The Leadership Center for Social Justice Podcast

The Ground We Stand On: A Conversation with Jim Bear Jacobs

December 15, 2023 Jim Bear Jacobs Season 2 Episode 7
The Ground We Stand On: A Conversation with Jim Bear Jacobs
The Leadership Center for Social Justice Podcast
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The Leadership Center for Social Justice Podcast
The Ground We Stand On: A Conversation with Jim Bear Jacobs
Dec 15, 2023 Season 2 Episode 7
Jim Bear Jacobs
This episode is a re-release of the Soul of Social Transformation Podcast hosted by Rev. Dr. Gary Green II and Rev. Dr. Justin Sabia-Tanis.

This episode will invite participants to see themselves as a part of a long path of justice work, with foundations laid by our ancestors and continuing to this day. We will consider who created the ground we stand on and how we take participatory ownership in the work ahead. If the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, who has contributed to its bending and how? And what is our responsibility for what is needed in the future?

Our guest is Jim Bear Jacobs, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation, an American Indian tribe located in central Wisconsin. He is Program Director for Racial Justice for the Minnesota Council of Churches and is founder of “Healing Minnesota Stories,” an initiative dedicated to creating events of dialogue, education, and healing, particularly within faith communities.


Episode Transcription available here

Host: Gary F. Green II, Justin Sabia-Tanis

Producer: Adam Pfuhl

Podcast Engineer: Michael Moua

You can find out more about the Leadership Center for Social Justice on our website and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Show Notes Transcript
This episode is a re-release of the Soul of Social Transformation Podcast hosted by Rev. Dr. Gary Green II and Rev. Dr. Justin Sabia-Tanis.

This episode will invite participants to see themselves as a part of a long path of justice work, with foundations laid by our ancestors and continuing to this day. We will consider who created the ground we stand on and how we take participatory ownership in the work ahead. If the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, who has contributed to its bending and how? And what is our responsibility for what is needed in the future?

Our guest is Jim Bear Jacobs, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation, an American Indian tribe located in central Wisconsin. He is Program Director for Racial Justice for the Minnesota Council of Churches and is founder of “Healing Minnesota Stories,” an initiative dedicated to creating events of dialogue, education, and healing, particularly within faith communities.


-Healing Minnesota Stories

Episode Transcription available here

Host: Gary F. Green II, Justin Sabia-Tanis

Producer: Adam Pfuhl

Podcast Engineer: Michael Moua

You can find out more about the Leadership Center for Social Justice on our website and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The Ground We Stand On with Jim Bear Jacobs

Gary Green [00:00:02] Are you passionate about social justice and ready to bring about real change as part of your life's work? Have you ever wondered how to bridge the gap between your unique gifts and the world's deepest needs? If so, then I want to welcome you to the Soul of Social Transformation, a podcast designed to help young adults explore vocational possibilities that bring to life our deepest hopes for healing our world. 

I'm your host, Gary Green, along with my co-host Justin Sabia-Tanis, and we are excited to journey with you in this series of conversations that features six leaders who have discovered and created ways to make meaningful change in their communities. They each bring a wealth of experience and expertise in addressing some of the most critical issues of our time, including racial and economic justice, mental health in marginalized communities and justice related to native lands and indigenous communities. By highlighting their stories, we hope you will be inspired to find creative ways to translate your passions into concrete action for a better world. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:01:14] Well, we want to welcome Reverend Jim Bear Jacobs to our podcast tonight. Here with Gary Green and myself, Justin Sabia-Tanis. We are excited to have this conversation with you. So I wanted to start by telling you to share a little bit of your story with us. How did you end up doing social justice work? Is it something you grew up around or something that you came across as a result of your experiences? 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:01:40] Yeah, you know, I didn't. I didn't really grow up with any kind of raised social consciousness. I grew up in a very fundamentalist Pentecostal evangelical church, which was steeped in whiteness. You know, it's no surprise that those kinds of churches are not socially focused. And so the whole kind of political activism, civil disobedience kind of resistance stuff was never part of my game growing up until 1992. I was a sophomore in high school and I went to high school at Irondale High School, which is in New Brighton. It's a suburban high school of moderate size, you know, it's a decent sized high school. I was one of two native kids in my whole high school of, you know, four grades. So all growing up, you know, through high school was just me and Casey were the only native kids in this. 

And 1992 rolls around. And that is the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage and the, quote unquote, discovering of America. And I remember that off the coast of California, there was a replica of Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria that were just moored out there in the ocean waiting to make landfall with some white dude in period dress. You know, he's going to come and claim the land again. I remember that one in California specifically. But if memory serves me, there were duplicates, like there were other instances that were going to take place along the shores and then down in the Caribbean, of course. And that just didn't sit right with me. And so I thought about it. And I remember as Columbus Day approached, you know, that second Monday in October, back then, we did not have Indigenous Peoples Day. No one had indigenous peoples day. It was just Columbus Day. So as that approached, I thought about what am I going to do? Because, you know, for us at least, it was a school day, so we were going to be in school. And I remember, okay, I got to do something because it's just me and Casey and there's 1700 students or whatever. I got them what I called the most Indian shirt I had. You know, and it wasn't like a traditional shirt. It wasn't ceremonial. It was literally the shirt you would find at a South Dakota truck stop, you know? Yeah, There's the white T-shirt, which had the Black Hills on it. And this kind of ghosted in Indian chiefs head floating above the Black Hills. Right? So total truck stop material. But it was the most Indian shirt I had and put that on. And back then I had my hair long. I tied feathers in my hair. I didn't have real eagle feathers. And I had these fake, goofy looking, you get it at Michael's crafts kind of feathers. But that's all I had. And I tied them in my hair, and I got a sheet of paper, just an 8x11 sheet of paper. And I wrote something like, "500 years ago, I was not discovered" and I taped it to my back and I went around school all day like this, just kind of making this political statement. And, you know, it brought on conversation, brought the reporters from the school newspaper, you know, so this is my first time like entering into any kind of media coverage and stuff. And I look at a lot of activists who don't really have a moment where they say this is my entrance into activism. But for me, that distinctly was my entrance into activism on Columbus Day in 1992. 

And I think that really kind of triggered something in me. And it took a while to sort of break those foundational roots in my church, you know, about, oh, well, we're Jesus people. We care about your spirit. You know, we don't care about your current reality. We just are looking to secure your eternal reality. It took a while to break that. But I think really, that moment of acknowledging my own humanity and the embodied humanity that I am kind of started putting some cracks in the walls that I had built to begin seeing other people's humanity, you know?

So like now, if I can use very evangelical language here, the Jim Bear Jacobs of high school age would look at the Jim Bear Jacobs in his 40s now and say, You know what, that dude's not saved. Because I look at, you know, the only thing we ever got political about in that church was abortion and gay rights. That was the only thing we got political about and I'm like, so here I am now, totally affirming a woman's right to choose and the autonomy of her own body. My greatest friends are queer people. Yeah. You know, and I just look back, you know, I'm like, if that guy back then knew what he would end up like, he would be scared out of his mind. 

Gary Green [00:06:57] Though I'm right there with, you know, there's some Deacon's voices that I can still hear. You lost your salvation. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:07:04] Yeah. Yeah. You done backslid? 

Gary Green [00:07:07] That's right. I'm curious about that, that moment, because, you know, you talk about being you and Casey, being the only native kids in the school. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:07:20] A there's a funny story to that. Sorry to interrupt, but there's a funny story. So legitimately, me and Casey were the only two natives in the school. Right. So 1991, freshman year. It's me and Casey, we're the only two in the school. 1992, sophomore year. We come in, all of a sudden there's like 70, 80 natives. Because here's what happens: in the summer between 91 and 92, the movie Dances with Wolves comes out. And now this is you know, and we laugh, but understand contextually. This is the first positive depiction of natives. And don't get me wrong, Dances with Wolves is not a good movie. And the people listening to this are going to be like, what the hell is dancing for wolves? Such a dated film. Yeah, but it's not a good movie because it's dripping with white saviorism and all of this stuff. But this is the first depiction of Native people in a positive light. And now you had all of these white people who have these stories of Cherokee grandmothers and all this stuff, and now they're like, Oh, I'm native too, you know? And I'm like, Get out of here. You ain't no native. If you can't name a grandmother, you don't get to call yourself native. 

Gary Green [00:08:37] I want to go down this rabbit hole. So yeah, okay, I'll ask it. But I'm just curious about because I think about one of the things I've thought about recently is how difficult it is for people who are not already surrounded by a community that can support kind of a disruption that they might be convicted that they need to bring. And so as I think about, you know, you and Casey being the only kids for a while in this environment, which was not only, you know, white supremacy, you know, just a white environment, but also with evangelicalism. I'm just curious about what got you. And the reason I'm asking this, let me say this, is because there are young adults who will hear this, who are in a similar position in different ways. And sometimes it can be so difficult to give yourself the authorization to go ahead and disrupt. So I'm just curious, you know, what you would do where you would place that, you know, how did you get there knowing that there was not already a community that was holding space for that? 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:09:46] Yeah. So that's a good question. One of the ways I describe myself is that I was a Christian before I was native. And what I mean by that is my dad is native, my mom is not. And they got divorced when I was very young. And so my dad was a minimal influence in my life. So it's like my native identity was never hidden from me, but I never had the opportunity to explore that and embrace that, you know, other than like Christmas gatherings and stuff like that. 

When I turned 16, I bought my first car for $250. Okay. 79 Monte Carlo, I still remember it. Great car. Love that. But this afforded me the freedom now to go out and visit my grandmother and my relatives because our reservation is a little over 250 miles away from the Twin Cities. It's in the middle of Wisconsin. And so now I don't have to rely on any one of my relatives, aunts and uncles who are going out to the reservation to give me a ride. I can go out there on my own. And so when I was 16 years old, that summer, I went and spent the whole summer at my grandmother's house. And this is the first time now where I am, like, embedded into that world, you know? And I started noticing, you know, the way I think fits in way better here than it does out there, you know? I would say, like that moment of being 16 sort of started me on this understanding that there is a uniqueness to my identity as a native person that is worthy of exploration and embracing. And that was kind of a slow transition because remember, you know, it takes a long time to break those foundational ties of churches and everything. 

But when I was in seminary, I went to Bethel Seminary, which is founded in the Baptist tradition. It's very white, very, again, conservative. But I went there and I remember I was in my second or third year and I had a friend who's a black woman, also a student there who worked in whatever office traces diversity of the student body, who tracks the diversity of student body. Right. And all of these educational institutions track their diversity. It benefits them to do so. And she came to me. She called me into her office and she said, here, look at this. And she lays this report out in front of me. And it is the statistical breakdown of the student body by race. Right. And it looks exactly like you think it would for Bethel. You know, white is overwhelmingly it's probably like 80 some percent. Then you have African-Americans, you have, you know, Asians, all this. And then it gets all the way down to Native American and it says zero. And here I am. I'm native here. And, you know, I mean, don't get me wrong, you know, Gary, you probably understand this as a black man when you're navigating post-secondary education, you learn to check the box. You always check that box. So I had checked that Native American box on every form since I was in eighth grade, you know. So I knew I had checked the box. I knew Bethel knew I checked the box, but I didn't count. This is something that we deal with in statistics, it's called statistical insignificance. When there is not enough of you to sway the data at all, then you just don't get counted. And so I look at that and I'm like this means I'm the only native here. In this whole institution, I'm the only native here. Not just the seminary, but also the whole undergrad system. 

Gary Green [00:13:38] Right. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:13:39] And so then I started asking some of my more tenured professors in the seminary. Hey, have you ever had a native student come through seminary? And they all said, Yeah. And I said okay, who were they? And no one could give me a name. They're just playing the statistics. I've been doing this for 30 years, so, you know, I must have had a native student come through here. So what that told me is, in this institution, I'm the only native right now. No one can tell me the last native who ever came here. Which tells me that in these professors' times here, you know, which is not insignificant, we're talking 30 some years, a native has never had a significant impact on this institution ever. 

And so I went through this time, that was the biggest kind of catalyzing moment in my life because I'm like, if I waste this opportunity, like, if they can't name me when I leave here, then this is a wasted opportunity. And so I began just bringing in a native perspective to every class. And honest to God there were times I was so obnoxious about it, I was annoying myself. Right. Because we'd be talking about Pauline epistles and I'd be like, well, you know, in a native kind of understanding. And just everything to bring it in. You know, I had a professor who every time I raised my hand, he would say, All right, Jim Bear, what do the natives think about this? You know? But what I was doing is I was, this wasn't an ego thing. I was making a mark for native people saying, you need to understand there is a worldview out there that you're not even considering. You're not even considering it.

So my undergrad is in pastoral theology. And then my seminary degree is also in Christian theology. I saved all of my theology textbooks from my undergrad and my seminary training, all of them. And then one day after I graduated, I went through all of my textbooks on theology, looking for a native perspective. My exposure, if I only did what was fed to me through what is that, at least six years of theological training for a native perspective was five paragraphs. And three of those paragraphs were written by white people about native, you know. So I had two paragraphs of actual native perspective, right? And I was like, I'm like, this is so wrong?

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:16:32] What was your journey from there? How did that lead to the vocation that you're in? 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:16:36] Yeah. Yeah. So when I was in seminary. Well, you guys know this, when you're in seminary, you become theology nerds. Right. So I was a theology nerd and I can't remember if it was when I was in seminary or just after seminary. Right. I went to an AAR gathering, which is the American Academy of Religions, which is just for those of you who don't know what it is, you're not missing much, but it's just where theology nerds go to nerd out. And it was hosted here in the Twin Cities and I went and there was this offsite workshop offering an indigenous tour of sacred sites. And it was led by a Dakota gentleman. And so I went on this tour and we visited sites around the Twin Cities. These are sites I had, you know, I grew up in the Twin Cities. I lived here my whole life. These are sites that I knew about but never knew the indigenous story. And you got to understand, I'm an Indian kid growing up here. So, like, if you know and you know, Gary, it's like for you growing up when Black History Month comes around, all the sudden your neuroreceptors are opened up a little bit and you're going to glom on to that history. So if I get all the way through public schooling and I don't know the indigenous story, it means it was never talked about, right? Because I would have perked up and captured that. 

So I felt this sense of shame that here I am, I'm an adult. I've lived here my whole life. I'm a native kid. I'm a native person. And I don't know the story of whose land I live on and I occupy. And so I decided, you know, that has to change. And so I started this organization called Healing Minnesota Stories, and I started it in 2011, so ten years ago. And one of the things, our goal, is to take the native voice, which has been either intentionally or unintentionally overlooked and bring it out of the shadows and prioritize that. And so one of the things I've done is I've started now, with permission from Dakota people, conducting these Sacred Sites tours. They've been running for ten years. At times they feel too successful because I'm very busy doing those. But it's great. I love doing it. And I tell people, you know, look, you've lived here 50, 60 years. You owe it to the indigenous people who were here before you to at least know their story. I've been doing that. And that's, you know, I've just been building on that work over ten years and sorry Justin, I totally lost track of your actual question in there.  

Gary Green [00:19:32] This is how that brought you on the trajectory of how you got to where you currently are working. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:19:39] Yeah. So currently I'm the co-director of Racial Justice for the Minnesota Council of Churches. And when I started doing this, I started Healing Minnesota stories. Even starting those Sacred Sites tours. Like I said, they started in 2011. I honestly thought that by the end of 2012, I would have exhausted the interest and I would have to find something else to do. So like, I honestly treated it back then as this is really cool and I love doing this, but I'm going to run out of people to tell this story to. And we had just built, you know, and I run anywhere from 1100 to 1500 people a year through these sacred sites tours. And it's just built. And so I never approached this as a vocation, like in the sense of this is going to be my job. I mean, I treated it in a vocation like I felt very called to do this. But I never imagined like this was going to pay my bills. And like, this is going to be my career and my job. But, you know, I built this thing, this  organization and the Minnesota Council of Churches came to me and said, what would it look like if we brought this into the Minnesota council and you had a statewide audience, you know. And I'm like literally, I stepped into a position, the director of racial justice that didn't exist before, like MCC created that position specifically for me. And so it's like I get to do this and I get to build this whole thing brand new. Yeah. So I'm not, you know, I'm not filling anyone's shoes, right? I'm wearing my own shoes doing this work. 

Gary Green [00:21:28] You know, a lot of times when we think about vocation, especially, we are talking about people who are wanting to come into vocation. Right. Because it's easy for me or easier for Justin to look in hindsight and be able to understand how that story fits together, but also to understand how it's not always something that we necessarily choose or we can step into that already exists or even create something intentionally. You know, like if you would have done that knowing this is what I wanted to become. But sometimes it's almost like by accident, you're being open to the possibilities. And there's something about doing work that your soul comes alive for, you know, even if you're doing it for play or even if you're just doing it because it feels right, there's some connection there that I think is significant. So yeah, I wanted to just play. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:22:32] Like where there's an opportunity in front of you and the spirit leads you there. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:22:35] Yeah, absolutely. And I become totally comfortable actually using that language. Right. Like I truly believe that there is a spirit leading this and the comfort level I've come to is there are times in this work where I feel totally overwhelmed when I think about things like even at the Minnesota Council about what we're trying to build for the future. And I'm like, Wow, that is an overwhelming, you know, thing we're trying to build. Yeah. But I have experienced those times of overwhelming before and just been amazed at who Spirit brings to help the work along. And so sometimes I wonder if I'm like the best director because I'm a dreamer. I'm a visionary. I suck at administration. I suck at the day to day. If you get a return email from me, it means I must really like you, you know, because I'm bad at that. But I've learned to become comfortable existing in this atmosphere of dreaming and envisioning and trusting that if that's the way that spirit is leading, then people will come to pick up those pieces that I don't have. 

Gary Green [00:24:02] That you can't foresee necessarily prepare for. I appreciate you saying that about just being explicit about spirit leading. And, you know, I want to transition us a little bit to the ground we stand on and the spirituality that is a part of that, that we breathe, but that some ,especially young adults who might be spiritual but not religious, might have not had an opportunity to make sense of in their own, on their own terms because of coming of this tradition or whatever it might be. And specifically the theme for this conversation, we're hoping to invite listeners to see themselves as a part of a long path or a long trajectory of justice work with foundations laid by our ancestors and continuing to this day. 

One of the things that Justin and I were talking about before you got here and something that I find interesting and is a fortunate development is that it's beginning to come up more when we talk and have conversations about ancestors, especially in the context of spirituality, the way in which African cosmologies or Native American or Native theologies or Eastern religious perspectives are beginning to have more space to offer insight into who are we as human beings and how does how does it all fit together? What is the work that we're actually doing from a spiritual and theological perspective outside of the framework of Western theology or Eurocentric theology? So I'm curious from your standpoint, as a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation and as an activist working to raise public awareness of American Indian causes and injustices, what are a few of your beliefs or unique insights that you would want people to embrace or at least consider that you believe could contribute to a more just world? 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:26:03] Yeah, I like that you kind of bring in the language of ancestors in this. And I don't want to minimize this, but this kind of ancestry research is a fad right now. Right? With 23 and me and the genetic testing and all of this. But what I have noticed and I want to encourage you because, you know, you're going to be in conversations where folks are talking about their ancestors and stuff. One thing I have noticed over the past few years as people have these conversations and they get new knowledge about their own genetic history and their ancestry. Almost invariably, white people, when they speak about their ancestors, they use third person language. So it's they, them, you know, they came over at what ever year. What I've noticed black people, depending on what I'll call their proximity to colonization, will use first person. Or sometimes they use third person. But I think for black people who are actively working about decolonizing and building something new have found this notion of using first people. So it's we came over, we were at this plantation. We were. I don't know a native person who uses third person language when they talk about their ancestors. We always use we. Now, that's a generalization, but that's kind of what I found to be true.

And what I think that reveals is for indigenous people and for black people who are building their new future, we are not alone. We recognize we bring our ancestors into the room. They're here, present with us. And with white people, I think they're trapped by this American ethic of individual achievements, American exceptionalism, you know, I mean, the cliche is pull yourself up by your bootstraps, right? And you're like, oh, you don't even recognize that a black person built those boots and a native person, you know. So there are no your own bootstraps. But that's the ethic that white people live under. And so, of course, why would you give credit to your ancestors for anything that you have accomplished? Yeah. And then also, especially because, you know, you have a whole lot of white people who do research into their own family history and they discover things that they definitely want to distance themselves from. You know, so you come across someone who has slave ownership in their ancestry. Of course it's going to be they own slaves, you know? 

Gary Green [00:29:22] And I think you would see your point even within the broader conversation about this tension between European, of different ethnicities, of European. But this history. Right, this history of whiteness, coupled with the well intentions of a lot of people. Right. And so I think that also speaks to the impulse to say "they" because it's like I am not them. Right. I love all people, you know? For better or for worse. But just that dynamic I think comes to play in or at least comes to mind when I think about. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:30:03] Yeah. That is one of the things we need to understand and this is a native understanding, right? So I'm sure you've heard of the concept of the seven generations, right? And very loosely and broadly, that concept is, that the decisions that I face today, that I make today must not only be good for me in the present day, but also must be good for the seven generations that follow me. But that also works in reverse. So as we encounter truth and as we tell stories that bring about healing from a native perspective, we are breaking the historical trauma and we are healing the seven generations that follow us. But we are also giving voice to and healing the seven generations that preceded us. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:30:56] Yeah, in one of my classes we read Juana Bordas book, Salsa, Soul and Spirit. And there's an exercise written by one of the native authors of the book in challenging themselves to introduce themselves by talking about, by identifying their great great grandparents. So we have the students do this. It's interesting for many of the students, and particularly white students who have struggled with it. When they go back to their grandparents and ask these questions. What's interesting that came out of it, particularly with my class this year, is that they went home and their grandparents were so delighted to share these stories and they had these moments of deep breakthrough with family history that they never knew. Because that what you're talking about, I think, has wisdom for other groups to heal some of that white isolation and alienation because there's a potential to bring people back into dialogue and heal some of those rifts. And so, you know, that really testified, for me, just witnessing how powerful that was in my students' lives. In students of color also, it was reconnecting. But for them, it was more familiar and less of a new concept.

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:32:05] Yeah. And I think what, Justin, you're kind of what you're describing is, I think particularly your white students are coming face to face with the reality that whiteness cost them something that has never been named before. And so what does whiteness cost you? Well, it cost you your history. It costs you your lineage. It costs you your heritage. It costs you your ancestors, because all of that had to be cut off for you to buy into whiteness.

Gary Green [00:32:34] Yeah. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:32:34] And there's, don't get me wrong, definite benefits for buying into whiteness. But that cost is deep. Yeah. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:32:40] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think recognizing that cost is part of what motivates people to move in different ways.  

Gary Green [00:32:48] When you think about your theological and cultural perspective and to give you an example going back and because I grew up similarly, right? I grew up in a culture that looked like me. I had an extended family, but the schools that I went to didn't reflect that always. It was depending on, you know, the year or whatever. But we were always a gross minority wherever I was. And theologically, the same thing when I went to seminary. I was never conversant with African traditional religion or I took one class in undergrad, but it took realizing what I was missing and then going back and trying to reclaim that. Right. And African cosmology has given me language and given me a way to think about what I've frustratingly noticed that a lot of white academics are discovering this notion of relationality and in a critique of individualism and understanding that in African traditional religion assumes that. Has assumed that you're relationally bound together. Right? I say that because it helps me to kind of reset and frame the way I look at the world, where from my assumption is first and not that we're individuals, but that we are so bound up together that that actually changes the metaphor that I use to understand what social transformation might be or what justice looks like. So I'm just curious if you can offer, I don't know, a metaphor or some kind of way to conceive of how things fit together that helps to kind of ground how you engage your work. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:34:33] Forgive me, I don't know which African language the word Ubuntu comes out of, but the notion that I am because we are, right? For the state of Minnesota, the indigenous people are the Dakota. They have what is referred to as Mitakuye Oyasin, which means we are all related, all my relatives. And that's not a unique thing to Dakota people, Ojibwe people greet people as relatives. It's almost,I don't want to say it's a universal native thing, but I've never been in a native community where this concept that we are all related is not part of that. And when we say we are all related, it's not just crossing actual family lines. It's not just crossing racial lines. It's not just crossing gender lines, but it's crossing species lines. So when I say we're all related, I'm talking about the trees outside. I'm talking about the animals that crawl, the birds that fly, the fish that swim. We are all related. And so it places humanity within creation, not over creation. Right? 

And I think that's where Christianity gets it wrong. And it gets it wrong, not because our own texts don't point to the fact that we are all related. It's that for 1700 years now, we've been reading the texts through a lens of power and imperial eyes. And so this is what gets me in trouble with a lot of more conservative Christians, particularly white Christians, is I will tell them, I'll say, you know, you open up your Bible, but it's not written for you. You can't know what it says because the narrative of scripture is a narrative of an oppressed people that are finding their identity, navigating a system that is designed to oppress them. And here you are living in Arden Hills, Minnesota, a white suburb. You got two cars, you got generational wealth, you got all of this, you got white skin. Nothing about this system oppresses you. 

Gary Green [00:37:00] Right? 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:37:01] So you can't sing the songs of liberty that come out of the Gospels because you've never been in chains. Your only hope as a Christian, this is what I say, the only hope of the American church. When I say American church, I'm talking about the white American church. The only hope of the American church is to do away with evangelism as it stands right now. Do away. Don't put black people in your urban missions program. Don't put Native people in your own missions program. What you need to do instead of what you've done for 500 years is you've gone to them with the Bible and said, Let me tell you what this says. Now you're only going to select the passages that keep us enslaved and oppressed. You're going to tell us what that says. Okay. Instead of doing that, you need to come to these communities. Sure, come with your Bible, but come with it open and say, Will you sit down with me? Will you tell me what this says? Because I can't know the songs of freedom that are in here because I've never been in chains. Think about when Jesus announces his ministry, when he announces, where does he go? He goes to the liberation text of Isaiah 61. The spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me because he anointed me to set the captives free, to release those in bondage. So the whole gospel is encompassed in liberation and you can't know it because you've never been in chains. That was a little preachy. 

Gary Green [00:38:30] But it just speaks to the power of how we can interpret a text. The strength of a lens, right? And so I think the disruptions that you're bringing and some of the conversations that various communities are trying to have are beginning to kind of chip away at that so that there can even be the awareness to say, maybe I don't understand what this is. Yeah, right. Or maybe I'm understanding what this is saying so much on my terms, whether knowingly or unknowingly, that it's completely, you know, it's transforming what this means. So I want to kind of transition briefly just because I'm mindful of time, but thank you for that. That was helpful. 

And it connects also to, you know, coming back to this idea of ancestors, we're familiar with the quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, which says the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Right? But we also know that it doesn't bend on its own. So we're responsible for bending it and that there are persons who have come before us, who have participated in bending it to the point where to help us get where we are now, laying the foundation for us to build on that work. As you think about your own vocational journey, who would you say are the ancestors who have bent the arc in particular ways that have set the stage for the work you're doing? 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:39:47] Yeah. 

Gary Green [00:39:48] And you can answer. You can think about this both in terms of those ancestors that more indirectly have formed their influence too. And those kinds of mentors perhaps that didn't directly inform the work. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:40:00] Yeah, I struggled to use the word ancestors when I mention this person. And if time allows, I'd actually like to highlight two people. I have a mentor in my life named Bob. Bob is a 67 year old Dakota man. Bob calls himself a Christian. Bob set foot in the doors of a church maybe 4 or 5 times in his life. Right? Bob had what the evangelical world calls this salvation encounter. Jesus came to Bob in a sweat ceremony, a traditional indigenous sweat ceremony. And I remember one time, this was ten years ago, and at this time, I'm still like, I'm pretty new out of seminary and I'm wrestling with this. Okay? I want to honor and live into my traditional ancestry, but also, like I am a Christian and I want to. And so do I live this world where those are just this life, where those two worlds are just separate. 

And Bob invited me to a pipe ceremony one time very early on. We had just met very recently. And, you know, the pipe ceremony, you have the Chanupa,  you have the pipe, you fill it, you go, you say some prayers and you fill it seven times with seven little pinches of what's called Chinchacha goes into the pipe. And I'm standing there right next to Bob, and I'm standing there and he's moving in and out between Dakota and English, as he's saying these prayers. And I remember when he put that last pinch of Chinchacha, or that seventh pinch of each Chinchacha into the bowl of the pipe. He just. And I swear he said it like he whispered it. And so I'm positive. And I'm the only person in that whole circle that heard him say it. He said, Can we fill this pipe in the name of the father, son and the Holy Spirit? And my mind went, forgive me, but this letter in my mind went, Holy shit. Like, can you even do that? Is that possible? And I'm going back through my seminary days like, okay, how do I consult Bonhoeffer and Luther and all these people to get to a point where I can be there. Bob went to the ninth grade. That's the most education he has. Bob doesn't even know that this is an argument, right? And I'm like, That's what I want to be. That's where I want to arrive at, where my worlds can meld together and give full expression of my identity in a seamless way that I don't even give a shit about the arguments that say I can't do it right. 

Gary Green [00:42:57] That is so rich. That is so rich to imagine not even having to contend with, you know, the kind of demarcated assumptions. But, you know, it's one thing to have to resist them. It's another thing to reform to the point where you're just free. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:43:13] Yeah. I mean, when we talk about ancestors, you know, there's a saying that we've all heard, you know, if I have seen further than any other person, it's because I've stood on the shoulders of giants. Right. And this is just a way to give honor and tribute to those sometimes named and sometimes the nameless people who came before you in the fight and struggle. And for me, that saying takes on a different meaning. And the most influential person in my life was my grandmother. She lived to the age of 95, passed away five years ago. And I loved going out to visit my grandmother. We'd drive all around the reservation and she'd just tell me stories. 

And one day we're driving around, just me and her in the car and we're driving by. And our reservation is in the big woods of Wisconsin, which means it used to be that the timber companies would come in and pull out timber. So crossing the main roads of our reservation are all these what we call old logging roads, which is where the old, you know, back in the 40s, 30s, 40s, the logging trucks would go back and they would boller lumber up and we crossed by, you know they're almost non- you can't drive over them anymore, they're all overgrown but you can see the scars in the land where they were and we drive and pass. My grandma and I are driving past this one logging road that I wouldn't have even noticed. And she just says, down there is where we escaped when I was a young girl. And I'm like, Well, wait, wait, wait. Hold up. You can't,grandma, you don't drop that line and then not go into the story. And so she told me the story and I pulled over on the side of the road so I could just listen to her story and focus on the story. And she told me. 

So my grandmother was born in 1922. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to my grandmother. And so my grandmother was actually sent to live with another female relative that we all now have just known as Aunt B. And that's not Aunt B like B-E-A. It's just the letter B, and no one knows what the B stands for. Right? Aunt B was deaf and mute, and Aunt B was essentially the domestic servant for a man camp. These logging camps that would hopscotch around the reservation. And so this is the environment that my grandmother, as a very young child, is growing up in. And what my grandmother could not bring herself to actually give voice to but what I've pieced together is the foreman of this man camp was a very possessive, jealous type. And you can imagine. Yes, Aunt B is the domestic help for the camp. But when you are one of 2 or 3 women in a camp of 70 to 80 men, you know what's happening after dark, right? And my grandmother's growing up in this.  

And one night in the middle of the night, she said she was probably about 5 or 6 years old, she was woken up by the hand over her mouth and it was Aunt B. And like I said, Aunt B was deaf and mute, so they communicated to each other in this quasi sign language where they would write out letters and what not on the palm of their hands. And that's how they talked. So they were able to talk in total silence in complete darkness, just through touch. And Aunt B says it's not safe for you here anymore. We need to get you out of here. And so my grandma tells me this story. They quickly kind of pack up her belongings and they're being as silent as they came because all the men are asleep and they don't want to wake any of them up because this foreman and a lot of the men in there are very possessive and jealous. And they sneak out of the camp and Aunt B carried my grandmother on her back. And they're walking along the road because it was you know, that was the easy path to walk. But every time, my grandmother's job as a five year old girl, was to anytime she heard a car anywhere in the proximity, even before you could see the lights or anything, she would tap Aunt B on the shoulder because Aunt B couldn't hear. And then they would then scurry down into the ditch and pull the bushes and stuff, and they would hide until the car would go by. And so this is, they're making their escape. And I asked Grandma, I said, okay, so how far did Aunt B carry you? And she said, Well, I'll show you, we'll drive by it. And so I watched you know, I checked my odometer from where we left to where we ended up, and it was six miles that Aunt B carried my grandmother, under the cover of darkness in the middle of the night. Hiding in the ditch every time a car came by because they were worried that that foreman was going to wake up and then come out and look for them. Hiding in the ditch, six miles to another relative's house that my grandmother could stay in. 

And then I asked, I said, okay, so what did Aunt B do that you're now at another relative's house? Would did Aunt B do? And my grandmother said, well, she turned around and went back. And that did not sit right with me. I could not find a rationality or a justification for why, you know, you have your freedom, right? You walk six miles carrying a five year old child on your back. You now have your freedom. You're safe. Why in the hell would you go back? And that question stayed with me until I started thinking about the context of when this takes place. So my grandmother, five years old, we're talking 1927. This is a time when Indian children across this country are being ripped away from their families by social workers and adopted out to white families. And anything, anything could label you as an unfit parent or guardian, and that child would be taken away from you. And the number one thing that would label you as an unfit parent is if you could not show a verifiable income to support that child. 

And so I'm thinking about this. Aunt B, not only brings my grandmother on her back to safety. But to ensure that she is going to stay with our family and that our narrative is going to continue, in essence, to ensure that I would exist today. When she went back into her own oppression, she went back into her own hell so that those social workers wouldn't come, because in the 1920s, we're talking about 40% of Indian kids were being taken away from their homes. If there was no income, that shows that grandma was being supported, grandma absolutely is being taken out of that home, which is going to end up on a white farm somewhere doing domestic chores, you know.

And so, you know, I think about that, standing on the shoulders of giants was not true for me. I'm not standing on shoulders, I was carried on her back. This giant of a woman who walked back into her own hell to ensure, this is that seven generations. Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions that don't sit well with us in the here and now to ensure that our story continues. 

Gary Green [00:51:26] The imagination that also has to be at work in the midst of that to think about seven generations. The world will be different enough where if I do this now, they won't have to do this. Yeah, that's just powerful. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:51:41] Yeah. Because you can imagine like when you're growing up in that oppression, when you're growing up in that, and that's all you know, like, this is why when you go to black churches, when you go to native celebrations, like the number one thing that sings it's voice is hope because it's all we have. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:52:06] You know, young people today are expressing understandably and reasonably anxiety about what will happen, what world will their children be born into? One of the things we've been talking about that we'd love to hear about from you: What do you envision, or what advice do you have for young people now that would have the greatest positive impact on the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, seven generations who have not yet been born, but will come from, you know, from this current generation? 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:52:38] I think there's a shakedown coming. There's a reckoning coming. Yeah, I think, you know, I think back to growing up in the Pentecostal church, the Book of Acts plays deep in our theology, and there's a passage in the Book of Acts where this new church, these new disciples, these new spirit filled individuals are being talked about by someone else. And this person describes the situation and says those that have turned the world upside down have come here. Okay. And as a Pentecostal, you know, we were like, yeah, that's us. We're going to turn the world upside down, you know, and all this. Well, guess what? The church is not turning the world upside down. The church is living into the capitalistic, individualistic system. But the world will be turned upside down because there is no way to survive in this system. Just no way. So the world, she'll turn herself upside down. 

Well, as that happens, I think those indigenous peoples and by when I say this, when I say indigenous peoples, I'm not just talking about the Native Americans here in North America, but I'm talking about this indigenous worldview and mindset globally, those that we already exist in a communal world versus an individualistic. So those indigenous communities will be the salvation of the church. Because there is no other way to live, you know, and you think about 2016, when Standing Rock is taking place. The reason Standing Rock was met with such harsh, violent resistance by law enforcement, by corporate America, by all of this was not because they were really adamant about pushing a pipeline through. It was because at Standing Rock, you had anywhere from 8 to 12,000 Native people out there showing the world that a different way is possible. And corporate America can not exist if we firmly understand and lean into this reality that a different way is possible. And so, of course, they're going to release the dogs and they're going to open up the water cannons and they're going to tear gas and rubber bullets because God forbid the masses understand that a different way is possible. It's like that scene from A Bug's Life. I don't know if you've ever seen it where, like, the grasshoppers are the bullies, you know, who are the status quo. And there's a moment where the ants realize, wait a minute, we far outnumber the grasshoppers. Yeah. Like we can create a different world for ourselves, free from their oppression.  

Gary Green [00:55:33] How can young adults who want to participate in that new world, regardless of where they are situated right now, what traditions they come from or where they moved into. How can they be an active participant in bringing about that world? Yeah. Whenever, you know, we can imagine it. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:55:51] Yeah. You know, in many ways, the young kind of Millennial and Gen Z generation are far better situated for this than us Xers. I mean, I don't know what your generation is, but I'm an Xer. Because our generation bought into the fallacy that the way forward is to build yourself wealth, to attain status, right? To do all of this. So you want to buy your home and you want the toys to go with your home and you want all of this. And I just think that this young generation is just seeing the emptiness of those pursuits. And it's not about bowing to the corporate ideals of amassing wealth. But it's about how we can live in community. How can we move from a scarcity mindset which puts us in competition to an abundance mindset that says, you know what? The Earth, she takes care of creation. She creates enough already to feed everybody. And that's like that's the reality that nobody wants to tell you. I don't remember if this still holds true, but I don't know ten, fifteen years ago, we grew enough food in the state of California to feed the entire world. The whole world. And I'm like why are, what is it? 12,000 kids a day dying of starvation? Because we let them. Yeah, that's why. And I think, you know, like I said, there's a reckoning coming, and I think these young people are uniquely situated to lead that charge. 

Gary Green [00:57:48] Well, Jim Bear, this conversation could easily go on for hours right? 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:57:53] Yeah. 

Gary Green [00:57:55] Yeah, I know, right? I want to weigh in on that. I'll just sit on it. But no, but thank you so much for being with us tonight. There's so much wisdom in this conversation. And I hope that you'll continue to do the work you're doing. I know you will. And that we continue to collaborate in the future. And we just think this is a really valuable thing to lift up for young adults. And I think you're absolutely right. They're poised to take the next several steps into a new reality that doesn't, by default, live into the things that they've asked us to do. Thank you so much. 

Jim Bear Jacobs [00:58:33] My pleasure. This has been enjoyable.