NATIVE AMERICAN / INDIAN AWARENESS GROUP OF ARCH STREET UMC
Meeting Schedule: The Native American / Indian Awareness Group (NAIAG) now meets on the third Sunday of every month at 2 PM in the conference room of Arch Street UMC. Our goal is to educate our membership, both Native and non-Native, about Native American issues, including spirituality, history, traditional and contemporary culture and crafts. At our monthly meetings, leaders and members present research on various topics, such as listed above.
Native American Sunday Celebration this year will be held in November 2016 . More details will be announced as the date approaches.
Activities Every year members take excursions to local powwows, field trips to the National Museum of the American Indian, both in New York and Washington DC, the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, and the Lewis and Clark bicentennial exhibit at the Academy of Natural Science. Arch Street UMC is an active member of CONAM, the Conference Organization of Native American Ministries of the Eastern PA United Methodist Church. Jointly we have toured the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle PA, and are attending Native worship services sponsored by CONAM at Camp Innabah.
An Act of Repentance At the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, leadership proposed a 4 year Act of Repentance for injustices against Native peoples in America and throughout the world. Repentance is an ongoing process, a change of direction. The first step is to be aware and to take it seriously. Sins and complacency with sins of others in the past affect relations in the present. They spent a lot of time in the beginning of the program establishing that this really was a problem, since the misreading of history and the isolation of indigenous peoples is so pervasive. Native Americans have always had a hard time truly accepting Christianity because the bearers of that faith, Europeans, set such bad examples as followers. Even the pious Pilgrims’ first act was to steal corn from Indians. The righteous Puritans burned Pequot villages with hundreds of Indians trapped inside. Europeans brought liquor and diseases. The Spaniards enslaved Indians. All Europeans assumed their religion was superior without even trying to understand the simpler Native concept that the Creator is most pleased when people live in balance and harmony with the natural world of His creation.
What these speakers did not say was what exactly we as Methodists should do or not do differently on our path to repentance. Surely it is far too late to give the entire country back to the Indians and revive the ancient ways of life. It is not too late to give Native people and their cultural traditions the respect we give to others.
Recently we have been helping promote awareness of the injustice done by Congress in awarding a mining company rights to destroy a sacred burial site of the San Carlos Apache tribe of Arizona. This site, called Oak Flats, is where ancient coming-of-age rites are still performed and where a grove of oak trees yields acorns, which are ground into flour for Native bread.
The Apache group made a cross-the-nation tour in July to gain support for preservation of this site. They are returning with 50-75 delegates from eastern Native tribes from September21-25, 2015. Arch Street UMC and Arch Street Meeting House (Quaker) support and have served as meeting locations for them, as well as places to stay overnight.
A Susquehannock tribe burial mound in Lancaster County, PA is also currently targeted for destruction by a fracked gas pipeline. These sites mean as much to Native Americans as cemeteries where our own parents and ancestors are buried. The Circle Legacy, a Native organization based in Lancaster County, is working to preserve the Susquehannock tribe burial mound. The Circle Legacy is also dedicating a marker in Lancaster City where Susquehannock Natives were massacred in misplaced vengeance during the French and Indian War of 1763.
History cannot be changed but these are things we need to be aware of, and to push back against in repentance against past and present injustices to Native peoples.
NAIAG History In 1984 Rev. Jim Clark, a member of our church who was Native American, helped found the Native American Indian Awareness Group to educate members, both Native and non-Native, about Native American issues, including spirituality, history, famous leaders, traditional and contemporary culture and crafts, , to inspire pride in Native American heritage, to support the work of other Native American groups in the Philadelphia area, and to present each year a Native American Sunday Celebration at Arch Street UMC. After Rev. Clark’s sudden and tragic death, the group was revitalized by Dugalda Wolfson and Don Robinson. Dugalda had taught school on a Lakota reservation as a young woman. Don Robinson had grown up in Buffalo, NY, near the Seneca (Iroquois) reservation. Don had taught Native American courses at the EPA Conference-level School of Missions. Dugalda established cordial relations with all the Native organizations in the Delaware Valley, and built up our monthly Native Awareness meetings to fill our chapel. The group took field trips to powwows, and exhibits on Native Americans at museums. For several years, the group sponsored a scholarship for Native young adults seeking to enter college. We helped other Native groups in the city, from supporting the erection of the Tamanend statue at Penn’s Landing, to inviting United American Indians of the Delaware Valley (UAIDV) to hold meetings at our church after their office was closed. Dugalda signed the Brotherhood of Peace at Penn Treaty Park. This oath was initiated by the Lenape tribe in 2002, when tribal members canoed down the Delaware River from its source to the mouth of Delaware Bay in recognition of the lands they once shared. Arch Street UMC has renewed this treaty every 4 years since.
Dugalda and Don worked hard to make our annual Native American Sunday one of the high points of the church calendar year. In May 1993, an entire Native American Weekend was supported by Native Americans from twenty tribes. Robbin’s Book Store held a book sale on native subjects on Broad Street. The Lenni Lenape Museum of Allentown and other native practitioners conducted demonstrations of tribal crafts, including weaving and jewelry making. Mary Arrington and friends taught children’s groups both days. UAIDV served a well-attended buffalo dinner on Saturday night and later presented a panel discussion about Native Americans living in the City. On Native Sunday, Toni Seaflower, dressed in native regalia, performed a Welcoming and Honoring Dance for the congregation. Guest speaker was Audrey Shenandoah who spoke on ‘Onandaga Spirituality’. As a follow-up, Don Robinson ran a six week course on Native American issues starting in June. The church received an award from the Mayor’s Committee on Race Relations for this all-out effort.
Originally Native Sunday was staged in the spring. We switched to November since the Thanksgiving story of Native Americans welcoming and providing food for the starving Pilgrims inspires a positive and meaningful image. We came to rely on Chief Buffy Red Feather Brown, of the SE PA band of Cherokee, to perform the Invocation to the Four Directions. Namorah Gayle Byrd performed story-telling. There was special music by Cherokee Sister Drummers, Jim Beer, a native flutist, native dancers, soloists and a processional march including anyone wishing to participate in Native regalia. The worship program was followed by a luncheon (often with authentic native foods) honoring our Native American guests.
Dugalda had a talent for bringing distinguished Native speakers to Arch Street’s pulpit. Over the years she brought Linda Poolaw, Grand Chief of the (Oklahoma) Delaware, NA, the late Ken Deere (Muscogee) and Thom White Wolfe Fassett (Seneca), two Native leaders who served in the highest echelons of the United Methodist Church. One of Dugalda’s last acts on Earth was in May 2006 when she invited Mark Quiet Owl Gould (Nanticoke-Lenape) to speak at our Native Sunday service not held until November of that year, 4 months after her death. At that service, an owl was seen perched in Arch Street’s spire, a messenger of God’s reassurance.