Let us Celebrate the First Inhabitants

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This week’s reflection is by the Rev. Deacon Kay Drebert.*

November is Indigenous People’s Month. It is a time to celebrate the culture, accomplishments and the contributions of the peoples who were the first inhabitants of what we now call the United States.   President Reagan first proclaimed this celebration in 1986, and every president since 1995 has issued an annual proclamation to do so. Indigenous people have made many valuable contributions to our national culture:  place names, new foods, spirituality, care for the earth, and the idea that we are all family (just to name a few). 

During this month we have been researching which tribes live in our area, where they are now, and what they have contributed.  This work grows out of our Compline and Conversation group that meets every Wednesday at 6:30pm.  It started with my reflection on Deacon David Pendleton Oakerhater who is the only indigenous person honored as a saint in the Episcopal Church. You can learn more about this at https://gracesyracuse.org/history-3/.  My interest in the Onondaga, and the six tribes of the Haudenosaunee, began with the time I spent observing classrooms at the Oneida Tribal School in Green Bay, Wisconsin when I was studying to be a teacher. I learned how they were reclaiming their language and culture.  I listened to some good storytellers and was pleased to find additional Oneida resources within the Diocese of Fond du lac (my diocese at the time). 

Recently, I contacted a friend who serves as Rector at Holy Apostle’s in Oneida, Wisconsin to update my knowledge.  I wanted to seek more understanding about the people who were forced out their land in Upstate New York (my new home) and had relocated in Wisconsin. I had read about their settlements near Afton and how they moved west to the Binghamton area to join other displaced tribes, and how General Clinton had chased them westward along the Susquehanna, burning crops and villages along the way. For this task my friend Roger directed to me read Gordon McLester’s book, The Wisconsin Oneida and the Episcopal Church: A Chain Linking Two Traditions.  I was pleased to see that some of the authors of this book were people I have worshipped and worked with.  It is a fascinating book that I hope to share more about on a study on indigenous people and their spirituality this winter.  

I have also started reading more on the Doctrine of Discovery. My friend Roger also directed me to this link  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpcH6GcExXE.  This talk was given the Rev. Dr. Bradley Hauff of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He is the Missioner for Indigenous Ministries of the Episcopal Church.  I highly recommend this video if you would like to deepen your understanding of what happened when the indigenous people of our lands were persecuted and displaced by wave after wave of the new European arrivals. 

I do all of this with a heart of repentance for what my ancestors have done, and that we continue to do indigenous peoples.  At the same time, my studies have also shown me that sometimes our interactions have been productive, worshipful and beautiful. I believe that it is with understanding and love that we can move forward, to care for one another deeply, and to know that we are loved by our Creator. Join me in celebrating these peoples.  

Let us Pray.
O Great Spirit, God of every people and every tribe,
we come to you as your many children, to ask for your forgiveness and guidance.
Forgive us for the colonialism that stains our past, the ignorance that allowed us to think
that we could claim another’s home for our own.
Heal us of this history.
Remind us that none of us were discovered since none of us were lost,
but that we are all gathered within the sacred circle of your community.
Guide us through your wisdom to restore the truth of our heritage.
Help us to confront the racism that divides us as we confess the pain it has caused to the human family.
Call us to kinship.
Mend the hoop of our hearts and let us live in justice and peace, through Jesus Christ, the One who came that all people might live in dignity.
Amen.  (From the Epsicopal Church’s Resources on the Doctrine of Discovery)

*Deacon Kay has been researching the first inhabitants of Central New York and Wisconsin, her original home. Stay tuned for a book study plus in January-February led by Deacon Kay. We shall learn, pray and discuss.