December 16, 2011 — In early December, a group of about 150 Native Americans and non-Natives gathered in Denver, Colo., to share a Christmas pageant. But there was no singing of “Silent Night” or passing of a candle. Instead the group chose to share the story of Christ’s birth in their own way.
A Christmas pageant at the Christian Indian Center.
“We asked the question ‘What if missionaries told us [Native Americans] about Christ and then just left it at that. How would we share that with our own people?’” said Richard Silversmith, elder of the Christian Indian Center (CIC), a Christian Reformed ministry in Denver. “The answer would be through song, dance, and chants.”
According to Silversmith, only 8 percent of American Indians consider themselves Christians. In response, the CIC sought to communicate the story of Christ’s birth using Navajo and southwest Indian influences.
“We took out the Western worldview and the dualistic worldview and made it more so the physical and spiritual are one,” Silversmith said.
The result was a Christmas pageant complete with a manger scene, Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus, told through Scripture reading, song, dance, and chants.
“We’re not using any of the sacred song or dances. This is totally innovative, brand new stuff,” stated Silversmith. “We’re borrowing from different tribes to display how our people would bring the story of Christmas to Native Americans.”
“We wanted our audience to know it’s OK to worship Jesus culturally,” said Silversmith. He felt that some youth, who had previously felt confused living in two worlds, felt relevant participating. “They found out that they can be a Christian and a Native American,” he said.