March 4, 2019
Last week we put a spotlight on our partnership with NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community. Their work is a great example of what happens when seminaries think differently about how to walk alongside students in a journey of theological education. This week and next, we will share the stories of two NAIITS students who know first-hand the value of NAIITS’ mission and are excited about our newly-formed partnership.
A Place Called Home
by Kimberlee Medicine Horn Jackson
As a Native American adoptee, after almost forty years of separation I reunited with my family on the Yankton Reservation and began to learn my people’s traditions. One of my sisters told me about a writer named Richard Twiss, and I purchased a copy of his book One Church, Many Tribes. I learned to walk this new path as an Indigenous Christian with baby steps and it seemed as if there was just enough illumination for the next step but never the entire journey. How would I ever know if I arrived at the stopping place? There were long stretches of time between family visits and learning the traditions I had missed while growing up in Ohio.
In 2008, I attended the Rosebud Immersion Experience taught by Richard Twiss that was offered in partnership with Sioux Falls Seminary. At that point, my life’s work became clearer. The class changed my life in many ways, but it was the cross-contextualization that fascinated me, and I could see the great need for it. After the class I considered what it would be like to go to seminary, something I never thought of doing before.
I visited the seminary where Twiss and other Native Christians studied, and I met another student on the preview weekend who boasted of her time on the Pine Ridge Reservation. I asked her if she had made friends with anyone living there. She had not but felt a great sense of pride in her accomplishment. I felt a nudge to go to seminary because people misunderstood how to missionize Native Americans. Maybe this would be a way to reorient old constructs of short-term missions.
I had heard some things through one of my friends from the cross-cultural immersion about NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community. I waited for the course of study to open because of its uniqueness of the Indigenous perspective. Knowing how my life turned out to be far from ordinary, it sounded like a good landing place, but I had no idea how I could become a student. While I was completing my MFA in Creative Writing, my thesis was about reuniting with my family and discovering what it is to be Native. During that time, I started my first class with NAIITS. I was mildly terrified but soon learned everyone was harmless and in time I would look upon the learning community as my relatives.
My program challenged me in many ways by defining colonization, the process of decolonization and the lack of Native voice in the church. It also shaped and supported my own personal life and affirmed my choices as a Jesus follower. NAIITS taught me history from a Native American point of view. It helped me meet other Native Christians of like mind and this was an unmet need in all areas of my life. It was relevant to the struggles of Urban Natives and those our families on the reservation face. The courses taught me that it was okay to go to my home church and speak my story. This helped open doors to other platforms with other churches interested in building healthy relationships with Native people.
I continue to deepen my scholarly life working as co-editor for the NAIITS journal and am writing my dissertation proposal for the NAIITS PhD program. This is mildly terrifying but a hoped-for step in the direction I should go. It has seemed more like a lofty dream that took me a while to dare to speak aloud.
Whether I am accepted into the PhD program or not, I will continue to point out the acts of oppression the church engages in and open a conversation about a better way, a way that will help a wounded and hurting church heal so it no longer inflicts pain on Native people. Then the day will come when we walk the same road together.
Sioux Falls Seminary continues to offer its Rosebud Immersion Experience. This summer, it will take place during the week of July 13-19, 2019. To learn more about the experience, please email email@example.com.