In Canada, conversations about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples are often at the forefront of community and public life. These discussions extend to our worship practices as we consider how our corporate expressions of praise and community can emulate Jesus by being more just.
Voices Together features about 13 songs and five worship resources with connections to North American Indigenous Peoples. These resources materially and metaphorically represent the voices of Indigenous people in worship, and let worshippers more fully live into a vision of God’s just and diverse reign.
One song with close connections to Mennonite communities is “Creation is a Song / Ho’ė enemeohe” (VT No. 181). The song is inspired by the peace teachings of the late Lawrence Hart, a Mennonite pastor and Cheyenne peace chief. In particular, his interpretation of Psalm 19 from the book Creation and the Environment (2000) was inspiring to Doug Krehbiel, who was working on the Mennonite Environmental Task Force that compiled and edited this book.
Krehbiel and his spouse Jude engaged in a cultural-exchange event with Hart at the Cheyenne Cultural Center in Clinton, Okla., around this time. They established a strong relationship, which allowed Doug and Jude to create the song in close connection to Cheyenne teachings.
Keshia Littlebear Citrone is a Cheyenne Mennonite with close connections to the song. In a Voices Together launch webinar on anti-racist worship and song in 2021, Littlebear Citrone commented on the song and its reception: “It’s been long thought that it is disrespectful to sing this song or to honour this song as a Cheyenne song because it was written by white folks, but the way that Cheyennes have come to view this is through relationships. So Doug and Jude received this song from Creator, the way Cheyennes receive songs, after building a relationship with Cheyenne both in Oklahoma and in Montana [where I’m from], including with myself. Doug and Jude are very dear friends of mine.”
She continues: “To me, that basis of relationship—because Cheyennes are extremely relational . . . the relationship opened up their ability to receive this song from Creator, and put it to a tune that was received by an elder from our community that has long passed, named Maude Fighting Bear. So the tune comes from that, and then [they received] help with translation. They didn’t just try to figure it out on their own using Google; they went to the sources for the translation. And so with that relationship, and that back and forth, that makes it a very respectful song, and I absolutely enjoy this song.”
The Accompaniment Edition of Voices Together suggests that the song can be accompanied with a low drum and a shaker played on each quarter note. The Krehbiels created a recording of the song, in which they used a drum after consultation with Hart, who supported them in producing a more traditional Cheyenne sound.
As Mennonites seek to live into right relations with Indigenous neighbours, songs like “Creation is a Song” can be a resource, allowing us to worship together with Cheyenne siblings in Christ.
For more information on leading intercultural resources, view recordings of the “Anti-Racist Worship and Song webinar” on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel (part 1 is here and part 2 is here) and read “Worship in Multiple Languages” in the Worship Leader Edition.
Anneli Loepp Thiessen is a PhD candidate, co-director of the Anabaptist Worship Network and was a committee member for Voices Together.