Indigenous

A Sacred Beat

AT THE WORLD Christian Gathering of Indigenous People in 1996, our North American Native delegation was unable to find any “Christian” Native powwow music that we could use to dance to as part of our entrance into the auditorium. This was important at the time, as we didn’t feel the liberty to use “non-Christian” powwow music for a distinctly Christian event. A contemporary Christian song by a Caucasian worship leader using some Native words and a good beat was selected.

Except in a handful of cases (believers among the Kiowa, Seminole, Comanche, Dakota, Creek, and Crow tribes, to name some)—and those always in a local tribal context—Native believers were not allowed or encouraged to write new praise or worship music in their own languages utilizing their own tribal instruments, style, and arrangements.

What they were encouraged to do was translate Western-style music, hymns, and songs (for example, “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”) into their own languages, fully retaining Western cultural musical constructs.

Participation in traditional powwows, with their key features of drumming/singing and dancing, for many Native Christians has been discouraged or forbidden. Long considered a seditious threat to government control and an obstacle to the evangelization of tribal people, there was a long-concerted effort on the part of the U.S. government and missionary organizations and workers to put an end to these practices. Were it solely in the hands of some Native evangelicals to determine what Native ceremonies, rituals, or other cultural practices would be allowed, all would disappear forever, considered by the historic evangelical mission position to be “of the devil,” thus requiring total elimination.

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Do You Drink Water? Welcome to Idle No More

 Photo by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen

Round dance, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Dec. 31. Photo by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen

I grew up in the Canadian north of Watson Lake, Yukon. My elementary years were spent in a public school with children of the Kaska nation. As I became an adult I was pretty proud of my exposure to and knowledge of indigenous people. But it took a return to Canada after a seven-year sojourn away to make me realize that I knew very little. I did not like the discomfort I had as I walked the city centre streets in Winnipeg, Manitoba, home of the largest urban indigenous population in Canada.

It was then I decided I had to learn. Over the last two years I have pushed myself to read and sit and listen.

Corporate Greed, Meet Coconut Theology

Coconut vessels. Images via Wylio.

Coconut vessels. Images via Wylio.

It's a clear sign something's wrong when talks on "free trade" turn an island paradise into an armed camp.

Hawaii is on lockdown this week while the U.S. tries to hammer out a regional trade agreement that's being called "NAFTA for the Pacific." While some mean this as a compliment, Hawaii's faith and labor leaders are lifting their voices against an agreement they believe will put profits for banks and corporations above workers' rights, indigenous culture, and local communities. Those leaders are drawing on the Pacific region's indigenous "Coconut Theology" to provide an alternative vision of the common good.

"Coconut Theology came out of our contextual understanding of the Gospel in the Pacific," said Rev. Piula Alailima, pastor of Wesley Methodist Church in Honolulu and a core leader in the community organizing group Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE). "When we break the body of the coconut and partake of the juice, it's a symbol of the body and blood of Christ, of sacrifice, of community and the common good."

Latin American Churches Criticize U.S. Budget Debate, Support 'Circle of Protection'

More than 140 prominent Protestant leaders from 12 Latin American countries have signed an "open letter to the Christian churches of the United States," asking American Christians to stand with "the most vulnerable members of US society" who would be affected by proposed budget cuts to the social safety net.

Citing the Circle of Protection as a positive Christian witness, the signers also expressed their dismay. "We view with deep concern recent decisions in the United States that will add to the suffering of the most vulnerable members of US society," the letter read. It was signed by a broad array of Latin American religious communities, including leaders of the Latin American Council of Churches, the United Bible Society of Latin America, evangelical councils and alliances in Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Uruguay, the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches (CONELA), the Association of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches of Latin America (AIPRAL), Micah Network, Indigenous Association of Peruvian Amazonia, and the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica.

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