Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
WASHINGTON Educator, lecturer and author, Richard Twiss, Lakota, passed away on Saturday in Washington, DC surrounded by his family. Twiss' American Indian name was Taoyate Obnajin, which means "He Stands with his People." He was 58.
Lakota Richard Twiss in Grand Rapids in 2010
A resident of Vancouver, Washington, Twiss was in Washington, DC where he suffered a massive heart attack early Wednesday evening. Earlier in the day, he had visited the US Department of the Agriculture. He planned to attend the National Day of Prayer breakfast on Thursday morning.
Soon after his heart attack, he was rushed to a local hospital where emergency surgery was performed on Wednesday evening to insert a stent into the main artery of his heart. He remained in critical condition until his death on Saturday.
He and his wife, Katherine, began Wiconi International, a non-profit organization, in 1997. The mission of Wiconi is to work for the well-being of our Native people by advancing cultural formation, indigenous education, spiritual awareness and social justice connected to the teachings and life of Jesus, through an indigenous worldview framework.
Born on the Rosebud Lakota Sioux Indian Reservation, Twiss was a tribal member of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate from the Rosebud Lakota Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. His father, Franklin "Buster" Twiss, was a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Before his conversion to Christianity, Twiss participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties caravan that journeyed to Washington, DC to bring awareness to 700 treaties that were broken by the federal government. In early November 1972, Twiss was part of the eight day occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in the nation's capital.
In 1974 Twiss became a Christian while at a low point in his life.
“After years of many painful experiences with drug and alcohol abuse, time in jail and a growing despair of my own lostness, I became a follower of Jesus while living in Hawaii. This Hawaii experience occurred when I was all alone during a drug overdose at two o'clock in the morning on an isolated beach. There, in deep desperation, I yelled, "Jesus if you're real, then will you forgive me, come into my life and be my savior?" And he did!”
Twiss told the Uniting General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches in June 2010 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Richard was a man of integrity and respected the world over. He followed his vision in spite of hardship and adversity and was a spokesperson for all indigenous cultures. He will never be replaced but we will move forward with that same vision,”
commented the Reverend Mike Peters, Ottawa, of the Four Fires Ministries, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Twiss and Peters were friends for several years.
Through the years, Twiss became a strong voice among American Indians who for many years were taught that they had to choose between traditional Native beliefs or being a Christian. Twiss taught the two could be combined in contextual worship to the Creator.
"In the complex and controversial dialogue of contextualizing Christian worship for Native American cultures, Richard Twiss allowed himself to become a lightning rod so that boarding school survivors and assimilated Native American Christians could have the freedom to put on their regalia, pick up their drums, and ask the question: "What does it mean to be Native American and follow Jesus?""
commented Mark Charles, Navajo, a friend of Twiss and Resource Development Specialist for Indigenous Worship at Calvin College, to the Native News Network on Sunday evening.
"Richard's unique ministry gave many Native people the opportunity to experience that Jesus is not just the "White man's God" but he came for all people from every language and every culture."
Other Christian American Indians mourned his loss.
"On behalf of Seven Eagles Ministries, Richard was a mighty man. He cared about everyone and was concerned about us as Native peoples and sharing how the Lord cared for us all,"
commented James F. Dionne, head of Seven Eagles Ministries.
"This man was a great blessing to our nation."
"Richard Twiss inspired younger generations to become bridge builders with his tireless advocacy for tribal sovereign rights and raising awareness of contemporary issues still facing indigenous peoples. The urgent need to understand and mutually respect spiritualities will be an ongoing necessity for all as we continue to strive to build our communities together,"
commented Sarah Eagle Heart, diversity and ethnic ministry team leader and program officer for Indigenous Ministry of the Episcopal Church.
A prolific author, Twiss wrote the following publications: "Rescuing Theology from the Cowboys: An Emerging Indigenous Expression of the Jesus Way in North America" "One Church Many Tribes - Serving Jesus the Way God Made You" "Dancing Our Prayers" and "Culture, Christ, & Kingdom Study Guide"
Twiss is survived by his wife Katherine, his four sons, Andrew, Phillip, Ian and Daniel, and his mother, Winona LaPointe, among many other relatives and friends.
Funeral arrangements were pending at press time.
posted February 11, 2013 9:30 am est