Native American Ministries Sunday Sermon

Sermon July 31, 2016       Carol’s Story  by Rev. June Fothergill  1 Corinthians 12: 12-26

In the letter to the Corinthian church Paul tells them to rejoice together and suffer together because they are the one body of Christ.  Yet in our world today there are so many ways we’re divided and conflicted there is a temptation to just run to a homogeneous bubble and live there surrounded by people who seem like us.  But the relationship with Jesus the Christ leads us down a very different path, as Paul discovered. In Paul’s day the city of Corinth was a Roman colony made up of people from all over the Mediterranean. A church from there, founded by Paul had great diversity: Jews and gentiles- differences in culture; slave and fee- differences in social economics; male and female, difference in status. NO wonder the church in Corinth had its share of conflicts. Yet, Paul gives them a way to think about their life together.  You are members of the One Body in Christ, he tells them.   Just like the human body has hands and feet, eyes and ears, etc, you too are made up of a diversity of persons. Yet, you all matter and you are all connected.  You need each other to be whole. If one suffers – all suffer. If one rejoices- all rejoice.

I chose this scripture for today for Native American Ministry Sunday because I think such ministries are about acknowledging and nurturing our connections with each other- people descended from the native peoples of this land and those of us who came as immigrants.  Through Christ’s love for us all we need each other; we suffer together and we rejoice together

My friendship with Carol exemplifies this truth for me.  When I first met Carol she was then named Carol Colley. She was an influential Native American lay leader of our Annual Conference.  IN fact one year she was elected the head of our delegation to General Conference, a great honor.  AS a young pastor interested in racial justice issues, she and I worked together on what was then the Board of Church and Society.   We helped organize a Consultation on White Racism at Wallowa Lake Camp, put together the first Native American Council, a worked to recruit racial ethnic person to the various leadership positions of the Annual Conference.  She was a joy to work with, capable of leadership and yet a team player. I was her when our Board met a couple times a year. I also began to intentionally arrange to have a meal with her at every Annual Conference.    In this way we built our relationship over time and distance.

Carol grew up as the adopted daughter of a middle class white family in Oregon, but she was always aware of her Native American origins and as a young adult re connected with her family or origin on the Warm Springs Reservation.  She told me once of a teacher when she was in grade school who wanted her to wash her brownish hands because they were” dirty”.

She went on to graduate from University of California in Berkeley and a Masters in Social work from Portland State University.    She was a scholar who had decided to pursue a Phd in anthropology but sensed a call to become a pastor in the United Methodist church.  She went to Washington DC to seminary and came back to become the first Native American woman pastor in our conference.   At seminary she met her second husband John Holt and decided to change her name to Carol Youngbird Holt.   She served the Toledo church and continued her work with the Native American Ministries Committee.

In the early 2000’s the committee received a grant from the National Plan for Native American Ministries to start a Native American ministry and fellowship in Portland which has a large number of Native American persons.   This ministry started at Wilshire UMC.  It continues as the only Native American ministry in our conference.  The small Native American churches in Klamath County at Beatty and Williamson River have been closed and the land given back to the Klamath tribe.

Carol longed to serve a Native American UMC.  So she moved to Northern California where she served a Native American UMC until her sudden death in 2003 from complications of the flu.  I visited Carol one time in California and remember how excited she was to be serving a Native church!  She was only 53. We still feel her loss, and have need of her leadership.

Carol taught me many things. She taught me that what words we use matter.  One time over a meal I used the phrase “low man on the totem pole” and she called me on it.  She let me know that that phrase made no sense for there was no such thing and that it was a phrase that hurt her to hear because it was demeaning to a Native tradition.  Today it would be called a micro aggression – something said or done (sometimes unbeknownst to the person saying and acting) that hurts another.

Carol helped me to be sensitive to how white folks have stolen or misappropriated Native American traditions.  For example she taught me to take care in repeating stories or songs from Native American tribes without seeking permission.  Because so much of Native American heritage and traditions have been lost and actively denied by white people in the past, there is a great need to honor Native American people’s needs and wishes that they control their own traditions and stories.

She also helped me to see that as an outsider to the Native American community, I can goof up and still be a beloved friend. That is takes time and consistency to build trust, especially with groups who have been experienced historical traumas.  Yet, showing one cares, consistently connecting, listening and honoring the dignity of another can lead to lasting and important relationships and friendship.   Carol was a strong advocate for Native American rights and justice and she was a woman of much grace, creativity and gracefulness.  I feel privileged to have known her.  Much of the work for racial justice I do has been informed by my friendship with her.

I tell her story to remind us of the many people like her who currently work for the wholeness of Native American communities.  The people at Springfield Indian Education Center, the folks at the U or O Longhouse and the LCC Longhouse, the  Confederated Tribes of Gran Ronde and our own Wilshire UMC Native American Fellowship.

Native American ministries is not only the work of a group in Portland,  it  can be the good work of any congregation who decides to intentionally, consistently and with respect seeks to build relationships with Native American persons and groups in their community.   There are ministry opportunities around us.  For example, when I talked with Gordon Bettles at the U or O  Longhouse he suggested that sometimes there is a role for a local church in helping  Native American students.

She and I’s story also reminds me of how we are the Body of Christ together.  Knowing Jesus gives us compassion to empathize with the sufferings of others, and to seek forgiveness for the ways we have hurt one another.  And knowing Jesus gives us the grace to rejoice with each other, to celebrate the gifts for ministry of all our diverse human family.  Making connections with those different from ourselves, taking the time to listen, to learn, to fellowship, allows us to experience the Wonder of the Body of Christ.  I tell our story today to remind us of how we can build those connections.


Call to Confession:  History of the Kalapuya of the Willamette Valley


The Kalapuya Indians live din the heart of the fertile Willamette Valley between the Coast Range Mountains and the Cascade Mountains.   As a semi  nomadic people the Kalapuya lived in permanent winter homes and migrated throughout the Willamette Valley during the warmer months. They traded regularly with their Molalla and Cayuse neighbors as well as other Northern  California, Oregon coast and Columbia River  Tribes.

The tribes first definitely recorded contact with White visitors occurred in 1812 when the Pacific Fur Company traders visited the Willamette Valley.  In 1934 Jason Lee, a Methodist clergy man established a mission among the Kalapuyas residing in the Willamette Mission area just north of present day Salem.  Roman Catholic missionaries  arrived in 1839.  A Manual Labor Training School serving Native American children was established in 1841 by the Methodist Church.

Before the 1850’s and removal to the reservation there were about sixty different tribes from sic different language groups in western Oregon, The US military forced at least 27 of those tribes about 2,00 people to resettle at the Grand Ronde Agency in the southern Yamhill valley in 1856.  The Kalapuya had a treaty in 1855.   And were among the tribes removed to the reservation.  The reservation was said to be for the protection of the Native tribes but there was a fort guarding it and the people there were not allowed to leave.  Yet, on the reservation individuals did develop cottage industries. One was baskets made by the women who snuck out to sell them.   The government’s policy was one of assimilation. Education services were intended to teach Native children how to be white American and to discourage traditional lifeways, languages and modes of dress. By the 1880’s many children were taken into boarding schools where intensive assimilation education was practices including not being allowed to speak their native languages.   It is very likely that the early church related  Methodist school did the same.

The small number of tribal people who removed to Grand Ronde is attributed to the history of disease among Natives and their conflicts with settlers. European and American trading ships had brought diseases such as small pox and malaria to the area.  Beginning in the 1780’s  and later an estimated 97 % o f tribal populations died from introduced diseases.  From the 1840- 1860’s additional population declines result4ed from skirmishes and wars with white settlers and miners.  By 1900 there were fewer than 400 Native people at the Grand Ronde Reservation a dramatic decline from the estimated 20,000 people who had live dint eh Willamette Valley before American encroachment.

( sources:  www.

Today.  From the earliest days of the reservation the Grand Round Tribal Council held regular community meetings.    The tribe was terminated in 1954 by an agreement  the tribe had not agreed to.  In 1983 the Confederated Tribes of  the Grand Ronde were  restored.  And in 1988 some of their land was restored as well.  The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde community of Oregon is engaged in many projects that seek collaborative relationships at state and local levels to help organizations understand the tribe’s history and culture.

One of these is the online virtual cultural tour on the website of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.  Here is just a taste of this great resource.

One of the greatest assets at Grand Ronde is our language program.  Part of this program is the Chinuk Wawa immersion school classrooms in which no English is spoken. The Chinuk Wawa program currently serves pre school and kindergarten aged students.  The goal is to provide environments where our future generations can learn this language as well as many traditional aspects of Grand Ronde indigenous culture in an effort to reserve the damage done to indigenous peoples by white settlement and racist policies such as assimilation, terminaton and boarding schools that prohibited the use of our native languages.   IN this 2003 video Cultural Education Coordinator tony A. Johnson , Kyoni Mericer, Sammy Johnson, and Michael Rayes converse in Chinuk Wawa.

The tribe’s vision today is to be a tribal community known as a caring people dedicated to the principles of honesty and integrity, building community, individual responsibility and self sufficiency through personal empowerment.







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