My name is Fern Cloud. I was born in the Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota reservation in Northeastern South Dakota. Most of my life has been in a lay ministry, working mostly with street people and young people. I didn't really become a Presbyterian until 2000; I was non-denominational before that.
I was called by the Upper Sioux Community in Granite Falls, Minnesota. They called me and asked me if I would be their pastor because the tribal vice chairperson, I had worked with her. She really liked my experiential life in terms of balancing my culture and traditions with my Christian faith. So I came on board, and I felt it was God because I didn't pursue it - it just came to me.
Christianity and the Native American
The joy that I have as pastor of Pejuhutazizi Presbyterian Church on the Upper Sioux Reservation, I think, is being able to bring the Gospel message in the Native context. And being able to have the freedom to minister in my language and sing in our language. It just makes total sense that that's the way that God would have it.
And also, as I became more and more visible within our church, our Presbytery recognized my skills. They've been adding more and more responsibilities within the presbytery and the synod and GA. I've really become a real active part of the whole PC(USA)'s hierarchy of administrations.
I don't think it's an accident or a coincidence that my journey has brought me back to Minnesota. So many of our people were told they couldn't be Christian and Indian; they had to choose. That's why I went to Bible college, that's why I studied the Bible, so that I could make sense of how could I be a Native Person and a Christian.
I am actually a great-great-granddaughter of Thaoyate Duta, or Little Crow. He was the Chief of the Dakota people that actually allowed the Presbyterians - Williamson and Stephen Riggs - to come in and build a school and a church. My great-great-grandmothers, they were their first students, and they were their first congregation, so you know, I'm very much connected.
The Dakota people in Minnesota were the first contact with the early Presbyterian Missionaries. John Williamson and the missionaries, they were very supportive in helping us to retain our language. They put together a dictionary, and they allowed us to preach and sing in our language. They really were supportive of keeping us as much in our culture, but bringing the Gospel message just to make our culture even better.
The Baltimore-Dakota Partnership
The Learning Camps partnership between congregations of the Presbytery of Baltimore and the Native American community of the Dakota Presbytery is a good example of how different cultures can work together in common mission without sacrificing cultural identity. The camp was founded in 2003 and chartered seven years later as a partnership of the Presbytery of Baltimore, under the Commission for Reconciliation.
The whole concept of the 'Learning Camp' was built on respect. We've been partnering with Baltimore, Maryland, Brown Memorial [congregations] for three years now. They come, and they don't bring Vacation Bible School in the old-school sense, you know, "We come to bring Jesus to you." That's been a very painful experience for many of the older people. So we looked at that and we decided that we needed to do something new in partnerships for our youth. So they are loving Christians who come, and by their actions they display the Gospel message and love of Christ as they help our students prepare for school with their academics.
The Native People are really a vital part in the Body of Christ, especially because America is our homeland. The Creator put us here as stewards of this land. So I'm really excited that the Native People are becoming more visible and a voice, a valued voice within the PC(USA).