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It's Not About Us: Reflections on Native Justice and Crystal Springs

08 Sep 2021 7:49 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

My first camping experience in the late 1950s was a weekend outing with the Potawatomi Tribe of the Cleveland area YMCA Indian Guides – a father-and-son program that included Native American rituals, respect for nature and solemn spirituality. My name was Morning Cloud, my dad was Flying Cloud (since he traveled a lot) and my mom made his headdress at our dining room table since he was “chief.” We used a drum at our monthly meetings and prayed to the Great Spirit.  

This experience was a mixed bag for me because I developed a deep respect for Native American culture and ritual, all the while misappropriating it in my white suburban “tribe” of father-and-son Indian Guides. Later, as I studied in college and seminary, I learned how wrong it was for us to borrow the trappings of a culture that wasn’t ours to use. This added insult to injury as those who stole the land of Native people also appropriated their rituals.

So when it was announced that Michigan Area United Methodist Camping had decided to “do the right thing” and sell Crystal Springs Camp to the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi (yes, the same name as my Indian Guides “tribe,”) it was heralded as something to be celebrated. We have been thanked, recognized, and congratulated for this decision. This troubled my soul. We are not heroes in this scenario – it is not about us as Michigan Area Camping, Michigan Conference United Methodists, or White leaders selling real estate. We received money in the sale, though less than the market value. It was a gesture towards justice. There is still much work to be done.

Perhaps we can use this event to reflect more deeply and act more fully towards justice. What Native symbols and rituals still exist in our camp facilities and programs that can be removed now? What can we do to build relationships with Native leaders and churches nearby? What can we learn from Native spirituality that can inform our connection to the camp land we steward, and all that God has created?

I also grew up in Cleveland rooting for my beloved baseball team with the horribly offensive and cartoonish “Chief Wahoo” logo. In 2022, they will finally (after 120 years) change the name and logo to the “Guardians.” How profound it must be to have sacred rituals, symbols, and land stolen and be constantly reminded of it! Why does it take us so long to learn and change? God have mercy on us.

Rev. David Berkey is Executive Director of Michigan Area United Methodist Camping. He has served as a Camp & Retreat Ministries executive in United Methodist Annual Conferences in Eastern PA, Florida, and Cal-Pac, and served on the boards of several national camp organizations, including UMCRM. He has long been a leader, teacher, mentor, and friend in the UMCRM Association. He is passionate about discipling young leaders, Christian social justice, and baseball.

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