Becoming Not Invisible and Journeying Toward Hope

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.
Untitled Document

For Rev. Alvin Deer, a retired United Methodist pastor, memories of his daughter, Michelle are bright and filled with happiness but lurking behind that joy are memories of sorrow and pain. In 2006 Deer’s 33-year old daughter, who was part of the Kiowa, Caddo, Wichita and Muscogee tribes, went missing, her body found shot in the face and neck on the side of the road.

Years later her father is remembering his brave daughter who shortly before her death made the decision to seek treatment for her addiction before leaving behind six children and joining a staggering statistic that also includes Ida Beard, Aubrey Dameron and countless others. May 5 marked the fourth anniversary of the day designated as the National Week of Action to honor and call for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.

For the Native American community, this is just one more way they have been made to feel invisible, which many see as the modern form of racism against the community. Because Native Americans are often “invisible,” so are their struggles.

Since that day in December, Deer has worked hard to call attention to these deaths, many of which fail to get the attention they deserve. Among those working with him are Raggatha (“RagghiRain”) Calentine and Cynthia Mosley, a  member of the Lenape tribe who chairs the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference Committee on Native American Ministries (CoNAM), serves on the board of the Native American International Caucus (NAIC) along with Deer, Calentine and others and leads the food ministries at St John UMC Fordville, GNJ’s only Native American church.

Your gifts on Native American Ministries Sunday helps support the ministries of the Committee on Native American Ministries in their annual conferences. This offering serves to remind United Methodists of the gifts and contributions made by Native Americans to our society.

In talking with many Native Americans over the past year, it became evident that almost every one of them felt invisible, a sobering reality that many say leads to their vulnerability.

The murder rate of Native women is more than 10 times the national average. These disappearances or murders are often connected to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and sex trafficking. Despite how high these statistics are, they cover only a small percentage of all the Native women who are victims of violence every year. Many of violent crimes do not end in murder, but most studies show that four out of five Native American women experience violence in their lifetimes.

And as the chokehold of the pandemic strangled the freedoms of many, reports of all forms of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic abuse, began to rise.

But time and time again Native Americans are ignored, told to be compliant, keep their histories to themselves and made to feel invisible in spite of all the contributions they bring.

For Deer, who is the treasurer for the NAIC, their voices need to be heard. Mosley echoes his feelings.

It has been said that this feeling of invisibility along with unresolved historical trauma passed on from generation to generation, widespread poverty and healthcare disparity lead to this higher incidence of violence.

In recent years, Native Americans have become more vocal about this epidemic, causing some politicians to turn their attention to the issue. Now with a champion and Native American in their corner, Native Americans are hopeful that substantial change is on the horizon.

The new U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said, “In spite of our agonizing history, Native American people find much to celebrate. The songs, the dances, the culture and traditions surrounding planting and harvests, the prayers that are sent upward for healing and peace, and the welcoming of children into our families, are all reasons for us to keep moving forward with optimism.”

GNJ, created an initiative called A Journey of Hope, a five-year plan to work together toward ending the sin of racism.

Through A Journey of Hope, GNJ has allocated $1 million to preserve a Native American church and burial ground, and to give back church land and buildings to a Native American tribe.

“This is a promise that has promise,” said Mosley, who added that after years of broken promises, she is encouraged by the new plan to end the sin of racism and restore dignity to her people.

excerpt from a story by Heather Mistretta, Greater New Jersey Annual Conference

One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, Native American Ministries Sunday serves to remind United Methodists of the gifts and contributions made by Native Americans to our society. The special offering supports Native American outreach within annual conferences and across the United States and provides seminary scholarships for Native Americans.

When you give generously on Native American Ministries Sunday, you equip seminary students who will honor and celebrate Native American culture in their ministries. You empower congregations to find fresh, new ways to minister to their communities with Christ’s love. Give now