Here are several items to reflect upon when reaching out to Native communities:
Our perspective, coming from the dominant culture, includes many unconscious assumptions that are to be avoided in cross-cultural encounters. Try not to make assumptions about another culture, but rather take a humble, inquiring posture.
Reflect on your cultural identity, and avoid the trap of feeling the dominant culture’s perspective is the normal one, making other backgrounds the exception.
Atrocities of the past, visited upon Native peoples in the Americas, are in some ways still felt today. Be sensitive to the fact the dominant culture tends to simply brush this aside as old news, and we may have been acculturated to this way of thinking, in ways of which we are not consciously aware.
Individuals are different, and tribal communities are differ. How a particular tribe, or tribal members, may prefer to be approached, varies. It may be appropriate to speak to the Tribal Council, or it may not. In developing new relationships, remain open to learning what the appropriate protocol may be.
Establishing trust is not a short-term exercise. Creating trust is key to creating new relationships.
At some point, we want to explain our Annual Conference’s intention to make a formal Act of Repentance for the evil that has been done to Native Americans in our geographic area.
Asking what might be appropriate next steps in building relations is important. It may involve inviting Native leaders to meet church leaders, or it might involve an invitation to speak at a church service or event. Remain open to what makes sense.
We need to be guided by the Holy Spirit through prayer. We might also ask for ways in which prayer might be shared in ways that honor native traditions.
Expect that some members of a given tribe can harbor deep hurt and negative attitudes toward Christianity in general because of the murderous role it played in our common history. We must recognize that we are ultimately asking Native peoples to take the high road of being open to offering forgiveness, something we cannot demand or even expect.