As we gather, we pause for a moment of silence that we may contemplate what it means to worship God on the Sand Creek Massacre Trail. Those words opened the worship service last Sunday at Highlands United Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. Before worship began, Ivan Posey, Eastern Shoshone and Central Wyoming College instructor, and Allison Sage, Northern Arapaho and a leader of the Riverton Peace Mission, helped to commemorate a new window at Highland’s with these words etched into the glass: You are worshipping God on the ancestral lands of the Tsétsėhéstaestse (Cheyenne) and the Hinono’eiteen (Arapaho), and other Indigenous nations. Highlands honors their sovereignty and their courage by acknowledging the injustices visited upon them through the dispossession of these lands. For Highlands, it is more than words. A few years ago, the congregation began learning about past and current injustices and recognized that religion has been misused to justify physical and cultural genocide of Indigenous people. The church has contributed approximately $50,000 to benefit tribal people of the Wind River and in 2023 established a reparation fund seeded with $5,000 and adding $500/month in atonement for the stolen land. Members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes are to decide how these funds are to be expended, not the congregation. The decisions were made only after study and discernment. I was privileged and humbled to be a part of last Sunday’s ceremony. For Highlands, this is not an end, but a commitment for an on-going journey to study, to right the wrongs of the past, to prevent future harm and to stand humbly with the Indigenous people of the Wind River Indian Reservation. How will other churches in Wyoming be remembered for what they are doing to atone for the genocide and stolen land where congregations worship? Highlands is only one small congregation in Wyoming but is making a difference and can be a model for others for the common good. Let us know if you’d like to learn more about what churches can do in atonement and reparation.
Fear not. Be humble. Have faith. Be bold. Build relationships. Do justice. Chesie Lee firstname.lastname@example.org