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Pawnee chief gives Native rendering of Gospel truth

DALLAS (BP) — “We use the culture of the American Indian to draw a crowd,” said Warren “Junior” Pratt, a Pawnee chief.

“We use Scripture to share God’s truth.”

Pratt spoke — and with his family performed — during the Fellowship of Native American Christians annual meeting June 10-11 in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Dallas.

Pratt and his family, known as the Tribe of Judah Dance Ministry, wear Pawnee regalia as they sing, dance and drum Gospel messages in a Native American context.

They perform all over the nation for Native and other American audiences as well as the foreign-born because there continues to be a fascination with the culture of the people in America before Europeans arrived, Pratt said.

With his wife Christa on the guitar and Pratt singing in the Pawnee language and beating a hand drum, they performed the Lord’s Prayer as their daughter Cora, 10, in a knee-length white dress and Native shawl, used sign language.

Adam, 9, in child-size Pawnee regalia complete with bells and two feathered headdresses cascading down his back, next joined his sister as they acted out the words to the contemporary Christian song “10,000 Reasons,” accompanied by their parents.

Pratt, chief of the Skidi band of Pawnee Indians, then began assembling his regalia, starting with leggings and ending with a headpiece, illustrating Native-style the Ephesians 6 biblical admonition to put on the full armor of God.

Pratt said he is one of 84 remaining full-blood Pawnees, out of a people group that has just 3,000 left on its tribal roll.

“We have to do something with our faith,” Pratt said as he pulled on a white leather legging. “It’s a spiritual battle. Families are under attack. God made a way, but we have to do something.” He pulled up his other legging, and straightened.

“First, stand,” he said. “Native Americans are under siege by despair, emotional hurt and pain. There is a loss of identity, an instilled sense of loss we are still struggling with.”

He held up a red breechcloth, attached to a leather belt.

“The belt is the first item put on because it holds everything else on,” Pratt said. “The belt of truth. There is only one way we will find our identity again. ‘No man finds their identity except through me,’ Jesus said.

“The breastplate,” Pratt said as he held up one he had made of white bone beads tied with leather. “It protects our vital organs, especially our heart. We are to guard our heart.”

Moccasins are made inside out, Pratt said, and have become his favorite thing to make because of the beauty they have when they’re turned right-side-out.

Stepping into the moccasins, he continued, “Put on your feet the preparation of peace.”

Pratt held up a round, rawhide shield not quite chest-wide that was attached to his left forearm to deflect arrows thrown by the enemy.

The shield “is dependent on your faith,” Pratt said, adding, “That shield is not just for you but for those who come behind you.”

The Pawnee traditionally were known as “wolves” and wore a headpiece fashioned from a wolf’s face and head, complete with its ears. As Pratt donned the wolf headpiece, he said, “The helmet of salvation is the first thing the enemy would see, and oftentimes that would be enough to send him fleeing.”

Finally, a coup stick. Though not a weapon for a Pawnee, Pratt explained, it was a way some Native peoples showed they were victorious over an enemy. “When you touched him with a coup stick, he didn’t bother you anymore. He knew he was dead to you.

“When you raise the name of Jesus” — Pratt raised the coup stick high — “you count coup over an enemy that doesn’t have power over us anymore.

“We’re called to stand and defend what we know to be true,” Pratt concluded. “You can’t be half-blood and get into heaven. If you were to die today and were asked, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ the only right answer is, ‘I’m full-blood Jesus.'”