On Saturday, March 26, 2022, clergy and lay leaders from around the Diocese of Western North Carolina gathered together at Trinity Episcopal Church, Asheville for the Diocese WNC’s first Indigenous Ministries Conference.
The conference featured five notable indigenous voices–the Rev. Bradley Hauff, Indigenous Missioner for the Episcopal Church, Dr. Trey Adcock Ph.D, Director of American Indian and Indigenous Studies at UNC Asheville, Mr. James Bradley, Secretary of Education for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Rev. Bude Van Dyke, a spiritual director and ordained priest, and the Hon. Richard Sneed, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
The conference featured presentations from all five speakers as well as invited those in attendance to engage in meaningful conversation about the past, present, and future of indigenous relations in the Anglican Church, and specifically in WNC, on land long occupied by the Cherokee and Catawba peoples.
The conference began with a presentation by the Rev. Brad Hauff, Indigenous Missioner for the Episcopal Church, tracing the broad outline of Indigenous and Anglican history, including the Doctrine of Discovery, residential schools, and the Trail of Tears. Rev. Hauff also invited participants to learn more about Native Worldview, and engage in conversations about how these views can co-exist and are even compatible with modern Christian beliefs.
For many, this was the first opportunity to have these conversations with people of Indigenous background. Lynne Getz, a member of the Diocesan Standing Committee, noted that for many in attendance, this was also the first time hearing many of these histories.
“This history, even what we might think educated, middle-class Americans would know, was largely unknown to many in the audience, judging by the comments and outbursts,” Getz said. “Many people were hearing this historical narrative for the first time ever. This was especially true for the Boarding School era. I heard a lot of people say they had never heard of this really critical period in Native experience.”
The second presentation was given by Dr. Trey Adcock, director of American Indian and Indigenous Studies at UNC Asheville, and focused on Land Acknowledgements. Land Acknowledgements are “formal statements recognizing the Indigenous people of a place. [They are] the public gesture of appreciation for the past and present Indigenous stewardship of the lands that we now occupy. [They are] an actionable statement that marks our collective movement towards decolonization and equity.” (Downing, 2020)
For the Diocese of Western North Carolina and many other Episcopal churches around North America, land acknowledgements are one way we can recognize the people who occupied the lands before. For the Diocese of WNC, located in the Appalachian and Piedmont regions of North Carolina, acknowledging the Cherokee and Catawba people who occupied the land before is one way to begin repairing the relationship with native peoples.
Mr. James Bradley, Secretary of Education for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian, continued this conversation around repairing relationships between native peoples and the Anglican Church. As the Secretary of Education, much of Bradley’s work is centered on providing curricula and activities to native youth in local schools and communities, as well as providing culturally inclusive material in local curricula for all students.
The conference also featured musical presentations from the Rev. Bude VanDyke and Mr. James Bradley. As an Episcopal priest of Cherokee descent and also a sing-songwriter, Rev. VanDyke sang a number by his band that produces Native Americana Music, Tsalagi Soul ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏓᎾᏔ. Bradley also performed a rendition of “Amazing Grace” in the Cherokee language.
The conference was well-received by the diocesan community and has begun to ignite conversations diocesan-wide about how the church can continue to form meaningful relationships with the indigenous community. Ed Bleynat, a member of Trinity, Asheville, shared that one major takeaway he had from the conference was to practice more listening in response to indigenous stories so that the Episcopal Church can move towards Building Beloved Community.
“The simple question for building beloved community is this: ‘how does one accomplish it?” said Bleynat. “I cannot escape the feeling that people like me, in professions whose job involves solving other people’s problems, are simply going to have to recalibrate their ways of doing things for a time. Right now, the work of listening and being present is more vital than the work of fixing this or doing that. It will be difficult for the industrious, the impatient, and the impulsive. Building relationships is more important than, ‘doing things’ if the beloved community is to be built.”
The Rev. Bradley Hauff, Indigenous Missioner for The Episcopal Church, emphasized this idea of listening heavily in his presentation. He noted that many in attendance were receptive of the stories and experiences shared and eager to engage in conversation. Hauff noted that this event, and others like it, are one step in the process of repairing the breach and beginning to form a relationship between Episcopal and Indigenous communities built on a foundation of trust and respect.
“[The relationship between the Episcopal Church and Indigenous people has] been scarred with the sins of assimilation and indoctrination, and for that reason a number of Indigenous people today want nothing to do with the church and understandably so,” Hauff said. “We as a church have a long way to go toward living in right relationship with Indigenous people and are just starting that journey. The church needs to hear more from Indigenous people as we tell our stories, and the church needs to be open to what these stories tell us. That is what being instruments of the Gospel is about in this situation. Events like this facilitate such a process.”
As part of the ongoing work of Becoming Beloved Community, especially as the Diocese of WNC celebrates its Centennial in 2022 and reflects on the past 100 years as a diocese, the Diocese of WNC is dedicated to acknowledging the past and present members of Indigenous communities that once occupied this land and were harmed and expelled by settlers. The diocese stands in solidarity with all marginalized communities and condemns acts of racism and ignorance towards all brothers, sisters, and siblings in Christ. The Indigenous Ministries Conference was just one step in the continued work being done to Become Beloved Community, and sparks a number of events, conversations, and relationships throughout the Diocese.
Mr. James Bradley, who was confirmed in April 2021 by Bishop José, noted that he considers that moment a turning point in his relationship with the church and vice versa. The conversations held during the Indigenous Ministries Conference make him hopeful for the future of relations between the church and Indigenous communities, and he is excited to be a part of that work.
“[When I arrived at the conference, Bishop José and I] spoke for a few minutes,” Bradley said. “I mentioned how odd it was that he confirmed me in the church in April 2021 and the next week I had been recommended to work on the Indigenous Ministries Conference, began to plan for Chief Sneed and Bishop José to meet in person, and now was being included in the planning of the next events. Bishop José simply said, ‘It’s the Holy Spirit.’ That was the big thing I took from the conference–when we open ourselves to the calling of God, he will show us ways to express Jesus’ love from where we are.”
To find resources and presentations from the Indigenous Ministries Conference, please visit the Diocese of WNC Unlearning Library at https://www.diocesewnc.org/unlearning-library and find resources under the “Indigenous” tab. To learn more about Diocese WNC’s commitment to Becoming Beloved Community and the ongoing work being done, please visit https://www.diocesewnc.org/building-beloved-community