Indigenous Ministries

Indigenous Ministries

The goal of Native American/Indigenous Ministries is the full inclusion of Native and Indigenous peoples in the life and leadership of The Episcopal Church.

I spend a lot of my time, and a lot of my life, trying to find the places of connection and dissonance in Christianity and Indigenous Spirituality. Being Native Hawaiian, kanaka maoli, I have always been intrigued with how my ancestral legends of our earth mother Papahanaumoku and sky Father Wakea are similar or different to the book of Genesis in the Bible. I want to know how these fit, and how my brain and my heart can hold them both as being true and real and important. Never has the relationship between my two belief systems been so sharply focused as now, with the battle over Mauna-a-Wakea in my home, on the Moku o Keawe.

Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain, has been in the news a lot recently, because of protests against a new telescope scheduled to be built there. This is the TMT, the Thirty Meter Telescope, with funding from many mainland and international investors who want to explore the depth and the breadth of our skies. The people who are staying vigilant on Mauna Kea, the protectors, are trying to preserve the Mauna as a piko point – a genesis, a point of connection for kanaka maoli to the earth, to one another, and to wao Akua, realm of the Gods.

I have been involved in this movement to protect our sacred site from being dug into, and carved out, for an eighteen story high building. Mauna Kea is close to where I live, and I look to its often snow-capped peaks out of my bedroom window. The importance of connecting with this “We are Mauna Kea” movement has been not only to firmly re-root myself in my culture, and learn more about the mo’olelo, legends, of my ancestors, but also to be a part of a large group of Hawaiians claiming our identity and place in our world. This scale of protest, with this level of participation, has not happened before in my generation, or with this many young people stepping into the places our kupuna have held for us.

A particularly poignant moment of connection between my faith and my heritage came for me on Maundy Thursday. After a few days of warning to the group from the police about blocking the access road up the mountain, we knew there were going to be arrests. These arrests began on Maundy Thursday. My mom and I were confined to working on our farm that morning, but headed up Mauna Kea as soon as the cow and goats were milked and the other animals fed. By the time we got up there, the first round of arrests had happened, and the protectors were continuing up the mountain, with arrests for “blocking” and “obstruction” happening along the way. After speaking to a police officer, we heard there was a second van coming down the mountain, and we decided to follow them to post bail. As the unmarked, beat up red van came down the winding road, those of us by the visitors center stood and chanted for our warriors. Most of us were crying, so frustrated and deeply sad at this seeming criminalization of being native. In standing up for our birthright, for our belly button connection to God, we were being handcuffed and given criminal records. “Hewa”, my brain told me. This is wrong.

We followed the van to Hilo, and heard the chants and singing from the holding cells, full of brave men and women who took it upon themselves to protect the mountain, even to the point of jeopardizing their jobs. Bail was set for each person at $250, and one by one we did the paperwork to bail them out, trying to spare them the indignity of sitting overnight in a cell. As others heard that my mom was handling money, we were handed $5, $10, $20 crumpled and pulled out of back pockets and car consoles, everyone pooling together and giving what they could. On Maundy Thursday, we listen to a lesson about Jesus’ servitude to His disciples. He humbles himself and washes the feet of those who know Him as their teacher. The connection to this idea was so strong, watching those who had humbled themselves in service to their mountain and their connection to creation experienced through it – they were serving God. Soft tears fell down my cheeks most of that day, for my people, for my land, for what hard work it is to try to uphold my baptismal covenant – for the feeling of helplessness that crumples me at God’s feet, asking only for help.

With this movement in mind, I embarked for New York City, to attend first the Anglican Indigenous Network gathering and then the United Nations’ Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. I wanted to be able to leverage my voice, to make this trip mean something for the people who I left behind on Mauna Kea – to bring their voices, my brothers and sisters, with me. I found at the UN a more meaningful connection to the work of the Church than I anticipated. The more methodology was talked about, the more I understood the points of connection between what happens at General Convention, and why it is important. I also felt strongly the call of our baptismal covenant, to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”.

In God there are no divisions – no indigenous and white, no male and female, no gay and straight – we are all His people, His children, His beloved. The Church is called to stand in witness to the injustices we see in our world – not because desecrating sacred sites, or climate change, or racism are “Indigenous Issues” – but because they are issues that we are ALL living with the effects of, and we will not be a healthy body of Christ unless we address them.

I am proud to be part of a church that seeks to engage the Christ in all persons through forums like the United Nations. We are actively doing the work of Christ by being in the room, bearing witness to pain and trying to soothe it. We are actively loving our neighbors as ourselves by addressing the systemic racism and injustices that have been part of our policy and structure for far too long. And we are actively becoming instruments of God’s peace and reconciliation by enabling young people such as myself, to be at the UN, as a witness to Christ to advocate for my people. I do this work in the hopes that my children will inherit a better world, where relationships to earth are held as sacred, and they are healing instead of broken. I am deeply thankful to have been given this opportunity. Mahalo piha. 

I spend a lot of my time, and a lot of my life, trying to find the places of connection and dissonance in Christianity and Indigenous Spirituality. Being Native Hawaiian, kanaka maoli, I have always been intrigued with how my ancestral legends of...

Indigenous- Merriam Webster defines indigenous as “originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native.” Synonyms include native, original, aboriginal, autochthonous. These synonyms all remind us of the original people- those inhabitants of a place that not only call that place their home but also intrinsically belong to that area. (That’s why so many Natives scoff at the scientists who remain so adamant to prove the Bering Land Strait theory. Why this adamancy to reduce Indigenous peoples to sojourner status in their homelands?) Indigenous peoples are spread out across the world for that very reason. They reside in the area of their birth, of their grandparent’s birth, often despite the inconvenience of the location. Original peoples live in the lands their ancestors have called home for hundreds and thousands of generations.  This natural scattering of Indigenous peoples has occurred for a beautiful reason with deeply entrenched roots in each group’s creation and origin stories. However, the widespread nature of Indigenous groups can also cause other more insidious issues to occur. Mainly, Indigenous peoples across the globe are subject to marginalization, denial of their identity and sovereignty, and the oppression of their human rights by the nations and governments their birthright land fosters.

United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) provides recourse for Indigenous people and groups by giving them a voice that their national governments very possibly deny them. Thus it is to an international stage that these groups send representatives and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to the United Nations to champion their cause.

The opening day of UNPFII, the green carpeted chamber of the UN’s General Assembly hall was awash with a riot of colors and textures. Indigenous faces, voices and regalia were vibrantly accented against the bureaucratic, grey-suited landscape. Amongst the microphones, desks, laptops and dark-suited diplomats sat groups of “original inhabitants,” and their presence emphasized the amazing beauty and variety of the people of this Earth.  This presence though was not merely for aesthetics. Permanent Forum gives voice to the plights of marginalized tribal people groups that otherwise are denied not only their voice and opinion but also their identity as sovereign people groups.

In the days that followed, a variety of topics related to Indigenous peoples were reviewed in sessions separated by points on the agenda. Different NGOs and Indigenous people’s groups are given a chance to read carefully worded statements on the different agenda topics. This year the focus for Permanent Forum was a general overview of methods of implementation from and of statements and recommendations of years past.

As sidebars to the main Forum, many NGOs and Indigenous People’s groups hold parallel events and caucuses. These events serve not only as networking opportunities but also as smaller forums for group collaboration. At the caucuses I was privileged to attend, one recurring theme of many speakers was the importance of the self-determination and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples. In many nations, Indigenous peoples are still denied their “existence” or sovereign identity as Indigenous peoples by their national government. In the United States this is an issue as well. For the vast majority of the US population, the idea is that federal recognition gives the United States government’s authority to identify Native people as “validated Natives.”  However, this is a misinterpretation. Federal recognition is the process by which the United States government determines and establishes the protocol to work with a tribe on a nation-to-nation basis. Federal recognition in the United States establishes sovereignty not identity. The right to self-determination is defended strongly by all Indigenous peoples, Natives of the United States included. In those countries that deny the very existence of their Indigenous peoples, the risk of marginalization and continued discrimination increases triple-fold.

Among various other important topics on the Permanent Forum’s two-week agenda, youth suicide and self-harm were included. I was blessed to be able to work with two other Indigenous delegates from the Episcopal Church and with Lynnaia Main, the church’s Global Relations Officer in crafting a statement on youth self-harm and suicide. This statement would be the first statement to be read on the floor of the UN since the inauguration of the Episcopal Church’s new ECOSOC status. Despite not being chosen for reading on the floor, the statement was still submitted for review by the Permanent Forum. I cannot be more proud to have been a part of such a momentous occasion for the church and to have worked with such passionate, focused delegates and church staff.

I was raised in a relatively conservative enclave of the United States and growing up I heard much negative commentary on the United Nations and its efficacy (or lack thereof) in global relations. While the frustration of the language game in bureaucratic relations can be a very real impediment to immediate change, my trip to UNPFII reminded me of the importance of institutions like the United Nations to the global society in which we live today. No longer can nations, like the United States, practice the isolationism of previous centuries. For this reason, Indigenous peoples must be continually active at the United Nations, through the Permanent Forum and hopefully soon Permanent Observer status. When national governments deny Indigenous peoples their human rights, it is on an international stage that their petitions and statements must be heard. It is through the language game, the bureaucratic hoops and red tape that many a battle can be won. We as Indigenous people truly walk in two worlds. While it is important to learn the politics, to play the language game, to advocate and to network, let us never forget where we came from: indigenous- people that belong to the Earth, that belong to the same places in which our ancestors thrived hundreds of generations ago. Indigenous people belong to the Earth. The tie is intrinsic and intimate. We all know where we came from, who we are, and what we deserve as custodians of our sacred places. Now it is time to proclaim that to the world, loudly and repeatedly until they all listen.

Indigenous- Merriam Webster defines indigenous as “originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native.” Synonyms include native, original, aboriginal, autochthonous. These synonyms all remind us of the original people- those...

Strong Heart shares the perspective of Indigenous young adults in The Episcopal Church.

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women NGO CSW opened this year with a most inspiring event. NGO CSW is the organizational alliance of all Non Governmental Organizations involved in the Commission on the Status of Women. NGO CSW’s opening event was held at the famous and historic Apollo Theatre. Women of all ages and ethnicities lined themselves down the block in front of the Apollo in Harlem NYC in anticipation of Consultation Day. The event was subtitled: “Celebrate the Feminist and Women’s Movements 1975- 2015.” From an international panel of women advocates from around the world to the most amazing, Ruchira Gupta, “Women of Distinction Awardee” and “The Selling of Innocents” documentary maker, this year’s first day activities both emphasized the worldwide activism of women to promote that “women’s rights are human rights” and encouraged many to continue the fight. This 59th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women is also the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform, a ground breaking tool that was established in 1995. The Beijing Platform highlights 12 critical areas of concern involving that status of women. These areas include: women and poverty, education and training of women, women and health, violence against women, women and armed conflict, women and the economy, women in power and decision-making, institutional mechanism for the advancement of women, human rights of women, women and the media, women and the environment, and the girl-child.

      At Consultation Day, the spirit of the many international women activists throughout the past 40 years was celebrated with film clips from UNCSW 1975, 1980, 1985, and 1990. There were moments of these clips when the voice of a certain activist played over and through a montage of clips of international women marching and representing for their cause that brought chills to my body and a stronger sense of purpose to my intentions.

     Keynote address speaker Ruchira Gupta encouraged the auditorium, filled all the way to its third balcony with international NGO activists, to not forget the last girl. The last girl, that girl who is impoverished and indigenous and dark and low caste, deserves just as much attention and access to the human rights undeniable to us all. As Gupta said, it is not until we lift up the last girl that all women will experience equality.

     The morning panel of Consultation Day examined both the achievements of different global region’s governments in implementing the Beijing Platform and the challenges to further acceptance of and development of the 12 areas noted by the Beijing Platform as critical to the fundamental rights of women. It remains a conundrum of common sense in many ways that there are countries of this world in the year 2015 that still find the 12 areas of concern to be high orders and non-essentials at that. However, in this statement in itself I realize a sort of condescending Western tone to my thought. Just as I listened to the discussions of the panelists, I realized that these matters I might write-off as easily decided or “common sense” are still influenced by complex and nuanced cultural, religious and social mores that are not so easily tackled despite the pervasive and insistent voices of NGOs and women’s groups from across the globe.

     Nonetheless, the importance of fully supporting and promoting the adoption of the Beijing Platform’s critical areas of concern on a global scale by each nation cannot be denied and the need to support women from each of the corner’s of the globe in their strides towards empowerment is equally imperative.

    This Consultation Day for NGO CSW opened with a performance by a quartet of beautiful international ladies. They sang to us in a myriad of languages, languages as varied as their dressage and coloring. Each lady held the audience captive with her strong gaze and melodic voice. To me this performance set the tone for the entire week of UNCSW 59. It served as a representation of the many varied and beautiful faces, religions, customs and cultures here in New York City these next two weeks. It reminded me of the importance of collaboration and voices united in demands. Women united in song and sympathy can accomplish anything.

Perspectives shared on this blog are from the personal experience of Indigenous Peoples in an effort to raise awareness while they attend events alongside the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Strong Heart shares the perspective of Indigenous young adults in The Episcopal Church. The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women NGO CSW opened this year with a most inspiring event. NGO CSW is the organizational alliance of all Non...

Suicide is a world-wide public health issue. In the United States, Native American families experience the highest rate of teen suicide of any ethnic population. Suicide rates are more than double for Native Americans. Suicide is the second leading cause of death, 2.5 times the national rate, for American Indian (AI) /Alaska Native (AN) youth ages 15-24.

For AI/AN youth ages 12-20, violence accounts for 75 percent of deaths, including suicide, homicide, and intentional injuries. More females (22 percent) than males (12 percent) were reported to have attempted suicide. At least 5 percent had serious thoughts of suicide during the past year.

These statistics repeat throughout indigenous populations:

  • In Canada, the leading causes of death for First Nations youth in the year 2000 were suicide and self-inflicted injuries. Twenty-four percent of all deaths among 15-24 olds are deaths by suicide. Two to three times more often boys die by suicide than girls. First Nations youth die by suicide about 5-6 times more often than non-indigenous youth. For Inuit youth, the suicide rate is 11 times the national average, among the highest rate in the world.
  • In New Zealand, the suicide rate for Māori youth is more than 2.5 times higher than for non-Māori youth. In 2011, the Māori youth suicide rate was 36.4 per 100,000 in the Māori youth populations.
  • In Australia, suicide was not known among the aboriginal people prior to colonization. Now, the rate of aboriginal youth suicide is the world’s highest, except for Greenland.  Statistics for 2011 show that the percentage of youth from ages 10 to 24 who were aboriginal and died by suicide as at 80 percent.  In that same category in 1991 the figure was 10 percent.  The age for suicide is dropping; more aboriginal children are attempting suicide. Ideation of suicide can start as early as 8 or 9 years old.

These statistics demand our attention as people of God who have pledged via our Baptismal Covenant “to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves,” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”

The causes of suicide can be viewed as a result of historical trauma and living conditions, and due to mental health concerns.

Historically, native people have been enslaved and forcibly relocated (the Trail of Tears and the Navajo Long Walk); lost their lands; had their children taken away to boarding schools; have been raped, punished for speaking their languages and have had their cultural practices outlawed; they have fallen ill to and died from diseases they had not been exposed to before; and they have been killed individually in beatings and in massacres.

Children removed from their family and traditions, their land and language, did not learn how to be parents themselves. Some boarding schools were emotionally cold and distant institutions where the focus was on assimilation into mainstream culture, allegedly saving the person by “killing the Indian” inside that person.

Loss of language, of ties to families and the land, of culture and traditions created disconnect.

A second cause is environmental. Reservations can often be remote and removed from being strong economic centers. Without jobs, some reservations report up to 80 percent unemployment, where there is little financial security. Some reservation homes are in poor condition without adequate room for families, without running water and electricity, even in 2014.

With little hope for a future, and low high school graduation rates, some native youth turn to drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and gang violence for diversion and self-medication.

Mental illness, brain disorders, neurochemical imbalances are the third reason for native youth suicides. In mainstream society, mental illness and suicide have stigmas associated with them. Mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other conditions, needs to be diagnosed and care prescribed. Afraid of being labeled or ridiculed, people often don’t seek medical assistance and/or counseling.

Healing can come through helping native children and youth reconnect with their culture, language, and traditions. Language programs and cultural revitalization are ways for native children to learn about their people and traditions.

Among these programs are projects to help children and others learn how to bead, make regalia – including moccasins, ribbon shirts, and jingle dresses – how to sing traditional songs, and to make and use hand-drums. In addition, tribes like the Poarch Creek in Alabama have classes for their youth to learn traditional dances. Often young people are called upon to perform at native gatherings. The Diocese of Eastern Oregon invited a native dance group to perform at their recent diocesan convention in October in Pendleton, Oregon. Young native people from the Diocese of Idaho have performed at the Province VIII Indigenous Network WinterTalk in Reno, Nevada. This same group did a sign language presentation of The Lord’s Prayer at the 2012 General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Pride in their heritage, seeing the value in their people’s languages and traditions and connecting children and teens to their culture creates good and healthy emotions and outlook. Youth learn that they come from a long history of strength and knowledge, and that their ancestors are with them through their values and stories. Families, youth and elders become better connected. Elders can teach and lead the children in language learning and cultural teachings.

Many tribes also have museums and cultural centers for their children, youth, and the public to visit. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla invited participants from the Diocese of Eastern Oregon diocesan convention to tour their Tamástslikt Cultural Institute to see the storyline museum of history into today. The 2014 national WinterTalk was held on the Confederated Tribes of the Tulalip reservation near Everett, Washington. Delegates also visited the Tulalip Tribes’ Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve, and listened to traditional story telling.

Parishes and missions can become partners with nearby tribes by providing space for cultural classes, providing safe places for students to do homework and take tests, offering after-school care and snacks, and inviting cultural groups to participate in sharing their culture. At the St. Matthew/San Mateo Church in Auburn, Washington, the Perupecha, indigenous people from Mexico, are coordinating and leading cultural celebrations, such as “Our Lady of Guadalupe” and “Las Posadas.” Often the young people are in the dance groups, and help make and serve traditional foods.

For more information, contact Sarah Eagle Heart, Indigenous Missioner, The Episcopal Church, at seagleheart@episcopalchurch.org.

Perspectives shared on this blog are from the personal experience of Indigenous Peoples in an effort to raise awareness. 

Suicide is a world-wide public health issue. In the United States, Native American families experience the highest rate of teen suicide of any ethnic population. Suicide rates are more than double for Native Americans. Suicide is the second leading...

With the increased pressure to alleviate America’s dependency on foreign oil, the advent of new, more environmentally dangerous methods of oil and natural gas extraction have begun to take center stage on the American frontier. In the West, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations have become the center for a new “gold rush” of this century, and camps of men hired to mine this liquid gold have popped up across North Dakota. These oil camps are large, described by some as “pop-up cities.” The inhabitants of the camps are transient, moving from oil operation to oil operation, making lots of money and enjoying themselves wherever they go. Unfortunately, the chosen recreational activities of some of the laborers reveal the real dangers of these “man camps.”

Since the advent of oil operations and the man camps that accompany them, medical workers and law enforcement have reported staggering statistics on the rising rates of HIV infection, prostitution and sexual assaults. Indian towns in close vicinity to these man camps have experienced major strains on their law enforcement infrastructures, as the number of citizens per police officer are multiplied exponentially when a man camp is set up in the local area. Due to prostitution and other criminal activities such as drug trafficking, many locals living close to these man camps no longer feel safe going out after dark. Winona La Duke’s Honor the Earth website contains a fact sheet on the dangers of these man camps and statistics to support the assertion: “North Dakota’s Uniform Crime Report shows that violent crime has increased 7.2 percent, while 243 reported rapes occurred in 2012 – an increase from 207 in 2011.” Another statistic from Honor the Earth indicates the danger facing local communities from these man camps and more specifically the dangers to native women: “The Fort Berthold Reservation, home to the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations, is located in western North Dakota, and in recent years has experienced an exponentially increasing level of violence against native women.”

In January 2014 United Nations Special Rapporteur James Anaya made special mention of the dangers indigenous women face from these man camps: “…indigenous women have reported that the influx of workers into indigenous communities as a result of extractive projects also led to increased incidents of sexual harassment and violence, including rape and assault.” Coupled with the already staggering statistic that Native American women are 2½ times more likely to be the victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes than another race or minority, the development of these man camps on the fringes of Native American reservations and territories only serves to further endanger an already vulnerable population. While certain Indian towns are more at risk of such victimization than other communities that are removed from the “oil boom” areas, the overall danger to both the native women and the tribal police’s infrastructure is frightening. The overall threat to indigenous women in the United States and Canada has prompted several movements across the Western Hemisphere. These movements, both grassroots and political, seek to raise awareness of the dangers indigenous women face daily and to promote law enforcement and government agencies to actively participate in investigating the more than a thousand missing native women. In Canada, the latest reports from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police cite more than 1,200 indigenous women have been murdered or are listed as missing. With statistics such as these, the development of more man camps in North America will only increase the danger to native peoples, in particular indigenous women.

If you want to know what it is like in oil country, in and around the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, it is best to read Grace Her Many Horses article, “Firsthand Account of Man Camp in North Dakota from Local Tribal Cop.” The former Rosebud Sioux Tribe police chief shares her experiences from working in oil country and what others have told her about sexual assaults on men and women as well as children. She writes about sex trafficking and prostitution rings, citing how a van full of females was pulled over and they bluntly stated, “You know why we’re going up there,” as if to attend a delightful social event. She also mentions the rise in rates of crime, gambling and illegal drug use.

One could also talk with anyone who currently lives near or has visited the area in the last year. Speak with a tribal member and let them share with you how their land has changed. Once referred to by many as “God’s Country,” for its beautiful rolling green hills and beautiful landscape, with people walking freely down the block to grab a soda or meet up with friends for a bite to eat, now much has changed.  Residents were once able to walk around without worrying about whether or not an oil field worker was watching them from a distance. In the past, residents did not worry about locking their door if they left home briefly. Now, one will see broken roads, possibly dirt, where smoothly paved roads once lay. The oil derricks know no boundaries, with some so close to the well-traveled roads that you can almost reach out and touch their structure as you drive by.

Most people are advised to be careful. Women have been advised to not go out alone after a certain hour. Parents are advised to watch their children, to not allow children to run freely for fear of their being snatched up and thrown into a prostitution ring or trafficked elsewhere. Grace Her Many Horses explains how having her own daughters there with her had aged her so much and how often she had worried for their safety. It is not a place for children or women.

Between first-hand accounts and news reports, it is impossible to ignore the dangers facing the environment and the indigenous communities at the frontlines of these fracking operations. They are a strong community, holding on to their traditions and language and teaching the youth, so they do not lose their sense of self. Celebrations, honorings, powwows and feasts- all are held to strengthen the sense of community, to emphasize that nothing can knock the people down.  There are no easy answers to the questions that haunt our society, questions on environmental sustainability and foreign oil dependence. Beyond the easy solutions with their accompanying destruction, the dangers indigenous communities and people face is just as haunting and destructive. Before our knee-jerk decisions leave permanent effects, let us consider the impact on indigenous peoples and future generations.

Perspectives shared on this blog are from the personal experience of Indigenous Peoples in an effort to raise awareness. 

With the increased pressure to alleviate America’s dependency on foreign oil, the advent of new, more environmentally dangerous methods of oil and natural gas extraction have begun to take center stage on the American frontier. In the West,...

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, UNCSW 59, met on March 9-20, 2015. This year The Episcopal Church has received a new status with the United Nations and therefore is sending a delegation of women to represent the Episcopal Church and participate in this two-week conference. This year, the agenda looks back at the Beijing Platform and evaluates how it has or has not addressed all that it originally set out to accomplish for and about women.

I was honored to be asked to attend UNCSW several years ago as part of the Indigenous Ministries under the leadership of Sarah Eagle Heart. I attended with several other native women, and we were able to observe and experience first-hand what UNCSW is all about. It was a busy and very complex event with some 17,000 women in attendance that year. I was glad to be there with other indigenous women of like minds and backgrounds, because I felt that we could relate to one another with a shared commonality. The schedule was fast-paced, hectic, challenging, and complicated, but I had the comfort of being with sisters along the Red Road. We came back to the hotel each night and caucused, sharing about our day with one another and working out ideas and strategies that would allow this complexity of experience and information to work on our behalf.

Since that first conference, I have had the honor to attend several U.N. conferences in part. Along with other women from Indigenous Ministries, I have helped to host parallel events at the National Church Center, sharing our concerns as native women. This year I was chosen to attend the 2015 UNCSW conference as a delegate for the Episcopal Church. It certainly is an honor, but I carry with me a grave responsibility as well, since I will be representing all of my indigenous brothers and sisters.

I carry with me this sense that we as indigenous women need to develop a sisterhood of sharing and caring where we support one another around the circle and take from events of this nature, ideas and strategies that can be shared and utilized back home in our diocese, our church and our community. Many powerful people attend this conference, so it is imperative for us as indigenous women to put the ideas birthed and expressed at these conferences to better use within our own communities. I have to be honest and say that first-time attendees often find this mélange of women, the agendas and constant events really intimidating, but the wealth of knowledge and ideas that you come away with is truly worth it all. Networking options are unlimited, and the parallel events that are ongoing all of the time are AMAZING! Coming with a group of women from Indigenous Ministries was the key to getting indoctrinated and getting comfortable with the “wildness” of it all on the first go for me.

After my first UNCSW conference, the next year that I had the honor of attending UNCSW, our group put a parallel event together and it was wonderful.  It was a standing-room-only event, and those in attendance wanted us to try and fit another event in during that conference. We were so excited that those who came sensed our passion and caught our vision. That daunting first year became worth it all: developing a learning curve from it and putting that to work for us the following year as we shared our stories.    

The past years that I have attended UNCSW were hallmark times for me, because I was able to take back a wealth of information gleaned from the conferences. Once you are able to go, you become aware of many opportunities with which to return to your place of origin and share with both your community and your diocese. Opportunities to network while in attendance at UNCSW are basically unlimited and produce much fruit in so many ways.

So why should you think about coming to UNCSW in the future? Because it will give you added information, instruction, ideas, potential moves for your future and the future of your church, diocese, and community. Once you become impassioned, it's contagious. You can share with others the dream and the vision that events like this give you, and in our particular case, with other native people and native women. We need to find our voice in a greater way. Caucusing together as indigenous women at events like UNCSW births creative thinking, and thus future opportunity and unlimited possibilities of all kinds.

I have used this knowledge and training is so many ways on many levels. For example, this summer I was required to attend an S.T.E.M. Learning training event for Virginia educators. S.T.E.M. Learning is the teaching and learning of integrated science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I was required to put together two week’s worth of focused teaching and then demonstrate this by teaching two selected lessons to a room full of teachers to prove that I had mastered the concept. Based on what I had learned during my times at the UNCSW, coupled with the parallel event that our indigenous women presented together that last time, I pulled from all of that experience and knowledge and used that for the basis of my teaching block. Had I not had the honor to go, attend and learn from conferences like UNCSW, I daresay that I would not have had the material to integrate into my S.T.E.M. Learning lesson plans. So what I said earlier about learning and then returning home to share at various levels holds true. Don't miss this opportunity to come, learn and grow as indigenous women contributing to the health and well being of the greater circle. Women as warriors standing on Mother Earth with purpose and vision together!

Oneh,
Nellie

Perspectives shared on this blog are from the personal experience of Indigenous Peoples in an effort to raise awareness. 

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, UNCSW 59, met on March 9-20, 2015. This year The Episcopal Church has received a new status with the United Nations and therefore is sending a delegation of women to represent the Episcopal...

Deacon Terry Star, Diocese of North Dakota, entered larger life on March 4, 2014. His presence and perspective is dearly missed by all in The Episcopal Church. He gave this perspective on native youth at the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis: 

My name is Terry Star. I'm a deacon serving in the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota. My parents have always been involved with community activities for youth. My extended family includes the children and teens from the many communities we've lived in. Since high school, I too have been involved in work with teens; I've made a career out of working with teens. I worked as a teacher and tutor in a high school for seven years. I served as cultural director for a group home in Spokane. I worked as a treatment technician for a juvenile treatment center for native youth. Most recently, and for the past eight years, I have been involved in youth ministry and have been employed as an area director for a youth ministry program in partnership with my congregation. All of these experiences have given me the opportunity to be in the midst of their lives, to witness their struggles and to encourage their gifts.

Struggles that our youth are facing

One of my boys, Matthew, was asked what he had planned for his life. He replied, "Well, my uncles are drunks and my cousins are drunks, and I'll probably be a drunk, too."

Another of my boys, Thomas, was homeless. He spent the night in a cousin's house because he had no place else to go on a cold spring night. The house exploded, and Thomas suffered severe burns over 25 percent of his body, mostly because he was the last one out of the house, making sure the babies in the house were safe. His cousin, one of my girls, also homeless, died a few months later from burns she suffered in the fire.

Many of the teens I work with are living in overcrowded houses. Finding three or four families living in a three-bedroom house is very common. High school students in these living conditions don't find a quiet study place for homework.

Students are often tardy or absent from school because their home was the party place the night before. Incestuous rape is a common and sad occurrence in these living conditions. Suicide rates are at an extreme high rate, higher than any other cultural community, because our teens just don’t see a way out.

Gifts of youth

Life in our communities isn’t all bleak. My experiences working with our youth has also given me the awesome witness of their gifts and talents.

Shawn, Trent, Austin, Martin, Draven, and Cole are a few of my boys who choose to live “above the influence.” Though they still stay up all night, they choose to write lyrics, kill zombies, develop stories ... all without alcohol or other drugs. This group of boys helped me set up the youth group space, and return it back to order again. They gather together with “chip-ins” for gas to take a “guys’ day out” with their Young Life leaders in a youth group van.

Ferby and Trent went with me to Minot, where we installed insulation in Jody’s house. Jody’s house was ruined during a major flood that destroyed a third of the city. Jody wasn't eligible for any of the flood relief assistance. Through Episcopal Relief and Development, and with the help of people like Ferby and Trent, her house was saved and rebuilt.

Another group of teens, led by Ferby and his Young Life leaders, helped build a sandbag wall to save a home from flooding in Bismarck. Ferby went door-to-door in his community, waking up his peers to get in the van to go help build the wall.

The Spirit Journey Youth run their own center, The Hozhoni Youth Center in Arizona. Their director is a young man whose life was changed by his participation in the youth group. It is a great joy to read their daily journals on Facebook. I find encouragement in my own life by reading their stories.

Being a native in the 21st century is a very different experience than what our ancestors lived.

Generational Cultural Dynamics

My grandmother grew up in an era of the church that held the belief that Indigenous Peoples had to put away their cultural identities in order to be a Christian, and that we had to be Christian in order to show that we had been assimilated into the mainstream American culture.

When Grandma Lillian sent me to school, she told me to pay attention to my teachers so they could teach me how to survive in the Wasicu world. She taught me about our cultural ceremonies, customs, and family history, but told me I had to keep it secret because we need to learn how to be Indians in this new world.

I am a deacon in this church. I am learning to speak my language through the liturgy and music that has been translated into Dakota. I wear my feathers and beadwork during Sunday worship ceremonies.

Today’s teens have access to the entire world through the satellite TV and Internet. Some of my teens tell me about their online gaming friends from all over the country. Some of my current teens are Facebook friends with my adopted relatives on other reservations.

Mission groups that come to the Standing Rock reservation aren’t coming to reservation to save the poor Indian kids, but rather to make new friends and tear down the stereotypes and institution of racism.

As I am serving as Deputy here at General Convention, 800 miles away from home, I am also coordinating camp recruitment via Facebook, Twitter, and texting with staff and teens at home.

While it can be easy for us to focus on the challenges of being a native in the 21st century, I believe it is far more important to realize that we are a changing and growing culture with rays of hope shining through. I am excited about our youth and future they build for our Indigenous People. Black Elk said that it would take seven generations from Wounded Knee before the Sacred Hoop can begin to heal. I believe we are witnessing the beginning of this healing. 

Rest In Peace Terry.

Deacon Terry Star, Diocese of North Dakota, entered larger life on March 4, 2014. His presence and perspective is dearly missed by all in The Episcopal Church. He gave this perspective on native youth at the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis...

Dear Relatives,

Cante Waste ya Nape Ciyu zape ye (I greet you from my heart). This month in our newsletter we are sharing different advocacy perspectives from indigenous women who have attended the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in the Office of Indigenous Ministries Advocacy Mentoring Program. Each year since 2011, a small delegation of four to six indigenous women who have been a part of the global network of Anglican Council on Indigenous Women have attended this amazing training opportunity.

The idea behind this project has been to raise indigenous women leaders to give voice to indigenous issues at this global platform and to share their grassroots experience for education and empowerment. They help to bring Indigenous Ministry into a world view (reservation, urban, and international). They focus not only solutions, but also on causes of historical trauma and racism.

Their grassroots perspective is important as the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) begins to fully utilize the new Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) status.  ECOSOC is the United Nations’ central platform for reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development. All official U.N. delegates and women attending the 59th session will review progress made in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 20 years after its adoption at the fourth World Conference on Women (http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/united-nations-commission-status-women-59th-session-questionnaire).

The education and orientation has been in partnership with DFMS of the Episcopal Church, Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations Anglican Women’s Empowerment, Ecumenical Women at the United Nations, and The Episcopal Church.

This April, the Anglican Indigenous Network will bring a delegation to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, April 19-24, 2015. The Anglican Indigenous Network will also hold a parallel event on April 19, 2015, at Trinity Wall Street.

It has been a joy to facilitate this work in response to Mission Mark 1 – To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom: New Church Development – and Mission Mark 4 – To Transform Unjust Structures of Society: Poverty in the United States. Please enjoy the articles and videos from this very energetic and committed group of women dedicated to advocacy.

Pilamayaye,
Sarah

Dear Relatives, Cante Waste ya Nape Ciyu zape ye (I greet you from my heart). This month in our newsletter we are sharing different advocacy perspectives from indigenous women who have attended the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women...

     The last Sunday of every month, the Young Adult Planning Group of Indigenous Ministries invites all members to a digital forum where discussion on topics important to leadership development and spiritual growth is held. The circle is held at 5 pm Eastern and all YAPG members are invited to attend. Past sessions of Strong Heart will be archived and available for viewing on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/user/IndigEpiscopal).

     For this first session of Strong Heart, we were joined by Isaiah Brokenleg, Program Director and Epidemiologist at Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council. Isaiah gave a brilliant presentation on health in Indian country and the factors that specifically affect Indigenous peoples in the areas of health and wellness. We discussed how important it is that research be done by epidemiologists who are sensitive to Indigenous issues in Native American communities. This sensitivity to Indigenous specific factors promotes appropriate representation of the Indigenous population and also helps to remedy previous harms done to Native populations by biased research. As a Native epidemiologist, Isaiah gave examples of how previous research on Native peoples has been improperly handled. For example, the Havasupai tribe of Arizona, who had supplied blood samples for a medical study in the early ‘90s, found out years later that the blood samples had been used for numerous studies of both racially discriminatory intent and for medical research other than the stipulated use. Four individuals received their PhDs by using Havasupai blood sample research for their dissertations and were allowed to keep those degrees despite their unethical approaches. It is no surprise then that many Native communities and individuals do not trust allopathic (or Western) medicine and its practitioners.

     From this point, the discussion turned to Western versus Traditional medicine and Indian Health Services. Traditional medicine is holistic, personal and based on the wellness of the entire person. Often times, Indian Health Services buildings will include a traditional dwelling for sweats and ceremonies so that traditional medicinal practices can be incorporated into patient care. This is a way that IHS can promote itself and integrate into the culture of the local community. It also helps smooth the way past the myriad of trust issues Native communities may have with Western medicine and society. Isaiah's presentation reviewed other inequalities Native peoples face in research, funding and representation in health based research and organizations. For example, the current statistics on the yearly cost of healthcare services allocated per individual in various federally sponsored healthcare programs compared to the amount Indian Health Services gets per individual is grossly lopsided.  Indian Health Services receives half of the amount per person per year that the federal prison system allocates per inmate per year for healthcare-related costs. The federal prison system is hardly the most lascivious spender or receiver of federal tax dollars; so this statistic, especially when viewed on a bar graph, is very disheartening.

    Lest we be overcome with disappointment, Isaiah reminded us of the many ways in which Indian Health Services does a stellar job of providing health services to Native communities. For example, did you know that there are several areas where IHS supersedes national statistics in areas of healthcare? Some of the areas included in these sterling statistics are the rate of vaccination, one visit care, and preventative screenings.  

  Question and answer time was held after the presentation. We discussed the rate of HIV/AIDS in Native communities, and Isaiah warned of the dangers of Hepatitis C, a disease that can go unchecked for years and cause irreversible damage to one’s liver and general health. Pointed questions were asked by a number of participants on how faith-based organizations and individuals of faith could more effectively address the issues of health discrimination and bias that Native peoples face in their communities. For faith-based organizations that want to reach out and empower local Indigenous communities, what are the best avenues to do so? Isaiah explained that one of the main ways to effectively reach out to local Native communities is for faith-based groups to help reduce stigmas associated with Western medicine and healthcare services in general. He gave an example of a group of pastors in Chicago who had incorporated a HIV/AIDs blood test into their Sunday morning sermon to reduce the stigma of screening for sexually transmitted infections for their church members. Faith based organizations can use their societal and cultural clout to encourage openness and foster group settings in which the promotion of important health screenings and the reduction of stigmas can be cultivated. For those individuals and groups who want to help out in the Indian Health world, what advice and opportunities are available? Isaiah pointed out the importance of a long-term mission that would involve an ongoing relationship with the community in which one was working. He discussed the efficacy of missions that involve working for Indian Health or a local community health center in a professional capacity for a two to five year term. Ultimately, the importance of ministering to one’s local community was emphasized. In Isaiah’s words, “Being active in your communities is the best way of being a practical, tangible Jesus....”  In conclusion, Indigenous Missioner Sarah Eagle Heart wrapped up the session, reminding all attendees of the important words we as Episcopalians repeat in our Baptismal Covenant, encouraging us to work in our local communities “striving for justice and peace.”

    If you are interested in a more in-depth look at Isaiah’s presentation and this first session of Strong Heart, please visit the IndigEpiscopal Youtube page for all three parts of the discussion. The next session of Strong Heart will be held on February 22, 2015 at 5 pm Eastern. We are excited to announce that Bishop Steven Charleston will be joining us for the February session of Strong Heart!

     The last Sunday of every month, the Young Adult Planning Group of Indigenous Ministries invites all members to a digital forum where discussion on topics important to leadership development and spiritual growth is held. The circle is held at 5...

Dear Relatives,

Cante Waste ya Nape Ciyu zape ye (I greet you from my heart).

This winter I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the calling in of indigenous young adults. These young adults had joined young adults of color at Why Serve at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley last June. At this conference, they learned of many ministries in the Episcopal Church and as a result, they called for intentional networking throughout the year. With this goal in mind, they began by joining together for video conference calls where they shared their dreams for spiritual development, leadership training and advocacy.

As they began discussing this idea, it occurred to me that such an education opportunity might be great for all of New Community Young Adults. So I began by engaging missioners from the Diversity and Ethnic Ministries Team and Young Adult/Campus Ministries to gather Young Adults of Color or those working within ethnic ministries. The purpose will be to educate on church’s ministries pertaining to the development of leadership skills for the New Community Digital Circle:

  • “Financial Leadership”
  • “Stewardship”
  • “Networking and Leadership”
  • “Leadership within Our Communities and Beyond with the Five Marks of Mission”
  • “Global Relationships”
  • “Defining Leadership through an Episcopal Lens”
  • “New Community Advocacy”
  • "Spiritual Development and Leadership”
  • “Leadership at any Age.”

The first New Community Digital Circle will take place on the last Tuesday of each month, beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 4 p.m. Pacific/5 p.m. Mountain/6 p.m. Central/7 p.m. Eastern. To sign up, please use this link – http://dfms.formstack.com/forms/nc_young_adult_digital_circle_signup_form_copy – or email Angie Cabanban at acabanban@episcopalchurch.org.

Young Adults from Indigenous Ministries will meet one Sunday per month for 75 minutes via video/conference call for spiritual development, leadership training and advocacy teachings with leaders from Native American/Indigenous Ministries to meet their context:

  • “Indigenous Advocacy”
  • “Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery”
  • “Faith Formation Resources”
  • “Indigenous Women's Ministry”
  • “Teaching Art and Culture”
  • “Health in Indian Country”
  • “Community Development in Indian Country”
  • “What It Means to Be Indigenous/Native American in the Episcopal Church?”

The Indigenous Young Adult Digital Circle will take place on the last Sunday of each month beginning on Sunday, Jan. 25 at 2 p.m. Pacific/3 p.m. Mountain/4 p.m. Central/5 p.m. Eastern. To sign up, please use this link – http://dfms.formstack.com/forms/im_young_adult_digital_circle_signup_form – or email Angie Cabanban at acabanban@episcopalchurch.org.

The Diversity and Ethnic Ministries Team will hold Why Serve during the first week of the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, in partnership with Young Adult Festival. Please stay tuned for more information. General Convention is from June 25 to July 3, 2015.

To keep in touch with Indigenous Ministry of the Episcopal Church, please ensure your contact information is updated at http://dfms.formstack.com/forms/indigenousministries_contact_form1.

Pilamayaye,
Sarah

Dear Relatives, Cante Waste ya Nape Ciyu zape ye (I greet you from my heart). This winter I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the calling in of indigenous young adults. These young adults had joined young adults of color at Why Serve at Church...