Indigenous tribes

Another journalistic take on Brazilian tribes killing their young? Consider this cautious view

Another journalistic take on Brazilian tribes killing their young? Consider this cautious view

This post may -- but is by no means calculated -- to tick off some GetReligion readers.

That possibility is undoubtedly magnified by my taking an alternative position to one of last week’s most popular GR posts, one I believe was so well received because readers identified strongly with its moral point of view.

I’m referring to my colleague Julia Duin’s post on a Foreign Policy story about the Brazilian government’s efforts to outlaw infanticide as practiced by a handful of indigenous tribal groups.

This paragraph gets to the core of the debate tackled in the Foreign Policy piece:

The controversy over child killing has raised a fundamental question for Brazil — a vast country that is home to hundreds of protected tribes, many living in varying degrees of isolation: To what extent should the state interfere with customs that seem inhumane to the outside world but that indigenous peoples developed long ago as a means to ensure group survival in an unforgiving environment?

It comes as no surprise to me that Brazil’s burgeoning evangelical Protestant community is leading the legislative effort. It’s no surprise because as you’d expect, this comports with traditional Christianity’s reverence for human life.

Now, I'm not here to argue theology or public policy. Rather, there’s a journalism point to be made.

Specifically, it's about  journalists' ability to mentally and emotionally distance themselves from their core beliefs about religious and cultural mores long enough to intellectually grasp an alternative viewpoint that's very different than their own -- and even strikes them as appalling.

I'll say more about this a bit below. But first I think it's important to explain my biases.

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Doctrine of Discovery: Still relevant when covering Pope Francis' outreach to indigenous tribes

Doctrine of Discovery: Still relevant when covering Pope Francis' outreach to indigenous tribes

In both Chile and Peru last week, Pope Francis addressed the plight of those two nations’ indigenous tribes that have been on the losing end of interactions with European colonizers since the dawn of the Age of Discovery.

In Chile, he spoke about the Mapuche tribe’s struggle, which has turned violent at times, to gain back some of its ancestral land in that nation’s south. This Associated Press piece (published here as it appeared in the Seattle Times) provides the background necessary to understand the issue.

It was in Peru, however, where the pontiff’s words about the worsening plight of the Amazonian tribes, received greater media attention.

That’s due in part to his equal emphasis on the ever-increasing intrusion by miners, ranchers and others intent, often with government complicity, on exploiting the Amazon basin, the world’s largest tropical rain forest.

Given the Amazon’s critical role in the debate over climate change, any mention of it by Pope Francis is sure to draw headlines.

But I wonder: Why did I find no mention in the mainstream news reports I read about the papal trip of Rome's huge role in the early colonization of the tribes and their land? Why no mention of the, to me, confused status of the Doctrine of Discovery, the papal documents by which the Vatican first officially blessed the ruthless takeover of newly “discovered,” non-Christian lands and any of their inhabitants in the New World?

Because just as the church's sex abuse scandal won't disappear, Vatican relations with indigenous peoples can't fully heal until Pope Francis -- or some future pope -- confronts the lingering anger over the doctrine’s unilateral claim to lands inhabited by non-Christian tribes.

The doctrine, you may argue, has a confusing history dating from a premodern mindset. Nor can it's damage simply be reversed -- so why dwell on it?

Such an argument may be made. But so can an argument be made for its further debate. After all, other Christian churches and even bodies within the Catholic church have repudiated the doctrine or asked that Rome officially take that step.

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