Native Americans Focus on Ethnicity and Christianity
by Cintia M. Listenbee
SEJ Communications Specialist
Lake Junaluska, N.C.: Connections happen each year during one of the largest Native American gatherings in the U.S. Camaraderie is the reason why Melba Chiocote-Eads of Nashville, Tenn. has been coming to the SEJANAM summer conference for over 10 years.
“First of all we have such a wonderful fellowship. (The conference) It’s a vision of what can be happening all over the SEJ. It’s something positive. All the Annual conferences need to become more aware of this and support,” she said.
The 2007 Native American summer conference attracted 350 registered participants from all over the country from June 22- 24. Bishop Hope Morgan
Ward of the Mississippi Annual Conference, the Rev. Tyrone Gordon of St. Luke’s Community UMC in Dallas, Texas and the Rev. Dr. Ray Leveque were some of the speakers who talked about the theme Being Traditional Indian and Christian.
One of the plenary topics taught participants how to advocate for Native Americans in the school system. Armold Locklear of Pembroke, N.C. said education is essential for young people.
“Without education you’re not going any places. I just wish we could get the young kids to see that. Without their education they’re not going to move up in the world,” Locklear said.
Young people were part of the youth and student tracks. All participants enjoyed the singing, cookout, arts and crafts and a health fair.
Homer Noley of Wilbert, Okla., the author of First White Frost - Native Americans and Methodism, has been part of the conference for over 20 years. He said Native Americans are challenged to learn about their ethnic background as well as academics.
“Education is twice as necessary for Native Americans. This is the place to get education on cultural life, not public schools. We hope that church leaders will come out of this meeting, leaders that are connected with our culture and public education,” he said.
Since 1984 SEJANAM has helped to strengthen and create Native American ministries in the Southeast. Director Darlene Jacobs said Native Americans can life out their faith in the church.
“We are here today because of the hard work, vision, passion, commitment and belief in raising up our Native American community in the belief and understanding that regardless of our racial or ethnic background we are all one in Christ Jesus and that we are part of this United Methodist Church community, where I believe that we can be a traditional Indian and Christian,” Jacobs said.
“SEJANAM continues to be in existence as an advocate voice for Indian people in the Southeast. Stronger relationships and partnerships have been formed as a result of this conference and the laity can go back to be strong advocates for their churches and community,” she said.