Immersion Experience Showcases Native American History

Josephine Deere serves communion to participants in an immersion experience held by The United Methodist Church’s Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.JSource: United Methodist News

To shine light on the challenges facing Native American communities across the United States, the United Methodist Church as a part of Native American Heritage Month (November) launched a 4-day immersion experience for a group of 40 participants to learn about Native American history and culture, visiting ministries and discussing how the church can respond to the needs.

The participants were drawn from nine states sponsored by the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference under the leadership of Bishop James Nunn. This year’s annual event marked the largest group the program has had in its five-year existence.

Despite Native Americans accounting for less than 1% of the denomination’s membership, the conference’s annual immersion program seeks to highlight a vital constituency in the church that is often overlooked. According to Rev. David Wilson, assistant to the bishop, “We’re often so invisible.”

This invisibility was highlighted during the group’s visit to the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City. Opening in September of this year, the museum focuses on the history and cultures of the 39 tribes in Oklahoma — all but four of which were forcibly moved to the state from other parts of the country.

In the museum, the stories are told by Native Americans themselves through displays designed by an all-Native curatorial team. The exhibits vividly depict the way of life and cultural impact of Native people, as well as the injustices and ordeals experienced since the arrival of white people to the continent. 

Dr. Heather Ahtone, the museum’s Senior Curator, highlighted the power of oral traditions in many native communities and shared examples of how these oral traditions manifested themselves in creation narratives.

She noted how each tribe had its own creation story, and each is valid, while showcasing how these stories teach similar principles about stewardship, responsibility, and creation care like the Genesis 1 narrative.

“Native American history has been largely erased from common knowledge in the United States, but non-indigenous people would be shocked at how much Native children know from stories that have been handed down through generations,” ahtone said.

Further, she explained the United States cannot move forward as a country without engaging in mutual reciprocity that respects the dignity and stories of all communities that compose the country.

Rev. Michael H. Svitak, North District superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and Kiowa Nation, told the group after ahtone’s tour, “We … just want the truth to be told.”

Through programs such as these the United Methodist Churches hopes to respect and affirm the dignity of all God’s children.

Source: United Methodist News