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Episcopal church gives 'voluntary' reparations to Wisconsin indigenous tribes for stolen land: 'This is something we owe'

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Screen shot of Wisconsin Council of Churches YouTube video

An Episcopal church in Wisconsin has paid a "voluntary tax" to Native American tribes in the state as part of a larger "land acknowledgement" movement within the greater Episcopal Church.

St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, has begun adding what it calls a "voluntary tax" to its annual budget in order to repatriate local indigenous tribes for the lands which the church now owns.

According to historical research conducted by members of the church, the land on which the church sits was once owned by the Ho-Chunk tribe. A statement posted on the church website claims that, through war, speculation, federal government seizure, and ultimately, private purchase, the church's lands were stolen from the Ho-Chunk people and that the Ho-Chunk were then "largely exterminated or pushed westwards" as a result.

In order to make amends for the stolen land, the church has added the tax, which has already yielded between $3,000 and $4,000 for the Wisconsin Inter-Tribal Repatriations Committee. According to reports, the donated amount represents 1% of the church's total budget for the year.

"We intentionally put it with our buildings and land expenses, with the other expenses related to owning our property," said the Rev. Miranda Hassett, rector of St. Dunstan’s.

"This isn't an outreach donation," she added, "because we also have outreach stuff in our budget. We have money we give away to organizations that are doing good in the community. This is different from that. This isn't from our charity or generosity. This is something we owe. That was important to me."

Rather than give the money to current members of the Ho-Chunk tribe, the church elected to donate it to the entire indigenous community within the state so that tribal leaders could appropriate the money as they saw fit. Representatives from St. Dunstan's reportedly handed the donation to the Committee in a purple envelope, a color which many Christians believe symbolizes repentance.

Hassett indicated that she hopes her church's donation will inspire other churches to do the same.

"[I]f this church does it, maybe other entities will follow suit," she suggested.

Back in July at its 80th General Convention, the Episcopal Church passed a resolution which encouraged its members to research their history to determine whether their congregation had ever benefitted from the mistreatment of Native Americans through ill-begotten land deals.

The people of St. Dunstan's — who, according to the website, claim to "affirm and celebrate the lives, marriages, and vocations of LGBTQ+ people" and who sometimes list their preferred pronouns on their church name tags — have determined that they have.

"St. Dunstan’s is mindful that we gather to worship on Ho-Chunk land, taken unjustly," the statement concludes. "We don’t know what it looks like to make peace with that history, but we wonder."

Rev. Hassett filmed a short video regarding the history of the St. Dunstan land. It was published on YouTube by the Wisconsin Council of Churches.

View that video below:


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