Listening to Indigenous Voices


By Penny Warren and Pat Trumbull, Companions, Minnesota Chapter


What do We Need to Hear?

As members of our women’s faith group, Companions vow to serve God in a ministry of thanksgiving and prayer for others. Our prayers are informed and shaped through our other vows, especially our promise to work and pray for:

  • social justice
  • peace
  • the unity of all God’s people

Praying shapes the work, and the work informs the praying.

For Midwest Companion chapters, our October 2020 regional conference demonstrated this dynamic. The theme was Listening to Indigenous Voices: What Do We Need to Hear?


Listening is Crucial

Our region’s previous conference, hosted by the Michigan Chapter, focused on relations with our Islamic neighbors. It was a rich experience for attendees. For the 2020 conference, Minnesota Companions knew we wanted and needed to connect more deeply with the concerns of our area’s Indigenous people.

We had studied the challenges we face as a society torn by painful divisions and knew that listening is a crucial starting point. Representatives from other Midwestern chapters agreed and joined us in planning a conference on listening to our Indigenous neighbors.

We asked our Indigenous neighbors to help through their stories and perspectives. What did we have to offer in return? Most importantly, we had attentive ears. How blessed we were in the response of many Indigenous people to our invitation and request for help!


Featured at the Conference

The Rev. Robert Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota) gave the history and impact of the Doctrine of Discovery. His talk was a hard-hitting eye-opener for many of us.

Dr. Margaret Noodin (Anishinaabe, Lake Superior Band) engaged us in looking at language and culture and how they relate to the development of cultural ethics.

Ms. Diane Wilson (Mde Wakatan Oyate), who has been immersed in native foods, spoke about how food and culture are interconnected.

The Rev. Barbara Fairbanks (Yankton/Santee) led us in worship and discussed native spirituality.

We watched a video from the 2016 Winter Talk, a gathering of native people from across the country.

Deb Nedeau and Kathy VandenBoogaard from the Great Lakes Peace Initiative talked about ways to find common ground, how to acknowledge the original inhabitants of the land we live on and how to become better guests.  They had many practical ideas on ways to move forward with racial reconciliation.

April Stone (Ojibwe) is a black ash basket weaver. She shared how the traditional arts, such as basket weaving, allowed her to find and connect to her culture.

The presenters’ personal stories were the most compelling aspect of this conference. In the conference’s small group discussions, Companions spoke of the spiritual growth they felt this listening supported.

Click here for post-conference resources, including video and audio from the conference.


Going Virtual a Blessing in Disguise

Beginning our planning in pre-COVID months, we intended to gather at a retreat center in Rochester, Minnesota. As that option became highly uncertain, we decided to hold the conference virtually.

All speakers gave their presentations via Zoom. We reached 77 people – more than we could have accommodated at an in-person event.

Thanks to an $8,000 grant from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Midland, Michigan, we were able to transition quickly from an in-person location to a virtual setting and to compensate the presenters fairly for the extra effort to do this conference by Zoom.


Feeling Close to Our Presenters

The personal stories our presenters shared touched us. They gave context to the ideas we took away with us. The Zoom format actually helped us feel closer to them.

After the conference, we received a lot of feedback about its impact. To this day, people who attended share news of other relevant events. They tell us about action they have been moved to take. They say, “It isn’t just that it’s right to do – I feel a stronger connection to my Indigenous sisters’ and brothers’ concerns.”

Here in Minnesota we will continue the conversation with members of the First Nations upon whose ancestral land we live. More than that, we aspire to give visible form to our kinship with them. We rejoice at the possibility of welcoming more Indigenous women into the Companions, a companionship that belongs not to us but ultimately to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose way we aspire to follow daily.


This is what life in The Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross – the Companions – is about.