Called to being a Better Guest: Indigenous Peoples Day at Great Spirit UMC

On Monday, October 14 the Great Spirit UMC hosted Indigenous Peoples Day in their sanctuary. They celebrated with music, vendors, food, and speakers. I went last year, too, so I was excited to see Mark Charles speak again, to reconnect with friends that spend Huckleberry Family Camp with us, and to see the day’s celebrations expand. Outside the church, native artists made jewelry, prints, clothes, essential oils, and home decorations. As an artist myself, I was really excited and impressed by all that was there. I made it home with a couple of prints from Ines Paulina Ramirez, who you can follow on Instagram at the handle @lapaushi, who represents just a small snippet of the art there.

This was my fifth summer at Camp Magruder this year. Five felt significant in my mind. The fifth summer I’d known some guests. Half a decade of memories and relationships and traditions. Huckleberry Family Camp certainly has that impact on me. I have memories of saving the huckleberry cobblers from impending doom (read: malfunctioning microwaves and unavailable ovens), campfires with stories from the elders, painting tiles together in the boathouse, giving hints of the best places to harvest huckleberries around camp. So, it was a joy to be at the Great Spirit UMC, the church where most of the participants of Huckleberry Family Camp center, to give and receive hugs and hellos to many familiar, friendly faces.

Mark Charles is a brilliant speaker. His expertise on the Doctrine of Discovery outlines its severe impact on American philosophies that caused Manifest Destiny and the justification of stealing native lands. It’s not easy to hear. It’s heavy subject matter that emphasizes the way our country’s outlook has not drastically changed. “We the People” still doesn’t mean everyone, as many of us realize, but Charles outlines, underlines, boldens, and puts at the forefront of our minds.

But the last section of his presentation turns towards hope, especially in regards to what native communities and perspectives have to offer to the crises of this moment in history. Paraphrased, I will retell one parable that Mark Charles told of the relationship between caribou and native people.

Caribou are migrant animals. In spring and early summer, the caribou go north to calf, then south in the winter to stay warm for the rest of the season. No matter the state of the people’s lives-- even if they are starving and without food-- native people always knew better than to hunt and kill the caribou as they go north. If they did, they’d deplete the caribou population, and it wouldn’t be able to replenish-- destroying both the caribou and that tribe’s wellbeing.

Considering environmental concerns, Charles equivicated America as unwise hunters-- currently hunting and decimating the caribou population as they migrate North carrying their offspring.

These are the stories that are missing from the conversations we are having. When “we the people” mostly prioritizes white men and economic success, we will continue to be careless and uninformed residents of a land that we never belonged to, depleting it of resources, of its richness, of its vitality.

Indigenous People’s Day reminds us that we all are humans-- we all have different roles, some as hosts-- who can teach us and guide us about the land we inhabit-- and some as guests. Mark Charles’s final remarks invited us not to see each other as inferior or superior, but to live gracefully and thoughtfully into the roles we inhabit together.

I am thankful for Charles’ words, his wisdom. I am called to see my role as a guest in this land, at the place I’m in, and to listen. To listen hard, to protect our environment and to value it, and to see the places our country systematically fails native people, black people, and women. May we all be a part of growing together towards something better and more beautiful.

- hope
Program Director