Native American Ministry
A Deep History
The Episcopal Church in Wyoming has a long and deep history with Native Americans throughout the state. All of our churches are located on the ancestral and traditional lands of what historically were nomadic tribes known as the Plains Indians. The major tribes in the area that is now known as Wyoming were the Arapaho, the Shoshone, the Cheyenne, the Crow, and the Ute. Many others passed through these lands, such as the Bannock, the Dakota, the Kiowa, the Apache, the Pawnee, the Blackfoot, the Arikara, the Nez Perce, the Gros Ventre and the Comanche.
Of these many tribes, only the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho now live on the Wind River Reservation. The Wind River Reservation, one of the largest reservations in the U.S., was established first with the Eastern Shoshone at the Fort Bridger Treaty Council of 1868, and then ten years later with the Northern Arapaho. Some famous and celebrated Native Americans have been associated with the Wind River Reservation, such Sacajawea, the guide and translator for the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and Chief Washakie and Chief Black Coal.
In 1868, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant gave responsibility for the care for the Shoshone peoples of the Wind River Reservation to the Episcopal Church, and as a result this is where the first Episcopal services in the state were held.
Our unique ministry on the Wind River Reservation is largely due to the remarkable legacies left by the ministries of two individuals that are being built upon to this day.
Rev. John Roberts was born in Wales in 1853, and while training for Anglican ordination felt called to serve among our Native American sisters and brothers. His call led him to Wyoming in 1883, where he ministered for 66 years among the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.
Not long after his arrival, he conducted the funeral for Sacagawea, who as a young Eastern Shoshone woman, was the celebrated guide on the renowned Lewis & Clark expedition. As a missionary-priest, Roberts was well ahead of his time, as he encouraged Native American expressions of Christian faith, embracing and honoring tribal culture, and traditional indigenous rituals and customs. He cultivated close friendships with tribal leaders, including the renowned Eastern Shoshone Chief Washakie and Northern Arapaho Chief Black Coal, and was referred to with deep affection as “White Robe” and "Elder Brother.” If there were negotiations with U.S. government officials, the tribes would not proceed without John Roberts being present. His work led him, with the assistance of tribal leadership, to establish two schools on sacred land gifted by the tribes. One of the schools was for girls and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Roberts died in 1949 at the age of 96, and the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho honor his legacy to this day. Wyoming's state flag is flown at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. in his honor.
Read the article Embracing My New Friend by Melissa Strickler about writing an icon of Rev. John Roberts.
Rev. Sherman Coolidge (or “He-Runs-on-Top”) came to minister on the reservation in 1884. Coolidge was an Arapaho priest who had been separated from the tribe at the age of nine and was raised by a U.S. army officer and his wife. He was educated in Minnesota and then returned to his people.
A Native American rights activist, Coolidge, together with Dakota physician and writer Charles Eastman (“Always Wins”), co-founded the Society of American Indians in 1911. Coolidge was passionate about the need for peace, both erasing conflict between whites and Native Americans, and intertribal harmony. In 1923, he was selected by President Calvin Coolidge’s administration to serve on the "Committee of One Hundred," to investigate conditions on reservations and report on the challenges facing indigenous peoples in the country. After meeting President Coolidge, and as a result of Rev. Sherman Coolidge's work, the President instituted American Indian Day in 1915, to be celebrated on the second Saturday of May each year.
A Sacred Circle
Today the Wind River Reservation is a Wisdom Center of Spirituality for the Episcopal Church in Wyoming. Under the spiritual leadership of Rev. Roxanne Friday, the Episcopal churches and ministries of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho peoples form a “Sacred Circle,” beautifully integrating their Native American spiritual traditions within following “the good road” taught and demonstrated by Christ. Grounded in the interconnectedness of the sacred, the natural world, and one another, their traditional beliefs see everything on the earth as living in relationship. Their spiritual wisdom is therefore essential toward developing a “sacred harmony” between all peoples and with the earth. We are deeply blessed to have the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes within the Episcopal Church in Wyoming, to help us heal our world and foster spiritual wholeness among all peoples.
The ministry of the Episcopal Church in Wyoming on the Wind River Reservation today centers around Our Father’s House at St. Michael’s Mission in Ethete and St. David’s Church at the Shoshone Episcopal Mission in Ft. Washakie. In addition to learning from the spiritual traditions and wisdom of our Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho sisters and brothers, we seek to be a catalyst to enable their Native American spirituality, culture and heritage to be shared with the wider world. A special emphasis is on the contextualization of the Christian faith with Native American spiritual traditions, thereby facilitating indigenous expressions of faith from which all can benefit.
Our historic presence on the Wind River Reservation seeks to serve the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes in sharing their culture, heritage and sacred traditions with the world. This entails supporting their creative expressions, such as their arts and crafts, to their sacred drumming and dance, to their contemporary visual art.
We also seek to support the sharing of their culture through their historic artifacts. The Episcopal Church in Wyoming stewards what is known as the “Edith May Adams Collection,” a large collection of Northern Arapaho tribal cultural artifacts, and is in the process of developing a museum on the Wind River Reservation for their permanent display.
Our Father, the Sky, hear us and make us strong.
O our Mother Earth, hear us and give us support.
O Spirit of the East, send us your Wisdom.
O Spirit of the South, may we tread your path of life.
O Spirit of the West, may we always be ready for the long journey.
O Spirit of the North, purify us with your cleansing winds.
Heavenly Father, we ask for prayers.
As we walk, the universe is walking with us
In beauty it walks before us
In beauty it walks behind us
In beauty it walks below us
In beauty it walks above us
Beauty is on every side.
As we walk, we walk with beauty
In Jesus’ Name we pray. Oose.