Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has signed 17 new protocols recognizing the Native Americans of California as the "First People of the Land" and offering guidelines for pastoral service toward their communities.

"Today we commit ourselves to going forward on a path of mutual respect, recognition and dialogue," said Archbishop Gomez at a signing ceremony at the Museum and Cultural Center at Kuruvungna Springs last week.

"We honor the rich contributions that the 'first peoples' of the land have made to the Catholic Church from the beginning – here in Los Angeles and throughout the Americas."

The new protocols recognize the history of Native American communities in building up missions throughout the archdiocese. They also offer guidelines to welcome Native American communities, incorporate their indigenous perspectives, and respect their traditions.

"These protocols that we are signing today are not a treaty or a legal document. They are a promise. A promise that we will work together so that our future will be more hopeful than our past," Archbishop Gomez said.

Under the new protocols, liturgies, ceremonies, and celebrations in which Native Americans are formally and publically participating "may include a traditional blessing with sacred herb (sage, tobacco) by a member or members of the Native American tribe or band."

Liturgies incorporating Native American communities or traditions "may use as chalices and ciboria non-porous ceramic vessels specifically and solely reserved for liturgical use."

Authenticated Native American Indian burial sites are not to be used as construction sites by Church entities, the protocols state. In addition, when construction by a Church entity begins, "the ground breaking ceremony may include a traditional blessing of the site by a member of the local Native American tribe or band within whose traditional lands the new site is located."

The new protocols also state that local tribe leaders should be consulted to ensure that parish and school displays about Native Americans are accurate. They allow for Catholics who are direct descendants of Native Americans tribes to request "Catholic sacraments and services, notably baptism, confirmation, marriage and Christian burial, in the mission churches with which they are historically associated without having current membership in the local mission parish."

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The county of Los Angeles has the largest population of urban Native Americans in the United States, with over 150,000 self-identified urban Native Americans from more than 50 tribes.

"I am proud to stand with my brothers and sisters from the four Nations whose sacred homelands lie within the boundaries of what is today the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – the Chumash, the Tataviam, the Tongva, and the Acjachemen," Archbishop Gomez said.