March 15 2018
Professor of New Testament Gene Green will be leaving his position at Wheaton this July to become the Academic Dean of NAIITS, an indigenous learning community. NAIITS — formerly known as the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies — is a degree-granting organization which partners with a handful of universities around the world to advance Native voices in biblical and theological discourse.
“NAIITS is an educational institution dedicated to that very proposition, that indigenous people can be followers of Christ and not have to give up their identity,” said Green, who will be one of the few non-indigenous members on the NAIITS leadership team. “To be asked to [be Academic Dean] is humbling beyond words.”
The journey that eventually led Green to his work at NAIITS began in 2008, when his wife Deborah began research for a novel which included Native American characters.
“She began to tell me the American story, but from the Native perspective,” Green said. “What I heard from her constantly was, ‘Gene, did you know that…?’ And I said, ‘No, I didn’t know that!’”
At the same time, Green was teaching on Majority World theology at Wheaton. Majority World theology, Green said, considers the effects of colonialism on religious belief and practice in places like Africa, Asia and Latin America, asking what the gospel means in countries that were formerly colonized. Soon, as a result of his own study of post-colonialism and his wife’s research into the Native American story, Green says that “the quarter dropped.”
“I realized that I’m the colonist. And I went outside and wept,” Green said.
The Greens began to develop relationships with the Native American community in Chicago. There are 60,000 Native Americans living in the city and it surrounding suburbs, said Green, who is now a member of the Committee on Native American Ministries for the United Methodist Church, as well as part of the leadership circle at Chicago’s only indigenous church, the St. Kateri Center. His journey “toward the Native community” led Green to sometimes uncomfortable realities about the “deliberate genocide” and “ethnocide and ethnic cleansing” perpetrated by European settlers against the indigenous population of North America.
He spoke of the boarding school movement, supported by founder of Wheaton College Jonathan Blanchard, which attempted to assimilate Native American children into white culture by cutting them off from their Native culture.
“We cut their hair, we took their clothes, we separated them from their families, we forbid them to practice their religion … we forced them to become white,” Green said. “These are parts of the story we don’t know. The miracle is that there are Native Christians today. And Native Christians who say, ‘We want to follow Jesus. We want to walk in the Jesus Way as fully Native people.’”
Green was soon confronted with the question of what to do with his newfound knowledge.
“It set me on a journey here to try to bring indigenous realities into the conversation here at Wheaton College,” Green said.
Green believes that Wheaton has “come a long way” on that journey, with a handful of courses, faculty seminars and lectures each semester dedicated to better understanding America’s indigenous populations — both their history and their presence today. Green was the first to teach “Colonialism and Redemption,” a course on Native history and culture which is still offered under the Christ at the Core curriculum as an Advanced Integrative Seminar.
Professors Tiffany Kriner and Matthew Milliner offer another AIS course on Native American art and literature, and Green has led two semester-long faculty seminars aimed at building cultural competency among Wheaton professors. Additionally, Wheaton has hosted NAIITS’ annual symposium two times, in 2013 and 2015. Green recalled the event fondly.
“It was with Native American ceremony and drum and dance and speakers,” Green recalled, smiling. “Really wonderful events here.”
Green noted that NAIITS is dedicated not only to “building up the indigenous community,” but also to promoting dialogue with the non-Native community. Additionally, the work of NAIITS extends far across North American borders to indigenous people groups in Australia, the Philippines and Latin America.
As Academic Dean, Green’s job will be to oversee academic programs, faculty development and some level of fund development. Being a non-indigenous member of NAITTS’s “indigenous learning community,” Green identifies himself as an “ally.”
“They don’t need me to make them non-Native. That’s not what I want to do,” Green said. “I’m not the white savior. All I am is simply a servant of Christ that has a few nunchuck skills that hopefully will be useful for them.”
March 15 2018