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Event celebrates, focuses on Native Americans

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A UMNS photo by Darlene Jacobs

The Cherokee singers perform at the opening service of the Native American Summer Conference at Lake Junuluska, N.C.

June 27, 2006

By Milse Furtado*

Deckee Garris is part of the United Methodist Church “because it allows me to be Indian with my traditions and at the same time it gives me freedom to worship God.”

Garris, a member of the Catawba tribe, was one of 350 participants who gathered June 23-25 at Lake Junaluska, N.C., for the 18th Native American Summer Conference. The theme for the event was “Every Member in Ministry for the 21st Century: Called, Chosen and Equipped to Walk the Sacred Path.”

“I am always so inspired by the energy and passion and compassion of this group,” said Suanne Ware-Diaz, a staff executive with United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. “There were so many activities for people of all ages.”

The event was “designed to heighten awareness of critical social, contemporary and cultural issues affecting native people, spiritual strengthening and renewal, and the celebration of inter-tribal ministries within the United Methodist Church,” according to Darlene Jacobs, director of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Agency on Native American Ministries.

SEJANAM is the advocate for 23 Native American congregations and three other ministries in the Southeast Jurisdiction.

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A UMNS photo by Darlene Jacobs

The Southeastern Jurisdictional Agency on Native American Ministries banner is displayed at the conference.

The Rev. Kenneth Locklear, pastor of Prospect United Methodist Church, Maxton, N.C. and former director of SEJANAM, presented a native perspective on the pros and cons of gaming.

“Many Native Americans in reservations live in poverty,” said Locklear. “When gaming was introduced to them there was a dramatic improvement in their lives.”

But gaming also has a negative side, he warned. “Gaming has been viewed as an addiction and it is so overwhelming and overpowering that people are not able to make a choice, therefore they jeopardize their livelihood, impacting their home economy, family, job and social status.”

Other presenters dealt with the emerging pandemic of HIV and AIDS within native communities, the prevalence of domestic violence, and critical health issues affecting the native population. Evelyn Laycock, author and writer, presented an in-depth discussion on social issues from a biblical perspective.

A special recognition ceremony was held to commemorate and honor the labor, commitment and dedication of native ministries. Nominees were given a special certificate, along with a resolution passed by the SEJANAM board of directors.

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Bishop Alfred Gwinn

Jacobs called the gospel singing “one of the highlights of the conference.” Fifteen groups singing southern, native, and contemporary gospel sang and children also performed.

“Everyone was energized by the spirit after the hymn sing that was only supposed to last about an hour but went on for three hours,” said Ware-Diaz.

Keynote speakers were North Carolina Bishop Al Gwinn, the Rev. Chester Jones, top executive at the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, and the Rev. Marion-Moore Colgan, chairperson of the National United Methodist Native American Center.

Graham Fields, western regional representative for Sen. Elizabeth Dole, along with the Rev. Al Ward, superintendent for the Waynesville District Office, brought special greetings.

For additional information, contact Darlene Jacobs at (888) 825-6316 or send an e-mail to

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