Honoring Indigenous/Native American Voices
Thanksgiving has grown to be a complex time for me. Not because I’m ungrateful, but because I’ve become more aware of the troubling story surrounding Thanksgiving. Over the last few years, I’ve been learning from a few Indigenous American and Aboriginal congregations that are a part of my denomination, the Reformed Church in America. These Native leaders have taught me a lot about the weathered past connected to the Dutch and our Native American brothers and sisters. Much of that past includes colonization, resulting in disruption of families, traumatic death, and a loss of identity, including sacred languages. I’ve learned it is time for my family and I to implement some new traditions that decolonize our Thanksgiving table.
To do this—and to better honoring Indigenous and Native voices—we’ve created this toolkit to help us all learn more together. A few things to notice about this resource: we are trying to center the voices of American Indian leaders by highlighting materials produced by these leaders. In addition, we are lamenting the past by elevating prayer and confession. Lastly, we’re working to support the vibrant community of many Indigenous American artists and activists around the United States and Canada.
In this toolkit, you’ll notice we’ve broken things down into two categories: listening and practicing. In the listening section, you will find learning materials, videos, articles, and books, most specifically. Under the practice section, you’ll find more interactive ways to channel ongoing learning, trying new things around the Thanksgiving table, and identifying and supporting Native leaders in your community.
May God bless you in your learning journey!
A note about the terminology:
In my experience and research, I have found “Native,” “American Indian,” and “Indigenous American” to be the preferred terms of tribe members. Add to the list “Aboriginal,” which is used in Canada to encompass First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. Throughout this toolkit, you’ll find a mix of these terms for greater inclusivity, as well as “Native American” because this is a learning piece—and many people in North America believe this to be the preferred, politically correct term. I, too, am humbly learning, so if you have insight or personal preference, please share that with me.
The image that accompanies this toolkit is original artwork by Bizzy Feekes. This piece is titled “A Dinnertime Lament” and was originally published in a booklet titled Where We Stand.
Leadership often begins with listening, and listening is often best done in a relationship—and relationships take time. We believe when growing our understanding of equity, it can be best to just start—and to start by learning from what is available. Below, you will find a number of resources to help you engage in the history of the colonization of Indigenous American and Aboriginal communities.
Resilience Is My Reality as an Indigenous Woman
Bizzy Feekes reflects on her identity as an Indigenous woman, the traumatic history of her people, the obstacles she still faces, her calling, and, ultimately, her hope in Christ. Bizzy is an artist, writer, and seminary student who belongs to the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. In this article, she shares both her grief for the trauma of the past and the vision she has for a better future.
An Indigenous Approach to the Bible: A First Nations Bible Study
This four-part Bible study by Bizzy Feekes looks at the Bible from an Indigenous perspective. It was written with Native people in mind, but can be a valuable resource for non-Native readers to engage with as well.
Taking the Jesus Road: The Ministry of the Reformed Church in America Among Native Americans
This book chronicles the history of the Reformed Church in America and its connection with Indigenous American communities. Unlike other history lessons, this book shares the true story of colonization implemented by the Dutch. Though challenging, this narrative is important to unpack within our faith communities today as our way of learning and moving forward toward equity.
Native American Studies Book List (Intervarsity Press)
The Intervarsity Press has done significant work producing important literature around multiethnic studies, including Native American leaders. On this webpage, you will find a number of resources to help you better understand the history of “Thanksgiving” as well as ongoing ideologies that continue to be harmful to Native leaders.
Changing the River Course
This article helps explain the rich connection that our present society has with the original colonists. It details the trauma that Native and Indigenous American people have experienced and continue to experience. The article was written by Richard Silversmith for the CRCNA Do Justice Blog.
Randy Woodley on Indigenous Theology and the Harmony Way
This video produced by Western Theological Seminary features theologian and Indigenous leader Randy Woodley. Woodley is a Distinguished Professor of Faith and Culture and Director of Intercultural and Indigenous Studies at Portland Seminary. He talks with Professor Travis West about what he calls The Harmony Way.
Mark Charles’ TED Talk
This YouTube video features Mark Charles, an Indigenous American thought leader, former presidential candidate, activist, author, and public speaker. In this YouTube video, Charles works to dismantle some of the original language and ideologies that were used in writing the Constitution. This video may be challenging to some. Our encouragement is to consider Charles’ words and wonder through these questions: what is one thing that raises more questions for you? What might you do to seek more answers to this question?
People to follow
These social media leaders continue to raise key questions around awareness of American Indian rights and support. Follow them for ongoing learning on the daily:
@wirelesshogan (Mark Charles)
@KaitlinCurtice (Kaitlin Curtice)
@Cheryl_ Bear (Cheryl Bear Barnetson)
Most of our learning will need to happen over time. Disability advocate Zoie Sheets says, “the goal of advocacy is not perfection; it’s urgency.” As we work to understand the complexities of our faith and heritage, we are committed to finding ways to lament the past and grow toward advocates and includers of our Native brothers and sisters. This means we act not out of a place of perfection, but out of the urgent need for inclusion and equity.
Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige explains that inclusion leverages the diversity you already have. Integration is more about collective unity. As we pray, this is our central expectation: that we would become more and more like God’s kingdom here on earth. The prompts below are ways we might be invited to pray for God’s kingdom flourishing.
- The history of genocide and forced assimilation of Indigenous American and Aboriginal peoples is complex. Invite the Holy Spirit to reveal the ways these histories continue to impact those in your community; consider how God might be inviting you to create spaces of healing.
- Social, economic, education, and health inadequacies, as well as neglect, continue. Pray for God’s peace on earth to prevail, granting relief for our Native friends.
- American Indian peoples are an unreached people group (only 3 percent are Christian). Pray for soft hearts—that the good news of Jesus Christ would prevail in the lives of all God’s people.
- Pray for the theological and spiritual integration of Native peoples in the church. We believe that we’re better together, with all God’s people flourishing as one body.
Traditions to incorporate with your community
- This article from PBS isn’t a Christian resource, but it does offer a number of resources for how to honor Indigenous American and Aboriginal people with your kids.
- Consider participating in the Blanket Exercise—“a history experience from the perspective of Indigenous People”— that was created by the Christian Reformed Church in North America. There are trained facilitators across the U.S. and Canada.
- Offer a land acknowledgement in addition to your prayers of gratitude. This article offers more details surrounding land acknowledgements. You can also discover what Native American communities reside in your area using this digital Native lands resource.
- Explore this series of poems and art produced by Bizzy Feekes and Mae Stier.
- Read The Inconvenient Indian with your faith community or book club using this book club resource, which includes videos, discussion questions and more. This is a practical and easy next step to start a robust conversation.
- Watch the “Original Americans” episode of Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (season 1, episode 7), on Hulu, to learn more about Indigenous American food and decolonizing Thanksgiving.
- Consider incorporating Native American recipes into your Thanksgiving meal. One good resource is The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman.