When William Jewell College students and community members attended the Native American Blanket Ceremony on Sept. 27, many did not know what to expect. Perhaps because of the spiritual connotation of “ceremony,” some people presumed they would witness a sacred ritual, or maybe listen to a traditional Native American story while sitting cross-legged in a circle.
Though there were sacred elements and certainly many stories told, the Ceremony was far more committed to educating attendees about the history of indigenous peoples and spurring change in the common ways in which we think about those who lived on this land before us and the disastrous effects of European colonization, including the painful reverberations still felt by Native Americans today.
These sentiments were clear in the title of the main program for the night, written by Paula Palmer, “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples,” as well as its first words:
“Let’s begin by acknowledging, with humility, that the land where we sit and stand today is the territory of the Otoe and Missouria Tribes.”
Also included in the Ceremony was a striking interactive demonstration that put students and community members in the position of Native peoples facing extermination, first through European diseases, then through the many cruel relocation efforts taken by the U.S. government, as well as many other hardships endured, even in recent years.
“The focus of the program is not to point fingers,” emphasized Ron Owens, who led the Ceremony with his wife Jan.
The Owens are active members of Mid American Indian Fellowships (MAIF), an organization working to restore and reclaim indigenous cultures and traditions.
Jan Owens hopes the event will lift up the stories of Native peoples.
“[Storytelling] is what the Native Americans did. The generational and restoration projects that we’re doing [are] to bring back these stories and to add our [own] stories, [as well],” she said.
Students and community members closed the night by sharing their honest reactions to the Ceremony and suggesting actions everyone can take to support Native peoples, ranging from further promotion of the historical truth about the atrocities imposed upon Native Americans, to getting one’s local church or community organization involved with helping indigenous peoples today, perhaps by partnering with MAIF.
Jewell students wishing to make a difference in the lives of Native Americans today should consider joining the upcoming Fall Break Service Trip to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in Bridger, South Dakota. Those interested in volunteering should contact Jewell Chaplain Jeff Buscher in his office in Gano Chapel or email email@example.com.
The Native American Blanket Ceremony was a reminder to Jewell’s campus and communities like it to remember the injustices of the past and seek out opportunities for peace in the future.
“Let us learn to live in right relationship with this land and with all peoples,” expressed the program’s ending lines.
Cover photo by Cassidy Winsor.