From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Ecumenical gathering looks at Native American spiritual heritage
01 Jun 1998 13:43:02
June 1, 1998 Contact: Thomas S. McAnally*(615)742-5470*Nashville,
By Robert Lear*
DENVER (UMNS) --- Looking to Native American spiritual heritage, about
50 persons from the United States and Canada joined May 28-30 in an
ecumenical effort to "move beyond the edges" of organized religious
"Indigenous people have an invaluable gift of spirituality to share with
the church, and we have tried many ways to be a vital part of the
church," said Anne Marshall, convener of the dialogue's planning
committee. "Yet, we remain in most part not utilized or, to say the
Marshall is an associate general secretary of the United Methodist
Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns which
sponsored the dialogue in cooperation with several other mainline
denominations, conciliar bodies and Roman Catholic units. About a third
of the participants from Christian and traditional groups were United
The sessions were a follow-up to a consultation held in April, 1997, in
Oklahoma City. Another dialogue is projected for September, l999.
Native Americans, the dialogue theme stated, can provide "a circle of
life in a square church."
Featured in major addresses on that theme were Native American spiritual
forebears such as Black Elk, a Roman Catholic Lakota; William Apess, a
Pequot and nineteenth century United Methodist minister in Connecticut
and Vine Deloria, Jr., a contemporary Native American leader and author.
Deloria, son of a Dakota Episcopalian missionary and priest, was
described as "an impassioned advocate" who provides a "distinctly
American critique" of organized religion. "He is widely respected as
one of the most important living Indian leaders," said James Treat, a
Muscogee who is assistant professor of American studies at the
University of New Mexico, and a collaborator with Deloria in writing and
Treat characterized Deloria's early writings as a "scathing critique" of
American society and government's relations with Native Americans.
Treat said Deloria's perspective is not necessarily the right one in
every instance, but is an important one that should be considered.
In all, Deloria has written 17 books. The latest volume, entitled For
This Land: Writings On Religion In America , is due to be published by
Routledge in November. It is a collection of Deloria's essays edited by
Recalling the spiritual heritage of Black Elk, Marie Terese Archambult,
a Denver-based Lakota scholar, teacher, author and Roman Catholic Sister
of St. Francis, said the Indian leader's spirituality has "taught me to
embrace the truth of my people no matter how heart-breaking."
Black Elk, she said, found ways in which the core of Christianity and
traditions of native ways intersect. "Ritual and ceremony were his home
territory," she asserted.
Discussing the life and work of William Apess, Robert Warrior, an Osage
and professor of English at Stanford University, said the story of the
Connecticut Pequot is testimony to the under-development of Native
American history and personalities. Although his life was "marked by
commitment to and love for Native American people," he generally is not
well known, even among Methodists.
"Native Americans have in reality had to reinvent the wheel (of their
history) in every generation," Warrior said.
The Rev. George E. Tinker, a Lutheran who is a member of the Osage and
Cherokee tribes and a professor at United Methodism's Iliff School of
Theology in Denver, said there is a need in the church to develop an
Indian understanding of Jesus.
"We've got some work to do sorting out what Jesus means to native
people," Tinker asserted. Early-day missionaries, he said, "left us
thinking Jesus is the only name that can heal"--that we must say "Jesus"
if "we are to be saved." Much of the teaching and practice of early
missionaries was in fact a way of keeping control of Native Americans,
He cited particularly teachings of hell and heaven, and original sin.
"The church has built a huge sandcastle out of original sin when there
is little foundation for it--another part of colonial control."
Looking to the future, the Rev. Paul Objibway, director of the Graymoor
Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute's Washington office, said the
21st century will be an "interfaith century." The challenge for North
America will be how to be more effective in relations between Christian
and traditional religions.
The church must look at where it meets society, Objibway said. "We may
have to look at the edges to find the middle."
A statement of findings from the dialogue is being prepared and will be
released as soon as it is completed, Marshall said.
# # #
*Lear, a freelance writer from Wernersville, Pa., is the retired
director of the Washington Office of United Methodist News Service.
United Methodist News Service
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