Inaugural Grand Island Conference in northern Michigan addressed racism, poverty, teen suicide, derogatory location names, and other issues
Centering prayer, Celtic spiritual issues discussed during Turtle Island Project regional conference in northern Michigan
(Munising, Michigan) – Racism, poverty, teen suicide on reservations, the derogatory perversion of American Indian names on Minnesota rivers and other locations across the country, and learning respect for the environment from Earth-based cultures were among the topics discussed at a Native American Roundtable this weekend in northern Michigan.
Sponsored by the Turtle Island Project, a non-profit based in the Upper Peninsula, the conference was held at the Eden on the Bay Lutheran Church in Munising.
The reasons for a shocking increase in teen suicides at American Indian reservations was discussed including the 600 attempts and 15 deaths over the past two years at the Lakota Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. The discussion included whether media coverage of the suicides would be different if the victims were white teenagers.
“I think one of the main reasons for suicide is loss of identity and hope and with that comes deep despair,” said Pat Cornish-Hall, a Munising resident who is just discovering her mother’s Native American heritage. “I do believe that poverty certainly has an effect on suicide.”
Counselor Joni Peffers of Gwinn said the media should report on the trends of teen suicides in their area but not give the individual details of each attempt or death.
“Each suicide should not be publicized for many reasons,” said Peffers, owner of Celtic Cove Counseling at K.I. Sawyer.
While agreeing that Native American teen suicides are often overlooked by the media, Peffers said even trends in white teenage suicides and attempts are not reported citing several recent cases in Marquette County.
TIP co-founder Rev. Dr. Lynn Hubbard said wars across the globe have been started in the name of religion – but “that is not the case with Native Americans who fought over the theft of land or hunting rights, never over differences in religious belief.”
“Native American never started a war over religious ideology,” said Rev. Hubbard, TIP director and pastor of Eden on the Bay Lutheran church. “We (whites) are the kind of people who fight wars over religious ideology.”
The perversion of the original Native American name of Minnesota’s Rum River and similar derogatory namess was placed on the agenda at the request of Thomas Dahlheimer, director of the Rum River Name Change Organization Inc. in Wahkon, Minnesota.
Minnesota State Rep. Mike Joros, D-Duluth, recently introduced a bill that would change 14 derogatory geographic place names that are offensive to American Indians.
The Rum River in Minnesota was named by whites referring to alcohol “spirits” instead of the original American Indian name that meant “Great Spirit.”
“Two of these derogatory names were changed from the sacred Ojibwe name for their Great Spirit (Manido) to Devil, as was the custom throughout our nation,” said Dahlheimer. “Racial hatred was why many geographic site names were change from Native peoples’ names for the Great Spirit to Devil.”
Many faulty translations of Native American names were done out of racism and as a “deliberate insult and slur,” Dahlheimer said.
“These derogatory names remind Native people of the cultural genocide that is being perpetrated against them,” Dahlheimer said. “Changing these names it will help in the healing process – but keeping the derogatory names would maintain a racist, derogatory characterization of Native peoples.”
Dahlheimer said “heightened awareness of the catastrophic consequences caused by white settlers introducing and selling alcohol to Native Americans – may cause white Euro-Americans to offer all Native Americans their long overdue restitution justice.”
Dahlheimer’s views were presented at the roundtable by a TIP volunteer, but organizers hope future events will include a internet camera so tribal officials from around the country can participate without traveling to northern Michigan.
Hubbard said one of the goals of the TIP is to “give Native Americans a venue in which their voices can be heard and listened to.”
“Americans, whether of Native or Euro-American ancestry, are still being oppressed by political, social, and economic structures, like we were from our European ancestors,” Hubbard said. “There is so much evil in the world that we have created structures, such as corporations which are not actually moral entities, but function rather primarily as legal entities.”
“Morality has to do with the ability to feel empathy and remorse, to say that you are sorry and to admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard said it’s rare for corporations and politicians to admit error and only do so “when they absolutely have to and even then, it is often inauthentic and not sincere.”
“If you can not say ‘I’m sorry’ if you can not admit to a mistake you are not a moral entity,” Hubbard said.
“We let these structures do our dirty wok for us and then think we can walk free by simply claiming that we had nothing personally to do with the irresponsible immoral actions of our social and corporate institution,” Hubbard said. “That is the height of absolute moral hypocrisy.”
Hubbard said the reason “this evil is so great because it is structured into our political, religious and cultural institutions.”
As an example, Hubbard said some members of the news media have become “extensions of the current political and corporate powers regimes running this country.”
Hubbard said the news media are “supposed to defend us from falsehood and adhere to the truth but some have themselves become merchants of fear and chaos.”
“This is bringing about the death of any real public debate in this country, and with the loss of genuine public debate, we lose our democracy, and our voices are silenced.” Hubbard said. “We can’t even tell anymore where entertainment ends and news begins.”
During the conference on ecology and Celtic spirituality, there was a debate over ways Christians can protect nature and fight corporate giants that do much of the polluting.
Featured speaker Rev. Dr. George Cairns of Chesterton, Indiana explained he fights environmental problems and other important social issues with a wide-range of methods including “contemplative prayer” and “engaging structural evil.”
The Scotland-based Iona community is a good example of a group of people “who are unified by a covenant, worship together and who engage in very effective political action to change structural evil.”
Rev. Cairns said “centering prayer” and “participative consciousness” that are techniques of deep meditation he learned from Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk and teacher. (Trappist refers to a branch of the Cistercian order of monks known for an austere rule including a vow of silence.)
“Silent meditation is a powerful tool to open ourselves to one another and to all creation which is what this participative consciousness is all about,” said Cairns, TIP co-founder and board president.
Cairns said the intense form of meditation helps eliminate the “internal dialogue” or “chatter that’s going on all the time” in people’s minds.
“I found out how much of my life was consumed by internal dialogue,” said Cairns, research professor of theology at the Chicago Theological Seminary.
Centering prayer allows “us to open our hearts to a deeper relationship with God and an increased openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives,” said Rev. Cairns, admitting it’s an easier technique to teach than for people to learn and practice.
“The technique to doing it – is simply to rest with God. It’s not easy to do, it’s easy to teach, but very difficult to do,” Cairns said.
In fighting the world’s evil, Cairns said “we can’t get their with just our hearts – we need our heads and something more.”
“That something more is a deep relationship with one another and with all creation,” Cairns said.
Summary of Turtle Island Project & TV sites:
Turtle Island Project main website:
Turtle Island TV (blipTV)
Turtle Island TV (youtube)
Turtle Island (myspace)
Turtle Island Project websites/Blogs:
During the Turtle Island Project regional conference in northern Michigan, Pastor William “Bill” Shepard of Menominee played two videos he produced.
Shepard is seeking stories from around the world on crosses – and why they are important or sacred to different people.
Rev. Shepard is videotaping interviews for his “Every Cross Has A Story To tell” project.
Rev. Shepard also show his “Them/Us” video that shows how easily prejudice can separate people into groups: Them vs. Us.
For more information:
Rev. William Shepard
2320 17th Avenue
wtshepard @yahoo. com
(close gaps in address)
Contact info for people quoted in news release:
Turtle Island Project founder/Director:
Rev. Dr. Lynn Hubbard
Eden on the Bay Evangelical Lutheran Church
1150 M-28 West
Rev. Dr. George Cairns, TIP founder/board chairman
Research Professor of Practical Theology and Spirituality at Chicago Theological Seminary
lives in Chesterton, Indiana
ordained minister in the United Church of Christ
The Iona Community – Worldwide:
Rum River Name Change Organization Inc.
Thomas Dahlheimer, director
P.O. Box 24
Minnesota H.F. No. 2503 introduced 85th Legislative Session (2007-2008) on May 18, 2007
A bill to change 14 derogatory geographic place names offensive to American Indians introduced by Rep. Mike Jaros, D-District O7B (Duluth).
TeePee & fliers at July 2007 Anoka County sesquicentennial:
Combating White Racism Against Indigenous Peoples:
Solving The Alcohol Abuse Epidemic:
Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer’s articles and letters to the editor:
History of the Anoka Dakota Unity Alliance:
Minnesota Apology for the Explotation of Native Amercans:
Minnesota Indian Affairs Draft Resolution: