Jamestown summit remembers Native saints, prepares for future generations

November 11, 2007

The low moan of a Hawaiian conch shell and the solemn beat of a rawhide drum preceded Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori into the opening Eucharist of the New Jamestown Covenant Summit at Historic Jamestown in Virginia on November 1, which drew Native and non-Native Episcopalians from 28 dioceses, representing 39 tribes.

"What saints do you remember?" Jefferts Schori asked the nearly 250 people sitting just yards away from the site where 105 men and boys erected a fort and a church to claim Algonquin lands for England in 1607. She was joined at the open-air altar by bishops Steven Charleston (Choctaw), dean and president of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Carol Gallagher (Cherokee), former assisting bishop in Newark and former suffragan of Southern Virginia; Mike Smith (Potawatomi) of North Dakota; Mark MacDonald, the Anglican Church of Canada's first national indigenous bishop, assisting bishop of Navajoland, and resigned bishop of Alaska; and John Buchanan, interim bishop of Southern Virginia.

The saints of native North America were "bridge people" between cultures, Jefferts Schori said -- people like Wahunsunacock, chief of the Powhatan Confederacy and father of Matoaka, better known as Pocahontas, another "bridge person" -- but "there are some whose names we learn and some whose names we will never know.

"Remember and recognize the many unnamed saints among us, and 10 years from now, may we have a clearer sense of our common roots and the bridge we can build to our common future," she said.

Anniversary year
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, and since last fall, there have been almost continuous celebrations and commemorations of the Jamestown landing.

The November 1-3 summit marked the beginning of the Episcopal Church's second Decade of Remembrance, Recognition, and Reconciliation (2007-2017) with the First Nations of the Americas, according to a resolution adopted by the 75th General Convention. The first decade (1997-2007) was marked with a similar service and signing of the New Jamestown Covenant at Jamestown with then-Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning. Participants in the second service were invited to join their signatures to the covenant.

"During these 10 years, Native ministry has grown in many areas of the country," remarked national Native missioner Janine Tinsley-Roe (Shinnecock/Unkechaug). "The second decade offers the Episcopal Church an opportunity to build on this growth and continue to develop Native American leadership."

The conference, held at Bruton Parish in Williamsburg, included presentations by Chief Kenneth Adams of the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe in Virginia; Ben Yahola (Muskogee), president of the Milwaukee-based Earth Keepers Voices of Native America, which works for the protection of sacred sites and burial grounds nationwide; and Principal Chief Brenda Dardar-Robichaux of the United Houma Nation of south Louisiana, as well as members of the Executive Council Committee on Indigenous Ministry (ECCIM) and other special guests.

Earth Keepers
Yahola founded Earth Keepers after working as a tour guide in the early 1970s at Georgia's Ocmulgee National Monument, which includes burial mounds, village sites and a circular earth lodge belonging to the ancient Mississippian culture. When the Georgia Department of Transportation planned to run the Eisenhower Highway between two sections of mounds at Ocmulgee, Yohala began the group for education and preservation and launched the annual Sacred Sites run to raise awareness.

He has identified threatened sacred sites from Louisiana and Tennessee through Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and collected soil bundles for an exhibit that often travels with him.

Dardar-Robichaux spoke movingly of the effects of 2005's hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the 16,000-member Houma tribe, which has inhabited the bayous of South Louisiana for generations. Louisiana recognizes the tribe, but they lack federal status despite petitioning since 1983. Opposition to the appeal comes from the oil and gas industry, which fears the implications for land claims if the Houma are successful, she said.

Dulac, DuLarge, Grand Caillou, Montegut, Pointe-au-Chien and Isle de Jean Charles -- more populous Houma communities in Terrebonne Parish that had escaped extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina -- became victims of the rising storm surge from Hurricane Rita, which also reflooded Plaquemines, St. Bernard and lower Jefferson Parish communities that were beginning to dry out from Hurricane Katrina.

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross, and the Road Home housing assistance program have been no help, she said. Because the Houma weren't allowed to attend Louisiana public schools until the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, illiteracy is high among the tribe's older members, and many Houma could not cope with complicated applications for assistance. FEMA and Road Home staff failed to show up for several scheduled meetings with the tribe, and the Red Cross -- months after the double disasters -- could offer only a loan of metal framed cots for which the tribe would be held financially liable, said Dardar-Robichaux.

Grants and donations from religious and humanitarian organizations, including a group of Native American doctors and the American Indian Movement, have helped put the tribe back on its feet.

Paths Crossing
The gathering also included meetings of Paths Crossing and the Mountains and Deserts coalition. Paths Crossing is a yearly national conference to promote cross-cultural exchanges and partnerships between American Indian and Alaska Native congregations and non-Native congregations of the Episcopal Church. Mountains and Deserts is an Episcopal ministry founded to foster relationships between Native and non-Native congregations and build leadership among Natives living in rural areas.

Emerging from conversations at the summit was a resolution (see below) asking General Convention 2009 for support in tribal recognition petitions submitted by the Upper Mattaponi, Monacan, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Rappahannock and Nansemond peoples of Virginia, as well as the Houma, Shinnecock (New York), Southeastern Cherokee (Georgia), Native Hawaiians, and Brothertown (Wisconsin). Another resolution requests support for the preservation of sacred sites.

"It's fitting that these issues will come before the church in Anaheim [Calif.], which is where the first resolution was passed in 1985 asking support for treaty rights and self-determination for Native peoples," said Tinsley-Roe. "We're coming full circle but at a new level of commitment to justice for all the Native peoples of the Americas."



The New Jamestown Covenant Summit of The Episcopal Church
Bruton Parish, Williamsburg, Virginia
November 3, 2007

Support federal tribal recognition petitions
Resolved, The New Jamestown Covenant Summit of The Episcopal Church, gathered in Williamsburg, Va., Nov. 1-3, 2007, calls upon the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations in Washington, D. C., and the bishops and Episcopalians of the dioceses of Virginia, Southwest Virginia and Southern Virginia to call upon their elected officials in support of the federal tribal recognition of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Monacan Indian Nation, the Chickahominy Tribe, the Eastern Chickahominy Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe and the Nansemond Tribe of Virginia, currently introduced to the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee as HR 1294; and furthermore calls upon the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations and the bishops and Episcopalians of the dioceses of Louisiana, Long Island, Georgia, Atlanta, Hawai'i and Fond du Lac to advocate in their respective spheres of influence for the federal tribal recognition of the United Houma Nation of Louisiana, the Shinnecock Tribal Nation of New York, the Southeastern Cherokee Council Inc. of Georgia, the Native Hawaiian Nation and the Brothertown Nation of Wisconsin.

Explanation: The New Jamestown Covenant Summit of The Episcopal Church gathered in Williamsburg, Va., for the 400th anniversary of the encounter of English colonists and Native Americans and to inaugurate a new "Decade of Remembrance, Recognition and Reconciliation."

The summit was comprised of Episcopalians from 28 dioceses and represented 39 tribes.

The summit heard from the chief of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe of Virginia, an Episcopal deacon from the Monacan Indian Nation of Virginia, the principal chief of the United Houma Nation of Louisiana and leaders of the Shinnecock Tribal Nation of New York, the Southeastern Cherokee Council Inc. of Georgia, the Native Hawaiian Nation and the Brothertown Nation of Wisconsin about their struggles, desires and stalled attempts to receive federal recognition of tribal status and subsequent opportunities for health benefits, educational opportunities, economic development and equal voice with other tribes in Washington D.C.

We recalled Resolution 1985-B007 of our General Convention, which called upon "all agencies of the church to advocate and support the honoring of all Indian treaty rights and the right to internal autonomy and self-determination of Indian Nations and Tribes."

Support preservation of sacred sites
Resolved, The New Jamestown Covenant Summit of The Episcopal Church, gathered in Williamsburg, Va., Nov. 1-3, 2007, requests the Executive Committee's Council of Indigenous Ministries to support the preservation of burial sites and other sacred place of Indigenous Peoples.