On May 9-10, 2017 MCC U.S. hosted a Doctrine of Discovery Train the Trainers event in Akron, Pa. led by Erica Littlewolf, Karin Kaufman Wall, Michelle Armster and Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz. The training ensures that regional offices have local people trained to lead the Loss of Turtle Island exercise as well as seminars on the Doctrine of Discovery. Participants included East Coast representatives, from left, Sandra Cianciulli, Barbara Christy, Verna Colliver and Sherry Wack.
CoNAM leaders (from left) Sandra Cianciulli, Barbara Christy Lee, Sherry Wack and Verna Colliver learn about the Doctrine of Discovery and the Loss of Turtle Island exercise from a Mennonite group at a workshop in May.

Urging more churches to promote Native American ministry

By John W. Coleman

The Eastern PA Conference Committee on Native American Ministries (CoNAM) wants to reach, teach, encourage and resource all congregations to learn about and participate in this largely overlooked area of ministry so important to The United Methodist Church.

The CoNAM is asking every local church to elect a Native American Ministries Representative to learn, promote and advocate for greater awareness and support of Native American cultures, contributions and concerns in both church and society. As charge conference season begins, the committee is reaching out to district superintendents, pastors and churches with information and resources to advance its cause.

That cause was advanced in June with approval of an Annual Conference resolution calling for local churches to designate Native American Ministries representatives, as mandated by the denomination’s 2016 Book of Discipline (Para. 654, page 492).

One job for that person would be to promote celebration of Native American Ministries Sunday, with its special churchwide offering, on the third Sunday of Easter (April 15 in 2018) or whenever convenient. One-half of the offering comes back to the conference to support its CoNAM’s work in promoting Native American ministry and concerns.

Local church involvement critical

But local church involvement through representatives is critical, say CoNAM leaders, to broaden members’ awareness and engagement in this important ministry arena and to encourage efforts to fulfill our 2016 Annual Conference’s Act of Repentance commitments.

The conference CoNAM regularly provides worship, fellowship and rich educational opportunities steeped in Native wisdom, spirituality, hospitality, history, advocacy and traditions. The next such opportunity will happen Nov. 12, from 4 to 7 PM, including a meal, at the conference’s Innabah Camp & Retreat Center in Spring City.

CoNAM leaders will share recently acquired knowledge about the infamous Doctrine of Discovery and lead attendees in a participatory exercise titled “The Loss of Turtle Island.” The provocative experience dynamically portrays the historic, troubling relationship between European, Christian settlers, convinced of their presumed superiority and sovereignty, and Indigenous nations who originally inhabited the land we now know as America.

Learning about Doctrine of Discovery

Colorful blankets are used in the scripted exercise to represent the land, and participants represent distinct Indigenous nations who suffered loss of land, colonization, broken treaties, forced removal, assimilation and extermination—all endorsed by the rapacious Doctrine of Discovery.  Attendees will be able to participate in “a learning experience that will make real the tragic loss of home and identity suffered by Indigenous Peoples in the time of conquest in North America” says CoNAM chairwoman Barbara Christy Lee.

The Mennonite Church, which has done much to study and respond to this doctrine, defines it as “a philosophical and legal framework dating back to the 15th century that gave Christian governments moral and legal rights to invade and seize Indigenous lands and dominate Indigenous Peoples.” (Mennonite World Review, September 29, 2014).

Four conference CoNAM leaders met with Mennonite leaders at their national offices in Akron, PA. in May for a training seminar to learn about this church-supported principle and policy enacted centuries ago but still used to support legal judgments related to property ownership and acquisition in U.S. courts.

The United Methodist Church denounced the antiquated doctrine in 2012 and again in 2016 (“Doctrine of Discovery,” 2016 Book of Resolutions, #3331) and went further with its eight resolutions documenting the justice and identity concerns of Native People and the UMC. “These statements spell out what we believe and how we should respond to the long history of injustice and oppression which has resulted in historical trauma that impacts the lives of the Indigenous people among us today,” writes Verna Colliver, conference CoNAM secretary and a member of First UMC Lansdale.

Wikipedia offers an informative history and legal analysis of the Doctrine of Discovery, with cited sources. Persons—especially current or prospective local church CoNAM representatives—who want to learn more about this tradition of injustice and ways to address it should not miss the “Loss of Turtle Island” experience, as well as the worship and fellowship that CoNAM offers at its twice-yearly social gatherings at Innabah.

CoNAM resources online

In addition, CoNAM has more new resources available on our conference website to help local churches appreciate the importance of and possibilities for learning about and becoming involved in Native American ministry concerns.

For more information and resources visit our Native American Ministries webpage. And don’t forget to celebrate National Native American Heritage Month in November.

Note: Verna Colliver contributed to this article.


Church Bible study to focus on Native Americans

Oregon Community UMC will sponsor a monthlong “Bible study focused on Native Americans” from Sept. 21 to Oct. 19. They will use the Giving Our Hearts Away book, written by the Rev. Thom White Wolf Fassett and Brenda Connelly. Fassett keynoted our 2016 Annual Conference’s opening celebration for our Act of Repentance.

“We want to convey accurately the history,” said Mike Shifflet, the church’s Native American Ministries Representative, “and hopefully lead into an action, such as a mission trip to BUMP (Blackfeet UM Parish in Montana) to help with Pastor (Calvin) Hill’s vision there. This could also lead to a reconciliation service.”

The church, led by the Rev. Jason Perkowski, will open the Bible study to anyone in the conference who wants to attend. They will meet at their nearby sister church, Faith UMC in Manheim Township, at 1290 Fruitville Pike, Lititz, PA.