Growing up as the child of an ELCA pastor in South Dakota, Gabe Wounded Head experienced life not on a reservation but amid a very white congregation. Now, as a young adult, he’s finding ways to integrate his Indigenous roots and spirituality with his desire to see those around him, especially in the ELCA, come together to prevent history from repeating itself. Baptized as a Lutheran, Gabe has taken a faith journey of intellectual growth, community building and a relentless commitment to advocating for Indigenous folks. “It’s all about stories,” he said. “It starts with storytelling. That’s where the empathy starts, I think.”

As a college student, Gabe faced the challenges of the pandemic. In a time when many of his peers struggled to find connection, Gabe sought out ways to become involved with his campus ministry. He gained knowledge and experience that are propelling him forward into a new season where his passion for people is evolving into leadership and advocacy. As he prepares to graduate and move beyond campus ministry, he is beginning to look for new ways to engage his community. As Gabe said, “Empathy is well-being,” and it’s the only way to find a new path.  His passion extends beyond raising awareness; he actively seeks to reshape the narrative. Emphasizing the need for inclusivity and centering Native voices, he challenges non-Natives to acknowledge their role in history and unlearn biases.

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” said Gabe, addressing the historical misrepresentation of Native Americans. “I’m angry, and I’m upset.” Now he calls upon non-Native Lutherans to confront the uncomfortable truths of history; he encourages curiosity and says the only way to be sure history doesn’t repeat itself is to give Native American people space to share their stories. Native and Indigenous people and leaders “are not guest speakers,” he said. “We need to be a part of it. We must acknowledge that Native American folks were always a part of the story.”

Kelly Wilkerson
Kelly Wilkerson is a content strategist for the ELCA. She is a former worship minister, creative arts director, and youth and family director, and has been working in full-time ministry for her entire professional career. Kelly is using her passion for storytelling, art, design and social media to serve in the Office of the Presiding Bishop on the Strategic Communications team. She is also an ELCA coach and currently resides in Columbus, Ohio, with her fiancee and their 80-pound bernedoodle.

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