Remember the people you purchased of old, the tribe of your inheritance whom you delivered. . . Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary. – Psalms 74:2-3
This Psalms is an appeal to God from people who are oppressed and wondering if God has forgotten them. The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with those who were oppressed and suffering, just like people are today. I believe that God was there not only for the tribes of Israel, but for all tribes of oppressed people. People today are crying out for help. The churches have an opportunity to hear and to respond. That, I believe, is happening, although maybe not as much as some of us would like.
Rev. Youngsook Charlene Kong with the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church wrote about her Pilgrimage of Healing in connection with the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. (To read her blog, go to http://www.umc.org/.) The international General Conference of the United Methodist Church that meets every four years is now meeting in Portland Oregon. On the agenda is remembering the massacre of defenseless women, children and elders in a refugee camp deemed protected by the federal government under the American flag by an unauthorized military attack led by a Methodist pastor. They also have on the agenda about what should happen now, more than just a token apology.
My work for the Wyoming Association of Churches has given me the opportunity to get to know Arapaho descendants of the Massacre, and I too have had the opportunity for a pilgrimage to the site of the killings. I also know relatives of the Arapaho victims of the shootings that took place last summer. In follow-up to the shootings, five community dialogues were held; one in Riverton, one in Lander and three on the Wind River Reservation. There will be a follow-up meeting with community leaders this coming week. We need to discuss what should happen now.
Sometimes I hear someone say, “They need to get over it and move on.” Those who say that are not the ones who are suffering. I hear from church people who want to come to the Wind River Reservation and teach vacation Bible school or do an improvement project, like paint houses. They may have good intentions, but do not understand that they are in a way perpetuating colonial attitudes of the Manifest Destiny that led to atrocities like the Sand Creek Massacre. They seek to do “for” or “to,” not “with.”
We can change that. That’s what the Wind River Native Advocacy Center (WRNAC) is about, for which the Wyoming Association of Churches has served as midwife. Real healing takes place when churches partner with those who have been oppressed to develop resources to create jobs for the estimated 65% of Native Americans who are unemployed, to provide medical care, to heat homes and to fight the everyday discrimination that Native Americans face. The WRNAC has the vision of a community that is engaged in self-determination for education, health, economic development and equality.
You know what is refreshing and exciting? It’s when white folks contact me and say, “We would like to meet with some Native Americans on the Wind River Reservation to learn from them.” They come and then ask how they can help. Then it goes from there to build a partnership. Are you or your church interested in learning more and potentially becoming partners? Give me a call.
Your financial support is needed as well. As we continue our partnership with the WRNAC to reverse the oppression of the past, we need more support than we are now getting. To contribute, click here. Or mail your contribution to WAC, PO Box 1473, Laramie, WY 82073.
Fear not. Be bold. Do justice.