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The Episcopal Church partners with White Bison, Inc. to address the root causes of domestic poverty for alleviation in Native American communities

April 29, 2010
Office of Public Affairs

Continuing its strong efforts to work closely with, and advocate for, the Native American population, The Episcopal Church is partnering with White Bison, Inc. to develop a culturally oriented strategy for addressing domestic poverty within Native American communities.

“Working with White Bison is an honor for our Church and our peoples,” said Sarah Eagle Heart (Oglala Lakota), Episcopal Church Native American and Indigenous Ministries Officer. “We are demonstrating healing, forgiveness and reconciliation through this partnership. We have the same goals of ensuring tribal cultural and spiritual preservation. By collaborating together, we can provide tools for communities to address issues such as the suicide rate, which is ten times the national average on some reservations. By combining our efforts, we can utilize the abundance present and bring transformation for the seventh generation of Native American peoples.”

“Our partnership with White Bison is a historic step forward to address the root causes of poverty and other social conditions that have plagued tribal communities for hundreds of years,” said Erma Vizenor, member of The Episcopal Church”s Executive Council Committee on Indigenous Ministry and White Earth Tribal Chairwoman. “Native Americans have come through a holocaust history and it is long overdue to educate the Church at large and to begin the healing of tribal people. The White Earth Nation has implemented the White Bison program in our culturally appropriate chemical abuse and mental health treatment program for Native youth for five years.”

At its General Convention 2009 (GC09) in July 2009, The Episcopal Church adopted A155, a resolution calling for the alleviation of domestic poverty with a focus on Native Americans calling for churchwide asset-based community development training in tribal communities. Also at GC09, resolution D035 was adopted to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and to encourage the United States to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This project will allow The Episcopal Church to continue implementing strategies that support these resolutions.

“Our mutual goal in this groundbreaking partnership is to collaborate around the important initiative of domestic poverty alleviation,” noted the Rev. Christopher Johnson, Social and Economic Justice Officer for The Episcopal Church.

Eagle Heart explained that this partnership is framed in four stages: (1) introducing the Healing Forest Model and the Wellbriety Movement to the Executive Council Committee on Indigenous Ministry at the March 13 conference in Salt Lake City, UT, which then unanimously affirmed the partnership; (2) equipping community members to implement culturally-based Wellbriety training in their communities;(3) developing a model project in communities in Province VI that can be replicated in the other eight Episcopal Church provinces; and (4) designing regional centers to support the implementation of the Wellbriety Movement within the various provinces.

White Bison

White Bison, Inc., based in Colorado Springs, CO, is a nationally known and respected non-profit and a sponsor of the Wellbriety Movement under the leadership of Don Coyhis (Mohican) Wellbriety means living a sober life that is balanced emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.

White Bison is focused on eliminating the underlying issues that lead to addiction, domestic violence, suicide, teen pregnancy, youth gang involvement and poverty. According to its website, its mission is to “disseminate culturally based principles, values, and teachings to support healthy community development and servant leadership, and to support healing from alcohol, substance abuse, co-occurring disorders and intergenerational trauma.”

Coyhis explained, “White Bison, Inc. has been addressing recovering issues within the Native American Community for over 20 years by developing curriculum, based on cultural teachings, to guide individuals, families and communities in a vision of wellness and healing. This vision is based upon the teachings of the Elders, forgiveness, the processing of unresolved grief and reclaiming a sense of Native identity.”

This partnership will also reinforce the strategic efforts of The Episcopal Church to “restore all people to unity with God and each other” [Canon I.1.2(n)4].

“We are grateful for White Bison’s willingness to share their curriculum and programs with us,” stated the Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota who serves as the chair of the Executive Council Committee on Indigenous Ministry and is an enrolled member of the Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma. “It is our hope that they will help to make the asset-based community development strategies more culturally appropriate for some Native communities. At the end of the day, however, the success or failure of these or any other programs depends on the acceptance and hard work of the local communities and congregations. Our job is simply to make available training for any local communities who wish to participate.”


The Episcopal Church welcomes all who worship Jesus Christ in 109 dioceses and three regional areas in 16 nations. The Episcopal Church is a member province of the worldwide Anglican Communion.


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