faith in action

What Indigenous People's Day Means to Me

Rev. David Wilson reflects on the meaning of Indigenous People's Day

David Wilson stands by Native statute

On Monday, October 12, communities, cities, universities, towns both big and small will recognize and celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day.

This day began in 1989 in South Dakota to recognize the presence and contributions of Indigenous persons. It has grown in most recent years as people begin to re-evaluate Columbus Day. For many, Indigenous People’s Day will replace Columbus Day. Yet, there are many cities that have not recognized an official recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day.

Today, there are 574 tribes, nations and villages in this country alone. Think about that diversity. Each has its own history, language and culture. That represents much great diversity in this country. We have made tremendous contributions to this country and to this United Methodist Church.

Before our native tribes from the Southeastern part of this country were removed from our homelands, we had encountered missionaries from the Methodist Church. They taught our ancestors about their religion and the tribal peoples taught them much about how to live on the land. From the way Christianity was taught, it was very similar to our indigenous way of life. Treat others good, love one another, take care of another, worship Creator God.

Because of those similarities, our ancestors accepted Christianity, only to have been removed from our land a short time later by some of the very ones who taught us about this Christian Faith.

Yet, our ancestors lived out those lessons from the Bible. Their faithfulness along those Trails of Tears was amazing. Walking hundreds of miles from their homelands to what is now Oklahoma, they sang songs of hope and faith along that journey, even as they lost many of their relatives. We still sing those hymns today in our churches.

When they arrived in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, one of the first things they did was to re-establish their Methodist churches. Today, over 180 years later, some of those churches still exist. What a great testament to their faith!

Native people today continue in our effort to live out our values and to do what we can to be good relatives to all. We make a difference in the lives of many across this world. We are a proud people who continue to live out our faith as people of God.

This has been a monumental year for Indigenous peoples.

Native organizations and persons have worked for years to eliminate the name “Redskins” from the now Washington NFL team. It was the movement of Black Lives Matter that brought more attention to the racist mascot that was removed earlier this year. We were thankful for the many who worked on this issue. There are still more to go but many believe this mascot was the most egregious.

Attention was given this year to the Supreme Court as it decided in McGirt v. the State of Oklahoma. This case goes back to the removal of the Muscogee Creek people and four other tribes that now call Oklahoma home. After removal, reservations in the eastern side of Oklahoma were abolished and the land had a new distinction. However, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress did not disestablish the Muscogee Creek Nation’s reservation, set aside in the early 19th century. Therefore, the land remains “Indian Country,” for the purpose of criminal jurisdiction. The result means that nearly 19 million acres of land among these five tribes could be considered an Indian Reservation.

Indigenous communities celebrated the passage of two bills in Congress just last month, the Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act. These two bills address the epidemic of violence against Native women, commonly referred to as missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Statistics show that Native American women are particularly vulnerable to violence in their lifetimes. On some reservations, for instance, Native women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average. And across the board, more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes, whether it be sexual violence or physical violence at the hands of a partner.

Yes, it seems that we are making some progress among our Indigenous communities. Yet, we have a long way to go. There is much we need to do to address the injustices and social ills of our Indigenous peoples. We cannot do this on our own. We do not have the political clout in this country or in this denomination. Support and encouragement of all is needed for us to journey together.

We are thankful for the advocacy from agencies such as the General Board of Church and Society who have supported many of our efforts for social justice and inclusion and advocacy for Indigenous peoples.

Proverbs 3:27 reads, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.”

One of our great values of Indigenous people, is the understanding of community. Indigenous peoples understand that decisions made in our lives do not just affect one person, but they are made knowing they affect the entire community. We understand our community as the whole world. We care for all and we pray for all people.

Shining Arrows of the Crow tribe once said, “If you have one hundred people who live together, and if each one cares for the rest, there is one mind.” As we recognize and celebrate Indigenous People’s Day around this country, I invite you to join us on this journey.

Additional Resources

Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM) The CONAM offers a recommended worship liturgy for the Indigenous Peoples Day celebration. “CONAM offers this liturgy, developed by the Episcopal Church in 2016, as a template that churches are free to adapt to their individual needs,” said Sherry Wack, CONAM co-chairwoman. Download, copy, share and adapt the liturgy.

UMC Resolutions in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples Read about our resolutions here!

United Methodists Host Delegation of Lumbee Representatives to Advocate for Tribal Recognition

Faith and Facts Card: Indigenous Peoples

The epidemic of missing and murdered Native American women

Churches express solidarity with indigenous peoples at UN Permanent Forum