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Native American Conference Focused on Evangelization and Inculturation


A conference to examine how best to reach out to Native American Catholics within the Diocese of Gaylord was held at the Diocesan Pastoral Center earlier this month. Funded by a grant from the Black and Indian Missions Office along with gifts to the annual Catholic Services Appeal (CSA), the conference spanned two days. The first day was specifically geared for Tribal and Church leadership in an effort to reflect on the past and look toward the future. The second day was open to anyone interested in learning more about Native American inculturation and evangelization.

DSC_0212.JPGAfter the smudging of the conference facilities in accordance with the local Native American tradition, the Men’s Drum Group from the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians called the 60 attendees together for the first day of the Conference. Highlights of the day included: an inspiring prayer offered by Ray Kiogima of Holy Childhood Parish in Harbor Springs, recognized as one of the most fluent speakers of the Odawa language; a performance by the Woodland Singers, the women’s drum and song group from the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians; and a series of information talks.

The first talk was offered by J.D. Gibson, a resident of Petoskey who addressed the topic of "Waking Up the Soul.,” He spoke to the need for putting past hurts behind us and, like Jesus, working harder at forgiveness.

The second presentation was by Simon Otto, a local historian, storyteller, published author and former Executive Director of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians. His presentation focused on the Three Tribes of Michigan: Ottawa (Odawa); Chippewa (Ojibwa); and Potawatomi. He also shared about being raised in the ways of his elders and the struggles and opportunities that entailed.

The third speaker of the day was Fr. James Gardiner, Pastor of St. Luke in Bellaire and St. Joseph in East Jordan. In his early years, Fr. Gardiner was assigned to the Mission Church (now known as Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha) in Peshawbestown for five years. He said he learned during that time that in order to evangelize effectively, it was necessary to go to the people, invite them in and incorporate their spirituality into the Mass. His talk was filled with wonderfully touching remembrances of that special time in his ministry.

DSC_0334_1.JPGRounding out the first afternoon was the keynote speaker for the event, Fr. John Hatcher, SJ. Fr. Hatcher is the Director of the Inculturation Office for the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota after having led the lay ministry and Permanent Diaconate programs for the diocese. Fr. Hatcher began with a lesson he had learned from the Lakota with whom he has worked for so many years. “I was told that you should never speak until you are invited to… and to smile a lot,” he said.

Fr. Hatcher’s topic for the afternoon centered on the importance of spiritual strength and the realization that Native American people are already very spiritual. The mission of the Church is to bring the spirituality of both Church and Tribe together so we can worship Jesus Christ as one. Fr. Hatcher counseled that the only way to improve is to pray harder. Any success belongs to Jesus Christ, not us. He noted alcoholism is counterproductive to spirituality and that the issue must be addressed in order to avoid becoming a “burial society.”

Fr. Hatcher explained the methods used in the Lakota reservations could be adapted to suit our needs and must revolve around hard data. Moving forward, it would be important to go to the Native American communities in order to garner information which makes for the best decisions. Building leadership of the Church from these efforts will be most fruitful. He said, “The Church, when it goes on mission, is supposed to produce a church. Somewhere along the line we must raise up enough lay leaders to build up the Church.”

In conclusion Fr. Hatcher said, “To have collaboration in ministry is very important; respect across community, but broader. It’s important to see that we are all in this together.”

The day ended with a “Talking Circle.” Arlene Naganashe, a social worker and elder from the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, explained the process. A “Talking Stick” is passed around the circle. Only the one with the talking stick is allowed to speak while the rest of the group listens. The stick is passed, clockwise, around the circle. Each person can say as much or as little as they feel necessary. It is intended to be “a safe opportunity to express whatever has been left unsaid or needs to be shared in order to open one’s spirit,” Naganashe explained. Approximately 30 people remained for the Talking Circle and then shared a traditional turkey dinner before leaving for the evening.

DSC_0316_1.JPGThe next day began with a water ceremony during which each of the participants poured water brought from their homes into a common vessel. Ruth Bussey, from Manistee, explained the importance of water in Native American culture. “Water represents life and the spirit,” Bussey said. The intermingling of these waters represented a coming together on a spiritual level and participants processed forward to the hymn, “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.” Later that day, the water was blessed and used in the Sprinkling Rite at the Eucharistic Liturgy which closed the conference.

Fr. Hatcher then addressed the group specifically about enculturation and evangelization using concrete examples from his work on the Lakota Reservations in South Dakota. He shared materials and anecdotes of his experience to help guide the Diocese of Gaylord in our future efforts.

The morning session culminated in a feast of traditional Native American foods prepared by Cathy Davis whose husband is a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians in Harbor Springs. The meal consisted of a buffalo and hominy soup, baked fish, rice with blueberries, and fry bread – to the delight of participants.

The afternoon offered those present to attend three breakout sessions of their choice. Options included: Kateri Circles and Alcohol as Part of the Native American Culture by Linda Woods; Prayers in the Native American Language by Elizabeth Delene; a presentation on Bishop Baraga by Carol Stempky; a discussion on lay leadership with Fr. Duane Wachowiak, Director of Worship and Liturgical Formation and Tammy Boylan who works in the diocesan Center for Catholic Studies; Native American Music in the Liturgy with Ruth and John Bussey; and a presentation of Native American Traditions, including Ghost Suppers, Indian Legends, smudging and Pow Wow etiquette with Arlene Naganashe.

DSC_0510_1.JPGThe conference concluded with a Mass incorporating Native American traditions at St. Mary Cathedral. Bishop Hebda was the celebrant with Fr. Hatcher, Fr Wayne Dziekan (who had served as Master of Ceremonies for the conference), Fr. Patrick Maher and Fr. Joe Blasko as concelebrants. Both the Men and Women’s drum groups served as music ministers at the liturgy and John Bussey led the congregation in praying the Lord’s Prayer in the Native American language and in singing a Native American hymn, All who participated were moved by Pat Naganashe’s rendition of Ave Maria.”

“As we continue celebrating the 40th anniversary of our Diocese, I think this conference was a wonderful first step in our efforts to explore how we might minister together in the future and best serve the Native American community in our diocese,” Bishop Hebda said. “I am very appreciative for the efforts of the Committee for planning this event and for the grant from the Black and Indian Mission Office which made the day possible.”

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