The United Methodist Church regards the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site as a “sacred place,” and backing up those words by providing $50,000 to underscore that its true history needs to be told.
The UMC’s contribution to the budding Sand Creek Massacre Learning Center in southeastern Colorado will be matched by the National Park Service, which administers the site, said the Rev. Stephen Sidorak, general secretary of the UMC General Commission on Christian Unity and Inter-religious Concerns, in a press release on Feb. 17.
Eventually, a virtual connection will be established between the center and tribal colleges in Oklahoma, Montana and Wyoming attended by Cheyenne and Arapaho massacre descendants and other students.
The Sand Creek massacre of 1864, when some 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho noncombatants were mowed down by Colorado cavalry at a peaceful encampment, was commanded by Col. John Chivington, a Methodist minister.
“This effort is only a single step in a very complex and emotional journey for our church,” Sidorak said. “We have played an unfortunate role in history in regards to Native Americans and our recognition of our involvement is long overdue.”
The UMC’s General Conference in 1996 expressed regret for the massacre, issuing an apology for the “actions of a prominent Methodist,” and in 2008 authorized the donation to the Learning Center, to be located in the small community of Eads, Colo., near the massacre site.
The center will enable “descendants, visitors and researchers to study the causes and consequences of this tragedy and its relevance to contemporary events in the hope of preventing similar occurrences in the future,” said Alexa Roberts, NPS superintendent of the Sand Creek site.
The UMC contribution is in light of its Act of Repentance to Indigenous Persons to take place at the UMC 2012 General Conference, which is intended to acknowledge “wrongs done to indigenous persons and the beginning of a process to heal relationships between indigenous communities and the church.”
Initially, the UMC donation will go toward research materials and tools to establish a virtual connection between the center, tribal colleges and such institutions as the Methodist-related Iliff School of Theology in Denver and Sand Creek massacre research materials in many archives, libraries and museums.
UMC will maintain its involvement in the Learning Center by joining tribal representatives, research institutions, state of Colorado representatives and others on its governing board.
The concept of the Learning Center was discussed by the NPS at the 2010 Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk that begins annually in late November with a ceremony at the massacre site and ends at the state capitol in Denver three days later.