Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Greensky Hill Native American Methodist Church: the role of language in group identity

Greensky Hill Native American Methodist Church: the role of language in group identity

Kat Slocum

Greensky Hill Church, situated in Northern Michigan (45°19′42″N, 85°11′5″W), is a blended church of Native American Christians and White Christians. Incorporated in church services are both the English and the Anishnaabemowin language – a Native American language from the Algonquin language family. This study asks how Greensky Hill Church became bilingual and situates it within the larger narrative of the nation. The utilization of historic documents contributions to the understanding of the history of the church, its founder, and its unique balance of Methodist and Native American ideologies that are incorporated through language. More broadly, this research seeks to understand language choices as strategies that forge allegiances and form group identity. For the purposes of this study, an in-depth analysis of the regional and national history is necessary. It is with this historic foundation that one can better understand the formation of the church that led to its current state of language and culture inclusion. The regionally unique history of the church as a culturally inclusive religious entity has led to a multi-cultural group identity. Group identity can best be described as including two perspectives which function to establish sameness and differentness. Internally, identity functions to establish a relationship between the self and the group. Externally, identity functions to establish difference between the self and “other”. By using these two perspectives this research highlights the role that history has played in forming Greensky Hill’s unique identity and use of language.

April 6, 2015 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Lots of long-term research potential here, I suspect. Historically, there is the lacuna between early missionaries proselytizing Native Americans in their own language (Baraga among the Ojibwe, etc), and what you are presently observing. Doctrinally, what is the case for/against syncretism: between “orthodox” Methodism (?!) and “authentic” (also contestable) Native American practice (e.g., midewiwin). Finally, how does this blended community relate to its traditional components; the United Methodist Church, the Little Traverse Band. This could be overwhelming unless scoped linguistically for present purposes.

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 6, 2015 | Reply

  2. Reblogged this on 2sheepinthecity's Blog and commented:

    Comment by 2sheepinthecity | April 14, 2015 | Reply

  3. For starters, this type of research is definitely one that can be very beneficial to public education because here we have a blended community, who’s church functions in a way that covers both cultures practices and ideologies. History shows us that there has been a suppression of Native American cultural practices, rituals, and ideologies, and so Im curious to see if this research shows how they have dealt with specific ritualistic practices and ideologies that are associated with Native Americans because as a Christian religion, the Methodist faith may not be open to specific practices, and so were some of their practices and views suppressed and what does that say to preserving or disrupting the authenticity of their culture?

    Comment by Theia | April 20, 2015 | Reply

  4. Does this bilingualism extend beyond the church?

    Comment by Madeleine Seidel | April 20, 2015 | Reply

  5. I love that you begin with the coordinates of the church. There’s something very beautiful about positioning it not only socially, but also geographically in a concrete place. How does this space (in a Newtonian sense) become a specific place with all kinds of bounded social and cultural meanings? A secondary question, when you talk about how an “in-depth” analysis will help you situate your understanding of the bilingualism of this community, you make it seem like that is your primary source of information. I question how you portray the historical analysis against the analysis of “group identity” within your paper…how do you theoretically frame these two simultaneous kinds of analyses in relation to each other without one superseding the other?

    Comment by Kathryn Nowinski | April 21, 2015 | Reply

  6. I can see where your paper would have global implications in viewing the syncretism of languages and cultures, and in learning how to go about better preserving indigenous languages/cultures that are threatened with obsolescence in the face of dominant languages such as English. The fact that this church works at keeping its language and heritage alive and thriving is something that can be emulated in other areas facing similar loss of language/culture.

    Comment by Kimberly Oliver | April 21, 2015 | Reply

  7. This is an excellent approach to ascertaining the cultural history of people through their lived experiences and religious practices. I think the multivocality you discuss as bilingualism and even a sense of biculturalism an important conversation to have. Outside of revitalization efforts among Native Americans, projects like this can help the country come to terms with our immigrant roots.

    Comment by Laura Cunningham | April 21, 2015 | Reply

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