Native American History at Mound
by Christine Krause, Dominican Associate of Sinsinawa
Sinsinawa Mound is a sacred place with a history that includes not only George Wallace Jones; Samuel Mazzuchelli, OP; and the early Dominican Sisters, but an indigenous history as well. In an effort to learn more about this history and acknowledge it at the beginning of our gatherings, a congregation Land Acknowledgment Committee was established in autumn 2019. As we look to the future of what Sinsinawa Mound will become, we must also continue looking to history, trying to understand what happened on this holy ground as we attempt to create a more just future.
The committee, approved by the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa Integration Team and now under the auspices of the Peace and Justice Office, is researching relevant history of the Mound and best practices related to land acknowledgment statements. We have learned much from consultations with Dr. Eugene Tesdahl, professor of history at UW-Platteville, and Steve Barg, executive director of Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation (JDCF). Barg and the JDCF are in the midst of relationship building with a number of tribes who claim a history in this region.
This work builds on educational efforts already underway at the Mound, including the Native Voices conference, a Native Sacred Lands Tour, regular book discussions (e.g., Kent Nerburn), talks and retreats given by Native Americans, and most recently a lecture on the “Indigenous History of Sinsinawa Mound”—all of which has stirred in us a desire to keep learning and to continue building relationships.
Importantly, we have learned that the process of asking Native nations for information regarding their own history with this place should be offered with some form of concrete support. On a deeper level, we feel that the framework of reparations should undergird our work, otherwise crafting a land acknowledgment statement may amount to tokenization of Native peoples, and it would not ask any transformation of us. Exploring reparations is in line with our congregational commitment to becoming an antiracist
community and building just relationships.
It is important to note that sometimes the word “reparations” can seem synonymous with repatriating land to Native communities. Our initial work has revealed that land repatriation is rarely the preferred mode of repairing these relationships. There are, however, a multitude of ways that this work can be done: through financial contributions, scholarships, cultural easements that give Native communities access rights to hold ceremonies and gatherings on private land, posting signage and historical displays that Native communities have crafted in their own words, optional land taxes, and more. It is only through developing relationships with Native communities that we will know which modes are preferred and appropriate.
In February, we met with the Leadership Council and were given approval to proceed. We are now crafting a letter to tribal nations to request information in a spirit of mutuality, seeking deeper understanding of this history while also asking how a tribal partner would stand to benefit from a connection.
We are seeking input from other congregations who have begun this process, as well as our own sponsored institutions. We seek wisdom and blessing as we go about the slow, patient work of relationship building, truth seeking, and justice for people and the land.
The committee meets monthly and consists of Deb Bomyea, OP; Reg McKillip, OP; Christin Tomy, OP; Kathy Flynn, OP; Eric Anglada (Ecological Programming Coordinator at Sinsinawa Mound); and Associates Mary Jane Alexander and Christine Krause.