18 Native American Voices to Learn From

“We must genuinely appreciate all cultures as being

capable of reflecting biblical faith. We must move away

from “American Christian mythology,” which undergirds

colonization and its resulting paternalism in Indigenous

communities. We must embrace new theological perspectives

emerging from Native leaders as being ‘equal.’”[1]

-Richard Twiss, Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of indigenous communities. The latter maybe has to do with my own identity and history as a Caribbean woman from Puerto Rico, and my proximity to Latin America. However, when in 2015 I moved to the U.S. mainland, it took me a year and a painful summer to learn about the otherization of POC, and the selective historical memory of majority culture and its institutions. Central to the latter is how the United States has violently tried to erase and deny the existence and dignity of Native American communities. And that posture is still pervasive in many Christian circles, including seminaries and ministries committed to racial “(re)conciliation,” where students never get to learn from Native American and Indigenous authors, professors, and speakers.

The temptation for many would be to ask a Native American or Indigenous person to provide reading lists and resources so that they can learn. However, recently, I was listening to Amena Brown’s interview with Kaitlin Curtice, a Potawatomi Christian, Twitter friend, and the author of Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places. In that interview, Kaitlin said, “Do the research. Don’t constantly ask indigenous people to do it for you.” Her words resonate with so many POC, who are constantly being asked to teach majority culture people, even at the expense of our mental health. So, my Caribbean-self decided to share my work with you for two reasons. First, I am passionate about centering Native American presence and voices because without them our dialogues are incomplete. Secondly, I am giving you a starting point so that you can build on it by doing your own research.

Richard Twiss

Richard Twiss (Taoyate Ob Najin, “He Stands with His People”) was a Sicangu Lakota. He co-founded the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS) and Evangelicals for Justice. He also founded Wiconi International. The latter, now known simply as “Wiconi,” is an organization working “for the well-being of our Native people by advancing cultural formation, indigenous education, spiritual awareness and social justice connected to the teachings and life of Jesus, through an indigenous worldview framework.”[2] Taoyate Ob Najin earned a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Asbury Theological Seminary. Among his publications are Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way (IVP, 2015) and One Church, Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made You (Chosen Books, 2000).

Mark Charles

Mark Charles is a speaker and writer, and a member of the Navajo Nation. His book Truth Be Told: The Doctrine of Discovery and the Root Cause of Racial Injustice, co-authored with Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, is scheduled to be published this year by InterVarsity Press. Mark is also a regular columnist for Native News Online and frequently writes for his popular blog Reflections from the Hogan. On a very personal note: Make sure your institution, church, or organization invites Mark Charles to speak. I cannot stress how important and prophetic his voice is.

Randy Woodley

Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetowah Cherokee teacher, activist, missiologist, and historian. He was ordained to ministry through the American Baptist Churches in the USA after completing his Master of Divinity at Eastern Seminary in Philadelphia. Randy also holds a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Asbury Seminary. A prolific writer, Dr. Woodley doesn’t only regularly contribute to various pages and blogs such as Sojourners and HuffPost’s Religion page, but he has authored various books, including The Harmony Tree: A Story of Healing and Community (FriesenPress, 2016); Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision (Eerdmans, 2012); and Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity (IVP, 2004). I still remember where I was when a couple of years ago I came across his chapter “Native American Hospitality and Generosity: Old Symbols of American Welcome,” included in the book Strangers in this World: Multireligious Reflections on Immigration. His words engaged my whole self in a way that was transformational. Dr. Woodley’s writings are a must read.

Terry LeBlanc

Dr. Terry LeBlanc, a Mi’kmaq-Acadian, is the founding Chair and current Director of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS). He teaches at various other institutions, such as Tyndale Seminary, George Fox University and Seminary, and Acadia University and Divinity College in Nova Scotia. He holds a Ph.D. from Asbury Theological Seminary and specializes in Theology and Anthropology. Among Dr. LeBlanc’s writings are “Mission: An Indigenous Perspective,” published in 2014 in Direction (43 no. 2), and “New Old Perspectives: Theological Observations Reflecting Indigenous Worldviews,” a chapter included in Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective: Exploring the Contextual Nature of Theology and Mission (IVP, 2012). I also recommend watching his 2011 lecture on Native American Theology at Wheaton College here.

Clara Sue Kidwell

Dr. Clara Sue Kidwell “is an enrolled member of the White Earth Chippewa tribe, and is also of Choctaw descent.”[3] A historian, she holds a BA in letters and an MA and Ph.D. in History of Science from the University of Oklahoma, where she later served as professor and director of the American Studies Department. Dr. Kidwell also taught at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was associate professor of Native American Studies from 1974 to 1992. Following this post, she became Assistant Director for cultural resources of the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution until 1995.[4] I learned about Clara when looking for a Native American theology book a couple of years ago. She co-authored the book A Native American Theology, published by Orbis Books in 2001. Her other writings include Native American Studies (University of Nebraska Press, 2005) and Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818-1918 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995).

George E. “Tink” Tinker

Dr. Tink Tinker is a member of the Osage Nation and Professor Emeritus of Iliff School of Theology, where he started serving in 1985. He holds an M.Div. from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Graduate Theological Union. His areas of expertise and interest include “American Indian cultures, history, and religious traditions; cross-cultural and Third-World theologies; and justice and peace studies.”[5] A prolific writer, he has authored and co-authored various books including Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide (Fortress Press, 1993), A Native American Theology (Orbis Books, 2001), Spirit and Resistance: Political Theology and American Indian Liberation (Fortress Press, 2004), and American Indian Liberation: A Theology of Sovereignty (Orbis Books, 2008).

Siouxsan Bullshields Robinson

I learned about Siouxsan thanks to pastor Sandra Maria Van Opstal and The Justice Conference. “Siouxsan was born on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota and raised on the Stand Off Reserve in Alberta, Canada. She has a certificate in Aboriginal Criminal Justice from the Native Education Center in Vancouver, British Columbia”[6] and aspires to attend Law School with the desire of representing Native American people. She is particularly interested in “the Cause and Effects of Residential Schools and their impact on First Nations people throughout North America”[7] and is passionate about serving those who have been abused. Learn about her and her husband’s work by visiting their website, The Red Road.

Homer Noley

Rev. Homer Noley, considered a Native American trailblazer, died earlier this year in March at the age of 85. He “was a member of the Choctaw Nation and founder of the National United Methodist Native American Center.”[8] Ginny Underwood writes, “For nearly 40 years, Noley worked for the inclusion of Native Americans at all levels of the denomination.”[9] Rev. Noley authored the book First White Frost: Native Americans and United Methodism, published by Abingdon Press in 1991, and co-authored the book A Native American Theology (Orbis Books, 2001).

Vine Deloria Jr.

Vine Deloria Jr. was a Standing Rock Sioux who, as reported by Kirk Johnson for the New York Times, “burst into the American consciousness in 1969 with his book Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto.”[10] A prolific author, he wrote over 20 books in his lifetime, including God is Red: A Native View of Religion, which is in its 30th year anniversary. Mr. Deloria Jr. earned a Theology degree from the Lutheran School of Theology in Rock Island, IL, and a Law Degree from the University of Colorado. In 1978, he “established the first Master’s Degree program for American Indian Studies in the United States.”[11] Mr. Deloria died in 2005 at the age of 72.

Kaitlin B. Curtice

Kaitlin is an enrolled citizen of the Potawatomi Citizen Band Nation and describes herself as “a writer, speaker, mama, partner and avid coffee drinker.”[12] Her book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, was published earlier this year by Paraclete Press. She has also contributed pieces to OnBeing, Relevant Magazine, Sojourners, and CBE International, and frequently writes on her blog.

Cheryl Bear-Barnetson

Cheryl, from Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, is not only a multi-award winning singer and songwriter, but she is also a founding board member of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS). She earned a Master of Divinity from Regent College and a D.Min. from The King’s University in Los Angeles. Dr. Bear-Barneston serves as Associate Professor at Regent College, and as an Adjunct Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Evangelism at NAIITS. To learn more about Dr. Cheryl and her work, please, visit her website.

Adrienne Keene

Dr. Adrienne Keene is a member of the Cherokee Nation and currently serves as Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Brown University. She is also a writer, activist, and founder of Native Appropriations. Dr. Keene earned a B.A. from Stanford University in Cultural and Social Anthropology and Native American Studies, and an Ed.M. and Ed.D. from Harvard University. Her publications include “Love in the Time of Blood Quantum,” in The Great Vanishing Act: Blood Quantum and the Future of Native Nations (Fulcrum Publishing, 2017); and “Understanding Relationships in the College Process: Indigenous Methodologies, Reciprocity, and College Horizon Students,” in Reclaiming Indigenous Research in Higher Education (Rutgers University Press, 2018).

James Treat

Dr. James Treat is a poet, author, “autonomous scholar, freelance creative, indigenous advocate and non-violent outdoorsman.”[13] He is an enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and has taught at several universities, including the University of Illinois –where he served as Associate Professor of Religious Studies; and the University of New Mexico, where he was Assistant Professor of American Studies. Dr. Treat has earned several degrees, including a Master of Arts in Theology and Philosophy from the Pacific School of Religion, and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Graduate Theological Union. A prolific writer and editor, his published works include Native and Christian: Indigenous Voices on Religious Identity in the United States and Canada (Routledge, 1996), Writing the Cross Culture: Native Fiction on the White Man’s Religion (Fulcrum Publishing, 2006), and Around the Sacred Fire: Native Religious Activism in the Red Power Era (University of Illinois Press, 2007). For more information, visit his website.

Casey Church

“Dr. Casey Church is a Pokagon Band Potawatomi member from southwest Michigan. His Potawatomi name is Ankwawango, which means ‘Hole in the Clouds.”[14] Dr. Church currently serves as Director of Wiconi. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology and a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. Dr. Church is also a board member of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS). His publications include Native American Contextual Ministry: Making the Transition (Cherohala Press, 2017), and Holy Smoke: The Contextual Use of Native American Ritual and Ceremony (Cherohala Press, 2017).

Steven Charleston

Steven Charleston is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church. Dr. Charleston served as Professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary, and as the President and Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA.[15] His publications include Coming Full Circle: Constructing Native Christian Theology, co-edited with Elaine A. Robinson and published by Fortress Press (2015), and The Four Vision Quests of Jesus (Morehouse Publishing, 2015).

Thom White Wolf Fassett

Thom White Wolf Fassett is emeritus General Secretary of The General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church.[16] He holds degrees from Colgate Rochester Divinity School and The American University. He authored the book Giving Our Hearts Away: Native American Survival.

Ray Aldred

Rev. Dr. Ray Aldred (Cree) is the director of the Indigenous Studies Program at the Vancouver School of Theology. Before this post, he served as the Assistant Professor of Theology at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta. Dr. Aldred holds an M.Div. from the Canadian Theological Seminary and is currently completing a Th.D. (ABD) at Wycliffe College at Toronto School of Theology. His publications include the book chapter “An Indigenous Reinterpretation of Repentance: A Step on the Journey to Reconciliation,” in So Great Salvation: Soteriology in the Majority World (Eerdmans, 2017).

Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich is an acclaimed poet, story-teller and award-winning and best-selling novelist. Erdrich inhabits a liminal space, being the daughter of a Chippewa woman and a German-American man. Erdrich herself is a member of the same Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, for which her maternal grandfather served as tribal chairman.[17] Louise was “part of the first class of women admitted to Dartmouth College, where she received her degree in English.”[18] She also earned a Masters in Writing from John Hopkins University. Her published works include The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (Harper Perennial, 2001) and Future Home of the Living God: A Novel (HarperCollins, 2017).

Not Exhaustive, Now Go and Do Your Own Work

It goes without saying that this list is very brief. But this list aims to serve as a starting point for you to build upon by doing your own research and cultivating proximity with indigenous communities.

Also, know that the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS) holds an Annual Symposium dedicated to Indigenous Christian theology and praxis, and also publishes a journal.

Read indigenous people. Learn from indigenous people. Honor indigenous people.


Featured photo: Andrew James on Unsplash.com

Thanks to Dr. Gene Green and Melody Schwarting for pointing me to other Native American voices that should be added to my original list of 12. Also, thanks to Mark Charles and Kaitlin Curtice for their work, which has been key in my formation.


[1] Richard Twiss, Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 16.

[2] “Hablecha ‘Vision Quest,’” Wiconi, accessed August 15, 2018, https://www.wiconi.com/page-3/page-5/

[3] “Clara Sue Kidwell, PhD,” North Carolina American Indian Health Board, accessed August 16, 2018, http://www.ncaihb.org/board-clara-sue-kidwell.php

[4] Mark G. Thiel, “Kidwell, Clara S.,” in Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, 2nd ed., Gretchen M. Bataille and Laurie Lisa, eds. (New York: Routledge, 2001): 171-72.

[5] “Tink Tinker,” Iliff School of Theology, accessed August 16, 2018, https://www.iliff.edu/faculty/tink-tinker/

[6] “The Robinsons,” accessed August 16, 2018, http://www.theredroad.org/about/the-robinsons/

[7] Ibid

[8] Ginny Underwood, “The Rev. Homer Noley, Native American Trailblazer, Dies at 85,” United Methodist Insight, accessed August 15, 2018, http://um-insight.net/in-the-church/ordained-ministry/the-rev-homer-noley-native-american-trailblazer-dies-at-85/

[9] Ibid

[10] Kirk Johnson, “Vine Deloria Jr., Champion of Indian Rights, Dies at 72,” New York Times, November 15, 2005, https://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/15/us/vine-deloria-jr-champion-of-indian-rights-dies-at-72.html.

[11] “Vine Deloria Jr.,” College of Social & Behavorial Sciences American Indian Studies, The University of Arizona, accessed August 15, 2018, https://ais.arizona.edu/users/vine-deloria-jr

[12] Kaitlin B. Curtice, “About Kaitlin,” accessed August 22, 2018, https://kaitlincurtice.com/about-kaitlin/

[13] James Treat, “Welcome!,” accessed August 24, 2018, https://jamestreat.online/

[14] Wiconi, “About Wiconi,” accessed August 24, 2018, https://www.wiconi.com/page-3/page-7/

[15] “Meet The Author,” Red Moon Publications, accessed August 24, 2018, http://www.redmoonpublications.com/red-moon-publications-author-charleston.html

[16] “Thom White Wolf Fassett, A Brief Personal Profile,” accessed August 24, 2018, http://pendel-email.brtapp.com/files/content/2016%20ac/2.1%20-speaker%20bios.pdf

[17] Jill Salahub, “Native American Heritage Month: Louise Erdrich,” Colorado State Universtiy, accessed August 24, 2018, https://english.colostate.edu/news/native-american-heritage-month-louise-erdrich/

[18] Ibid.

 

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