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Native American Day Worship opens second day of PMAB meeting

Morning includes cultural humility training on Doctrine of Discovery

by Gregg Brekke and Gail Strange

Jason Chavez and Cecil Corbett help lead the Native American Day worship service at the PMA Board meeting. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

LOUISVILLE – The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) opened its Friday meeting with a Native American Day Worship service led by Elona Street Stewart, executive for the Synod of the Lakes and Prairies, and board members Jason Chavez, Cecil Corbett and Buddy Monahan.

Introducing the service, PMAB chair Ken Godshall asked participants to remain open to expressions of diversity and experience admonished by the General Assembly, saying, “The way to gain knowledge is to lose what we’ve previously know.”

A song by the Thunder Bird Singers, family members of the late Elizabeth Hale from the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church, invited worshipers into the service: “My heart is calm, big waters sing, pray my morning song,” the refrain proclaimed.

“Guide our remembering so we can repent honestly and respond faithfully,” read the gathering prayer. “Give us strength to understand, eyes to see and ears to hear. Teach us to walk the soft earth as relatives to all that live, sharing in trust and love together.”

Affirming the place of native peoples in the nation and in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and following a reading of Psalm 43:3-4, readers said, “We have journeyed for five centuries with Christians, 300 of those years with Presbyterians in which we have been deprived of our place in God’s creation, denied our rights as children of God, treated as less than equal, subjected to abuse, terror and neglect, marginalized as object of mission, and forgotten in the support of ordered ministry…

“Because the church’s structures, policies and people have not always incorporated and valued our origins, responded to our needs nor heard our voices, with God’s help, we declare our place and responsibility as partners in the church’s journey of healing, moving toward wholeness and justice on this mother earth.”

Continuing in prayers for unity and work toward “God’s KINdom,” the service closed saying, “Mend the hoop of our hearts and let us live in justice and peace through Jesus Christ, the One who comes to all people that we might live together as one family. Amen.”

PMA Board members stand on blankets representing Native American lands in an exercise exploring the impacts of The Doctrine of Discovery. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

Following worship, the PMAB was led in a cultural humility “Blanket Exercise” exploring the tenets of The Doctrine of Discovery, the 1493 papal edict promoting the appropriate of land and subjection of inhabitants of that land during the era of European exploration.

Part physical experience and part history lesson, the exercise raised awareness of the systemic and systematic process Europeans, the U.S. Government and the church used to steal land, separate families, forcibly take children from parents to boarding schools, and murder hundreds of thousands of Native Americans.

The exercise evoked strong emotional feelings as the group expressed their thoughts and responses to the realities of the treatment of Native American people.

For the Presbyterian Church’s role in the dehumanizing acts, the 222nd General Assembly (2016) issued an apology on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its members to U.S. citizens of Native American ancestry — “both those within and beyond our denomination.”

The statement added: “We offer this apology especially to those who were and are part of ‘stolen generations’ during the Indian-assimilation movement, namely former students of Indian boarding schools, their families and their communities.”

There are 562 federally recognized tribes on reservations in rural areas, allotment land and in the cities of the United States. There are 95 Native American congregations within the PC(USA). Most congregations have been in existence for 100 or more years.

The Native American Congregational Support Office and the Native American Consulting Committee work collaboratively on issues related to Native American ministries. The Native American Congregational Support Office is available to assist synods and presbyteries, congregations and others in developing a partnership for new ministry with Native Americans. For more information contact the Rev. Irvin Porter, associate for Native American congregational support.

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The latest edition of Facing Racism, a collection of resources from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) addresses The Doctrine of Discovery and the church’s response.


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