My blog offerin…

February 29, 2012

My blog offering is a brief review of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Women and Indigenous Ministries presentation “Exposing the Doctrine of Discovery, a Call to Healing and Hope” during a Non-Government Organization (NGO) forum on Monday, February 27. Episcopal women as part of the Anglican Communion as well as women from other denominations and faith communities are participating at the 56th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women world-wide annual gathering in New York City. This is my second year to attend this opportunity for training in grassroots advocacy.

Panel members (and fellow bloggers) included Nellie Adkins, Chickahominy, Co-chair of the Native American Ministry Committee for the Diocese of Virginia; Denyse Bergie, Eastern Shoshone from the Wind River reservation, undergraduate in civil engineering; Jasmine Hanakaulani o Kamamalu Bostock, Native Hawaiian, member of the Executive Council Committee on Indigenous Ministries, graduating in May 2012 in anthropology with a minor in literature from American University; Sarah Eagle Heart, Oglala Lakota, Indigenous Missioner for The Episcopal Church and team leader for Diversity, Social and Environmental ministries; Caressa James, Choctaw, Kiowa, Arapaho, full-time student majoring in community health and advanced practice nursing, and me, Elsie Dennis, Shuswap/Secwepemc, Co-chair of the First Nations Committee for the Diocese of Olympia.
Sarah opened the panel by providing background on The Episcopal Church’s work in Native ministry and introduced the video “The Episcopal Church Exposes the Doctrine of Discovery.” Jasmine, recently accepted to Yale Divinity School, provided an overview of several documents including the resolution passed at the 2009 General Convention to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, a similar resolution recently passed by the World Council of Churches, and “The Apology” in 1987 to Tribes in western Washington State by the Diocese of Olympia and other denominations. I then shared about the impacts of residential and boarding schools in Canada and the United States including the loss of language, culture and identity as well as physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse suffered by Native children.
Among the statistics are that in 1982 Native Americans had the highest high school dropout rate of any ethnic group, only 55 percent of American Indians completed high school (national average is 84.1 percent), and that First Nations children in Canada are more likely to go to jail than graduate from high school.
Nellie provided information on the Chickahominy people and Powhatan Confederacy, and how The Episcopal Church has helped preserve their heritage as well as the importance of Native women as leaders.
Denyse spoke about the Wind River reservation, a recently published article in the New York Times about life there, the impacts of water pollution on the health of the Arapaho people due to toxic debris from a local chemical plant, and how the people are healing themselves through participation in spiritual traditions and powwows, and Caressa, a descendant of David Pendleton Oakerhater, first Native American saint in The Episcopal Church, shared about growing up on the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation area in Oklahoma.
Sarah finished the presentation by speaking about Indigenous Ministries work to support healing in Native communities including Asset-Based Community Development that assists individuals and groups identify their gifts to help form a response to problems. Indigenous Ministry is also working with White Bison, Inc., a traditional healing group gathering commitments in Native communities to be drug and alcohol free, and to walk the journey through the historical trauma caused by residential schools.
Many of those who attended the session expressed their gratitude. An Indigenous woman from the Philippines said that our stories were also the stories of her people. Another person said she came to the presentation by accident, but was very glad she did because she had been unaware of the Doctrine of Discovery and its impact. Several others expressed an interest in having the forum and information be presented again.


First Day, Jasmine Bostock

February 26, 2012


            As I was on the train on the way to NYC, I tried to mentally prepare myself. I knew I was going to be walking into a full day, and I wanted to be able to give my full attention to the work I know I need to do. So, I tried to clear my head of everything else that is going on in my life – school, planning my net steps after graduation, things that are going on with friends, and all the rest of my own baggage.

            Despite this, when I arrived I was still thrown into the mix of an advanced advocacy session, which was fast paced and full of just as much information as I remember being inundated with at my last CSW.

            In our first session we talked about how to bring advocacy home. We split into regional groups, and we were all in the Indigenous regional group. Joining us were a few other North Americans who wished to know more about our issues, a woman from New Zealand who was advocating on behalf of Maoris, a woman from the Phillipines, and a woman from the Caribbean, advocating on behalf of the Garifuna people. We talked about our people, and the good things that each of our communities has done – especially the woman from New Zealand shared that the Presbyterian church has been adamant about giving back the title to lands that were taken from Maori people unlawfully. Her joy was palpable as she explained her honor in the ceremony of actually handing over the title to the land.

            After our session we had a worship session where nine women took the mic and shared their stories, or stories from their community. The focus this year is on rural women, so many of them spoke of the rural women in their communities. Nellie Adkins voice joined the others, as she told the story of education for Natives in Virginia. 

            We ended the day exhausted but invigorated. There is so much information to digest that it can be difficult to feel comfortable. But, through all of the paper and the big items to talk about, this even always reminds me of how important our stories are. We do talk about many big issues, but always the heart of this conference is in being able to witness to the stories of our sisters, and sharing our own stories as a way to talk about the issues in our communities. 

A First Story

February 17, 2012

As a young girl in elementary school I once endured a very long bus ride home, one that I remember to this day. We lived in a rural community dotted with small farms, and families who enjoyed country living. We had a large family garden that my mother proudly tended to that provided us with lettuce, carrots, onions, cabbage, herbs, strawberries and raspberries. Both of my parents and my brothers took care of our cattle and dairy cow, that helped provide sustenance with beef and milk for our family of nine. We had chickens that gave us fresh eggs. We picked blackberries that my mother made into jam and jelly.

That particular day behind me sat an older Anglo girl who spoke closely into my fourth-grade ears, “You’re no good, you’re lazy, you’re a stupid Indian.” I heard these words repeated by her over and over again throughout the trip to my house. I did not know what I had done wrong. I did not know the girl. As a nine-year-old child, I did not know what to say in return to her, so I hung my head and clung to my books. I don’t know if the bus driver heard what she had been saying to me. I didn’t know if I should have even told the bus driver. Eventually and mercifully the bus arrived at my stop, and I quickly hurried off the bus, and ran up the driveway to my house crying all the way.

As a mother of five and grandmother of two today, I can look back at that incident and similar times I have experienced such behavior, and realize that I had been and continue to be a victim of racism. That day I reached out to my parents, and my father promptly called the principal and let him know what happened, and the girl was reprimanded for her behavior and never interacted with me again. I have had less successful attempts in dealing with racist behavior even within the last year when trying to act as my own advocate.  It takes a tremendous amount of courage to stand up for oneself as a Native woman who has experienced a life-time of racism.

In 2010, I was honored to attend two events and hear two elders speak on the impact of the Doctrine of Discovery. The first was at the January 2010 Province VIII “Pinecones to Pineapples” WinterTalk, held at the Episcopal parish of St. Matthew/San Mateo, Auburn, Wash., the first regional gathering of its kind. The Rev. Dr. Martin Brokenleg, keynote speaker, shared that “no Native person can exist without experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” due to ongoing racism perpetuated by the Doctrine of Discovery whereby Indigenous peoples were deemed “less than human” and could be enslaved or killed by colonizers, and their land taken. Another participant at that same event said, “The repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery (by The Episcopal Church) is the beginning of respect to Native people.”

At a second gathering that year, I heard the Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, the National Indigenous Bishop for the Anglican Church in Canada (and former bishop for the Diocese of Alaska and for Navajoland) speak at the WinterTalk international gathering of Native clergy and lay ministry leaders hosted by the Poarch Creek Tribe in Alabama. Bishop MacDonald provided background on the Doctrine of Discovery that the edicts sanctioned that “a person who discovers an undiscovered land can own it, rule it and exploit it.” The First Peoples of the Americas were considered by the colonizers as “primitive” with no institutionalized organization, no ability to govern themselves, and that the judgment of their lives could be given to someone else.

Because of Creator bringing these two elders into my life, I have a better understanding of the origin of the sin of racism, and how the Doctrine of Discovery as a tool of racism continues to impact Native peoples and the larger society. I am honored to be selected to participate for the second year in a row at the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) forum at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, and look forward to serving on the Anglican Council of Indigenous Women’s panel presentation “Exposing the Doctrine of Discovery, a Call to Healing and Hope.” As the Rev. Dr. Brokenleg said to our group in 2010, “If you do what you’ve always done, then you’ll get what you always got.”

Let us move forward as Christ calls us to love the Creator with all our heart, soul and mind, and to love each other as neighbors. If we see that God is in each of us, then to hurt another person, any part of Creation, the two-legged, the four-legged, the finned, the feathered, any being that moves upon the Earth, the land, the plants, the water, the air, is to hurt and disrespect the One who created all of us.

I see me, the little girl on the school bus, dazed and frozen, head down, listening to the cruel taunts of a person behind me, (who she herself must have learned such hate from those in her life), and I now can look back and see that Jesus sat beside me, holding me, and leading me to the day I shall share my story with many women from throughout the world for the greater good, for healing.

Elsie Dennis is an enrolled member of the Shuswap/Secwepemc First Nation, Enderby, British Columbia, Canada, and serves as Co-Chair of the First Nations Committee and is a member of the Dismantling Racism Training Team for the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. She is also a member of the Executive Council Committee on Anti-Racism. She has served as the Public Information Services Manager for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Olympia, Wash., and on the Board of Trustees at Highline Community College, Des Moines, Wash. She lives in the Seattle area and is a parishioner at St. Matthew/San Mateo,  Auburn, Wash. 

I am both nervous and excited to be attending part of this year’s UNCSW. The last UNCSW I attended was not last year, but the year before, in 2010. I am nervous to be attending again because it has been awhile, and this time I know that I am not fully invested. Because of school, I am only able to be in New York for a weekend, and not for the whole time. I know this will be a challenge because everything is so busy, and such a whirlwind, that I will need to be fully in the moment for the short time i am able to be there.


I am also in a very different space emotionally from when I last attended the UNCSW. In 2010 I was not nearly as involved with the ACIW as I am now, and I was in attendance as part of the Young Adult Delegation. In fact, one of the things I am most excited about is that I was asked to go and speak with the Young Adults one of the nights I will be there. I am happy to be able to meet this group, and also just to connect with the group that was such a huge part of my previous experience.


I feel as if I am more ready for what is coming now than I was two years ago. Because I have attended before I am hoping that I will not be as overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the conference. I am also graduating with my undergraduate degree  in May, and so I am coming with more education and maybe more experience to bring to the conversations.


My prayers are for patience, for the ability to listen, and for the strength and determination to live in the moment, and not be distracted.

Advocacy Training in 2011 was a complex and daunting week for me filled with many “AH-HA” moments and revelations. I learned that women around the world are walking along the same paths that my sisters and I have walked upon or are walking along today. The saying “the world is getting smaller” is certainly applicable here. We all have much to share and much to learn from each other. My previous views remain the same…..we are all in a struggle/we all need to remain hopeful for change.


I believe that this year’s conference will be helpful and positive for me and for my people of the Powhatan Confederacy, in that through sharing and educating others about our current US Native situations (as we share and present during our panel presentations)we will become more enabled and enabling. In addition, on the subject/focus of the conference regarding rural women….I came from a rural reservation and believe I will glean wisdom to share greatly with my people as well as to be able to positively contribute at the conference as a ‘rural woman ‘from a rural setting.


I am excited about learning a great deal this year because I learned so much last year. I believe that the first time that you attend this conference it can be overwhelming.If I had not had an awesome room mate to come back to each evening and discuss things with, I am not sure that I would have been able to put things together as I eventually did. This provided a sounding board that I greatly needed because with so many parallel events and all of the amazing opportunities presented, on a daily basis, it is mind boggeling to the first time attendee.

What am I excited about learning this time around at the conference? Well, short of ‘everything’, I feel that I am the heart of my people and a representative of our Episcopal Native Women- therefore, it is incumbent upon me to be eyes, ears, and scribe so that, according to Saint Timothy 2:15, ” I might study to show myself approved, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing  the word of truth”.