as a more vocal protest, and that numerous people have sent angry letters, emails, and voice mail messages to the church.
The church has so far responded to the public’s concerns with this reported incident by holding a special session with the women who stepped forward, leaders of the Native community, and leaders of First Presbyterian church. The purposes of the session were to determine what had actually occurred, and to discuss how best to respond publicly.
Having correct information about what actually occurred here is important, but it does not entirely resolve the issue of the public’s response.
In other words, there are two points operating here. One is that it is definitely unfortunate that this story, if untrue, was reported so publicly. There is no doubt about that. Because of the strong response to the story, however, the issue does not simply stop there.
The second point is that issues of anti-Native prejudice do occur, are real, and people responded to this particular incident, even if false, because versions of it are a common occurrence throughout Alaska and North America. To put it another way, if anti-Native prejudice simply did not occur it would have been impossible for anyone to be so upset about this particular incident. It would have been unrecognizable. But, unfortunately, the truth is, many people have been harmed by such treatment, and many people want such treatment to stop.
The Ethical Concerns
Let me also make what I think is another important distinction–answers to the question of what the church is to do. This is where we delve into the ethical questions of the situation. (As some of you know, I worked in Ethics in various capacities, including teaching it at the University level for the last six years, for the last decade.)
First of all, it is not the literal responsibility of anyone, or any institution to directly respond to fix something he, she, or it did not do. That is, according to the correction, First Presbyterian Church did not actually turn away two Native women visitors. Assuming that is true, they are not literally responsible for repairing a wrong, since they did not perform one. But, as already said, this situation is no longer only a question of what actually happened. The public has become upset over concerns of anti-Native prejudice in their communities, and more specifically at this particular church, and that would seem to now be the bigger question at hand. As a result, even without having asked for it, the church has been placed in a very public leadership role on the question of anti-Native prejudice, and of who is welcome in a church.
To put it more simply: It is important for a correction of the original incident to be issued, certainly. But, it is also important for the church to consider how it wants to address larger questions of community, and how it wants to exemplify healthy leadership. It is also valuable for the larger community, including all of us that have been upset by this issue, to consider how we want to move forward having reflected on our concerns with what appeared to be racism, unnecessary harm of others, and exclusion. This is an opportunity for the church to show what it means to act in and with grace, an opportunity still to emphasize the point that all are welcome. It is also an opportunity for any of us to consider how we would want to exemplify those same questions at a more personal level.
I apologize for my contribution to this misunderstanding by posting what appears now to be misinformation on the incident. May we all continue to move forward in grace.
A statement has been released from the women involved in the original incident, and the church, and Presbytery. The statement explains the details of the original incident and how the public misunderstanding occurred. You can read it here: