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Madison McKinney, an Indigenous person and a Presbyterian, invites the church ‘to sit with me in this pain’ of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people

McKinney, a Presbyterian Mission Agency board member, spoke to the PC(USA) national staff during Wednesday’s Chapel service

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Madison McKinney (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

LOUISVILLE — Each year as May 5 approaches, which is the National Day of Awareness & Action for Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls & Two-Spirit People, Madison McKinney feels what she called on Wednesday “a heavy burden in my heart.”

“I challenge you to sit with me in this pain, so that in this shared experience we can find the love that exists within our community, the church,” said McKinney, a member of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and a Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota Oyate tribal member who’s descended from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. McKinney spoke to the PC(USA)’s national staff during Wednesday’s Chapel service held online.

The 225th General Assembly (2022) passed a resolution on MMIWG2S, directing the PMA to advocate boldly for those who are missing and murdered and to equip Presbyterians to advocate for them as well.

McKinney used Galatians 6:2 — “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” — as her scriptural text during the 20-minute service, which was put together by Luci Duckson-Bramble, the Rev. Tony Oltmann and the Rev. Jermaine Ross-Allam.

That verse from Paul “is calling on our church to be a community of love,” McKinney said. “The law of Christ is to love one another,” and part of that requires bearing one another’s burdens.

“During this week and on May 5 every year, Indigenous people all over the United States and Canada want to bring awareness to the horrific violence of Indigenous women going missing and being murdered at extremely high rates … Honestly, I am tired of repeating the same numbers every year, hoping they will be different,” McKinney said. “Sometimes doing the work means we take a step back and allow the space [for people] to sit in the emotions of it.”

McKinney recommends the 2017 film “Wind River,” in which a hunter helps an FBI agent investigate the murder of a young Indigenous woman on a Wyoming reservation. “It’s based on real events many Indigenous communities are familiar with,” McKinney said. “In this film you get a close look at how violence impacts Indigenous families and communities. It can be quite difficult to watch. It doesn’t shy away from showing the deep layers of trauma, depression and addiction, dread and anguish … The pain is what makes this film real. Bear those burdens with me.”

The film also imparts this lesson, McKinney said: “Even when words fail us, the simple act of sitting in community with one another can help ease the pain. What does it mean to bear the burdens of one another? It means sitting in the silence of pain until you reach the space of love again.”

“Thechíhíla” in the Dakota language is a way of saying “I love you,” McKinney noted, or “I value you.” At its root, it means difficult to do or bear. “A more accurate translation is, ‘I will suffer for you,’” McKinney said. “If you watch ‘Wind River’ and continue to listen to the stories of people impacted by violence, you will hear that the pain and sorrow of losing a loved one in this horrific manner isn’t something these people revisit one day each year. It’s something they carry every single day. The only way to remember that beautiful love that was taken away is to sit fully in the midst of grief and heartache.”

“I don’t have a hopeful ending for this message,” McKinney said. “Most MMIW cases do not result with justice, or even closure. For now, let us take a moment to just sit in silence with one another.”

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