In 2022, the Racial Justice Ministry Team at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater applied for and was awarded a Gleaning From the Harvest Ministry Grant from the Saint Paul Area Synod. Our proposal focused on increasing awareness of past and present Native culture and experiences by lifting up Native voices in the community.

Part I of our grant took place in October 2022. Vance Blackfox, ELCA director for Indigenous ministries and tribal relations, gave the children’s message and sermon at worship services. He led a Blanket Exercise and two classes: “Indian 101” and “Indian Thought and Theology.” All were publicized community-wide and well-attended. “Indian 101” was held during the usual confirmation time so many students were present. We thought we invited Vance Blackfox to teach us; he told us he came to heal us. In conjunction with Vance’s appearances, the congregation also hosted the Why Treaties Matter exhibit.

Trinity had recently celebrated 150 years of ministry and we were imagining the next 150. When the Racial and Justice Ministry Team became aware of the accomplishments of Stillwater resident Will Antell, we were compelled to move above and beyond our planned project. Will’s experiences as a Native American, as a teacher and coach in Janesville and in Stillwater, plus his advanced degrees in education, uniquely qualified him to accomplish massive reform in Indian education. He gave voice and self-determination to American Indians at the local, state, and national level.

Will worked in the office of Senator Walter Mondale with Senators Edward Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey for the creation and passage of Indian Education Act of 1972 (IEA) which is still in effect today. The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) was formed in the basement of Will’s home where he was elected president for the first three years. The IEA called for the creation of a National Advisory Committee on Indian Education. Will was appointed by Presidents Nixon and Ford and completed his last term under President Carter. He served as chair for three years.

Will created programs for pre-school, K-12 and adult education and he began doctorate programs at the University of Minnesota, Harvard and Penn State for Indian leadership in education, business and law. He served in the Minnesota Department of Education for 20 years, 10 as assistant commissioner.

The Racial Justice Ministry Team planned to lift up Will’s voice and his phenomenal work in our city, state and nation. We nominated Will for the City of Stillwater’s annual Human Rights Award and, as we hoped, he was selected for the award!

The award was presented at the beginning of the July 18 Stillwater City Council meeting in front of a standing room-only crowd. The Governor sent congratulations and recognition for Will’s “lifelong dedication and accomplishments that will have a lasting impact across generations, contributing to the goal of providing every Minnesotan an education that decreases social inequalities, empowers marginalized people, and helps individuals achieve their full potential.” Governor Walz proclaimed the award day to be Dr. Will Antell Day.

A celebration of Will continued a few blocks away at the Lowell Inn, planned by Trinity’s Racial Justice Ministry Team. The Rev. Joann Conroy, ELCA Oglala Sioux Lakota pastor, opened the program with a faith-inclusive words of peace, thanks, congratulations and celebration. Rolf Lowenberg-DeBoer, assistant to the bishop for lay leadership and equity initiatives, acknowledged the role faith communities have played in causing devastating harm to Native people. He said that the faith communities would continue to work on issues of justice and the compassionate care of all people.

You may read more about the award and Will’s life at https://www.twincities.com/2023/07/16/will-antell-stillwater-human-rights-award/. A DVD of the program celebrating Will may be purchased here for $12.99.

The Racial Justice Ministry Team at Trinity is working on additional activities from the Gleaning From the Harvest Ministry Grant. Part II of the grant has involved research and planning for a traveling exhibit of retractable banners that will lift up Native voices. The banners will be available to churches, schools, museums, community groups and other interested organizations. The first interviewee was a member of Stillwater’s Native American Student Alliance. The banner project will resume in September. Will Antell will also be featured on one of the banners.

Ann Wolff
Racial Justice Ministry Team member
Trinity Lutheran Church, Stillwater