Dakota Cross-Bearer: The Life and World of a Native American Bishop

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Dakota Cross-Bearer: The Life and World of a Native American Bishop. By Mary E. Cochrane, with an Introduction by Raymond A. Bucko and Martin Brokenleg. Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. 252 pp. $29.95

In the mellow style of a Dakota storyteller, Cochrane has ably chronicled the life and world of the first American Indian bishop in the Christian Church, Harold S. Jones, Santee Sioux or Dakota. This remarkable man was the first American Indian to graduate from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, where he served as president of the class of 1938. Born in 1909 on the Santee Reservation in Nebraska, Jones was reared by his maternal grandparents just across the Missouri River from South Dakota on the Santee Reservation. His grandfather, a Dakota, was an Episcopal priest; his beloved grandmother was disowned by her white family when she married him.

Because Jones, a gentle and soft-spoken man, tells his own story through hundreds of hours of transcriptions which were painstakingly and tediously edited and styled, the story is devoid of rancor or acrimony, although his early life was rife with painful experiences as a victim of racism within the Episcopal Church.

For instance, Associated Press in 1937 ran a story in South Dakota disclosing "First Indian to Enter Seabury-Western Seminary Becomes Senior Class President." Were there congratulations from church leaders of his home diocese? No! The Board of Examining Chaplains wrote the Seabury dean of their "displeasure of the way the seminary is pampering Harold Jones ... spoiling him ... such notoriety given to a young man from a poor reservation background can do him no good. . . ."

He was promptly summoned home to take his canonical examinations a year prior to his graduation. He failed the exams but returned to Seabury for his final year (his expenses had been paid by the neighboring diocese of Minnesota, not his home diocese). …