Native American author says ‘be yourself’

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Native American author says ‘be yourself’

By J.A. Buchholz | July 15, 2010 {1198}

NOTE: A headshot of Richard Twiss is available at

FRUITLAND PARK — There is one true God, but there are many ways to worship him.

That was Richard Twiss’ message to participants attending the Florida Conference Committee on Native American Ministry (CONAM) annual retreat May 14-16 at the Florida Conference Life Enrichment Center. 

Richard Twiss

Twiss is a member of the Sicangu Band of the Rosebud Lakota/Sioux Tribe from South Dakota and author of “One Church, Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made You.” He is also co-founder and president of Wiconi International, which works to “promote community, strengthen culture and foster spiritual vitality among Native American or First Nations people,” according to its website. Wiconi means life in the Lakota/Sioux language.

Speaking about living in the United States as a Native American, Twiss said it is possible to be a Native American and a Christian. In fact, combining the two, he said, is liberating and crucial to the tapestry of the American narrative.  

Twiss said his vision is “to serve the church as a bridge builder and consulting resource to see Native people come to faith and life in Jesus Christ and fulfill their God-given place in the Body of Christ.”
Different, but equal

Referencing a Jewish poet who once said God loves stories so much he created human beings, Twiss said his own story began in 1974 when he became a Christian. Since then, he has been on a journey of reconciling the two halves of himself.

“I have been looking for inner peace; I have found it here. … There is no right or wrong here. It’s a place of acceptance.”

— Felip McMakin

That has included wrestling with such defining questions as “Is God a color?” and “Does it matter?”

“God is not colorblind; God sees color,” Twiss said. “He does not favor color. We are all equal in God’s sight. We are uniquely different.”

Within the Christian family, he said, it is common for people to self-identify ethnically, politically and religiously, a practice that can be traced to Acts 2 10:27, which describes Peter’s encounters with Gentiles, who were thought to be impure or unclean. Later, the scripture reveals that God accepts all people equally.

“We are free to be who God wants us to be,” Twiss said.

Native Americans have had a hard time believing that message, he said, because of their history and treatment by people within the religious community. Many Native Americans, he added, have been made to feel their use of music and ways of worshipping are contrary to scripture or simply “unChristian.”

Felip McMakin practices the art of fingerweaving, one of the workshops offered at the retreat. She said the weekend helped her learn ways to incorporate her Cherokee heritage into her American day-to-day living. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #10-1512. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Twiss played a video clip of various groups of indigenous people worshiping in Jerusalem. In addition to Native Americans, there were people were from New Guinea and Taiwan who worshipped through interpretive dance and played drums honoring their culture.

When Twiss asked participants what the video clip meant to them, one responded that it represented how it would be in heaven — people praising God in their unique way.

Twiss noted scripture emphasizing that no one culture has more value than another and said the video shows Native Americans they can be proud of who they are as Christians, while honoring their way of life. It’s important, he added, for Native American Christians to live out their faith authentically, for themselves and future generations.

Today, Twiss said, there is a new generation of Native Americans who are freeing themselves of the past and expressing their Christian faith.

“This is a vision,” he said. “I am prayerful that it catches on in the future.”

Healing space

Earlier in the day during a fingerweaving class, Vickie Swartz said she had never heard anyone relish their heritage the way Twiss does.

Fingerweaving is a Native American art form used mostly to create belts, sashes and straps through a non-loom weaving process. It and workshops on drumming, flute playing and beadwork were offered for the first time at a CONAM retreat.

Swartz, who lives in Sarasota, has attended the CONAM retreats for five years and serves on the CONAM board of directors.

“We were told for so long that we had to let go of the devil or our way of worshiping if we wanted to be Christian,” said Swartz, who is of Cherokee descent. “What Richard said sets us free. We have been validated and redeemed.”

Laney Burney (right) instructs a participant attending a fingerweaving class. Burney learned the art of fingerweaving while delving deeper into her Creek heritage and participating in Native American re-enactments depicting early 1880s camp life. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #10-1513. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Laney Burney, who taught the fingerweaving class and is of Creek descent, said she was pleased with the retreat. Burney regularly participates in Native American re-enactments. She also works as a secretary at Chiefland United Methodist Church.

“I wanted to come to get know people more,” Burney said. “I’m interested in worshiping in a native, cultural way.”

Nora ‘Red Sun Woman’ Kronewitter of Lakeland said she attended so she could praise God in a way that was complimentary to her Cherokee heritage. It was her first experience with the retreat, and she said she plans to attend again.

Felip McMakin was equally impressed. “It’s wonderful,” said McMakin, a Plant City resident and first-time attendee. “They are teaching the old ways.”

McMakin, who is also of Cherokee descent, said she has often struggled with finding a place to belong as a Native American Christian.

“I have been looking for inner peace; I have found it here,” she said. “It has been healing for me. … There is no right or wrong here. It’s a place of acceptance.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando
*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.

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