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Native American women ‘breaking barriers’ within the PC(USA)

Presbyterian Women board member says intentional effort needed to reach young people

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

Native American women participate in a sharing circle at the pre-gathering event of the 2018 Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women, sponsored by Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries (photo by Jieun Han)

LOUISVILLE — With Native American women installed as  executives in such places as the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is becoming a more diverse denomination — but there’s still work to be done, said the Rev. Danelle Crawford McKinney, a Presbyterian Women board member.

McKinney, whose great-grandfather was one of the first Native American Presbyterian pastors in Dakota Presbytery, is a student rights specialist at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, and an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Ovate tribe.

“We don’t need to take the young people from the reservation, but take people to the reservation,” she said.

She encourages church leaders to visit Native congregations and reservations “so that the youth can see people in these leadership capacities.” The church should be more intentional, she said, about reaching out to younger women “to inspire and help them to know they can do anything they want to do.”

McKinney noted there are fewer than 10 Native American women serving as clergy. About half of those are leading Native congregations; none is leading a non-Native congregation.

“It’s not just about targeting one woman for leadership,” she said. “We have to embrace the entire family. That is a key component to strengthening communities and congregations. When families are strong, we all are better.”

McKinney said she believes that Native American culture impacts the advancement of women in the church.

“There are elements of our culture that are parallel to what we see in Christianity,” she said. “Traditionally, people believe that the culture didn’t have women in leadership, but there was equality in the leadership of the men and the women. Their roles may have been separate, but there were still leadership qualities they had to maintain. So, yes, the culture does impact the leadership — especially now, because today Native women are given more of a voice than they have ever had.”

Empowering younger Native Americans will enable them to take the lead in raising awareness and helping people better understand the social issues directly impacting this group, she said.

“These young women are getting out there and calling attention to the number of Native American women who are missing or murdered, or they are victims of domestic violence or substance abuse,” she said. “These are statistics you don’t hear about. The young women taking on these issues are becoming and have become leaders without realizing it.”

Her own son and daughter are teaching her on matters of racism and colonization, she said.

“My son and daughter don’t allow me to use the word ‘Indian’” at home, she said. “My children prefer to be referred to as ‘indigenous’ or ‘Native American.’”

Madison McKinney, Danelle’s daughter, is a student at Haskell Indian Nations University. She said she is offended when the term “Indian” is used to describe her people.

“‘Indian’ comes with stigmas and that’s not who we are,” she said. “‘Native American’ or ‘indigenous’ sheds more light on our culture. As a young spiritual person, I think it is necessary for people to recognize this for the church to move forward and connect with Native people.”

Christians will do well to get out of their comfort zones to catch the Spirit at work in places they might not expect, Danelle said.

“Presbyterians need to see that Christ is everywhere and not just in traditional spaces,” she said. “Non-Native people need to ask themselves, how can I see Christ at work in other spaces?”

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