In early December, a group of about 150 Native Americans and non-Natives gathered in Denver, Colo., to share a Christmas pageant. But there was no singing of “Silent Night” or passing of a candle. Instead the group chose to share the story of Christ’s birth in their own way.

A Christmas pageant at the Christian Indian Center.

“We asked the question ‘What if missionaries told us [Native Americans] about Christ and then just left it at that. How would we share that with our own people?’” said Richard Silversmith, elder of the Christian Indian Center (CIC), a Christian Reformed ministry in Denver. “The answer would be through song, dance, and chants.”

According to Silversmith, only 8 percent of American Indians consider themselves Christians. In response, the CIC sought to communicate the story of Christ’s birth using Navajo and southwest Indian influences.

“We took out the Western worldview and the dualistic worldview and made it more so the physical and spiritual are one,” Silversmith said.

The result was a Christmas pageant complete with a manger scene, Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus, told through Scripture reading, song, dance, and chants.

“We’re not using any of the sacred song or dances. This is totally innovative, brand new stuff,” stated Silversmith. “We’re borrowing from different tribes to display how our people would bring the story of Christmas to Native Americans.”

“We wanted our audience to know it’s OK to worship Jesus culturally,” said Silversmith. He felt that some youth, who had previously felt confused living in two worlds, felt relevant participating. “They found out that they can be a Christian and a Native American,” he said.

About the Author

Sarah Boonstra is the Banner's regional news correspondent for classes Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone.

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I am a white man and I was there when this creation of Daniel Smiley, a Navajo (Dine) evangelist from the Arizona reservation, was performed. It was wonderful and can only get better. I do not understand much in Navajo, though I tried to learn it, but I didn't have to. I know Daniel Smiley and his Gospel message is entirely scriptural. You can hear him singing and sharing the Word on YouTube. So, when he performed this Navajo version of a Christmas pageant, I was assured before and after, by him, that it was according to the Bible and all the symbols were related to spiritual truths found in Jesus Christ. Daniel Smiley is a humble follower of Jesus and has a tremendous testimony. There is not enough space here to even write what I remember. But Daniel is a type of bridge between the Navajo and the white man. Besides being his own translator, he also understands the culture of both. He understands that Christianity is not the "white man's religion" but is revealed to us by Jewish men, inspired by God, who were well aware of other cultures around them. Our version of the nativity or Christmas pageants are influenced by a white man's perspective but the message is eternal, even though rooted in space and time. So this very colorful version is a blessing to those who see it because it relates the message of God with us, Immanuel, coming to live among us. However which way Indians of all tribes want to make that their own story is very welcome to me. White men do not have a patent on the pageant.

That's great! I'm a missionary in West Africa and this is what we're trying to encourage here. If only the first missionaries to Native Americans would have done the same.