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Lakota woman elected to head U.S. Baha'is' national assembly.

By David Melmer -- Today staff

RAPID CITY, S.D. - Jacqueline Left Hand Bull-Delahunt has been chosen as the first American Indian woman to head the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States.

Left Hand Bull-Delahunt, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, was brought up by traditional Lakota grandparents and parents. She became a member of the Baha'is more than 20 years ago.

The change to the Baha'is was not a large leap for Left Hand Bull-Delahunt. The spirituality is very similar to that of her Lakota upbringing, she said.

''I knew about the beauty and power of our traditional ways and the Catholic Church could not accommodate them,'' she said. ''I was always a little bit confused. Then I heard about the Baha'i faith.''

Left Hand Bull-Delahunt was elected at the annual National Spiritual Assembly gathering in Wilmette, Ill. She had served as vice chairman of the organization, and also served on the National Spiritual Assembly. She traveled the globe meeting with indigenous peoples in South and Central America and in Canada; she also visited the former Soviet Union.

She is currently the administrative officer of the Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairmen's Health Board in Rapid City.

Left Hand Bull-Delahunt worked for the Baha'is at the national center and was appointed to the committee on American Indian teaching, where she was a liaison to the many American Indians who had become Baha'is.

When she was introduced to the assembly, she was greeted with a rousing ovation that lasted about 10 minutes.

''Everybody was electrified and it sounded as if they were thrilled. ... I think the significance wasn't so much [for] me personally, but the symbolism of having an America Indian at the head of this assembly,'' she said.

Left Hand Bull-Delahunt will preside over at least 18 national meetings throughout the year, and will preside over the assembly as only the third woman to do so.

''I am thrilled to know that when we say we believe in the equality of all people, we promote the equality of women and try to undo all traces of racism,'' she said.

She said that throughout indigenous lands, people that are more traditional seem to connect with the Baha'i faith.

The similarities between the Baha'i faith and that of traditional cultural teachings is, first, the way women were honored, Left Hand Bull-Delahunt said.

''The writings in the sacred text, I can relate to the Sun Dance songs and the fact that people will say, in our culture, that women are sacred.

''Baha'i faith says that in crisis, women have more natural resources to face the crisis,'' she added.

''Another part of the teaching is that there will not be world peace until the equality of women and men are established, not just theoretical, but established.''

Another similarity between the Baha'i faith and American Indian culture is the regard for Mother Earth.

Left Hand Bull-Delahunt will present the point of view of the faith in public meetings.

''We have formal relations with the federal government, as well as the United Nations, and we have a person whose job is to do that. My job would be to talk to the federal government representatives or to the United Nations. I would be part of the group to determine what should be said,'' she said.

She will have to meet with the members of the National Spiritual Assembly, who she said are very intelligent and have very strong views, to consult and to come to a unified view. A meeting agenda is also put together by the chairman.

''We try to apply those principles from our text to world situations or situations in any of our communities. We spend a lot of time with our youth working in efforts to engage them,'' she said.

Left Hand Bull-Delahunt earned a bachelor's degree from Evergreen State College in Washington state with a major in community development. She authored a book for children, ''Lakota Hoop Dancer,'' and has written several short stories.

Left Hand Bull-Delahunt is also a Bordeaux, a Lakota name that is synonymous with education. Her uncle was Adam Bordeaux, a revered spiritual leader on the Rosebud Reservation.