Michael Mulberry sends these ceremonies from First Congregational Church in Billings, Montana. These are his words:
I wanted to offer these two liturgies. One is a Garden Dedication. That garden will grow sage and sweet grass for Native smudging in the Native recovery models we host at our church (now one for every day of the week).
The other liturgy is a Tribal Flag Ceremony liturgy. We are the only place in Billings and maybe in all of Montana where these 8 Native flags of Montana will fly.
This was a magical day begun with welcoming Western Native Voice, a Native advocacy group, into our building with an open house. After the Tribal Flag Ceremony, we then had a feast and a Round Dance. The President of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Jace Killsback said that he had never heard any white leader denounce the Doctrine of Discovery and especially a white spiritual leader. He talked about how powerful that was for him and his people.
Tribal Flag Ceremony
Billings First Congregational Church
Rev. Mike Mulberry is the Senior Minister of Billings First Congregational Church.
Lisa Harmon is the Minister of Healing and Community Transformation of Billings First Congregational Church.
Rev. Marc Stewart is the Conference Minister of the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference.
Rev. Tracy Heilman is the Moderator of the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference and the Pastor at Columbus Community Congregational UCC.
C’yenna P L is a member of the Billings First Congregational youth group and is Blackfeet Nation.
Sadie P L is a member of the Billings First Congregational youth group and is a member of Blackfeet Nation.
Cheyenne Boyz Drummers: Bryce Lone Wolf, Jehan Walks Along, Jeremy Shoulderblade, and Pascal Highwalker.
Kinsley W presented the Northern Cheyenne flag with her daughter, Sadie. Kinsley is a member of Northern Cheyenne Nation.
Billy H presented the Crow flag. Billy is a member of Crow Nation.
Dyani B presented the Little Shell Chippewa flag and that is part of her ancestry
Jen C presented the Chippewa Cree/Rocky Boy flag. She is Northern Cheyenne but was raised and enrolled with her mother at Rocky Boy.
Phoenix Nekii C, age 8, and Phawx Cache C, age 7, presented the Salish & Kootenai/Flathead flag. Their mother is an enrolled Salish tribal member.
Lenore S and Francine K presented the Fort Belknap flag. They are community organizers on the Fort Belknap reservation.
Mike T presented the Fort Peck flag. Mike is a member of the White Eagle Talking Circles.
Angie M P presented the Blackfeet flag. She is a member of Blackfeet Nation.
Josiah Hugs is the Resource Outreach Coordinator, Billings, walking with police officers in the downtown area to provide a model of treatment rather than enforcement. Josiah is also founder of White Eagle Talking Circles at Billings First Congregational Church.
Rev. Mike Mulberry: We welcome you all to be with us for this holy and sacred event. We are honored that so many Native people have been willing to work with us. So we welcome especially Native leaders, elders, Native people who have brought their friendship and honor to this place and occasion.
Lisa Harmon: We also welcome people from the wider United Church of Christ, Rev. Marc Stewart, Conference Minister of the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference and Rev. Tracy Heilman, Moderator of the Conference and pastor at Columbus Community Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus. Thank you for your presence and support.
Rev. Marc Stewart: Among historical, individual members of Billings First Church, there have always been a number of people who have known the strength and love of Native peoples. Some have worked on Native reservations, in Native schools, in Native hospitals. But a few years ago, Billings First Congregational Church began to hear God calling us to be in relationship with Native people together—as a community.
Lisa: When I was called to serve as the Minister of Healing and Community Transformation two priorities were listed with full consensus—community and relationship with the Native American community. So we welcome you all to this time of fulfillment along this journey to Creator’s dream for this faith community. Your presence here is a sure sign that Creator is at work, accompanying us all on this Red Road, and making healing and community possible.
Let us pray:
Invocation Creator, Great Spirit, honor the celebration we hold here. May this be good medicine to bring healing and unity where there has been brokenness and division. We pray the sage and sweetgrass that are the hair of our Mother Earth purify our intent and bless our direction. We pray these flags be a symbol of the real work that goes on here, a circle of life, a medicine wheel which reminds us of the sacredness of all life. Heal the ancestors gathered here today so that they may walk with us. Amen and A’ho.
Reader 1: Hear the words of Native American activist and visionary, Winona LaDuke: Across the continent, on the shores of small tributaries, in the shadows of sacred mountains, on the vast expanse of the prairies, or in the safety of the woods, prayers are being repeated, as they have for thousands of years,
Reader 2: and common people with uncommon courage and the whispers of their ancestors in their ears continue their struggles to protect the land and water and trees on which their very existence is based. And like small tributaries joining together to form a mighty river, their force and power grows.
Introduction The Doctrine of Discovery grew out of an ancient Aristototelean notion, not even Christian, that some are born to be slaves and some are born to be slaveholders. Our denomination, the United Church of Christ, says as we do, that this is a lie.
The Doctrine of Discovery is a lie. We humbly repent of what we have done to Native peoples. We continue this ceremony recognizing that we smudge, pray, sing, and display flags on historic Native land. May that lead us to celebrate in humility, responsibility, and grace.
As taught by Native peoples and by the Bible, the land does not belong to us. So it is that this church building does not belong to us but is given for Creator’s purpose and Creator’s love, peace, and unity. The leaders of this church now wish to live into Creator’s purpose. Let us begin.
Presentation of Flag/Acceptance
Intertribal Flag Song: Northern Cheyenne drummers, Cheyenne Boyz Drum Group
Presentation of Flags
Leader 1: Today we mark the blessed presence of Native peoples in Billings, Montana. They bring life and vibrancy to our community. They lead, teach, heal, piece us together, make us whole, and, in their wonderful diversity, remind us of how we are woven by Creator out of the same cloth.
Leader 2: We call forward the eight Native nations in Montana that they might be represented on this building, a sign that welcome and hospitality is found here in this space. As the flags are called forward, we bring them into the building to represent the welcome, safety, and accompaniment we hope Native people always find in this place. These flags will then be hung to tell everyone in Billings what we already know—as the Native community goes, so goes all of Billings, as Billings goes, so goes the Native community. In humility, we give thanks for the deep and rich contribution of Native people to Billings First Church, the Billings community, and all of Montana. Amen and A’ho!
We then alternate calling out each flag, with a representative from each tribe. After the tribal name was called, this was offered as a response. Many people chose to tailor their remarks.
Native Leader: We entrust this flag to Billings First Church with the hope and prayer that you will honor the legacy and people this flag represents. May our ancestors continue to watch over the legacy, the walking, and the dreams of our people. A’ho!
Little Shell Chippewa Flag
Chippewa Cree/Rocky Boy Flag
Salish & Kootenai/Flathead
May Creator bless all of the tribal peoples who enter this place, who arrive in Billings seeking sanctuary. May the ancestors, the elders, and all wise counsel teach us how to now go forward in a way that is faithful. It is a time when Native people shall rise to begin the healing work that is before us. May it be so, Creator. Amen and A’ho.
Billings First Congregational Church
The south side of our building has long been an eyesore—non-descript, with weeds, vines, dried-out grass, and trash. When Lisa Harmon, our Minister for Healing and Community Transformation, began working with the city to beautify downtown Billings as the Executive Director of the Downtown Billings Alliance, she presented the idea of a pocket park using the south side of our church to begin. This year new grass has been planted, new bike standards put in, and bright blue park benches have been added.
In keeping with our church’s healing ministry, a garden was planted with sage and sweetgrass, two essential elements to the smudging done in Native recovery groups. Sage provides the purification (now proven to purify air-borne toxins) and sweetgrass provides the blessing.
Isaiah 61 is the Scripture used because the whole of the chapter is an invitation for the people to rebuild community in solidarity with Creator.
Emily P.: Emily leads the Tuesday night White Eagle Talking Circle. She and her two daughters provided much of the early work in planting and shaping the garden. At the lowest point in her addiction last year, I found her on the church steps praying. She related that she has always found the place (not necessarily the church building) a sacred place. Emily will be joining our church as a new member this next month.
Lisa Harmon: Lisa is our Minister of Healing and Community Transformation who began in January 2018. She was almost universally loved in her position as the Executive Director of the Downtown Billings Alliance. The last four years of her tenure she advanced a project, Community Innovations, which began a treatment model for the chronic inebriate population in downtown Billings, almost exclusively Native American. As someone who has always pieced together community, Isaiah 61 is a particularly resonant Scripture verse.
Rev. Mike Mulberry: I am the Senior Minister at Billings First Congregational Church.
Phillene W.: Phillene began her recovery with the first model of White Eagle Talking Circle at our church a little over two years ago. She is now a Licensed Addictions Counselor at New Day in Billings and continues her work with the White Eagle Talking Circles.
Reno C.: Reno is the American Indian Outreach Director at Montana State University Billings working out of the Native American House. She holds a unique background being of Crow heritage but growing up on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
As life, this garden is a result of hard work—hands dug deep into the soil; care—seeds and plants sewn and planted in hope that new life might not only continue but emerge and bloom and grow. Today, we celebrate and dedicate the hard work and care it takes to grow all gardens.
Isaiah 61: For as the earth brings forth its blossom, and as a garden bursts into flower, so shall Creator make righteousness to blossom and praise to flower.
Leader 1: Creator, at the dawn of your creation, you placed us, as people of fertile soil and divine breath, in a garden and walked with us in the cool of the day. As we walk with you in this garden once again, bring forth healing to restore community.
People: We and the land are one.
Leader 2: Creator, may we tend and care for this garden knowing that our fate is tied to it. As it flourishes, so we flourish. As it perishes, so we perish.
People: We and the land are one.
Leader 1:Creator, we give you thanks for the fruit of the earth, how it provides beauty, nourishment, and healing. Smudge our entire body with your intent for our holiness, sobriety, and the repair of our broken communities.
People: We and the land are one.
Smudging of the Garden Bounds—The Four Cardinal Directions
Leader: May the sweet smell of smudge, the way that it cleans, purifies, and blesses, call forward now this garden.
Lisa: As the Minister of Healing and Community Transformation of Billings First Church, I ask us all now to extend our hands out toward the garden. (pause as people extend) We and the land are one. We dedicate this garden for the healing of downtown Billings and the restoration of our entire community. May it blossom, flower, and flourish. We and the land are one. Let the people say, “Amen! and A’ho!”