Remembering Cheyenne Chief and Mennonite Pastor Homer Hart
Lawrence Homer Hart, whose Cheyenne name was He’amavehonevėstse or Sky Chief, died March 6 at 89. Principal peace chief of the Cheyenne, Hart was raised Mennonite and served nearly 50 years as a Mennonite pastor.
At his funeral on March 10 in Clinton, Oklahoma, his biographer Raylene Hinz-Penner, spoke of how Hart made the connection between Native American and Anabaptist spirituality by reinterpreting Bible stories for Mennonites and Cheyenne to help his diverse flocks understand the tribal Jesus he knew.
“His life was a blending of the peacemaking he had learned from his grandfather visiting the Ute Mountain Utes, the vows he took to become a Cheyenne Peace Chief, the Cheyenne ways of justice, which incorporated forms of restorative justice, Anabaptist martyr peace stories he studied, and careful theological interpretation of Jesus as a tribal leader from his point of view as a Cheyenne,” said Hinz-Penner.
Hart worked to implement the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. He saw to the burial of the remains of thousands of Native Americans previously held in museums. He worked with Return to the Earth, a restorative justice effort of Native Americans and religious communities working in cooperation with the National Congress of the American Indians and in coordination with the National Park Service.
Born near Hammon, Oklahoma, on February 24, 1933, Hart was the son of Jennie Howling Water and Homer Hart. His father converted to Christianity as a teenager and became a lay minister of the and he and Hart’s mother became lay ministers of the Hammon Mennonite Church.
After two years of college in 1955 Hart left school to become a fighter pilot in the Marines—the first Native American to become a U.S. military jet pilot and instructor.
Hart left military service in 1961 on the death of his grandfather John Peak Hart who named him to take his place as a Cheyenne chief. He attended Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and became an ordained Mennonite pastor and in 1963 he and his wife Betty moved to Clinton, Oklahoma, where he pastored Koinonia Indian Mennonite Church until October 2021.