Episcopal Church pays ‘voluntary tax’ to native tribes

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Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema

An Episcopal Church in Wisconsin has included in its budget a voluntary tax on its property to be paid to Native American tribes in the state to recognize that it is on land that “was someone else’s homeland.”

St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Madison added a budget line in 2022 for a $3,000 payment for property costs, which was presented in August to the Wisconsin Inter-Tribal Repatriations Committee, Episcopal News reported. Service. The payment represents 1% of the overall church expenses.

Located on the west side of Madison, the church sits on land that historically housed members of the Ho-Chunk Nation.

The payment comes after the church spent years studying the area’s indigenous history and how tribes lost land to settlers through a land recognition task force.

According to a statement on the church’s website, the land became the property of the US government after the Black Hawks War of 1832, a conflict between the US government and Native Americans led by Chief Sauk Black Hawk.

The war resulted in the local native tribes being largely “exterminated or driven westward, having been forced to surrender their lands in southern Wisconsin.”

“The planned development did not take place and the Ho-Chunk natives continued to return, despite their ‘official withdrawal’ in 1832, to hunt, fish and grow corn in traditional camps on the north shore of the lake. Mendota and Pheasant Branch. Speculators lost interest and money on the surrounding property, and eventually Wisconsin Governor William Farwell purchased O’Neill’s parcel,” the website reads.

The property that became the site of the church was an old farmhouse on the outskirts of town with a red brick farmhouse owned by Joseph and Anton Heim, immigrants who were among the many who came to the United States during a failed revolt in the Germanic states. in 1848. The Heims cultivated the property for years and became involved in local politics.

“The farm declined over the years as Middleton began to expand and farmland was sold for development,” the website explains. “Several families have owned the farm over the years. A few photos in the Wisconsin History Museum collection show it in 1952.”

The website concludes, “St. Dunstan’s is aware that we come together to worship on the lands of Ho-Chunk, wrongfully taken. We don’t know what it’s like to come to terms with this history, but we wonder.”

According to the church’s rector, the Reverend Miranda Hassett, the church’s research and statement needed to be accompanied by “restorative actions” to “make amends” and be “better allies”.

“It would be a mistake to release this statement without understanding what it means to us,” Hasset told Episcopal News Service.

Many other episcopal congregations are researching and developing land acknowledgments to foster reconciliation.

For example, a plaque on the sidewalk in front of the door of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Chicago reads, “You stand on the land of the native peoples.”

In July, the 80th General Naming Convention passed a resolution encouraging land acknowledgments. Each Episcopal Diocese will conduct audits “of all indigenous peoples whose ancestral and territorial homelands are now occupied by their churches and buildings.”

The resolution also encourages dioceses “to begin a process of implementing liturgies and land acknowledgment prayers to begin any public meeting or worship and provide resources to their churches to do the same.”

In Washington, the Seattle-based Diocese of Olympia passed a similar resolution in 2019.

“While it begins as an effort to understand the history of an individual church, it can quickly turn into an exploration of the history of our entire country and even the world,” the diocese states on its website. “All are linked, for better or worse, in the story of who we are as a people, as a nation, as Episcopalians and as Christians.”

Other dioceses are also encouraging churches to consider land recognitions. The Episcopal Church’s Virginia Theological Seminary Building Faith Ministry offers guidance to churches in writing acknowledgments of land.

“One of the ways the church begins the journey of reconciliation with brothers and sisters who identify as Native/Native American is by recognizing that all churches are headquartered in homeland,” the guide says. “It was ‘bought’ through treaties that were constantly broken. It was stolen through lies. Tribal nations were violently driven from their ancestral lands to distant reservations.”

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