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Indian Pastor Says Diversification Good, Bad

Native American pastor Rev. Bill Barnett took an unconventional approach to discussing cultural diversity during Oklahoma Baptist University's Native American Heritage chapel service Nov. 20. Barnett, pastor of Indian Nations Baptist Church in Seminole, used humor and anecdotes to talk about what it means to be culturally diverse.

A tongue-in-cheek Barnett told students about his ancestors and their struggle to maintain a sense of their culture and language even when all others were forcing them to "Americanize." As Native Americans watched Christopher Columbus travel ashore, they had no way of knowing what was about to happen to their world, Barnett said.

"Cultural diversity was about to be upon them," he said. "That's what happens when you have real lax immigration laws."

He said that later in time, Hollywood's portrayal of Native Americans was what he grew up thinking Indians were supposed to be like. Ironically, he said, every time John Wayne spoke Navaho, he was addressing a bunch of Comanches.

"We lost our culture, whatever that word means," he said. "Cultural diversity went to work on us."

First, "Uncle Sam" forced his people into boarding homes, he said.

"Cut your hair, get out of that buckskin, give up your language, give up your culture, and we will teach you a vocation," they were told.

Next came public school admission for the Native Americans.

"Again they said, 'Cut your hair, get out of that buckskin, give up your language, give up your culture, and we will educate you,'" he said.

Missionaries came next.

"You know what they said?" Barnett asked. " 'Cut your hair, get out of that buckskin, give up your language, give up your culture, and we will evangelize you,'" he said. "I'm a product of cultural diversity because it comes in many forms."

Barnett said that through changes in policy and attempts by "Uncle Sam" to force conformity, the Native Americans did gain some things too. Missionaries, although forcing English and cultural conformity upon his people, exposed them to the gospel for the first time.

African Americans, looking for refuge themselves, found solidarity within the Native American reservations.

Barnett told students that when he was seven years old, he and his brother were deathly ill with pneumonia. Two elderly black women attended to them and prayed over them all night.

"Cultural diversity walked in in the form of two elderly black ladies," he said.

And they saved the young boys' lives.

Barnett said that from that day on, he knew God was working for good in his life, even though he could not understand it.

"Cultural diversity has been at work for a long time in my life, and sometimes it works for good," Barnett said.