Community Issues

Monumental Occasion: Historic Church Deeded Back to Native Americans

Find out why it was taken away from them, and who cared for it until it could be given back.


176 years is a long time to wait for something. So you might imagine that when it finally happens there would be a great and joyous celebration. That's exactly what happened Saturday in north central Ohio, when the United Methodist Church transferred sacred Native American lands and a historic church building back to the Wyandotte Nation.

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Here's the back story. In 1843, the tribe deeded the land to the Methodist Church to protect it, after the federal government forced them off the last remaining reservation in the state of Ohio. The Methodists have taken good care of the land -- inculding a burial ground -- all that time. According to the Port Clinton Times Herald , the church building became the first Methodist mission in the U.S. and was used as one of the first vocational and co-educational school in the country. It's been restored, and in 1960, the Methodists designated it a national historic shrine.

"It's such a great day and such a great moment," Wyandotte Nation Chief Billy Friend

Both groups agreed it was high time to give the land back to the Wyandotte tribe. Saturday, more than 500 people came to celebrate in a ceremony entitled "A Remembrance of Our Shared History." Hundreds walked the mile between the John Stewart United Methodist Church and the Wyandotte Mission Church.

There was an elaborate service attended by members of the Wyandotte Nation from Oklahoma, Kansas and Michigan, top Methodist leaders, and the townspeople of Upper Sandusky. It was capped by the exchanging of the deed, with Wyandotte Nation Chief Billy Friend accepting it from Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries for the Methodist Church.

What followed was a lavish and colorful celebration in true Native American tradition!

Among the performers was Wyandotte Nation Princess Sara Wright (below) who performed a moving rendition of 'The Lord's Prayer' using sign language. You can watch more of the ceremony and celebration on the Wyandotte Nation Facebook page .

"Today we clasp hands and remember the trust shared by our ancestors," prayed a group of Methodist and Native American leaders in unison. "We ask that it will be a moment of healing, amid a history of wrongs. We ask that this moment would shape our future together as Methodists, as indigenous peoples here and around the world." It's an ambitious goal but one that may be accomplished with more folks like these who want to make a difference!

(Images: William Swaim on Wyandotte Nation Facebook page , Video: Wyandotte Nation Facebook page )

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