By Anna-Claire Bevan
A group of Praying Indians united with members of the general public in Massachusetts on Saturday, August 11 2012, to celebrate the historic first public service of the Natick tribe in almost 300 years.
The ceremony took place in Eliot Church, South Natick, on the grounds where Praying Indians once worshipped. It signalled a poignant moment in the Natick tribe’s fight for acceptance as they were welcomed back to worship on the site of their ancestral church.
“For years we have continued to ask, pray and advocate towards being allowed to worship at the church,” said the Natick tribe’s spiritual leader Naticksqw, Chief Caring Hands.
“In 2008 we congregated on the steps of the church and honoured our Praying Indian ancestors who worshipped there. On that day, Reverend Tierney-Eliot invited us inside and I made my request once again for my people to be allowed to worship there. Four years later, the door was opened to us.”
In 1651, the English clergyman, Reverend John Eliot evangelised the Natick tribe: establishing 14 Praying Indian villages in the state and teaching them all Christianity. However, many of them died in 1675 after being confined to Deer Island during King Philip’s war. After the conflict, those who survived were dispossessed and subsequently lost their church, which had previously been the first Christian indigenous church in America.
During Saturday’s service, Naticksqw, Chief Caring Hands, called those Praying Indians who died on the island the country’s first martyrs for Jesus Christ.
The 2 ½-hour ceremony began with powerful drumming, which called the congregation together, and was followed by a cleansing ritual where parishioners spread out their arms as herbal smoke wafted over them.
The procession then walked around the church, accompanied by the drummer, before entering the building and taking their seats for a service given by Chief Caring Hands.
Poet Jim Rashid was astounded by his first Praying Indians service:
“It was beyond my expectations, the likes of which I have never witnessed before. Listening to Chief Caring hands, I was so overwhelmed by inner peace that it brought tears to my eyes. The sound of drums, chanting and wailing spoke to a consciousness somewhere deep down in my chest. It was nothing like a standard sermon one expects in a church,” said Rashid, who now plans to go to a Powow with the Natick tribe later next month.
The 70-strong congregation, who came from Canada, Alaska, Virginia and New England, consisted of current tribe members, relatives of the Praying Indians of the 1600s and local residents interested to see the service. Together, Native Americans and Non-Native Americans prayed for peace and an end to racism.
“We are the praying Indians; we are proud of who we are […] Let us be surrounded in peace and love” said Naticksqw, Chief Caring Hands.
Reverend Wade Trump of Jamestown Christian Fellowship, who attended the service, said it was an amazing day of Christianity being fulfilled:
“As the tribe entered in single file led by children and grandchildren, Caring Hands entered the church isle with the drum circle following. What a sight: the windows of heaven were being open for all to view this enormous, historic gathering.”
Anna-Claire Bevan is a Guatemala-based freelance correspondent for Latina Lista.