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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 3, 2004 - Issue 110


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Spring Forms Bonds Among All Cultures

by Dorreen Yellow Bird Grand Forks Herald
Geese and goslings on the nestI set out Friday for Naytahwaush, Minn., fighting gale winds up to 30 mph to interview Rev. Michael Smith, new Episcopal Bishop of North Dakota.

It was a day of awakenings.

As I drove crossed the straight and smooth Agassiz lake bed of the Red River Valley, I could see the furrows of the resting fields still gripped by long, white fingers of winter. Just above the fields and against the gray skies, I saw my first flock of geese - wings wide and mouths open. They were flying just above the field in a slightly askew "V." The flock landed somewhere out of sight, but before they disappeared, I rolled down my window and listened to their squawking and calling.

That flock turned out to be one of many flocks of geese and birds I would see that day. On one of the smaller lakes in the area, a flock surrounded a tiny area of open water. They paddled around in it like yellow, rubber ducks in a bathtub.

The snow is still a blanket of white beneath the pine, firs, aspen and birch trees. When the trees are in full summer dress, so much green saturates the side of the road that you can see only a few feet into the thick mat. Friday it was mostly tall, white trunks of the birch trees standing in the midst of the hazy, gray leafless trees.

On that day it was melting. Water was running across the road and the ditches were forming slushy puddles in the ditches.

As I came into the small Anishinaabeg community, I passed the school. I saw several small boys in the schoolyard intently building a dam around water that was rushing across the road, under the fence and into the playground. It was melt from a snow bank on the other side of the road. They were so fascinated by the rushing river and intent on this water sport, they didn't notice I was looking in on their secret world.

I turned there at the school and drove down at the end of the street where I could see a log cabin style church and a large two-story house. That would be Rev. Mike's church and residence. He is a priest, as both Catholic and Episcopalians call themselves, he told me.

He is a tall, hardy man with light brown hair and keen blue eyes. I knew that he was the first Native American bishop the Episcopal church ever selected, but wasn't sure how much focus his heritage would be to him and his church. From the accent I knew that he was indeed from Oklahoma.

The house and church sit in the trees so the melt comes slowly. It was slushy, muddy and icy around the house and church. The church is only a few steps from this house.

When the interview was over, we visited the rich red-orange log cabin church; it seems to fit nicely with the forest surroundings. Inside, Rev. Mike showed me the church. It had an Anishinaabeg flavor.

Many years ago, someone gave the church two beautifully beaded pieces of tanned buckskin for the altar. The beadwork on the rectangular alter pieces were so old that some of the beads were missing. Behind the altar, Rev. Mike showed off a frame built around a stained glass window. The frame had an intricate floral design of the Anishinaabeg. He said that it was created by one of the people there for the church. On the walls around the church, the Stations of the Cross were made with Indian people as subject. A large star quilt used to cover the casket during funerals covered one side of the back of the church. Coverings for the church chalices and books were made with floral beadwork.

Both Rev. Mike and his wife are ministers for the church and cover not only Naytahwaush but the surrounding communities on the reservation as well. He said they are pleased with the number of people who worship at this log cabin church.

He and his wife will move to Bismarck when he assumes his role as Episcopal Bishop of North Dakota this summer.

It was easy to see on my journal to the heart of the White Earth reservation that the land is beginning to wake. The flowers, trees and birds heard the call to rouse. They are stirring and appearing one after the another.

Perhaps among Christians and the Native people there are some awakenings too. Maybe it is the springtime of relationships between these two cultures.

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