Native Ministries in the Dakotas
Dakota Conference targets the largely unreached Native population.
BY DEBRA CLAYMORE-CUNY, native ministries coordinator for the Dakota Conference and a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota (Sioux) Tribe in South Dakota
ou know the picture, even if its name—“End of the Trail”—isn’t familiar: A Native American man is sitting on a horse. His heard is lowered, matching that of his horse. And the message it conveys is that the Indian nations are dying. But nothing is farther from the truth. The U.S. Census of 2000 indicates that more than 4 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives reside in the United States—and the numbers are growing.
The first organized Adventist Native ministry in the Dakota Conference began on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation, but closed about three years ago. Even without a church building, a small group of believers continues to meet in a Sunday church there. Only a few outreach efforts have been conducted on the other 11 reservations in North and South Dakota. To address that problem, the Dakota Conference established a Native Ministries Department and hired its first coordinator in 2003 to work with the more than 105,000 American Indians living in the two states. But addressing the needs of American Indians is not without challenges.
Indian tribes, even those residing in North and South Dakota, hold very different beliefs and cultures from one another. These differences and the often-resulting mistrust of non-Indians have made it difficult to share with them the love of Jesus.
Overcoming the history of the abuses Indians suffered in the name Christ and at the hands of Christians has been especially challenging
Church members in Bismarck, North Dakota, are planning outreach programs and events for students as well as children of students attending United Tribes Technical College, located just outside the city.
“We have such an opportunity to share Jesus,” said one Bismarck church member. “The college is right here in our backyard.”
Another Dakota church raised funds for a “Coats for Kids” project. And many members are becoming involved with Native camp meeting by conducting children’s and youth programs, assisting with praise time and meal preparation, providing special music, and developing friendships with camp meeting attendees.
Targeting the Youth
Reaching Native youth is a priority, and the Native Ministries Department has developed several programs and projects for children and young adults. They range from providing jackets for students at the Little Eagle Day School on the Standing Rock Reservation, to initiating college youth outreach activities, to conducting a Christian basketball camp at the Sinte Gleska University on South Dakota’s Rosebud Reservation. Walla Walla College’s women’s basketball coach and men’s team players, together with Campion Academy team players, facilitated the camp, held for high school-age reservation students.
“It’s cool to have a Christian basketball camp here on the rez [reservation]. I’m really glad these guys came all the way here,” said KoTe, one of the basketball campers.
The mission was to share the love of Christ through a sport that is highly esteemed by many reservation youth and adults. The Dakota Conference, Walla Walla College, Sinte Gleska University, and other organizations funded the event.
A Yearly Highlight
Fred L. Rogers, Southern Union Conference Native Ministries coordinator and a member of the Cherokee Tribe, was the keynote speaker. Lake Union Conference Native Ministries coordinator and Communication director Gary Burns attended. Highlights of the event included Native Americans from the Dakotas, Michigan, and Arizona sharing their testimonies about how they came to know Jesus.
A Presbyterian family of seven from the Sisseton Sioux Tribe noticed ads for the camp meeting in a local newspaper, attended the event, and took home some church books and other literature. Recently, the father called the Dakota Conference office to express thanks for the reading material. He had just finished a book about the Ten Commandments and now believes that Saturday is Sabbath. He added that he will be bringing more members of his family and friends to camp next year.
A Call for Workers
Establishing an evangelism program to train and hire a Native evangelistic worker is another goal—but this objective seems the most difficult to reach. Few American Indian Adventists reside in the Dakotas. But friendship-evangelism continues to be emphasized, and Christ’s model of establishing relationships that develop trust and exhibit love is the guide.
The work for Natives in the Dakotas is slow, and often progress is not apparent. God, however, provides courage in many ways: from seeing lives changed to receiving simple words of appreciation. And little by little advancements are made, awareness is raised—and souls are won for Christ.