As Christians, we believe in the inherent dignity of every human being. We grow closer to God by growing closer to a beloved child of God, made in the divine image. We learn more about ourselves and what we believe by engaging with cultures different from our own. And we honor God by honoring God’s children, particularly those who have been disenfranchised. Reframing our Anglo understanding of indigenous people in order to recenter history and contemporary culture on their experiences, not ours, should be primary work of Christians in America.
Which Indigenous People Inhabited Your Area?
And who currently live there?
Utilize websites like Native Land and Whose Land to learn which indigenous people inhabited the area where you live or where your church is. If your area is unlabeled or different groups overlap, don’t be discouraged. By persisting you may learn that there is inconclusive evidence about which groups lived on the land or find that the territory changed hands multiple times even before colonization. Spend time learning about the indigenous peoples who inhabited your area and share your learnings with other members of your community.
Learn More about Native Peoples
Here are a few of our favorite resources from podcasts and visual media. As much as possible, support indigenous writers, actors, and content creators themselves.
- Molly of Denali is a show for children 4-8 years old from PBS Kids. This is not a religious show, but it is supported by Native people, particularly due to PBS’ diligence in research and employment of Indigenous actors. Christian author Kaitlin Curtrice writes at the intersection of Indigenous spirituality, faith in everyday life, and the Church. Read her review of Molly of Denali.
- Native American Ministries Sunday Podcast is produced by United Methodist Pastor Terry Wildman. Through this series, the Rev. Wildman lives into his passion of sharing the Gospel in a way that is culturally relevant for Native people. This is a great way to hear the Christian story from a different perspective.
- Check out the myriad of media available through First Nations Experience, the first and only national broadcast television network in the U.S. exclusively devoted to Native American and World Indigenous content. FNX strives to accurately illustrate the lives and cultures of Native people around the world through Native-produced and themed documentaries, dramatic series, nature, cooking, gardening, children’s and arts programming.
- Watch Doctrine of Discovery: Stolen Lands, Strong Hearts, a documentary developed by The Anglican Church of Canada. The accompanying Study Guide provides a detailed background on the Doctrine of Discovery and the silenced history of First Nations, as well as encouragement for the transforming power of relationships.
- Investigate your church or denomination’s stance on the Doctrine of Discovery and other historic positions. For example, The Episcopal Church repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery with the adoption of Resolution 0D35. The United Methodist Church’s Resolution 3321 provides historical and theological background, confession, and action steps with regard to Native Peoples and the UMC.
Honor Persons of Indigenous Heritage in Worship & Programming
Create new ways for your church’s existing worship and programing to honor persons of Indigenous heritage, their history and culture.
- Consider using the The Four Directions and Magnificat, developed by The Episcopal Church’s Office of Indigenous Ministries, with a small group during Advent or create new small groups or forums for the season utilizing this great resource.
- VBS Serves as Native American Immersion Experience, from St. John United Methodist Church’s Vacation Bible School in Bridgeton, NJ, is tailored around the traditional teachings of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape and other Native American tribes. Their aim is to help participants learn to walk simultaneously in Native culture and the Christian faith. How might this work in your context?
- Regularly use Indigenous prayers and blessings in your liturgy. For example, The United Methodist Book of Worship offers the following Traditional Cherokee Nation Prayer as an appropriate greeting to begin worship.
May the warm winds of heaven blow softly on our house.
May the Great Spirit bless all who enter here.
- The Canadian Indigenous Ministry Committee of the Christian Reformed Church offers helpful Prayers for Indigenous Ministry Sunday that can be incorporated into the life of worship on a regular basis.
This list is meant to be a starting point. We would love to hear what you do in your context or how it goes when you try out these ideas. Please share in the comments below!
The Rev. Katherine A. Malloy is the Associate for Lifelong Learning, Director of Christian Formation Resources at Virginia Theological Seminary. This post was written in consultation with a person of Indigenous heritage. If you identify as a person of Indigenous or Native heritage and would be willing to periodically consult with us, please reach out via the Contact Us form.
Featured Photo Credit: Twitter Page of The Episcopal Church in Navajo Land
Many persons of Native or Indigenous heritage do not prefer the term “Native American.” However, it is the term used in the official designation of this month by the U.S. Government. As these continents were inhabited by many peoples long before they became known as North or South America, for many an identifier including “America” does not seem to fit, not to mention the hurt caused by using the name of “America,” designating the land as colonized. Some prefer only to be associated with their specific tribe or band while others accept identifiers such as Indigenous, Native, First Nations, or First Peoples. Best practices dictate that we center the words we use on the identifiers and experiences of that native persons choose. If you are unsure, ask what their preference is.
“The Doctrine of Discovery” refers to a 1493 papal bull stating that states that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered” and claimed by Christians. This papal bull provided a foundation for colonists to exploit land and people in the “New World” and for the westward expansion of the United States, as well as other areas of the world.