I don’t know where to start in sharing the thoughts and feelings that swirl around in me. November is Native American Heritage Month. And November is Thanksgiving — a day when many of us celebrate “The story of Pilgrims and Indians coming together to share in the harvest.” And this November is the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre in Southeast Colorado.
I am so limited by my European-American heritage and blinders. I am a descendent of a conquering force that decimated the people who lived in this country when my ancestors arrived. But I’m wondering, what if our Native brothers and sisters could have had a Jubilee year — when all they had lost could be returned to them from centuries of cruelty, oppression, marginalization, and genocide? Reparation for lost lives, lost lands, lost languages, lost heritage?
I (We) can never, ever, ever make up for the wrongs that have been done to the indigenous people who lived in harmony with this land. The Oklahoma land where my grandmother grew up — “free” land that her father won in a land lottery — taken from the Kiowa and Apache people after the territory of Oklahoma had been promised to be a place for native peoples. The land where my family’s cabin sits in Colorado — “free” land taken from the Arapaho and Comanche people after gold was discovered in the mountains. The land where my house sits — “free” land taken from the Yuchi and Cherokee after the native people of Tennessee were forced to walk the Trail of Tears following the “Indian Removal Act” of 1830.
Last June I participated in a pilgrimage to the site of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. One hundred and fifty years ago on November 29, nearly 200 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho people were killed on the banks of the Big Sandy River in southeast Colorado in an massacre by U.S. Cavalry troops. The leader of the Cavalry was a Methodist minister. During the days of the pilgrimage, we learned what had happened, listened to the stories of those who were descended from the survivors, prepared our hearts and spirits, and rode together to the site of the massacre.
We walked a hill overlooking the valley where so many had died. A hot wind seemed to carry the cries of the women, children, and old people who had died at the hands of the troops. We listened and learned and prayed and cried. One young adult descendent told us that his people, still today, associate United Methodists with the killers on that day.
There is so much I cannot do to make things right. But here are some things I can do:
- Learn the stories about the places I live and move. Every place in this land has stories to tell about those who lived here before the Europeans arrived.
- Listen and bear witness to the truth. It is so easy to ignore what happened, to make excuses. But harm was done and generational trauma continues in the Native American community.
- Participate in The United Methodist Act of Repentance and Healing with Indigenous Persons.
- Develop relationships with indigenous people.
- Sponsor a runner for the Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run. On the anniversary of the massacre, runners start from the site of the massacre and run the 180 miles to Denver. The run is a prayer, a remembrance for those who were killed. Sponsorship for one runner costs $500 for travel from Montana, Wyoming or Oklahoma, food and lodging. Gifts of all sizes are welcome.
- Recognize and accept that repentance is life work.
Creator of all people,
Heal the wounds.
Open our eyes and ears and hearts.
Transform us into people of compassion and justice.
Lead us to true repentance.
We are yours.
Photo: Cottonwood tree at the site of the Sand Creek Massacre. Photo by Beth A. Richardson.