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The South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church will host a two-day Native American Pilgrimage in May centered on Native history and designed to bring healing and promote cultural inclusion and understanding.

Organizers of the May 17-18 pilgrimage – the second phase of a Racial Reconciliation Initiative launched in 2015 by the Advocacy Area of Conference Connectional Ministries – also hope the event will encourage open dialogue among clergy and lay United Methodists of all races, ethnicities and nationalities.

According to the U.S. Census, more than 25,000 Natives live in South Carolina – but many tribal and church leaders believe thousands more call the state home because many Natives don’t claim their heritage in the Census or on other official documentation.

Rev. Pender

“It is probably closer to 40,000 American Indian people living in this state,” said the Rev. Tracy Pender, convener of the Conference Committee on Native American Ministries. “That is one of the issues – making the invisible visible.”

There is no cost to attend the pilgrimage, but registration is required by May 10. Attendees are responsible for their own meals and lodging.

The pilgrimage will begin at Friendship United Methodist Church, 1200 Neely Store Road, Rock Hill.

At 6 p.m. Friday, May 17, pilgrims in attendance will:

  • Learn from South Carolina Native leaders what issues most impact them and their tribes.
  • Hear Bishop Holston preach about inclusivity and moving forward.
  • Watch and discuss the documentary “Dakota 38,” an emotional film that exemplifies the struggles Natives have faced for decades.

“Dakota 38” – based on the largest mass hanging in U.S. history – was created in line with Native healing practices to encourage healing and reconciliation, according to its publisher, Smooth Feather Productions.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln authorized the execution of 38 Dakota Indians who had been convicted – in a military tribunal some historians and legal scholars have deemed biased and unfair – of perpetrating massacres during the U.S.-Dakota War earlier that year.

“As the movie ‘Selma’ honored a civil rights march, this movie honors a horseback ride to the site of the hangings,” Rev. Pender said. “It highlights American Indian issues, culture and religion from past to present.”

The pilgrimage will resume at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 18, at Friendship UMC for breakfast and a brief time of reflection and questions.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, pilgrims will board buses to the Catawba Indian Nation Cultural Center to attend Yap Yi Iswa – “Day of The Catawba” – a celebration featuring drum circles and other Native music, dancing, storytelling and other demonstrations. Traditional Native crafts and traditional Native foods will be available for purchase.

The 2019 pilgrimage comes four years after the South Carolina Conference’s first Racial Reconciliation Pilgrimage, which centered on the Orangeburg Massacre – one of the most violent episodes of the civil rights movement. During a 1968 protest at South Carolina State University, state troopers fired on some 200 unarmed black students, killing three and wounding 28.

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