Susanna Pugh will serve on a new committee that will host seven Native American chiefs/tribal leaders from five different tribes.

LAKE TWP.  Susanna Pugh never dreamed her lifelong admiration of Native American culture would change her life.

But a chance phone call from an old friend opened the door and it gave her a ministry.

Pugh will travel to Washington, D.C., to attend the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 8, where she will also serve on a new committee that will host seven Native American chiefs/tribal leaders from five different tribes.

The committee's main goal, Pugh said, is to help craft and shepherd a bill through Congress that will offer a formal apology to the country's Native Americans "to ask forgiveness for the atrocities we committed and the land we stole."

Pugh said the committee is not advocating for reparations but rather scholarships, job training and substance-abuse treatment for Native Americans, who have some of the highest rates of addiction in the country.

"Our job is reconciliation," she said. "To put Native American people in the respective place they deserve in our country. To show honor and respect."

Pugh fell in love with Native American culture as a student at Glenwood High School, when her mother helped her to research and make an authentic deerskin outfit for a class. She also rode and showed Appaloosa horses, which were originally bred by Nez Perce Indians.

"I became so fascinated with Native American culture. I wanted to learn more," she said.

It led to her researching tribes native to Ohio, particularly the Shawnee.

"It just kind of blossomed into a love for all things Native American," she said.

A gift from God

Pugh credits God for giving her a heart for Native Americans, which is what drew her to join All Tribes DC.

"It's a spiritually-based program," she said. "Right now, it's like walking in a shallow pond. We're feeling for stones and trying to find out what we need to do."

All Tribes DC is led by the Rev. Negiel Bigpond, a fourth-generation pastor and member of the Euchee Tribe in Tulsa, Okla. Charisma Magazine named Bigpond one of the 10 Most Influential Christian Leaders of 2006.

In 2017, he led a First Nations gathering in Washington, where they requested a formal apology from the government.

The Rev. Noah Schumacher, senior pastor at High Mill Church in Plain Township, calls Pugh "A gift from God" and an answer to a prayer he's long had about racial reconciliation.

"She is a wise woman of God with a passionate spirit for the maligned and discarded of our culture," he said. "She embodies the person of Jesus well in today's Christian culture. She possess a deep affinity for Native American people and desires to be used by God to bring reconciliation with them and the U.S.

"She is walking this new phase of her calling out with seriousness and we both believe it is just the beginning. Lastly, the primary reason I know she will thrive in this issue of justice for First Nation people is because she is a confident, assertive, and resilient woman of God."

Pugh was asked what she thinks is the biggest misconception people have about Native Americans.

"I think they see them as savage, ruthless people," she said. "Two hundred years ago, we tried to destroy them. Now they call it ethnic cleansing. We broke their spirit. We told them they have no business living in a country that they're the bedrock of. If we can heal the breach, we can heal a lot of ills in this country."

Knife in the heart

Pugh's mission manifested as a result a phone call and a breakfast invitation from an old friend, the Rev. Chris Halverson. The two met when Halverson was a student at Malone College. While they ate, Pugh said, Halverson noticed her turquoise jewelry and asked if she'd like to go to Washington to serve on the committee. Halverson, who served as a chaplain to the U.S Senate from 1992 to 1995, is one of the organizers of the Prayer Breakfast.

"I just burst out sobbing," she recalled. "It was like someone stuck a knife in my heart over the way we've treated native Americans... I have friends who are Native American, including an adopted cousin who is Ogallala and Sioux. It's one of the desires of my heart."

Pugh said the goal is to put forward a bill in 2019 and to make Native Americans the focus of that year's National Prayer Breakfast. Her committee will make recommendations about the bill's contents.

"When God speaks something to her, there is no getting in her way," Schumacher said. "I am thankful that (my wife) Michelle and I, and our entire church get to serve her and help support the timely and commanding call of God on her life. I pray her example would spread to many in the church as we all work for justice for the oppressed, maligned, and discarded. Just like Jesus did."

"I have a big God," Pugh said. "He can heal a lot of hearts. If he called me to do the work, he can do it. The biggest part of the mission is to let them know they are loved."

Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or charita.goshay@cantonrep.com
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