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Native Americans want 'act of repentance' in 2004

12/3/2001 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

NOTE: A sidebar, UMNS story #565, and photographs are available with this report.

By Charles Cole*

Editor's note: Fifth paragraph, starting with "In 1864," corrected on March 20, 2012 to reflect that Col. John Chivington was a Methodist pastor.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (UMNS) - The United Methodist Church's international Indian caucus is encouraging the denomination to perform an act of repentance for atrocities committed against Native Americans.

The Native American International Caucus (NAIC) wants the 2004 General Conference to hold a repentance and reconciliation service for the Sand Creek Massacre and other acts of violence against American Indians.

In 2000, United Methodists confessed to the sin of racism within the denomination and held an act of repentance ceremony, together with a call for reconciliation. Racism in the church's predecessor bodies drove some African Americans to leave in the 18th and 19th centuries and form their own denominations.

The NAIC wants a similar act of repentance at the 2004 legislative meeting in Pittsburgh. The caucus will ask the Commission on General Conference to plan "acts of repentance" for Sand Creek. Members noted that the 1996 General Conference apologized for the Sand Creek Massacre but never followed through with its intended "acts of repentance."

In 1864, Col. John Chivington, a Methodist pastor, launched a pre-dawn attack on the Black Kettle village, killing and mutilating the Cheyenne at the banks of Sand Creek. For the killing of more than 200 Native Americans, mostly women and children, Chivington was hailed as a hero.

During its Nov. 29-30 meeting, the NAIC also called for a national day of prayer against the use of Native American names for mascots of athletic teams.

Caucus members voted to join together in praying on Dec. 16 for an end to the use of Indian names as mascots. The NAIC members will pray at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time that day, and they are encouraging Native Americans and the entire church to do the same. The caucus is requesting continued prayers every third Sunday of each month until next October's annual meeting.

The call for common prayer arises out of the NAIC board's concern that others in the church do not understand the anger and shame felt by Native Americans at the use of Indian symbols and names by sports teams.

As a way to help educate the church and other Native Americans about Indian history, caucus members voted to create "the Untold Story," a traveling museum that would be moved around the connection. The exhibit would help the church engage in reconciliation with Native Americans and educate people through photographs, stories, biblical references and simulated re-enactments. A task force, chaired Shirley Montoya of Kayenta, Ariz., was appointed to develop the project.

NAIC members also celebrated the recent formation of a Native American congregation in the denomination and supported two others that are being considered for development. A new congregation was started in Raleigh, N.C., last January. Board members asked the Rev. Alvin Deer, executive director of the caucus, to write Bishop William Morris of the Tennessee and Memphis annual (regional) conferences in support of the organization of an Indian congregation in his area.

The third native church may be in Albuquerque. The Rev. James Large, director of missions and administration for the New Mexico Conference, informed the caucus that conference Bishop Max Whitfield intended to appoint a pastor for a new Native American congregation in Albuquerque next year. Albuquerque has no native United Methodist congregations, and the new church will possibly be named the "All Nations United Methodist Church."

In his report to the board, Deer stated that the denomination has 17,000 Native American United Methodists serving in 180 ministries and local churches. The 17,000 are less than 1 percent of the 8.4 million United Methodists in the United States, he said.

The NAIC encouraged Deer to write the Council of Bishops and the churchwide commissions, asking for their assistance in increasing Native American membership on boards and agencies. Several caucus members expressed concern over the denomination's failure to elect a Native American bishop.

In other action, the Rev. Raymond Dunton of Wings of Freedom in Ignacio, Colo., talked about making the gospel culturally relevant. "Our differences are not the cause of disunity, and opportunities to serve are endless," he said. Ministries among Native Americans mean "sharing the salvation message with a people who already have a belief system intact," he said.

Dunton, who has Hopi and Navajo tribal background, said, "God made me an Indian to glorify him. God doesn't make mistakes."

Caucus members also approved "A Circle of Healing for Our Land and Our People" as the theme for the July 2002 family camp. The location is still to be determined.

NAIC's next meeting will be Oct. 30-Nov. 2 in Green Bay, Wis.
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*Cole, a free-lance writer, is a retired staff member of the churchwide Board of Global Ministries living in Albuquerque, N.M.

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