On Thursday morning, with my coffee warming my hands, I leaned forward while community and tribal members spoke their truth. I could hear the emotional urgency in their voices as they attempted to shorten years of hope and pain into their one-minute allotted time slot. As the California Parks Commission held this virtual meeting, I noticed a shift in each person’s posture. It was like, every time a community or tribal member spoke, the Commission seemed to engage differently, like they were being woven into the story.
This wasn’t simply an agenda item. This affected real people. And the Commission was invited to invest their personhood into this powerful story.
A little over a year ago, a group of Yurok tribal leaders, folks from True North Organizing, and a few white allies, had gathered together on Zoom to work towards changing the name of Patrick’s Point State Park to the indigenous and ancestral Yurok name of Sue-meg. They had sent a formal request to the State for an official name change.
There’s deep importance in a name. Names contain historic recognitions, cultural connections, communal meanings, and a heritage of significance.
This meeting held an opportunity to name and right historic wrongs while creating a new foundation to change names elsewhere. Some names carry the weight of past cruelty and deep injustice that becomes unintentionally celebrated every time a person speaks it out loud.
In regards to the Park, Irish settler Patrick Beegan, claimed that land as his. Stories tell of his murderous violence towards indigenous people where racism, greed, and power dictated and justified his behavior. To keep celebrating his name every time it’s spoken out, perpetuates a violent history against Native American peoples.
True North Executive Director and Karuk tribal member Terry Supahan, wrote how “being cognizant, present, and aware of our shared violent genocidal history, can help all of us to heal and can be a bridge to a stronger collective history.”
This is what it means to be human and to work for the common good. We must name and recognize our violent history and we must work towards repairing the wrongs.
I clicked “unmute” when the Commission called my name. Taking a shaky breath in, I shared part of this prayer for White Allies, in my one-minute allotted time:
Holy Creator who breathed all of life into existence and cares for the very soil we stand on today, when I look up to the hills and ask where my help, hope, and healing come from, I can trust it comes from you, the maker of heaven and earth. You placed the stars in the sky and you know them by name. You surveyed the land and the sea where no borders, walls, claims, or deeds ruled or reigned and you said it was good.
Holy Creator, we took what was good for all people and made it good for some people. People who look like me put up walls and staked claims. We traded souls for deeds, bodies for land, people for property. In your name, we colonized and took. We conquered and killed, heretically claiming it was in the name of God. We attempted at erasing everything that didn’t look pale or European enough, erasing tribal history, erasing children and women and culture until it was whitewashed and falsely renamed. Through genocide, we removed the Creator from the tribes because holiness couldn’t exist in nature. The sacred must be relegated and held in church buildings.
Oh Holy Creator, you built cathedrals in the trees. Your sanctuary was always across the land. The Spirit has long hovered over waters bringing forth an abundance of love. Your name has long been spoken over the land and into the soil, but we couldn’t hear it because it wasn’t white enough.
Forgive us for our fear, our pride, our arrogance and self-absorption that infects every encounter with someone different from us. Forgive us of our blaspheme of your name. Forgive us of our insecurity and hatred towards others and towards ourselves. Forgive us for the ways we’ve damaged the earth and poisoned the water.
Holy Creator, may our shame and white guilt no longer allow us the privilege of ignoring another’s pain or the pain of this planet. May we come with less answers, less pride, less power, and instead may we be better listeners and better allies for this holy work.
And may I finally believe the truth that nothing I have, nothing that I claim is “mine,” no deed, land, human being, or park belongs to me. May we all live open-handedly and humbly surrendered to your great love.
In the Giver of Life we pray,
The vote was unanimous and the Park’s name was changed.
Sum-meg State Park.
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Bethany Cseh is a pastor at Arcata United Methodist Church and Catalyst Church. She blogs frequently on her website, With Bethany.