United Methodists Seek Acts of Repentance Towards Minnesota’s Native Peoples

The United Methodist Church (UMC) General Conference has committed to educate its members about the church’s troubled history with Native American peoples and to work towards acts of repentance. The specific language is found in a UMC resolution, which committed UMC state conferences to “study, dialogue, and acts of repentance” between 2012-2016.”

At the Minnesota UMC Annual Conference this year, Hamline University Chaplain Nancy Victorin-Vangerud (a good friend of Healing Minnesota Stories) preached about this important work in the opening sermon, titled: Listening When the Stones Cry Out.

She challenged the clergy attending to see the state as its original peoples see it:

Across the Minnesota landscapes that ground our settler lives, we encounter unsettling signs of presence and personhood that remind us this land is not just “your land, my land”. We live our lives embedded in the storied lands of peoples who have come before us and whose descendents continue to hold these lands sacred and inspirited.

Can we learn to see?

Can we learn to hear?

She reminded her listeners of the painful history of broken treaties and the boarding schools. She recalled the concentration camp created below Fort Snelling after the U.S. Dakota War of 1862, a camp where hundreds of Dakota died. Gov. Alexander Ramsey–a Methodist–played a key role in deciding how the Dakota were treated. Victorin-Vangerud quoted Ramsey’s post-war speech: “Our course then is plain. The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.”

Victorin-Vangerud held up as an example of repentance work being done by Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of the UMC’s Rocky Mountain Annual Conference. In Pueblo, Colorado, she and other Methodists acknowledged the Sand Creek Massacre, led by their Methodist ancestor, Col. John Chivington. Bishop Stanovsky said at the ceremony:

“None of us Methodists in this room personally participated in the events of 1864 and yet we are who we are, we are where we are, we have what we have, we live where we live, because of this history… And we participate in patterns of privilege and poverty that are shaped by this history. And so we are called to repentance.”

Victorin-Vangerud closed her sermon with a passage from Luke 4:

“God’s Spirit is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor… proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to those who cannot see, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of God’s land- Jubilee.”

Click on the link above for the full sermon.

We look forward to reporting more in the future about the UMC’s acts of repentance in Minnesota.

This Day in History: Signing of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux

Courtesy: Minnesota Historical Society
Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, Courtesy: Minnesota Historical Society

This is a particularly important date to remember in Minnesota history, and makes another connection with Alexander Ramsey, mentioned above.

On July 23, 1851, Dakota leaders signed the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux under duress, ceding land in what would become Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota. The treaty was a great benefit to fur traders and land speculators and devastating for the Dakota people. The “Treaties Matter” website provides the history.

Dakota people sold most of their land to the U.S. in exchange for $3,750,000 (estimated at 12 cents per acre), to be paid over decades. Little of the payment was received. The treaty stipulated that they would retain a strip of land 20 miles wide, spanning the Minnesota River…

Alexander Ramsey and Luke Lea negotiated the treaty for the United States and wrote a report to Congress about the agreement.  They said the Dakota land cession was “larger than the State of New York, and rich, fertile, and beautiful, beyond description.”

Ramsey and Lea spent pages talking about how the Dakota would benefit from the reduction of their homeland to a strip only 20 miles wide. The greatest benefit, in the eyes of Ramsey and Lea, would be an assault on Dakota culture:

“It was our constant aim to do what we could to break up the community system among the Indians, and cause them to recognise the individuality of property… If timely measures are taken for the proper location and management of these tribes, they may, at no distant period, become an intelligent and Christian people.”

A painting depicting a romanticized version of the signing of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux (above) hangs in the Minnesota Governor’s Reception Room. It is one of several controversial pieces of art being reviewed as part of the capitol renovation.

Click on the Treaties Matter website, above, for more details on the treaty.

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