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The Romero Institute is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded in California in 1980. Our mission is to stand with the poor and oppressed and advocate for their rights through public education, grassroots organizing, leadership development, research, investigation, litigation, and public policy development.1 We take our name from Óscar Arnulfo Romero, a Catholic Archbishop in El Salvador. Initially a conservative supporter of the status quo, he came to realize that government-sponsored death squads in his country were killing and disappearing those who stood up for their rights.
Archbishop Romero began to give spiritual encouragement to his people. He also warned the Salvadoran government that they must not sacrifice children of God for economic and political gain. As his voice grew stronger, El Salvador's poor gathered strength and courage. On March 24, 1980, while delivering the Eucharist in a small hospital chapel, Romero was shot and killed. The day before his assassination he had delivered a sermon imploring El Salvador's soldiers to hear God's higher justice and disobey any order to violate human rights. In the weeks leading up to his death, as the threats against him were increasing, he responded to concerns for his safety by saying that "If I should die, I will rise in the spirit of my people."
Today, Óscar Romero is a beacon of justice and hope throughout the Americas to all who hunger for justice and dignity for the oppressed. The Romero Institute receives many appeals for help. In determining which projects to support we look for cases where injustice is severe and systemic; where the people lack the financial resources to secure help from others; where the problems will seemingly not be addressed by anyone else; and where the goals for change will impact large numbers of people on a local, state, national or global level.
In 2004 we were asked by several people to investigate the high levels of youth suicide in Lakota country, the disappearing of massive numbers of native children by South Dakota's State Department of Social Services, the over-drugging of children in foster care, and the continued taking of native lands, which when combined amount to a slow genocide of the Lakota people and their culture. We were astounded by what we found: seven of the 11 poorest counties in the entire United States are on Indian reservations in South Dakota; unemployment is over 85%; families are torn apart; cancer and diabetes are pandemic; drinking water is contaminated with uranium from government-licensed mines; education is poor; despair and hopelessness abound. But we were just as surprised to find that the caring spirit of the Lakota people is still intact.
The fact that the Lakota have survived the devastating Federal and State policies of the past 150 years is a testament to their phenomenal strength. For hundreds of years the Lakota lived in a spiritually-based culture and society. They strove to live in harmony with nature and embraced a sustainable economy. They treated their children as sacred, raising and educating them in a cohesive and stable circle of kinship. They were healers and herbalists. And their complex system of government was grounded in spiritual values.
One hundred fifty years ago our obsession with material possessions and development cost us our humanity with the native people. Now it is endangering the survival of the planet and the human species. As we stand on the brink of global environmental collapse, caused by the dominant culture's obsession with pillaging the Earth for its resources, we know that there is profound value in an indigenous worldview that seeks to live in harmony with Mother Nature and all living things.
The Romero Institute has chosen to stand with the Lakota and we are committed to work for a renewal of their people and culture. With the help of visionary and compassionate supporters we have made much progress toward this goal. Together we are addressing the systemic injustices that must be transformed in order for the Lakota people to survive and flourish. We are encouraging the dominant culture to let go of its selfish policies and to receive the gifts that come from embracing all people as children of God, endowed by their creator with inalienable rights and with gifts that contribute to the rich tapestry of life on this planet. Remember that even the horrific structure of South Africa's apartheid fell and was transformed into a democracy. If we join our minds, our hearts, and our resources together, the darkest human failure can be redeemed by the will of the people. We hope that you will join us in this endeavor.
For more information, contact us at:
The Romero Institute
740 Front St, Suite 265
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
As the Lakota say, we thank you with a warm heart and a firm handshake.
1. All public policy advocacy is conducted within the limits of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service Code.