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Voices of Native American Women

Excerpts on Mother, Leadership and the Faith Journey

By Delrayne Roy, Editor

Read an excerpt of three topics highlighted from 'Voices of Native American Women,' a new resource from the Women's Division and now available at the Mission Resource Center.

Voices of Native American Women celebrates the insights and journeys of America’s aboriginal women. This resource, compiled by Delrayne Roy, provides an opportunity for Native American women to hear the stories of their Native sisters, and learn from them and be inspired by them. It also allows Native American women to make visible their experiences and perspectives to the wider United Methodist Church and constituency.

Voices of Native American Women covers a wide range of topics including voice; family relationships; leadership; social justice issues and concerns; dilemmas of inclusiveness; faith journeys; the United Methodist Church; and the Native church. Three are covered here in this excerpt: "Mother," "Leadership," and "Reflection/Faith Journey."

Mother

My mother took this lesson and ran with it and boy, oh boy, did she use it. See, my daddy died when I was 7, just before Christmas, and we went from being fairly well-off to dirt-poor in a matter of few weeks. We knew how to “make do.” We would head off to church on Sunday morning, and when we returned home there would be more of us. See, there were these poor, needy souls at church and Mama would bring them home and give them our Sunday dinner.

Mama said that if you gave from your heart it was like giving to God, and let me tell you, God got a lot of our stuff. She would sing, “God hears and He answers prayers.” And we knew that God was going to get some more. We would sit down to a dinner of crackers and milk or bread and milk to say prayers of gratitude. We could have eaten a meal of beef stew that was simmering this morning, but Mama had given it to the needy souls who had followed us home, encouraged by her. And when we would least expect it there would be a knock at the door and the needy souls would be standing there with tears and smiles saying, “Thank you and bless you,” and they would give us stuff back. That was cool. And just when it would look like we would eat really good for a week or two, she would find some more needy souls. My mother was my teacher. She was my best friend.

– Phyllis Singing Bird Ballard, Abenaki, North Central Jurisdiction

I see myself as a voice of the upcoming generation of the church, and as one whose voice would not be heard without the sacrifices and strength of the women who have gone before me.

– Adrienne Trevathan, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Southeast Jurisdiction

Leadership

It is my prayer, hope, wish and desire that at the conclusion of the Native American study that this is not just a novelty but that the whole church will truly be a church for and of all peoples.

– Josephine Deere, Muscogee Creek, South Central Jurisdiction

I wasn’t sure where I saw myself in the United Methodist Church, but when I attended our annual United Methodist Youth Fellowship Spring retreat I realized that I am a youth coordinator/leader and that the youth in our group greatly define where I am in the church.

– Lynnetta Eyachabbe, Muscogee Creek/Euchee, South Central Jurisdiction

It seems to me that the Native women haven’t really been part of the church for a long time and it seems that only about 20 years ago, we started to hear about women being in the ministry and wanting to do ministry work. We were excited as Indian people because women are important to us and to our tribe. They should have been a part of the church from the very beginning. Now we have women and this is good.

– Noreen Hill, Quechan, Western Jurisdiction

The needs of Native American women are as follows: These women need to learn the structure of the church; it seems that some of them don’t even know the structure and need to learn. They need a class on it or to be given books to read on how our structure operates. Then of course we need more Sunday schools in our churches, for us to reach out to more children and to teach them not only about Jesus Christ but also about our church and the importance of our church.

– Noreen Hill, Quechan, Western Jurisdiction

I am currently a local lay speaker and will be advancing this year to be certified. I have church offices and am able to ask for help to serve those offices. I am proud to be a United Methodist

– Amy Colbert Johnson, Choctaw, South Central Jurisdiction

As a Native American woman, I am Ponca and Otoe-Missouria, and I find that sacrifice is a major part to survival, not only in my life but in the church as well. I’ve learned to be more accountable, reliable, knowledgeable, strengthened and I believe most importantly, uplifted by the other women in my church. These Native American women put their time, work, effort and, sometimes, money into the church’s survival and in a sense they are “Giving Their Hearts Away.”

– Rose McHenry, Ponca/Otoe-Missouria, South Central Jurisdiction

I am now the head of Navajo Preparatory School here in Farmington, New Mexico. Its foundation goes back to the mission school. There’s a long relationship that the mission school had with the Navajo people back in the early days when the Navajos brought their young children here in wagons and on horses for a Christian education. Our school is not affiliated with any denomination. It’s a school that was established by the Navajo Nations. I feel very fortunate to be here because we always talk about the mission school and how it set a strong foundation for Native people here in education. We cherish what the mission school has done here and believe that they set a precedent and a standard for our school. We always go back and acknowledge that a foundation was set here, a seed was planted for a certain type of education to establish leadership for Native American people; and we continue to do that here at the Navajo Preparatory School.

– Betty Ojaye, Din’e, Western Jurisdiction

We’re born with the understanding that we have a strong role in being the leaders of our families in our society. I think that in today’s society times have changed, so I think there is a real need for parenting. The young mothers of today, we educate their children and they have kind of lost touch with parenting and that leadership responsibility of being the head of the family, along with their male counterparts. I think that there is a strong need to regain that strong leadership and parenting role in the family that has been lost, and is being lost today.

– Betty Ojaye, Din’e, Western Jurisdiction

When you are in the place where God has placed you, the joy of serving is invaluable and inexhaustible. The peace of God carries you through it all and the joy of the Lord is all yours.

– Gwendolyn Parish-Bart, Choctaw, South Central Jurisdiction

My life-changing experience was being appointed local pastor to the Onondago Nation United Methodist Church on the Onondago Nation Indian Territory in central New York.

– Sharon A. Schmit, Mohawk, North Central Jurisdiction

I see myself as a leader in the United Methodist Church, I also see myself as a bridge builder and a person of cross-cultural experiences.

– Rev. Tweedy Sombrero, Navajo, Western Jurisdiction

I have had wonderful opportunities to represent the church at international gatherings. It is important for us to learn the culture of the people and to see where they are in their lives spiritually as we gently introduce Christ to their lives. Each of these trips outside the country not only opened my eyes but also broadened my horizons. I now know that there are people who are hurting around the world and how I can have a small part in helping to alleviate their suffering.

– Rev. Tweedy Sombrero, Navajo, Western Jurisdiction

A lot of times when churches are barely existing it is because of the women that keep it ongoing. As the women push for more and more programs, we need to be there with more resources to get programs started and how we can reach out to the community.

– Rev. Tweedy Sombrero, Navajo, Western Jurisdiction

Women are definitely the backbone of the church as they continue to grow in Christ and see what their calling is and how they respond to that calling.

– Rev. Tweedy Sombrero, Navajo, Western Jurisdiction

I was born and raised on the Nez Perce Reservation, raised with traditional customs by my maternal grandparents. In my early years as a child I did experience racism in the near town of Lewiston, Idaho. Signs in the front window of the restaurant read “No Indians Allowed.” I did not understand at that age that we were being discriminated against and this was during the Depression years.

My grandparents bought our staples with stamps. I remember my grandmother had this little brown leather stamp holder. We seldom went to town. We went to a small country public school with a potbelly stove heated by coal. Our teacher was a white lady and very nice to all of us students. Our principal was an enrolled Nez Perce man; and the majority of the students were Native American. I always stayed positive and overlooked the negative in all our travels. My grandparents were good role models to not show negative actions.

– Regina Wheeler, Yakama, Western Jurisdiction

I seek to be in ministry with and for Natives and other persons whose voices still need to be recognized. My understanding of ministry in the United Methodist Church is that I am woven into the fabric of God’s larger story of grace for all people as I try to answer Christ’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” Learning to claim my own Native heritage has been equally as powerful, particularly in the last several months. I now know that I can embrace my Native heritage as a gift and celebrate that gift as I try to live out the gospel message in a way that honors my heritage.

– Adrienne Trevathan, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Southeast Jurisdiction

For Native American women, it seems to be a lot harder, especially for women who want to enter the ministry. There are those who do not accept women in the ministry, let alone Native American women, so it’s twice as hard. And to stay in the ministry takes great faith and stamina. For any profession that a Native American woman chooses, the way will always be rough. My prayers are with any woman who chooses the ministry, or any other profession, for that matter.

– Phyllis John, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa, North Central Jurisdiction

Reflection/Faith Journey

For the last 13 years I have carried a pipe for my people. I have also been honored by being a medicine teacher for them. This I do for the Abenaki Tribe of the Algonquin Nation. In the year 2001, Carol Lakota Eastin, my minister and friend, asked me if I would go with her and pray with the pipe. The prayers were for a very sacred place in Illinois. The land had been purchased by the Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy was going to restore Mother Earth to the wetlands she once was before she was pumped dry to farm. Our elders are buried there. Not only are the mounds present, so are their spirits. Emiquon is a sacred place. It grabs a part of your heart when you first go there and you have to go back again and again.

– Phyllis Singing Bird Ballard, Abenaki, North Central Jurisdiction

As a granddaughter of strong Indian women, my heart and spirit know no other journey than to follow the traditions that flowed within the souls, spirits and lives of those women who walked before me. Those that prepared our path through their blood, heartache, tears, pain and determination to keep the traditions for the next seven generations, as they were called to do by their own mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers and the Creator God.

– Boe Harris, Turtle Mountain Chippewa/Spirit Lake Dakota, Northeast Jurisdiction

While I was working for the General Board of Global Ministries, I was privileged to visit more tribes throughout the country. I was happy to be in Native communities, listen to their music, their language, eat their food and enjoy Native humor!

– Cynthia Kent, Southern Ute, Northeast Jurisdiction

To a great extent, my faith was shaped through singing of the hymns of the church — “Down at the Cross,” “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” “Work for the Night is Coming” — and the deep faith of the mostly elderly men and women who worshipped and prayed together.

– Penney Schwab, Chickasaw, South Central Jurisdiction

Last Updated: 09/08/2010
 
 

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