Monday, November 9, 2009

National Native American Heritage Month

On October 30, 2009, President Obama signed into the law a proclamation designating November as National Native American Heritage Month and he called on all Americans to celebrate November 27, 2009 as Native American Heritage Day. The following paragraphs come out of that proclamation:

“The indigenous peoples of North America -- the First Americans -- have woven rich and diverse threads into the tapestry of our Nation's heritage. Throughout their long history on this great land, they have faced moments of profound triumph and tragedy alike. During National Native American Heritage Month, we recognize their many accomplishments, contributions, and sacrifices, and we pay tribute to their participation in all aspects of American society.

This month, we celebrate the ancestry and time-honored traditions of American Indians and Alaska Natives in North America. They have guided our land stewardship policies, added immeasurably to our cultural heritage, and demonstrated courage in the face of adversity. From the American Revolution to combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have fought valiantly in defense of our Nation as dedicated servicemen and women. Their native languages have also played a pivotal role on the battlefield. During World Wars I and II, Native American code talkers developed unbreakable codes to communicate military messages that saved countless lives. Native Americans have distinguished themselves as inventors, entrepreneurs, spiritual leaders, and scholars. Our debt to our First Americans is immense, as is our responsibility to ensure their fair, equal treatment and honor the commitments we made to their forebears.”

President Barack Obama

Did you know: (from the Native American Communications office)

  • There are over 18,000 known Native people in The United Methodist Church. The largest group are members within the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, but Native United Methodists and ministries may be found from the tip of Florida to Alaska. Native people serve the church in every capacity: laypersons, seminary professors, district superintendents, conference directors, employees of general boards and agencies, Christian educators, lay missioners and pastors. Native churches have the highest percentage of female pastors in the denomination.
  • There are over 554 federally recognized (those with nation-to-nation status with the U.S. federal government) Native tribes, nations and villages in the United States. This does not include state recognized tribes, or those in the process of recognition with states or the federal government. In addition to these, there are over 500,000 people of primarily Native blood who are ineligible for tribal membership for one reason or another. Add these to the numbers of indigenous people from Central and South America and Canada, and one gains a picture of the complexity of cultures and backgrounds that represent Native people in the United States and The United Methodist Church.
  • Most tribes still retain unique language, culture, religions, government and a physical tribal home. Some have lost original languages and many customs, but have retained a sense of identity as a people. There is simply no one "Indian" way of thinking, feeling, or worshipping. In order to become aware of Native people, one must be intentional in the process of ministering to them.

There is such a need to share the “truth” about issues surrounding Native peoples and Dancing with a Brave Spirit: Telling the Truth about Native America, 2005-2008 ( is a good place to start. Other resources can be found at

As United Methodists we must recognize the need to walk softly, hand in hand, soul to soul, with our Native American brothers and sisters, to respect the roads they travel and the lessons they have to teach, not only during National Native American Heritage Month but all the time. Please enjoy this poem by Nakakakena:

Walk Softly

by Nakakakena*

When joy fills us
We will walk softly

When our hearts are rejoicing
We will walk softly

When we recognize Jesus sits, walks and stands beside us
We will walk softly

When we hear of pain and suffering of others
We will walk softly

When hearts are stricken by grief
We will walk softly

When all around us is attacking our faith
We will walk softly

When doubt fills our days
We will walk softly

When others are watching
We will walk softly

As we lead others into the path of righteousness for His name's sake
We will walk softly


Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

*Boe Harris-Nakakakena (which means 'rattles with feet') is a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Spirit Lake Dakota tribal groups. Boe travels and does presentations extensively and is known also for her gifts in traditional dance, jingle dance and Native American flute. Boe Harris-Nakakakena is a member of the St. John's UMC in Seaford, Delaware.

Copyright 2009 © Boe Harris (Nakakakena). Used by Permission. Reproduction granted for use in church worship services. Any further use beyond worship services must be with permission from the author.

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