Erica, what is your current leadership position in the Mennonite church?
I work with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Central States with the Indigenous Vision Center (IVC). I connect with indigenous organizations already doing social justice work in the United States and support their work. I also connect with work being done on indigenous issues in Canada through the Aboriginal Neighbors program. I recently had the opportunity to study in India through an MCC connection with the School of Peace and learn with and from indigenous people from around the world. Another part of my role is to raise awareness about indigenous issues in the broader Mennonite Church.
How did you find yourself in that position?
Mennonite Central Committee runs in my family, and I started with MCC in 2000 as a summer service worker in my home community of Busby, Mont. I spent four summers working in my local community through the White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church. I then joined the MCC Central States board and also began volunteering within many MCC and Mennonite Church committees. In 2007, a service worker position opened up at the Oglala Lakota Nation (OLN) Unit in Pine Ridge, South Dakota ,so I applied and began working with MCC there. The OLN Unit, then, transitioned into my current work with the Indigenous Vision Center.
What is it about this work that you are passionate about?
I love it all! Connecting globally with other indigenous people is inspiring and life giving. I find that we have similar issues and problems, and I am always amazed at the indiGENIUS that comes when we can come together in similar experiences even though we live worlds apart. I especially enjoy seeing how other groups work toward healing, justice and transformation.
One central piece of my work right now is addressing the Doctrine of Discovery, which was the theological justification that settlers used to take land from indigenous people. Last May, at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the World Council of Churches called for the Doctrine of Discovery to be repudiated, and it has become a growing movement. I am working with others to discern the next steps churches can take in repudiating it.
You are also a member of the steering committee for the Mennonite Church USA Women in Leadership Project. How does this connect to your work and interests?
I feel that colonization and the ‘isms (racism, sexism, etc.) intersect. The same mentality of domination is at the root of all injustice. I feel that my work with IVC coincides with the Women in Leadership Project and enhances my work and experience with the steering committee. I’ve always been involved with women’s issues in one way or another, but this project is a good way to work at making changes and progress in the church toward undoing patriarchy. It is exciting work and cutting edge.
What is the transformation you hope will happen through this work?
Honestly, I don’t know what transformation is needed, but I can dream of a different world, so I know it exists. The mystery and the “not knowing” is the best part because it allows me to work collaboratively and collectively with others to figure out together what we need to learn personally and how to take that learning to the church. I’m excited to be a part of trying to figure it out.
How can the church encourage healthy relating across gender lines?
In my work with IVC we use a document called, “Qualities of Authentic Relationships Across Differences” to guide our work. I believe this can be applied to gendered relationships as well. If we can learn to be in authentic relationships with ourselves, then we can be in authentic relationships with others despite our differences, and we can connect in an appropriate way to the land that sustains us. It’s amazing how much change is possible if we first change ourselves.
What keeps you motivated?
It doesn’t feel like work! It feels like a part of who I am and the work I do feels natural and spirit-filled. I am also motivated by my nieces and the realization that I want a different world for them. I always wanted to change the world—the “world” being outside of me. I began to realize the biggest change I could make was through changing myself. Being willing to take on the hard work of self- transformation is the best way of ensuring that my nieces will live in a different and better reality than mine.
This column is part of the Women in Leadership Project, co-coordinated by Hilary J. Scarsella and Joanna Shenk. If you would like to get involved with the Project, email Hilary at firstname.lastname@example.org