Area men create documentary on Dakota Presbyterians

By Burton Speakman


A passion for producing video combined with an Austintown man’s faith resulted in a documentary that will debut in July on a Christian television station.

Skip Hall, owner of Forerunner Multimedia Films, has completed “A Faith Journey of a People, Dakota and Christianity — Introductory Overview.” The documentary will air on eWave TV station and its Internet broadcast at

The Rev. Bob Offerdahl, who was preaching at a Youngstown church, got involved with the Dakota through an old friend from seminary, who was a Dakota and a Presbyterian reverend. Before speaking with Hall, Offerdahl said he hadn’t considered a documentary.

In 2003, Offerdahl attended his first meeting of the Dakota Presbytery and has since expanded a ministry outreach to the Presbyterian Reservation churches.

Hall met Offerdahl in 2009 and the goal was initially to record the verbal history of the tribal elders, Hall said.

“The goal of this project is not just to record what the history was, but to spark communication,” he said.

These are oral cultures. They don’t have much in terms of anything written down or recorded about their history, Offerdahl said.

“I wanted them to have something that would help them to preserve their history,” he said.

The video has been shown once to a group of Presbyterian elders who were surprised by the history, Hall said.

The story is about a lot more than a bunch of white men who attempted to convert Dakotas to Christianity, he said. Members of the tribe started to convert when they realized that there former actions weren’t working.

“The missionaries converted hymnals and the Bible into the Dakota language,” Hall said.

The conversion to Christianity provided them with a chance for self determination, he said. It was a time when the government was putting a lot of pressure on tribes, making a number of decisions for them. But these Dakotas converted; they built their own churches, chose their own pastors and eventually started to chose their own leaders, Hall said.

Hopefully people will learn from a documentary about the history of a people they had never seen or read before, Offerdahl said.

He also hopes the documentary will change the perception of Native Americans.

“There are a lot of people who don’t think Indians believe in anything,” Offerdahl said. “As I have learned, Native Americans are deeply religious people.”

The documentary discusses a lot of the history about how Christian missionaries worked with the Dakota and what methods worked well, along with those that didn’t, he said.

“So much of our past has been forgotten, there are a lot of people who have forgotten the role that people of faith have had in our history, including how things are today,” Hall said.

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