In a spirit of repentance, the United Methodist Church is making good on a pledge to support a learning centre at the Western site of an 1864 massacre of Native Americans led by a Methodist minister - writes Chris Herlinger.
The UMC's General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, based in New York City, announced that it has donated US $50,000 to the National Park Service for developing a centre at the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, near Eads, Colorado. The donation will be used to fund research materials and other public education initiatives.
The donation is the latest in a series of acts in which the 12-million-member denomination has apologised for the action of Colonel John Chivington, a Methodist minister who led a 29 November 1864, attack against members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples along the banks of Sand Creek.
Some 165 people - most of them women, children and the elderly - were killed. As a result of the massacre, Cheyennes and Arapahos abandoned all claims to what was then the Territory of Colorado.
"This effort is only a single step in a very complex and emotional journey for our church," the Rev Stephen Sidorak, Jr., General Secretary of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, said in a recent statement. "We have played an unfortunate role in history in regards to Native Americans and our recognition of our involvement is long overdue."
Sidorak told ENInews that Northern Cheyenne peoples today "are quite struck by the fact that animals have returned to the massacre site, evidence of the healing of the land, a victory of life over death."
The UMC is preparing for a formal 'Act of Repentance to Indigenous Persons' during the meeting of its top legislative body, the United Methodist General Conference, to be held 25 April - 4 May 2012, in Tampa, Florida.
That service, the General Commission says, "is intended to be an acknowledgment of wrongs done to indigenous persons and the beginning of a process to heal relationships between indigenous communities and the church."
The UMC's 1996 General Conference formally expressed regret for the Sand Creek massacre and issued a public apology for the "actions of a prominent Methodist." The denomination authorised a donation to the Sand Creek Massacre Learning Centre in 2008.
"The Learning Centre will enable descendants, visitors and researchers to study the causes and consequences of this tragedy and its relevance to contemporary events in the hope of preventing similar occurrences in the future," Alexa Roberts, superintendent of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, said in a statement.
Chivington reportedly said: "Damn any man who sympathises with Indians. I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honourable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians." Almost 20 years after the event, he was unrepentant, declaring: "I stand by Sand Creek."
Such acts and words continue to wound, Sidorak said, explaining: "We will never get a grip on our need for repentance until we grasp the breadth and depth of the historical injuries sustained by indigenous ancestors and the lasting wounds inflicted upon their descendants."
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]