CoNAM plants peace tree, welcomes Lakota student

By John W. Coleman*

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The Eastern PA Conference Committee on Native American Ministries planted a ceremonial Tree of Peace and taught tribal social dances, while welcoming guests to a celebrative gathering on Sunday, Nov. 6, at Innabah Camp & Retreat Center.

Those guests included several local church CoNAM chairpersons who came to learn about Native history and culture. But also joining them was Wayne Ghost, a young Albright College freshman from South Dakota, whom the committee aided with a scholarship for his journey here.

????????????????????????????????????The evening celebration began outside in the crisp air of a peaceful autumn day as a circle of CoNAM members and guests prayed, sang songs and listened to the inspirational Iroquois story of the Peacemaker told by Barry Lee (Munsee-Delaware nation). He told how the legendary hero shared his purity and vision of peaceful harmony with warring Native peoples in what is now New York state and northern Pennsylvania, eventually uniting them into the six-nation Haundenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy ruled under the Great Law of Peace.

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A symbolic highlight of that history was the placement of all weapons under the four, long, white roots of a tall Eastern White Pine Tree, a ceremony later repeated with Europeans who emigrated to the region. So as Lee told the story, his wife, Barbara Christy Lee, representing the matrilineal leadership role of many Native American women, carefully planted a young pine tree, donated by the Peninsula-Delaware Conference CoNAM, into a hole prepared by Innabah staff.

One by one, participants quietly placed bullet shell casings, symbols of war and conflict, into the hole to bury them with the tree and symbolize a prayerful desire to end conflict and bring peace. They then tied tiny pouches of tobacco bound with red ribbons around the tree’s spiny branches, to the soft, ethereal sounds of Barry Lee’s flute. As the ceremony ended, Lee heard the distant call of a flock of wild geese overhead, perhaps signaling their assent.

DSC_0388Once inside Innabah’s main lodge, the gathering of about 30 participants was introduced to Wayne Ghost,18, a Lakota from Manderson, S.D., and a first-year honors student majoring in secondary education at Albright College in Reading. While he saved money from jobs and received three scholarships, Ghost lacked the airfare to Philadelphia to enroll at Albright, until CoNAM provided him a scholarship to cover his travel expenses. Former CoNAM chairwoman Sandy Cianciulli also met him at the airport in August and drove him to the school’s campus. (Read Sherry Wack’s article, “The Saga of Wayne Ghost.”

The gathering then heard an update on the controversy in North Dakota where thousands of protestors supporting the Standing Rock Sioux nation are trying to prevent construction of an oil pipeline that many fear will endanger water safety and violate sacred burial sites. Confrontations with militarized law enforcement and charges of brutality remind many of the American Indian Movement’s 1973 civil rights protest occupation of Wounded Knee territory in South Dakota, which also erupted in violence.

DSC_0376Barry Lee taught the group about the historic two-row wampum belt used by Native Americans and Europeans, like William Penn, to enact peace treaties. Then he and Barbara Christy Lee taught them several fun, tribal social dances with names like Green Corn, Cherokee Stomp, Duck Dance, the Two-Step and a Round Dance. The dances provided just enough exercise and laughter to generate appetites for the fellowship meal that followed. During the meal, Bob Hinderliter showed slides from his summer journey to visit the Rev. Calvin Hill, a friend of CoNAM, who serves the three-congregation Blackfeet UM Parish in northwest Montana.

*CoNAM member Verna Colliver contributed to the account of Sunday’s Tree of Peace ceremony.

Enjoy photos from this special event on our Flickr page.