Remembering Arthur Holmes - NCU's First Native American Graduate

Date: October 19, 2012 - 7:39am
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Shingwauk – “A Tall White Pine”

The Story of Arthur Holmes (North Central Bible Institute, Class of 1949) 1
By John Davenport 2

“My Ojibwe Indian name is Shingwauk, which means ‘a tall white pine,’ but have not always lived up to this name.” So begins The Grieving Indian, the spiritual autobiography of Arthur Holmes, North Central alumnus from 1947-1949, who probably was North Central’s first Native American graduate. 3

Art Holmes was born in northwest Wisconsin, around 1920, a member of the St. Croix band of Ojibwe, one of the largest Native nations in North America, whose ancestral homelands stretch from Eastern Ontario to Saskatchewan and from Michigan to Montana, with a significant presence in the states of Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. Holmes came to North Central in the fall of 1947, after serving several years as a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He was encouraged to attend by North Central by a series of prophetic dreams and by the urging of his older brother Frank, a Spirit-filled pastor in Danbury, Wisconsin, who had led him to the Lord a few months earlier.

Holmes was particularly influenced during his North Central years by the late T. J. Jones, the British-born pastor and North Central teacher and evangelist whose personal book collection constitutes the original core of the North Central Library (which is named in his memory). On a number of occasions Holmes joined Jones on weekend crusades to Wisconsin and Minnesota reservations. Holmes was most actively involved as a student in ministering to members of the Prairie Island and Granite Falls Dakota communities, south and west of the Twin Cities. After graduation, Holmes moved to northern Minnesota, where he worked as a Baptist General Conference missionary to the Ojibwe communities in the vicinity of Lake Vermilion, around Nett Lake and Soudan, Minnesota (the BGC mission was then the most well-established of the Christian groups in that part of Minnesota.

Unfortunately, throughout the 1950s and ‘60s Holmes regularly abused alcohol, in a pattern of increasing addiction he recognized as similar to that of family members and friends from the time before he was drafted into the Army. He lost over a dozen jobs during this period and experienced the collapse of his first marriage. After several sessions in treatment centers, Holmes discerned that the principles emphasized in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous were restatements of Biblical truths he had encountered when he first became a Christian after the War. He also came to understand that earlier he never had been properly discipled as a Christian; he simply had been converted, prayed over to receive the Holy Spirit, and left to “fill in the blanks” on his own. Hereafter Bible study, Christian fellowship, the Twelve Steps, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings combined to provide the discipling he’d earlier missed and Holmes became an effective chemical dependency counselor and chaplain (what he eventually identified as his true “vocation” in life), starting in the early 1970s.

Holmes came to believe (after hearing hundreds of “Fifth Steps” while a chaplain in treatment centers) that the root cause of alcoholism and substance-abuse in the Native community was most often related to the misguided policy of forcibly separating Indian children from their families into residential schools established by the American and Canadian governments in the late 19th century. 4 The purpose of these boarding schools was to eliminate Indian culture through English-only instruction combined with vocational education emphasizing urban trades that would remove younger Indians from the reservations. Students in these schools were too-often beaten or sexually abused by staff and older students and many committed suicide as a result. The graduates of these schools (most of which were closed or significantly reformed, starting in the 1970s) sometimes only saw their parents annually over six or seven years. They often were left miserable, confused, emotionally-devastated individuals, unable to function well either in reservation or “white” culture. They often passed on their spiritual and emotional wounds to their children, a cycle that came to be repeated in subsequent generations. According to Holmes, alcohol and drug abuse were a “natural” consequence of the boarding-school experience.

Holmes reflections on Native American ministry show it, however, to be no different than any other form of evangelism:

There are some deep needs that they have. They don’t know what those needs are themselves … their needs are spiritual number one and then physical number two - to keep them alive and warm … when you start getting near to confronting them about their spiritual needs, they’re going to bring up Indian religion. Now remember this, that Indian religion is a want, Christ is a need. There is a difference. So if you keep that in mind and know that they’re going to con their way around and try to avoid Christ, we’re going to have to pray that God will open up some avenue for us to get by the conning and manipulating and get down to where we can begin to deal with their real needs. [I’d pray]: “So Lord, we happen to know your ways and your thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts, that the heavens are higher than the earth. You have a program; you have a will for every one of these people. We would like to see Your will fulfilled for them, but You’re going to have to make some revelation to us of these thoughts that we can’t conceive of ourselves. You’re going to have to reveal to us how you want us to do it.” He then said, “Call upon me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things that you know not.” So those are the promises on which I’ve done [my] work. 5

Art Holmes died in 2005, about five years after moving back to Minneapolis from Lake Vermilion, a move he and his wife Betty felt impelled to undertake by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Holmes and his wife Betty spent these five years ministering to members of the Native American community in South Minneapolis.

[If anyone has information about Arthur Holmes and his ministry, please contact Melody Reedy, the Director of the T.J. Jones Library at North Central University].

Arthur Holmes
Arthur Holmes and his wife, far left, spent many weekends traveling throughout Minnesota
and Wisconsin ministering to Native Americans.

  1. This article could not have been written without the assistance of Melody Reedy, Sasha Casper, Edwin Schenk, the late Donald Smeeton, and other members of the T. J. Jones Library staff.

  2. Chairman of the Department of Mathematics and General Studies at North Central University.

  3. The Grieving Indian: an Ojibwe elder shares his discovery of help and hope, by Arthur H[olmes]. Winnipeg: Intertribal Christian Communications (Canada), 1991, p. 9.

  4. The Fifth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes confession of one’s sins: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

  5. “Interview with Arthur (Art) Holmes, NCU Alumnus, 1947-1949” (Minneapolis: T. J. Jones Library, October 2001), p. 12.

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