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Last updated July 13.

Oct. 18, 2010 issue

In Pennsylvania, apology for sins of three centuries

By Sheldon C. Good Mennonite Weekly Review

LANCASTER, Pa. — With a toss and a prayer, Mennonites, Amish, Quakers and Presbyterians cast their 300-year-old transgressions against American Indians into the Conestoga River.

Lloyd Hoover and Mary Ann Robins pour olive oil together as they “bring the hatchet,” an American Indian tradition that establishes a treaty. Hoover, a bishop of Lancaster Mennonite Conference, and Robins, representing the Haudenosaunee association, also known as “people of the longhouse,” were part of an Oct. 10 groundbreaking ceremony for a longhouse being built at the 1719 Hans Herr House in Willow Street, Pa.

Lloyd Hoover and Mary Ann Robins pour olive oil together as they “bring the hatchet,” an American Indian tradition that establishes a treaty. Hoover, a bishop of Lancaster Mennonite Conference, and Robins, representing the Haudenosaunee association, also known as “people of the longhouse,” were part of an Oct. 10 groundbreaking ceremony for a longhouse being built at the 1719 Hans Herr House in Willow Street, Pa. — Photo by Dale D. Gehman

Religious leaders and American Indians threw stones into the river Oct. 9 after a public ceremony with more than 250 people at First Presbyterian Church to honor Lancaster County natives.

Religious leaders and government officials apologized for historic wrongs or indifference committed against natives of Lancaster County and asked for forgiveness from local and regional American Indians.

“Mennonites imposed their view of the land unhesitatingly on a native population that held a very different view,” said Brinton Rutherford, resource staff person for Lancaster Mennonite Conference.

Rutherford read from The Earth Is the Lord’s, a history of Lancaster Mennonite Conference by John Ruth: “If [Mennonites] had a sense of the Earth being the Lord’s, they left little more than token evidence of a response to the hungry, disinherited, indigenous people at the edges of their prospering farms.”

Richard Thomas, moderator-elect of Mennonite Church USA, said Mennonites — the first recorded European settlers of Lancaster County — haven’t fully honored and respected American Indians.

“We recognize that we have failed in living out our convictions,” Thomas said.

American Indians from Lancaster County and across the country shared personal testimonies.

“Our hearts, just as your hearts, are desiring to hear truth, so our nation can be totally healed,” said J.R. Boyd of the Dakota-Lakota Indians. “Every one of the 791 treaties were broken or violated in some form. When I go home, I still deal with 100-year-old grudges that you may never see.”

Uhma Ruth Py, a Lenape elder with ancestors in nearby Bucks County, said now is the time for forgiveness and healing.

continued on next page »

Comments

  • I had been invited to partake in this important event but, a prior committment kept me from being there. I hold this event in my heart as having a major impact on the healing for my past, present and future generations. I am eastern Shawnee. I grew up knowing that my maternal ancestors had moved in mass from around Bucks County, PA. down the Iroquois Trail and had settled in a small community just outside of Winchester, Va. There they built a small self-sustaining community which remained intact until the middle of the 1900's. Little was ever spoken of the circumstances of their relocation but, there was always a sense of who they truly were coupled with a fear of the outside world. I especially remember my great-grandmother and how reluctant she was to go beyond her small community. Today, I am a grandmother. I am so grateful that these truths are being told and healing is taking place. I look at the Amish in Lancaster, PA as great teachers of forgiveness. They have set an example for all people of true forgiveness and raised the level of awareness for all of us. We speak of the Sacred Hoop of life and how we are truly one people,one nation. Thank-you people of the land of Lancaster from my heart for my generations to come for aiding in healing this hoop. Shelia Hansen All Life Is Sacred

    - Shelia Hansen (oct 12 at 12:51 p.m.)

  • What the "First Americans" accepted as a basic principle -- at least within their tribal groups -- was that the earth was the birthright of all persons, equally. Thus, their laws and customs did not yet condone the sale by tribal chiefs to individuals or to outsiders. There was no moral authority to do so. During the colonial era almost all such "sales" involved coercion and fraud.

    A long list of historians have documented the history of the land frauds and swindles that characterize privatizing of the commons of North America as it was wrestled from the First American peoples.

    A handful of reformers, led most prominently by Henry George in the late 19th century, attempted to bring the commons back into public control and the value of land into the public treasury to pay for the cost of government. More recently, a growing community land trust movement has development to take land out of the market to preserve open space or agriculturally-productive land from development, or to set aside land for affordable housing.

    The earth is our equal birthright. Yet, over time a privileged minority has managed to ensure that our laws enable them to control far more than they will ever need or use, the result of which is that many people are denied access to the basic goods of a decent human existence.

    - Edward J. Dodson (nov 5 at 10:45 a.m.)

  • It is good to see some recognition of the crime of land dispossession: forcible removal, without just compensation, of people's liberty to use what nature provided for all.

    But this is a crime that has been committed not only against the native population of the USA, but against all people everywhere, whether land is privately owned or state owned. There can be no liberty, equality or justice while people are deprived of their liberty to live and work on the land nature provided and not justly compensated for the loss, nor while some are privileged to charge others for access to all that government, the community and nature provide.

    - Roy Langston (nov 5 at 2:41 p.m.)

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