Suzanne Wenonah Duchesne Communications Chairperson of NJNAMC
“This meeting means so much to us because we have no recognized tribes, either at a federal level or a state level. We are very invisible. Even perhaps more so than what you might think for Native people in general. And yet we carry on the best way we can in our own unique way. But to have a meeting like this with so many people coming to us from so many places makes my heart swell with pride.”
These were the words of greeting Dr. Ellesa Clay High, chairperson of the West Virginia CoNAM, gave to the 52 laity and clergy who attended the Northeast Jurisdictional Native American Ministries Committee (NEJNAMC) Annual Meeting in Wheeling West Virginia from Thursday, October 6, 2016 to Saturday, October 8, 2016. The West Virginia CoNAM members also welcomed weary travelers with baskets of tasty treats and information about local historical sights.
The meeting affirmed the work of the previous quadrennium and reviewed and approved the 2017-2020 Plans of Action. Those in attendance represented 9 of the 10 Committees on Native American Ministries (CoNAMs) in the jurisdiction as well as representatives from three agencies (UMW, Discipleship Ministry and GCoRR), the West Virginia Annual Conference, and Directors of Connectional Ministries, it was the largest since the inception of the NEJNAMC. It was a special joy to welcome representatives from Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.
This was the first meeting for the new quadrennium and officers were elected. On Thursday evening the Installation Service was held. Ms. Cynthia Kent (Southern Ute) from Greater NJ was elected Chair; Ms. Sandi Cianciulli (Lakota) from Eastern PA was elected Vice Chair; Ms. Patricia Parent (Abenaki/Penobscot) from New England was elected Secretary; Ms. Sharon Schmit (Mohawk) from Upper New York was elected Treasurer; Rev. Suzanne Wenonah Duchesne from Eastern PA was elected Communication Chair and Ms. Ragghi Rain (Eastern Cherokee) from Pen/Del was elected Nominating Chair.
Participants gave updates on the Act of Repentance Services held at the Annual Conferences and discussed the continuing work with the Conferences on next steps. One of the items that sparked conversation concerned the Pipeline that is being proposed to go through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. After an extensive discussion, a Statement of Support was written, addressed to Chairman David Archambault II, and signed by all those present. (Image of Statement and transcript is attached).
Showing their solidarity with NEJNAMC, Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball and Bishop Peggy A. Johnson signified their support and vision for the Committee. The Committee is honored to have Bishop Peggy A. Johnson as their representative on the College of Bishops and Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, as President of the College of Bishops, who places the Wampum Belt in view of the College of Bishops at all their meetings, to remind them that they all have Native people in their conferences.
Discussion stressed the importance of youth and young adults as leaders of the denomination and the Committee asked the CoNAM’s to include youth and young adults on their CoNAM’s and as representatives to NEJNAMC. The CoNAM’s will continue to strengthen their mercy and justice ministries. It is also important that CoNAM’s continue to listen to the needs of the Native people and communities in their area and to make sure that programs and resources assist with these needs.
Every annual meeting includes a daytrip to a local Native American site. This year attendees visited the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex in Moundsville WV. Participants learned about the issues of indigenous land rights, ecological impact on sacred sites as well as local issues of Native American Identity, sovereignty, and the process of repatriation under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) where there are no federally or state recognized tribes. This land is perhaps thought to be the meeting place of many Tribes and Nations and considered sacred space that still carries the reminders of the Indigenous people who lived together, shared resources, and possibly worshipped together in these places.
On Saturday, gathered around the table of grace, the Executive Committee acknowledged Rev. Jacob Steele the pastor of our host church, Christ UMC, Wheeling, WV. He shared the story of the Peace Tree which they brought home from their Act of Repentance Service at the Annual Conference and placed in their courtyard as a sign of their ongoing work. Passing solemnly by the tree with words of peace in the air and the scent of sage cleansing their bodies and minds, communicants conjoined their prayers with the Holy Spirit as they shared the body of Christ and the Cup of Blessing.
With the taste of the sacred meal on their lips and the warmth of fellowship in their hearts they headed home. Traveling down highways, trails, and country lanes they returned renewed and ready for what comes next. Northeast Jurisdictional leaders are committed to help strengthen the local CoNAM’s and look forward to hearing from the churches about the ways in which they want to partner together in ministry with Native American Communities.
Mission: With God’s grace and guidance, the NORTHEASTERN JURISDICTION NATIVE AMERICAN MINISTRIES COMMITTEE will serve as the body that helps to guide Native Americans and advocates in the Northeastern Jurisdiction to develop and maintain a relationship through the United Methodist Church.