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Looking back at Indians’ history with church helps build toward multiculturalism

‘We are a proud, beautiful, intelligent, adaptive Native American people!’

July 8, 2010

Photo of a woman at a podium

Elona Street-Stewart, associate executive, Synod of Lakes and Prairies, speaks Tuesday at the Native American consulting committee/caucus meeting. —Photo by Tony Oltmann.

MINNEAPOLIS

As participants arrived for the annual Native American Consulting Committee (NACC) dinner, the Rev. Irvin R. Porter, moderator of the Church of the Indians Fellowship in Tacoma, Wash., lit a sage branch and quietly smudged the room in preparation for the gathering. Among those in attendance were members of the Alabama-Coushatta, Maricopa, Tlinket, Hopi, Choctaw, Navaho, Delaware, Pima, T’hono O’odham, Nez Perce, Pueblo, Yupik and Cherokee tribes as well as many non-Indian guests.

Elder Elona Street-Stewart, a recipient of a 2010 PC(USA) Women of Faith award, was keynote speaker. Street-Stewart also is the chair of the American Indian Family Center, the first Native American board member to serve the St. Paul Public Schools and the Synod of Lakes and Prairies executive for racial ethnic concerns and community empowerment.

Street-Stewart delivered a stirring talk about the importance of looking back at Indian history with the Presbyterian Church to move into a future of true multiculturalism.

“We are a proud, beautiful, intelligent, adaptive Native American people!” she proclaimed. “At the time of first contact (1492) … we had difficulty understanding why our normal activities alarmed the newcomers. We had no idea that we were being caught up in the massive globalization of the old world with the new world.”

Street-Stewart challenged her audience to recall that the long-standing relationship between Native Americans and the Presbyterian church has its roots in the early 1600s. “Faith is to remember that we are all members of that same body,” she said. “The NACC is not the same as other caucuses. It came about due to hundreds of years of Indians consulting with the church and the federal government.”

To help reach its goal of being truly inclusive and multicultural, Street-Stewart called on her audience to be the best of the best, to risk being agents of change. She pointed to the retiring associate for Native American Congregational Support, Sallie Cuaresma, as an example of a change agent. Earlier in the evening Cuaresma had been honored for her significant contributions to Native American support.

“We can’t lead if we are not there, we can’t teach if we are not educated, we can’t share if we are not prepared and we cannot bring the honor of our ancestors if we are not proud,” Street-Stewart exhorted. Drawing from the wisdom of past generations, “God calls you as American Indians in the Presbyterian church to help others. It is up to us to seek justice and leave a legacy for the next generation.”

Throughout the evening, special guests were recognized and honored with gifts. Each attendee was presented with a “give-away” gift to thank them for their presence at the dinner.

NACC is made up of 16 Native Americans who represent the synods of Alaska Northwest, Lakes and Prairies, Northeast, Pacific, Rocky Mountains, Southern California and Hawaii, Southwest and Sun. The committee provides representation for Native American members, churches and communities within the PC(USA).