Methodist Church Takes Another Step Towards Returning the Dakota People’s Sacred Red Rock

The United Methodist Church (UMC) is moving forward with efforts to return the Dakota peoples’ sacred Red Rock, (in Dakota, In-Ya Sha or also spelled Eyah Shaw). It is one small step towards acknowledging the historical trauma and genocide inflicted on Native peoples by the U.S colonial enterprise, one in which the UMC participated.

Early Methodist ministers settled in the area along the Mississippi River near In-Ya Sha. When the Dakota people were exiled after the War of 1862, the Methodists continued preaching there. The rock evolved into a symbol for Methodist church camp. The Red Rock camp name persists today, but the rock itself sits in front of the Newport UMC.

Conversations have percolated for several years about returning In-Ya Sha. This March, Dakota elders made a formal request, asking the UMC to return it. In response, UMC Bishop Bruce Ough promised the church would do so.

Sign next to Eyah Shaw in front of Newport United Methodist Church.

But details needed to be worked out.

In the latest update,  Newport UMC congregational leaders voted in July to honor the Dakota elders’ request, according to a Star Tribune story.  The Dakota people “can and will determine the future location and care of the Red Rock,” the resolution said.

That was a big step, but not the last one.

The Star Tribune story continues:

“It’s a teaching moment,” Ough said. “We want to create a number of opportunities for conversation and interaction with Dakota leadership as we move toward the formal transaction of the rock being relocated to a site determined by the Dakota people.”

Returning In-Ya Sha is part of a much larger effort towards healing.

The United Methodist Church, along with a number of mainline Christian denominations, have passed resolutions to repudiate the “Doctrine of Discovery.” The Doctrine has its roots in 15th century papal edicts during the so-called “Age of Discovery.” These edicts granted Spain and Portugal permission to seize foreign lands as long as no baptized Christians had a prior claim. The Doctrine of Discovery gave European monarchs and their explorers the religious and legal justification to claim lands occupied by indigenous peoples, seize their property and forcibly convert, enslave, or kill them.

Ough made his commitment to return In-Ya Sha to the Dakota after a public screening of the documentary: Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code, held at Centennial UMC in St. Anthony Park. The film was produced and directed by Sheldon Wolfchild of Lower Sioux.

The UMC passed is repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery in 2012. It reads in part:

Therefore be it resolved, all levels of The United Methodist Church is called to  condemn the Doctrine of Discovery as a legal document and basis for the seizing of native lands and abuses of human rights of Indigenous Peoples; and

Be it further resolved, that the United Methodist Church will work toward eliminating the Doctrine of Discovery as a means to subjugate Indigenous peoples of property and land.

After passing such resolutions, many denominations are wrestling with the question: “What does it mean to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery in practical terms?”

For now, for the UMC, it means returning In-Ya Sha. As Newport UMC Pastor Rev. Linda Gesling told the Star Tribune:

“In the United Methodist Church, as well as in, I think, a lot of Christian churches, there’s really been an awareness of participation in the past of injustices … As we try to move forward in our country and our society, sometimes it’s really important to acknowledge those injustices to have a time of repentance and reconciliation.”

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