|The Office of Emerging Ministries is charged with edifying our congregations, spiritual communities and new works into inclusive communities. Towards that effort, one of my responsibilities is to provide our ministries with resources and information regarding diverse non-dominant populations who are threads in the fabric of MCC. It is my belief that the more we know about other peoples and cultures, the less we fear them. November is Native North American Heritage month. I contacted three members of our movement and asked them if they would be willing to share of themselves so that we all might develop a deeper understanding of siblings who call MCC home. Graciously all accepted my request to share from their deepest places. As you read their stories and prayerfully consider incorporating these worship practices into your worship services, I ask only that you have an open heart.It is my pleasure to introduce to you Rev. Vicki Anderson, Mark Brown and Rev. Norma Gann.The questions posed to each were:
Rev. Vicki Anderson
Late in life, I started receiving my gifts. Medicine bag, talking stick, peace pipe. I didn’t feel very comfortable with them at all. In 2000, I found the Shaman’s Path and I haven’t veered from it at all. The two things I want to give the world are healing and peace, this is what I have been looking for ever since I became clergy. I searched for the place to bring healing to the human’s need for balance between mind-body-spirit. I always knew I walked in two worlds, but I didn’t have a name for it. The only way I could go into the spirit world and come out safely was as a shaman.
In 1987, I first attended an MCC. It was Resurrection MCC in Houston, Texas USA. It was there I received my call and accepted responsibility for my walk with God in 1989. In 1992, I started the search for my ministry because I was almost finished with formation.
I think first of all, I started with a celebration on Earth Day at MCC of Amarillo (Amarillo, Texas USA). I wanted to start slowly by showing the congregation that all things are connected. Working with small groups like the Sisters group in Amarillo gave me the opportunity to reach out to the women and bring them closer on their spirit walk. We then began organizing annual sister’s retreats in nature, in New Mexico. Then I got a room full of healers together and we built a Sunday school building. I then brought in a Cherokee Medicine Woman to educate the women of Amarillo on how they could incorporate in small ways how to live in this outside world and remaining true to their essence of spirit.
A resource I recommend is Earth Prayers by the United Nations, see below:
Earth Day Eucharist
The original poem I want to share is Harvest
The Indian Summer brings an abundant harvest to all
The blue Corn Festival
Roasted hatch chili
The smell of fry bread in the air
We wear our very best
And the flutes lighten our step
We sing and dance to the Elder’s drums
Praise and Thanksgiving to the Great Creator
The shaman sages and builds the sacred fire
Praying to the Great Spirit
For a safe and peaceful winter
We circle the medicine wheel
And chant our prayers and needs to the Great Spirit
We give thanks and praise
As the smoke spirals up
Carrying them to Heaven
The great Spirit brings a message in the spring
The wind tells us we are one
-Reverend Tumbleweed 2013
Mark C Brown
I am a registered Chippewa-Cree Indian from Rocky Boy reservation in Box Elder, Montana. I was adopted at the age of two by a military family. I was a suddenly thrusted into the military culture. What this meant to me was constant movement, as we were stationed at 7 different military bases within a 10 year period. My new family was a multi-racial Christian family. All of my siblings were either with the foster care system or adopted.
My father did the best he knew how to keep each of us connected to our birth cultural heritage. His attempt with me was giving me a Mohawk in 1972 and a children’s book about the North American Indians, although my tribe was not recognized in this particular book. I was able to see and learn about many of the different tribes and found some overlapping commonality as well as their unique differences.
My own first encounter with my Native American Heritage was in my early 20’s as I lived in the lush green and beautiful Pacific Northwest for 22 years. There I was exposed to a concentrated population of diverse Tribes of Native Americans and their various traditions. I began to take on some of these worship practices. The first tradition that I embraced was a prayer from the Lakota tradition, the Prayer In The Four Directions, included in this resource.
I remember the exact moment in time when this prayer finally challenged my most sacred beliefs about God and me. I was serving as the Director of Music at MCC Los Angeles, currently Founders MCC. Rev. Dr. Neil Thomas, Rev. Pat Langlois, Rev. Alex Escoto and I were in the process of organizing an inter-faith service. I was asked to offer a practice or spiritual tradition from a Native American perspective. I knew I would offer the Prayer in the Four Directions, as it was taught to me by a Woman Lakota Priest.
I stood in that sacred space on Santa Monica Boulevard and led the congregation in this spiritual practice. It was the closest feeling for me to “a rushing mighty wind.” I was overcome with the realization of God and how God sincerely interacts lovingly with all of creation. In that single moment, I was released to worship God freely as my ancestors did as well as fully embracing the God of my Christian faith. In that instant, they were no longer mutually exclusive. In that God given moment of clarity and in-spirited-ness I knew I had been given a glimpse of what heaven on earth could be!
As Director of Worship Arts it is my prayer for all to experience the divine, in all the ways the Creator discloses, the many faces of its being. So I strive to have an openness to a deeper understanding of other’s life journey that bring humanity together to coexist in peace.
I continue to explore what it means to be two spirit.
Mark C. Brown, Director of Worship Arts at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church in Houston, TX.
This Lakota tradition has specific colors and definitions of each direction. This differs from other Native American’s who also use a prayer in four directions.
Lakota Prayer In The Four Directions
Creator, It is I.
As the day begins with the rising sun,
Fly high as you carry my prayers to the Creator.
Spirit keeper of the South, Wolf,
Help me to remember to love
Show me it is right for me to make decisions
Spirit Keeper of the West, Brown Bear,
Bring healing to the people I love and to myself.
Heal my body, heal my mind and
Spirit Keeper of the North, White Buffalo,
As each day passes, help me to surrender,
And for all you have given me.
Rev. Norma Gann
MCC Greater Dallas
Dallas, Texas USA
I am sorry to say that I knew little of my heritage when I was growing up. My family was not proud of being Native American, and frankly, it was not good to be Native! One of my aunts went to her grave hating her Native heritage, even though it was rather obvious. However, I knew I was so very different from others, and I was even different from my brothers. I seemed to have a connection with animals, and I had “feelings” and dreams that seemed to have a spiritual or mystical basis. I had a love for nature that was so very strong. I connected with the Creator on a very high plane when I was able to be in the midst of nature. I had a very strong spiritual connection with the Great Spirit that I did not even understand. I was raised in the Southern Baptist Church, and being spiritual in my way did not fit into their dogma. I found no peace there.
I was both male and female, and I was not completely one or the other. I truly did not know where I belonged. I was a wandering soul. In my twenties, I connected with my Cherokee heritage, and only then did I begin to understand who I was and am. Most tribes have turned from the old ways, and they have tried to assimilate to the European culture, especially to Christianity. However, at one point, many tribes recognized three or four gender identities in order to allow those outside the male/female binary to have a place. When I began to search for my place, I connected with the Two Spirit identity. I am a biological female, and yet, I am very masculine. I am not either/or; I am both/and. I have a strong spiritual belief in the power of nature and the Creator. That is, God is present in all things, not just humans. As I began to understand the Two Spirit identity, I began to realize that I did have a place. It is not just about being gay or lesbian; it is about being the human creation I was meant to be instead of trying to fall into a societal and dogmatic image. I am free to be the spiritual and sexual being that I was created to be. While many tribes have been slow to return to acceptance of folks beyond the male/female binary, I found a place where I seemed to fit, and some folks have returned and are returning to the old ways. My prayer is that we will all learn to see the beauty and worth of all of Creation.
As I have said, I was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, and I did not fit their idea of a Christian because I am Two Spirit. I did not dress, act, or look as they deemed appropriate. For more than thirty years, I did not step into a church. When I was told by my home church that I must be healed or leave, I did just that. I left, and I wanted no part of organized religion. I found the presence of the Creator all around me, and I worshipped in my way, whether it was in the barn with the horses or the lake with the trees and animals. In 2003, I was told of a church that would welcome me just as I was. At first, I was truly skeptical. No one else had wanted me so why would I believe this church would. Nevertheless, I went to a MCC church for the first time, and I truly was welcomed just as I was. I sat on the back row for several months waiting for them to tell me I had to be healed, but that never happened. I was invited to participate in the reading of scripture, to be an usher, and several other functions within the church. At first, I could not even imagine walking to the front to read the passage of scripture much less actually reading it! Over the years, I have learned much from my MCC family. I have gained confidence that the Creator has a place in MCC for me, just the way I am. I can be my authentic self! I am free to be me at last. I am now an ordained MCC pastor. I am the Pastor of Congregational Care at MCC of Greater Dallas, and I cherish serving God by serving with and for these folks.
I have been able to weave several of my rituals into my life as a MCC pastor/member. The use of incense has long been a practice in the churches of various denominations. Instead of incense, I use sages, sweet grasses, herbs and tobacco to do smudging rituals for blessings and cleansings. I have been asked to smudge homes, the church, people, animals, and anything else that was given to the Creator. Additionally, I included the Cherokee binding ceremony in a Holy Union, and I read a Cherokee prayer of blessing for the couple. I use Native American flute music in meditation, and I have shared that practice with many who find it difficult to free their minds from the everyday strife of life. Additionally and most recently, smudging and Native flute music were incorporated into two peace/prayer vigils at the church on International Peace Day. I continue to find ways in which my Native heritage and my Christian faith can be woven into a beautiful mosaic of truth and freedom!
There are innumerable quotes and proverbs from Native Americans that resonate in my life. One of my favorite prayers is a short and simple prayer to the Great Spirit. I do not know who originally wrote it but it is seen on many things from t-shirts to coffee cups. It conveys some of the thoughts that begin my day each day.
Oh Great Spirit,
Whose voice I hear in the wind,
Whose breath gives life to the world,
I come to you as one of your many children.
I am small and weak.
I need your strength and wisdom.
May I walk in beauty.
One of my favorite quotes is as follows:
“The Circle has healing power. In the Circle, we are all equal. When in the Circle, no one is in front of you. No one is behind you. No one is above you. No one is below you. The Sacred Circle is designed to create unity. The Hoop of Life is also a circle. On this hoop there is a place for every species, every race, every tree and every plant. It is this completeness of Life that must be respected in order to bring about health on this planet.” ~Dave Chief, Oglala Lakota~
TwoSpiritsis a documentary of the struggles of a young Two Spirit Navajo. “Fred Martinez was a Navajo boy who was also a girl. In an earlier era, he would have been revered. Instead he was murdered.” This documentary shows a hour of the life of an amazing Two Spirit human whose life was cut too short by hate and bigotry in modern times. In past times, this young changing one would have been cherished by the tribe. This is both educational and heartbreaking!
Will Roscoe has written several books about Native American gender identities. These books can give insight into the traditions of old. Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America by Will Roscoe(Jun 17, 2000) is one that I have used to help when I was asked to meet with folks to explain what is meant by Two Spirit, and it was used as required reading in a seminary class.
Many cities now have groups of Two Spirit folks who are coming together to reclaim our holy identities and to bring about acceptance within and outside of our tribes. There are Two Spirit Societies forming across the country. Information can be accessed by googling Two Spirit, and Facebook has a site Two Spirit National Cultural Exchange, Inc.
About Native American, Alaskan and First Nations Heritage Month
Information courtesy of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior
What started at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S., has resulted in a whole month being designated for that purpose. Read more.
Fred Martinez was one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at 16. Two Spirits explores the life and death of a boy who was also a girl, and the essentially spiritual nature of gender.
November is Native American Heritage Month, and what better way to celebrate it than to learn something about the history and cultures of some of the first Americans? This month EDSITEment also celebrates the recent five-part PBS series We Shall Remain, which was partially funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Native American Heritage Month: Check Out These Animated Stories on YouTube
Animated Stories on Youtube.com
One may not think of YouTube as being a place to find information about Native American history, but a number of individuals and tribes have taken to using animation to tell their stories. So, for Native American Heritage Month, here are a few examples of how animation has been used to tell Native stories:
The first American Indian Day was celebrated in May 1916 in New York. Red Fox James, a Blackfeet Indian, rode on horseback from state to state, getting endorsements from 24 state governments, to have a day to honor American Indians. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush declared November National American Indian Heritage Month. Today, American Indians comprise 1.3 percent of the U.S. population. Their buying power, which this year is 156 percent greater than in 2000, is expected to grow to $148 billion by 2017.
Department of Indian Affairs
National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month takes place each November and is a great way to celebrate the traditions and cultures of the first Americans. ColorinColorado.org salutes the rich history and culture of the American Indian tribes with games, books, activities, and fun!
by Tom Kunseh
“These days people seek knowledge, not wisdom. Knowledge is of the past; wisdom is of the future,” say Vernon Cooper, spiritual elder of the Lumbee or Croatoan tribe of North Carolina. The following activity is designed to help you measure your awareness of Native American influences in U.S. history and culture and, in so doing, expand your vision of a people whose wisdom marks generations of Americans from age to age. Be sure to share this information with others.
Building Your Knowledge
Learn more about Native Americans. First, encourage students to take a short quiz to see what they already know (or don’t know) about Native American Influences in U.S. History and Culture.
Library of Congress
National Endowment for the Humanities
National Gallery of Art
National Park Service
November is National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month — the perfect time to explore Education World’s resources on the history and culture of America’s original inhabitants.
Formal American Indian heritage recognition began in 1915, when Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to recognize the “First Americans” with their own day. American Indian Day was later recognized by the annual Congress of the American Indian Association on the second Saturday of each May
Native American Studies Primer
NATIVE AMERICANS IN FILM AND LITERATURE
NATIVE AMERICANS STEREOTYPING
NATIVE AMERICANS PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS AND JOURNALS
BOARDING SCHOOL ERA
AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT
RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY