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Holy Everything: ‘You, too, hold the stories of generations in your veins’

May 13, 2019

As Minnesotans, we live, breathe and move on sacred ground.

We are not the first to tread upon this soil. For generations prior to Minnesota’s official statehood in 1858, it was Native Americans who built their lives around the seasonal rhythms of this region.

Earlier this month, my colleagues and I from the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) spent a day hearing and honoring the stories of the people who initially walked these grounds.

Our experience was made possible through “Healing Minnesota Stories,” an initiative made possible by the Minnesota Council of Churches to promote dialogue, understanding and healing between Native American and non-Native peoples.

Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs (Mohican) and Bob Klanderud (Dakota) were our guides for the day. Over the course of four hours, they compassionately guided us to three significant sites near the Mendota Bridge.

The morning began under a large tree on the grounds of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic church in the state. As Klanderud and Jacobs began to share examples of the oppression that Native Americans have been experiencing in this area for more than 200 years, I could hear the weeping of the trees and ground and rivers.

“Take courage; let the truth of these stories lead to collective healing and freedom,” the wind whispered. White supremacy, colonialism and domination are significant elements of the foundation of our origin story as a country. To heal, we must be willing to hear. Through hearing, transformation becomes possible.

At our second stop, Fort Snelling, we heard a portion of the Dakota creation narrative. It is said that the first humans were formed from the stars and then planted on an island between the Mississippi River and the Minnesota River. For the Dakota, this special place is like the Garden of Eden. Jacobs then told us the heart-wrenching story of the internment camp that existed in that very spot following the Dakota-U.S. War. After being forced to walk 150 miles in six days, 1,700 women, children and elderly Native Americans were placed within 2.5 acres at Fort Snelling. Disease overwhelmed them. Many died.

“The same place can hold genesis and genocide,” Jacobs described. “We walk gently.”

We concluded our day at Pilot Knob Hill, a traditional Dakota burial ground. As we ended our time together, Jacobs said, “We are all embodied stories. You, too, hold the stories of generations in your veins. Thank you for hearing our stories and for participating in something that you knew would perhaps be difficult and uncomfortable at times.”

If you are a member or leader of a faith community, please prioritize the stories of indigenous people and communities. Lift up these voices. Honor them. Encourage the people of your congregation to be courageous, compassionate listeners.

Consider participating in a “Healing Minnesota Stories” tour. This experience would be impactful for a work group, congregation or classroom. To learn more, visit www.mnchurches.org/justice/HealingMinnesotaStories.html.

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