ELCA NEWS SERVICE
December 12, 2012
ELCA Church Council supports apologies to Tribal people
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Lutheran witness among American Indians and Alaska Natives has more than 350 years of history filled with solidarity and times of injustice. In a commitment to work together today and in the future, the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) resolved to join with synods and congregations of the church in greeting Native peoples, who originally inhabited the North American continent, and apologize for injustices rendered in the past.
According to the Rev. Jesse David Hill, apologies are quite appropriate “and, along with that, is the need for repentance. After the apology we need to ask, ‘What can be done now?’” Hill is a tribal elder with the Lumbee Tribe in North Carolina and serves as interim pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
“We need to be aware that Indian people live in all areas across the country, and there needs to be a commitment to continue to walk together. This goes well with the accompaniment model (our church has) in our engagement with others around the world,” said Hill.
“We need our synods to be intentional about helping pastors on the border. Some of our congregations sit on the border with major reservations, and we also have congregations in the inner city that are in close proximity with American Indians. We need to become intentional with how congregations can become good neighbors with Indian people,” said Hill, adding that ELCA pastors and directors for evangelical mission can engage in cultural training with Indian people serving as teachers.
The Rev. Mary Louis Frenchman, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, said apologies need to be accompanied by some action. “There needs to be a change in behavior to show sincerity behind the apology,” she said, along with a commitment from the ELCA “to illustrate support of Native ministries.” With support from ELCA churchwide ministries, congregations from the ELCA Grand Canyon Synod and others, Frenchman is beginning a new ELCA Native ministry in Phoenix called Urban Native Ministries.
The ELCA Church Council acknowledged the commitment of this church to justice and inclusion of all people in the life of the ELCA when it met here in November. In its action, the council cited the U.S. president’s declaration for November to be National Native American Heritage Month.
The Rev. Jessica R. Crist, bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod and chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, shared with the council that congregations in her synod have made apologies to tribal councils in Montana.
After prayer and study, “the Montana Synod Assembly adopted in 2010 an apology to tribal people for the harms done in the past by European-Americans, and a pledge for cooperation and goodwill in the future,” said Crist in an interview.
“We have now begun the process of taking the apology to the tribal councils with an official delegation each time. So far we have had grateful reception,” she said.
Crist said that the Fort Peck Tribal Council replied, “No one has ever apologized to us before. And from a tribal member of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, who was not at the presentation but heard about it (said), I accept.”
Both written and spoken apologies are presented along with gifts, said Crist. “Thus far, we have presented ceremonial tobacco and sweetgrass. And we have presented a specially made quilt that incorporates a prayer circle and a Luther rose.”
In their apology at Fort Peck, members of the ELCA Montana Synod said, “We ask for forgiveness, forgiveness for what we have done, and what we have failed to do. As a sign of our repentance and a desire to be reconciled, we pledge to walk with our brothers and sisters of the Tribal Nations. We offer our support for the honoring of treaty rights, the healing of lives torn asunder by forced cultural changes, loss of language, racism and poverty. We will stand with The Tribes in honoring the sacred sites and ceremonies. Let it be known to all the Tribes that our door is open to you and we are here to listen and to work for a better tomorrow for all of the Creator’s people.”
In 2012 the ELCA Montana Synod made an apology on the Rocky Boy’s Reservation. The Rev. Linda E. Webster, pastor of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Box Elder, Mont., an ELCA congregation on the reservation, said the apology was delivered to the Tribal Council at their regular council meeting. “They were receptive to our apology and placed us first on their very busy agenda,” she said.
The apologies are “important because it is recognizing our history. Although we ourselves may not have taken part in the injustices, it is important that we acknowledge what has happened instead of denying or saying that it never happened. We can’t undo (the past), but we can learn from it and be respectful,” said Webster, who added that the apology to the tribal council on the Rocky Boy’s Reservation is framed and hung in the tribal council office.
The Rocky Boy’s Reservation was set up by a presidential decree in 1916, “not by a treaty,” said Webster. The congregation on the reservation “has been there almost that long,” she said. Our Saviour’s hosts cross-cultural experiences and servant groups. “We take culturally learning seriously as the church here. It’s important for people to learn more about their neighbors. I think, as a whole, we see ourselves as an ELCA congregation and as a teaching tool for our denomination. That’s part of our ministry.”
The Rev. Jon V. Anderson, bishop of the ELCA Southwestern Minnesota Synod, participated in the opening ceremony for the “2012 Dakota Commemorative March” held in November. The march honors the 1,700 Dakota women, children and elders who were forced to walk 150 miles to a Fort Snelling stockade following the bloody 1862 U.S.-Dakota War in Minnesota.
Anderson said he attended “to pray that God would bring healing to all our memories about the painful events of 150 years ago and the painful history that followed. I also prayed that God might bring healing to people who live in this area, Native people and people of many other descents, so that we might live into God’s preferred future for us all.”
“The most powerful part of the opening gathering was the voice of a young Dakota singing a haunting lament. Although I do not know the Dakota language, I heard a beautiful, sad, longing song that I believe remembered the events of 150 years ago, as mostly women and children of the Dakota people from this area began a 150 mile march after the terrible war. It is not easy to read about or hear this history. Listening and learning is one gift we can give that can help bring healing,” said Anderson.
In May, ELCA synods in the Southeastern United States and the United Methodist Church Southeast Jurisdiction launched a cooperative ministry with Native people in the region. The partnership is considered a historic first in the southeast and grows out of a 2009 full communion agreement between the ELCA and the United Methodist Church.
The ELCA maintains its commitment to American Indian and Alaska Native people through its congregations, the American Indian and Alaska Native Lutheran Association, and staff of ELCA churchwide ministries. Council members will work to further inform synods and congregations of their action.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God's work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
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Melissa Ramirez Cooper
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