American Indian Ministry Sunday/United Samoan Ministries Stewardship Sunday
What if we should lose our saltiness? What if we should lose our taste, or our ability to make the world taste good, at least better than it does? In a way, our vision of a Just World for All is also of a world that tastes good, or a world that has not lost its saltiness. Jesus said we should be salt among ourselves and be at peace with one another. There are those in this world who salt it by their presence. Such a one was Juanita Helphrey (“Maaodagabagi Oxhaadish” White Flower).
In 1997, Juanita and five others were arrested for burning a Wahoo (“Chief” Wahoo is the mascot of the Cleveland Indians baseball team) effigy outside the gates of the World Series. The charges were dropped but she was indefatigable when it cane to speaking up for Native American peoples, especially for the people of North Dakota. She herself was a member of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation and a member of the National Staff of the United Church of Christ from 1991-2004.
She died in January, 2018 leaving a legacy of commitment and leadership for all of us in the UCC. That legacy began in 1970 when she worked with the Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM). In 1975 she became the Executive Director for Indian Affairs of North Dakota. After representing North Dakota at the International Women’s Year Event in Houston, she was one of the women chosen to present their resulting resolution to President Carter. She salted us all both in her work and in those she inspired.
After leaving her work with the National Staff she became a licensed minister and the licensed pastor of the Independence Congregational United Church of Christ on the Fort Berthold Reservation. When she finally retired, she stayed there in Fort Berthold with her family–her three boys and grandson, sisters, nieces and nephew and her beloved dogs.
We are all connected one to the other, even with those we’ve never met. Somehow, on this planet, in this universe we are what makes the world what it is. Thank you, O God who has knit us together, thank you for the life of this woman who fought for remembrance and education and inclusion of all people. Her life has added salt to our world.