On Tuesday, August 16, I attended the quarterly meeting of the WITRC (Wisconsin Inter-Tribal Repatriation Committee) at the Three Clans Conference Center in Green Bay to present St. Dunstan’s voluntary land tax payment. We set aside $3000 in our 2022 budget as “Amends” funds, and some additional designated gifts brought the total to $4000. Committing these funds is one outcome of the work of our Land Acknowledgment Task Force. It was approved by the Finance Committee and Vestry, and supported by the congregation by approving and funding (through your pledges and offerings) our 2022 budget.
The WITRC coordinates work to preserve Native cultural heritage, including mounds and grave sites, in the state of Wisconsin; many of its members are Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPO) for their respective tribes. In addition to WITRC members, the meeting included representatives of partner organizations like the DNR, DOT, and the Wisconsin Historical Society. The Rev. Kerri Parker, executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, and WCC staff member Breanna Illene were present as well. Diana Lucas, the co-leader of our parish Land Acknowledgment Task Force and member of the Diocese of Milwaukee task force, accompanied me to help represent St. Dunstan’s.
Ben Rhodd, THPO for the Forest County Potawatomi Community, opened the meeting with an invocation. He greeted everyone present as “my relatives”- reminding us that we are all branches of one tree of humanity. He described the work of the WITRC: “We’re dealing with the ancients, the ones who were here before us, and we’re very careful and cautious, asking ‘What would be best?’” Then he invited us to stand and prayed to Creator, in Potawatomi and English, for our unity, our work, and for everyone who needs help in the world.
The matter of donations to the WITRC was addressed first on the agenda. Kerri Parker spoke about the WCC’s commitment to trying to heal relationships between the churches and the WI tribes. She described St. Dunstan’s work as an example of what can be done in terms of restorative actions, and mentioned the WCC’s hope to work with the Wisconsin tribes to create a fund to which any church or other organization can contribute, to make this kind of thing more widespread.
Bill Quackenbush, current president of the WITRC and THPO for the Ho-Chunk Nation, spoke about an ongoing collaboration with the WCC on developing some land acknowledgment resources that could be used by churches statewide. He mentioned that too often people speak about Native peoples as if they were the “roots of that tree of humanity, when in fact we are all alive together.” He explained that when Kerri approached him about the best way to use St. Dunstan’s Amends funds, he thought of having the funds go to the WITRC – rather than the Ho-Chunk Nation – because that way, the funds can support cultural preservation programs across Wisconsin. He described the WITRC as “a title for us working together” to protect, preserve and share Native cultural heritage.
Quackenbush said that this funding for the WITRC helps address a chronic shortage of money, staff and time for their important work. He described St. Dunstan’s payment as “both a healing process and a stepping stone.”
I presented the check in a purple envelope, which I explained is the color of repentance in our tradition. I also presented a small book of our photos and reflections about loving and learning from the land, and a jar of the black walnut syrup we made from our black walnut trees this spring. Those present were excited about the syrup!
Ben Rhodd spoke again to say that it’s hard to do things without “white metal” – money. “We have to help each other. We’re happy that you helped us. You gave us something to work with.”
Over the next few months, we at St. Dunstan’s will begin work on our draft parish budget for 2023 and undertake our fall giving campaign, when we invite members and friends of the parish to make a pledge stating their anticipated financial support for St. Dunstan’s in the coming year. We will have to decide together whether to include an Amends budget line again in 2023, to continue this practice of voluntary land tax payments. We will need to decide whether it’s something we intend and expect to put in our budget year by year, as we do with our other property expenses and Outreach funds – or whether this was a one-time restorative action. I invite your prayerful reflection on this question. In either case, as a parish, we hope to discern additional steps we can take to make amends and be allies to our Native neighbors.