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By Sarah Eagle Heart

Cante Waste ya Nape Ciyu zape ye (I greet you from my heart). This morning my Oglala Lakota grandmother called me upset because a group of people in Martin, South Dakota (a town bordered by Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and Rosebud Indian Reservation) intend to bring back the “Warrior Homecoming Ceremony” at Bennett County High School. To hear this news is deeply unsettling, as I believed we had come far in cultural understanding, only to see we are back where we began. But then again tribal nations, along with many secular and non-profit organizations, are still protesting the NFL team Redskins. So this leaves me joining with other voices in explaining why.

This so-called “Warrior Homecoming Ceremony” was 57 years old when my twin sister Emma Eagle Heart-White and I began a protest in 1994 (at that time, we used the paternal side of family’s name of Trimble). The “ceremony” consisted of a “Big Chief”, a “Medicine Man” and five “Warrior Princesses” who were chosen as the most popular in a high school racially divided between native and non-native students. The majority of those living in the town were non-native. We grew up in an Oglala Lakota tribal housing community called LaCreek Sunrise Housing, located a mile outside of the town of 1100 people.

We attended Bennett County schools all of our lives. We were very involved in extra-curricular activities, including band, choir and cheerleading. At the time of our junior year in high school, we watched the “homecoming ceremony” drama play out in which the “Medicine Man” chooses a “Warrior Princess” for the “Big Chief” by inspecting her ears, mouth, hair, clothing and weight. The “Medicine Man” wore men’s traditional regalia complete with a roach and eagle feather bustle. The “Big Chief” wore a war bonnet. At sixteen years old, we knew this event was wrong and we knew no one else would do anything about this sexist and culturally degrading event. We knew we had to.

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In early 1994, we began researching ways to protest. We began by telling people about the event. We went on KILI radio and told the story to Indian Country Today. We found that because the community was so racially segregated, neighboring tribal communities had no idea of the event. Soon, tribal groups came to support our protest. By September 1994, the racially divided town was racially charged and we received threats of violence as the homecoming approached. Still, we felt spiritually called to end this event.

We held an educational forum in the town park cumulating with a peaceful protest down main street to the auditorium where the “homecoming ceremony”. We formed a circle around the audience, holding hands the people chanted until we were kicked out by police officers for disturbing the peace.

As college students, we returned to the small town annually for four years to protest. Finally in 1997, Bennett County High School Board voted to remove stereotypical “Indian Theme” from the Homecoming Coronation Ceremony. Bennett County High School Board requested a meeting with us. At that board meeting they informed us of their decision to discontinue the “Homecoming Ceremony” immediately and to phase out the mascot in the next few years. The school still has not phased out the mascot.

It is now 2014, when I tell this story today many are aghast that its actual history in this lifetime. But on the other side, almost twenty years later, there is still ignorance about why this protest happened in the first place. As well as why there are protests against “Redskins” NFL football team today.

In my career I have worked for military assistance programs in Pensacola, Florida; advertising at Viejas Casino in San Diego; and today I work as a Program Officer/Missioner for Indigenous Ministry of The Episcopal Church. I have been very blessed to travel the world personally and professionally to learn about cultural perspectives in Australia, Bolivia, Canada, Ecuador, France, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and Venezuela. And yet, Martin, South Dakota will always be my home.

I have witnessed the impact of colonization and the crucial need for healing. While our history as a nation is complex, just as our history as a church is complex, in 2009 The Episcopal Church (along with many other denominations) have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery acknowledging the wrong in Manifest Destiny. Earlier this year, several denominations passed resolutions in support of tribal nations effort to discontinue “widespread exploitation, misuse and abuse of the cultures, symbols, identities, personalities and spirituality of individuals, tribes and nations… by some popular sports franchises”. Today, many denominations have dedicated their work to reconciliation and education, including advocating for accurate American Indian history education in all schools with revitalization of language and culture of American Indians.

Working with clergy, tribal leaders, and counselors actively combatting issues related to poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, violence and suicide in Indian Country has taught me something else… ignorance is directly related to these epidemics.

People who are ignorant to our history as a nation do not understand the impact these “Indian Themed” fantasies have on our people. They do not understand “playing Indian” as either an ugly pig-faced “Red Skin” or a sexually objectified “Warrior Princess” not only insults our proud tribal histories and culture today, but also denigrates the self – esteem of our native youth. It shows all indigenous people, we are not human to you. It shows us you don’t believe we deserve respect, nor do you wish to learn an accurate history, because the truth hurts.

Today we live in an instant gratification society where everything is fast paced… and we want everything yesterday. It takes time to learn about history and culture. It takes time to build relationships with spiritual leaders and tribal communities. It takes times to being invited to experience traditional tribal ceremonies.

Yet I’ve seen it done. I’ve seen non-native clergy working in tribal communities with tribal elders to teach all youth tribal creation stories. I’ve seen native and non-native clergy working with tribal leaders and elders to tell accurate histories as a way to reconcile past wrongs. I’ve seen these true leaders working together to better their communities and build partnerships for shared goals. One major goal is to keep our youth alive, help them to celebrate their identity, and teach the youth to walk on their own spiritual path.

We are not living in the past anymore. It’s time to live in the present. It’s time to face the past, heal through education, and walk hand in hand for a better community today.

Mitakuye Oyasin (All my relations).

ImageDear Relatives,

Cante Waste ya Nape Ciyu zape ye. I greet you from my heart. As we approach Easter and springtime amidst the many various Lenten disciplines I’m sure you have devoted yourself to, I pray you and your loved ones are well. Lent is a time of reflection and learning, it is fitting that most of Lent I’ve spent my time devoted to sharing the experiences of Indigenous Women with Violence, nationally and internationally at the United Nations, through the Lens of Doctrine of Discovery.

Last Thursday, women across America celebrated the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. This law includes programmatic support for Native survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; with constitutionally sound tribal jurisdiction provisions authorizing tribal governments to prosecute non-Indian defendants involved with intimate relationships on tribal land. Prior to the enactment of this law, federal laws did not authorize tribal law enforcement or tribal courts to pursue any form of prosecution or justice against these perpetrators.

This law was passed with a myriad of passionate voices joining together calling their elected representatives, tweeting and Facebook advocating their stories for protections for LGBT, tribal, campus and immigrant victims as well as taking the next steps to improve our nation’s response to rape and prevent domestic violence homicides. The Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) called our membership to a coordinated action (http://episcopal.grassroots.com/act-now) and I shared my own story with the Episcopal Church and larger community through an EPPN blog post:  http://episcopal.grassroots.com/thoughts/details/protect-me-protect-my-sister. Wopila! Thank you!

Currently, women from across the world are at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women 57 (UNCSW) advocating on the theme: “”Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.“ They are sharing their stories, providing workshops, teaching best practices, and lifting each other up through this movement. The Episcopal Church works with the Anglican United Nations Office joining Ecumenical Women, an international coalition of church denominations and ecumenical organizations which have status with the Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC) at the United Nations (http://ecumenicalwomen.org/57th-commission-on-the-status-of-women/).

I have attended United Nations events since 2008 and it’s my great honor to be able to connect devoted and dedicated indigenous advocates at the United Nations. The Office of Indigenous Ministry has partnered with the Native American Council of Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati to co-sponsor delegations to the UNCSW and also the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) for the past 3 years. Together, we have accomplished action that follows our pursuit for reconciliation, justice and peace.

Last May, we coordinated a joint advocacy effort on the UNPFII theme:  “Doctrine of Discovery” with a panel including: Sarah Augustine from Mennonite Central Committee, Cheryl Kennedy Chairwoman of the Grand Ronde Nation, Law Professor Robert Miller and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of The Episcopal Church. This panel was sponsored by the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, the World Council of Churches, the Mennonite Central Committee, the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women, The Grail (an international women’s movement), the Gray Panthers, U.F.E.R. – International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples, Suriname Indigenous Health Fund, the NGO Committee on the U.N. International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the Salvation Army, the World Christian Student Federation, and Office of the Chaplain of the Church Center for the United Nations. For more information on this panel, please read http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2012/05/07/ecumenical-panel-kicks-off-un-forum-on-indigenous-issues/.

The Episcopal Church also supported two conference papers at the 11th Sessesion of the UNPFII including: The Doctrine of Discovery: The International Law of Colonialism, and Conference Room Paper on the Doctrine of Discovery, presented by the Haudenosaunee, the American Indian Law Alliance and the Indigenous Law Institute, North America. To learn more about our coordinated effort, please read here: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/doctrine-discovery-resources.

This year, the UNCSW delegation has included women from the Anglican Council of Indigenous Women who have devoted their ministry to advocating on Environmental and Violence issues through the Lens of the Doctrine of Discovery, coordinating with Ecumenical Women, Anglican Women’s Empowerment, The Episcopal Church, Anglican Communion, and Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indígenas – FIMI/International Indigenous Women’s Forum – IIWF. This year’s delegates all have experience working with Violence Against Women in their communities and they will post their stories throughout the week at http://anglicancouncilofindigenouswomen.wordpress.com/.

This week I reflect upon the strength and wisdom of the White Buffalo Calf Women, who brought the sacred pipe and teachings to the Oceti Sakowin (the seven council fires) of the L/N/Dakota people, and the story of faith by the saint Perpetua and her companions. I thank the many individuals who continue to connect around common goals through faith and spirituality to advocate on behalf of our indigenous people and the many people around the world struggling with violence.

Pilamayaye, Sarah