ATLANTA – The Atlanta-based General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church is dedicating its Oct. 12-14, 2018, board meeting to educating the 37 members about issues impacting Native peoples. The focus stems from the denomination’s 2012 Act of Repentance service, which called on all United Methodists to take steps toward healing relationships with indigenous peoples.
“The Act of Repentance has helped to awaken United Methodists to Native American ministries and encouraged them to take indigenous people seriously,” said Thomas Kemper, top executive of Global Ministries. “We want to deepen this movement with a visible acknowledgement of Native Americans and their concerns.”
When the board relocated from New York to Atlanta in 2016, the issue of Native mascots naturally arose, according to Kemper. Atlanta is the home of the Braves major league baseball team, and the name offends many Native Americans. The United Methodist Church has long supported resolutions to change such usage for sports teams, including a resolution asking that United Methodist meetings not be held in mascot cities; that resolution was adopted in 2004 but changed to remove the language in 2016.
Building a healthy relationship and educating the local community on Native issues has been a priority for Global Ministries leadership, said the Rev. Chebon Kernell, who oversees Native American and Indigenous Ministries at the board. He recently led a daylong meeting with the second-largest school system in Georgia.
“Many school systems do not have curriculum on Native Americans,” said Kernell. “We are working with the DeKalb Public Schools teachers and administrators to encourage them to enhance their curriculum about Native Americans.” A 2014 study on academic standards showed that 87 percent of history books in the U.S. portray Native Americans as a population existing before 1900. Because of this, the research found, many Americans don’t know or understand contemporary Native issues.
“While some people mistakenly believe that Native mascots are harmless or even respectful, the mascots actually represent a continued dehumanization of Native peoples and do real psychological harm to Native children,” said the Rev. Anita Phillips, executive director of the denomination’s Native American Comprehensive Plan. “It’s good to see [Global Ministries] take seriously its responsibility to indigenous peoples.”
Another important issue is the invisibility of Native peoples and their contributions in the larger society, according to Kernell. He said the city of Atlanta sits on the traditional homelands of the Creek Indians. The Creek Peachtree village was located near the Chattahoochee River and served as an important Native trading post.
“Part of normalizing our silence is pushing Native history to the wayside,” said Kernell. “We have to dig to find where our sites exist.” By 1823, the Creeks were forced from their territory, and the area became the property of the state of Georgia and home to white settlers.
Global Ministries board members will visit the Standing Peachtree village as part of their meeting to commemorate the site and to learn more about the role of Native people in this area of the country. Board members will also view a documentary on the Washington, D.C., football team and a presentation from the producer. A panel with Native scholars is also planned to discuss other contemporary Native issues.
Global Ministries added two Native Americans to its board for the 2016-20 quadrennium.
“This commitment and action by [Global Ministries] to include Native people and our issues in their board meeting is important, and it matters,” said Phillips. “We are six years after the Act of Repentance service, and only half of the annual conferences have taken steps to hold an Act of Repentance service. I don’t want The United Methodist Church consciousness to forget about us or the commitments that were made to us.”
By Raggatha Rain Calentine*
Prayers are important; yet, God calls us to action.
When our Native youth group, the Peg-Leg Flamingos, heard about immigrant children being taken from their families here in the United States, they got angry. In the news media, the youth witnessed children alone in caged cells. Their hearts hurt. You see, this group of youth has a unique understanding of what is taking place.
For several years, our ministry, has worked to educate our Native children and youth from the Northeast and North Central jurisdictions of The United Methodist Church about our history. In October 2014, we visited Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. From 1879 to 1918, more than 10,000 children from over 141 tribes attended this boarding school. Native students as young as 4 years old were forced to attend. The children were separated from their families and stripped of their culture and identity.
This government practice impacted generations and still has negative effects today. Our Native youth wept when they visited the children’s cemetery at the school. They held a special ceremony honoring those who died there. The youth promised to go back to their communities and tell the boarding school story. They promised to make some kind of difference in the world to honor children they never met.
They lived up to it.
Wearing ribbon skirts and tribal regalia, on one of the hottest days this summer, the youth marched. They joined the march in Dover, Delaware, to recognize the current travesty unfolding along our borders. They wanted to be seen standing in solidarity with children of the past and the present.
When you place people in a category such as “immigrant,” they change from human beings to something else. When this happens, it becomes easier to overlook their needs and their rights. It was a beautiful experience to watch our Native children remind the world that the children who have been separated from their families are not statistics. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are human beings who deserve better.
I fear we will continue to face challenging times. As a people who have survived some of the worst attacks on our culture by the U.S. government, we need to stand up and say, “Enough!” If you can’t march, donate money. If you can’t call your elected officials, send a letter. The point is to do something. Raise your voice and help stop history from repeating itself.
When children are ripped from their mothers and fathers, prayers are important, but so is action.
*Ragghi Rain Calentine is a member of the Indian Mission United Methodist Church, Millsboro, DE. She is a co-founder of the Peg-Leg Flamingo ministry. She is also a board member of the Native American Comprehensive Plan of The United Methodist Church.
By Bethany Printup-Davis*
U.S. government practices to separate families was wrong historically, and it is wrong today.
Beginning in the late 1800s, and for more than a century, federal and state governments forced tens of thousands of Native American children into Indian boarding schools. Children were taken from their families and forcibly assimilated into dominant white-American culture. This practice and policy left many children psychologically battered for the rest of their lives. We know from our Native communities today that a deep-seated, embedded trauma such as this leaves a people and culture devastated.
As part of my studies as a Master of Divinity student at Wesley Theological Seminary, I recently spent 10 days in the borderlands of Tucson, Arizona, including the border towns of Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta and Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora. I witnessed our courtrooms shuffle in and out people who entered the United States in search of safety and a means of survival. They came in hopes of building and, ultimately, praying for the chance at a better life. Upon hearing and seeing breaking news of migrating families separating children and parents at the border, adults pleading in courtrooms not to be deported or sentenced without knowing the whereabouts of their child, all I could do was sit and listen to stories and try not to seep into a sense of re-traumatization.
America continues to repeat its history.
After my visit to the borderlands, I return to my life with more questions than I had when I left. How can we live in a society and participate in a government that separates families – literally ripping children from parents’ arms? America continues to repeat its history. We are all children of Creator God. As Native peoples, I especially think this current concern of family separation is one of several for which I urge us to fight – to stand for mercy and justice and to promote solidarity and support for others who are impacted by current happenings at the border.
Many of us have heard the term “seventh generation.” I am familiar with this concept from my own social context as a descendant of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Nations and our Great Binding Law, the Iroquois Constitution: “We must consider the impact of the seventh generation … even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.” Many Native American nations and tribes and other indigenous people around the world have lived and still live by similar philosophies as well: “Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.”
We care for one another. We are conscious of how our choices today influence or set the stage for future generations. But just as important are the acknowledgement and lessons learned from generations that have come before us. How are we learning from the past? I believe one cannot simply forget it because, in my observation, we live in a country that has not learned. America continues to repeat its history. Let’s continue sharing our stories, our support and our love for others.
*Bethany Printup-Davis is a member of the Tuscarora Indian Nation located outside of Niagara Falls, New York. She is a Master of Divinity student at Wesley Theological Seminary and a member of the board of the Native American Comprehensive Plan.
During morning worship of the Minnesota Annual Conference session on June1, 2018, the Rev. Guy Sederski, co-chair of the Minnesota Conference Committee on Native American Ministries, shared how Native Americans can be Christian and still have their traditions.
The Minnesota Conference has been on a journey for several years to seek reconciliation with the Native American people of Minnesota. Part of this journey is to return the sacred Red Rock to the Dakotas people.