Indians, North America

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Mennonites have been involved with the following Native peoples in North America:


An Algonkian people who in the 19th century lived along the Platte and Arkansas rivers and were closely allied with the Cheyenne. The treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867 placed the tribe on reservations in Wyoming and Oklahoma. In 1892 part of the land was allotted in individual holdings and the "surplus" land opened for white settlement. In 1880 the General Conference Mennonites began their first mission with a school for Arapaho children at Darlington, Oklahoma. Maggie Leonard (Caddo/Arapaho) was the first convert (baptized in 1888). Zion Mennonite Church at Canton, Oklahoma, has had as leaders Walter Fire, Willie Meeks, Ralph Little Raven, and Arthur Sutton. Mary Meeks and Rose Birdshead gave leadership in 1988.


A group of three closely related peoples, the Blood, Piegan, and Siksika or Blackfeet proper, roamed the plains from the Saskatchewan River to the headwaters of the Missouri in the 19th century. The near extinction of the buffalo brought death by starvation to some 600 Piegan and ended their military prowess. In the 1990s they live on reservations in Montana and Alberta. General Conference Mennonites worked on the Blood and Blackfoot reserves in Alberta in the late 1940s. The Mennonite Church (MC), after 13 years of voluntary service programs, began church planting at Browning, Montana in 1984.


A Plains people of the Algonkian family who lived between the Platte and the Arkansas rivers in the 19th century, the Cheyenne were noted both as warriors and for their peace chiefs. Traditional ceremonies included the "Lodge of Purification" (Sun Dance) and the "Renewal of the Arrows." Separate groups were formalized by the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851. The Southern Cheyenne now live in northwest Oklahoma and the Northern Cheyenne after a heroic exodus from Oklahoma live in Montana. The General Conference began work with the Southern Cheyenne in 1880 and with the Northern Cheyenne in 1904. Mennonite leaders have included Milton Whiteman, John Stands in Timber, William Fighting Bear, Eugene Standing Elk, James Atwood, James and Julia Yellow Horse Shoulderblade, Joe Walks Along, Sr., and Ted Risingsun among the Northern Cheyenne, and Homer Hart, Guy Heap of Birds, John Heap of Birds, Harvey Whiteshield, and Lawrence Hart among the Southern Cheyenne.


Outstanding agriculturists of the Southeast the Muskhogean people lived in what is now Mississippi. Pressure for land to raise cotton took 15 million acres of their land. Indian removal in 1830 forced 14,000 to what became Oklahoma, many dying en route while 15,000 remained behind as "citizens." The Mennonite Church (MC) began church planting in 1958 at Mashulaville, Mississippi. Mennonite Central Committee helped a community in Louisiana to regain its Indian identity and gain government recognition.


This once mighty tribe roaming hunting grounds from the Republican River (Kansas) to the Rio Grande was decimated by disease, hunger and warfare and placed on a reservation in southern Oklahoma. Forced from the hunt and warfare they "despised the pale face but learned his vices." The Mennonite Brethren began a work at Post Oak in 1894-1895.


An Algonkian people living in what is now Canada, sharing both woodland and plains culture, the Cree are now spread form Ontario to Alberta with one group living in Montana. The Mennonite Pioneer Mission (Bergthal Mennonites), now Native Ministries of the Conference of Mennonite in Canada, contacted the Cree at Cross Lake. Jeremiah Ross pastored the Elim Mennonite Church at Cross Lake. The Beachy Amish Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, and Mennonite Brethren have also worked with the Cree.


The largest division of the Muskhogean peoples once lived in what is now Georgia and Alabama. Their economy was based on corn, beans and squash. An important annual religious festival, the Busk or Green Corn Ceremony, was a time when every wrongdoing, grievance, or crime short of murder was forgiven. Involvement in the quarrels of the white people deprived them of most of their land until in the 1830s they were forced to move to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). A remnant stayed in Alabama and the Mennonite Church (MC) began a ministry to some of these people in 1951.


The westernmost of the Pueblo Indians, the Hopi have lived for hundreds of years in villages on or near three mesas in what became northern Arizona, skillfully raising corn, beans, squash, peaches, apricots, and grapes with very little rainfall. They speak a Uto-Aztekan language and have very elaborate religious ceremonies. Known as the "the Peaceful Ones," encroachment of the Navajo people has caused years of tension. General Conference Mennonite mission work began in 1890. Christian leaders have included Fred Johnson, Daniel Schirmer, Daniel Quimayousie, Karl Naseyetewa, and Elmer and Nadenia Myron.


Descendants of Indian women and French or other European men, Métis developed a distinct culture in the prairie provinces of what became Canada and established the first government of Manitoba. The intrusion of Lord Selkirk's English settlement on the Red River led eventually to the rebellion led by Louis Riel (1869-70). Mennonite Pioneer Mission (Native Ministries) began work with the Métis of Manitoba in 1948. Norman Meade has served on the Native Ministries board. Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference has also worked with the Métis.


The largest Indian group in the United States with a reservation in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, the Navajo are an Athabaskan people, who may have arrived in the Southwest portion of North America between A.D. 900 and 1200. They came under strong influence of the Pueblo people in agriculture and the arts. A four-year captivity of 8,000 of the people in New Mexico under the United States military in the mid-1860s left a legacy of bitterness and distrust that has not entirely disappeared. The Brethren in Christ began mission work with the Navajo in 1945, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (Holdeman) in 1951, and the Mennonite Church (MC) in 1954. Mennonite leaders included: Naswood and Bertha Burbank, Peter and Lita Rose Burbank, John Peter and Esther Yazzie, Henry and Eleanor Smiley, Larry and Esther Haskie and James and Emma Joe.

Ojibway (Saulteaux, Chippewa)

An Algonkian people living around the western Great Lakes to the prairies, the Ojibway traditionally lived on wild rice, maple sugar, berries, fish, and game. Though they believed in a sky-god who ruled the universe, witchcraft was a constant dread. Mennonite groups working with the Ojibway have included Native Ministries, Northern Light Gospel Missions, the Mennonite Church (MC), the Beachy Amish Mennonites, Northern Youth Programs, the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, the Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario, and the Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches. Christian leaders have included: Jacob Owen, David Owen, Spoat Owen, St. John Owen, Patric Owen, Sam Quill, Albert Moose, John Strang, Cello Meekis, Gordon Meekis, Daniel Meekis, Saggius Ray, David and Greta Mosquito, Elijah and Enuna Stoney, Lazarus Stoney, John Mamakeesic, Frederick and Jacob Kakagamic, Johnie Rae, Magnus James, Elijah McKay, and Clara Major.


An Indian people who lived on the northern plains, the Sioux called themselves Dakota or Lakota, meaning "allies." After the encroachment of the whites the Ghost Dance religion, which promised the coming of a messiah, a return to the old life, and a reunion with the dead, took a strong hold on the Sioux. Jittery soldiers fired on a dance resulting in the massacre of Wounded Knee. The Mennonite Brethren began work in 1948. Mennonite leaders have included pastor Ted and Mamie Standing Elk, Clifford and Angela Monroe, and Martha Red Hawk. The Evangelical Mennonite Conference has worked with the Canadian Sioux.

Other Native Peoples

The Mennonite Central Committee, besides working with national Indian organizations, has had special contact also with Innu, Dene, Kwakiutl, and Stoney in Canada, and Hoopa, Houma, Tunica, Mohawk, Passamoquoddy, and Penobscot in the United States.


Trenholm, Virginia Cole. The Arapahoes Our People. Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1970.

Bass, Althea. The Arapaho Way. New York: C. N. Potter, 1966.

Ewers, John C. The Blackfeet. Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1970.

Standsintimber, John and Margot Liberty. Cheyenne Memories. Lincoln: U. of Nebraska Press, 1967.

Berthrong, Donald. The Southern Cheyennes. Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1963.

Cheyenne Spiritual Songs, Tsese-Ma'heone-Nemeototse. Busby, MT: Northern Cheyenne Mennonite Churches, 1977.

Ashbranner. Morning Star, Black Sun: The Northern Cheyenne and America's Energy Crisis. New York: Dodd Mead, 1982.

Hoig, Stan. The Peace Chiefs of the Cheyenne. Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1980.

De Rozier, Arthur H. The Removal of the Choctaw Indians. Knoxville: U. of Tennessee Press, 1970.

Debo, Angie. Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic. Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1934.

Debo, Angie. And Still the Waters Ran: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes. Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1984.

Foreman, Grant. Five Civilized Tribes. Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1931.

Ferenbach, T. R. Comanches: The Destruction of a People. 1974.

Wallace, Ernest and Adamson E. Hobel. The Comanches: Lords of the Southern Plains. Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1952.

Jenness, Diamond. The Indians of Canada, National Museum of Canada Bulletin 65. Ottawa, 1960.

Wiebe, Rudy. The Temptations of Big Bear. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1973.

James, Harry C. Pages From Hopi History. Tucson: U. of Arizona Press, 1974.

Quyawayma, Polingaysi. No Turning Back. U. of New Mexico Press, 1964.

Thompson, Laura. Culture in Crisis. New York: Harper, 1950.

Sealey, D. Bruce and Verna J. Kirkness. Indians Without Tipis. William Clare, 1973.

LaRoque, Emma. Defeathering the Indian. Agincourt: The Book Society of Canada, 1975.

Underhill, Ruth. The Navajos. Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1971.

Yazzie, Ethelou, ed. Navajo Histories, rev. ed. Navajo Curriculum Center Press, 1974.

Loh, Jules. Lords of the Earth: A History of the Navajo Indians. Crowell-Collier Press, 1973.

Hyde, George. Red Cloud's People. Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1947, 1976.

Niehardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks. Lincoln: U. of Nebraska Press, 1932, 1974.

Author(s) Malcolm Wenger
Date Published 1990

Cite This Article

MLA style

Wenger, Malcolm. "Indians, North America." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 27 Jan 2021.,_North_America&oldid=92095.

APA style

Wenger, Malcolm. (1990). Indians, North America. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 January 2021, from,_North_America&oldid=92095.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 433-434. All rights reserved.

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