On June 20, 2014 descendants of survivors of the Sand Creek Massacre will accompany 10 busloads of United Methodists to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site outside Eads, Colorado. By calling it a “pilgrimage,” the Church means that it is a journey of spiritual significance.
In 1864 United States Cavalry troops attacked peacefully encamped Indians in southeast Colorado, led by Colonel John Chivington. Chivington was an ordained Methodist minister who left active ministry to join the Army during the Civil War. John Evans, Territorial Governor of Colorado, was a prominent Methodist lay leader, who had a hand in the policies that led up to the massacre.
Leaders of the Rocky Mountain Conference have been meeting with tribal descendants of survivors of the massacre and National Parks Service staff to plan for this historic pilgrimage.
“We have learned from descendants that United Methodists don’t know our own history,” said Elaine Stanovsky, United Methodist bishop of the Rocky Mountain Conference. “They encouraged us to travel with them to the site to learn, remember and to honor those who were mercilessly slain. Hopefully this will begin a journey of respect and healing relationships with the descendant tribes.”
The journey to the massacre site will occur as part of the Annual Conference of the Rocky Mountain Conference of The United Methodist Church, which will meet in Pueblo, Colorado. Clergy and lay representatives of 260 churches in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah will participate in the conference. United Methodist leaders from throughout the United States will also participate in this commemoration, which will culminate in an honoring dinner.
In 2012, United Methodists from around the world meeting in Tampa, Florida, engaged in Acts of Repentance for ways the Church participated in uprooting Indigenous Peoples and cultures.
Here is a statement from United Methodist Council of Bishops in 2012:
To our Native and indigenous brothers and sisters we say: We have destroyed your way of life, dehumanized your people and degraded your cultures, along with your dreams, your peace and your great love for the land. We acknowledge the pain of your nation peoples and our sinful behavior in these events. We know that past history has been filled with violence against you. We have confiscated your land. We have recklessly destroyed your cultures. Today we acknowledge that all this is not in the past. Assaults continue on your cultures, continuing the historic patterns of abuse, the demeaning of your spirituality, the questioning of your leadership, the neglecting of the critical issues of hunger, health, employment, and sovereignty. We must not yield to historical amnesia. We pray to God to give us a new heart and a new spirit through Jesus Christ, who breaks down the dividing walls of hostility, so that we may truly repent of our grave sins, petition for forgiveness, and work towards healing.
United Methodists in each place are encouraged to learn their local history and to repent for harm done to indigenous people.
In 1865, a United States congressional inquiry condemned the attack as a massacre. Evans was removed as Territorial Governor and Chivington resigned from the military under pressure. Still, Church leaders of the day defended Chivington and the massacre at Sand Creek and the Church never disciplined him.
Bishop Stanovsky observed, “Today, many Native Americans know this history and wonder how Christians could be so ruthless. Most United Methodists have little if any knowledge of these events and little or no relationship with the descendants of the Native people who were attacked.”
Explaining the reason for the pilgrimage, she said that, “The church has been slow to acknowledge that Methodists were largely responsible for a massacre of innocent people at Sand Creek.” In June, as descendants of the perpetrators and descendants of the victims travel together to the site of the massacre, “we pray that a merciful God will heal the deep and continuing wounds left by this tragic history.”