Compiled and edited by Jocabed Solano and Drew Jennings-Grisham
Indigenous women in Abya Yala and around the world live out their life path through the weaving of their wise ancestors who have left a legacy full of layers of wisdom as the Gunadule women say as they sew their molas. These languages are wrapped up in a way of living as a part of the earth, which we call Mother. The Ruah put her breath of life in the earth and the Indigenous peoples of the world have heard the voice of the Spirit in their own lives and life together with the community of creation.
Indigenous women’s struggles, laments, strength, resistance and proposals span millennia. Each stitch, each weaving, each song, the paths through the mountains, in canoes on rivers, lakes and seas of our beloved Abya Yala, all show us the wisdom of Indigenous women. The spirituality of Indigenous women who are going through life in the body of a woman and the body of the Earth, allows them to connect with the Ruah in the concrete spaces of life, in the song and reflections that they make daily on the path of life.
With thankfulness and joy, we share the sacred memories of our sisters through this project to get to know Indigenous Christian women theologians. This collection is just an initial step towards getting to know more Indigenous women who out of their identity as Indigenous women and their path as followers of Jesus show us their proposals for living for the global church. Some of them have studied formally at some institute, university or community of theological studies, but we believe that theology and theologizing are not limited to academic spaces; rather, it transcends these ways of understanding and doing theology. Thus in this small collection, you will find a diversity of ways that these women live out their theological task in their contexts. Each one has a story and way of understanding life and their faith that broadens our ways of knowing how the Ruah is weaving herself in the lives of these and many other Indigenous women in Abya Yala and other lands on this earth.
We invited each of these women to introduce themselves in their own way as Indigenous women theologians and then we asked them to share with us about what they believe to be the contribution of Indigenous women to the church, why they believe that it is important for us to listen to Indigenous women’s voices, and to share a dream that they have. If you would like to dialogue directly with any of these women, some have provided their contact information for you.
Sofía Chipana Quispe
Born in La Paz, Bolivia, Sofia describes herself as a theologian and researcher who for many years has woven her Christian faith out of her Aymara identity on the path of her ancestors. She has worked with networks dedicated to theological reflection and articulation of knowledges, wisdoms, and spiritualities and along with several others, she has worked on the Reading the Bible project organized by the Ecumenical Andean Institute of Theology (ISEAT) in La Paz. She studied at the Latin American Biblical University (Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana, UBL) in Costa Rica and is a member of the Community of Indigenous Wise Women and Theologians of Abya Yala and the Andean Theology Community of Peru, Argentina and Bolivia which fosters dialogue between Andean theology and Andean Christian theology at a grassroots community level. Two of her publications are Bible Interpretation: Today’s tools for exegesis and hermeneutics (2008, available in Spanish), and Apocalyptic: Stories for the recreation of life (2012, available in Spanish).
According to Sofia,
I feel that in our churches Indigenous women are still not taken into consideration because among the diversity of Christian denominations ancestral spiritualities are still seen as suspect. Thus we are often considered as needing direction towards becoming more “civilized,” leading us to leave behind our ancestral spiritualities that Indigenous women have creatively preserved for so long thanks to our resistance in the face of colonial impositions through education and religion, among other things.
Lately, from my position working to recreate urban Indigenous identity, I have been working to save the contributions of diverse communities of women that seek to recover ancestral memories, where women’s contact with their territories of origin is so important because it is in these spaces that they weave together their resistance based on their spiritualities that sustain their identities tied to the organization of their territories. Territories, we must remember, that are suffering the ever-increasing violence of the attack of extractivist projects which seek to expand their reach through our diverse territories at any cost. I also am listening to the diverse ways these women understand relationships based on their cosmogonies and cosmologies that go beyond binary gender categories in order to establish cosmic equilibrium.
In the location in space and time in which I walk, I am seeing how diverse knowledges are beginning to beautifully reemerge in the hands of women connected to their Indigenous roots. Women who remember their ancestral traditions, not just to repeat them but to recreate them in diverse spaces which creates connections with the new generations who are experiencing processes of cultural adaptation through the education system.
I dream of spaces where we can weave together knowleges, wisdoms, and ancestral spiritualities intersected by rich experiences sustained in a diversity of territorialities, with the aim of promoting a path for sharing with other wisdoms that have been thrown out and not considered as the wisdom that they are by the hegemony of the “one way of thinking.” I am talking about a deep way in which diverse practices connected to the cycles of the cosmos are recovered in order to offer other ways of organizing and relating to one another. In this way, we are open to dialogue with other peoples who, just as in Abya Yala, seek to give shape to their own ways of being in the cosmos, where life is not divided between good and bad, so that diverse ways of living well can arise from our diverse Indigenous worlds.
Brooke Prentis is an Aboriginal woman from the Waka Waka nation in the lands now commonly referred to as Australia. Born in Yindinji country (Cairnes, Australia) and currently living in Gadigal country (Sydney), Brooke is the CEO of Common Grace (www.commongrace.org.au), a growing movement of over 45,000 Australian Christians passionate about Jesus and Justice and she is the coordinator of the Grasstree Gathering (www.grasstreegathering.org.au), a growing network of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leaders from across Australia and across denominations.
Brooke became a pastor in 2012 without having received any formal theological training and suffered racism when she approached a theological college to study there which led her to not want to study theology. But when she was part of a conversation about bringing NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community to Australia in 2013 her interest in studying theology was reignited. She co-wrote her first theological paper (“Reconciliation without Repentance: The Politics and Theology of Postponement of Aboriginal Peoples’ Justice in Australia”) in 2016 which was presented at Global Network of Public Theology in Cape Town, South Africa. In 2017 she was part of the first cohort of NAIITS students in Australia and started her Masters of Theology, completing a Graduate Certificate in Theology. She has since written and co-written a number of theological papers, essays, articles, and blogs on topics such as “Reclaiming Community: Mission, Church and Aboriginal Wisdom,” and “Learning to be Guests of Ancient Hosts on Ancient Lands,” which have been presented internationally and in Australia.
According to Brooke,
Our pre-colonisation societies were based on living in peace and harmony as Creator-appointed stewards of all of creation. This included men and women. For far too long women of all cultural backgrounds have been kept out of the theological regime as have Indigenous peoples, therefore Indigenous women have important perspectives, voices, experiences, and revelations for God to contribute to the global church. In the lands now called Australia, Aboriginal men always refer to Aboriginal women as the backbone of our societies. I would love the global church to see the need for this backbone and to see how the global church and all peoples could be and would be strengthened by the Indigenous women who God has called into God’s service.
I have a dream to see an Australia built on truth, justice, love, and hope. Some people call this Reconciliation, some people call it Conciliation, but it is a dream for a different future for Indigenous peoples of Australia, non-Indigenous peoples of Australia and all of creation around the world. Aboriginal peoples suffer so many injustices including being the only Indigenous peoples in the Commonwealth without a Treaty or Treaties, the worst life expectancy gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in the world, the world’s highest rates of child suicide, poverty, and Aboriginal deaths in custody. My dream may seem an impossible dream but many generations of Aboriginal peoples before me have also carried this dream and I believe in a God who can make all things possible. Impossible dreams can become possible when the children of God of all cultures love each other and take action to end injustice.
A member of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, Cheryl is a multi-award winning singer/songwriter who shares stories of Indigenous life through story and song. She is a founding board member of NAIITS, an Indigenous learning community. She is also an Associate Professor at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. Cheryl has an earned Doctorate from The King’s University in Los Angeles where her doctoral work presents an approach to First Nations ministry from the foundations of Indigenous worldview and values. Cheryl’s work for the past twenty-seven years within the church and academic circles has been to educate non-Indigenous people about Indigenous worldview, culture, and values.
According to Cheryl,
Much work needs to be done to raise awareness of Indigenous perspectives on history, spirituality, culture, worldview and values. There is a great need for this because there is much misunderstanding, stereotyping and racism in our churches towards Indigenous people. Racism is a strong word, I know. There is simply no other way to describe accurately how badly our Indigenous brothers and sisters have been treated by non-Indigenous leadership. Many say, let’s focus on the good. Those days are past us now. We have to focus on justice for Indigenous in churches which include but do not stop at equality.
Most Christians in Canada and the USA place Indigenous ministry firmly in the multicultural or mission section. But this must change because we are the host people of the land and deserve honour and justice rather than being relegated to an interesting sideshow.
The past 27 years have not been easy. There is much resistance to reconciliation because, truth, justice and reconciliation not only must extend to Indigenous people but also to their traditional territory. Making things right extends to the land.
The focus these days is on reconciliation between people groups, especially here in Canada. This is because of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which came after the Indian Residential School settlement in 2007, the largest class-action suit in Canadian history.
The church should be leading discussions on justice and reconciliation because our entire faith is based on reconciliation. God has reconciled us and therefore calls us to walk together in unity and faith. Instead, the history of the church in North, Central and South America has been one of subjugation, dominance, and even white supremacy. The only thing that can change this is the truth spoken, and too often silenced, by Christian Indigenous leaders.
Erlini Tola Medina (Erlini Chové)
Born in the small town of Teoponte in the region where the Andes meet the Amazon north of La Paz, Bolivia, Erlini is of Quechua ancestry and Leco culturally. She now lives in La Paz where she wears many hats: theologian, visual artist, illustrator, popular educator, Singer and arts workshop coordinator. Her passion for the arts and education has led her to opportunities such as directing the “Yatiyawi” Living Interactive Museum, the elaboration of murals for evangelical and Catholic churches, doing community and individual expositions, being a promotor of didactic education based on play and alternative education, elaborating popular and Christian education materials and other materials for literacy, and doing design and graphic productions.
According to Erlini,
I am from the Quechua and Leco nations. Coming to terms with this feeling in myself is vital for me today. It was always present but in a more intuitive way like a whisper which I would describe in more visual terms as a distorted image. Certain structural crises invited me to “see” or “recognize” more dignifying dialogues within myself which emerged from more of my own millenary spirituality—a spirituality of resistance, transformation and healing.
Art, as well as Theology, are bridges that permit me to develop that internal dialogue and to recreate new languages and images, opening paths where there does not seem to be a way. Here I find diverse worlds of conscious transformation and beings passionate for life and energy. To open a new space and time within this time is like an existential dislocation in order to then imagine, believe, create, and out of those new impulses to live new realities that respect the natural cycles of life and the continual and eternal return to life. The painting pictured are examples of that process: “Daughter of Eve: A Tribute to Suffering” and Ayra: A Return to Being.
The majority of the population in my country identifies as Indigenous and in the churches, the members are also from this majority Indigenous population or of Indigenous roots. And of this church population, the majority are Indigenous women. If we speak of Indigenous Christian women in the churches, we can see that after centuries of the imposition of “Christian” culture we women have our own way of living and expressing ourselves and testifying. The presence and contribution of these women are often through service-based assistance, caring for the welfare of family and community members in ways that are reflected within the church in their division of roles.
Diversity in the community brings balance and generates conditions for life in harmony and with justice (kingdom of God). And it is never reduced to a single way of thinking—we must listen to other voices that have been silenced. We are witnesses to a time in which we live with a system of beliefs, absolutisms and mental colonization and with masculine religions that challenge us to effect transcendental changes.
So Indigenous women possess and cherish the sacred in life, rooted in memory. Their contribution comes from the use of their own languages that recreate time, ancestral weaving, the sewing of seed and elaboration of food as part of ritual life, their ancestral body of knowledge in integral connection with life, honouring life with life. We are subjects of transformation and possess our own ways of knowing since time immemorial, and we can still dialogue with these feelings in the movement towards a more well-balanced life together among all beings in our species and other non-human beings and with the cosmos.
Juana Luisa Condori Quispe
Juana Luiza Condori Quispe is Aymara, born in Chirapaca, La Paz, Bolivia. She studied anthropology and cultural studies at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (La Paz, Bolivia) and the University of Arizona. These past few years through her work with different public and private organizations she has dedicated herself to the recovery of literature written by Aymara academics, the revitalization of the Aymara language, and women’s empowerment in the areas of justice, self-management of development and communitarian political life. Today she is the coordinator of Memoria Indígena in Bolivia and a researcher for the Andean Oral History Workshop (THOA) which focuses on the collecting Aymara oral and written archives that speak about the history of the guardian chiefs (Caciques apoderados – refers to an organized movement of Andean Indigenous leaders in Bolivia in the first half of the 20th century who fought for land sovereignty) in Bolivia to build up a body of local memory of the historical character of the relationship, resistance and liberation. Juana also studied intercultural theology at the Andean Ecumenical Institute for Theology (ISEAT). She seeks to practice and add value to theology from the context of the Aymara woman in her home, community, field, weaving and language.
According to Juana,
In La Paz, in the churches of the provinces, I can tell you that the churches are full of women. Recently I have been accompanying a community where they always emphasize that we are just women here. Having observed this I realized that the “low visibility” of these women is also somewhat associated with the private world where the dominant society has relegated them, imposed on them in a way. It is that private world that has to do simply with reproduction, being at home, caring for the family, perhaps occupying tasks that are more linked to our local place, to the land. But it is in this space that we do theology. Our women theologians are not theologians in the sense of their academic training that has to do with the narrow idea of theology as a science, but rather they are theologians from the experience of being human, of being women, out of the chacha, the warmi of our communities (Chacha-warmi: literally man-woman, reflects the Andean code of conduct based on the principle of duality and complementarity for balance in the community), out of that living and lived relationship with God in daily life.
From our lived experience I can tell you that we women are carriers of a unique sensibility in the field of faith. But as far as the work of making the Indigenous woman and her experience with God in her community visible, or not, I think that often they are not so interested in “being made visible.” Her faith, her theology is lived, it is an issue of the heart that is made manifest simply through her daily life in relation to her neighbor and the place she inhabits. So for these women, there is no general worry about the place of the woman in society, and they don’t feel the need to seek out a group of colleagues with whom they can share their ideas and theories. In fact, I believe that is a very Western concept.
That is why instead of speaking of doing theology as the formation of a group of colleagues for theoretical discussion, I want to speak to these women that daily communicate through their feelings, their experiences, their deep spirituality. They are like support and the strength for the transformation of the community and the family. So in that sense, we see many women theologians that in their praxis can really teach us a lot about the meaning of our connection with the earth, the community and the family. But it is not an issue of raising awareness of them, rather it is about going and sharing life with them.
María Patricia Coronado Sauna
Patricia is a woman from the Wiwa nation, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in northern Colombia. She grew up in the village of Bunkua Gemakungui, a community the seeks to conserve Wiwa traditions faithful to Wiwa principles and thinking. Today she lives a two-hour walk from Bunkua Gemakungui in the town of Atanquez within a Kankuamo indigenous reserve.
Patricia is a theologian in the sense that Juana describes above– her theology flows out of the way she cares for her community and from her weaving. With her husband Julian, she raises 6 children (Sezhawimako, Euclides, Ena Maria, Euma, Awitshama y Shiblekan), but her family is much larger than this because for the last 5 years Patricia and Julian have led a beautiful community vision called the Casa Wiwa (Wiwa House). The Casa Wiwa is a space to dialogue with Christian tradition from a place of Wiwa ways of thinking, where we can listen to Christian thought in an effort to live together well in our diversity.
According to Patricia,
In the Casa Wiwa, we hold workshops, we sing songs, we tell ancestral stories, we learn and teach through alphabetization workshops in our own language, and we spend the night conversing around the fire, all with a focus on the conservation of our Wiwa culture. The gospel is not a doctrine that replaces cultures that are part of God’s own design, rather the gospel dignifies and is a guarantor of the integral preservation of our Native cultures.
One time in one of our gatherings, I heard someone say, “One time in my community they asked me: ‘what does the church have to offer us, how does it help us?’” In other words, they want to see what we Christians do, or what we do not do, in our communities. They teach about love, but we do not see that love. They speak of unity, but they only bring more divisions because each denomination has their own thing going on and they each want us in their camp, which causes confusion. God taught us to love our neighbors, but here in the church they teach us to speak evil of our elders.
The history of evangelization in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains shows us there is a total absence of a place of encounter to dialogue about spirituality. The church has never wanted to listen to our elders nor their way of transmitting cultural values from one generation to another which has been key to our continued existence as Wiwa today. The Casa Wiwa is without a doubt a process which has invited us to rethink many things related to the way of understanding our culture and Christian faith.
The convergence of my faith and culture begins in my weavings. The bag made by us Wiwa women is not a commercial product, rather it is woven for the use of our closest family such as our spouse, children, father, father-in-law, etc. The sagas (Women elders who carry the wisdom of our community) taught me, “When you are weaving a bag for your husband or your father you should always set your mind on good things so that things go well with them, so that their work goes well so that their minds are filled with good thoughts.” Each bag is a woven prayer. I would like to teach my daughters and other women about why we should continue weaving, for the permanence of our Wiwa culture and in this way we express our thoughts and feelings.
Voice of the Indigenous Woman
Jocabed R. Solano M.
(Translation by Drew Jennings-Grisham)
Voice of the Indigenous woman heard in the rivers, lakes, seas, and forests.
Voice of the Indigenous woman that cries out together with Mother Earth. In defence of her body, the body of Mother Earth.
Voice of the Indigenous woman that bleeds together with the pains of the Land of Nabgwana (Heart of Mother and Father).
Voice of the Indigenous woman that sings with sister bird and her song teaches us the wisdom of her ancestors.
Voice of the Indigenous woman that dances together with the fire and the fire gives her energy to fight.
Voice of the Indigenous woman who in the whispering of the wind sends messages of the struggle for the Earth.
Voice of the Indigenous woman that sings to Mother Earth.
Voices of Indigenous women singing to the Ruah and from her they receive the grace to resist in order to live well in the community.
Voice of the Indigenous woman who dances, sings, whose voice of struggle shakes Abya Yala.
Voice, voices of Indigenous women that unite with water, wind, land, fire.
They join together with Mother Earth waiting for this new dawn of liberation for all Indigenous women of the world. Voices of Indigenous women singing with the Creator of their hope for all Abya Yala.