NORTH NEWTON, Kan. — Though most people call her Erica Littlewolf, on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Busby, Mont., she is known as Vonahé’e.
Littlewolf is many things: An aspiring runner, an animal lover and an employee at Mennonite Central Committee Central States. But more than anything else, Littlewolf identifies herself as an “indigenous woman on a broad scale.”
Born on the reservation to a Native American father and European/Jewish mother, Littlewolf recognizes her mixed ethnicity and seeks to use her heritage in her work at MCC since 2007.
Currently working with MCC’s Indigenous Visioning Circle, Littlewolf seeks to educate the broader world about Native American history, often using the Doctrine of Discovery, the idea that indigenous people’s land could be taken and the people subjugated.
“I lived the Doctrine of Discovery on the reservation, but then to find the term and connect it to the church caused me to ask, ‘How do we build good relationships when they were never good to begin with?’ ” Littlewolf said.
Littlewolf works with the Dismantling of the Doctrine of Discovery coalition to create Bible studies, Sunday school series and DVDs.
As the only Native MCC employee in the United States, Littlewolf receives many questions from the Mennonite community. She sees herself as a bridge between the Mennonite world and her Native American community.
Growing up on the reservation, Littlewolf attended White River Mennonite Church but never knew the extent of the broader Mennonite church. Now her job also involves traveling to visit constituents with the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA.
“I try to take what’s happening in the Mennonite world, and then I go to events like the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues or the People’s Climate March and try to think about how we can bridge where the church is at with what the Native Americans are asking,” she said.
When Littlewolf shares the history of Native Americans with people, she finds that the public often does not have any prior understanding. How to move forward?
“For me as a Native person, it is just acknowledging the wrongdoings and realizing that because of the wrongdoings you are still benefiting at the direct cost of someone else,” Littlewolf said.
Though the Native Mennonite population has declined, Littlewolf chooses to see the positive.
“I would like the old to die in order to come into a new relationship,” she said. She sees the current Mennonite church stepping out radically and the theology of the church encouraging this.
Littlewolf wishes the freedom to be creative would be at the core of the future church.
“What would it mean if we used drums in church instead of a piano?” she asked. “If we sat in a circle for church? What could simple things that change dynamics mean for theology?”
She believes MCC has helped equip her to connect Native Americans and the Mennonite churches.
“If we listen to the indigenous people and are willing to act, MCC could be the forerunner on a lot of these issues,” she said.
Littlewolf continues to dream of the future for the church and the indigenous people with a call to action.
“We are still alive,” she said. “We really do exist. When people listen to our story, they can no longer claim to not know. That makes you accountable.”
Mackenzie Miller is a Hesston College student intern at MWR.