THE INDIAN ECUMENICAL CONFERENCE
Power Point with Resolutions
This document was prepared by Robert K. Thomas and Ian MacKenzie
FIRST INDIAN ECUMENICAL CONFERENCE REPORT
(August 13 – 19, 1970)
The first Indian Ecumenical Conference was held August 13th to 19th, on the Crow Indian Reservation at Crow Agency, Montana. Forty-seven tribes were represented at the Conference. Most of the delegates were either Christian ministers or native Indian ceremonial leaders. Some delegates combines both roles in the same person. Official delegates represented the following tribes: Apache, Blood, Cherokee, Southern Cheyenne, Chippewa, Choctaw, Comanche, Dog Rib Cree, Eastern Cree, Creek, Esquimalt, Plains Cree, Swamp Cree, Western Cree, Woods Cree, Kiowa, Kwakiutl-Klemtu, Mexquakie, Miccosukee, Micmac, Mohawk, Navajo, Nishku, Nootka, Odawa, Ojibway, Osage, Oto, Pawnee, Ponca, Potawotamie, Quapaw-Seneca, Sac and Fox, Seminole, Shawnee, Sioux, Stoney, Squamish, Tlingit, Ute, and Uchi. A substantial number of tribes sent both their principal ceremonial leader and their most prominent Christian functionary. There were ninety-three delegates, forty-two unofficial delegates, and sixteen observers. An unexpected but significant development was the large number of Indian young people who came to observe the Conference. For example, the Native Youth Summer Programme of Toronto sent twenty young people to observe the proceedings.
Most areas of North America were felt, by Conference members, to be well represented, some fe2w areas were felt to be under-represented and few areas had no representation at all. Most felt that there was a surprisingly large ‘turnout’ for such a new endeavour. And most interpreted this as a sign that such a Conference had struck a very responsive chord among Indians.
The Conference was planned by the Steering Committee which consisted of fourteen members of various tribes in the United States and Canada and which contained a diverse range of religious persuasions. The Conference was coordinated and administered by the Nishnawbe Institute, an educational and cultural centre. Funds for the Conference were donated by the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Canadian Catholic Conference, the United Church of Canada, the Protestant Episcopal Church, USA, and churches from the Detroit, Michigan area. The Anglican Church of Canada was by far the largest contributor. The cost of the Conference was greater than the amount of funds raised and the Nishnawbe Institute has temporarily covered the deficit from its own limited funds.
Delegates began to arrive at the Conference on August 13th and continued to arrive in appreciable numbers through the 14th and 15th. By necessity, the 13th and 14th became days where delegates got acquainted, held informal discussions in small groups, and ‘took in’ the Crow Fair which was taking place at this time. On the afternoon of the 14th, the Steering Committee, feeling that enough people had arrived to begin, met to plan a structure for the meeting. The Steering Committee called for an informal meeting of the whole group later that afternoon to discuss plans for the coming days. It was decided that the Conference would be in official session for four days (four being the sacred number for nearly all Indian tribes); that medicine men pick out an area of ground for the Conference site itself; and that they arrange religious ceremonies at dawn of each of the four days. Everyone felt that the structure of the actual meetings should emerge as interest and consensus dictated and that the meeting would unfold and assume shape. Final arrangements were made for the taping of the Conference sessions (a master tape is now available but at least $3000.00 must be raised if delegates are to receive copies).
Formal sessions were held all day for the next four days. After supper, delegates attended the Crow Fair and visited informally. This informal visit was, needless to say, the most productive part of the Conference. During the first two days of the formal sessions, delegates introduced themselves and told others, from the ‘floor’ , of their own and their community’s concerns. The next two days were taken up with the problem of organization, the appointment of a resolutions committee, the motions in the resolutions themselves, etc. In other words, the last two days were more concerned with formal business. However, at no time was any delegate blocked from saying what he wanted to say and genuine religious concerns, prophecies, and so forth, pervaded the whole four days. Each day a different member of the Steering Committee chaired the meeting. The fifth day, although unofficial in a religious sense, was spent in winding up unfinished business. Some people did, however, feel that the calendar was much too ‘cluttered’ and that not enough time was spent in considering important theological matters.
The delegates were unanimous in their desire to have another Conference next year for a variety of reasons. Many said that they had come out of genuine interest but with some skepticism ‘to look things over’. By the time the Conference was over they were enthusiastic and ‘ready to have a Conference’. Most felt also that they needed to talk with their co-elders in their home areas for a time and to ‘let the pot simmer’ for awhile. Nearly all were of the opinion that many more Indian religious leaders had to be in attendance at such a Conference before hard decisions could be taken.
Two tribes have offered to host the Conference next year. Chief Snow of the Stoney tribe of Alberta has offered his tribe’s hospitality and the use of their new park as a site for the meeting. Chief Look of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota would like to see us meet in his community next year.
The most prominent feature of the Conference which emerged clearly to nearly everyone’s surprise and pleasure was the unanimity of purpose and thought of the delegates. Everyone agreed that modern Indian religious life must be a furthering of the historic continuity of time honored Indian values and philosophical concern; that both modern Indian ceremonies and Indian Christianity must be part of that continuity; and that both native ceremonials and Indian Christianity can be mutually supportive or parallel and cooperative or integrated according to the desire of the particular tribe involved. Most felt that the work of future Conferences would be to evolve a way of implementing this process.
The delegates left for home full of enthusiasm and high hopes.
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Copyright 2010 Centre for Indian Scholars. All rights reserved. Updated November 11, 2010