The Journey to an Indigenous Church: the History of The Christian and Missionary Alliance Work with Native Americans

Doug Haskins

     In this article I want to review the seventy years of The Christian and Missionary Alliance work with Native Americans, specifically as it relates to the development of a true, indigenous Native Church. I will start with the historical beginnings of this ministry of the Alliance and point out along the way what I believe are some key incidents in the development of the Native Church. This article is being written based on the belief that the best way to reach the Native American today and tomorrow is through a true, indigenous Native Church, functioning within the framework of The Christian and Missionary Alliance.

     After I have looked at the history of the work, I will offer some observations I have made or learned from doing the research for this article and from ten years of ministry with Native Americans. It is my hope and prayer that this article can and will be used to strengthen the Alliance work with Native Americans, specifically in the area of moving towards a true, indigenous Native Church.

The First Quarter-Century, 1924-1948: The Years of Sacrifice

     The mission with Native Americans started from the burden of two single ladies, Miss Belle Thompson and Miss Dorothy Hanley, who were students at St. Paul Bible College in the early 1920s. They went to the northern part of the state of Minnesota and started an outreach among the Chippewa/Ojibwe people on the Leech Lake Reservation at Onigum around 1925.1 In a few years the work had expanded to include a site on the White Earth Reservation at Naytahwaush started by Floyd Pollock, along with a station at Perch Lake on the Fond Du Lac Reservation in Minnesota by Mr. and Mrs. Puckett. These works were under the leadership of the Northwestern District.

     These people were responding to a burden they had from God for the Native American people. They went out as home missionaries with the prayer and moral support from the Northwestern District. The financial support they received was around $20 a month, when the funds were available.

     The Lord was moving on the White Earth Reservation. By 1931, the station at Naytahwaush was organized and a new work was opened on the White Earth Reservation with Mr. Swante Lindquist and Mr. Herbert Rupp. The Pollocks moved from the White Earth reservation to the Leech Lake Reservation to the town of Cass Lake to start another site amongst the Chippewa. By 1936, this new mission in Cass Lake was also organized. The ministry had grown in these ten years—there were seventeen workers among the Native Americans at this time, with the majority of them being in Northern Minnesota and a couple in North Dakota.

     Growth continued at a fast pace. In 1937, a Chippewa convert from the White Earth Reservation, Mr. Selam Ross and his wife Adeline, began a ministry of evangelism at Squaw Point on the Leech Lake Reservation and in the Vineland area on the Mille Lacs Lake reservation as well as at White Earth. In 1938, a work was started in Fort Totten, North Dakota with the Sioux by Miss Belle Thompson. An additional site on the Leech Lake Reservation was started at Inger by Miss Elsie Rupp.

     It was about this time of 1937-38 that another ministry among Native Americans was started in a different area of the country. “Miss Janny Carlyle Hardgraves had a burden for the Lumbee Indians in the Southwest part of the state of North Carolina. E.H. Clemmer picked up this burden and began working with the Lumbees around Lumberton, NC at this time.”2 This effort was under the direction of the South Atlantic District.

     The decade of the '40s saw continued growth. It was during these years that many significant happenings took place. In 1943, the building at White Earth burned to the ground, temporarily shutting down the site. In 1944, the Northwestern District saw a need to establish some bylaws specifically for the mission. By 1945, the work had increased to the point that the district realized there was a need for an Indian camp and Bible school. They saw the need to train Native Americans to reach their own people. Forty acres five miles north of Cass Lake had been donated by a Christian Chippewa man, Laverne Bunker, for this purpose. Coupled with this was the recognition of the need for “a man to be appointed by the District Executive Committee to head the Indian work, under the direction of the District Superintendent.”3

     Part of the reason for growth during this decade was the sacrifice and dedication of the workers. The budgeted monthly allowance each worker received during this time from the district was $25. Some months no allowance came and often only a partial allowance was paid out. “In Arlee, Montana, Miss Anna Sontra and Miss Belle Thompson took what they were getting for allowance and used it to purchase 3 lots for $50.00 per lot.”4 It was this willingness to sacrifice and the determination to see the work grow, regardless of the cost, that helped the growth during this time period.

The Golden Years, 1948-1954: The Years of Progress

     By 1948 in the Northwestern District, there were fourteen Indian stations with thirty-four workers.5 The “First Native American pastor, Selam Ross, was ordained this year.”6 Mokahum Bible School also was started this year along with adult and youth camps for Native Americans on the forty acres of land which had been donated.

     The mission was growing, but not without cost.


Satanic forces oppose advance on every field. Early in the year we found it necessary to remove two of our workers from one of the fields. Drunken children, eight and ten years of age, ripped the screens from their windows because the girls would not let them come into the house. Young men, while under the influence of liquor, broke out six of their window panes, blackened one of the girl's eyes, and upon more than one occasion became so violent that their lives were in danger. . . . The same type of persecution broke out in another field. On the other hand, the blessings of God have rested upon some of the fields in a special manner. Souls have been saved on some, while on others God has given our workers the favor and confidence of the people.7

     With the “starting of the school the Northwestern District had established a standing committee, made up of people from the Northwestern District, to oversee the Native American work in their district.”8 In “1949 Rev. George French, the dean of men at St. Paul Bible College, was appointed Director of the Indian Work.”9 He served for a year and then “Rev. Keith Bailey in 1950 became the Director of the Indian work and the principal of Mokahum school.”10 The school was seen as the pivotal point for the ministry to continue and to grow. The potential of Native people reaching out to their own people with the gospel message was the driving force behind Mokahum school.


We are fully persuaded that the Mo-Kah-Um Indian Bible School is in the order of God. When Selam Ross, our faithful Indian brother, visits any of our fields, the Indians come out to hear him. This proves that genuinely converted, thoroughly consecrated, trained Indians can reach their own people. We would request much prayer, therefore, for faculty and students.11

     The mission was growing to the point that the Northwestern District was hard pressed to finance it. The main method used for raising support in the district was through offerings taken at youth rallies throughout the district. So “deputational trips outside of the district began about this time to other Alliance works to help in the support of the ministry to the Native Americans.”12

     The years of 1948 through 1954 are seen as the golden years of the mission by many people. “The district was working with people from four different tribes—Chippewa-Oneida-Cree-Sioux—in 11 different reservations. In 1950, seven new workers were added which brought the total up to 40.”13

     The first workers conference was held at Mokahum Bible School in 1950 with representatives from all sixteen stations attending.


The purpose of the conference was threefold. First, to provide a time of spiritual refreshing and fellowship for the missionaries. Secondly, to give the missionaries a better understanding of the needs and problems of other fields. Third, to study proper missionary methods to employ in building a native church among the Indians.14

“The predominate [sic] note of the conference was a unified organized effort to evangelize the Indians of the Northwest.”15

     An emphasis was placed upon working in the language of the target people group: “ten missionaries were studying the Chippewa language. In December of 1950, a radio ministry in the Chippewa language was started over the radio station in Bemidji, Minnesota. . . . This ministry was supported by the young peoples group of the Havelock Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.”16


     Also in 1950, “a representative of the American Bible Society spent six weeks with the personnel at Mokahum studying the Chippewa language to arrive at a phonemic alphabet.”17 This led to the beginning of the translation of the book of Mark into the Chippewa language. Coupled with this was “the preparation of a Chippewa primer and the inauguration of a reading campaign.”18 In 1951, a quarterly newspaper was started to give the news, needs and challenges of the American Indian Mission.

     This was a time of rapid implementation of new tools and ideas. Some statistical information concerning the work will help in understanding how strong it then stood. At the Northwestern District Conference in 1950, the Director of the Indian mission reported that the total number of established Christians among the Indians was 128. With established Christians being defined as those who had “proven themselves by a consistent Christian walk over a period of months or years.”19 That same year they reported “171 Indians have prayed for the first time.”20

     The goal and dream of the missionaries at this time was that “the Indian Christians would give and serve and propagate the Gospel among their own people.”21 Movement toward this dream becoming a reality was shown statistically: “giving $2,004.20 towards the local expenses of their missions. . . . The total missionary pledge for the Indian fields is $1,215.80.”22

     Two important developments occurred in 1953. One was the establishing of a six-month training program for new missionaries coming into the field held at Mokahum. The missionary candidates would “study the language, get acquainted with the methods and policies of the mission as well as learn to live and work in close contact with the Indian people.”23 The other highlight was “the appointing of one of the graduates of Mokahum Bible School, Mr. John Bobolink, Jr., as a full time missionary. This appointment brought the number of Native Men working full time as Official Workers to three.”24


     The Alliance work with Native Americans was at its high point in 1954, based on number of workers and number of fields: “There were 42 missionaries on 19 mission stations in the Northwestern District.”25 Another radio station was added, carrying the Chippewa broadcast. By this time it had grown to be “the largest Home Mission Development of The Christian and Missionary Alliance.”26 The work was continuing around Lumberton with the Lumbee Indians in North Carolina. It was about this time that “Rev. Eugene Hall started working with E.H. Clemmer in Lumberton. Within a few years the work had moved from an addition on a house to building its own meeting place.”27 In 1955, Mr. and Mrs. Hurd left a mission in Hard Rock on the Navaho reservation in Arizona. They came to Navaho Mountain area in the northwest corner of the Navaho reservation, on the Utah border. “They pitched a tent and started an outreach which would later grow into a church for The Christian and Missionary Alliance with the Navahos.”28

     During this time period of 1948 through 1954, the strategy behind the ministry was becoming more and more indigenous based.


A very vital part of our Indian Mission is the Bible training school. The future of the Indian church rests upon the success of this venture of faith. Only a well-trained, Spirit filled Indian Ministry can maintain the work already accomplished and continue to propagate the Gospel among their people.29

The Loss of Momentum, 1954-1974: The Years of Destabilization

     The gap between the strategy and reality of indigenization was already substantial and headed for worse. In 1954 the work closed in North Dakota on the Turtle Mountain Reservation at St. Johns. Rev. Keith Bailey, who appears to be the motivator behind the push for an indigenous church, resigned from his position as Principal of Mokahum and Director of the District's work with Native Americans. During this year there was also a major change in the structure of leadership over the work in the Northwestern District. The “title of Director of the American Indian Work was changed to Secretary, and the District Superintendent was placed in charge of the Indian Committee instead of the former director.”30

     The ministry had expanded past the limits of its financial resources. In 1954, “there was a severe testing when for a period no allowances were paid.”31 “By 1956, the work had dropped from 19 stations to 13 and from 42 workers to 33.”32 A couple of the workers needed to take leaves of absence for sickness, one for a nervous breakdown. The daughter of the principal of the school was sick and in need of hospitalization which pulled the principal away from his duties at the school. In 1957, she passed away, leaving her parents so distraught that they resigned from the school and moved away. On a more positive note, the District Superintendent of the Northwestern District called for renewed prayer and intercession on behalf of the work. “We must not allow the enemy to destroy this phase (Native American) of our work. Problems should be solved, differences put under the blood and together we should expect our best year to produce a strong, vigorous Indian Church!”33 (italics mine).

     It was during this difficult time that “three of the works amongst the Native Americans changed their emphasis of ministry from being `Indian stations' to `Anglo churches' at Cass Lake, Minnesota; Bena, Minnesota and Arlee, Montana. At Cass Lake, some of the Chippewa believers stayed with the Cass Lake church. Others moved down to Squaw Point to meet with Chippewa believers there.”34 In Bena, some of the Native believers left the church, holding meetings at Sugar Point. “In Arlee the two single lady missionaries, Miss Belle Thompson and Miss Anna Sontra, moved from Arlee to Ronan, Montana to continue working among the Flathead people.”35

     By the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s major social changes were taking place that greatly affected the ministry. The termination program of the federal government was being hotly contested because of what it was doing to the Native American people. The state of Wisconsin was hit especially hard by this program because the federal government had picked the reservations in this state to be the first ones to be terminated. During this time, the Northwestern District noticed three trends which were bringing about rapid change in the Native American populations.


1. A steady migration of the Indian population from the reservations to the cities and towns. One-third of all the Indians have left the reservations.

2. Some measure of education is now about universal: 130,000 Indian children and youth attended school last year.

3. The rate of population increase among Indians is more rapid than among white people. The number of Indians in the United States and Canada has doubled in the last sixty years.36

     In 1961, another call came from the Northwestern District Committee overseeing the Native work to move towards an indigenous church.


We recommend that a study committee of five, three of which to be Indian workers, be appointed by the District Executive Committee to study methods and policy necessary for the establishing of the indigenous church in Indian work and report back to the 1962 District conference.37

It is interesting to note the definition of indigenous church used by the District committee in making this recommendation: “A self-supporting church.” This partial definition shows that there were good intentions, but its omission of self-governing and self-propagating suggests some deficiency on the part of the District Indian Committee on what a true indigenous church should be.

     This well-intentioned recommendation was voted down by the conference representatives. There was a growing split between District Conference and its right of authority and the people involved in the outreach to Native Americans over the direction the mission should take. This is what the Assistant Director to the District, who was by virtue of his office the Director of the Indian Work, had to say in the conclusion of his report to District Conference the same year it rejected this study commission.


Each year our Indian Bible School becomes more important to our Indian work. As a trained Indian ministry begins to take responsibility, the results are most encouraging. Our goals for the future should include a steady increase of the percentage of trained Indian pastors and workers. Year after year, our budget for Indian work increases. We must aim for the day of the indigenous church which will increasingly shoulder its own responsibility, support its own trained Indian ministry and govern its own program.38

     Tension was mounting in the mission during the '60s, mainly over the issue of finances. The district was finding it increasingly difficult to find the funds for the growing budget of the Native American work within its boundaries. In 1962, the Northwestern District Conference passed a recommendation to “appeal to the Home Department for an annual grant of $10,000 from the established Home Mission Fund for the support of our Indian Mission.”39 No funds were sent from the Home Department.


     The Northwestern District did see a need for the workers among the Native Americans to have a stronger voice in the decision-making process. So in 1962, they “changed their district constitution governing the ministry amongst American Indians to allow the workers to elect a Field Secretary who would be a member Ex-officio on the District Indian Committee.”40 They also saw the importance of developing and using literature that was specifically geared toward the Native American as a means of outreach. “A budget line item was added by the district in 1963 for this purpose.”41

     However, at the same time as these hopeful steps above, other decisions were being made that were counterproductive to achieving an indigenous church. One was “closing down the six months training program for new missionaries coming into the work in 1964.”42 Another decision involved the reworking of the District Committee overseeing the Indian work. The representation on the committee was not balanced: there were more people on the committee not directly involved in ministry to the Native Americans than there were who were directly involved, and the committee was too large.


The Committee on Indian Work shall have authoritative control and direction of the work along administrative lines and shall consist of the Director (Assistant District Director), the Field Secretary and the Principal of Mokahum Bible School, wh<M%-1>o shall be members ex-officio<D%0>. Six additional members shall be elected by the District Prayer Conference for a term of three years; one missionary to the American Indians and one district worker to be elected each year. (italics mine)

     was changed to

     . . . shall consist of the Director (Assistant District Director), the Field Secretary and the Principal of Mokahum Bible School, who shall be members ex-officio. Four additional members who shall be elected by District Conference for a term of two years; one pastor and one layman to be elected each year.43

This helped in cutting the number of people on the committee from nine to seven. But it only made the balance on the committee worse by eliminating the requirement of a missionary working with the Native Americans. This reduced the representation on the committee of people actively involved in the work, while keeping others who were not involved. When the District Committee was reduced in this manner, the District was undermining the need for Native people to be a part of the decision-making process, contrary to the indigenous principles of self-governance.

     Another important event which occurred in 1964 was a request from the Indian Workers' Conference in the Northwestern District:


     That the Indian Workers' Conference go on record as favoring nationalization of Alliance Home Missions and that we request the 1964 District Conference of the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance to send a letter to the Home Department of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, expressing this request and calling for positive steps to be taken to effect this at the earliest possible date.44

The hope was, that by being nationalized, the ministry would have a larger base of support.

     In 1965, the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance was divided up into four different districts. One effect this had on the work with Native Americans was to take four of the existing areas of ministry and move them from the Northwestern District to the control of the Rocky Mountain District (Fort Yates, North Dakota; McLaughlin, South Dakota; Hays, Montana; and Ronan, Montana). Because of this breakup into four different districts, there was further concern over how this might erode the support base for the mission among the Native Americans, unless it was nationalized.

     The Home Department of The Christian and Missionary Alliance had sent out a proposed outline of the nationalization of Home Missions. After studying it, the Northwestern District agreed with the reasons for the nationalization of Home Missions:

     1. WHEREAS the desire to include our Indian Work in a national Home Missions program is based on the very reasons stated in the Home Department paper as the need for nationalization, which are as follows:  

     1. Lack of administration

     2. Failure to employ proper missionary methods

     3. Failure to have an indigenous church as a goal

     4. Inadequate and inequitable financing

     5. Limited promotion45

It is the opinion of a number of people involved in this ministry today that these issues remain some of the main problems. The District Executive Committee of the Northwestern District listed three additional reasons for the need to nationalize the outreach among the Native Americans at this time:

     WHEREAS other Home Missions have been nationalized by our society, and

   WHEREAS the Northwestern District is finding it financially impossible to carry the whole burden of this ministry, and

     WHEREAS it seems apparent that the Rocky Mountain District is not able to finance the Indian Work in that area; it is hereby RESOLVED, that the district superintendent inform the Home Secretary of The C&MA that due to these financial problems, we again urge the nationalization of the Indian Work. . . . 46

     Even during this time of financial stress, a new initiative began which was a step towards developing an indigenous church. In 1965, Rev. Charles Fiero was approached about returning to Minnesota from Canada to head up a literature program to include:


1. Completion of translation of the New Testament and certain portions of the Old Testament (into Chippewa)

2. Development of the monthly publication Truth

3. Preparation of a hymnbook in the Chippewa language

4. Provide tracts in “Indian English”

5. General translation work

6. Taking charge of Bible correspondence courses

7. Teaching students with an aptitude for literary work (italics mine).47

By 1969, out of this literature program had grown a newspaper/magazine for Christian Native Americans called The Indian Christian.

     By the end of the 1960s, involved people were starting to be discouraged. Forty years of work were completed and there were really no strong churches to point to. The works at Naytahwaush, White Earth and Cass Lake, promising in the late '40s and '50s, now were either shut down or struggling to exist. In 1953, the “largest work amongst the Native Americans was in Oneida, Wisconsin among the Oneida people.”48 By 1970, the station no longer existed.

     A number of questions were being asked about the causes of the decline. Three main reasons were given.

     1. Lack of proper methods, i.e., failing to work towards an indigenous church. “Students from Mokahum Bible School would come back to school saying their home churches would not allow them to be involved in the ministry when they were home.”49

     2. For almost all of the first forty years, the majority of the workers in the field were single ladies. These ladies were able to minister to the women and children, teaching Sunday schools and Bible studies with the ladies. They were very active in doing home visitation. “Miss Helen Johnson and Miss Elsie Rupp visited 450 homes their first year in McLaughlin, SD.”50 This isn't speaking against single women missionaries. Without them the Alliance would possibly not have any viable mission with the Native Americans. They responded to the call of God with their lives. Many of the single women were the most dedicated, sacrificing, loving workers on the field. But if you are to build a church, at some point you need to be reaching men. If anything, this speaks against the vision of the organization, not the single women who gave their lives to the work.

     3. The lack of available workers, especially Native American Christian men. If you are not reaching men, you have a very small pool from which to pull pastors. Many of the stations died off slowly because no worker could be found to stay and work with the people. Part of this problem of lacking leadership may derive from using the traditional Western approach to training leaders, a Bible school where the students would leave home to be trained. When they came back, many people in the area thought the students no longer fit into the community, thus limiting their ministry.

The Promise of Nationalization, 1975-1997: The Native American District

     The '70s was a decade of major change. Responses to the call to nationalize and the three factors above, brought major change in 1975. The work was nationalized as an ethnic district under what was called Specialized Ministries (today it is called Intercultural Ministries), under the supervision of what used to be called the Home Department, now called the Division of Church Ministries.

     The strategy of the outreach was to develop an indigenous work. This meant a fresh look at how to develop leaders. Mokahum Bible School had produced some graduates. However, by the '70s only two pastors working in the field had graduated from Mokahum: Rev. Herman Williams and Leonard Fineday. There were other men who were graduates of Mokahum who were pastors, but they were not pastors with the Alliance. In 1975, the “expected enrollment at Mokahum was one student.”51 Whereas in 1970, “there was an enrollment of fifteen students.”52 The “highest number of students to attend Mokahum in a year had been 20, in 1953.”53

     Specialized Ministries decided to use a Theological Education by Extension (TEE) program instead of the Bible school. Mokahum was closed. The hope was that it would be easier to find men willing to be pastors and to be trained if they did not have to leave their home. The training would be more relevant to the specific areas the people were living in. TEE has seen good success with many different ethnic groups, but it has never caught on with Native Americans. From 1975 until 1997, four men have been trained for the pastorate in the Native American District through the TEE program. Of these four, only one is actively serving in the district in 1997.

     From the mid-'70s up through the early '80s, the churches in the newly formed Native American District were learning how to come together and function as a district. By 1978, they had drawn up a set of bylaws for the District to follow.


1. The following committees are set up as standing committees of the Alliance Indian Church Conference: The Budget Committee, Tellers, Evangelism and Church Planting Committee, Conference Committee, Program Committee (Sisseton 1978).

2. Each member congregation in the Alliance Indian Church Conference will be required to support the operation of the field offices and the field executive committee by sending 5% of its total monthly income to the field treasurer.

3. The term of office for members of the field executive committee shall be for two years.54

     The structural format of the new Native American District was a carbon copy of the structure of a regional district. On the surface the work became indigenized in 1975 by the forming of a Native American District. But structurally nothing had changed. It was still required to function along a Western structure instead of being allowed to develop a structure based on the cultures of the different Indian tribal groups.

     These early years gave hope of being indigenous, of being self-governing, for the new district. In 1971, Rev. Herman Williams resigned from his position as principal of Mokahum Bible School and moved back to Arizona to work with his people, the Navaho. He moved to Navaho Mountain where Mr. and Mrs. Hurd had been faithfully carrying on a small ministry with the people.

     When Herman arrived, he “stressed indigenous principles from the beginning.”55 “When he was doing home visitation, he would take leaders from the church with him, teaching them how to do visitation.”56 He taught and encouraged the people to be involved in their church, to be active in the church instead of allowing the white people and a few others to do everything. At first it was a struggle, but the Holy Spirit began to move. By 1978, the church had tripled in size, mainly through the application of indigenous principles in the church.

     In 1977, another mission group based in Flagstaff, Arizona was struggling with a ministry they had in Shonto, Arizona, which is about fifty miles from Navaho Mountain. “Because of the growth in the work at Navaho Mountain, they offered to turn the Shonto work over to the Alliance. So a Navaho man who was being trained at Navaho Mountain Church, Amos Grass, went to the Shonto church as a pastor.”57


     When the Native American District was formed in 1975, a field executive committee was formed which consisted mainly of Native American men from different churches in the new District. For the first time, the “committee over the work” was Native American instead of Anglo. In 1977, the Field Executive Committee had set a goal “that decisions will be made for the Indian Church by the Indian Committee.” In 1979, they learned, “The Field Executive Committee does not have the authority to re-assign personnel when necessary. This responsibility lies with Specialized Ministries Director . . .”58 In order for the Field Executive Committee to have the final authority in making decisions, the district needed to become a fully organized district. The 1989 edition of the Manual for The Christian and Missionary Alliance set the number of organized churches needed to become an organized district under Specialized Ministries at ten. In the 1995 edition of the Manual, the number of organized churches needed to become an organized district under Intercultural Ministries is forty. Until an ethnic district becomes fully organized, all decisions in the district have to be ratified by the Division of Church Ministries through Intercultural Ministries.

     The newly formed District was focusing on growing as fast as it could. The Christian and Missionary Alliance Church as a whole had a campaign going during this time period to double in size by 1987. Likewise, the “Native American District at their District Conference in Aberdeen, SD in 1979 voted to double their constituency and double their number of churches giving them 22 churches.”59

     In 1982, the Native American District set a goal of being fully organized by 1987. This meant going from one organized church at Navaho Mountain to ten organized churches in five years. The District had eleven places where work was going on, but only one was organized as a church at the time. The “qualification to organize as a church was and is to have 20 adult members.”60 By 1985, four other churches had become organized: in 1983, Sisseton, South Dakota; in 1985, Dunsieth, North Dakota, Twin Cities, Minnesota and Mokahum Chapel at Cass Lake, Minnesota. The District has not organized another church since the three were organized in 1985.

     One of the hopes for nationalizing the mission was that it would make available more finances to help the work grow. At first this was true, but by the early '80s through General Council action, the process of funding cross-cultural work in the USA was changed, thus limiting available resources. By 1979, the Chippewa Bible broadcast was dropped to one station. By 1982, this ministry was stopped because there was no funding for it. “In 1978, Specialized Ministries decided to reprioritise funding to church planting over auxiliary ministries. Thus funding for the Alliance Indian Publications, the literature work of the District, was stopped by the fall of 1979.”61 This meant stopping the production of the Christian Magazine, the Indian Christian. When this decision came down from Specialized Ministries, the publication part of the ministry went independent, relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba and joined with another magazine called Indian Life. Today this ministry is growing as an independent organization called Indian Life. They produce a newspaper called Indian Life with an “estimated readership of over 250,000.”62

     The early and mid-'80s were a positive, promising time for the newly formed District. There was progress in becoming indigenous. New works were being started. In 1983, a chart was drawn up which showed the growth of the district towards becoming fully indigenous.

1975 1983
1. Field Committee made up of all but one or two Anglo pastors. Field Committee made up of all Indians except for one Anglo.
2. The field was dependent totally on outside finances to operate. Conference churches partially support the conference with ten percent of their total offerings and are working toward full support. The total is $2,448 for the last year.
3. One organized Indian church. Three organized churches with several more soon to organize.
4. One Indian pastor. Seven Indian pastors.
5. Missionaries manning all but one mission station or church. Only two churches led by missionaries.
6. No church building constructed and paid for by Indian people. Two church buildings constructed and paid for by the people.
7. No new works started by Indian people. Four works started by Indian people: Tuba City, Paiute Mesa, Bena, Phoenix.
8. Few aggressive plans and goals for church growth. Preliminary work has been done to begin a number of churches in eastern North Carolina. Goals have been written up to establish works in Denver and Los Angeles. Plans are to have regional divisions in AICC with each region having its own “Regional Director.”
9. No ongoing program to train and sharpen the skills of existing pastors. Quarterly Leadership Training Seminars.
10. Mokahum Indian Bible School. Field-wide TEE with a full time Field Coordinator.
11. No missionary receiving even partial support from the local congregation. One pastor supported by the congregation. Ten pastors receiving at least partial support, with all churches working towards full financial independence.63

     In an effort to see the District grow, to see more churches organized and to finally become self-governing, the Field Executive Committee studied the Native American populations in this country. They recognized the trend of more and more Native Americans moving into urban settings. Demographic study by the Field Executive Committee in 1985 “showed that 53% of the Indian population was under the age of 16.”64 During the 1980s, an emphasis was put on reaching metropolitan areas, with a strong emphasis on young adults. The hope was that the Native American people would be more responsive to the gospel when they had moved into an urban setting.

     In 1983, Craig Smith moved to Phoenix, Arizona to start an outreach; in 1988, one was started in Seattle, Washington; in 1989, another was started in Colorado Springs; in 1992, another was started in Portland, Oregon; and also in 1992, an attempt was made to start a work in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Out of these five starts, two are still going today. Phoenix closed in 1994 when the people grew tired of not being able to find a pastor. In 1994, the ministry in Colorado Springs transferred from the Native American District to the Mid-American District, and in 1996 it was decided to move the couple working in Albuquerque to Flagstaff, Arizona.

     By 1984, the Field Executive Committee realized that changes were needed in the structure of the District. The geographical distances between churches were too great, and the cost of getting to all the churches was too high to allow for visitation from the leadership in the District. Most of the works were struggling and in need of some guidance and support from the District leadership. In an attempt to help in this area, “the district added an assistant director to be the main person to travel and help the churches in the northern part of the country while the director would travel among the churches in the southern part of the country.”65

     By 1988, they realized this structure wasn't working well either. So they “proposed an Assistant Director in the north and one in the south with a Director overseeing the whole work.”66 The idea was that these three positions would be salaried positions supported by Intercultural Ministries. This plan was not ratified by Intercultural Ministries; thus it was not put into practice.

     In 1989, at District Conference, a bold step was taken by the District to “establish a goal of having 70 churches by 1996. The hope was that the Native American District would start about four churches during this time. The other churches, around 40, would come from a joint effort of local Alliance churches in areas with a Native American population working with the District to establish these churches.”67 This goal saw the responsibility of reaching Native Americans resting with both the Native American churches within the Alliance, and the denomination itself. From this goal, three churches were started by the District—Colorado Springs, Colorado; St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon. By 1996, only one of these—Portland, Oregon—was still in existence.

     By the end of the '80s and the early '90s, frustration was settling in on the leadership in the Native American District: frustration with not being able to come up with finances to support the plans for growth the District had envisioned and frustration from having to have all decisions ratified. In 1991 a study commission formed to look at the way the District was structured and come up with some suggestions. This study committee recommended changing the leadership structure from a western model to a model more like the traditional Native American structure. It was felt by Intercultural Ministries that the structure of the District was too top-heavy, meaning the majority of the funds going into the district were supporting the structure instead of going toward new initiatives. What developed is the Council system the District is functioning under today. The Native churches in different regions of the country gather together forming a regional Council. Each regional Council functions as the Field Executive Committee for that region, with only one Director over the District.

     In 1991, when the Council system was introduced, the morale and hope of the District was at an all time low. Discouragement was strong throughout the District. The District Director had just resigned his position. There wasn't a Native American man to take his place, so the District elected a man who had been a missionary for over twenty years. To some this was seen as going backwards, losing what ground had been gained toward being indigenous.

     Discouragement was so high during this time that for four years, no District Conference was held because the churches in the different areas could not agree on a time or a place to meet. God used this time to strengthen the regional Councils by building working relationships between the churches in each regional Council. Each Council decided how often they were going to meet. One chose every other month and another one chose four times a year.

     The churches contribute ten percent of what comes into the church to the local Council. This is similar to the ten percent the churches gave to the District under the old system, the difference being that each Council decides how the money collected from the churches will be used in their own area or region. In a few years, the churches saw the money in the Council grow to the point where the Councils were helping churches in need. This has led to a growth in hope for the churches. They are beginning to grasp that God can and will build His Church through them. Yet in going to the regional Council system, a native voice on the national level has been weakened. Some major decisions such as closing a work and how to dispose of items such as chairs, tables and musical instruments, were made by Intercultural ministries without consulting the regional Council.

Some Observations

     1. The Native American District in The Christian and Missionary Alliance is quite a way from being truly indigenous. Having their own District, with a Director and a District Conference, does not suffice to make it indigenous. As long as decisions have to be ratified by the Division of Church Ministries, it is not fully an indigenous work. The difficulty does not lie in the desire of the Division of Church Ministries. It is their goal and desire to see indigenization achieved.

     The problem is the process to follow in becoming indigenous. Here is where the cultures clash. Western culture says the first step to becoming indigenous is becoming self-supporting. In other words, he who has the money makes the decisions. For the majority of Native American cultures, the right to self-governance is not based on money but on experience and wisdom. In the Western culture, the value of experience and wisdom is based upon the amount of money produced. In Native American cultures, the value of experience and wisdom is based on what has been secured for the community, not the individual.

     From the perspective of the Native American District, self-governance needs to be the starting point of the process of developing indigenous churches. This was the first goal set by the newly formed District in 1977. It has yet to happen. To have decisions ratified by outsiders is demeaning, patronizing and similar to treating people like they are children or captives/slaves of war. (In Jesus' day, for example, the Jewish people had to have their major decisions ratified by the Romans.) The time has come to stop relating to the Native Americans as a conquered people.

     We need to ask ourselves if we would continue to give money to something over which we did not have the final say. Asking the Native Churches to become self-supporting before they are self-governing is doing just that. Asking them to fund and support methods and structures which they do not relate to is telling them, “This is the direction you will go, and you will pay for it yourselves.” Again this is treating them like a conquered people instead of brothers and sisters, equals in Christ. If the Native American work is going to become indigenous, the lesson from history is that it must first become self-governing before it will become self-supporting.

     2. Finances have continually been a handicap in the development of the District. Again, this is the area which has been placed first in the process of becoming indigenous. There is some irony here. In establishing a new geographical district in The Christian and Missionary Alliance it is recommended that there be forty churches before a District is formed. This is generally the size needed to support a District. Yet for ethnic districts, they are being told to support financially a district geographically as big as the whole US with as few churches as they have. But they cannot be self-governing until they reach the magical number of forty churches. Then shouldn't the Alliance be subsidizing the ethnic districts until they reach that magical mark of forty churches?

     Of course, there are two sides to the financial issue. The other side is the reluctance of the Native Churches to assume fiscal responsibility. “Churches which were started under the old system—before the formation of the District—have had a hard time changing their philosophy to an indigenous one from a mission way of thinking.”68 By “mission way of thinking,” what is meant is an expectation that says we (the Native Churches) are to be on the receiving end of giving. We have no giving responsibilities. People from the outside will take care of our needs. In contrast, the indigenous philosophy says, “We are responsible before God to meet the needs of our church.” There is a danger when any people group looks to its denomination to continually supply its needs. It can easily assume or expect an unlimited amount of aid. Only God is this resourceful!

     Often people suppose the main reason the native churches don't support a pastor is because the people are living at poverty level. It is true that many Native Americans earn below-average wages, but I do not believe this is the main reason. A couple of years ago, an Anglo lady went to be with the Lord leaving a sizable amount of money in her will to a specific Native Church. When the church received this money, the people stopped giving to the church until the money from the will was gone. I believe this shows part of the difficulty is in the way the people look at the finances of the church. If there is sufficient money to cover the needs, why give? Some have taught the responsibility of the believer to support the local church and the pastor, but we need to find ways to culturally make stewardship of our resources understood.

     I have had a couple Native Americans explain to me that for their culture it is considered promoting laziness to pay a man for being the spiritual leader. He needs to work full time plus be the spiritual leader. This cultural thinking goes against biblical teaching. It needs to be addressed at every level, not just preached from the pulpit.

     3. Finding, developing and keeping leaders for the Native American ministry has been a big problem from the beginning. Seeing the ineffectiveness of reaching Native Americans while working in a structure based on Western thinking has led to many leaders leaving the work and/or the Alliance. After seventy years of ministry the problem has not grown smaller. Instead it has become bigger. During the '40s and '50s, Mokahum Bible School was the hope for supplying leaders. In the '70s, this hope switched to the TEE program. For the TEE program to be successful, it needs to be owned by the people and it needs to be taught in a healthy church. When it is tried in a struggling, weak church, it is greatly limited in what it will produce as leaders. We in the Alliance need to take a long hard look at some of the difficulties we have seen in producing leaders.

     First, there has been a lack of biblical accountability and applying church discipline. Or to put it another way, the lack of willingness to confront a brother or sister in Christ when we suspect doctrinal or moral error. Without accountability there is no support system to help carry us through the hard and discouraging times.

     A second area that has worked against developing and keeping leaders is the area of finances. There are a couple of reasons why finances are a hindrance. Times have changed the way people look at working for God. Today it is viewed as an occupation instead of as a calling, a business instead of a ministry. This means people are not willing to work if they don't receive what they consider to be an adequate financial reward. We need to get back to the thinking of the early workers. They had a calling from God, and they were going to carry it out. They trusted God to meet their needs. They sacrificed their salaries in order to purchase land and buildings in which to meet.

     We need to learn from the past. There is a need for Native American men and women who have had formal training in a Bible School. More Native Americans are earning graduate degrees. For a man to effectively pastor these people, he is going to need a graduate degree. Part of this training needs to be in the area of Native American cultures and contextualization. Yet others will find the training given by the TEE program very adequate for their ministry. We can't be emphasizing one method over the other. If the Alliance is going to meet the full cultural spectrum of Native Americans today, we need both a Bible school education at the graduate level and the TEE program.

     4. An emphasis in the past twenty years has been put on reaching the Native Americans in the cities. What the workers in the District have observed is that there are many similarities between reservation works and urban works. Both struggle to support a pastor and to financially take care of facilities. Both ministries tend to develop along clan/family lines or in the urban setting, tribal lines. The size of the church on the reservation and in the urban setting are pretty much the same. An average size would be about twenty people.

     Yet there are some differences. The issue of contextualization is much stronger in the cities than on the reservations. The use of objects and symbols tends to be different in the cities than on the reservations. For example, Christians who have been raised in the traditional ways of the Sioux tend to frown on Christians having eagle feathers because they understand the spiritual significance of the feathers as identification with the eagle spirit. To them it would be like Korean Christians having a statue of Buddha in their houses to say they are Korean. On the other hand some Native Americans who have been raised in the cities within the Western culture would see feathers as a symbol of being Native American, nothing more. This difference in how objects and traditions are viewed by those raised traditionally and those raised in the Western culture is growing into a watershed issue. The larger evangelical Native Community is beginning to address these issues.


     The Christian and Missionary Alliance started to recognize the need for its Native American outreach to become indigenous in the early '50s. It made some positive steps in the direction of indiginezation. The process has to start with the right to be self-governing. The process cannot and will not be successful if we start by asking the churches to become self-supporting first! The best way to reach the Native American population in the US is through a strong, healthy indigenous church.

     Back in 1975, when the Native American District was formed, there were eleven groups, two of which were organized churches. In 1997, in the Native American District, there were thirteen, of which four were organized churches. Not much progress in twenty-two years! Some works have been closed or lost. Some new ones have been started. You might look at this twenty-two-year period and say that it points to the failure of the indigenous church philosophy. But I don't believe we can accurately say this, because as I have shown in this paper, the ministry has not become indigenous. So the past twenty-two years are not twenty-two years of operating under indigenous principles. They are twenty-two years of operating under mainly a mission mentality. The work still needs to become fully indigenous. May God help us as a denomination to work together for that end.


  1 Anna Sontra, “Rocky Mountain District Women's Work Notes,” Rocky Mountain District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, n.d.

  2 Rev. Eugene Hall, phone conversation concerning the start of the work in Lumberton, North Carolina, summer 1997.

  3 Report of the Home Committee of the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1945.

  4 Anna Sontra, “Rocky Mountain District Women's Work Notes.”

  5 Report of the District Superintendent of the Rocky Mountain District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1949.

  6 Ibid.

  7 American Indian Missions Report of the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1948.

  8 Report of Committee on Indian Work, Rocky Mountain District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1947.

  9 Report of Indian Committee at the Rocky Mountain District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1949.

 10 American Indian Mission Report to the Northwestern District Conference, of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1950.

 11 American Indian Missions Report to the Northwestern District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1948.

 12 Keith Bailey, “Report from the Director of Indian Work Office,” Rocky Mountain District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1950.

 13 Keith Bailey, “American Indian Missions Report,” Northwestern District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1950.

 14 Ibid.

 15 District Superintendent's Report of the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1950.

 16 Keith Bailey, “American Indian Missions Report,” Northwestern District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1951.

 17 Ibid.

 18 Ibid.

 19 Bailey, 1950.

 20 Ibid.

 21 Bailey, 1951.

 22 Ibid.

 23 Keith Bailey, “American Indian Missions Report,” Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1953.

 24 Ibid.

 25 Erwin Brueckner, “Alliance Mission to the American Indians Annual Report,” to the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1954.

 26 Ibid.

 27 Rev. Eugene Hall, 1997.

 28 Fern Williams, conversation with the author concerning the history of the Alliance work with the Native Americans, summer 1997.

 29 <M%-1>Keith Bailey, “Alliance Mission to the American Indians Annual Report” to the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1954, first section.

 30 “Indian Committee Report” to the Northwestern District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1954.

 31 Brueckner, “Alliance Mission to the American Indians Annual Report” to the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1954.

 32 Ibid., 1955, 1956

33 “District Superintendent's Report” to the Northwestern District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1957.

34 Herman Williams, conversation with the author about the history of the Alliance with Native Americans, 1997.

35 Leslie Pippert, “Alliance Mission to the American Indians Annual Report” to the Northwestern District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1958.

36 Carl Volstad, “Alliance Mission to the American Indians Annual Report” to the Northwestern District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1959.

37 “Report of the Committee on Indian Work” to the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1961.

38 “Report of the Assistant District Superintendent” to the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1961.

39 “Report of the Committee on Indian Work” to the Northwestern District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1962.

40 Ibid.

41 “Report of the Committee on Indian Work” to the Northwestern District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1963.

42 “Report of the Committee on Indian Work” to the Northwestern District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1964.

43 Ibid.

44 “Report of the Assistant District Superintendent of the Northwestern District” to the District Conference of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1966.

45 Richard Colenso, “Report of the Committee on Indian Work,” at the District Conference in the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1964.

46 “Report of the District Superintendent of the Northwestern District” to the District Conference of the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1966.

47 “Report of the Assistant District Superintendent” to the District Conference of the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1965.

48 Keith Bailey, “The Annual Report of the Alliance Mission to the American Indian” at the District Conference of the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1953.

49 Herman Williams, interviewed by the author in Tuba City, Arizona, summer 1997.

 50 Helen Johnson, interviewed by the author at Gettysburg, South Dakota, summer 1997.

 51 Dan Wetzel, “Cover Letter to the Preliminary Report on the Relocation of Mokahum Bible School,” 1975.

 52 Kenneth Doughman, “Report of Mokahum Indian Bible School” to the District Conference of the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1970.

 53 “Report of the District Superintendent” to the District Conference of the Northwestern District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1953.

 54 “Bylaws of the Alliance Indian Conference” from the District Conference of Alliance Indian District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, Sisseton, South Dakota, 1978.

 55 Herman Williams, summer 1997.

 56 Ibid.

 57 Ibid.

 58 “Minutes from the Field Executive Committee of the Native American District” of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Cass Lake, Minnesota, 1979.

 59 “Native American District Conference Minutes,” Aberdeen, South Dakota, 1979.

 60 Manual of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1994 ed., E14-1.

 61 “Minutes from the Indian Committee” of the Native American District in The Christian and Missionary Alliance, Sisseton, South Dakota, 1978.

 62 Craig Smith, interviewed by the author, summer 1997.

 63 Steve Wood, “Report of the Administrative Assistant of the AICC,” 1983.

 64 Field Executive Committee Report, September 11, 1986.

 65 “Minutes of the Native American District Conference,” Phoenix, Arizona, 1984.

 66 Stephen Wood, “Quarterly Report of the Assistant to the Native American Director of the Native America District,” Phoenix, Arizona, 1988.

 67 “Minutes of Native American Conference” of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, Colorado Springs, 1989.

 68 Stephen Wood, “Summary of TEE Work,” 1985.

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