Learning from Indigenous Voices

This past Monday was #IndigenousPeoplesDay, and while the day may have passed, the ongoing invitation to honor the stories, voices, and gifts of Indigenous folks has not ended.

On Facebook, I shared some of my critical moments of formation, in terms of my own learning and engagement with indigenous communities, and my journey of understanding how Native peoples both honor God and honor tradition in challenging and beautiful ways.

Here are a few people I’ve had the privilege from learning from along the way:

  • Randy and Edith Woodley are elders, activists, scholars, storytellers and leaders who have done a wide range of work around issues surrounding Native theology, culture, missiology, postcolonialism, and regenerative farming. I was deeply impacted by Randy’s book- Shalom and the Community of Creation— and also had the privilege of learning from them while visiting the Eloheh Farm last year. I am impressed by their love and faithfulness to Jesus, despite all the horrific things the Church has done to Native folks in the name of Jesus. They have taught me much the significance of place and our relationship to the land.
  • Reverend Daniel Kikawa is the president of Aloha Ke Akua Ministries, a ministry to indigenous peoples, and has been researching cross-cultural issues for over 35 years. I heard him speak about Native Hawaiian theology during an InterVarsity regional retreat back in 2012, and was blown away as he told story after story of Creator’s divine revelation to Native Hawaiian folks. He has written several books about the spiritual history of Hawaii, including God of Light, God of Darkness.
  • Cheryl Bear is a well known voice, artist, intellectual and leader who often speaks about the story of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. She is also a founding board member of NAIITS, an Indigenous learning community and one of the major leaders in theological formation and thought for indigenous peoples. I still remember hearing her testimony at an Urbana 2009 conference and realizing it was one of the first times I had the privilege of hearing a Native woman of faith speak in front of a large audience.
  • Mark Charles is a well known speaker, writer, and activist who speaks often about the Doctrine of Discovery, the need for collective memory, and the urgency of racial conciliation efforts in our country. I remember first hearing him speak at a CCDA conference in 2015, with Soong-Chan Rah, and have learned important and rarely taught aspects of U.S. history through him. He also came to lead a workshop at First Pres Hayward last year, and I still remember how quickly my notebook pages filled with notes from his sharp and challenging teaching.
  • Andrea Smith is an academic, feminist, and activist who has done important research and writing around issues of violence against women of color and their communities, specifically Native American women. I first heard her her speak at a Women of Color retreat back in 2015, and went on to immediately read one of her most well-known writings- “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy.” She is both brilliant and approachable, and I’m thankful for her voice.
  • Corinna Gould is local to the Bay Area, and is a powerful leader and activist who has done tremendous work in trying to preserve the West Berkeley Shellmound through the Indian People Organizing for Change. She is also one of the founders of the Sogorea Te Land Trust, which advocates for a land tax for settlers who are living on stolen Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone land. I am thankful for people in my life who have connected me to this Land trust, and Michael and I continue to recognize that living in the Bay Area means living on stolen land.
  • Richard Twiss was a pastor, professor, author, and significant community leader and elder who worked towards the integration of Native culture in Christian worship. He founded Wiconi International, doing significant ministry in the Native community, and I had the privilege of seeing him speak at several Urbana conferences, as well as reading his important book- Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys- after his passing in 2013.
  • Megan Murdock Krischke is the Coordinator of Native Ministries in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and has done significant work in planting college ministries that will reach Native students and instill in them an understanding of how to both follow Jesus and honor tradition. She helped create the Would Jesus Eat Frybread? Conference (WJEF), an annual conference that explores the intersection between faith and Native culture. I have seen the impact of her leadership, as I have gotten to know some of InterVarsity staff she has mentored and coached through the years.

Who are the Native voices and leaders you are learning from? What are aspects of (silenced) history that you are choosing to name and remember?

Let us continue to listen, learn, lament, repent, and hope together.



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