Niobrara Convocation Honors Vine Deloria, Sr., Pioneer in Episcopal Church's American Indian Work

Episcopal News Service. July 10, 1990 [90175]

SISSETON RESERVATION, S. Dak.-- At the century-old rural church of St. John the Baptist, located on the high prairies and lake country of the northeast corner of South Dakota, the 118th annual session of the Niobrara Convocation assembled June 21 through June 24 to pay tribute to the life and ministry of the Venerable Vine V. Deloria, Sr., who died last February in Arizona at the age of 88.

Forty years ago this eminent Lakota leader served as vicar at St. John's and four other congregations of the Sisseton Mission before moving on to other congregations, and concluding his distinguished vocation in 1968 as archdeacon of Niobrara.

The convocation unanimously passed a resolution to include the name of the "Venerable Vine" in the Calendar of Saints of the Episcopal Church. It also called for a suffragan bishop of Indian descent for the Diocese of South Dakota and affirmed a proposal to create posts for an archdeacon for Indian work and a youth coordinator for Niobrara.

Many youth attended the convocation. Fifteen Navajo youth, as well as large youth groups from Arkansas and Virginia, joined Niobrara youth at the campgrounds for the annual summer gathering began in 1870, soon after the Dakota (Sioux) were expelled from Minnesota.

Several members of the Deloria family, scions of a line of Lakota clergy dating back 98 years to the ordination of Yankton Sioux chieftain Philip J. Deloria, hosted the memorial dinner and traditional giveaway. Deloria is honored as one of only three Americans included in the reredos of the high altar of the Washington National Cathedral.

Vine Deloria, Jr., noted Sioux author, academician and attorney, was guest speaker at the Sunday morning Eucharist. Sometimes described as an iconoclast regarding Western European Christianity, the author of God Is Red (1973) warned the several hundred assembled that the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court against religious practices of the Native American Church threatens all people of religious convictions.

"I am meeting with ecumenical leaders next week in Rapid City to strategize on a long-range religious freedom campaign to protect traditional religions from further attacks by the U.S. government and courts," Deloria announced.

The Supreme Court this spring ruled that the First Amendment will not protect Native Americans in their use of the peyote sacrament. Peyote, a cactus extract with hallucinogenic qualities, is central to worship in the Native American Church. Anthropologists think that the sacramental ingestion of peyote as a path to communion with the creator has been ritualistically used among North American Indians since A.D. 200.

"Within the coming months," said Deloria, "you can expect to hear of an arrest of clergy, likely Roman Catholic, for serving wine to minors." He said the test case to point out ongoing infringements upon non-Christian religious beliefs would likely be staged in Oregon.

The convocation of the nongeographical Niobrara deanery, which includes Indian congregations of South Dakota and neighboring dioceses, stood firmly in support of congressional action regarding treatment of Native American human remains, grave goods, sacred objects, and burial sites.

Paralleling Deloria's challenge to "rebuild the Indian family at any cost," the convocation committed itself to the work of Tolly Estes, Niobrara youth coordinator. It affirmed a proposal by Estes that Niobrara youth not only pay a return visit to Navajoland youth but also participate with Navajoland youth "in tribal dress" as pages for 1991 General Convention in Phoenix, co-hosted by Navajoland Area Mission and the Diocese of Arizona. It also endorsed Estes' proposal that Niobrara host the 1992 National Native Youth Festival.

The Venerable Philip Allen, a native of Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, who directs Indian work in the Diocese of Minnesota, updated the convocation on the fast-paced progress of the new national structure for coordinating Episcopal American Indian/Alaska Native ministry. "Episcopal Council of Indian Ministry," he said, "is an outgrowth of recommendations coming from Indian people ever since the Venerable Vine served in the 1950s as an assistant secretary for Indian work at New York church headquarters."

In bringing greetings from the presiding bishop, Owanah Anderson, staff officer for Native American ministries at the Episcopal Church Center, reported that "something very positive is happening all across Indian country." She spoke of record numbers of Easter baptisms in several Indian congregations, citing 43 at one church in Navajoland and 30 on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. "Since the consecration in March of the Navajo bishop, I am hearing of a slow but sure new spiritual awakening. Perhaps," she concluded, "the decade of evangelism is catching on first among the first Americans."

The Rt. Rev. Steven Plummer, bishop of Navajoland, preached at Saturday night's evangelistic service during which 20 people were confirmed. A few weeks earlier Plummer had presided at the 15th annual convocation of the Episcopal Church in Navajoland where he told delegates, "It is a new kindof road we travel now, and the trail will be dangerous and risky. But we must have vision to carry on the work entrusted to us."

Niobrara Episcopal Church Women, meeting concurrently, elected new officers. Cordelia Red Owl of Pine Ridge was elected as Itancan to succeed Cecelia Kitto.

Two Sioux priests celebrated the 28th anniversary of their ordination -- the Rev. Wilbur Bearheart of Standing Rock Reservation and the Rev. Noah Brokenleg of Rosebud.