When I initially applied to work for YouthWorks, I wasn’t sure what position I wanted to be hired for. Much of my family does construction of some sort, so I could handle Work Projects. I’ve done a number of sports and do cross country in college so Outrageous Sports Camp would be fun. I am studying Youth Ministry, which means much of my jobs is communication, so Program Staff would be cool. Even Service Coordinator would be great. And then there is Kids Club. I had experience in Kids Club, as I helped run and organize one at my home church. I figured I was a shoe in for the Kids Club job. YouthWorks offered it to me, and I was very excited. I figured after last year I knew what I was getting into and could handle it. Then I found out I was going to an Indian Reservation. I was in no way opposed to coming to Yakama–don’t get me wrong, I really was excited, but I was confused as to why Yakama? I told YouthWorks I lived in a city, I went to school in the suburbs, and I now live in a farm town, so in my head, a Reservation didn’t make sense to me. (Again, I wasn’t opposed to it, and I was actually very excited for new experiences, just surprised).
So now I had to combine my experience with Kids Club while learning about all of the dynamics of Res Life. I still thought I knew what I was getting into–kids are kids after all. But two days after KC started, I learned that I was sorely mistaken. On that second day of Kids Club a group of Kids came to Lions Park. Lions Park is where we host Kids Club, and it is a public park, so these Kids had every right to be there. However, towards the end of our KC afternoon, they started yelling expletives and other vulgarities at the participants, kids, and myself. I went over to talk to them–their behavior was unacceptable, and I left them know it. But they didn’t respond to me like I had anticipated. They told me that this was not my valley, it was not my Reservation, and that the white people didn’t belong here. They were not happy that I, a white person, had brought 25 more white people with me, to be authority figures in this park. They didn’t like that I was this supposed authority figure, and they certainly questioned my authority. I didn’t respond well that day. I did come in as this authoritarian and I tried to control this group of native kids. If they didn’t respond to white people well before, I certainly hadn’t made things better. That day was tough. That day was a learning experience.
The next time I saw this group of kids was the following Monday. I recognized them as the same kids from before, but didn’t think anything of it. Again, they had every right to be at the park, and if they wanted to participate in KC, I was more than happy to have them. But with just a little bit of name calling, they quickly got into a gang fight witha group of hispanic boys. While they name calling was small, it quickly turned into a 6 on 6 duel between the native children and the hispanic children. Three, maybe four, punches were thrown before the fight was broken up, but the two groups were furious. The finger, racist language, and expletives flew across the park. We had to kick the native and instigating group out of the park and hold, yes physically hold, the hispanic group in the park. Eventually we called the police so that the two groups would not return to a brawl when we inevitably had to leave the park and take the kids home. Nothing else came of the words, fingers and fisted raised between those kids, but I had my eyes opened.
I had broken up fights before. There were fights at KC last year all the time. But this was a whole new animal. This was something I had never experience before. This was racism, and I was the minority. This whole mess starts so far before me, but is part of my life now, and a reality I live in. Everything I do can be criticized because this is not my valley, nor my reservation, nor my home. The way I present myself to these children can make or break my representation of Christ. For if I come in power hungry like so many before, what will separate me from the church that has done the same and so injured a beautiful race and culture? I have so much to learn from these kids, that I cannot try to just be a teacher. Cory Greaves, our good friend on the res, tells us what you should never do on a missions trip. His biggest point? Never come pridefully. Come Humbly. You are to come to this people and this reservation asking cousins, nephews, nieces, may I learn from you? Would you share with me and I with you? To come humbly is to value them and their culture. To throw off that cloud of egocentrism and embrace open minds. And as it relates to the church? It is to value them as equal members in the body of Christ.
I will not destroy racism this summer or atone for all the sins of my ancestors, my race, or my religion. This is a difficult tension to manage. This is a tension that is rooted in the family and in the home. It is rooted in the history. All I can do is continue to embrace these native children, trouble makers and angels alike, to value them and their cultures, to build relationships, start conversations, live by the spirit and walk with Christ in all my endeavors this summer. Pray for these kids, and please pray for me. But foremost, pray for the Church, because this issue is far beyond I alone, and will only be resolved when the Church admits it’s own sin, embraces humility, asks forgiveness, and values these people as equals cohorts in the body of Christ.