Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Faith Works 10-7-06
Jeff Gill

Church, State, People, and Identity

We have the head of state of a sovereign nation visiting Licking County next weekend, and a religious leader. Actually, a co-head, since the Creek Nation of Oklahoma traditionally has two.
This translates fairly well into the western European perspective, since Rome, like the Creek, has twins at the heart of their myth and symbols of their founding: think Romulus and Remus, and co-consuls of the Roman Republic.
Some Americans have trouble understanding how Indian tribes can be sovereign nations, but that’s what many of our ancestors set up when they made treaties with some of the now 500 Native American groups found around this country, some in reservation-based arrangements, others living in a more geographically dispersed pattern.
As Vine Deloria liked to point out to Anglo audiences, "you said these rights would be ours as long as the grass grew and the water flowed. Then you put us in places where no grass grew and no water flows." Deloria’s father and grandfather might have been Lutheran ministers, but their Lakota roots never left the soil they drew strength from, no matter how dry the ground.
The Honorable Alfred Berryhill is coming from The Mound, Oklahoma, to be one of a day full of guest speakers at OSU-N for "Newark Earthworks Day" on Saturday, October 14. Beginning with a Native American style procession into the Reese Center on campus at 9:00 am, local speakers and visitors from Illinois, Indiana, and of course Oklahoma will share perspectives on our 2,000 year old wonders of the world. Indians, archaeologists, astronomers, schoolteachers, and even a local columnist (as the MC) will fill out the day until 5:00 pm. The day will close with a Native feast in Hopewell Hall cafeteria which is $10 for adults and free to children under 12; the day itself is free and open to the public thanks to the work of OSU-N’s Newark Earthworks Center.
I am particularly interested in hearing Mr. Berryhill, as we’ve learned in recent years that the Creek and Ho-Chunk (aka Winnebago) Indians still build mounds as part of their ceremonial year. Much of their tradition and practice is not for all eyes or public description, but elements are intended for an interested public, Native and non-Native, and we hope to learn and share much in that respect.
There are still many stereotypes and images we have to overcome in communicating between cultures in this world, and my own involvement with the "moonrise efforts" over the last few years has taught me much, about how my own assumptions deserve challenging, and how to respectfully challenge the pre-conceptions of others.
For instance, some ask me "Jeff, what’s the right manner of address here? Indian is OK? Or should I say American Indian? And some say Native American…" Well, you can see in this piece I’ve used all three: the fact is, you have to do what you’d do with any new friend or acquaintance. Ask them what they would like to be called. Some have strong opinions as to which "label," while others prefer only tribal affiliation, such as "Dine" or "Cherokee." A few just say "Call me Bob." But you need to ask, and respect their choice.
And as for assumptions . . . that two chief thing? I asked if that signified "war chief and peace chief" or some other distinction. I wasn’t expecting the answer I got.
Turns out that, after some debate and discussion a hundred years ago, the current understanding among the Creek is that one chief is always Baptist, and the other is . . . Methodist. The Honorable Alfred Berryhill is a second generation Methodist pastor, who is honored for having collected hymns in his native language together for congregational use. And he builds mounds with his people.
I can’t wait to hear what he has to say, and to simply listen.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s been known to emcee and event or two, too. Check for details about Newark Earthworks Day and the speakers, or e-mail Jeff at

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 10-8-06
Jeff Gill

After the Moonrise

Sir Isaac Newton, inventor of calculus and one of the smartest people in recorded history, famously said, "The only mathematical problem which ever gave me a headache was calculating the movements of the moon." And he invented calculus, which has given many of us headaches.
Those irregular, hard-to-predict movements, were mastered by the inhabitants of these valleys around Newark 2,000 years ago. The evidence is encoded in the massive, landscape embracing earthworks shaped as an octagon and circle at the end of 33rd St. and behind Licking Memorial Hospital.
Our fellow citizens, in 1892, voted to tax themselves a bit more to buy and preserve these mounds, the "Great Circle" already in semi-public hands as the county fairground, now Newark Earthworks State Memorial on Rt. 79 by Heath. Octagon Mound, owned along with the Great Circle by the Ohio Historical Society, is leased to Moundbuilders Country Club since their founding in 1911.
If you check out, the folks at the club are working with the hospital to allow the public to come out this Wednesday and see one of the very last "close approximations" of the moonrise along the main axis of the circle and octagon structure, marking the peak of an oscillating 18.6 year cycle. After 9:00 pm, you may walk onto the grounds and join a group that will be escorted to a viewing area for the moonrise which will be visible, weather co-operating, sometime not long after 10:00 pm.
Of course, this being Ohio, weather may not co-operate; for those of us in the community who have been learning about and presenting this story and opportunity to the public, we see why the near-northernmost moonrises had to be as important as the absolute peak of the cycle. Fog, as well as rain or just socked-in cloud cover, means that you need a series of cycles stepping in and the movements walking away to help bracket the precision that allowed these earthen arrangements to work so well.
Some of us have been reading wistfully the last few months about a similar site in the desert southwest of the US, which is a thousand years younger (and so, I’d say, only half as cool as our Newark Earthworks), where the US Forest Service and a community group have hosted moonrise viewings and visitors from around the globe. We hope to do a bit better in 2025!
Many thanks to Moundbuilders Country Club for their invitation this week to see a remarkable sight, and follow the other local media for word of any weather related complications.
If you are intrigued by all this, then you can come to the OSU-Newark campus on Saturday, October 14, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm where a free program at a civil hour is open to all for "Newark Earthworks Day." The Reese Center hosts informational booths, vendors, and guest speakers from around the country on subjects relating to Native American history and activity today (including mound building!), archaeologists and astronomers, and local teachers on a panel about "teaching the earthworks."
An opening procession following Native American practice will open the day, with a moment to honor the now-fifth graders from Miller Elementary when fourth graders who got the Newark Earthworks named the official state pre-historic monument, introduced by Sen. Jay Hottinger. You can come at any point through the day and hear and see what you can.
After the daytime programs a Native feast is offered following 5:00 pm, asking $10 for adults and free to children under 12.
If you want details of the program, click; your faithful scribe will be the MC for the speakers, and I’d love to see you all there!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s been known to MC an event or two as well. Tell him about your interesting local event at