The Rev. David Wilson
April 14, 2005
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. David Wilson*
was driving to work the day after the school shooting in Red Lake,
Minn., and was listening to a radio show that was recapping the news.
The announcer commented that since the shooting happened on an Indian
reservation, it would not get the attention that other school shootings
had received. Even though it was the second-worst school shooting in
U.S. history. Even though 10 persons were killed and seven others were
tribe asked the media to give the community some space and did not
entertain much coverage. The media soon left and went to other stories
around the country. When the media is told to back off, they usually
work harder to get stories. But not in this case. I don’t think it was
because they gave up but that there were other stories the general
public was interested in hearing.
headlines the day after and days after were the controversies
surrounding the Terri Schiavo case. I found it interesting that the
national media was camped out around her family. The family would call a
news conference only to make the same comments they had made for
months. The comments were nothing new; the family just wanted attention
from the media and they had it at their immediate disposal.
other headline was the courtroom proceedings of the Michael Jackson
case. That story made headlines all week, the top headlines—sometimes
even ahead of the Schiavo case. Those headlines were even ahead of the
thought back to the radio show that had made the comment about how this
school shooting would not warrant much attention. I realized it was
right, and I was saddened to think about what I perceived as the values
of the media and people across the world. That is ironic as well, since
values were such a big part of the last presidential campaign. There are
those who focus on the sensationalism of certain stories rather than
lives that have been and will be changed forever.
my personal conversations with people in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary
Conference and at Norman (Okla.) First American United Methodist
Church, we have talked often about this situation. Most of us agree that
while school shootings are not the norm for this country, there are
other statistics that are prevalent in most native communities and urban
areas where large numbers of native persons live.
shooter himself, Jeff Weise, had lost his father to suicide, and his
mother lives in a nursing home, having suffered from brain injuries in a
recent Harvard study reported that one in six Native American youth has
attempted suicide and was 60 percent more likely to report fights at
school in the past year.
Alcohol Syndrome is very high on many reservations. A state-by-state
study of graduation rates by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
found that 46 percent of Native American students graduated from high
school, compared with 86 percent of white students. Alcoholism and
substance abuse are high on many reservations and in native communities.
these statistics are nothing new to us. They are a part of our lives.
They are statistics that we have worked to address in native communities
across the country. They are statistics that we have worked to
address in our own Native American churches across the connection and in
other denominations. They are not statistics that we are proud of as
native people, but rather they are statistics that are a result of where
we as native people are in this time of our lives.
reservations and tribal communities are spending a lot of time and
financial resources to address these challenges. Many are doing a great
job. Many are focusing on the importance of tribal identity and culture
to help our youth maintain and, in some cases, regain a sense of
identity. A sense of being proud to be a Native American. Many native
persons will agree that part of this problem is a disconnect with the
tribal communities and the attraction that the youth culture has for our
and churches are working with our young to teach tribal traditions,
culture, music and language. This is important to the individual
well-being of people of all ages. Tribal persons understand that in
order to have a good sense of self-worth, one must also have a
connection and a source to draw from. This source for many native
persons is their tribal identity.
a recent conversation with an elder from the Kiowa tribe from my
church, he agreed that the problems among many of our young who face
these challenges in life are a result of our youth not feeling like they
fit into this world. There are mixed messages sent about how to fit
into the world. There are mixed messages of values and what is
important. If young people are not grounded with a good sense of
self-worth, then they can wander anywhere.
people have asked, “What can we do to help this situation?” Physically,
there are not a lot of things that persons outside of these tribal
communities can do.
is often an attempt from well-meaning non-native people to come in and
save the community. They sense that they can look into the situation and
know how to fix the problem. That is not reality.
asked the Kiowa elder the same question. “What can persons outside our
community do to help?” He agreed that there isn’t much people can do
physically. But he did begin with something that our great tribal
leaders of the past and present have known for generations.
can pray for us,” he said. “The power of prayer for us is known in our
communities. It can take care of things,” he said.
thought that was a profound statement because he is right. Our prayers
remind us that we do not have all the answers, and we turn to the One
who does have the solutions and the answers. Even in our distress, we
turn to the One who listens and responds.
then made two other points that I need to mention here. He said there
are ways that the mainstream population takes care of situations like
this, and then there are the tribal ways that our communities handle
these situations. Our ways are not always understood.
who wish to help can begin by understanding the context in which native
persons live their lives. While we live in the same nation and in the
same communities, our lives are somewhat different, dictated by our
culture. People who wish to help can begin by letting tribal persons
know they are genuinely concerned. There is really no advice to be
offered. There are no words that need to be offered that say, “I know
how you are feeling.” Rather, our tribal communities welcome and affirm
the knowledge that people care.
American Ministries Sunday was celebrated by many United Methodist
churches on April 10. This was a Sunday for churches to recognize the
200-plus established Native American churches in our connection and to
celebrate our presence in the church and the world. It was a day for
churches to contribute financially to Native American seminary students
preparing for ministry and support for urban ministry.
recognition and support for Native American ministry goes beyond the
one Sunday a year that we think about native people through these
special services. It is my hope that we can relate and support each
other throughout the entire year. It is my hope that we pray for each
other because we know that prayer can take care of things.
*Wilson is superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.