At a recent meeting of the Northeast Jurisdictional Committee on Native American Ministries at Drew Seminary in Madison, NJ the president, Cynthia Kent charged the group to “find your own Sand Creek.” Sand Creek was the site of a tragic massacre of Native people in Colorado on November 29, 1864 at the hands of a group of US soldiers, led by a Methodist preacher, Colonel Chivington. This atrocity was one of the events that was mentioned at the “Act of Repentance Toward Healing of Relationships with Indigenous Peoples,” that was an important highlight of the United Methodist General Conference in 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Next year there will be more moments of remembrance and repentance as the 150th anniversary of this tragedy draws near.
When Cynthia called the people of the NEJ CONAM to “find your own Sand Creek” she was encouraging people to study their own local histories and discover things that happened that people need to remember for the purposes of reconciliation. Only as we revisit history, repent of the wrongs done and do the work of reconciliation can peace happen on this earth. This is not only with Native American (American Indians, First Nation) people but all those who have suffered at the hands of majority culture people and experienced dehumanization, marginalization, rejection and even violence and death.
According to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission there was a heinous crime committed against Native American people in Conestoga, PA in December of 1763. A group of colonists known as the Paxton Boys (who came from the Harrisburg area) traveled to Conestoga and burned their homes and murdered six Indians. Those who had not been killed sought refuge in Lancaster where the people of the city locked them in a workhouse, hoping they would be kept safe. Two weeks later the Paxton Boys hunted them down, broke into the workhouse and murdered 14 more Indian men, women and children. Early in 1764 this same band from Paxton traveled to Philadelphia in an attempt to kill even more Indians. Historians tell us that Benjamin Franklin himself convinced the Paxton Boys to return home without any further violence. This they did but none of them were ever arrested or tried for the evil deeds inflicted upon these innocent people.
That is our “Sand Creek” and as December approaches we need to remember and ponder this and other acts of evil done to innocent people in this world. As we prepare for the coming of Christ as Advent approaches we sing about the Prince of Peace who is coming into the world and wonder what part can we play in peacemaking in this world today. Start by finding where there is hurt and take time to listen, to be present and to find ways to make peace and reconciliation.
Brands, H.W. The First American: The Life and times of Benjamin Franklin, Anchor Books, New York. 2000
Brubaker, Jack. Massacre of the Conestogas: On the Trail of the Paton Boys in Lancaster County (PA). The History Press. 2010
Kenny, Kevin. Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment. Oxford University Press. 2009.