Women who participate in Women of the ELCA are always up for a challenge, so it was natural for us to jump aboard the challenge from the #ELCA’s #TruthandHealing Movement issued for the Summer of 2023. We were invited to read a book written by a Native author and then gather for conversation about the book. We doubled the challenge and read two novels, with around 35 women from across the church joining in each discussion.
We started with The Road Back to Sweetgrass by Linda LeGarde Grover. Grover is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Ojibwe. We were honored to have her join our online discussion on August 20, 2023. The characters in Grover’s book are about the same age as several of those who gathered online for the discussion. Anne Pietscher, of Keokuk, Iowa, recognized this.
“The book and discussion with the author gave me an insight into what my contemporaries may have experienced growing up in the Ojibwe culture in Northern Minnesota, not far from Wisconsin and Iowa where I experienced the Norwegian heritage culture,” Pietscher explains. “At one time, I thought about the presence of Native Americans only in a past tense.”
Stories in Grover’s book confronted some readers who did not know the realities Native women (and children, in the case of boarding schools) faced. The governmental policy of termination was new to several women, even though they had lived during the period of termination. Marie Weigert, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, spent much of her nursing career as a paranesthesia nurse and was outraged when a character is sterilized during a C-section, without her consent. “You need consent!”
Our second book was Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford of the Cherokee Nation. Our online discussion of this book occurred on August 27, 2023. As in Grover’s novel, Ford’s “novel-in-stories” (Ford’s term) features women and the incredibly challenging lives they lead. The power of motherly love also features in both books. While neither book is necessarily autobiographical, both authors have clearly written about the places and people they know best.
“It is important to me to read books written by women with different experiences than me, so I get a more complete picture about the lives of others in our country and around the world, shares Deb Martin of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. “I appreciate that I can then discuss books with other Lutheran women from around the country. Thank you for highlighting these authors and encouraging us to read and discuss.
Mait Board, of Helena, Montana, has previously read a fair number of novels by Native authors, including Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, and Tommy Orange. “I was glad to see Women of the ELCA having these discussions and appreciated getting exposed to two more Native authors to read. I especially like listening to authors talk about their writing.”
These book discussions were part of the awareness-raising effort called for in the organization’s recommitment to racial justice, a commitment that has been part of the organization’s governing documents since 2002.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is the executive director of Women of the ELCA.