Friday, March 24, 2006

JK: My Interest in Native Americans

My interest in Native Americans, American Indians if you will, began at the age of five when I saw a television program called Crossroads and heard about a Sioux warrior choosing Christianity. Moving to Starvation Lane in 1984 to ranch and follow what we thought God was asking us to do meant a wish I’d had to know more about native people would not be fulfilled. Once one has “left a professional job” I assumed no one would ever want to hire me again. Besides, I believed that I was supposed to “go to the land and write” and that didn’t include working somewhere else than the ranch. Even more confirming that my interest in Indian ways would not be nurtured was that the nearest reservation where I might have found a job was more than a two hours away.

And then just when needed, the job on the reservation became available. We didn’t have a phone yet so I learned of it through the mail. A man who worked there said they were starting a new program and he was sure I could do it and would I be interested. Yes, it was a two hour drive away. Yes it meant staying overnight there. Yes, we prayed about it. Was it really what I was supposed to do? That job opening, working as a mental health consultant in early childhood on the reservation, began my fiction writing career.

It turned out I worked with the very tribe that had helped this family I’d read about accomplish their dreams 150 years before. I hoped to tell that family’s story. I could interview people on the reservation, do the research I needed after work. I was surrounded by stories of Indian people and as they slowly took me into their lives I discovered more about myself than I otherwise might never have known.

If I had tried to imagine the best job, the best support for our lives on this isolated ranch in Oregon, I would not have come up with the reservation work. I spent 17 years there and wrote eight novels from that little trailer where I stayed two nights a week. I helped deliver a baby, attended weddings and funerals and festivals; grieved and celebrated with families. Eventually my parents came to live on that reservation in an assisted living program so I could see them, stay close to them.

An added joy has been the letters and comments from readers who tell me that their view of Indian people has changed because of my writing. They see them now not as just a “stereotyped group” but as individuals who had traditions and passions and dreams, who made good choices and bad, just like each of us.

Ephesians 3:20 came alive for me in my writing journey with that offer for a job all those years ago. My writing did not suffer; it got better. And my trust in God was deepened by the specificity of His care for me in sending me the perfect job that in the beginning I thought had nothing to do with writing.

Look for Jane’s newest this April A Clearing in the Wild from WaterBrook Press.


At 9:31 AM, Blogger Sharon said...

Hi Jane,
I loved this"God story."God is the God of"just when needed."I am part Native American on my mom's side(but I got my Irish Dad's coloring).I have an interest in Native Americans because of it.My mom is with Jesus now and has been for a little over 5 years.Don't know which Nation she was part of.But I'd sure love to find out.Thanks for sharing this awesome part of God's provision in your life Jane.
Sharon in Stayton :-)

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

What a great post, Jane! It's interesting, how varied our paths are as writers. You thought you were supposed to ranch and write, and instead God led you to work at an Indian reservation that turned out to be a wellspring of info for your novels.

I think the key is "to hear and obey," which is obviously what you did. Your post was affirming and encouraging to me. I live the kaleidoscopic life of a minister's wife. I sip tea and swat flies with the saints. Well, not really. No fly swatting. But lots of social engagements with the saints. Several weeks ago, we christened/dedicated a church member's two bedroom (stateroom) catamaran on the North River about an hour's drive above our city, Jacksonville, and then enjoyed the party afterward. This week, my dh preached the funeral of a beloved church member, and we spent lots of time with this grieving family. Joys and sorrows. Sorrows and joys. That's my life. And I love it. It's added a richness and depth to my writing.

Thanks for sharing. And affirming. I needed that.

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Cheryl Russell said...

Great post Jane. My husband and I hope to work with Native American ministries, starting in the near future. This is something that's been on our hearts for a long time.

At 7:41 PM, Blogger Ane Mulligan said...

I'm friends with a few native Americans, Jane, and we've all loved what you've done!


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