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2035 Charlton Road
Sunfish Lake, MN 55118

651-455-9449

God Calls us to be Christ's loving arms in the world spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ through our worship, education, outreach, and ministry. Whoever you are, wherever you are on your faith journey, Saint Anne's welcomes you. 

Incorporation or Appropriation: Native Practices in Christian Worship by Fr. Theo Park

Voices of Saint Anne's Blog

Incorporation or Appropriation: Native Practices in Christian Worship by Fr. Theo Park

Carolyn Swiszcz

The idea of “cultural appropriation” has recently entered mainstream debates about the ways in which the cultural creations of some are used, borrowed and imitated by others. In fashion, art, music and beyond, some people now argue that certain cultural symbols and products are off-limits to those not of the originating culture.

In these debates, the label of cultural appropriation is broadly applied to borrowing that is in some way inappropriate, unauthorized or undesirable, especially when such borrowing reinforces historically exploitative relationships or deprives groups of people of opportunities to control or benefit from their cultural material. Think along the lines of: “Oooh! Isn’t that unique/different/exotic/other! Let’s use that in our liturgy.” That’s definitely not the approach we want at Saint Anne’s. 

In this, as in most cases under consideration, context, particularly as it relates to power relationships, is a key factor in distinguishing honorable borrowing from exploitative cultural appropriation.

So what are we doing at Saint Anne’s?

In various ways, we are seeking to address and honor the Native presence on this land before us and around us today. The education piece produced earlier this summer and the extended labels of the art in the administration hallway were the first steps in placing Saint Anne’s in context with the Dakota in our neighborhood. The next step was liturgy.

In a spirit of collaboration, Fr. Theo began by consulting The Rev. Canon Robert Two Bulls, Missioner for the Department of Indian Work and Multicultural Ministries with the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. Rev. Two Bulls advised that “adopting and adapting the Canadian practice of land acknowledgment (see below) might be a good start since it’s a precedence of sorts.” Further, he recommended that we find a way to “acknowledge broken treaties” and consider integrating a Dakota story somehow/somewhere in our liturgy/prayer. With this blessing and encouragement we are doing three things this season:

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1. The opening land acknowledgment. This now begins our worship services. It is modeled on what has become standard practice for Canadian churches, schools, even the Winnipeg Jets. Making a verbal land acknowledgment to the Mdewakanton Dakota who traditionally occupied the territory in which we sit is a small but profound act of reconciliation, aligned with our baptismal covenant. Here’s what we’re saying:

We wish to acknowledge that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Mdewakanton Dakota People, who lived and hunted freely here until they were forced to surrender their ancestral land and resources in 1851. For many centuries, the Dakota sought to walk gently on this land. They freely offered assistance to the first European travelers to this territory and shared their knowledge for survival in what was at times a harsh climate. With deep respect, we seek to honor and follow the Original Peoples of this land in their care for the earth and all its creatures. 

2. The “Sanctus and Benedictus” from Monte Mason’s Red Lake Mass. Monte Mason is a nationally known composer and arranger of sacred music and was for many years organist at Saint Martin’s-by-the-Lake, Minnetonka. Mason created this setting in 1996, basing it on tunes compiled by Frances Densmore, an early ethnic musicologist who notated, recorded, and analyzed music of various Northern American tribes at the beginning of the 20th Century. In 1910 and 1913 she produced two volumes simply known as Chippewa Music, from her work with the tribes at Red Lake, White Earth, Leech Lake, and Lac du Flambeau. Mason’s work was published for the wider Church in Wonder, Love and Praise: A Supplement to The Hymnal 1982 (Church Publishing, 1997) and in Enriching Our Music 1: Canticles and Settings for the Eucharist (Church Publishing, 2003).

So why aren’t we using a Dakota setting? Because there really isn’t one. Here’s a little background: Joseph Renville (1779-1846) was an Indian guide and fur trader of French-Dakota lineage who established a minor trading settlement at the southeast foot of Lac qui Parle, a long, narrow lake near the present border of Minnesota and South Dakota. From there he made annual treks to Fort Snelling at Mendota. 

In 1835 a U.S. Indian Agent at the fort persuaded Renville to permit a missionary presence at Lac qui Parle, and the results of the encounter included a Dakota/English dictionary, Dakota translations of the Bible, a Dakota grammar, a Dakota translation of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim's Progress, a Dakota newspaper and school curriculum, and most important for our purposes, a Dakota hymnal, Dakota Odowan (Dakota Song). 

Dakota Odowan is still used today but it is not itself “Dakota.” It contains 108 primarily 19th-century English hymns in translation, hymns that the Protestant missionaries would have known and thus taught to their congregation. Only six of these use tunes believed to have been arranged from pre-existing Dakota sources. Of these six, perhaps the world's most widely known melody of American Indian origin is called LAC QUI PARLE and is based on a Dakota tune collected by Renville (Hymnal 1982, # 385: Many and great, O God, are thy works, maker of sea and sky). 

3. The Medicine Wheel and the Four Directions

The liturgy of our early service closes with a blessing composed by the The Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor of the Diocese of Alaska. Originally of Mohawk lineage and raised on the Onondaga Nation just south of Syracuse, New York, Canon Doctor published her prayer for use by the wider Church as part of the collection titled Women’s Uncommon Prayers (ed. Elizabeth Geitz et al., Morehouse Publishing, 2000). 

The prayer follows the traditional form of a Medicine Wheel (sometimes known as the Sacred Hoop), which has been used by generations of various Native American tribes for health and healing. Different tribes interpret the Medicine Wheel differently but common to all is the use of the Four Directions (East, South, West, and North), each typically represented by a distinctive color, such as red, yellow, black and white.  

The meanings associated with the directions and colors in the Rev. Doctor’s prayer are:

East, red – Newness, beginnings, new awareness, dawn
South, yellow – Healing, growing, vigor, youth
West, black – Inner vision, reflection, soul-searching, endings
North, white – Wisdom of the ancestors, Higher Power, guidance

So the bottom line:

As mentioned above, it’s about context. Yes, we are incorporating materials of Native origins or derivations into liturgies for a predominantly Anglo-European congregation. But in doing so we have chosen materials created for just such a purpose: to be used by the wider Church. And we have taken care that our choices neither exploit nor “exoticize” but honor the intent of the original sources. At least such is our prayer! May it be so.