by MDiv student Tylar Gregg
I am a young Native woman from Oklahoma. I have spent the majority of my life feeling like I was part of two worlds but also excluded from both at the same time. This has caused me to work towards reconnecting to my Native community and learning more about my heritage since becoming an adult. This life goal was a major deciding factor in choosing to attend Saint Paul. I was drawn to the Oklahoma campus’ central location in Oklahoma and its close affiliation with the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.
In February, I was chosen to attend the OIMC’s immersion experience as a representative of Saint Paul. I was ecstatic, as this was an opportunity to reconnect and learn more about Native faith communities in Oklahoma. The immersion also provided an opportunity to connect with another amazing Native woman at SPST, Dr. Anne Walker.
The immersion event was wonderfully constructed and very informational. While it’s main focus was on how the OIMC functioned within the UMC, there were several opportunities for learning about Native communities, tribal relationships with the government, and Native history both prior to and after relocation.
The immersion began with an informational session on the OIMC in Oklahoma. This was led by OIMC Superintendent Dr. David Wilson who guided the entire experience. The immersion group included people from all over the country, including Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas, and Illinois. The group alone had an immense impact on how the immersion changed my perceptions of the OIMC and the Native community in general.
Our first full day in immersion included a trip to the Oklahoma History Center, the only Smithsonian affiliate in Oklahoma. They had a wonderful exhibit on all the Oklahoma tribes which included ancient artifacts, dioramas of traditional housing for several different tribes, and wonderful stories and first-hand accounts of the Native experience in Oklahoma. This was followed by a wonderful dinner at a local OIMC church, Mary Lee Clark UMC. The dinner included traditional Indian tacos and meeting some members of the community. Following lunch, we drove out to Ponca City, OK and visited the Standing Bear Park and Memorial there. This included artists’ depictions of the famous Native and recounts of his trial. The park is also home to a gorgeous statue that invoked powerful reflection. We then traveled to the Ponca Nation, where we visited Ponca Indian UMC and took part in worship. We then were treated to another amazing dinner of Indian tacos!
Our second full day of immersion took us to the Washita Battleground in Cheyenne, OK. This was a difficult day as we walked in the place where so many Native people were betrayed and massacred by the US Army. The weather fit the mood, as it was rainy, cold, and very windy! Lunch was hosted by an OK UMC church, First UMC Cheyenne. It was wonderful to see the support and love between the two conferences in action. We then went to Clinton, OK where we visited the Clinton Indian Church and Community Center where we were able to meet Dr. Henrietta Mann and have a wonderful thought-provoking panel discussion. Dr. Mann’s grandparents were first-hand witnesses of the Washita Massacre and to hear the story being told through their eyes was truly heartbreaking and eye-opening.
Our third and last full day was slightly interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak and response and we had to make adjustments. It began with a debriefing and Q&A with Dr. Wilson about the OIMC and our observations. This was followed by a trip to Thopthlocco UMC where we experienced a traditional Green Onion Dinner and many different Native dishes! The church itself was gorgeous and was constructed by local masons over 80 years ago. We then traveled back to Oklahoma City where we visited a beautiful Native art gallery and saw a performance by talented powwow dancers.
Our last morning was spent in worship together, led by Dr. Wilson and Rev. Donna Pewo. It included Native hymns and a wonderful interactive experience including a dream catcher and prayer ties.
The immersion experience is something I will never forget. I experienced so many emotions throughout each day that I would just be exhausted when I got back to the hotel room. Experiencing pain for my ancestors and hope for my Native peers. Feeling more than ever that I am called to be in ministry and help the communities around me. I was incredibly grateful to be able to debrief daily with Dr. Anne Walker and share our feelings, frustrations, and call to action as Native women in ministry. There were a lot of difficult conversations spoken and a lot of harsh truths heard, and I think everyone who attended the immersion experience left with a new perception and respect of the OIMC and the Native community. I would recommend this immersion experience to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Native American community, their relationship with Christianity and the UMC, and new mission opportunities. The immersion is held every spring in Oklahoma City.