set out Friday for Naytahwaush, Minn., fighting gale winds up to 30
mph to interview Rev. Michael Smith, new Episcopal Bishop of North
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
his wife will move to Bismarck when he assumes his role as Episcopal
Bishop of North Dakota this summer.
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
among Christians and the Native people there are some awakenings
too. Maybe it is the springtime of relationships between these two