Passages on the saints from Touch the Earth November 1, 2010

by Cheryl Stewart Pero
director of the Multicultural Center at LSTC

William W. Warren was born in May 1825. The son of an Ojibway mother and a white father. His ancestry revealed that he was a descendant of Richard Warren…. In 1842 he married and moved to what is now Minnesota, where he was employed as a government interpreter. In 1851 he became a member of the House of Representatives at St. Paul. About that time he began to write for The Minnesota Democrat about Indian legends and folklore. Fascinated by the traditions and tales of the “old men,” he spent hours visiting with them in remote places. They would also come to talk to him…. Warren died at the early age of 28, just having completed a history of his nation. based upon Ojibway traditions and oral statements. The following passage describes the “happy hunting grounds” of his people.

WHEN AN OJIBWAY DIES, HIS BODY IS PLACED In A GRAVE, generally in a sitting posture, facing the west. With the body are buried all the articles needed in life for a journey.… The soul is supposed to start immediately after the death of the body, on a deep beaten path, which leads westward; the first object he comes to, in following his path, is the great Oda-e-min (Heart berry), or strawberry, which stands on the roadside like a huge rock, and from which he takes a handful and eats on his way. He travels on till he reaches a deep, rapid stream of water, over which lies the much dreaded Ko-go-gaup-o-gun, or rolling and sinking bridge; once safely over this as the traveler looks back it assumes the shape of a huge serpent swimming, twisting and untwisting its folds across the stream. .

After camping out four nights, and traveling each day through a prairie country, the soul arrives in the land of spirits, where he finds his relatives accumulated since mankind was first created; all is rejoicing, singing and dancing; they live in a beautiful country interspersed with clear lakes and streams, forests and prairies, and abounding in fruit and game to repletion – in a word, abounding in all that the red man most covets in this life, and which conduces most to his happiness. It is that kind of paradise which he only by his manner of life on this earth, is fitted to enjoy. (33)


Ollokot was Chief Joseph’s brother; he was killed along with many others in the Nez Perce battle of September 1877. Ollokot’s surviving widow, Wetatonmi, spoke the following words upon the occasion of leaving the tribe’s land the night of Chief Joseph’s surrender, just after Joseph had been defeated in battle.

IT WAS LONESOME, THE LEAVING. HUSBAND DEAD, FRIENDS BURIED or held prisoners. I felt that I was leaving all that I had but I did not cry. You know how you feel when you lose kindred and friends through sickness – death. You do not care if you die. With us it was worse. Strong men, well women and little children killed and buried. They had not done wrong to be so killed. We had only asked to be left in our own homes, the homes of our ancestors. Our going was with heavy hearts, broken spirits. But we would be free. . . . All lost, we walked silently on into the wintry night. (121)

He-tha·a-hi, or Eagle Wing, pays tribute to what the Indian has left behind him.

MY BROTHERS, THE INDIANS MUST ALWAYS BE REMEMBERED IN THIS land. Out of our languages we have given names to many beautiful things which will always speak of us. Minnehaha will laugh of us, Seneca will shine in our image, Mississippi will murmur our woes. The broad Iowa and the rolling Dakota and the fertile Michigan will whisper our names to the sun that kisses them. The roaring Niagara, the sighing Illinois, the singing Delaware, will chant unceasingly our Dta-wa-e [Death Song]. Can it be that you and your children will hear that eternal song without a stricken heart? We have been guilty of only one sin – we have had possessions that the white man coveted. We moved away toward the setting sun; we gave up our homes to the white man.

My brethren, among the legends of my people it is told how a chief, leading the remnant of his people, crossed a great river, and striking his tepee·stake upon he ground, exclaimed, “A-la-ba-ma!” This in our language means “Here we may rest!” But he saw not the future. The white man came: he and his people Could not rest there; they were driven out, and in a dark swamp they were thrust down to the slime and killed. The word he so sadly spoke has given a name to one of the white man’s states. There is no spot under those stars that now smile upon us, where the Indian can plant his foot and sigh “A-la-ba-ma.” It may be that Wakanda will grant us such a place. But it seems that it will be only at His side. (156)

[All four of these biographies were gleaned from a variety of sources on the internet.]

Wilma Mankiller, who died April 6, 2010, at age 64 of pancreatic cancer, was a former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and lived on the land which was allotted to her paternal grandfather, John Mankiller, just after Oklahoma became a state in 1907. Surrounded by the Cherokee Hills and the Cookson Hills, she lived in a historically rich area where a person's worth is not determined by the size of their bank account or portfolio.

Her family name "Mankiller" as far as they can determine, is an old military title that was given to the person in charge of protecting the village. As the leader of the Cherokee people, she represented the second largest tribe in the United States, the largest being the Dine (Navajo) Tribe. Mankiller was the first female in modern history to lead a major Native American tribe. With an enrolled population of over 140,000, and an annual budget of more than $75 million, and more than 1,200 employees spread over 7,000 square miles, her task may have been equaled to that of a chief executive officer of a major corporation.

"Prior to my election, " said Mankiller, "young Cherokee girls would never have thought that they might grow up and become chief." Mankiller had been asked by Ross Swimmer, then President of a small bank, who assumed leadership of the Cherokee Nation in 1975. He convinced Mankiller to run as his deputy chief. They won. In 1985, Swimmer resigned as chief to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Cherokee law mandated that the deputy chief assume the duties of the former chief.

In the historic tribal elections of 1987, Mankiller won the post outright and brought unprecedented attention to the tribe as a result. "We are a revitalized tribe," said Mankiller. “After every major upheaval, we have been able to gather together as a people and rebuild a community and a government. Individually and collectively, Cherokee people possess an extraordinary ability to face down adversity and continue moving forward. We are able to do that because our culture, though certainly diminished, has sustained us since time immemorial. This Cherokee culture is a well-kept secret."

Mankiller attributed her understanding of her people's history partially to her own family's forced removal, as part of the government's Indian relocation policy, to California when she was a young girl. Her concern for Native American issues was ignited in 1969 when a group of university students occupied Alcatraz Island in order to attract attention to the issues affecting their tribes. Shortly afterwards, she began working in preschool and adult education programs in the Pit River Tribe of California.

In 1974, she moved back to her ancestral lands outside of Tahlequah, and immediately began helping her people by procuring grants enabling them to launch critical rural programs. In 1979, she enrolled in the nearby University of Arkansas, and upon returning home from class was almost killed in a head-on collision in which one of her best friends who had been driving the other car, was killed. After barely avoiding the amputation of her right leg, she endured another seventeen operations. Mankiller said that it was during the long process that she really began reevaluating her life and it proved to be a time of deep spiritual awakening.

Then in 1980, just a year after the accident, she was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a chronic neuromuscular disease that causes varying degrees of weakness in the voluntary muscles of the body. She maintained that it was the realization of how precious life is that spurred her to begin projects for her people, such as the Bell project where members of the community revitalized a whole community themselves. It was the success of the Bell project that thrust Mankiller into national recognition as an expert in community development.

The election to deputy chief did not come until two years later. In 1986, Wilma married long time friend and former director of tribal development, Charlie Soap. Mankiller's love of family and community became a source of strength when again a life threatening illness struck. Recurring kidney problems forced Mankiller to have a kidney transplant; her brother, Don Mankiller, served as the donor. During her convalescence, she had many long talks with her family, and it was decided that she would run again for Chief in order to complete the many community projects she had begun.

Spirituality is then key to the public and private life of Wilma Mankiller who had indeed become known not only for her community leadership but also for her spiritual presence.


The Rev. Ramona Soto Rank, a leader in the Lutheran church on matters concerning American Indians, died Jan. 12, 2007. She was 62. An enrolled member of the Klamath Tribes of Oregon, she was an associate pastor for Augustana Lutheran Church, Portland, Ore.

When Rank became a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 2000, she was the second American Indian woman to be ordained in the Lutheran church and the first in the ELCA.

Born on the Klamath Reservation in Klamath County, Ore., Rank attended Colorado Woman's College, Denver. She served as secretary to the General Council of the Klamath Tribes and as a member of the Tribal Restoration Committee. She was executive director of Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, an organization representing 49 federally recognized tribes in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

From 1978 to 1989, Rank coordinated Inter-Lutheran Native American Concerns and served from 1980 to 1987 on the Division for Parish Services board of the former Lutheran Church in America. She was president of the American Indian/Alaska Native Association of the ELCA (formerly the Native American Lutheran Association), served on the ELCA Church Council, and chaired the ELCA Oregon Synod Multicultural Council.

Presenting the "American Indian/Alaska Native Strategic Plan" to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 1997, Rank said, "Native Americans are survivors of the 'Great American Holocaust.' This is our land," she continued. "Our people have occupied North America for more than 40,000 years. We dare not let other Americans forget about us now."

A graduate of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS), Berkeley, Calif., Rank worked with PLTS and Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., on curricula and experiences that help train church professionals in the context of American Indian and Alaska Native perspectives. She is a founder of the "One in the Spirit" gathering that brings together clergy and lay people with American Indian and Alaska Native theologians.

Vine Deloria Jr. was born in the depths of the Great Depression, on March 26, 1933, in one of the poorest parts of the nation, then or now, in the town of Martin, S.D., near the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota/Sioux Indian Reservation, the son of a Indian Episcopalian clergyman. Deloria's father, Vine Sr. (1901–1990), studied English and Christian theology, became an Episcopal archdeacon and missionary on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, to which he transferred the family's tribal citizenship.

Religion and spirituality at the border of Indian and white ways was a running theme in the Deloria family - an ancestor, the encyclopedia entry says, was one of the earliest Sioux converts to Christianity, in the 1860's.

Deloria Jr. was first educated at reservation schools; he graduated from Kent School in 1951. He served in the Marines from 1954 through 1956 and received a degree in general science from Iowa State University in 1958. Deloria Jr. originally sought to be a minister, like his father, and in 1963 earned a master's degree in theology from the Lutheran School of Theology in Rock Island, Illinois.

From 1964 to 1967, he was the executive director of the National Conference of American Indians, which advocates for federal recognition of Indian rights, where even before the book that made him famous, he became a leading spokesman for Indians in Washington as the group's leader. He often testified before Congress at a time when the ferment of ideas and social movements in civil rights and ethnic identity were in full boil.

In 1969, he published the best-selling Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, an analysis of native-white interactions that decimates popular stereotypes of Indian culture. From that point, he published over twenty books and 200 articles on Indian issues. His writing is ironic, witty, and to-the-point, with titles like We Talk, You Listen (1970). He hoped that his work would inspire Indian audiences to turn back to their own culture in the face of anti-Indian government policies.

He took a law degree at the University of Colorado in 1970. That same year, Deloria took his first faculty position, teaching at the Western Washington University College of Ethnic Studies in Bellingham, Washington, where he became a legal advocate on behalf of tribal fishing rights. His work on the case contributed to the passage of the Boldt Decision of 1974, a landmark case that confirmed Indian fishing rights.

Later he taught at the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA and taught as a visiting scholar at the Pacific School of Religion, the New School of Religion, and Colorado College. Here he utilized his training as a theologian to argue for the relevance of American Indian spiritual traditions in the modern world.

In 1973 he published God is Red: A Native View of Religion and in 1974 he was named one of the most important "shapers and movers" of the Christian faith by Time magazine. Deloria's work was vital to current understanding and interpretation of treaties and the concept of tribal sovereignty. He rediscovered forgotten treaties, and served as an expert witness on Indian treaty rights.

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 was included in the hearings following the AIM takeover of Wounded Knee thanks to Deloria's testimony. He co-authored three books that are standard in Indian law and policy classes in the U.S.: American Indians, American Justice (1983) and The Nations Within (1984) with Clifford M. Lytle and Constitutional Tribulations (1999) with David E. Wilkins.

His first tenured position was at the University of Arizona, which he held from 1978 to 1990. While at UA, Deloria established the first Master's degree program in American Indian Studies in the US. He then taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder from 1990 to 2000. After Deloria retired from Boulder in May 2000, he taught at the University of Arizona's College of Law. He continued to write and lecture until he died on November 13, 2005, at age 72, in Golden, Colorado from an aortic aneurysm.

Quotes from Vine Deloria, Jr.

When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before the white man came, an Indian said simply, "Ours." Lorenz, Melissa, Vine Deloria, Jr., EMuseum @ Minnesota State University, Mankato. 2008 (retrieved 27 August 2009)

“Who will find peace with the lands? The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors. That is when the invaders of the North American continent will finally discover that for this land, God is red.” God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, 30th anniversary Edition, pg. ix.

“Before any final solution to American history can occur, a reconciliation must be effected between the spiritual owner of the land – American Indians – and the political owner of the land – American Whites. Guilt and accusations cannot continue to revolve in a vacuum without some effort at reaching a solution.” God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, 30th anniversary Edition, pg. 75.


Eugene Crawford was a Sisseton Sioux. By the 1970s, Lutherans were challenged by growing Native American activism. In response to demands made to their 1970 convention by the American Indian Movement (AIM), the Lutheran Church in America supported the establishment of an office for Indian Ministry in the Lutheran Council in the US. Eugene Crawford became the director of the National Indian Lutheran Board, an agency related to Lutheran Council in the USA. The first Native American to hold such an office, Crawford had both Sisseton Sioux and English heritage. At the outset, this agency used much of its budget to fund community development projects and advocacy efforts on behalf of Native American sovereignty and treaty rights.

By the early 1980s, interest revived in a more conventional Lutheran approach, the ministry of word and sacraments. When AIM occupied Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973, Pastor Paul Boe, executive director of the American Lutheran Church’s Division for Social Service, was invited to be with them. His relationship with AIM went back to the late 1960s. Though his presence at Wounded Knee exaggerated Lutheran involvement with Native American causes, it was notable.

It demonstrated that he was regarded as trustworthy by AIM leaders, and it showed that in the right circumstances some Lutherans were willing to act on the moral justification for civil disobedience that the Lutheran Church in America’s 1964 statement of race relations identified. When he refused to identify those who had guns during the occupation, Boe was charged with contempt of court. His appeal, claiming the privilege of clergy confidentiality, was supported by all three major Lutheran churches and others; however, the original charge was dismissed on a technicality. (The Lutherans by L. DeAne Lagerquist, 141)


Sermon Notes: 11.1.10

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