Pilgrimage sheds light on harm to Native Americans

October 12, 2022
Twenty-two Minnesota United Methodists went on a pilgrimage to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Reservation.

By: Rev. Dawn Houser

On Thursday, Oct. 6, a group of 22 United Methodists from across the Minnesota Annual Conference went on a pilgrimage to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Reservation in Onamia. The pilgrimage was coordinated by the Minnesota Annual Conference Committee on Native American Ministry and the Minnesota Annual Conference Racial Justice Organizer, Rev. Dana Neuhauser.  

The initial part of the day was spent at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum, learning about how the Ojibwe arrived in Central Minnesota and the way the Ojibwe people of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe lived in Central Minnesota prior to Europeans moving into the area.  

The 1991 Kitchen at Grand Casino Mille Lacs provided a delicious lunch of turkey sandwich and chicken wild rice soup. Lunch offered a brief time of fellowship in small groups. 

Following lunch, the group traveled a mile south to Vineland Cemetery. This is the cemetery on the reservation. While at the cemetery, the group stood among children’s shoes. These shoes represented the thousands of Native American children who were removed from their homes and families, forced into boarding schools, and never returned home to their communities. 

The group learned about generational trauma and the residual negative impact that the boarding schools have on Native American people today. 

Finally, they heard about the Methodist Church’s participation in many of the atrocities committed against Native American people. It operated boarding schools in the northwest part of the United States, which 54,743 Indigenous children attended, according to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. 

The purpose of this pilgrimage was to offer an opportunity for Minnesota United Methodists to come together for a fully immersive experience. As a part of this experience, an information packet was provided to each participant. It included United Methodist history around the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Reservation as well as other local history. 

The key question is: What do we do with the information we received? How do we go out into the world to be a healing force in the name of Jesus Christ?  

We cannot consign this part of our collective story to the past. There is an effort to discover the locations and records from Methodist-run schools and to search the properties for individual and mass graves. The goal is to provide information to surviving family members and to return the children’s remains to their families or tribes. The generational trauma of those losses continues to cause harm, and this is one way to help start the healing process. It is time for The United Methodist Church to commit to truth-telling, repentance, and meaningful repair.  

Prayerfully consider signing on to A call to Truth Telling, Repentance, and Action from The Native American International Caucus of the United Methodist Church. 

Rev. Dawn Houser is pastor of Aitkin United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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