As we begin Native American Heritage Month it is clear that there is much work needed in this nation of ours with regards to justice and healing with our Native American citizens.
Against the backdrop of the Standing Rock stand-off with federal officials over an oil pipeline, we ponder once again the sad discrimination that is happening there. Native American people deserve to have the assurance that they have access to clean water and respect for their tribal burial grounds. These issues and many more broken treaties and injustices have created a lingering historical trauma in the lives of our First Nation people.
This is part of the reason that the teen suicide rate among Native Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 is more than double the national average. The Christian Science Monitor in April 2015 reported a prevailing hopelessness among Native young people because of alcohol and drug abuse, bullying, violence, high unemployment and poverty. The deep-seated issues that cause this include this history of trauma and genocide of Native peoples, chronic government underfunding and the lack of equal access to opportunities for advancement.
Part of our Act of Repentance that we engaged in during our annual conference sessions included the acknowledgement of the inequities and the discrimination. But its main purpose was to call us to more work as the People Called Methodists. We are called to help especially the 1.2 million American Indian and Alaska Native young people in our country.
There is hope! Native American youth are resilient in many ways. They especially find support through the study and celebration of their traditions and cultural identities. Many such programs are springing up around the country and some include the learning of almost extinct tribal languages. We can be supportive of these efforts.
I encourage you all to study these complex issues locally in your churches, donate to the UMC’s Native American Ministries Sunday special offering, visit a reservation, find out where Native Americans live in your area, and hear their heart through their stories.
Each one of us can do at least one thing. It is my hope and prayer that someday the UMC will have its first Native American bishop. Until then there is much work that is needed!