Episcopalians plan range of events, liturgies, prayers for Indigenous Peoples Day on Oct. 9

By David Paulsen
Posted Oct 5, 2023
Indigenous Peoples parade

People celebrate the inaugural Indigenous Peoples of the Americas Parade in New York in 2022. The second annual parade is scheduled for Oct. 14 this year. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] Oct. 9 is Indigenous Peoples Day, a holiday increasingly celebrated in place of Columbus Day by individuals, governments and organizations across the United States, including The Episcopal Church. Dioceses and congregations are promoting a range of events, liturgies and prayers to mark the day.

In Litchfield Park, Arizona, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church is planning an Indigenous Peoples Recognition Weekend on Oct. 7 and 8, to “acknowledge the Indigenous people as stewards of the land on which we live and honor.” The Rev. Mary Louise Frenchman, a Lutheran pastor who is Oglala Sioux, will be guest preacher, and Steven Toya, who is Tewa and Comanche, will perform Native flute music and lead a traditional “smudging” ceremony.

The Diocese of Southwestern Virginia has invited its congregations to incorporate Indigenous prayers into their Sunday liturgies on Oct. 8. The diocese’s Becoming Beloved Community Guiding Team also has consulted with leaders at St. Paul’s Episcopal Mission, which has historic ties to the Monacan Nation dating back to 1908.

“It is an honor to have the Monacan Nation in our diocese and we want to continue and strengthen our relationship with our Native American siblings,” Pattie Ames, canon for Christian formation, said in a recent diocesan email. “Along with the prayers, we are providing resources to help parishes learn more about the Monacan Nation and Native American spirituality.”

And on Oct. 12, the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, vice president of the House of Deputies, will lead a Zoom webinar at 3 p.m. Eastern on “Healing the Divide with Indigenous Peoples and the Church.” Taber-Hamilton, who is Shackan First Nation, will discuss the nature of Western Christian and Indigenous worldviews and how they influence theological thought.

An increasing number of states, cities and churches in the United States are choosing to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day as part of an ongoing re-examination of the legacy of Christopher Columbus’ journeys to North America.

The Italian explorer, hired by the king and queen of Spain in the late 15th century, often receives credit for “discovering” America in 1492, even though he never set foot on mainland North America, and the continent already was home to millions of people whose ancestral history dated back around 15,000 years. Historians also note the Columbus expeditions’ record of mistreatment and enslavement of many of the land’s Indigenous inhabitants.

The movement transcends partisan political divides. Both President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, took actions in 2021 to declare an Indigenous Peoples Day holiday. Biden became the first president to issue such a proclamation, though Columbus Day remains on the federal calendar because it was established as a holiday by Congress.

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention has for decades expressed support for Native American land claims and human rights; at its 2022 meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, the 80th General Convention passed a resolution specifically calling on churches and dioceses to designate a day honoring Native Americans and to refer to Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day.

“Observance of Indigenous Peoples Day would serve as a celebration and a remembrance of the Indigenous peoples who have for thousands of generations safeguarded the land, and who, in the face of cultural genocide, preserved their languages, traditions, stories, and ceremonies for future generations,” the resolution says.

The Diocese of Massachusetts will hold its second annual Indigenous Peoples Day gathering on Oct. 9, with participation from the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and support from the Western Massachusetts Indigenous Peoples Justice Network. It will be held at All Saints Church in Worchester and will focus on “sacred listening and responding,” with a worship service of lament and commitment.

The nearby Diocese of Maine has shared resources with its congregation for Indigenous Peoples Day, encouraging them to develop land acknowledgements, statements that honor the Indigenous inhabitants of the lands now occupied by the congregations.

Numerous resources also are available from The Episcopal Church’s Office of Indigenous Ministries, including “A Disciple’s Prayer Book.”  The Diocese of Arizona created a liturgy specifically for Indigenous Peoples Day after its convention passed a resolution in 2019 adding the day to the diocesan calendar.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.