WINTER TALK 2014
Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma hosted the first gathering of advocates from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations and Native Americans who met to discuss the Christian Doctrine of Discovery and its influence on Christian identity, theology, and polity. The three day Winter Talk was held February 3-5, 2014 and had approximately 30 attendees.
Before the talk began a table was identified, acknowledged and embraced as our sacred space. We then began the conversation with the sharing of our stories. Each participant placed an object from our personal landscape on the table and told the group why we decided to bring that particular item. The term Landscape is used to define the family, social, and geographical setting which are the formative factors in one’s life. Those participating in these talks included descendants of several tribal nations, including Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Mohawk, and European descent.
Winter Talk 2014 is the first event held in response to the General Assembly Resolution 1324: Reflection on Christian Theology and Polity, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and the Indigenous Voice. Five members of Disciples of Christ from Illinois attended the event: Karon Alexander, Burley Herrin, Martha Herrin, Carl Lowery, and Amy Wharton. Also present were Ginny Doctor of the Angelican Church in Canada and Else Dennis Dofelmier from the Episcopal Church in Seattle, WA, who brought ecumenical and broader native voices to the table.
Our first speaker was Lisa Dellinger, a graduate of Phillips, member of the Chickasaw Nation, and a member of the United Methodist Church. She shared with us a brief history of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, a doctrine created by two Papal Bulls in the 15th century stating that the first Christian conquerors who ‘discovered’ land that wasn’t ruled by a Christian king or prince in the New World and thus belonging to heathens, infidels and savages had claim to that land, the people, and resources found there. She suggested a Doctrine of Spirit to oppose the Doctrine of Discovery.
We continued to broaden our understanding of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery and its effect on our nation by hearing from Ron Gurley, a member of the Cherokee Nation who serves as a consultant to the US Department of Justice AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program. Ron summarized the history of the European conquest of this continent including facts not commonly taught in history books. The next day David Bell, Director of Yakama Christian Mission which was founded by the Christian Church (DOC), discussed the impact of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery on the theology and practices on our denomination and traced the history of Yakama Christian Mission in Yakama, WA. After each presentation we had a time for questions and more conversation.
The group enjoyed an afternoon trip to the Gilcrease Museum, which is a part of Tulsa University. It is reputed to house the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of art and artifacts of the American West. A new research facility is under construction at the Museum and is scheduled to open in 2015, making many pre-Columbian to present day documents and artifacts available to future scholars.
We joined faculty and students at Phillips for a chapel service. Worship throughout the event brought new significance to the many ways we can praise our Creator.
A new experience for most of us was Giftway—the giving of gifts as we ended our time together. We had been told to bring 3 or 4 gifts to share. It was up to us to decide what to gift and to whom to give it.
Winter Talk 2014 began the dialogue initiated by Resolution 1324 whose purpose is to explore how the Christian Church (DOC) might become accountable to indigenous persons. Our conversations on the Doctrine of Discovery in regards to the Disciples of Christ have barely scratched the surface. Going forward, the group plans to build a network of communication to draw more voices into the conversation and to encourage local, historical and contemporary discussions about Native Peoples who lived and may still live near local congregations.
As David Bell said, this was the beginning of a conversation that will continue as the participants meet up with one another, as we invite others into the conversation, and during our preparation for Winter Talk 2015.