By Rev. Angie Gage
Cherokee, Chairperson of the Arkansas CONAM
The history of the Indigenous Peoples in our United States began long before the settlers first arrived. In 1988, the United Methodist Church realized the importance of remembering the history and presence of Native Americans, as well as the support that is needed within our Native American congregations and ministries throughout the U.S. At the General Conference in 1988, a new Special Sunday was added. That Special Sunday was and still is Native American Ministries Sunday. It is usually celebrated on the third Sunday of Easter but congregations are given the freedom to change that as needed.
People may not understand the importance of this Sunday to those of us who are Native American which includes the Native Hawaiians and Native Alaskans. However, the recognition of our existence is significant to us. It is an acknowledgment of our presence and our contributions, not only to our country but to God through the United Methodist Church.
Many from my family arrived in Arkansas ahead of the forced evacuation referred to as the Trail of Tears. My ancestors, known as the Old Settlers, were promised fertile land in this area as an act of trade and good faith, the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The land was not fertile. However, my ancestors made the most of a bad situation and began the long history of hiding behind the “farmer’s tan” look to not be known as Cherokee. It would become second nature in my family to know who we were but claim to be something other than Cherokee. I come from a long line of proud Cherokee people, including a Peace Chief who died on a tragic mission into Mexico. Along the Trail of Tears, I find parts of my family history in names on signs and stops some would have made.
My family was some of the lucky ones. Families forced to move in 1838 experienced loss that was unbelievable. The acts against Native Americans did not end there. In fact, they continued into the 20th Century, which is surprising to many. Children were being taken away from Native families and forced to be enculturated into a “white way” of life. Children were told that their language was evil, their worship was evil, and their traditions were evil. They were taken from their families, all too often, by a church group. Many atrocities continued against the Native People. The Indian Health Services which was a U.S. Government program, performed sterilizations on Native women to reduce the population. In 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act passed at the close of The 95th United States Congress. Today, there are still cases of forced child removals ending up in court cases.
As one who has had to regain her identity, it is helpful to know that within my faith tradition, we are proud to claim that the 5.2 million Native Americans in the United States are not to be hidden and discarded. I am proud to know that our church recognizes that we are here and wants to contribute to the continuance of Native American churches.
Through giving on Native American Ministries Sunday, our local churches help to provide scholarships to Native American students for their seminary education. The giving supports vital ministries and churches in the Native American communities. Giving on Native American Ministries Sunday gives hope to children and youth, hope for a brighter future in impoverished communities, and a voice to those who have felt voiceless for years. Native American Ministries Sunday gives us an opportunity as the children of God to show that reconciliation for wrongs that happened in the past can happen. Half of the gifts given on Native American Ministries Sunday stays right here in our Conference for the work of the Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM). While the last year has slowed down the work of all aspects of the church, we are still here and working on continued educational opportunities in our Conference and a resource to be published by 2022. We thank you for your continued support of our Native American Christians throughout Arkansas and the United States. If you want to know more about how you can help beyond this Special Sunday, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.