Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Leadership Journal, Summer 2005
The Campus Confession Booth
What I considered a horrible idea turned into a moment of transformation.
by Donald Miller
Don Miller was a student and campus ministry leader at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, a decidely secular and highly intellectual place that Princeton Review named "the college where students are most likely to ignore God." In his book Blue Like Jazz (Nelson, 2003), Miller tells of an unlikely event that introduced him to the mysteries of spiritual transformation.
Each year at Reed they have a renaissance festival called Ren Fayre. They shut down the campus so students can party. Security keeps the authorities away, and everybody gets pretty drunk and high, and some people get naked. The school brings in White Bird, a medical unit that specializes in treating bad drug trips. The students create special lounges with black lights and television screens to enhance their mushroom trips.
Some of the Christian students in our little group decided this was a good place to come out of the closet, letting everybody know there were a few Christians on campus. Tony the Beat Poet and I were sitting around in my room one afternoon talking about what to do, how to explain who we were to a group of students who, in the past, had expressed hostility toward Christians.
I said we should build a confession booth in the middle of campus and paint a sign on it that said "Confess your sins." I said this because I knew a lot of people would be sinning, and Christian spirituality begins by confessing our sins and repenting. I also said it as a joke. But Tony thought it was brilliant. He sat there on my couch with his mind in the clouds, and he was scaring the crap out of me because, for a second, then for a minute, I actually believed he wanted to do it.
"Tony," I said very gently.
"What?" he said, with a blank stare at the opposite wall.
"We are not going to do this," I told him. He moved his gaze down the wall and directly into my eyes. A smile came across his face.
"Oh, we are, Don. We certainly are. We are going to build a confession booth!"
We met in Commons—Penny, Nadine, Mitch, Iven, Tony, and I. Tony said I had an idea. They looked at me. I told them that Tony was lying and I didn't have an idea at all. They looked at Tony. Tony gave me a dirty look and told me to tell them the idea. I told them I had a stupid idea that we couldn't do without getting attacked. They leaned in. I told them that we should build a confession booth in the middle of campus and paint a sign on it that said "Confess your sins." Penny put her hands over her mouth. Nadine smiled. Iven laughed. Mitch started drawing the designs for the booth on a napkin. Tony nodded his head. I wet my pants.
"They may very well burn it down," Nadine said.
"I will build a trapdoor," Mitch said with his finger in the air. "I like it, Don." Iven patted me on the back.
"I don't want anything to do with it," Penny said.
"Neither do I," I told her.
"Okay, you guys." Tony gathered everybody's attention. "Here's the catch." He leaned in a little. "We are not actually going to accept confessions." We all looked at him in confusion.
He continued, "We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them."
All of us sat there in silence because it was obvious that something beautiful and true had hit the table with a thud. We all thought it was a great idea, and we could see it in each other's eyes. It would feel so good to apologize, to apologize for the Crusades, for Columbus and the genocide committed in the Bahamas in the name of God, apologize for the missionaries who landed in Mexico and came up through the West slaughtering Indians in the name of Christ.
I wanted so desperately to apologize for the many ways I had misrepresented the Lord. I could feel that I had betrayed the Lord by judging, by not being willing to love the people he had loved and only giving lip service to issues of human rights....
Saturday, November 19, 2005
by Robert Francis, consultant/helper
Mid American Indian Fellowships
"What is the good news for North American natives?" This is a question to which I was asked to respond. For weeks I mulled over this question, prayed over this question and carefully considered this question from various angles. Finally, I awoke before daylight one morning with another question on my mind: “What is the good news for European-Americans?”
The question is turned around. The shoe, or the moccasin in this case, is placed firmly on the other foot. While a possible answer to the first question may be deciphered by carefully inverting my response, I choose to avoid the first question in favor of the second: “What is the good news for European-Americans?” I will answer this question from my own Cherokee Indian perspective. This does not mean I presume to speak for all Cherokee people. I speak only for myself. Some of what follows may go against the grain of some readers. I ask not that my readers agree with what I say but only that they “hear me out” by reading the entire paper before casting judgment on its content.
Now, if my readers will indulge me, I will begin my answer by sharing not one, not two, but four very important stories from our Cherokee oral tradition.
When the earth was first made, it was covered all over with water except for one small island. This island was the top of a high mountain. This was Blue Mountain, in the Cherokee country. White folks came a short time ago and named this mountain Clingman's Dome, no doubt after some white man or other named Clingman. But it has always been Blue Mountain and always will be Blue Mountain. For the Cherokees, the Ani-Kituwa, the Ani-Yvwiya, this is where it begins.
Everyone lived together on this mountaintop island. The human beings and the animals all got along fine. In those days they could understand one another's speech, for this was before the humans broke the harmony. The animals were also much bigger in those days. In fact, the animals of today are but shadows of those who once were. It was a good place to live. Sure, the island was small, but it was what everyone knew and was used to. All were content, until there came to be more of them than the small bit of land could support.
As they noticed they were getting crowded, a general council of all the people (both humans and animals) was called. The question was asked, "What can we do?" The only answer given was, "We can pray. All we can do is pray and ask the Grandfather Above to please give us some more land.
So all the people prayed, and Creator/Apportioner answered, "Oh my precious children, there is nothing I enjoy so much as giving good gifts to my children. But if I do everything for you without asking you to help in any way, how will you ever learn any responsibility? I really want to teach you some responsibility. Here's what I will do: If one of you will swim to the bottom of the ocean and bring up some mud, just a little bit of mud, I will take that mud, that little bit of mud, and make a whole great land of it."
All the people (animals and humans) began to look at one another. Someone asked, "Who will go? Who will get the mud?"
A slow, deep voice answered, "I will go. I will get the mud." It was Grandma Turtle.
"Grandma Turtle, you can't go!" They said. "You're too old and slow. We don't know what it's like down there. We don't know how deep it is."
"I'll go," quacked Duck.
"Now that's more like it," they said. "You're a good swimmer, Duck. You can go; you can do it."
Duck paddled out onto the ocean and dived, but he popped right back up to the surface. Duck dived again and again and again, but the same thing happened each time. Well, you know how ducks are. They dive well, but they float much better. Duck paddled back to shore, shook the water off his tail and said, "I can't dive that deep. I float too well."
The question was asked again, "Who will go? Who will get the mud?"
Grandma Turtle said, "I will go. I will get the mud."
"Grandma Turtle," they said, "we settled that before! You can't go. You're too old. Who will go? Who will get the mud? Hey Otter, how about you?"
"What?" Otter said.
"How about you going to get the mud?"
"Mud? What mud?"
"The mud we need so Creator/Apportioner can make more land!"
"Oh, sure," said Otter, and he slid off into the water and was gone a good long while. When he came back, he had a fish in his mouth, but no mud. Without a word to anyone, Otter climbed up onto the beach and began munching on the fish.
Everyone was watching him, but Otter paid them no mind, just kept eating his fish. "Hey Otter!" someone yelled.
"What?" Otter said.
"Where's the mud?"
"Mud? What mud?" Otter asked. "Ohhh the mud! Well, I left here to go and get it. Then I got started playing. Then I caught this fish. Then I forgot all about the ummm, ummmm, whatever it was I was supposed to get."
Oh my! They were nearly at their wits end. "Who will go?" they all asked. "Who will get the mud?"
Grandma Turtle said, "I will go. I will get the mud." No one even paid her any mind.
"Who will go? Who will get the mud?"
"I will go," said Beaver. "I will get the mud. I don't play, and I do not eat fish."
Resolutely, Beaver swam out into the ocean. He took a deep, deep breath and dived. Wow, Beaver was gone a long time. Some of the people watching and waiting were holding their breath in sympathy, but none seemed able to hold it that long. Finally, Beaver popped to the surface gasping for air. He swam to shore and climbed onto the beach shaking his head. "It's too deep!" Beaver said. "I don't know how deep it is. I never reached the bottom."
Everyone was in despair. Beaver was the last best hope. How would they ever get mud? Maybe there would never be anything but the little mountaintop island. "Who will go?" they asked. "Who will get the mud?"
A slow deep voice answered, "I will go. I will get the mud."
"You can't go, Grandma Turtle, you're too...."
"I WILL GO! I WILL GET THE MUD!"
There were no other volunteers, so they let Grandma Turtle go. She slowly paddled her way out onto the surface of the ocean. As everyone watched, she took a slow, deep breath, then another and another and another. She took three more breaths and disappeared beneath the water.
They waited a long time. Grandma Turtle was gone much longer than Duck or Otter or even Beaver had been. She was gone all that day and the next and the next and the next. They posted a sentry up on the very top of the mountain. Finally, on the seventh day, the sentry called out, "I think I see something coming up. Yes, yes, something is rising in the water. Could it be? Could it be? Yes! It's Grandma Turtle!"
Sure enough, Grandma Turtle rose to the surface of the ocean, and there she lay, not moving, with her legs, her tail, her head all hanging down.... Grandma Turtle was dead.
Quietly, reverently, Duck, Otter and Beaver swam out and drew Grandma Turtle's body to the shore. They pulled her up on the beach, as all the people (humans and animals) gathered sadly around, and what's this? There, under her front feet, they found.... mud.
Someone took the mud, that little bit of mud from under Grandma Turtle's front feet, rolled it into a ball and lifted it up toward the sky. The Grandfather took that mud, that little bit of mud and cast it out, making this whole, great land that many nations call Turtle Island.
Of course, it was all very wet and muddy at first. Grandpa Buzzard, who was much bigger in those days, swooped down to dry the land with his great wings. Everywhere his wings went down, there was a valley. Everywhere his wings went up, there was a mountain. If someone hadn't said, "Stop that Grandpa Buzzard!" there would be no flat land left in all the earth.
The Origins of Disease and Medicine
Long ago the humans and the animals got along fine. All the peoples, human and animal, could communicate with each other and were at peace. The animals of that long-ago time were much larger than the animals of today. Indeed, the animals of today are but shadows of those who once were.
There came a time when we humans forgot our place and broke the harmony. We humans began to reproduce at an alarming rate, and we gave ourselves to the production of all sorts of weapons meant for the destruction of the animals: spears and atlatls, bows and arrows, blowguns and traps of all kinds. We began to hunt, not just for food, but simply for the fun of killing. We humans also killed many animals just by pure carelessness, never stopping to think of the results of our actions. Even as we walked from place to place, we were not careful where we stepped, so that many of the tiny many-legged and legless ones were crushed to death or maimed. Some humans went so far as to purposely kill little animals merely from a feeling of disgust or loathing, going out of their way to step on a bug or squash a harmless spider. It was clear that we humans believed ourselves to be the only ones who mattered in all of creation, and as we continued clearing land and building our cities; it looked as if there would soon be no more room for anyone else to live in the earth.
The animals decided something had to be done about this human problem. The bears met separately from the other animals. The Great White Bear, presiding at the council asked, "What's the problem?"
"It's these humans; they kill us indiscriminately."
"How do they kill us?"
"With bows and arrows."
"Of what are their bows made?"
"The bow of locust wood and the bowstring of our guts."
The bears decided they would make bows of their own with which to kill the humans. They got some locust wood, and one of the bears sacrificed himself to give material for the bowstring. When the bow was finished and arrows were made, one of the bears stood up to shoot. He could pull the string, but releasing it was a problem. His long claws would get hung and throw him off target. The other bears, ducking his wild arrows, cried out, "Stop, stop. Something must be done. We'll cut your claws."
After the bear's claws were cut, he could shoot a bow as well as any man. "Now the humans have had it!" all the bears said. "We will hunt them, as they have hunted us! All we have to do is cut our claws."
"Wait!" said the Great White Bear. "How is it that we bears make our living?"
"By climbing trees to get honey and by ripping open rotten logs to find insects and by digging in the earth for rodents and by catching fish."
"How do we do all these things?"
"With our long claws."
The bears understood that if they cut their claws they could no longer make a living as bears and would starve to death. The idea to hunt the humans with bows and arrows was scrapped, and they never came up with another solution.
All the other animals came together in a joint council to discuss the human problem. The Grubworm presided at the council. After all, it was his people, the little creeping and crawling peoples of the earth, who had suffered most from the actions of the humans. The animals all sat in a circle. The talking stick was passed, giving each an opportunity to speak. The Toad said, "Something must be done. These humans despise me. They are forever kicking me or throwing things at me, because they think I am ugly. Just look at all the bumps they've put on my back!"
One of the little birds rose and said, "Although I'm too small to provide much meat, their little boys kill my people and roast us over the fire until our feathers and feet are burned off." One after the other, the animals spoke of atrocities committed by the humans. The only one with nothing to say against the humans was the little chipmunk, who was too small to be hunted for food and too quick to be stepped on. When he spoke in defense of the humans, the other animals jumped on him and gave him such a scratching down his back that the stripes are there to this day!
Once it was established that something must be done about the humans in order to save the rest of creation, the floor was open for discussion of what to do. It was finally decided that each of the animal peoples would come up with at least one disease with which to inflict the humans, in order to kill most of them and to teach the rest some respect. Various animals attending the council agreed to come up with every sort of ailment from cancer to p.m.s. When the Grubworm heard this last one, he laughed so hard he fell over backwards and has been crawling around like that ever since.
So, all the animals went their separate ways to meet in council, each with their own kind, to work out the details of what they would do. The deer met in council, with their chief, Little Deer, presiding. The deer understood the humans to be a pitiful and needy people who live only by the deaths of others. For this reason, the deer decided to allow the humans to continue killing some deer each year, but only what is needed for food, NEVER FOR SPORT. Furthermore, a human hunter, upon killing a deer, is required to show respect for the spirit of the deer by begging the deer's pardon and making a proper tobacco offering. And so, Little Deer, the chief and adawehi of all the deer will come. Swiftly and invisibly he will come to the place where the deer has died. Gently he will bend down over the blood. In a whisper, he will ask the spirit of the slain deer, "Did this hunter treat you with respect? Did he beg your pardon? Did he offer tobacco?"
If the answer is, "Yes," all is well, and Little Deer will go on his way. But if the answer is, "No," Little Deer will track that hunter to his home. There, Little Deer will strike that hunter with rheumatism, that he may never hunt again!
Word was sent to the human people, and we Cherokees have not forgotten this treaty with the deer.
And so, many diseases came into the earth. Many people died. For awhile, it looked as though maybe no humans would survive in the earth. The great cities were forgotten and fell into ruin.
The plant peoples who saw all of this, also elected to come together and meet in council. Deciding to take pity on us humans, each plant agreed to give of itself to provide medicine for at least one human disease or ailment. All we humans had to do was ask in a respectful way.
The Woman and Her Two Sons
Kanati and Selu are the first man and the first woman of the Cherokees. They had two sons. One son was Home Boy, their biological child. The other was Wild Boy who had been found living in the cane brake along the river. This story tells what happened when the sons were nearly grown and Selu’s husband Kanati was away, in the West.
One evening, Selu saw her sons getting their weapons ready, so they could go out to hunt the next morning. She smiled and said, "I see you're going to hunt tomorrow. When you come back, I'll have a wonderful meal prepared for you."
The next day, while her sons were gone, Selu took all the old meat and cooked it into a soup thickened with hominy grits. In the evening, the boys came back with a deer they had killed, and their mother served them this soup. They thought it was very good and ate eagerly but didn't know what it was. They had never seen or tasted grits or any type of corn before. "This is selu (corn)" their mother said, "and it's very good food."
The next morning, the boys went out hunting again. This time, their mother took fresh venison, cut it up fine and, once again, thickened the soup with hominy grits. That evening, the boys returned with two turkeys they had killed. Once again, they enjoyed their meal, what their mother had prepared, very much.
They next morning, as they were leaving to hunt, Wild Boy said to Home Boy, “This corn our mother gives us is a very mysterious thing. Where does it come from? Let's spy on our mother to see where she gets this.” Creeping back through the woods the boys watched as their mother came out of the house with a large basket. They saw her go into a she, and quietly ran up to peak through the cracks in the shed wall. They watched as their mother placed the basket on the floor of the shed. She then struck her sides and rubbed her belly, and hominy grits fell like snow from her body, filling the basket.
Home Boy turned to his brother and whispered, "This is a very disgusting thing we've been eating."
"Yes," Wild Boy said, "and it looks as if our mother is a witch."
That evening, the boys returned from the hunt with no game. Their mother had worked hard preparing the turkey meat with hominy grits, but the boys only picked at their food. They didn't eat.
Finally, their mother broke the silence. "Something is wrong, she said. Maybe you have learned something. Maybe you don't like what I have prepared for you. Maybe you don't like me anymore."
One of the boys said, "We know where the corn comes from. We think you are a witch. We have to kill you now."
"Do as you must," their mother said, "I ask only this one thing: When you have killed me, drag my body over the ground seven times. Wherever my blood touches the ground, a plant will grow. This plant you will call 'selu (corn)'. You will take care of it, and it will take care of you and feed you. As the stalks grow, they will form ears. You may pick some ears when they are green, for roasting or boiling. They are very good. The rest you must allow to get ripe and hard. This you will use for hominy and to make your bread. Don't forget to save the best for seed. As long as you have this corn with you, you have me with you. I am Selu, the Corn Mother."
And so the boys killed their mother. They dragged her bleeding body over the ground, but they were lazy and only dragged her around three times. Wherever the blood touched the earth, corn grew. The people had food to eat, but because of the original laziness of the boys, the corn must be hoed each year. The women wisely took over the management of the crops and so instruct the men in what to do and when to do it.
One Came From the Heavens
Long ago the Uktin, the Great Horned Serpent was in the earth. He wanted to destroy the earth, and it looked as though he would do it. Then one came down from the heavens. This is the one the Cherokees call Jiya Unega (White Otter). Jiya Unega fought against the Uktin and defeated him, sending him to the place where dangerous beings are kept. However, in his fight with the Great Serpent, Jiya Unega was horribly wounded. With one arm torn from his body, Jiya Unega’s blood gushed out onto the earth, and Jiya Unega died in the earth. But Jiya Unega did not remain dead. Rising from the dead and ascending into the heavens, Jiya Unega became the Morning Star, which in Cherokee is called Unelvnvhi Uweji (Creator-Offspring).
The importance of these four stories cannot possibly be overstated. While all the many stories of the Cherokee oral tradition are very important and no ceremony of the Cherokees is to be neglected, let it be known that these four stories are absolutely essential. Without hearing these four stories, as they are here related, and accepting them as literal, historical fact, it is quite impossible for any person, anywhere, to receive salvation. This may seem a strong statement until one considers that the Cherokees are the Ani-Yvwiya (The Real People) and the Ani-Kituwa (Those Under the Special Care of Creator/Apportioner). While the Cherokees received original instructions and continue to receive enlightenment from Creator/Apportioner, all other peoples of the earth are living in delusion, their lives being quite false. In merciful economy, Creator reached out first to the Cherokees with the Good News. It is left up to the Cherokees to either share this news or not.
The Good News is that, since the beginning, the love of Unelvnvhi (Creator/Apportioner) for all creation has been clearly demonstrated. This love is shown in Grandmother Turtle who gave herself that the people might have a place in which to be. This same love is continually poured forth in the provision our Mother Earth makes for all her offspring. This love is proved in the deer slain to give sustenance to the people and in the herbs crushed for the people’s healing. This love shines in The Corn Mother who dies yet rises again to provide the Bread of Life for all her children. This love is seen in Creator-Offspring who comes from the heavens, giving his life, shedding his blood in the earth, defeating the power of chaos, restoring Creator’s order, and living still, shining Creator’s light for all to see.
Of course, some of the truths of the essential Cherokee stories are known instinctively by peoples all over the earth. However, this “general revelation” of Creator/Apportioner’s love serves only to insure the condemnation and damnation of those upon whom it is so graciously and lovingly bestowed. It is only through knowledge of the “special revelation” entrusted by Creator/Apportioner to the Cherokee people that the world may be saved, that the people may live.
Those who hear and receive this good news will essentially abandon their own false cultures and counterfeit spiritualities in order to adopt Cherokee ways, culture, spirituality and civilization. Going to water in the Cherokee way, being purified with cedar smoke and re-birthed through the sweat lodge, they will leave their past in the past. Understanding their own ancestors are all eternally lost, they will come to accept the fact that they now have a new ancestry with which to relate. As adopted children of Kanati and Selu, they will be heirs to the promises made to the original Cherokees and their offspring. As such, they will be moved to learn all the sacred stories of the Cherokee oral tradition, allowing these to determine for them a worldview based on truth, replacing their old views based on superstition. This will move them on to participation in all the Cherokee holy days and ceremonies, both major and minor. This will, in turn, help them live in a good way, which is of course, the Cherokee way, the only way of wholeness, wellness, peace and balance in this life. And, when they pass from this life, Jiya Unega will come himself to escort them in their crossing over to the West.
Tragically, only an estimated 1.2% of European-Americans have heard even one of these four essential stories, and of those who have heard, only 3.5% have accepted the truth these stories convey.*
If the exclusive claims made above seem to you, the reader, to fall short of being good news for European-Americans I believe you are justified in your appraisal. If, to you, these claims seem bigoted, ethno-centric, racist and absurd, let it be known that I agree wholeheartedly. Seriously, according to the understandings passed on to me, our sacred Cherokee stories are true by virtue of the eternal truths they teach, not because of any literal, factual, historical information they may convey. Furthermore, I have never heard of any Cherokees seriously making any claim of exclusive Cherokee cultural possession of truth. In my opinion, the making of such a claim would fly in the face of Cherokee ethics, violating what is known as the “Principle of Non-Interference” which teaches respect for diversity and assumes Creator/Apportioner’s activity in and through each and every aspect of creation. Still, it is interesting to consider how world events may have played themselves out differently had Cherokees presumed to develop exclusive truth claims such as those described above.
Rather than engaging in limited warfare for the sake of settling scores or keeping boundaries established, the idea that Cherokees are the sole recipients of Creator/Apportioner’s truth would have led us to make war for the purpose of spreading that truth. More precisely, the Cherokee burden for sharing the good news entrusted only to the Cherokees would have formed the theological excuse or mandate for attacking, conquering and subjugating our “benighted” neighbors. A Cherokee empire would have formed in the eastern part of what is now called North America and would have inexorably spread north, west and south from there. While empires have sometimes formed without exclusive truth claims as their basis, history shows that exclusive truth claims inevitably lead to empire building. And so, the good news of Cherokee truth, peace and salvation would have spread throughout the western hemisphere, assimilating those who accepted, annihilating those who saw the Cherokee good news as something less than good. Given the extreme antiquity of the roots of Cherokee spirituality (March 2005 marking the beginning of year 5089 of our Sacred Fire) this Cherokee empire would have developed far in advance of any similar imperial development on the other side of the earth.
At some point, an adventurous soul would have approached the Great Chief of the Cherokees (or maybe the Great Chief’s wife) with a proposal for further expansion of the empire. Let’s say the adventurous soul’s name would have been “Otter Bearer”. We will call him simply “Otter” for short. We will refer to the Chief’s wife as “Bell”. The conversation may have gone something like this:
Otter: “Oh Wife of the Great Chief, I have certain knowledge that beyond the sea, in the direction of the rising Sun, there are other lands containing great wealth and multitudes of savages with no knowledge of our Creator/Apportioner. If you will provide me with three great sailing canoes and enough crewmen to sail them, I will go to discover and claim those lands for you, for your husband, and of course, for our Creator/Apportioner.”
Bell: “You say there is great wealth in these undiscovered lands? What sort of wealth?”
Otter: “There is gold there, Oh Wife of the Great Chief.”
Bell: “We already have plenty of gold.”
Otter: “There is also silver.”
Bell: “We already have silver and to spare!”
Otter: “There may be quartz crystals.”
Bell: “We have all we can use.”
Otter: “I have heard, Oh Wife of the Great Chief, that they do have something there that is in short supply here.”
Bell: “And what might that be.”
Otter: “Diseases, Oh Wife of the Great Chief. They have diseases: smallpox, whooping cough, hepatitis, alcoholism. These they have in great abundance.”
Bell: “Ah yes, we may use these diseases to better subdue the enemies of the one true Creator/Apportioner, or to wipe them out, as the case may be. But tell me this, oh adventurous soul, will you also spread the good news of our Creator/Apportioner, the true spirituality, culture and civilization of the Cherokees to the poor lost multitudes you meet in these undiscovered lands?”
Otter: “Oh yes, Oh Wife of the Great Chief. I will share the good news wherever I go, demanding that the savages go immediately to water in acceptance of the truth. If they do not fall on their faces, at once, in submission to our Creator/Apportioner and also to you and to our Great Chief, I will not rest day or night until all are properly slain: men, women and infants.”
Bell: “Excellent! I will make the necessary arrangements.”
Five hundred years later, a well-fed conservative Cherokee talk-show host, somewhere in Europe, would comment on the absurdity of the claim of a continuing holocaust of some 100 million Native Europeans. “There were no more than 1.5 million Native Europeans,” the talk-show host would declare, “living in filth and ignorance and constant warfare at the time of discovery. There are more Native Europeans now than there were then, and with their lucrative casinos, they are much better off than we are.” Of course, he wouldn’t actually call them Native Europeans. The continent (or sub-continent) of Europe would have been renamed in honor of an early Cherokee explorer.
Five hundred years after discovery, evangelical Cherokee missionaries would still be shaking their heads, agonizing over the question, “How can we reach these people?”
What is the good news for European-Americans? The good news is that none of this really happened, because the world has not been cursed with exclusive Cherokee truth claims. More than that, the good news for European-Americans is that European-Americans already had the good news even before they came in contact with the Cherokees and quite apart from Cherokee sacred stories, ceremonies, tradition and spirituality.
I have read the Christian scriptures, the Holy Bible, and I firmly believe this book bears witness to the same good news that has been with the Cherokees from the beginning. Ancestors of the European-Americans of today brought this book with them when they came. The European/Americans of today have this book. It follows that some of them may have read it and that some who have read it may have understood what Creator/Apportioner is saying through this written collection of sacred stories. Of course, judging by European-American actions, these assumptions often seem doubtful. It seems that some have turned themselves over to the worship of time as a god, measuring and dividing their lives according to the clock, little knowing that time is the cannibal god who devours his children. Many go to any length for the freedom to worship money, failing to understand that money is the god who enslaves his followers even more surely than his followers oppress and enslave others. Multitudes follow the god of progress who drives his devotees in a straight-line course until they tumble en-masse over the face of a cliff. Others turn the book itself into an idol, believing that somehow the entire Word or Reason of Creator/Apportioner has been trapped between leather covers and that Creator/Apportioner may now speak nowhere apart from the pages of this one book. What is actually worshipped, in these cases, is not the Bible but only some narrow interpretation of this collection of written sacred stories. The possible motivation behind this behavior is the quest for a god who may be controlled and by which others may be controlled and manipulated. A façade of godliness is maintained by those who give themselves over to this last mentioned form of idolatry, yet the power behind the sacred stories seems lost on them. Yet even with all of this considered, there remains hope that the truth of the sacred stories found in the Bible and the truth of other sacred stories known to European-Americans does find its way into some hearts. If those hearts are open and willing, this surely happens. This is good news for European-Americans.
All good ultimately has its source in the ultimate goodness: Igagadi, the Spirit of Creator/Apportioner who comes as the first light of dawn to drive away the shadows. If exclusive truth claims keep us from recognizing good that is given to others, we tread on dangerous ground. If we see the good that others are doing and ascribe this good to evil, we commit what Jesus, speaking in the Bible, refers to as the unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:24-32). In this, we make ourselves to be like the evil one who does not see his own evil and for whom even Creator/Apportioner is not holy enough.
I see that there are European-Americans who demonstrate the love and goodness of Creator-Apportioner. People are indeed helped, healed, made whole, put back in balance in their various churches and even sometimes in their hospitals and clinics. And the Bible is a good book. This book is very important to me, even if no Cherokees were consulted by the councils of foreign men who put together this collection of sacred stories of the Jewish and early Christian people. No less than three of my direct ancestors were ordained Baptist ministers; another was an ordained Presbyterian minister. My grandfather was a General Baptist deacon, and my father served for a time as a General Baptist lay preacher. My own mother was one of my Sunday School teachers. So you see, this foreign book is part of my heritage. More than that, I see the truth of Creator/Apportioner shining in this book, just as the truth shines in our Cherokee sacred stories and in our family and personal stories, the truth of how Creator/Apportioner blesses our lives even as the lives of the people in the book were blessed. For this reason, I have begun and will continue to refer to the Christian Bible as an aid in answering the question: “What is the good news for European-Americans?”
It is interesting that the risen and ascended Jesus identifies himself in the Bible not only as the “Root and the Offspring of David” (an ancient Jewish king) but also as “the bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16). For me, this is a powerful statement. Along with the theme of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, this says to me that Jesus is none other than Unelvnvhi Uweji (Creator-Offspring). Here is clear evidence that the Eternal Light shined also for those living across the ocean even before they came in contact with the Cherokees.
In the biblical narratives, Jesus’ followers are taught to acknowledge goodness and truth wherever it is found. Jesus was fond of telling stories, often relating lessons from the earth or from nature (Matthew 6:25-31; 13:3-35; Mark 4:26-29; 13:28-29; John 3:8). Jesus said he did not come to do away with the sacred teachings of his people, but rather to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). He said he came not to condemn but to save (John 3:17). Jesus embraced and magnified the meanings of his people’s ancient ceremonies. From the washing ceremony comes baptism (Mark 1:4-11). From the Passover meal comes communion (Mark 14:12-25). When Jesus’ followers confronted a man who was not of their group, attempting to stop him from doing good in Jesus’ name, Jesus told them never to do such a thing again (Mark 9:38-41). As his example of greatness, Jesus referred to little children, who supposedly know nothing (Matthew 18:1-6). When asked how one obtains eternal life, Jesus told a story in which a Samaritan, a supposed theological heretic, is the unlikely hero (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus warned his followers of the extreme danger of calling anyone a fool (Matthew 5:22), and said that before attempting to remove a speck from a brother’s eye, one should first attend to whatever may be blocking one’s own vision (Matthew 7:3-5).
Jesus was quick to point out to his followers that the value of a person’s life is not measured by possessions (Luke 12:15). In his own life in the earth, Jesus placed no focus on obtaining wealth for himself. Rather, he went about doing good for others, healing the sick, casting out bad spirits, always urging people in the direction of freedom and balance (Luke 4:18-19; 7:22). The things Jesus did were the same sort of things a Cherokee adawehi or any indigenous spiritual helper would do. Jesus said his followers would do the same good things that he had done in the earth and even greater things, since he was going back to his Father (John 14:12).
The Gospel of John calls Jesus the Word who is from the beginning, eternal, one with Creator (John 1:1-2), and the true light that gives light to every person (John 1:9). The Gospel of Matthew tells of spiritual helpers called Magi coming from the east to honor the child Jesus. The true light was already with these wise men (Matthew 2:1-12). John says no one has seen the Creator, but Creator-Offspring, the Eternal Son has made him known (John 1:18). Wherever Creator is made known it is Creator-Offspring, the Eternal Son who does it. Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58), thereby identifying himself with Creator's own Heart Name.... I AM. It's the present-tense of the verb “to be.” The Origin of Being, the Fullness of Being, the Sum of Being, Being Itself…. That is Creator. That is the Eternal Creator-Offspring or Creator-Son, the one whose ever-present being transcends time and space, even oceans, the one whose Word goes out to the ends of the earth even before we Cherokees get there to share our sacred stories (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 10:18). This one is the lamb, as surely as he is the deer, slain from the foundation of the earth (Revelation 13:8). The Bible says there is salvation (healing/health/wholeness) in no other name (Acts 4:12). On the surface this may seem to be an exclusive truth claim, yet, what is that name? The name Jesus means Creator/Apportioner Saves. All healing, all wellness, all wholeness, all life is of the Creator/Apportioner. This is what the name Jesus means. Wherever there is life, wherever there is health, wherever there is wholeness, goodness, balance, peace, freedom, Creator-Offspring is there, shining the light of Creator/Apportioner. And so, it’s no wonder that calling himself the Good Shepherd Jesus said he had other sheep of whom his Jewish followers were unaware (John 10:14-16). John says if everything Jesus ever did was written down, “the whole world would not have room for the books” (John 21:25).
When Jesus encountered people of other ethnicities, cultures and traditions, he was quick to commend their faith to his Jewish followers (Matthew 8:5-10; 15:21-28). Jesus helped these people without ever attempting to change them to a different ethnicity, culture or tradition. Jesus once freed a certain non-Jewish man from a Legion of bad spirits. When the man asked if he might follow Jesus back into the Jewish lands, Jesus instructed the man to go back to his own people (Mark 5:1-20). Jesus said his true followers would be known not by the words they say nor by any name they may claim for themselves but by the love they demonstrate (Matthew 5:44-45; 7:15-23; John 13:35; 15:12). He said all nations would be judged by whether or not they provide food for the hungry, safe water for the thirsty, refuge for the alien, clothing for the naked, healthcare for the sick and advocacy for the imprisoned, for he, the Eternal Creator-Offspring is present even in the least of these (Matthew 25:31-46).
Jesus was very critical of religious people going into other lands in order to make proselytes (Matthew 23:15). For the most part, Jesus’ followers were sent out only among their own people (Matthew 10:5-6). After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, some few of his followers were sent to people of other ethnicities, but only after proper spiritual preparation. After receiving a special vision, Jesus’ follower Peter was invited to the home of an Italian family. There Peter learned that Creator/Apportioner does not show ethnocentric favoritism, but accepts those of every people who respond to his love with proper awe and a demonstrated desire to do right (Acts 10:1-35). In Athens, Greece, Jesus’ follower Paul did no less than quote the opening invocation to Zeus found in the Greek poem Phaenomena (Acts 17:28). In his letter to the Galatian Christians, Paul basically says that pressuring others to assimilate from one culture into another amounts to cultural cannibalism, the opposite of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self (Galatians 5:1-15). Visiting one cultural group after another, Paul determined to “know nothing…. except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul would quickly move on, leaving those with whom he had shared to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling…. or with awe and excitement as the case may be (Philippians 2:12-13). According to the Bible, each nation (ethnicity) is valued by Creator/Apportioner, along with the cultures that make each one unique. It is Creator/Apportioner’s perfect will to be glorified through each and every one (Revelation 7:9-10; 22:2). This is good news for European/Americans. The good news is that the good news is with them, even as the good news is with all peoples, from the very beginning. The light and love of Creator/Apportioner shined for their ancestors even as the light and love of Creator/Apportioner shined for our Cherokee ancestors. This same light and love that continues to shine for our Cherokee people shines also for European/Americans and for all other peoples today through Creator/Offspring, the Eternal Son, the bright Morning Star. As promised, the Spirit if Creator/Apportioner is poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17).
It may well appear to many Cherokees that European-Americans, as a group, are on the short path to self-destruction, intent on bringing all earthly creation down with them. Even so, the salvation of European-Americans is not the Cherokee burden. If we start to view their salvation as our burden, we will inevitably begin to interfere with what Creator/Apportioner has begun and will complete in them.
Creator/Apportioner may honor us by asking us to help in his work, but Creator/Apportioner would never ever completely hand over to any one aspect of his creation such an important responsibility as the bearing of the good news. The good news is present everywhere and with every people from the beginning. It is not far from anyone; it is as close as the heart. Just as Creator/Apportioner continues to speak to the Cherokee people and to all peoples, so Creator/Apportioner continues to speak to European/Americans. Creator Apportioner speaks to them, as to us, through dreams and visions and spiritual visitations, through every aspect of creation, through the Bible and through other sacred stories and ceremonies entrusted to them. Those with ears to hear, let them hear. Those with eyes to see, let them see. Those with hearts to receive, let them receive the good news that Creator/Apportioner loves us all. We Cherokees and others must give space to allow Creator/Apportioner to birth what will be birthed in the European/Americans.
Does this mean we will never be called upon to help? By no means. When asked, we should share what Creator/Apportioner has entrusted to us. When invited, we should go. However, we should never invade the territory belonging to others, physically or spiritually, as uninvited intruders. There is no need for us to be constantly calling European/American church ministers on the phone saying, “I have such a burden for the European/American. I know you don’t know me and have never even met me, but please let me come teach your impressionable little children.” It’s better to wait for an invitation. It’s polite to give others space to ask, if they will. If they never invite, if they never ask, so be it. That’s alright too. Creator/Apportioner still works, even on Sundays, with or without us Cherokees. If and when we are invited, even then, we must always remember to listen first before sharing.
Certainly, European-Americans may profit from an understanding of the Cherokee oral tradition and from other Native North American Traditions. The sacred stories of Native North America brought alongside the stories of European-Americans could possibly help European-Americans better understand the truths of their own stories. It could be that an understanding of Native North American sacred stories would even help European-Americans to somehow finally root themselves or indigenize in this land, in a good way, in a way that does not require the subjugation or destruction of other ethnicities.
At the same time, it should never be our aim to make European/Americans into Cherokees. Although during these past few hundred years some European/Americans have been and continue to be gratefully adopted into Cherokee families and clans, by no means do we want to bring force or any sort of pressure to bear in this direction. To do so would be an insult to Creator/Apportioner who made European/Americans as distinct peoples in the earth. We can share with one another, as invited, without compromising Creator/Apportioner’s beautiful and richly diverse creation.
And, even if European/Americans never hear our Cherokee stories, this does not mean they are lost or somehow beyond the saving grace of Creator/Apportioner. Their own sacred stories and the revelations given directly to them are quite sufficient for connecting them with the healing power, enabling them to hold Creator/Apportioner’s hand and to walk in the earth in a good way. May this be done. May all the earth and all creation be brought into balance and made whole again.
*Note: As with similar statistics bandied about by various Christian denominations concerning American Indians, these numbers were simply snatched out of the air. They are, therefore, quite meaningless.
Friday, November 11, 2005
EXPLOITING INDIAN ADDICTIONBy MICHAEL RILEY
The Denver Post
WIND RIVER INDIAN RESERVATION -- Natasha Washakie has lived in the depths of addiction to methamphetamine and come back up.
She's seen friends trade sex for meth. She's seen one get her own children hooked on the drug, which among its side effects suppresses the appetite.
"We used to joke that she kept her whole family high so she wouldn't have to feed them," said the 28-year-old Northern Arapaho woman, who has been clean for 15 months after a three-year addiction.
Washakie knows the drug, almost unheard of here before 2000, is slowly destroying this central Wyoming reservation.
She also knows where it comes from: a Mexican drug gang that arrived here more than four years ago hoping to shift the alcohol addiction of many tribal members to meth.
"Honestly, I think that was the best business decision they ever made," Washakie said sadly.
Authorities could hardly argue.
According to information gathered during an investigation that has so far led to more than 17 arrests, that gang is the Sinaloan Cowboys, an organization with a sophisticated structure and a Fortune 500 business plan -- when you're a drug cartel looking to expand, go where the addicts are.
Over a period of more than four years, the gang funneled nearly 100 pounds of meth with a value of more than $6.5 million into and around the reservation.
At least three gang members were dispatched from a Utah-based cell to reservation towns. They rented houses and met girlfriends. Using American Indian women, they gained entree to the reservation and established a network of more than a dozen dealers, many of them American Indian.
"They identified the reservation as an addict-rich environment, a population that for years had been addicted to alcohol," said Robert Murray, an assistant U.S. attorney in Cheyenne. He said information on the gang's plan to infiltrate the reservation had been garnered from multiple sources.
A plan born of deep cynicism, it was also a phenomenal success. In a matter of five years, tribal leaders say, meth went from a marginal drug to a virtual torrent on this 2.2 million-acre reservation.
"It's an epidemic, and I don't think we've reached the peak," said Mark Russler, executive director of Fremont Counseling Services, which treats addicts.
Russler said the number of meth addicts at two facilities in Lander and Riverton -- the region's largest -- jumped from 5 percent or 6 percent of clients in 1999 to more than 25 percent.
From 2003 to 2004 -- a year tribal police saw the worst increase in meth use -- criminal charges for drug possession on the Wind River Reservation increased 353 percent. During that period, assaults tripled, theft nearly doubled and child abuse increased by 85 percent.
Arrests and several convictions, including the sentencing of one of the cell leaders to life in prison in July, have slowed the advance of the drug here, authorities say, but many tribe members say they've seen little effect.
"There are so many people using, you can see them just walking around the store" here, said Georgia C'Hair, a reservation treatment counselor and former meth addict.
"Their skin is ashen. Those repetitive movements and jerks. It's what addicts call tweaking," she said.
Alcohol to meth
Investigators say the Sinaloan Cowboys' success here offers a frightening picture of meth's rapid rise in Indian Country, providing a snapshot into how the stimulant has grown to rival alcohol as the drug of choice on reservations throughout the West.
Experts say that about half of addictions on reservations still are to alcohol.
But meth has moved so quickly that it has left tribal governments across the region reeling. Struggling to catch up, some leaders even have ceded fiercely protected tribal sovereignty in exchange for help.
Two major busts on Wind River in the past two years were the result of an unprecedented law enforcement coalition that included the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, local tribal police and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Sprawling across a rolling prairie at the foot of the Wind River Mountains, the reservation appears the last place that would attract Mexican drug gangs that flourish in the immigrant barrios of America's major cities.
Rural and remote, the reservation is home to 6,400 American Indians split mostly between two tribes, the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho. Apart from Riverton, which is largely white, the reservation's few small towns are destitute collections of mostly sagging homes and run-down trailers.
A 1998 tribal study found that 38 percent of American Indian adults on Wind River were unemployed and that 57 percent lived in poverty.
But from the perspective of gang members, the reservation had an important plus: Jurisdictional barriers normally prevent state and local police from operating on tribal lands. And despite the apparent poverty of Indian country, many tribal members receive monthly checks from mineral royalties or other tribal income.
Members of the Mexican gang discovered that alcohol sales on other reservations spiked after members received their checks, sources told investigators, and they believed they could tap into that cash.
"It was natural to try to transfer that addiction from alcohol to meth," Murray said.
The gang's tentacles reach across a vast swath of territory from California and the Northwest through much of the Rocky Mountains, investigators say. Authorities describe the Sinaloan Cowboys as a street gang that distributes drugs for the Sinaloan cartel, one of Mexico's most brutal drug-trafficking organizations.
While the gang is active in several cities, investigators say reservations seem to hold a special attraction. As early as the mid-'90s, members of the same Ogden, Utah-based cell were dealing on reservations in South Dakota and Nebraska, Murray said.
The gang arrived in central Wyoming in the 1990s, first distributing meth to mostly white customers in Lander and Riverton. But sometime in 2001, investigators say they set their sights on the Wind River, with cell members moving onto the reservation permanently, either with girlfriends or in a rented trailer, investigators said.
It was a tried-and-true tactic for the gang: One of the cell members -- Marcelino Rocha -- already had several children with an Indian woman near a Nebraska reservation, where the gang distributed meth in the late 1990s.
Overseen by the cell's leaders, brothers Julio and Martin Sagaste-Cruz, the gang smuggled a pure form of meth -- manufactured in "superlabs" on the Mexican border -- in the drive shafts of sport utility vehicles to Utah and finally onto the reservation.
The organization was exceptionally efficient, authorities say. Including the cell leaders, five to six gang members managed a network of more than a dozen dealers, who in turned distributed enough meth for 45,000 doses.
Fafa Hereford, who is Eastern Shoshone, saw those drugs only through the devastation they wreaked upon her family.
A sister and brother both became hooked. They would turn suddenly violent and experience hallucinations, she said. Ultimately, her sister lost her children, who now live with Hereford's parents.
Jason Brown, an Arapaho who is in treatment for meth addiction, said the drug is easier to get on the reservation than marijuana. It's much cheaper than cocaine, and the high lasts longer.
When he was using, he'd go on monthlong binges, barely sleeping. When he did sleep, Brown said he would wake up and put a gram of meth in his coffee. Sometimes, he wouldn't return home for days.
"I wouldn't eat. All I wanted is more meth. They have these multivitamin packs. I'd take one of those and I was good to go," said Brown, 30.
Tribal officials say the cost to the community is enormous.
Women are having miscarriages because of the drug. Addicts steal from family members to support their habits. Abuse of the elderly is on the rise.
The reservation has the third-largest caseload for Child Protective Services in the state, behind only Casper and Cheyenne, the state's two largest cities.
And with no inpatient treatment programs for meth anywhere in Wyoming, the two tribes are forced to consider building one of their own, a project that will likely cost millions of dollars, said Willie Noseep, a member of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council, the tribe's governing body.
"It has an all-encompassing effect on all our programs," Noseep said.
And the reservation's close-knit community, a source of pride here, only helped speed the drug's spread, tribal members say.
"If you introduced it to someone else, you'd get it for free for a little while. That was a way to pay for your habit for a couple more months," said Washakie, the recovering addict.
Through an ex-boyfriend, Washakie's life became wrapped up with the Mexican gang and its dealers.
Her partner belonged to the family of one of the gang member's girlfriends, Geraldine Blackburn. After a year of being together, he began to beat her. She lost her four children for neglecting them.
Washakie said that gang members used Blackburn's house on the reservation as a base, though a heavily guarded one. As Spanish-speaking men came and went, it was impossible for tribal members to approach the house unless they had been vouched for by the gang's inner circle.
Sometimes gang members would purchase houses for local dealers, tribe members say.
It's those kinds of resources that make the Sinaloan Cowboys and other Mexican gangs such a potent threat here.
Brian Eggleston, a special agent for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, said that although the organization has been dealt a blow, it's likely to quickly send in new members and start again.
"This organization is making too much money to just quit," Eggleston said.
"They've got a retail business there, and they aren't going to close their doors because they've had a bump in the road."
Veteran's Day is going to be our holiday in which we all have the opportunity to remember our friends, family, and loved ones who sacrificed much while doing sevice to our country. I know we all appreciate and will enjoy our three day week-end and I want to bring some enlightment to the occassion.
My late brother a Vietnam Vet, Mac C. Oreiro, gave me some information that he had gathered about the Native American veteran or warrior, a term he preferred. He would provide insights about some of these types of issues:
- Native Americans participated in all the conflicts or wars that have been documented.
- Lummi Nation has documented Veteran's participating in the Spanish/American War
- Native American women fought along with the men, as far back as 1776 during the Ariscanney War (sp?)
- Of the Native American men enlisting, 94.5% of these men fought in combat units
- Of all the racial groups in the US by population, Native Americans represent the highest percentage in the military at any time.
- Contributions of the Code Talkers mostly Dine' and Comanche Tribes were the best kept military secret ever invented by mortal man.
- Today and historically the Native American men have not received their fair share of the available disabilty, health, education, home loan benefits that they deserved as Veterans.
- Native American Veterans were denied other considerations that included religious practices, sweats, medicine men and other spirtiual acumens to help heal the body and mind that were offered other veteran's during war or in the hospitals.
Response by Dr. Bill Freeman
The "myth of the Mystic Warrior" had a downside for many Indian warriors in Vietnam. Spero Manson, PhD (Pembina Chippewa), a medical anthropologist and colleagues at University of Colorade School of Medicine, studied American Indian Vietnam vets of 2 major Indian reservations. The purpose was to determine the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] and factors contributing to it. Among other things, they found that Indian soldiers were more often assigned the point man in patrols -- so also more often were wounded and engaged in severe life-threatening battle than non-Indian soldiers. (Was it the Mystic Warrior, or prejudice, or both?) The more severe the experiences, the greater the likelihood of all vets having PTSD, Native or otherwise.
A personal note: I am a Vietnam vet -- 2 years in 'Nam.
One can be an American vet of that war and still recognize the many Vietnamese on both sides who suffered PTSD for the same reasons American veterans do, and who grieve for the same reasons Americans do, due to lost brothers/sisters/fathers/mothers/children. And we can recognize the plight of the Montagnards, the non-Vietnamese tribal people in the interior mountains of Vietnam whom the Special Forcers led as a counterinsurgency effort to hinder the Ho Chi Minh trail -- the indigenous "Indians" of Vietnam. They trusted the Green Beret Americans (US Army Special Forces), but the US abandoned them to the victor Vietnamese when the US left Vietnam. (Yhe anti-Communist Vietnamese and Communist Vietnamese in general both despised the Montagnard people -- sound familiar?)
I saved the lives of some Montagnard people in 1967-1968 as a Special Forces independent duty aidman -- some of them having been attacked by *American* helicopter gunships while working in their fields (yes, some American troops despised the so-called "slopes" [people with slanted eyes, i.e., Asians], too.)
Let us honor American Indian warriors. Let us think about friends and family who are vets.
And let us think about sacrifice and trauma and loss, too.
Cartoonist Gary Larson once penned a "Far Side" cartoon in which two male deer are standing up talking. One buck has three circles on his chest that just happens to look like a bull’s-eye on an archery target. The other buck comments "Bummer of a birthmark, Hal…". As a native man I resemble that remark. I am really pretty nervous about being a target, or a member of a "target population". Sure I can help you find out where the urban natives are, and perhaps even share some effective evangelistic strategies with you. But I know I will be target, and that I will be helping you to aim at my relations.
Anita Keith's recent book "Rise Up" [Shaping the Future of Indigenous Ministry through Cross-Cultural Partnerships] greatly encouraged me -- until it dawned on me that it is not so hard to get natives to 'rise up'. The struggle is to get the majority church to 'sit down'! I truly support her call for partnerships between native and non-native, but non-natives can rarely be a "native role model". A non-native can only be a good role model, but never a good Mohawk, Cree or Inuit role model. Somehow this concept has been lost on North American missions and non-natives still lead most of our native churches, but they are never leaders within our cultures. Once the majority church decides to disciple aboriginal believers to lead church-planting efforts, then we will start to see some inroads and permanent transformation. As long as the Gospel is a Western commodity entrusted only to professional non-native leaders, the spiritual transformation of First Nations communities will be stifled.
Where Are the Indians?
According to StatsCan, more than have of North American Indians live in cities and more than 2/3 of Metis as well. There are many reasons for not living on reserve, from lack of employment to poverty and limited health care. But in cities, we are not so visible, except in the ugliest sorts of ways. Downtown Vancouver has been the site of many "missionary to the homeless natives" films, and has been quite a favorite with Korean missionary film crews coming to our West coast.
In many ways, even in the big cities, we don't tend to mix well with other groups, creating the perception that there aren't enough of us to really minister to, but that is not a valid assumption. Check out the recent figures yourself at: http://www12.statcan.ca/english/census01/Products/Analytic/companion/abor/groups.cfm
Over-Evangelized But Under-Reached
I have heard an elder say that Native North Americans are the most over-evangelized but under-reached people group in the world. If someone cares to do the analysis, simply tabulate the number of native missions agencies, home missions, short-term missions in North America, and then measure the "success" of those efforts. Check the number of "all-native" churches for the average attendance and growth. You will find these numbers to be stunningly low, but that does not mean that there has not been a substantial amount of preaching, tent revivals, church revivals, giveaways and Christian three-on-three basketball tournaments, all with the aim of "reaching the Aboriginal peoples for Christ".
As we hurtled towards the year 2000, a great number of end-time evangelization plans came into being. We supported our strategies with databases exposing "hidden peoples" that had not been reached with the "touch of the Gospel". Another measurement of "the unreached" were those places said to have no "Evangelical witness", implying that Catholic or Orthodox churches did not qualify for the count.
If it was that easy to discount long-established Catholic and Orthodox churches, imagine how often and how easily the work of the Spirit is dismissed in aboriginal communities. Michael Oleksa [author of Orthodox Alaska] of the Russian Orthodox church has written about how one may enter a community with the intention of seeking out and understanding the work of the Spirit among them, both from their history (as learned through their stories) and from current practice (as discovered in protocol, prayer, ceremony, and teachings). I tell you about Oleksa's work in order that the work of the Spirit among urban First Nations will not be yet again discounted, just because they may not be "reserve Indians".
Under-Reached or Un-Released?
How can a missions agency deploys dozens of missionaries and yet several decades later find that none of the locals (a.k.a. "target population") are in leadership? It seems, if we reach back to the New Testament model, that leaders were identified very quickly and discipled for leadership responsibility. Paul started churches -- then he left them -- to develop on their own, and yes, within their own particular cultural setting, which was of course, non-Jewish.
Any denomination that aims for the urban aboriginal population had best decide its mission. Are they there to "provide services"? Do they exist to "deploy programs"? Are they there to empower indigenous leadership to take responsibility within their own setting? Are they simply extending the current denominational church-planting paradigm with slight accommodations for "cultural distinctives"?
“Reaching” is an ambiguous term, generally implying the success of having met the goals of the organization. But were the dreams and goals and hearts of the people heard and respected? Or was some "universal" wisdom applied that seemed to produce results?
It is tempting to just try and describe the nature of the urban aboriginal population, to try and give a handle to ministry professionals, but for genuine transformation to occur among First Nations, repentance must first begin in the Church.
Evangelization or Assimilation?
How can you tell the difference between the evangelization and assimilation? The truth is, only an aboriginal can tell the difference. Western Christianity has so confused the Good News with Western values, that it has lost the moral authority to proclaim the Gospel. Western Christianity uses conformity to measure godliness. They expect natives to attend church like they do, dress the same, use the same spiritual jargon and follow the non-native leadership. A cultural outsider will not be able to accurately judge transformation within an aboriginal community.
The Core of Native Urban Identity
There are two identifiable sources for understanding how to work in an urban First Nations setting. First, the reserve of origin is the primary source of identity, not the city they live in. An aboriginal inhabitant of Winnipeg, if asked "where are you from?", will tell them the reserve they come from, but not Winnipeg. While it is true that around 2/3 of natives live off reserve, it does not diminish the reserve as the single most important point of reference for identity.
A second major source of identity for the urban native is "the Aboriginal Friendship Centre", such as the one we frequent on Hastings in East Vancouver, or the Thunderbird Lodge in Winnipeg. The friendship centre movement provides an intertribal lodge, common ground for natives to be natives. Native boards with various funding sources run the centres, but churches are rarely involved. In Manitoba, for example, there are 10 centers. In Canada there are over 115 gathering places for First Nations people. Look them up on the web at http://www.nafc-aboriginal.com/index.html
In Vancouver, as an example of what goes on, there is native dance and song on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Tuesday night is "Plains Night" for powwow type songs and dances. Wednesday is "Coastal Night" with Haidas, and Tlingits and Tsimshians and more, some in t-shirts but others in button blankets and cedar potlatch hats. Thursday night is Metis night, with reels danced by fiddle music. But so much more goes on at these centers including programs for elders and youth and families. Sadly, few churches are ever involved with the Friendship Centres, but if you want to know where the natives are, you better look them up.
Churches or Friendship Centres?
The whole goal of evangelism appears to be church attendance, and in Canada, successful evangelism and church-planting is measured by this metric: ABC – Attendance, Buildings and Cash. Yes, there are some individual natives that attend churches as minorities, but for urban First Nations communities in Canada, the church is not central at all, and cash is still pretty hard to come by. The church has not yet learned how to bring the Good News to a whole community, although we seem to have the individual approach down to a science (which might also be another problem in and of itself).
Instead of calling the natives to come to your church, why not instead join the native community? There are 115 friendship centers all across Canada that are open to all races, and if you believe that you are called to serve our communities, then choose where you will stand.
Multi-Cultural or Cultural Insiders?
When majority Canadians consider church-planting, most strategies aim to assimilate various cultures, and new churches are emerging in North America under the MECC [multi-ethnic cross-cultural] banner. Using monikers such “All Nations”, these churches expect all ethnicities to join them, and yes, there are some urbanites who enjoy the feeling of “world church”. But please don’t assume that natives are part of this crowd.
Those First Nations people who want to be in a church are already attending. Merely expanding the marketing message won’t reach us.
· When denominations begin to operate seamlessly within our communities and cultures, that is when we might join you.
· When we hear about talking circles, potlatches, giveaways, naming, healing ceremonies, and family powwows, you might finally get our attention.
· When we see that you have released native men and women to be our leaders instead of giving us non-native caretakers, that will be a new day.
· When you give us the responsibility to exegete our own culture instead of doing it for us, that is when you will get our attention. Authentic contextualization of the Gospel cannot be imposed by outsiders, but rather must be an indigenous exercise from within the community itself.
· When we as natives are given the tools and the education to understand the theological and historical issues that other cultures have encountered, then we will be able to do the same for our communities.
Who Will Go for Us?
In Canada, where are the native theologians who have explored and bridged the traditional expressions of spirituality? Where are the aboriginal Jesus-followers who are welcomed in the Midewewin Lodge of the Anishinabe, the Co-Salish smokehouse (“seowan”) of BC, or the longhouse of the East Coast Mohawks? Who will go for us to the Cree shaking tent, the sweat lodge, the Indian Shaker church or the Sundance? Who will speak with the pipe carriers and the medicine people and the canoe families? This work can only be done from within, and if the majority church really wants to reach out to the First Nations communities, there will have to be a serious long term effort of building relationships of trust, investing in our education, and funding community spiritual workers who will be able to make significant and substantial inroads into the cultures which are already ours.
This is an article that was published in November 2005 in the Canadian magazine New Horizons, published for the leadership of the Salvation Army.
Ray Levesque is a professor at Northwest Indian College on the Lummi Nation Reservation in Bellingham, Washington, serving both US and Canadian First Nations students. He leads a North American network of native church planters and is completing his doctorate in Church Multiplication and Transformational Leadership at Bakke Graduate University (www.bgu.edu) in Seattle. He may be reached at email@example.com and you may review the native church planting website at www.newgatherings.com.