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May 6, 2000 GC-026

Native American delegates tackle ‘Chief Wahoo’ logo, other issues

CLEVELAND (UMNS) — Thirteen Native Americans are among the 992 delegates of the United Methodist General Conference addressing legislation that could affect the American Indian community, ministries and programs.

Issues affecting Native Americans are being addressed in five of the 10 General Conference legislative committees. Petitions and resolutions are handled by the committees first, then sent to the full conference for action. The committees that are dealing with Native American concerns are Global Ministries, Church and Society, General and Judicial Administration, Finance and Administration, and Conferences.

Measures that are being considered include a "Chief Wahoo" petition, asking delegates to denounce any organization or sports team using "offensive racist logos" as their mascots. The petition cites the Cleveland Indians baseball team’s use of the "Chief Wahoo" logo.

The United Methodist Church has 19,000 Native Americans among its 8.4 million U.S. members. In addition to the delegates, American Indians are represented at General Conference by observers and staff people from the National United Methodist Native American Center; the Native American International Caucus (NAIC), the church’s American Indian advocacy group; and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.

The delegates and reserve delegates (listed alphabetically, with tribes if known) include: the Rev. Marvin Abrams (Seneca), Anaheim, Calif.; Betty Admussen (Eastern Shawnee), Kansas City, Mo.; Robby Lowry (Lumbee), Rowland, N.C.; Eli McHenry (Choctaw-Creek), Hominy, Okla.; Jim Morris, Beverly, Ky.; Joe Parker (Nitmuck), East Woodstock, Conn.; the Rev. Thomas Roughface (Ponca), Oklahoma City; Ann Saunkeah (Western Cherokee), Tulsa, Okla.; Penny Schwab, Copeland, Kan.; Pete Taylor, Oakland, Calif.; the Rev. David Wilson (Choctaw), Oklahoma City; Robert Wood, London, Ky.; and the Rev. Samuel Wynn (Lumbee), New Bern, N.C.

The General Conference, the top legislative body of the United Methodist Church, is meeting in Cleveland through May 12.

Offered by NAIC, the "Chief Wahoo" petition says that the mascot demeans American Indians, and it continues to be used even after meetings between Native American representatives and the Cleveland Indians team owner and administration.

The Native Americans attending the General Conference will join with a local group of American Indians in a protest directed at the Cleveland Indians on May 11, when the team plays its next home game.

Conference delegates will address a related petition between May 9 and 12 directing that the General Conference not be held in cities that have Native Americans as mascots.

The legislative committee of Church and Society will address concerns of Native American human rights. If the committee supports legislation, it will go before the General Conference for discussion about global issues of human rights.

Supporters of the Native American Comprehensive Plan (NACP) want General Conference to approve the initiative for another four years. The NACP, created by the 1992 General Conference, emphasizes congregational and leadership development, Native American spirituality and involvement in the total life of the United Methodist Church. A task force guides the plan, and its goal is to help United Methodists view American Indians as partners in ministry and no longer as a mission of the church.

A Global Ministries legislative committee supported continuing the NACP. The committee will offer an amendment to the entire General Conference that entails a change in the task force’s membership. Supporters say the amendment will enable a broader spectrum of grass-roots Native American people to be involved in the NACP’s policy and decision-making procedures. The amendment removes voting rights for church agency staff people and the Council of Bishops representative, and it gives voting privileges to Native American members from each of the five geographic areas of the church.

General Conference also will consider a petition dealing with economic strategies for Native American tribes and communities. Tribes for many years have sought ways to become economically independent of government funding and to establish viable business opportunities on Indian land.

"The advent of gaming has enabled some tribes to find a measure of economic independence while other tribes continue to be impoverished," according to the legislation.

The petition seeks support of a four-year study that will explore innovative alternatives to gaming as the primary source of economic development in Indian country. If approved, a report will be presented to the 2004 General Conference.

Another petition, currently in a subcommittee, is "Caring for God's Creation." It urges the United Methodist Church to commit to vigorous protection and healing of the environment, using a resource and recommendations that have a Native American perspective.

Native Americans also are calling on the denomination to agree to a four-year land study. The church owns land or ministries on reservations or tribal lands, and Indians are asking for a study on the disposition of those properties. The group wants the lands that are not being used returned to the tribes whose ancestors owned them. The conference also will deal with concerns about protecting the Native American land base and sacred sites, supporting Indians’ rights and sponsoring a social witness program for Native Americans.

Delegates to the conference are being asked to adopt a resolution calling the United Methodist Church "to repentance and reconciliation for the historical subjugation of native people." The resolution calls on the church and all of its constituencies to study issues concerning American Indians, Alaskan and Hawaiian natives and to recognize and respond to the needs of native people.

A 1990 Census report estimated that 1.9 million American Indians live within the boundaries of the church’s 66 U.S. annual conferences, and more than 60 percent live in urban areas. The denomination has 200 Native American churches, ministries and fellowships in the country, and 28 are in urban areas.

Oklahoma, with 49 tribes, has the largest concentration of American Indians in the United States. The largest amount of Native Americans in the United Methodist Church resides in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, which has 7,500 members and 91 congregations. Native American United Methodists and ministries can be found from the tip of Florida to Alaska, and the denomination has large populations of American Indian members in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Arizona, New Mexico and California.

The strong United Methodist presence in the Southeast and Southwest is due to the "comity agreements" of the late 1800s and early 1900s, according to the denomination's Native American Office of Communications. Agreements were made between major mainline denominations and the U.S. government in the late 1800s, and the denominations were assigned regions of the country for their work among native people.

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-- Linda Green

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