GIVE NOW to support Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and World Mission responses to urgent humanitarian crises in West Africa and the Middle East. Give now

Skip to main content

“The last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matt. 20:16

Native American Congregational Support
Subscribe by RSS

For more information

Andrea D. Meriwether
(800) 728-7228, x5385
Send email

Or write to:
100 Witherspoon Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Comprehensive strategy for ministries with Native Americans

Recommendation approval with amendment
Background Statement
Theological Statement: Identity as Peoples in Relationship with the Creator
Summary of Historic Relationship between Presbyterian Church and Native American Peoples
Findings of Task Force: What We Heard and Saw

Challenges and Strategies for Native American Ministry in the Next Century

General Assembly Action (2000

(Evangelism and Church Development, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 212th General Assembly - 2000) SA 22.229-22.235

The Assembly Committee on Evangelism and Church Development recommends that the 212th General Assembly (2000) approve the following recommendations:“

I. Comprehensive Strategy for Ministries with Native Americans

That the recommendation be approved with amendment:

1. Commend the “Comprehensive Strategy for Ministries with Native Americans” report to entire church and direct the Office of General Assembly to print and distribute the document electronically when possible to churches that have electronic addresses and mail the report when needed.

2. Call upon the whole church to work together to form new patterns of connection between Presbyterian churches and middle governing bodies, and Native American churches and ministry projects, with the additional focus on urban and off-reservation Native American populations.

3. Instruct the General Assembly to make available adequate funding for implementation of the “Comprehensive Strategy for Ministry with Native Americans,&lrdquo; including but not limited to the following: (a) extend support for developing congregations beyond the traditional model of five years; (b) develop and produce a recommended outline and overview for commissioned lay pastor training, to be used in preparation for ministry with Native American communities and commend these materials to presbyteries; (c) increase recruitment of and maintain adequate funding for Native American Scholarship Aid for seminary students; (d) assist in the development of opportunities for volunteer service in Native American communities; (e) conduct an inventory of Native American church properties; (f) provide funding to implement the strategies recommended for youth and young adult ministries (in Item D.5 of the rationale, p. 25). That the 212th General Assembly (2000) refer 22.232 to the Special Task Force on Native American Ministries for further discussion and the development of specific, measurable recommendations to the 214th General Assembly (2002) and that this be funded from the National Ministries Division. That the Office of the General Assembly/Research Services be instructed to develop a comprehensive statistical report on Native American Presbyterians by the time of the 214th General Assembly (2002).

4. Commend the Vision Quest Endowment Fund for Native American Ministries to the whole church, including Extra Commitment Opportunities. (NOTE: This is an endowment set up by the Native American Consulting Committee. Extra Commitment Opportunities generally through Native American Congregational Enhancement, synods or presbyteries).

5. Commend the middle governing bodies and churches, which have acknowledged the church’s participation in policies and practices that have hurt Native American peoples and threatened their existence as sovereign peoples and taken steps toward reconciliation, as well as encourage the whole church to do the same.

6. Dismiss the Special Task Force on Native American Ministries with thanks and appreciation. That the recommendation be referred to the General Assembly Mission Council, the Special Task Force on Native American Ministries, for further discussion and the development of specific, measurable recommendations to the 214th General Assembly (2002) and that this be funded from the National Ministries Division. That the paper entitled “Mission and Ministry with Native American Peoples: A Historical Survey of the Last Three Centuries,” prepared by the General Assembly Task Force on Native American Ministries, be included in the minutes of the General Assembly.


II. Background Statement

The Special General Assembly Native American Task Force (hereinafter “Task Force”) was appointed in response to Overture 95-34 submitted by Presbytery of Grand Canyon. Overture 95-34 directed the Task Force to “study and review mission and ministries with Native American tribes and peoples and to develop a comprehensive strategy for ministries with Native Americans and to report no later than the 212th General Assembly (2000) its findings and recommendations as a comprehensive strategy for Native Americans for the next century.”(Minutes, 1995, Part I, pp.99, 682).

The Task Force membership represented a wide spectrum of Native American Ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)]: clergy, Native and non-Native, Native American lay persons, middle governing staff and PC(USA) educational institution faculty and the current moderator of the Native American Consulting Committee (NACC). The Task Force included the following persons:

June L. Lorenzo, moderator, Falls Church, Va.
Lou Deer, vice moderator, Seminole, Okla.
The Rev. David Dobler, Anchorage, Alaska
The Rev. Henry E. Fawcett, Dubuque, Iowa
The Rev. Kenneth Lehman, Naperville, Ill.
Elona Street-Stewart, St. Paul, Minn.
The Rev. Mary Ann Warden, Barrow, Alaska
Marilyn Yazzie, Holbrook, Ariz.
The late Rev. James Spaulding, Iowa City, Iowa
Randel Bohanon, NACC moderator, Smithville, Okla.
Mary McQuillen, former NACC moderator, Port Townsend, Wash.
Sallie Cuaresma, former NACC moderator, Los Angeles, Calif.

Also named to the Task Force was the Rev. Buddy Monahan (Los Angeles, Calif.) who served one year, but subsequently resigned.

At its first meeting in January 1996, the Task Force set forth a work plan that would focus on meeting with and listening to as many Native American congregations as possible in the first two to three years, and then compiling the information in the third year. A questionnaire form was mailed to every Native American congregation with a letter encouraging their participation in the process. The dreams and concerns of Native American Presbyterians were heard in individual church visits, at church wide gatherings and at special events. Information gathering continued into the fourth year. An annual report was issued each year to update Native American Presbyterians. Due to the comprehensive historical research needed as well as the need to compile large amounts of data on Native American ministries, the Task Force retained the services of a historical consultant and a contemporary issues consultant Finally, in October 1999, the preliminary recommendations and strategies were presented at the NACC Eight Synod Consultation in Rapid City, South Dakota. This consultation was convened to facilitate an issues and strategy discussion between Native American churches and middle governing body staff.

The churchwide Policy Statement for Native American Ministry, adopted by the 207th General Assembly in 1979, is the current PC(USA) mandate for Native American Ministries. Thus, the Task Force understood its goal to be that of developing strategies to support and supplement this policy.

This report contains a brief history of the Presbyterian Church’s historic relationship with Native American peoples, including more recent organizational changes in the Presbyterian Church, and the resultant impact on Native American ministries as reported in the findings of the Task Force and identifies strategies and challenges to address issues and concerns.


III. Theological statement: Identity as people in relationship with the creator

A comprehensive strategy for ministry with Native Americans in the PC(USA) must be developed in the light of a clear appreciation for who Native peoples are and how the church has related to them theologically and historically. The Native American peoples are the indigenous peoples of the land now known as the Americas. They are an ancient people who have lived and evolved in these lands over many centuries. Through the examination of their beliefs and stories, they know that they have always been an integral part of this part of the world; they did not come from anywhere else. Much of what is known about Native peoples has come from distorted views presented by a history tempered with blind assumption and reflective of social bias, with reinforcement provided by romantic novels, New-Age thinking and portrayals by modern media. From coast to coast and desert to woodland, the Native peoples perceive themselves to be an integral part of the Creation. Native languages speak of the Creation in family terms such as “Mother Earth,” “Grandmother,” “the Grandfathers,” the Moon and the Winds. These perceptions are not easily crushed or diminished. Even to this day, when Native peoples are divided between Christian and traditional beliefs, they are still able to remember a sense of oneness through common feelings about the Creation. Even before the arrival of Europeans, their spiritual expressions varied from environment to environment, but they maintained a commonality because of a shared understanding about the nature of relationship to the Creation.1

With the introduction of Christianity, many Native peoples achieved an understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ and were impressed by their similarity to many Native teachings about how a full life could be achieved. Many Native people accepted this message without giving up their understanding of their place in the Universe, as taught in traditional instruction. What has caused severe problems in our communities and nations are the contradictions introduced by Western Civilization, a professed belief in Christian teachings and yet actions that violated those beliefs. It is unfortunate and important to note that the conversion of Native peoples was to change a lifestyle, rather than provide affirmation for who they were as peoples and an invitation to share the spiritual gifts they possessed.

As we in the year 2000 look honestly at the more painful parts of the church’s history with Native peoples, we have to ask honestly how a theology could be so twisted as to justify assuming that Native people were “less than,” assuming the role of civilizer and participation in cultural genocide. Is that kind of theology still functioning in the church of 2000 in more subtle ways? “These questions are only the surface of deeper concerns. Racism and its concomitant systemic evils point to a sickness of the entire theological enterprise of the church and not just to its missionary parts.”2 We know from a historical perspective that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a rich history of ministry with Native Americans. While that ministry has at times caused harm, many Native people speak of the significant contributions the church has made. Over the years there has been a decline in the influence, strength and effectiveness of the Presbyterian Church’s ministry with Native Americans. Part of this can be attributed to a history of paternalism that has belittled and thwarted the initiative of Native people, a people who are proud of their culture and traditions. Thus, there is a need for renewed hope, new vision, new vitality and new direction based both on a mutual acknowledgment of past errors, reconciliation and a common claim of hope for the future.

Self determination is fundamental to the hopes and aspirations of Native Americans. This concept must be affirmed by the larger church if it is to forge a mutually beneficial partnership with Native American communities. Partnership is essential if we are the meet the critical need for leadership and ministry for all age groups. There are growing populations of Native people on and off reservations. We have done far too little in urban areas where opportunities for new ministries are challenging and growing. In facing the challenges of the new century, we must be drawn together by the power of the Holy Spirit, reconciled by the love of Jesus Christ and energized by a mutual commitment to an inclusive ministry.


IV. Summary of historic relationship between the Presbyterian Church and Native American peoples

As the Task Force surveyed the historic relationship between the Presbyterian Church and Native American peoples, at least three major themes emerged. First, the Presbyterian Church was active both in the formation and implementation of government policies affecting Native American peoples for the first 200 years of this relationship. Because major Indian policy in the United States has focused on the land rights of Native peoples, it follows that the story of Presbyterian work among Native Americans is one largely linked to the heart of Native America — its land. Second, it is difficult to distill peculiarly Presbyterian work in these issues as much of the work among Native peoples was done in cooperation (and sometimes in competition) with other denominations. Third, it is only within the last 30 years of this 250-plus year relationship that the Presbyterian Church as an institution has extended to Native peoples the full decision-making and financial responsibility for the business of Presbyterian churches in their communities.3

At the time the first presbytery was established at Philadelphia in 1706, it is believed there were 37 Indian Protestant pastors in Eastern America. They had received training to interpret and translate in their ministry. John Eliot, whose first American Bible had been translated into the Algonquin language in 1661, organized communities of Christian Indians into “Praying Towns” near Natick, Massachusetts, for the purpose of creating a buttress against bad settlers or “pagan” influences. However, Indians were later killed, dispersed or interned, and the towns were broken up by 1676. By 1730, in Scotland a Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, which included Presbyterians and Calvinist Congregationalists, supported missionaries in America, some of whom worked with the Indians. Azariah Horton, a Presbyterian, organized the first Indian Presbyterian Church in 1741 among the Shinnecock Indians. In 1750, Moor’s Indian Charity School in Connecticut moved to New Hampshire when Presbyterian ministers of Scotland offered financial assistance; it later became Dartmouth College. The Suffolk Presbytery ordained Samson Occum, a Mohican. He was the first Indian to be ordained as a Presbyterian Minister.

The evangelization of Indians was assigned to foreign missions in the Presbyterian Church by the early 1800s, under the rationale that they should be treated the same as non-English speaking people in other countries. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (hereinafter “American Board”) was established in 1810 and the United Foreign Missionary Society (Presbyterian, Reformed, and Associate Reformed) was organized in 1816. The two merged in 1826. The denominations each created their mission boards. In the Presbyterian Church, Indian missions were transferred to Home Mission in 1883 (Minutes, UPCUSA, 1883, p.105.) Upon the transfer, the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions provided a report which reviewed its history of work in Indian missions:

They were established in view of the spiritual state of the Indians. Their condition as lost sinners, and their need of Christ as their Savior, led our churches to seek their salvation. It was soon perceived that as a heathen people, and as speaking languages of their own, the same kind of missionary efforts were required for them as for the people of Africa and China. Their case was subjective rather than geographical in its leading features ... Evangelistic work for the heathen was assigned to the Board of Foreign Missions without reference to the particular region where they lived ... These efforts took the form of preaching, teaching in schools, training native missionary laborers, translating portions of the scriptures, etc., very much as if they lived in Syria or Persia. The missionaries were appointed to work for life, if Providence should permit and a work exclusively for the Indians. They were not placed under the care of superintendents ... Under this general line of proceeding for fifty years, such men as Drs. Kingsbury, Byington, Williamson, Wright, Spalding and others ... have been honored by the churches as missionaries to the Indians, equally with their brethren in other foreign fields ... Many hundred of the Indians were brought to their Savior by His grace, lived exemplary Christian lives, and triumphed at death in the hope of the Gospel. A number have been ordained as ministers of the Gospel and others are in training for the ministry. Education and the ways of Christian life have been adopted in several tribes. As to temporal matters, the civilization of the Senecas, Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Omahas, Dakotas, Nez Perces and others must be ascribed largely to these missions — indeed, for more to them than to all other agencies combined.
Report of Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission in 1882 (Minutes, UPCUSA, 1882, Part I, p.765.)

At that time, the Presbyterians had mission work among the Seneca, Lake Superior, Chippewa, Dakota, Omaha, Winnebago, Iowa, Sac, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, Nez Perces, Ottawa, Otoe, Spokane and Fox. Throughout the 19th century the geographic expansion of Presbyterian mission work among Native Americans often foreshadowed the movement of Euro-Americans to Native Americans lands. From the removal of the Cherokees and Choctaws from the Southeast to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to the Sioux Nations after the Treaty of Ft. Laramie, early Presbyterian mission, often in concert with other denominations, was in the midst of political and military battles for expansion westward.

Work among the Cherokees began in 1803 when Gideon Blackburn, a Presbyterian, was assigned by the Presbyterian General Assembly to serve as a missionary among the Cherokees. Cyrus Kingsbury, another missionary who followed in 1810, persuaded President Madison to consider appropriating funds designated for the “civilization” of Indian people. In 1819 Congress created a Civilization Fund, providing an annual appropriation $10,000 to “moralize” Indians through the establishment of schools. The minutes of the General Assembly contained an endorsement of “the gospelizing of the Indians on the frontiers of our country, connected with a plan for their civilization ...” (Minutes, UPCUSA, 1920, Part I, p. 309). The American Board was one of the largest beneficiaries. By 1829, it had 21 schools among the Five Civilized Tribes, compared with seven for all other denominations combined. Their school at Brainerd in southeastern Tennessee, founded in 1817, was the most flourishing of the Indian schools. They taught skills in black smithing and agriculture, with the goal of educating Indian students away from their culture.

The government wanted to “civilize” and the Church wanted to “Christianize” the Indians. In 1820 the Dwight Mission School was founded in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) for the Chocta people. In the 1830s Presbyterians were involved on both sides of the removal of the Cherokees, Choctaws and other southeastern tribes to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Despite a series of Supreme Court victories upholding the rights of the Cherokees, by 1835 President Andrew Jackson, a Presbyterian, proposed removal of the Cherokee to Indian Territory in his annual message to Congress. The Presbyterian missionary Worcester, whose refusal to comply with a Georgia statute requiring all non-Indians to obtain a state license, led to a Supreme Court case establishing a major doctrine of Indian sovereignty. Jeremiah Evarts, a Presbyterian and Secretary of the American Board, was an ardent spokesperson against removal. He published a series of articles presenting legal and moral arguments against removal. Despite the American Board’s support of the Indian position, the Cherokees and the other four Civilized Tribes (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) were forced to move to Indian Territory over the “Trail of Tears” in 1836.

Elsewhere in the west, news of four Nez Perce men who traveled to St. Louis in 1831 in search of the “White Man’s Book of Heaven” was taken as a call for missionaries to go to the Northwest. The American Board sent missionaries to Oregon, Washington and Idaho. In 1835 Marcus and Narcissa Whitman went to the Oregon Territory. Henry and Eliza Spalding went to Nez Perce Country. Whitman was among the strongest supporters of adding the Oregon territory to the United States in opposition to the British. The first Nez Perce churches, Kamiah and Spaulding, were established in 1871.

By 1845, Manifest Destiny, a credo that (white) Americans were destined by divine providence, to expand their national dominion by whatever means necessary, had materialized in the race to populate the western frontier. In 1849, with the East nearly free of Indian nations, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was transferred from the War Department to the Department of the Interior. This move eventually provided the backdrop for numerous political appointments of Indian Service agents in the west. After numerous allegations of fraud and corruption, President Grant in 1869 inaugurated his “peace policy,” designed to promote peaceful relations with Indian tribes. One aspect of this policy was a new system of assigning field personnel. Missionary boards of the various denominations agreed to provide agents and other personnel to supervise the Indian reservations. The Board of Indian Commissioners, created by Congress in 1869 as part of the peace policy, served as liaison between the government and the churches. In order to promote cooperation, the Board held a meeting each January to provide a forum to discuss Indian affairs. The Board invited the secretaries of the mission boards as well as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and other government officials to report on their work. Missionaries were appointed as field agents until the 1880s. Thus it was often the case that Indian missionaries were nominated by their denominations, then appointed as Indian Agents to tribes.

Protestant missionary work in the Great Plains among the Dakotas began around 1831. The American Board opened the Dakota mission through the efforts of the Rev. Thomas S. Williamson in 1834 near Lac Qui Parle, Minnesota. He and the Rev. Stephen Riggs developed materials written both in Dakota and English. However, the rise in conversions did not grow in large numbers until after missionaries began visiting and acting as advocates on behalf of Sioux men imprisoned after an 1862 Sioux uprising in Dakota territory. Congress had created the Dakota Territory which encompassed much of present day South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming by treaty in 1861.

Among the ministers/advocates were the Revs. Williamson and Riggs, Bishop Whipple and Father Ravioux. Dakota Presbytery, first organized as an Indian and White Presbytery in 1844, is the only continuing Native American Presbytery in the PC(USA) with churches in Montana, Minnesota and North and South Dakota. The Rev. John Renville, the first Dakota minister was ordained in 1865.

In the 20 or so years following the Civil War, the resistance of the Indians to the invasion of their homelands by miners and settlers as well as the wanton destruction of the buffalo, led to wars that dominated discussion of Indian policy. In the 1870s and 1880s a system of mission schools supported in part by government funds emerged. In 1875, the General Assembly passed a resolution to “Christianize and civilize the Indians.” (Minutes, UPCUSA, 1875, Part I, p. 541) Presbyterians and other denominations supplied the buildings and teachers, and the government paid an annual amount to each school for each child enrolled.

By 1878 the government began to sponsor its own boarding schools with the intent of assimilating Native people. General Pratt, who founded Carlisle Indian Training and Industrial School in Pennsylvania, used the motto “kill the Indian, save the man.” Indian students first enrolled at Hampton Institute for blacks in Virginia in 1878.

In the Southwest, Presbyterian mission began largely after the Civil War. Charles H. Cook, a government school teacher among the Pimas, was persuaded to become a Presbyterian minister and officially began Presbyterian work in 1878. He started churches among the Maricopa and Yavapai as well. The Presbyterians also began work among the Tohono O'odham (Papago). In northern Arizona, the Presbyterians established a school and church at Ganado Mission (1901) among the Navajo. Later, missions were established throughout the Navajo reservation, at Tuba City, Kayenta, Chinle, Indian Wells, Leupp and Fort Defiance. In present day New Mexico, the Rev. John Menaul began work as a government school teacher at Laguna Pueblo in 1875; the Laguna Presbyterian Church was founded in 1897. In southwestern Colorado, ministry was established among the Ute near Towaoc. Churches were also established among the Paiute in the Eastern Sierras of California (Valley Presbyterian in Bishop) and in northern California among the Hupa at Hoopa.

Alaska missionary work among Native Alaskans began through the efforts of Sheldon Jackson, who had started his ministry among Native Americans at Spencer Academy in Oklahoma and later established churches in the Midwest and Southwest. He recruited Amanda McFarland to serve in Alaska; she founded a girls school at Wrangell in 1877. Jackson became General Agent for Education in Alaska while simultaneously serving as Superintendent of Presbyterian Missions. He founded the Sitka Training School (now Sheldon Jackson College), which served southeast Native villages where churches were located, including Kake, Hoonah, Angoon, St. Petersburg, Sitka, Wrangell, Ketchikan, Hydaburg, Klukwan, Craig, Klawock and Metlakatla. Jackson traveled to Barrow in 1890, but the Utkeagvik Church was not established until 1897. Native churches established in southeast Alaska served the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples. Other Presbyterian churches were established throughout Northern Alaska among the Inuit and Yupik peoples into the early 1900s.

Education was one tool by which the Protestant reform movement exerted major influence on federal Indian policy in the last two decades of the 19th century. Three groups, beginning in 1883, met annually at a resort hotel near Lake Mohonk in New York to discuss Indian reform, to hear speakers on relevant issues and to formulate resolutions which they later used to influence public opinion and to lobby Congress and government officials: the Women’s National Indian Association, the Indian Rights Association and the official Board of Indian Commissioners. Represented were at least eight Protestant denominations, including Presbyterians and Catholics in the later years. More than a fourth of the members were ministers, their wives and representatives of religious groups; many others were prominent lay leaders in their churches.

All this occurred in the midst of a larger evangelical movement in the country. While the motivations of the “Friends of the Indian” were benevolent, their solutions contained a basic and dangerous threat to the existence of Native peoples. In the words of a historian of federal Indian policy:

The distinguishing mark of American evangelism was its insistence on individual salvation; the conversion and reformation of individuals would, evangelists believed, correct the evils of society. The Indian reformers eventually realized the fundamental conflict between this principle and the communal life and customs of the Indians. Their solution was to ignore the wishes of the Indians, and insist on their individualization and acculturation freed from bondage to the tribe. “The Indian as a savage member of a tribal organization cannot survive, ought not to survive, the aggressions of civilization,” the Indian Rights Association declared ... in 1884, “but his individual redemption from heathenism and ignorance, his transformation from the condition of a savage nomad to that of an industrious American citizen, is abundantly possible.4

In 1887 President Grover Cleveland was a commissioner to the General Assembly. Denominational missionaries met with him and requested his support for federal policy that would prohibit Indians from speaking their languages, practicing their ceremonies, dances, culture and arts and crafts, all as part of an effort at further assimilation. In response, such a policy was implemented in boarding schools. A key component of the effort to individualize Native peoples was the movement to break up tribal ownership of the land. Under the terms of treaties and agreements signed with the government in the 1800s, reservations were owned collectively. The Lake Mohonk Christian reformers, led by Senator Henry Dawes, saw the reservation system as racial segregation that only reduced Indians to poverty. Believing the answer was to dissolve the reservations and distribute the land to individual Indians, they supported enactment of the Dawes Act of 1887. Their rationale was that if Indians were each given a plot of land, they would develop the pride of ownership and thereby become further civilized. They would leave their nomadic ways, settle down and become “responsible citizens.” Private ownership would also make Indians safe from encroachment by homesteaders and miners who continuously tried to move in on Indian lands. Under this act, also known as the Allotment Act, each Indian was to be given an allotment of land. Any unused or unclaimed land reverted to the federal government and was almost immediately thereafter sold to settlers. When Congress passed the Act in 1887, there were 138 million acres of Indian lands in the United States; by 1934, when Congress ended the allotment system with passage of the Indian Reorganization Act, that number had plummeted to 48 million acres.

Protestant influence in federal Indian policy experienced a major decline in the first two decades of the next century, for reasons not entirely clear. R.C. Beaver, a noted church historian, once said that Indian mission concerns began to wane after the last of the Indian wars in 1890. By 1900 the government no longer funded mission schools. Leupp, the Indian Commissioner appointed in 1904, would favor day schools. Albert Smiley, founder of the Lake Mohonk conferences, died in 1912, and the last such conference took place in 1916.

By 1928, Lewis Merriam completed a study of Indian Affairs which documented the failure of federal Indian policy during the allotment period and provided impetus for a sweeping change in federal policy. The Indian Reorganization Act, passed in 1934, ended the practice of allotment, thereby offering protection for the land base of tribes and permitted tribes to set up legal structures designed to aid in self-government. Many Indian tribes adopted a constitutional form of government. John Collier, the new Indian Commissioner, followed recommendations of the Merriam study and supported the return of Indian culture and heritage, much to the chagrin of various church denominations. They feared a return to traditional ways, thus subverting their assimilation ethic. The social science approach adopted by Commissioner John Collier was clearly at odds with the Christian motivation behind the Christian reformers of the late 19th century.

Contemporary History

Since the end of the Second World War, Presbyterian General Assemblies have consistently taken positions supportive of Native American land rights and other issues affecting Native peoples. Before the 1983 reunification, both assemblies (PCUS and UPCUSA) had supported the concepts of tribal sovereignty and self-determination as well as the freedom for Native Americans to practice their own religions.

In 1953, Congress adopted “termination” legislation during the Eisenhower (a Presbyterian) administration. Its express aim was to “make the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States, [and] to end their status as wards of the United States.” [H. Con. Res. 108, 83rd Cong., 67 Stat. B132 (1953)] While the intention of some members of Congress was benevolent, the results were devastating for 13 tribes whose relationship with the federal government was terminated; they were subjected to state laws, and their lands were converted into private ownership and in most instances sold. This federal policy threatened all tribes.

The United Presbyterian Church issued a general policy statement in 1954 against forced termination of tribes (Minutes, 1954, Part I, p. 193). At the same time, the Bureau of Indian Affairs offered grants to Indians who would leave the reservation to seek work in metropolitan centers as a response to extremely high unemployment on reservations. While some succeeded, large numbers of Indians ended up unemployed and disillusioned in urban areas such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco. By the late 1960s termination and related assimilation ideas were largely regarded as failures. Termination was finally discouraged during the administration of President Kennedy.

The termination/assimilation policy was simulated in the United Presbyterian Church (UPC) in a structural change that began in the late 1950s and was fully realized in the early 1970s. Under a restructure, the administration of Native American churches was moved from the umbrella of the Board of National Missions to approximately 16 presbyteries in seven synods. This move emanated from a philosophy that mission must be done at the lowest level of the Church. Thus, approximately 100 Native American churches which had theretofore dealt with the Board of National Missions office were assigned to new, often uncertain, relationships with presbyteries with whom they had few if any prior dealings.

Beginning in 1964, the United Presbyterian Church led in the Indian Goals Study which included eleven denominations with historic Native American work. The study, conducted from 1964 to 1967 by the National Council of Churches, was the first in which Native American voices were included in an evaluation of Indian mission. The 11 denominations adopted Goals supporting the concept of self-determination by Indian people in tribal government and Church administration. Each denomination was challenged to establish a national Indian Board and employ Indian executives. Prior to the 1983 reunion the majority of Native American churches were in the “northern” church, and Native Americans had made significant inroads in their quest for Native American staff at the national offices in New York. In 1970 the United Presbyterian Church employed an Indian executive, Joe Watson, in its national office. However, the need for Indian staff in national and governing bodies remained a need.

The creation of a national Native American Consulting Committee (NACC) began in 1969 when the General Assembly provided $100,000 in seed money to be used for projects on Indian reservations. An ad hoc committee was created to review proposals submitted for use of the funds; however, the need for a permanent consultative body soon became apparent. On the eve of the 1972 Church restructure, the committee developed a position paper entitled, “We May Be Brothers After All,” which contained a comprehensive historical, theological and programmatic statement. General Assembly endorsement of this report in 1972 also called for continuation of a consulting committee with the more inclusive term “Native American” to include Eskimo and Aleut work.

NACC was given final approval in 1977, with authority to evaluate and recommend programs seeking national funding as well as to provide counsel to General Assembly agencies and synods. In 1976, the UPCUSA adopted its first major policy statement on Indian rights. However, there was no committee parallel to NACC in the PCUS. (Minutes, PCUS, 1976, pp. 208-209) By 1982, a member of a Native American church from the PCUS sat on NACC.

In 1979, the General Assembly adopted the churchwide Policy Statement on Native American Ministry. The 1983 Reunion resulted in a total of 109 congregations in PC(USA). Under the Articles of Agreement, the church wide Policy continues as the mandate for PC(USA) policy on Native American ministry.


V. Findings of task force: What we heard and saw

At present there are 109 Native American congregations and one Urban Ministry Project in the PC(USA). Although there is great diversity in language, culture, geography and history, there are striking commonalities among Native American churches in the PC(USA). These churches are located across the country, from Shinnecock Church on Long Island, New York, to Neah Bay, Washington, and from Livingston, Texas, to Point Barrow, Alaska. Most of these churches were established prior to 1900; thus most Native American Presbyterians are fourth and fifth generation Presbyterians in communities with long historic ties to the Presbyterian Church. With the exception of Utkeagvik Church (Barrow, Alaska), most Native American congregations are small with memberships of fewer than 100 and in many cases fewer than 50. The great majority of Native American churches do not have full time clergy.

Most PC(USA) Native American churches are located on reservations and trust lands. Of the 10 reservations which accounted for more than half of all Native Americans living on reservations and trust lands in the 1990 census, Presbyterian churches are located on or near at least six of them: Navajo (Ariz., N.M., Utah), Pine Ridge (S.D.), Gila River (Ariz.), Papago (now Tohono O'odham; Ariz.), Rosebud (S.D.), Hopi (Ariz.) and Blackfeet (Mont.).

According to the 1990 census, at least 39 percent of the national Native American population is under the age of 18. At least 65 percent of the national Native population lives in major urban areas, such as Los Angeles, Tulsa, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver, Dallas, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York. The 2000 Census may reveal variations in these figures, but the basic trends will likely remain the same into the next century.

Significant findings on Native American ministry were published in the 1978 report “We May Be Brothers After All,” which is included in the Appendix to this Report. Thus, in studying and reviewing the history of Native American ministry, the Task Force attempted to build upon this work and listened to congregations in an attempt to understand what substantive changes had occurred in the last two decades and what issues remain as concerns. The following findings are summarized in five categories identified as areas in particular need of attention.

A. Development and Education for Congregational Leadership

Most Native American congregations are in a maintenance mode, rather than a strategizing mode. Interviews revealed that the administrative move of Native American churches from the Board of National Missions to presbyteries in the 1960s occurred without strategic transitioning of the churches toward more self-support. After 200 or so years of total support of Native American missions, this shift was viewed by many Native American communities as breaking a promise to “always provide a church to the community.” Although churches are now at various levels of financial independence, only three churches reported to be near a state of self-sufficiency.

The Task Force documented a great need for leadership and leadership development in most Native American churches. In many cases the session members were not familiar with the Book of Order and Presbyterian polity. There is low participation in synod and presbytery activities and events. The Task Force also documented low interaction between middle governing body staff and Native American churches. Moreover, Native American staff have served primarily in only two synods (Southwest and Lakes and Prairies) and two presbyteries (Grand Canyon and Dakota — a Native American non-geographic presbytery).

Very few congregations reported ongoing and consistent Christian education classes. While they believe it is very important, they often have no trained leadership and few resources. Related to this is a frustration over a lack of Christian education materials sensitive and relevant to their church size, language and culture. Ministry to youth and children is constantly cited as a great need, as it is integral to strengthening the family unit.

B. Preparation for Ministry and Church Vocations

There is a clear crisis in availability of Native American clergy. Whereas in the 1940' at least half of the 110 Native churches were served by Native American clergy, in 1995 there were only 17 installed clergy and 11 in 1999. As a result, lay clergy are heavily relied upon in hurches throughout the country. A significant number of churches stated that they cannot afford a full time pastor and if they can, they cannot afford to pay pension and benefits. Prior to the 1950s, most Native American pastors were appointed to the field under the Board of National Missions. When the shift was made from the Board to middle governing bodies, Native American churches were expected to initiate the process of calling and replacing pastors, without adequate preparation and training. In the three decades following this shift, the majority of Native American churches were unable to maintain full time ministers. One major consequence has been a decline in membership and leadership in Native American churches.

Native American ministry, by and large, is one of isolation. Geographic distances make it difficult for even commissioned lay pastors to participate in lay training courses. Many churches are physically isolated and others may be culturally isolating to non-Native clergy unprepared to live in a Native cultural or multicultural setting. Many churches reported frustration with a high turnover of clergy and a lack of understanding of their culture. Often this is due to little or no orientation for clergy, including Native American clergy from other tribes. Native American ministry is also full time ministry to a community regardless of church location and membership. Still, current Native American ministers faithfully struggle to meet the leadership needs of Native American communities by serving multiple churches. In some cases ministers serve five, six and 13 even parishes!

Significant efforts to prepare and train Native American clergy and lay leaders were made in the 1970s and 1980s. Cook Christian Training School introduced Theological Education by Extension as a method by which the reformation theme “Priesthood of All Believers” could be implemented in training laity for ministry. The Native American Theological Association (NATA), whose membership included seven seminaries from five denominations (Presbyterians, United Church, Methodist, Baptist and Lutheran), assisted 21 Native American students graduate from seminary from 1975 to 1985. With the support of the Fifty Million Fund, the Native American Theological Educational Consortium (NATEC) was able to train 810 laity and 11 clergy while it participated with NATA in developing theological studies. NATEC included Cook School, Huron College (later University of Ozarks) and Dubuque Theological Seminary. Dubuque Theological Seminary established in 1974 a Native American Program that is designed to prepare both Native Americans and non-Native Americans to serve Native congregations. However, the results of these measures languished without congregations being prepared to fully support clergy or lay pastors.

At present, 11 Native Americans are enrolled in seminaries, the highest number in the last 12 years. Native clergy and seminarians have expressed concern over the fact that seminaries generally do not offer courses designed to prepare candidates for racial ethnic ministry and much less for Native American ministry. Courses currently offered in several seminaries often perpetuate racial stereotypes of Native Americans as well as a “pan Indian” approach to study of Native American religions. Unfortunately, a present lack of information in PC(USA) Research Services on Native American churches, (financial resources, operation cost, number of members) makes it difficult to determine the full cost of ministry in Native American churches. Very few Native American churches participate in statistical reporting and thus little or no data base exists. Current survey tools simply do not work; thus there is a need to find a more effective methodology for accessing data on the cost of ministry.

C. Native American Church Growth

Native American churches have historically emerged from four models: (a) missionary with established preaching points, (b) mission stations (e.g. the cannery at Yakutat, Alaska), (c) ministry based on a probe of whether ministry was needed (e.g. Native American Ministry Project in greater Los Angeles) and (d) family or clan chapels. At least three of these models may no longer be viable options for Native American church growth.

There is a need to affirm and acknowledge a style of worship and evangelism among Native people that often forms the basis for church growth. The annual “camp meeting” or “retreat” is a revitalizing force in the Native American community. The Church has defined evangelism as ministry to individuals. But the Indian evangelistic ministry is living out the Good News and reinforcing the Good News within the context of the community. It is a community-based expression of being together in the good news, with the emphasis on the gathering. Renewal, redemption, reconciliation and salvation are directed toward the entire body that comes together, not just on those who are bold enough to step out from the body. The gathering is periodic, but scheduled, and it rises to a significant position on the annual calendar. It is a time that emphasizes stories of all sorts. Some are told in the preaching. All are told in an intergenerational and interpersonal manner. This Bible study is full of one’s relatives, who discovered that when they were weak in the faith, they could gain strength by praying and singing and worshiping in a reunion of believers.

In 1989 the Native American Ministry Project was established in the Los Angeles metropolitan area after a comprehensive survey and study. This ministry project is the only urban Native American non-parish ministry project in the PC(USA). Four churches in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area host the twice-monthly worship services. The Project spans the area of three presbyteries and is ecumenically supported in membership. A full-time minister responds not only to spiritual needs of Native families, but also social needs and justice issues.

A similar project was started in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980s, but remains in name only without necessary financial support. This project still has potential and can be revitalized. The potential for urban and off-reservation ministry with Native Americans will require much more study than the Task Force was able to complete. Given the fact that the majority of Native Americans are located in urban and off-reservation areas, a separate study focusing on urban Indian ministry is needed. In the course of conversation with the Native American Ministry Project in Los Angeles as well as other Native American Presbyterians in urban areas, the Task Force heard some common themes. First, in urban areas, Native people tend to be less concerned with denominationalism than with community among other Native people. In other words, community with other Native people is more important than necessarily being with other Native American Presbyterians. Thus, future urban and off-reservation ministry projects will likely have to be flexible, creative and respectful of Native community; this may mean crossing presbytery and synod lines as well as being ecumenical. Several other reformed denominations have successfully established urban ministry projects in cities such as Minneapolis, Minn., and Charlottesville, N.C. Ministries can be designed to meet the need of Native Americans in urban areas. These ministries must emerge from a careful analysis of needs in urban communities.

Another important theme in Native American church growth is the upkeep of facilities and church buildings, which necessarily includes accurate and reliable records on buildings and property. The Task Force found that documentation of ownership of church property on or near reservations is inconsistent or not available. Limited resources and staff have not periodically updated property information. Past attempts to develop regional listings were frustrated by the fact that the PC(USA) lacks churchwide information. Much of Native American church property is located on trust or restricted lands, thus tribal governments may have more updated records on these properties. In many instances, families or tribes gave property to the church with the agreement that the property would return to the family or tribe if or when it ceased to be used as a church.

An inventory would help to create a central data base where records can be assessed for property management, resource development, insurance policies and historical preservation.

The visits and conversations with many Native American congregations taught the Task Force that the historic relationship between the Presbyterian Church and the federal government, in development and implementation of Indian policy, has left a legacy that Presbyterian Church as one who made a “treaty” promise to provide ministry in Native American communities and has not fulfilled that promise. Thus, many of the elder members of Native American congregations speak in terms of a Presbyterian promise, likened to a treaty, to always provide ministry in that community.

Part of this legacy is remnants of paternalism in the types of connections PC(USA) entities have with Native American congregations. By far, most of the relationships with Native American churches are not true partnerships, but paternalistic relationships in which another church or church entity only does things for the Native church on its own terms. The Task Force observed that, where there have been multiple or repeated instances of mission activity such as vacation Bible school or making repairs to churches, they have not achieved long term self-sufficiency.

The Native American Consulting Committee (NACC) is an important organizational connection between Native American ministry and the PC(USA). The church wide Policy Statement for Native American Ministry clearly designates NACC as the consultative body on matters of national Native American ministry policy. However, since the 1983 reunion and subsequent reorganization, the Presbyterian Church’s recognition and observance of the churchwide Policy Statement has decreased significantly.

E. Native American Youth and Young Adults

Geography and travel costs are the largest barriers to Native American youth and young adult participation in churchwide events. Often, local churches do not have sufficient resources to support youth and young adult programs. The greatest and most effective participation has been at events planned and subsidized at the national level. For example, since the resurgence of the American Indian Youth Conference in 1994, attendance has increased tenfold. A large percentage of a Birthday Offering grant from Presbyterian Women in 1992 was directed to Native American Youth programs. The recent formation of a Native American Young Adult organization grew out of these forms of supports.

Young adults, often young parents, have different life circumstances and therefore differing needs which often go unrecognized. At a Native American Young Adult Consultation held in May 1998, many young adults discussed honestly their reasons for disenchantment with the Church as well as a strong desire to be fully involved in the life of the church. They continue to ask for assistance with programs and worship that recognize their needs and life issues.

Native youth and young adults often face contradictions between “traditional” Native American values and Christian theologies that are not affirming of their identity as Native Americans. While many see few conflict and continue to explore who they are in their own spiritual journey, ministers and other members of the congregation often force them to make choices between participating in Native traditional events or ceremonies and attending church. Many have left the church because they were criticized for expressing interest in traditional teachings and practices. Strong self identity as Native American and self esteem are critical issues in a population that has a high rate of suicide attempts and completion. The Native American community experiences a suicide rate seven times the national average for other populations.

Many youth expressed frustration with old models of leadership in Native American congregations. The words of one captures the sentiment of many Native American youth interviewed: “The young are not trusted enough with the ‘sacred’ things of the church; and because they are not given the opportunity to experience and make mistakes in the process of developing their leadership skills, we don’t have the presence of young people in the churches.” Statements like this present a challenge to Native American congregations to invite youth and young adults to take more leadership in the church. They also attest to the need for ministries that meet the needs of youth and young adults.


Challenges and strategies for Native American ministry in the next century

As part of its work, the Task Force also began discussions with Native American churches and middle governing body staff about strategies for addressing the concerns as well as ways of affirming present efforts to revitalize ministry. Below, the Task Force has identified some strategies for addressing the issues raised. Because we are a connectional church, it is important that all levels of the church be participants: Native American congregations, Middle governing body staff and national staff. It is our hope that these challenges and strategies will serve as an impetus for more creativity in revitalizing Native American ministry. Where provisions of the churchwide policy are applicable, they are identified below in the narrative.

A. Development and Education for Congregational Leadership

In the area of stewardship, Native American churches are challenged to provide larger percentages of pastors’ salaries, program, budget and mission giving, in partnership with the larger church. The church wide Policy on Lay leadership provides that the PC(USA) “through its presbyteries will provide resources to train elders and other lay leaders for witness and service in both church and community.” Thus, presbyteries are encouraged to be deliberate in including Native American congregations in opportunities to develop leadership and to be intentional in developing strategies for the mission of Native American churches, as provided in the Book of Order. The church, at all levels, is encouraged to take into consideration the long patterns of paternalism that will take time to dismantle. Thus, plans to work toward self-supporting Native American Churches must include longer terms of support other than traditional methods to provide church growth.

B. Preparation for Ministry and Church Vocations

All Native American Presbyterians are challenged to make a concerted effort to identify, recruit and encourage gifted candidates to be called to church vocations. In cases where cultural and language differences exist, Presbyteries are encouraged to provide an advisor to guide and assist Native American candidates through the ordination process, as it fulfills the duties of the presbytery in G 0306.2.

The General Assembly Mission Council, in consultation with NACC, is encouraged to produce and publish a series of resources addressing the various areas of instruction required for commissioned lay pastors. The writing should not assume any prior theological training and should be written at an eighth grade reading level.

Seminaries are challenged to offer study options that prepare ministry candidates to be culturally competent in their ministry, including anti-racism training, values in a multi-cultural community and equal employment practices.

The PC(USA) is encouraged to establish and fund a scholarship program for seminary students that provide a significant portion of the costs of seminary training that would be forgivable if the student accepted a call to a Native American congregation.

The General Assembly is encouraged to commission a study, in consultation with the Board of Pensions and National Ministries Division that examines issues related to Native American Pastors' salaries.

C. New Patterns of Connection

The churchwide policy on Mutuality in Mission provides that the PC(USA) will “through its agencies make it possible for Native Americans to participate and contribute fully in the total life of the church in order that the whole church may be enriched and benefit from partnership and involvement in the larger body of Christ.” The PC(USA) “will develop ways to include Native Americans in its decision-making process, especially in those areas that affect the lives and destinies of Native Americans.” The policy on National Agency, Council and Committee Relationships provides for “advice and consultation with Native Americans through appropriate channels on all matters pertaining to Native American ministry.” (Minutes, UPCUSA, 1979, Part I, pp. 401- 404.)

Synods, presbyteries and individual churches are encouraged to develop, partnership-based relationships with Native American congregations and new church developments, with attention to approval of work within the bounds of a presbytery and informing presbyteries if aid-receiving churches receive funds from outside of a presbytery.

The Church is encouraged to emphasize and promote ecumenical and inter-faith endeavors among Native American congregations, particularly on reservations and in urban areas where denominational differences impede Christian witness. There is a need for a Volunteer Service Program, potentially in partnership with the Volunteer in Mission Office, which would recruit Native Americans for mission service with Native American communities on and off reservations. Presbyteries and synods are encouraged to be in correspondence with tribal governments in Native American communities regarding matters such as management of property and resources.

Native American Presbyterians must be deliberate and intentional in applying for national committees and board positions.

D. Native American Church Growth

The churchwide Policy on Mutuality in Mission provides that the PC(USA) “will seek to understand Native American culture and respect the philosophy, values and heritage of Native Americans in order that Presbyterians may learn from Native American lifestyles and benefit from fellowship with the ” (Minutes, UPCUSA, 1979, Part I, pp. 401- 404). An essential aspect of this policy must be the recognition of the importance of community for Native Americans. This community-centered identity, for many Native people, is the core of existence and the source of healing and nurture. Thus, the Task Force sets forth the following strategies for Native American Church Growth.

A truly mutual relationship between the church and Native American communities requires that the church recognize and honor the styles of worship that are common to Native Americans which, can and do, bring healing, renewal and reconciliation with God and each other. This aspect of Native community must be taken into consideration when designing ministry with Native Americans.

The Church Growth Strategy Team is urged to incorporate these considerations as it seeks to plan for overall Church Growth.

Presbyteries in each major metropolitan area with a substantial Native American population are challenged to explore the potential for ministry with urban and off-reservation Native American communities. In support of the church wide Policy on Facilities, Buildings and Land, the Office of Property Management is encouraged to consult with appropriate Native American churches, consulting bodies and presbyteries to complete its planned inventory of Native American church property by 2002. Information on property should include documentation on title, possession and restrictions on use or possession of the property, assessment of value, land survey of sites and boundaries, cemetery indexing, construction and maintenance status and financing history.

E. Youth and Young Adults

Native American congregations are challenged to honor youth and young adult voices in decision making and programs of the Church. The PC(USA) is urged to support Native American youth and young adults ministries, in developing programs which teach PC(USA) structure, theology and polity through conferences and other events. This would include financial support and leadership development

Recognition by the PC(USA) of the value of Native American languages and symbolism in worship, and Native American viewpoints in educational materials is also critical to developing an inclusive ministry for Native Americans; it would also benefit the entire church.

Governing bodies are urged to be deliberate in working with Native American congregations to develop sexual misconduct prevention policies and educational programs designed to prevent or reduce high risk situations involving young people.

F. Vision Quest Fund

The Task Force encourages individuals and churches to contribute to the “Vision Quest” endowment fund designed by Native Americans as a way to provide long term support for the development of Native American ministry in the PC(USA).


Bibliography

1American Indian Consulting Panel, United Presbyterian Church in the USA, We May Be Brothers After All, May, 1972
2.Native American Consulting Committee, United Presbyterian Church in the USA, From Policy to Action: A Report of the Denver Consultation About Implementing the General Assembly Native American Policy Statement, March, 1980
3Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Native American Ministry churchwide Policy Statement, 1979. (Minutes 191st General Assembly)
4Paisano, Edna L., U.S. Census Bureau, The Official Statistics, internet publication: The American Indian, Eskimo and Aleut Population
5Special Task Force on Native American Ministries, Review of the Native American Historical Journey and its Affects. January, 2000

Tags:

Leave a comment

Post Comment