Intro Written By: Caela Collins
A Journey of Discovery with Indigenous Peoples (JDIP) Native American Heritage Story from Vicki MarkAnthony (Senior Warden at Christ Church, Easton)
Thanksgiving, like many holidays, holds a space for both joy and grief. It’s an opportunity to appreciate those who are with you while being in remembrance of those who aren’t. It’s a time of reflection, holding loved ones close to you, and sharing food as a communal act of love while holding the Native and Indigenous peoples within your prayers and hearts.
Old stories about “Pilgrims and Indians” have traditionally carved out a singular narrative for this feast day, which in turn lacks respect for Indigenous perspectives and realities. At first glance, these conversations are uncomfortable because they force us to grieve what we once knew and wholeheartedly believed—narratives that once looked like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa become distorted like Pablo Picasso’s Seated Woman, a space where we reckon with disenchanted layers of new information.
Although difficult conversations feel heavy, you may find sincere peace in knowing that doubt is actually a door. I read in Spirit Wheel: Meditations from an Indigenous Elder by Steven Charleston “Faith is not the absence of critical thought, But thought put to the greatest question… Religion not a court but a laboratory. We were not made to conform but to explore.” The Episcopalian community is shifting as we learn to unlearn. Without questions, we do not learn new information, and without listening as a form of active worship, we do not grow into the inclusive community God wants us to be.
There is power in duality, friends; it is a pillar of faith because, in a world with individualized perspectives, environmental variables, and hereditary factors, the truth is that there are multiple truths when it comes to lived experiences. We must hold space for multiplicity, like Pablo Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror. Duality is a sacred experience that allows us to stand in the infamous world of “Both/And” thinking. Without it, existence would be one-dimensional.
Where there’s duality, there’s God…
- Jacob was a cheater
- Peter had a temper
- David had an affair
- Jonah was avoidant
- Paul was a murderer
- Thomas was a doubter
- Moses stuttered
- Lazarus was dead
Having hard conversations around Indigenous experiences was a mission Vicki MarkAnthony embarked on during her visit to the Cheyenne River Lakota Reservation in South Dakota, where she met up with 17 like-minded Episcopalians from Texas to work on three churches badly in need of repair, spend time with the children, plan activities, and learn from the elders (which required a lot of active listening).
Each day began and ended with communal devotions, led by one of my fellow missioners. Then we headed off to the day’s project, under the supervision of a woman with extensive experience managing disaster renovations. St. Andrew’s in Cherry Creek was not quite a disaster but in need of serious repair: windows were broken, floors had been flooded and warped, cracks in the wall were so wide the light came through, and both the outside and inside walls were in need of a paint job. The churches on the reservation are not just for worship but also for community gatherings, especially after a funeral or a baptism. And there are many funerals. When my former Rector, Ellen Huber, and her husband Kurt, formerly Rector of St. Peter’s Monroe, first arrived in 2020, they conducted over 50 funerals in the first month. Poverty, hunger, addiction, depression, COVID, and distances from healthcare have taken a toll on the Lakota people. But there is also much resilience, hope, and joy in each community.
Following the completion of each project, we celebrated with a Eucharist and sang Amazing Grace in Lakota before having a community meal. Since I had been asked to bring my banjo, the children gathered around, and we sang with joy. What a wonderful way to get to know the young ones of Bear Creek! At Cherry Creek, some folks played basketball with the teenagers while books and clothing were distributed after the meal. We learned how much the churches meant to the families in each community. Spending time with the elders gave us insights into their boarding school experiences, family traditions, love of the land, and connection to the horses, which freely roam throughout the indigenous communities. We also learned of the ongoing prejudices they experience from the non-natives, who own large tracts of rich crop land and horse and cattle ranches on the reservation, while the natives live on small plots in close communities.
At St. Andrew’s, we replaced broken glass with plexiglass, caulked the cracks, scraped and painted interior and exterior walls (painted in the 4 Lakota colors of red, yellow, black, and white), built a kitchen area for serving after weddings and funerals, cleared overgrowth, moved and reinstalled a wood stove, connected broken electrical outlets, dug drainage ditches, and installed new moldings and flooring. Only a few were construction experts; the rest of us learned on the job with lots of prayer. At St. John’s Eagle Butte, we painted the entry way (not technically a narthex since it leads to a community room) and repaired an exterior wall to the kitchen that a truck had driven through earlier that year. At the end of the week, we were invited to the Huber’s Black Horse Ranch, where they hold 4-H programs (America’s largest youth development organization) for the children, host summer camp programs, and offer Equine Therapy sessions (healing with horses).
We were invited to talk about the grief and joy we experienced while we were there and to spend time with the horses and nature, a source of healing. Lakota women made star quilts to present to the representatives of the three new churches. Christ Church Easton has recently installed theirs in the nathex, a symbol of a journey of discovery and a lament for our colonial sins.
Aid and Resources
If you are interested in following the Cheyenne River Episcopal Mission and/or the Black Horse Ranch, you can follow them on Facebook: Cheyenne River Episcopal or BlackHorseRanchEB, and their website is www.cheyenneriverepiscopalmission.com. You can make donations via PayPal. If you want to send checks, their mailing address is Rev. Kurt and Rev. Ellen Huber, PO Box 552, Eagle Butte, SD 57625.