How Making Friends with Indigenous People Changed My Life

By Joshua Grace, originally posted at Red Letter Christians

I’m a Polish-American settler. I didn’t choose the conditions of my birth or my original family. However, I do choose to actively undermRandyine the systems and lies beneath those conditions of various levels of privilege.

Ignorance of our nation’s history, and the systems that our national narrative myth supports, only perpetuate injustice and maintain roadblocks to our greater healing. I was fortunate that in the process, my own Western worldview got challenged and I realized it needed to be overcome. I could not and probably would not have put the work in without supportive community — the Indigenous friends, teachers, and relatives who offered a healing sense of belonging.

Experiences and relationships with Indigenous people cultivated in me a healthier sense of who I am, who I’m accountable to, and what action I must and want to take. In case you’re wondering, this isn’t a story of “I was stupid and now I’m smart” or “here’s how I got woke way back when.” It’s about the embrace and challenge of overriding my programming, which requires action.

I offer these words from my heart. I hope what I offer speaks to your heart.

I first met Edith and Randy Woodley back in 2012 while I was on sabbatical from pastoring. We became friends and a few months later I accepted the invitation to a Master’s degree program through NAIITS, an Indigenous Learning Community. Randy was my program director, professor, mentor, and friend. My first class (Theology & Ethics of the Land) held a retreat on Eloheh Farm in Oregon. My family spent time there together a few years later. We pitched in around the farm, ate food, held ceremony, and became relatives. Being a co-learner (that’s what Randy calls us) in that cohort opened up worlds for me. My best learning always comes through relationships.

Our class of mostly Indigenous students learned about the story of what brought Eloheh/Eagle’s Wings and the Woodleys to Oregon. Back in 2006, a white supremacist paramilitary group used their .50 caliber machine gun to launch an intimidation campaign against the Woodley family at the original Eloheh Farm in Kentucky. At that time, they were running a thriving Indigenous learning center, farm, and place of cultural renewal. They hosted weekend schools of more than 50 students that included job incubation, ministry, and a variety of skills for Native Americans.

For non-Indigenous peoples this was an opportunity to learn from an Indigenous worldview. Eloheh was a place of hospitality, community, ceremony, and shalom/harmony. Concerned for the safety of their children and students, they closed the schools. Without the schools, they lost income and many donors ceased giving. Suffering great financial loss, they were forced to leave, selling the land far under its true value.

It’s time for restitution. A lot of people need and deserve it.

This specific opportunity is to help us take the abstract idea of restitution into embodied practice. You probably already agree that when situations happen, someone should do something to make it better. Whether you think that means the U.S. government, fancy churches, or the rich, or yourself, then I’d consider you part of the team. Restitution isn’t just an abstract concept, it’s a decision we make together to address wrongs that destroy community. We can listen to survivors of atrocities, connect with our hearts, and then act.

I implore you to act by listening to the Woodleys’ dream of resurrecting Eloheh as a farm, Indigenous Learning Center, Indigenous Center for Earth Justice, and Indigenous Spiritual Community.

Randy and Edith are an amazing couple with something unique to offer everyone. With so much vitriol and conflict in today’s culture, we have the opportunity to build something; to invest in a place of learning and shalom is essential. Be part of #ResurrectingEloheh. And when it is ready, come be a part of the community in person!

In addition to restitution, here are some more practical things you can do:

Who are you listening to? Books, music, films, podcasts, articles…if you’re white, going with the flow is to mostly listen to white content. Change up your personal media consumption with purpose, and process it with people who love you. Pay money for new content from Indigenous and other people of color. Show some love on social media.

Practice being a good guest. The hospitality of Native Americans is legendary, even continuing after 500 years of being taken advantage of by settlers. Who are the First Peoples of the area you came from? Who are the First Peoples of the land you live on? How can you work toward living here by their leave, with their permission, and with their eldership?

Seek out spaces and relationships with Indigenous people. Most White Americans don’t belong to a Native-led organization, so go to open invite gatherings like local powwows, or even have coffee with Indian friends. It’s OK to make friends on purpose and belong to groups where you are the racial and cultural minority. If you want to make friends more quickly, bring gifts for elders when you do show up. I suggest something handmade (think crafty), natural (jams, fresh veggies from your garden), or traditional (tobacco, sage, sweetgrass, etc).

Accept invitations. When well-meaning white folks start to walk this road, they often experience a stage in development that looks like hopelessness, paralysis, or fatigue. We say “what can I actually do? I can’t give the Black Hills back to the Lakota.” Pay attention to what the Indigenous folks say. If you get invited to a meal, conference, ceremony, etc. — show up.

Amplify Indigenous voices. When you come across Native people fundraising, give it priority and immediately contribute. Share it on social media and ask others to give, especially those who you know can give more than you. Support the GoFundMe campaign to #ResurrectEloheh.

Learn more in Randy Woodley’s series on “Cowboys and Indians: Dismantling the Western, Settler-Colonial Worldview

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