Think political activism is dead? Try an interview with Pamela Owens


By Robert Tisdel

She is an American radical, a feminist and a writer. Filled with Cherokee Indian blood and a little bit of hillbilly Tennessee, Pamela Owens is part mother and wife, minister, educator, reformer and chocolate lover.

Owens teaches Women and the Bible, Introduction to Native American Studies and Native American Religion in UNO’s religion department.

Owens was recruited by religion professor Dale Stover through an Internet server for Native American intellectuals. Through e-mails, they communicated and went through the normal routine of application and interviews, after which she got the job.

“I hired her because of her educational background,” Stover says.

Owens attended Vanderbilt University for her bachelor’s degree in sociology, Austin Presbyterian Seminary for her master’s and the University of Chicago for her doctorate.

She is married with three children, who, just like her husband, are all politically active.

One of Owens’ hobbies is storytelling. Her stories, she says, were kept alive through the matriarchal side of her family.

“My great-grandmother was Indian, my grandmother was Indian, and my momma was Indian,” she says proudly.

There is also some Irish and mountain Tennessee thrown in there, too.

Her great-great-grandmother headed to Oklahoma from the original Cherokee Territory on the Trail of Tears, where thousands of Cherokee Indians died from starvation and disease. After reaching the Oklahoma Territory, her grandmother was born in the new state of Oklahoma.

While discussing Native American religion, Owens quotes a Muskogee Indian leader to help explain their slow embrace of the Bible and its teachings.

“This Jesus was Indian,” she says, “because no white man acted that way” (referring to his peaceful manner).

After having passages translated by elders and not missionaries, the Native Americans came to understand the religion.

Other interesting details of her life center on the period of social unrest and injustice in our country during the 1960s; at the time, blacks were working and struggling for equal rights. Helping their legal defense was Owens. She claims she knew civil rights leaders such as Angela Davis; Owens even spent time as a journalist writing for a civil rights paper called *The Southerner Patriot.

Owens’ outspokenness — including her views on wrongly imprisoned African American men and biased military drafting — have put her in more than a few predicaments. She has been shot at, the FBI has a file on her and, like Martin Luther King Jr., she has seen the inside of a jail cell. Through all this she keeps going.

While serving as a pastor in Michigan, Owens was arrested while demonstrating against a company manufacturing engines for missiles armed with nuclear tips. According to her profile on the Sisters in Crime Web site (, it was a very profound experience for her. She received numerous letters from people all over the country telling her how she was an inspiration to them and they would now do their small part. When asked why she did it, she responds by saying she did not want her children to die in a nuclear war.

Currently, Owens is working on her first book, a murder mystery with Native American characters, titled *The POW/WOW Murder…* She said she might post parts of it on the Sisters in Crime Web site. She does not know exactly when she will be finished with it, but says it is fun.

Owens believes religion is a study of people, culture and most of all, storytelling. She believes the study of religion helps open the mind.

“Religion is not parochial or denominational, but helps one study outside themselves,” she says. “It’s a study of stories.”


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