Eighth Street’s Journey Toward Land Acknowledgment
In spring 2018, the adult Connections Class studied the documentary and curriculum created by the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition. We learned that the Doctrine of Discovery is the legal principle by which European countries claimed ownership and domination over lands and peoples that explorers “discovered” in the colonial era. This theoretical knowledge took on deeper meaning as over forty adults and high school students enacted the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands with the “Loss of Turtle Island” activity.
Ron Guengrich led an examination of biblical perspectives on immigration and conquest including the story of the Hebrews conquering the Promised Land in the Book of Exodus. Rich Meyer introduced us to the Bodéwadmik (Potawatomi) people who were living in the Goshen area when European settlers arrived. He described the forced removal of the Potawatomi of our region in the 1838 Trail of Death.
On May 20, 2018, Janeen Bertsche Johnson led the first Sunday afternoon pilgrimage to Trail of Death sites near Plymouth and Rochester, Indiana. We learned about Chief Menominee’s resistance to removal and the hardships that over 800 Potawatomi endured on the 660 mile trek to Kansas during which over forty people died. Readings and prayers focused this corporate experience of learning and lament.
Over the next couple of years, various groups within the congregation learned about the Doctrine of Discovery and the Potawatomi People: Mennonite Women and classes of young adults, youth, and children. The Land Acknowledgment Statement was developed in response to all these learnings.
During this study process, Eighth Street was blessed with a gift from Pokagon Band artist, Aaron Martin, a stylized image of a turtle with the round shell divided into the colored quadrants of the traditional medicine wheel. The sections represent the four compass directions and elements of Native American spirituality. The Potawatomi people associate traditional medicines with these directions: east (tobacco), south (cedar), west (sage), and north (sweetgrass). The strawberries around the turtle represent healing and growth.
In February 2021, Luke Gascho presented a webinar on the impact of European settlement on Potawatomi people in early nineteenth century Elkhart County. The 1828 treaty decreed that no Native American could be granted land on the Elkhart Prairie or within five miles of it, effectively reserving the most productive arable land solely for white settlers. The surveyor’s 1830 map of what is now Goshen marks a trail from Ft. Wayne to Chicago passing through the present-day Greencroft campus and further north just a few yards east of the Eighth Street Mennonite Church parking lot.
At the March 2021 congregational meeting, Eighth Street members voted to adopt the land acknowledgment statement and the turtle image. The Land Acknowledgment Team is a group of volunteers working to advance the commitments of the statement.