|Native American women hear call to be role models|
Native American women dance as part of a music
workshop held during the United Methodist Native American Women in
Ministry Conference in Albuquerque, N.M.
UMNS photos by Karla Abernethy-Thetford.
By Karla Abernethy-Thetford*
Sept. 25, 2008 | ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (UMNS)
Native American women in The United Methodist Church must follow God’s
call on their lives while remembering that they are role models for
future generations, says an indigenous bishop in the Episcopal Church.
The Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher encouraged some 150 Native American women
to continue moving forward, sharing their history and traditions, and
persevering despite obstacles. One of those obstacles is discrimination,
but persistence and continued education are weakening the barriers, she
Worshipers raise their hands in
praise of God.
"Stand your ground and do what God is calling you to do," said
Gallagher, a member of the Cherokee nation. "Find ways to celebrate the
uniqueness that you are."
Gallagher was the keynote speaker at the Native American Women in
Ministry Conference, held Sept. 18-20 by the United Methodist Native
American Comprehensive Plan. She is the first indigenous woman bishop in
the worldwide Anglican Communion.
"Each of you here has done what you could do," Gallagher said. "Some of
us have felt we have not done enough. Some have felt there isn’t enough
time in the day. Some think 'I’m just a woman.' Jesus says to each of us
'you have done what you can do. You have shared what you have.' God
needs us to do and offer what we have. Make sure that we offer to those
coming behind us and do what we can do."
Fellowship and ideas
Women from more than 20 tribes attended the event, held every four years.
"We don’t get to be with a group like this often, and we need this,"
said Corine Paulk of the Houma Tribe of Louisiana. "We need fellowship
with women, with other tribal groups. The fellowship is wonderful. And I
will be able to go back home and bring new ideas to share with women
and the congregation."
Meeting under the theme "Stick a Fork in Me—Am I Done Yet?", the
conference was designed to serve as "a time to come together in joy and
celebration," said the Rev. Anita Phillips, an Oklahoma Cherokee and
executive director of the Native American Comprehensive Plan. "We
celebrate the coming together of nations, the sharing of languages and
the joy of bringing generations of our people together."
The participants included a group of young women from Prospect, N.C.
"Our church encouraged the younger women to come to this event to
develop leadership skills and become more involved in the church," said
Rachel Moore of the Lumbee tribe. "It’s an exciting opportunity."
The conference included three plenary sessions centered on the
conference theme. Anne Marshall, a Muscogee Creek and interim executive
secretary of Native American and Indigenous Ministries, United Methodist
Board of Global Ministries, presented "Healing: When you Come to the
Fork in the Road." She shared her story of healing, which began with the
death of her husband in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal
Building in Oklahoma City.
"My healing journey began April 19, 1995," Marshall said. "That was the day my husband died."
The Apache Chorus sings
She spoke of the days waiting for her husband’s body to be found in the
rubble, the anger she felt and the experience of viewing the execution
of convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh. She told how people ridiculed and
condemned her for accepting the invitation to witness such an event.
At the execution, Marshall found herself praying for the man responsible
for her husband’s death and later she found herself comforting a
"She was saying, 'I don’t know why I live.' She was a survivor. I told
her that I lost 14 friends and my husband...," Marshall recalled. "I
said, 'I know why you lived. You live because long after the reporters
are gone and the newspapers forget, you and I will keep that memory
alive.' I realized then that I wasn’t there to view the execution; I was
there to witness to her.
"I got through those days. ... I realized there was nothing anyone can
do to you. ... I learned that healing is a journey, not a destination."
'Roll up our sleeves'
The Rev. Shirley Montoya of Arizona spoke on "Nurturing: Stick a Fork in
the Monster." Montoya, of the Dine' Nation, shared that once the
healing journey has begun, the lessons learned should be used to nurture
"Too often we keep information that would be helpful to others to
ourselves. We must roll up our sleeves and jump in," Montoya said.
She described her struggle to be ordained and the conflict that existed
as she was asked to leave her "Indian self outside." As a result, she
moved away from her home and was ordained in another conference. Now,
she has returned to her community and hopes to use what she has learned
to nurture others.
In the final plenary, the Rev. Tweedy Sombrero of Arizona addressed the issue of "Wholeness: Hold on to Your Fork."
"I had heard that you could not be a Navajo and a Christian at the same
time," Sombrero said. "I later realized that it’s OK to believe in
Indian ways. In fact, I found that the Christian ways enhanced the
traditional Indian ways, and the traditional ways enhanced the Christian
One way Native American women can educate people in their congregations is through the United Methodist Women Mission Study
on Native Americans. Suanne Ware-Diaz, a staff executive with the
Commission on Religion and Race, met with several who had taught the
study to find ways to improve it and learn how it was being received.
Some concerns expressed included the high number of non-Native Americans
teaching the study. The teacher and those taking the class need to
understand and respect the sanctity of the various Indian cultures,
"Also, we need to teach that 'Native American' is a label put on us.
There are many different tribes made up of distinct people with their
own traditions. It is a complex history," she said. "We just want people
to stand back and look from a different viewpoint, to look back at
history with new eyes."
Through the UMW study, Ware-Diaz said she hoped people will gain new
insight about Native Americans and continue to break down stereotypes,
and that they will realize it is possible to be both Indian and
*Abernethy-Thetford is director of communications for the United Methodist Northwest Texas and New Mexico Conferences.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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