CCS 2017 studies Native American rights and food security

Church of the Brethren Newsline
May 12, 2017

Speakers from New Mexico address the CCS group: (from left) Kim Therrien, who with her husband Jim resides in Lybrook, N.M., and works for the Church of the Brethren-connected Lybrook Community Ministries; and Kendra Pinto, who is a young adult Navajo activist. Photo by Paige Butzlaff.

by Paige Butzlaff

This year’s Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS) took place from April 22-27. The theme was based on Native American rights and food security. Thirty-eight high school aged youth and their advisers from as far as California to as close as Pennsylvania, and states like Kansas in between, were a part of this year’s CCS.

Upon arrival in New York City on April 22, the group met with Jim and Kim Therrien, who reside in Lybrook, N.M., and work for the Church of the Brethren-connected Lybrook Community Ministries. Also presenting was Kendra Pinto, who is a young adult Navajo activist from New Mexico. They all shared their experiences of serving with the Navajo community and how they have encountered issues such as oil contamination, land rights, and food insecurity.

Sunday, April 23, the youth and their advisers had the chance to explore New York City for most of the day, including visits to various churches. Afterward, Devon Miller, an adviser, led a session on the historical roots of indigenous food rights. Miller has a doctorate in anthropology and teaches at Michigan State University. He also studies native populations. His session got the youth thinking about how historic treaties establish rights between nations, and how the United States has carried out those treaties. Small groups gave a chance for the youth to reflect on what they learned as well as pray together followed his insightful session.

The next day was marked by tours of the United Nations headquarters. After lunch, the whole group packed into a charter bus and drove to Washington, D.C., to kick off the second part of the week. Joel West Williams, an attorney who works with the Native American Rights Fund, led a session based on his expertise on how the law works for and against Native American populations. He helped the group understand the country’s relationship with indigenous populations. He is a member of the Cherokee Nation.

The group met with or heard presentations by a number of other leaders with expertise in Native American rights or lobbying skills, during the ensuing days in Washington, D.C.

They heard from Josiah Griffin from the Office of Tribal Relations at the US Department of Agriculture.

A lobbying training was led by Jerry O’Donnell, who grew up in the Church of the Brethren and now works on Capitol Hill, and gave a surplus of information on what one might experience during visits to senators and their staff.

Shantha Ready Alonso, executive director at Creation Justice Ministries, discussed tribal sovereignty, sacred places, our relationships with God’s creation, as well as considerations for land-based livelihoods.

Mark Charles, a theologian and Navajo Christian activist, and Gimbiya Kettering, the Church of the Brethren’s director of Intercultural Ministries, provided information on how to process what is learned during CCS, what the next steps might be taken to share the knowledge, and how to help deal with the increasing alienation of Native Americans.

Also during their time in DC, groups of youth and advisers from the same states made their way to Capitol Hill for their previously scheduled congressional visits.

Nathan Hosler and Emmy Goering of the Office of Public Witness led a follow up session in which everyone got to share their experiences and what they learned from speaking with people who work within our government.

Brethren Volunteer Service sponsored an ice cream social that evening, in which BVS volunteers had the opportunity to talk about their BVS experience and answered questions.

A final worship service took place after the last session, which helped establish the strong link between faith and the pressing moral issues.

This event would not have been a success without leadership from Becky Ullom Naugle, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, and Paige Butzlaff, a Brethren Volunteer Service worker in the Youth and Young Adult Office, as well as Hosler and Goering from the Office of Public Witness.

But what really made this week a success was the impression the topic made on the youth and the impact they will now have, as they take a stand for what they believe in.

The next CCS will not take place next year because of National Youth Conference in 2018, but is planned for the spring of 2019.

— Paige Butzlaff is a Brethren Volunteer Service worker serving in the Church of the Brethren Youth and Young Adult Ministry. Find an album of her photos from the Christian Citizenship Seminar at

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