Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Faith In Action: Native American Justice

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Handout 5, Unitarians Worked to "Save" Ute Indians
  • Books by Native American authors, such as The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (New York: Hyperion, 1991), The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993), Rain Is Not MY Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), and As Long As The Rivers Flow: The Stories of Nine Native Americans by Paula Gunn Allen (New York: Scholastic, 1996)
  • Books and other resources about local Native American tribes, in history and today

Preparation for Activity

  • Copy Handout 5 for all participants. Familiarize yourself with the story so you will be able to process it with the group.
  • Learn about the presence and experiences of Native Americans in your local area, now and historically. Gather books and/or online resources to share with the youth.
  • Identify people in the congregation with knowledge about local Native American cultures and history; invite them to serve as resource people for the group.
  • The group may include youth with Native American heritage, so, take care with the word "we." If you say "we, as Unitarian Universalists" when that is what you mean, you can remain fully inclusive of youth who may be UU as well as Native American. If you know a youth has Native American heritage, do not look to them for a Native American perspective; however, if they volunteer one, make sure to allow it.
  • Be mindful of the language you use when encouraging the group to work for Native American justice: Make sure you urge participants to work with and not for Native people.

Description of Activity

Participants discuss social justice issues affecting Native American peoples and consider ways to support the efforts of local Native American groups.

Remind the youth that Lydia Maria Child made advocating for Native Americans a priority in her later life. Explain, in these words or your own:

Now, more than a hundred years later, Native Americans are still marginalized in American society. As a group, Native Americans suffer high levels of poverty, illness, addictions, poor education, and reduced life expectancy. Efforts to solve these problems have had limited success. For many years the efforts were focused on making American Indians as much like white people as possible, encouraging or even forcing them to reject their native cultures, languages, and religions. Since about the 1970s, there has been a higher level of consciousness about respecting the identity and rights of self-determination of the many Native American tribes in the United States. This positive development grew out of the successes of the African American Civil Rights Movement and the civil rights efforts of Native Americans themselves, such as the work of the American Indian Movement. The current plight of Native American cultures results largely from the abuses of white people (European settlers and their migration westward across the continent) and the actions and policies of the United States government in its efforts to annihilate or assimilate (absorb) Native Americans.

Distribute Handout 5, Unitarians Worked to "Save" Ute Indians. Have participants read the story. Then, lead a discussion:

  • How does this article make you feel?
  • Do you think we, as Unitarian Universalists, owe a debt to the Ute tribe? Why or why not?
  • What is our responsibility, as Unitarian Universalists, to the Utes today?

Lead the group to brainstorm actions they could take to help. Suggest that educating ourselves is a first step, and educating others could be the next- perhaps by sharing the history in Handout 5 with the congregation. Challenge the youth to think of a creative way to share this story. Commit to arranging with congregational leaders for the youth to present the story as part of a worship service or at another multigenerational gathering.

Encourage the group to learn the history of Native people in your own area. Could the youth work with others in the congregation to support a local Native community's justice-seeking efforts?

Share the books and other resources you have gathered. Invite youth to jot down titles they find interesting, so they can find the books at the local library. Point them to the Internet for more information.