Thursday, June 29, 2006

Watonga VBS: Part II

The Vacation Bible School portion of each day only occupies a few hours. Preparations begin around 9:00. Volunteers drive around town to pick up the kids (with parent or guardian permission) at 9:30 am. The kids arrive between 9:30 and 10. Volunteers then take the kids home around 1:00, after which we clean up the church.

The Episcopal mission does not currently have its own building in Watonga — although one is (finally) under construction. The mission's services are held in the Indian Baptist Church, which is also where the Vacation Bible School has been held for at least the past three years.

Jim, the deacon serving the mission, is very intentional about sharing Native American traditions and culture with the volunteers. Every year, he takes us on a tour of sites relating to the ministry of St. Oakerhater. He arranges for dinner speakers who share their knowledge or experience of Native American customs.

I wrote at length about the historical tour in this entry from two years ago. In re-reading the entry, I note how many things I got wrong: for example, I say the place where St. Oakerhater is buried is south of Faye, OK; as it turns out, it's actually in Watonga.

St. David Pendleton Oakerhater's grave

Cheyenne Cosmology
On Wednesday evening, Blu Clark gave a presentation on Cheyenne Cosmology. He began by comparing the Cheyenne mythos with the traditional Western mythos. "When we think of the sky, or the heavens, we think of positive things," he said, "the same is true of the Cheyenne. They believed the sky was the place of the Father God, who provided the rain and sun which planted the seeds for food."

"When we think of the area below the earth, we think of a negative place, which many call Hell. Although the Cheyenne would not have a word (or concept) equivalent to the tradtional Christian image of Hell, they did think of the underworld as a chaotic negative area."

"The disk we walk upon, which many Cheyenne tribes believed was supported by a turtle, was considered feminine — just as we often talk of Mother Earth. This brought forth the abundance which Father Sky had planted."

Blu continued with a discussion of the Cheyenne sense of direction. According to him, the Cheyenne are distinct in observing what we might call "cross-quarter" directions. In other words, most other American Indigenous Peoples understand the cardinal directions in the same way most westerners do. The Cheyenne understand "north" to be where we point for north-east.

Last year, I wrote at length about the animal spirits which reside in each of these cross-quarter directions. The directions are also related to seasons, and times in human development, and also represent colors.
  • NE = Red = Birth
  • SE = Yellow = Youth
  • SW = Black = Adult
  • SE = White = Old Age / Sage
Bugs found at the Whirlwind Mission Cemetary

A Choctaw's Life
Wednesday's presentation was by LaDonna, who, as I recall, is a Choctaw.

LaDonna shared that growing up she had been warned of the white man's ways and the white man's religion. Considering how most Native American nations where treated by our government and missionaries, one can hardly wonder why she was raised this way.

LaDonna has always been a spiritual seeker. In addition to attending ceremonies of the Native American Church (a product of the late 19th or early 20th century), she has also followed the Buddhist tradition. In fact, she helped build a Buddhist meditation center in Oklahoma City.

LaDonna's partner invited her to our church. The partner asked LaDonna to at least give it a try, since the church was the partner's home. Once there, LaDonna discovered a welcoming community that she has become increasingly engaged in.

The Choctaw are one of the "Five Civilized Tribes", so called because early Spanish exporers thought their villages seemed resembled European settlements. The Choctaw were primarily farmers, so they tended to stay in one place — unlike the Plains Indians, who were primarily nomadic.

The Choctaw are also known for their strong sense of charity. For example, during the Irish Famine of 1847 they collected $710, which was sent to aid those starving in Ireland. The Irish still honor this gesture; when LaDonna recently visited Ireland, she was treated as a visiting dignitary.

LaDonna has a beautiful singing voice, and shared a pair of songs from a Choctaw Hymnal. This hymnal was a gift from her grandmother. As Pam noted, one could hear LaDonna's deep spirituality expressed through her singing.

Next: Parting gestures and final thoughts

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