To repent or not to repent
At a dinner sponsored by the Native American Comprehensive Plan April 26, Marcus Briggs-Cloud, a member of the Maskoke Nation, talked about the history of this country’s native peoples.
He also talked about the history of the area around the site of this General Conference — how members of local tribes were rounded up and put into boats in the bay running along the Riverwalk; boats that took them to Louisiana where they began their long march out West on the Trail of Tears.
And an area behind the Tampa Convention Center was once the Timuquan Temple Mound, on which stood temples and the homes of chiefs. It was razed in 1882 to fill a ditch on what is now Jackson Street.
It’s ironic, then, that the decision was made to move General Conference from its original site of Richmond, Va., to Tampa because of a church policy prohibiting meetings from taking place in cities that are home to professional sports teams with Native American names. Richmond was home to the Richmond Braves, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Atlanta Braves.
Dr. Henrietta Mann also attended the dinner Thursday night, where she was honored for her work as principle author and editor of “On This Spirit Walk,” a resource from the Native American Comprehensive Plan for small group study. It includes contributions from Native American United Methodists and is intended, in part, to “shed some light on what it means to live life as a native or indigenous person,” according to the Rev. Anita Phillips, co-author and editor of the book and executive director of the Native American Comprehensive Plan.
Mann is a Cheyenne serving as president of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Trail College in Weatherford, Okla. She said writing parts of the book were difficult because of her family’s own experience, specifically during an incident known as the Sand Creek Massacre.
In 1864, Col. John Chivington, a Methodist pastor, led troops in attacking an encampment of Cheyenne women, children and elderly people, killing at least 165 Native Americans. Mann told the group both her maternal and paternal great grandmothers were there. One was shot in the leg while fleeing the site with a brother. Another family member was so traumatized by the experience she refused to sleep without her moccasins for fear she would have to flee again.
Mann said the government’s policy at that time was to kill as many buffalo as possible because “for every buffalo dead an Indian dead.” Other policies included taking Native American children from their families and placing them in boarding schools designed to remove every trace of their native culture.
Mann said writing about worship and repentance and other topics was difficult because of her family’s experiences during a time of “eradication and termination of our people.”
“It was emotional because those are the people to whom I belong, my ancestors,” she said.
Despite those reservations, part of her job in writing the book, she said, “was to give voice to those who came before us.”
The experiences of Native Americans during colonization may be old history, but it’s not ancient history. People remember what happened to members of their families. There are reminders on many street corners in and outside Tampa in a state that’s home to Miccosukee, Choctaw, Muscogee, Creek and Seminole Indians. It’s the same in many other U.S. communities.
There are those who say the “Act of Repentance for Indigenous People” worship service April 27 is not necessary. They were not the ones who committed atrocities against Native Americans and other indigenous people.
But the scars are still there for many of our Native American brothers and sisters. That history and the struggles their ancestors faced are part of who they are. It can’t be forgotten.
And we are all part of God’s community — a community that has no past, present and future. They are all one and the same. The clergy person who led the Sand Creek Massacre was part of that community. We who were not alive during the rapid expansion of this country and the push to remove Native Americans and their culture are part of that community.
So as a member of that community and on behalf of those who perpetrated atrocities against Native Americans and indigenous peoples elsewhere, it is right — and fitting in a such a place as Tampa, with it’s own part in that story — to ask for forgiveness and begin the healing that brings everyone equally into God’s community.