An unprecedented gathering of leaders from multiple Native American nations yesterday participated in A Time of Rededication and Story-Telling event, presented by The Faith and Politics Institute, at the Congressional Cemetery at 1801 E. St., SE, Washington, D.C. 20003.
The Congressional Cemetery became the official burial grounds in 1807 for congressman, tradesmen, diplomats, domestics, explorers, architects, soldiers and musicians. Thirty-six Native Americans are among the more than 55,000 individuals and 30,000 burial sites in the cemetery and represent peoples from Apache, Cherokee, Chippewa, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Kiowa, Lakota, Nez Perce, Pawnee, Sac and Fox, and Winnebago tribes and nations. Many Native Americans interred at the cemetery were representing their people in treaty negotiations and government affairs and were far from their native lands when they passed away.
“Native Americans were heavily involved in Washington and international politics more than 200 years ago, which led to their interment away from their homes,” said Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. “Several Native American nations also had treaties with foreign governments prior to the creation of the United States and still operate as sovereign governments today.”
A Time of Rededication and Story-Telling event featured interpretive guides’ historical accounts of Native American leaders and dignitaries interred at the Congressional Cemetery including Cherokee citizens Captain John Rogers, Jr., William Shorey Coodey, Judge Richard Fields and great friend of the Cherokee Nation William Wirt; Choctaw citizens Pushmataha and Peter Pitchlynn; Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate leader Kan Ya Tu Duta (Red Crow); Pawnee leader Tuck Arusa Lix Ea; and Muscogee (Creek) Second Chief Berryhill, who reflected on the role of all their delegates.
“Storytelling is a valued tradition in Native American heritage and coupled with an opportunity to relive Cherokee history on these revered grounds was a tremendous experience for guests,” added Chief Smith. “The Congressional Cemetery provided for a unique setting where visitors were immersed in traditional stories and historical accounts regarding the Native American people.”
In preparation for the event, there was A Time of Service gathering at the Congressional Cemetery on Tuesday, May 18, which provided an opportunity for the general public to clean, weed and help restore some of the Native American graves in the cemetery. Professionals offering direction in the proper care and tending to the neglected burial sites led the efforts and supplied the tools. A short period of storytelling immediately followed the caretaking.
Prior to A Time of Rededication and Story-Telling event there was an official presentation and reading of The Resolution of Apology to Native Peoples by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), co-hosts of the day’s events and co-authors of the resolution, which took place in the Congressional Cemetery chapel.
The Resolution of Apology to Native Peoples cites seven key acknowledgment and apology points including one that apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.
President Obama signed the bill on December 19, 2009, in part to acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the federal government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.
A Time of Rededication and Story-Telling, A Time of Service gathering and The Resolution of Apology to Native Peoples presentation was sponsored by The Faith and Politics Institute and National Congress of American Indians along with representatives of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and Pawnee Nations.