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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Native Americans navigate intersection of past and future


Pre-conference speakers describe challenges to Presbyterians for Earth Care

November 6, 2017

Clear blue skies were on display during the opening day of the Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference at Menucha Retreat and Conference Center near Portland, Oregon. Just two weeks prior to the event, organizers were concerned that the smoke and flames from a season of wildfires would force them to find a new location.

Burned trees have been removed from some of the forests along the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, damaged by fires in recent weeks. (Photo by Rick Jones)

As firefighters gained control over the flames, the air became less smoky and closed roads began to reopen. But for the 70 people participating in a pre-conference gathering at Menucha, it wasn’t the fire that topped the agenda, but the Native American population living in the region and the continuing struggle to hold on to their past, while facing a challenging future.

On one evening of the event, early attendees caught a glimpse of these struggles as three guests shared emotional stories of shrinking food sources and a culture that is slipping away.

Fighting tears, Lana Jack of the Celilo Wyam Tribe told the group how her family has been rejected and threatened in a land her ancestors walked for thousands of years.

“For generations, our families have been broken. We never thought of ourselves as landowners but migratory people. I live on the Columbia River in shanty Third World conditions,” said Jack. “We deserve to be treated with dignity and honor instead of being written out and stereotyped as drunk, lazy Indians.”

Jefferson Greene works in language preservation and grew up hearing stories from his grandparents. His early dreams of becoming a wealthy businessman changed while attending college and he felt drawn to return and carry on the traditions that were given him.

“For thousands of years, the people of the Columbia plateau have harvested together, shared stories and humor,” he said. “I wanted to do what my grandparents did for me. We are living in a world completely consumed by another culture for the sake of convenience. There are only a few of us that can do what we do, sharing traditions with new generations.”

Ilarion (Larry) Merculieff, an Aluet from Pribilof Islands, speaks at the opening of the Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference at Menucha Retreat and Conference Center. (Photo by Rick Jones)

Ilarion “Larry” Merculieff, an Aleut from Pribilof Islands, co-chaired the National American Gathering of Indigenous Peoples for the Healing of Mother Earth.

“The disease on earth is human. The body of Mother Earth has an immune system and when something attacks it, she reacts to it,” said Merculieff. “But the earth’s life support systems are being pushed to the edge despite good efforts by people. Storms, hurricanes, floods and fires will intensify.”

The Presbyterians for Earth Care conference included visits with Native American communities.  Workshops also were held, conducted by local environmentalists as well as Presbyterian leaders and staff from the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Office of Public Witness.

Founded in 1995, Presbyterians for Earth Care is a national, grassroots organization dedicated to “environmental wholeness with social justice.”

The Menucha Center hosts church and other ecumenical groups year-round. It has been owned and operated by First Presbyterian Church of Portland for nearly 70 years.

The Presbyterian Hunger Program is made possible by gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

 Rick Jones, Mission Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Presbyterians for Earth Care

Let us join in prayer for:

First Presbyterian Church of Portland Staff

Rev. Dr. Audrey Schindler, pastor and head of staff
Rev Dr. J. Spencer Parks, executive director, Menucha Retreat and Conference Center, associate pastor
Rev. Lindsey Santamaria, associate pastor
Rev. John Evans, pastoral associate
Greg Homza, director of music ministries
Emily Stecher, director of Christian education
Bonnie Garcia, business administrator
Travis Hulse, event manager
Vakare Petroliunaite, music assistant
Laura Kinnaman-Spears, children and youth program assistant

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Mark Stewart, PMA
Mindi Stivers, PMA

Let us pray:

Dear Creator, help us make every day one of celebration of and protection for your creation. For all the wonders of creation, we give thanks. Help us remember members of creation, human and nonhuman, who are threatened. Give us strength to stand up for the most vulnerable, who are the most affected by environmental degradation. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Daily Readings

Morning Psalms 5; 145
First Reading Nehemiah 6:1-19
Or alternate First Reading Ezra 3:1-13
Second Reading Revelation 10:1-11
Gospel Reading Matthew 13:36-43
Evening Psalms 82; 29