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Pastor serves as bridge between two cultures


Pastor serves as bridge between two cultures

April 14, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Sandra Brands*

The Rev. Don Goodwin is uniquely qualified to serve as a grief counselor at the Red Lake Reservation.

A licensed local pastor serving Pine Bend United Methodist Mission Church in northern Minnesota, he has been a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, and he is a pipe carrier for the Anishinaabe, also known as the Ojibwe tribe of Native American Indians.

Goodwin has been hired to provide grief counseling at the Red Lake Reservation. He will join other Native American counselors, as well as counselors from the federal government and Lutheran Social Services, in helping Red Lake’s people deal with the traumatic aftermath of the March 21 killings at Red Lake High School.

His ministry reflects his childhood. His father was raised a Methodist and attended Pine Bend United Methodist Church; his mother was raised a strict Catholic in Twin Lakes, Minn.; and he is Anishinaabe, raised, in part, on the reservation.

“Because Don is a deacon in the Catholic church and a local pastor at the United Methodist Church, Indian people know him as a Christian, but also as an Indian elder who does sweat lodges and pipe ceremonies,” said Mary Ann Walt, former director of Native American Concerns for the Minnesota Council of Churches, who hired Goodwin to provide counseling. “It’s a great bridge when you can accept both cultures and spirituality.”

Walt accompanied Goodwin and the Rev. Bill Beyer, pastor of First Evangelical Church of America in Fertile, Minn., to Red Lake the week following the shootings to assess the needs of the community.

“I wanted to see how the churches could help or assist, what they wanted from us—if they wanted anything,” Walt said. “They needed counselors—and American Indian counselors like Don Goodwin or Les Gibbs from Fon du Lac Reservation.

“An Indian counselor can relate so much better with (the Red Lake community), spiritually and physically,” she said. “A child can say much more through an Indian person whom he trusts than he can to a non-Indian person. If I were in that kind of situation, I would have to have an Indian counselor or someone I had worked with for years before I would want to open up.”

On March 21, 16-year-old Jeff Weise shot and killed ten people, including six students, and wounded seven others before killing himself. Within a week, Louis Jourdain, the 16-year-old son of the Red Lake tribal chairman was arrested and charged with conspiracy in connection with the school shootings.

Two weeks later, Goodwin made a second trip to Red Lake to determine what the tribe needed.

“The visit went well,” he said. “I talked to an elderly lady and man (on April 4), and they both definitely need a lot of grief counseling. They needed someone to be there—a chaplain—and when they need you, you’re available.”

One of the first things that must be done, Goodwin said, is to go through the school with sage, blessing every room and corridor. “A blessing with sage is very powerful,” he said.

A healing ceremony was planned by spiritual leaders for April 11, but it was postponed when the FBI said it had received uncorroborated information that there was a gun at the high school.

Traditional Ojibwe ceremonies and spiritual practices have been and will continue to be part of the healing process. At the same time, many members of the tribe are practicing Christians. Tension arises because tribal members have lived through various attempts by a dominant culture to wipe out the traditions, language and culture of a minority culture.

“The majority of our spiritual leaders won’t have anything to do with Christianity, but a lot of our kids have parents who are Christians,” he said.

Goodwin has experienced firsthand the tension that comes when the two faith traditions intersect.

“I was called to officiate at a funeral in Grand Portage one time,” he said. “One side of the family wanted a native funeral, the other wanted a Christian funeral.”

Goodwin was able to combine the traditions of both.

“My strong, strong belief in God is made stronger because of these cross-cultural ties,” he said. God is the Creator Gichi Manidoo, sometimes called “grandfather,” by the Anishinaabe. The pipe is as sacred to Native Americans as the cup and bread to Christians because smoke carries prayers to the spirits.

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 established the policy that the U.S. government would “protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.”
“ Prior to that there was no medicine man in Minnesota—at least not openly,” Goodwin said. A Minnesota man named Jimmy Jackson emerged as one of the first medicine men in the state, and it was through him that Goodwin took on the role of pipe carrier.

“It’s an honor,” Goodwin said. “I am the carrier of the pipe. It belongs to the community, and when the community asks for it, I have to bring it.

“When Jimmy Jackson, the medicine man, said something, it became a part of me because we shared the same ethnic background,” he said. That shared ethnicity and experience will be needed by the Red Lake community, Goodwin said, and that’s why it is important that many of the grief counselors are American Indians.

“When something like this happens to people you know, people you care about, it means more to you,” he said.

Goodwin has deep personal connections with the tribe. His sister, Tricia Goodwin, is a teacher at Red Lake Middle School, which shares its campus with the high school. He knows most of the victims’ families, and his children grew up in Minneapolis with the current tribal chairman, Floyd “Buck” Jourdain.

Goodwin believes he can bring to them native spirituality, one-to-one counseling, grief counseling, talking circles and smudging ceremonies.

A man of deep faith, he said that in the midst of the tragedy, “I’m sure God is there, but I believe God says, ‘Well I was there, but you didn’t recognize me.’”

Recovery will be a day-to-day process, he said. “I’ll do whatever’s needed. Wherever there’s a need, that’s where I’ll go. No matter what denomination you are, I’ll still be there for you.”

*Brands is the editor for print and electronic publications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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