In Returning the Sacred Red Rock to the Dakota, Methodists Want to Build Relationships, Lead State Towards Healing Path

The Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) is in the early stages of returning In-Yan Sa (the sacred Red Rock) to the Dakota people, according to an article the UMC published online. The UMC says this is part of a larger effort of healing, building relationships with indigenous peoples, and leading the rest of Minnesota along this important journey.

(The Dakota word for the Red Rock also is spelled Eyah-Shaw.)

The article continued:

“We live in Dakota and Ojibwa lands—land systematically taken from the Dakota and Ojibwa through treaties violated or broken by the U.S. government, land long sacred to its native inhabitants,” said Bishop Ough. “Since the 2012 General Conference, our Minnesota Conference Commission on Native American Ministry has been preparing us to walk the path of peace and reconciliation with the Dakota people and to heal the lingering wounds form the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. This is the moment for the Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church to lead the entire state down this path of healing and reconciliation. This is the moment to return Eyah-Shaw. This would be a powerful and just step toward peace and harmony.”

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Methodist Bishop Commits to Returning Sacred Red Rock to the Dakota People

Sign next to Eyah Shaw in front of Newport United Methodist Church. (Photo from the Church’s website.)

The Bishop of the United Methodist Church (UMC) in Minnesota, Bruce R. Ough, has committed to restoring Eyah Shaw — the sacred red rock — to the Dakota people. (In Dakota, Eyah means “rock” and Shaw means “red.”)

Before settlers arrived, Eyah Shaw was on the east bank of the Mississippi River several miles south of what is now St. Paul. Filmmaker and researcher Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota) says Eyah Shaw is a sacred relative to Dakota people and deeply connected to their creation story. Dakota people traditionally would paint the boulder-sized rock with red stripes.

Early settlers saw the boulder as a significant landmark and began referring to the area simply as Red Rock. Red Rock’s early missionaries were Methodists. In the 1860s they purchased several acres of land to create a camp meeting; the religious gathering became synonymous with the Red Rock. While the camp — and the rock — have moved since that time, the name stuck. Red Rock Camp still exists today near Paynesville.

The rock itself now resides outside the Newport UMC, with local historic designation.

Wolfchild said the Dakota people had other sacred rocks in the area, but settlers destroyed them. He has thanked the UMC for protecting Eyah Shaw, but says it is now time for the rock to come home to its people. Continue reading

United Methodist Church: Repenting from the Sand Creek Massacre

Methodist Minister and Col John Chivington
Methodist Minister and Col. John Chivington

The United Methodist Church (UMC) has been working for two decades to come to terms with a horrific chapter in its history: Its connection to the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, led by Methodist Pastor and military leader John Chivington.

The Sand Creek Massacre is but one of many atrocities committed against Native American people by the U.S. government and settlers; Minnesota has its own history of atrocities. The UMC is trying to chart a path of repentance and healing, one that other religious communities could learn from and apply to their own communities.

It is a path that includes not just apologies, but concrete acts of repentance. Continue reading

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.