AKRON, Pa. – Micah Hart and Cristina Yellowman spent much of the summer of 2012 interpreting their Cheyenne culture and heritage to visitors at the Cheyenne Cultural Center, Clinton, Okla.
Located along famed U.S. Route 66, the center is a planned destination for some tourists, and a spur of the moment decision for others.
Hart, whose work, like Yellowman’s, was sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) U.S. Summer Service program and the Oklahoma Fellowship of Indian Mennonite Churches of Clinton, said many visitors were surprised at what they learned at the center.
“Most have this view of Native Americans from TV, the stereotyping, and they come here and [the center] opens their eyes,” he said. The people he encountered seemed pleased to learn something they had not known before, he said. The information varied from traditional forms of Cheyenne justice to games the Cheyenne and other tribes played, such as an early version of lacrosse or field hockey.
For 10 weeks, Hart, of Cordell, Okla., and Yellowman, of El Reno, Okla., worked closely with their supervisor Betty Hart, assistant director of the center, Yellowman’s grandmother, and Hart’s great aunt. Together they set up an exhibit about Cheyenne culture and history and educated the public.
MCC U.S.’ Summer Service program is a six- to 10-week leadership development initiative, designed for young adults who are from diverse ethnic backgrounds and are active participants in MCC’s supporting churches.
Assignments take place in the worker’s home church or community. Participants are supported financially by MCC U.S. and local congregations. This summer, 18 men and 15 women, ages 18-30, took part nationally.
According to program coordinator Kim Dyer, the experience enables young adults to serve, learn and make a difference in the church community. The program’s purpose is to “increase leadership skills and capabilities, growing and preparing young adults for potential church leadership roles in the present and future church.”
Micah Hart and Yellowman’s congregation, Koinonia Mennonite Church, sees the cultural center as an extension of its ministry. The church has supported the cultural center since its planning stages and 1977 opening by Lawrence and Betty Hart and their family. Lawrence Hart is a former MCC and MCC U.S. board member. Summer Service workers have worked there since the late 1970s.
This summer, Micah Hart’s and Yellowman’s assignments also included interviewing three Cheyenne chiefs to document peacemaking methods used in community conflict. They updated records of people who have attended existing or closed Mennonite churches in Clinton through the years and performed other administrative tasks.
“Summer Service helped me be more of a person who can get the word out about our tribe, educating people about our background, where we came from,” said Micah Hart, reflecting on how he has grown. “It helped me see other people’s worldview, their point of view.” He is attending Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford this fall.
Yellowman, a senior at El Reno High School, said the best part of her experience was helping to create and put up an exhibit. “Another favorite part of my summer was being able to tell the history of my Cheyenne people,” she said.
Betty Hart said the Summer Service program also teaches skills that will help participants get their first jobs, including filling out an application, obtaining references and being responsible for their attendance.
“The program is all about relationships,” said Je T’aime Taylor, MCC Central States service program co-administrator. “MCC gives the young adults the platform to see their own potential. We don’t push them, but give opportunities.”
For more information about MCC U.S.’ Summer Service program, visit mcc.org/usprogramservices/summerservice.
Ed Nyce is public education coordinator for MCC U.S. Linda Espenshade, MCC U.S. news coordinator, contributed to this story.