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Energizers before rain dances

Native American Presbyterian youth shrug off stereotypes, enjoy Triennium

July 23, 2013

The Indian Presbyterian Youth Connection and the American Indian Youth Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) sponsored 13 Native American youth to come to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium.

The Indian Presbyterian Youth Connection and the American Indian Youth Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) sponsored 13 Native American youth to come to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium. —Jerry L. Van Marter

PURDUE, Ind.

Do you live in a teepee? Can you do a rain dance?

Most of the 13 Native American participants at this week’s Presbyterian Youth Triennium have heard the questions from others of the 5,300 Presbyterian young people attending the July 16-20 event here.

And they are pretty good-natured about it.

“There’s curiosity about us here,” Helena Battise told the Presbyterian News Service in a July 18 interview while the group ― sponsored by the Indian Presbyterian Youth Connection and the American Indian Youth Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ― cooled off with ice cream at a snack bar on the Purdue University campus to escape the 100-degree heat.

“But they’re curious about us at home, too,” added Battise, of Livingston, Texas.

“Lots of people mistake us for Hispanics,” said Bernitta Langley, also of Livingston.

“I only get a little bit offended when they are overly stereotypical,” said Lorenzo Ellenwood of Lewiston, Idaho. “One thing I’ve learned here is that we’re all connected, so it’s OK.”

Added Alethia McKinney: “Just asking questions is OK.”

The majority of the Native American delegation comes from Texas, but there are also young people from Idaho, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Arizona, California, New Mexico and Alaska.

While at the ice cream parlor, the group celebrated the 16th birthday of Morgan Poncho, who said her favorite part of Triennium is worship. “I like the energizers, and the band is really good,” she said.

Others, such as Ellenwood, like the small group time. “You get to know your own little group and it makes being in a crowd this big less intimidating.”

None of the Native American young people have ever been to any event as big as Triennium.  “There’s a Native gathering in Washington, D.C., called “Close-Up, but that’s only about 1,000 people,” Battise said.

Tiffany Immingan, who traveled the farthest ― from the remote village of Savoonga, Alaska ― said she’s been in gatherings of 1,000 people, “but it wasn’t a church gathering.”

Despite the curiosity of some, the Triennium crowd is friendly, all agreed. “Everybody’s really accepting,” said Jacob Oatman.

“I don’t have to feel embarrassed about being a Christian here,” added Battise.

“I’m going to go back and tell kids about Triennium,” said Immingan. “I had never heard about it until just before I came, and everybody needs to know about Triennium.”

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