Acknowledging our History, Acknowledging the Land

Grace, Madison explores Native American issues including land acknowledgement

Over the last eight years, the Creating More Just Community Task Force of Grace Episcopal Church has been engaged in education and advocacy around racism in the United States and In Madison. We hosted speakers for community-wide events, became involved in faith-based community organizing groups like MOSES and WISDOM working on criminal justice reform. We have marched, hosted candidate forums, and held series of dialogues on racism for parishioners and community members. That work continues.

In 2021, we have broadened our interests. Thanks in part to several of us attending the Wisconsin Council of Churches Annual Meeting, where the Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, Program Director for Racial Justice for the Minnesota Council of Churches and a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans was keynote speaker. His passionate address led us to wonder how we might begin to engage with Native Americans as citizens of Wisconsin and as members of Grace Episcopal Church. 

We are fortunate to have members who have worked on Native American issues professionally and who have deep personal relationships with members of several tribes across the state. Early in 2021, several of the most knowledgeable Grace members and I met with Ada Deer, Professor Emerita of Social Work at UW Madison and former Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs in the Clinton Administration. She is a member of the Menominee Tribe. We discussed with her how the conversations at Grace might take place, what some of the important issues are, and what potential challenges we might face as we began our work.

Eventually, an invitation was issued for interested people to gather via zoom for an initial conversation and planning session. Around twenty people joined us for our first conversation that offered opportunities for us to get to know each other, learn a little about our interest and background related to Native American history, religion, and culture, and to begin to think about how we might help Grace Church as a whole become more informed and engaged with the complicated and tragic history of Christianity and especially the Episcopal Church’s relationships with Native Americans.

Over the last few months we have learned about the history of Native Americans in Wisconsin, especially the HoChunk and the Oneida. We have talked about the Doctrine of Discovery and the Episcopal Church’s official repudiation of it. We have reached out to the HoChunk and to Holy Apostles’ Episcopal Church in Oneida, WI. Our most recent meeting took place only a few days after the discovery of mass graves on the grounds of a former residential school in British Columbia, and we began asking questions about the Episcopal Church’s history of Native residential schools. 

On Tuesday, June 29, we met with Bill Quackenbush, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer of the HoChunk, to begin a conversation concerning land acknowledgment, one of the concrete ways churches, political entities, and organizations can begin to address their relationship with the people who lived on the land we now call home. We began at the Goodman Campus of Madison College (South Madison) which has a land acknowledgement plaque prominently placed. Then we came to Grace Church where we explored what land acknowledgement might look like at Grace and how our efforts to be a place of spiritual respite on Capitol Square might explicitly include an invitation to Wisconsin tribes. Finally, we ended at the Goodman Community Center, where we talked with Bill for two hours about HoChunk history, effigy mounds and burial sites, and the challenging but rewarding work of building relationships with Native Americans.

It is likely that as our work continues we will focus on several areas. 

  1. Land Acknowledgement—working on language, siting, and discussing scope of project
  2. Exploring the history of Episcopal residential schools. While records exist, there has not been any significant work done in telling the story of the schools and repenting for the damage done to lives and to indigenous cultures.
  3. Connecting with the Wisconsin Oneidas to learn about the history, traditions, and contemporary life of the Oneidas, who when the first group came to Wisconsin from New York in 1822, were the first Episcopalians in what is now the state of Wisconsin.
  4. Working with the Wisconsin Council of Churches to develop resources for congregations across the state to explore land acknowledgement and other Native American issues.

We expect that in the coming months, we will develop a road map other interested congregations might use with their own work. In the meantime, we encourage you to learn about the Doctrine of Discovery, the history of the Episcopal Church’s relationship with Native Americans, and about the Native Americans who are our neighbors and live throughout the state. For more information on these items, here are some resources:

Patty Loew, Indian Nations of Wisconsin. 2nd Edition. Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2013

L. Gordon McLester III, Laurence M. Hauptman, Judy Cornelius-Hawk, and Kenneth Hoyan House, eds., The Wisconsin Oneidas and the Episcopal Church: A Chain Linking Two Traditions. Indiana University Press, 2019

“The Episcopal Church exposes the Doctrine of Discovery”

Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery—The Beloved Community Initiative

Just last week, The Rev’d Tom Ferguson (former Interim Chaplain of St. Francis House Campus Ministry here at UW) wrote an essay calling for the Episcopal Church to address its history with Native Schools. At least 18 schools were operated by the Episcopal Church in the 19th and 20th centuries.