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Why we Need to Repent

Greetings WIN community,

The important thing is to acknowledge past error in the hope that it may inform the future and prevent such things from happening again.  Historians are concerned with what happened, why it happened, who was responsible, what can be learned from its study, and what it tells us about the past and ways of looking at the past. . . . For Cheyennes and Arapahos, on the other hand, the Sand Creek Massacre is an enduring trauma, not history, not even past, certainly not something that can be forgotten with an embarrassed apology.  To the Cheyenne and Arapahos in Oklahoma, Wyoming and Montana, Sand Creek is profoundly personal. – Gary L. Roberts, Massacre at Sand Creek

I got a call from Rhoda Anderson, a Native American friend of mine who lives on the Wind River Reservation and on the board of directors of the Wyoming Interfaith Network.  She invited me to an evangelical church, the Gathering Place, in Riverton for a reconciliation service.  I said yes and she replied, “I thought you might be interested.”

I pulled into a driveway to a one-room building that from the outside could be a small industrial workshop.  Inside was a computer, a screen, a stage area for a band, a podium and round tables with chairs.  Off to the side was a wooden cross.  Pastor Jerome Slides Off from the Sioux Nation and with Red Warriors Ministries was the guest speaker.  Rhoda had told him that I was coming and that I am related to Abraham Lincoln who supported the westward expansion of the United States to the detriment of the Native Americans living west of the Mississippi River.  The congregation of about 30 people included Native Americans and non-Natives, maybe a few more being Natives.

After an opening with video praise songs, Pastor Jerome distributed gifts.  I received a pink sandstone.  He preached and then he asked all the white people to gather on one side and the American Indians on the other side.  One of the white church leaders and wife of someone non-white read a prepared apology for our forefathers for the massacres of Native Americans.  I read the second part repenting for the slaughter of buffalo, a major source of food, tools and hides for shelter.  The apology also included for taking their land, for forcing them to live on reservations, for broken treaties and for boarding schools.  As I read my script, not without emotion, I looked at those facing me with visible streams of tears.

Two Native Americans read a script accepting our apology and forgiving us.  Without prompting, hugs followed.  One of the young white men there introduced himself to me.  He had grown up in the area, left and recently returned.  He too had been moved by the ceremony.  I learned that the evening before there had been apologies between tribes for their ancestors having killed each other.

Gail Ridgely and scholar about the Sand Creek Massacre spoke to thirteen AmeriCorps volunteers who arrived this week for seven weeks of work projects on the Wind River Reservation.  I read to the AmeriCorps members the quote above from Gary Roberts, because it is so apparent that his quote is true.  That the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, as well as the other numerous atrocities, is still real today and not in the past, is why we need to repent for our forefathers for healing to happen.  That’s not all nor the end, but is an important part.

Fear not. Be bold. Build bridges. Do justice.


Chesie Lee

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