Richard Twiss, In Memoriam

Hoka Hey!

That’s how Richard Twiss and I greeted one another. It’s a common Lakota greeting, and I always said it with a wink, because I am thoroughly wasi’chu. He knew that, but he afforded me some grace nonetheless.

Richard and I first met at the Cornerstone Festival in 2009. We hit off immediately. I like to think some of our rapport was because I understood his mischievous Native sense of humor better than most.

You see, I lived in the town of Richard’s ancestry, Manderson, South Dakota. I know that little town on the Pine Ridge Reservation well — I even had my own PO Box there for a couple years. And I knew a whole slew of Twisses. Twisses, it turned out, that Richard didn’t know.

Although his father’s family hailed from Manderson, he didn’t know the place well. I think he told me that he’d been there to visit only once. So I had the great privilege of regaling him with stories of Pinky’s Store, of the Twisses I knew, and of how the residents referred to it at “Manderville.” Honestly, the fact that I could give something, even that picayune, to a Lakota was very meaningful, since so many Lakotas have given so much to me.

In return, Richard regaled me with stories of AIM in the 1970s, about which I’d read so much. His stories were fascinating — we sat around the pool at the crappy motel near Cornerstone for hours and told each other stories.

We crossed paths many other times — at conferences and at Red Letter Christians (where there is a growing tribute page to Richard). He busted my chops regularly — he thought the emergent movement was too white (I agree), and he challenged Doug and me to always have persons of color and indigenous persons at our events. But unlike some other critics, his criticism always rested light on my shoulders, because it was always always always delivered in the context of friendship and love.

The Native voice is almost silent in the church today. Richard was among the very few who had that voice, and I will miss it. We absolutely must all commit to hearing the Native voice — to remember Richard’s, and to listen for new Native voices.

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