400 years on, a reckoning: Faith groups to raise funds for Native American neighbors 

  • Peter Blood, co-convenor of the Interfaith Opportunities Network, offers a reflection during an interfaith fundraising event, “Neighbors Together,” on Sunday, No. 19, 2017, at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley to help open the new Hadley location of the Hampshire Mosque. On Sunday, “400 Years,” the latest project by the Interfaith Opportunities Network that seeks to raise money for four Indigenous organizations, takes place in a virtual format. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2020 8:28:40 PM

AMHERST — In the four centuries since the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts, Indigenous people in the region have seen their land taken from them, their cultures decimated and their lives lost through the actions of colonists and their descendants.

As an act of restorative justice — and in response to what they view as theft from and assault on the languages and identity of Native Americans since the Mayflower’s November 1620 landing — members of numerous religious congregations and faith groups, mostly from Hampshire and Franklin counties, are joining together for a virtual fundraising event Oct. 18.

Not only will the event support four Massachusetts-based American Indian organizations, but the voices of Indigenous people will be front and center during the livestream broadcast, starting at 2 p.m., at interfaithamherst.org/400-years.

Peter Blood of Leverett, co-convenor of the Interfaith Opportunities Network and a lead organizer of the project known as “400 Years: Truth and Healing for the Next Seven Generations,” said the goal is to learn from and hear the concerns of Native American neighbors in the region, build connections in a spirit of mutual respect, and act to support Native American-led endeavors.

Indigenous speakers, musicians and interfaith prayers will be featured via the broadcast on YouTube and Facebook, along with discussions about how to reconcile the past.

Planning began last Thanksgiving, Blood said, when Sister Clare Carter of the Nipponzan-Myōhōji Peace Pagoda in Leverett gave the benediction for an interfaith service in Amherst during which she talked about the approaching 400th anniversary of the Puritans’ arrival in Plymouth.

Bringing faith communities together

For Blood, this is the third effort to bring faith communities together, following a 2017 event benefiting Hampshire Mosque in Hadley and last year’s fundraiser for the Goodwin Memorial AME Zion Church in Amherst. But this one is larger, with the Interfaith Council of Franklin County, which also has a focus on racial justice and support for immigrants, joining the Interfaith Opportunities Network.

Blood said the organizations that will benefit include two land trusts, the Native Land Conservancy based in Mashpee and Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust, and two cultural sites, the Ohkeateau Cultural Center in Ashfield and Nipmuk Cultural Preservation Inc.

Emceeing the event will be Rhonda Anderson, the state’s new commissioner of Indian Affairs for Western Massachusetts.

For the Christian faiths, the Rev. Kelly Gallagher, the Justice & Witness minister for the southern region of New England for the United Church of Christ, will speak. Gallagher has done significant work around decolonizing faith and exploring the roots of land theft and cultural genocide going back to the Puritans, from which the United Church of Christ is a spiritual descendant.

Gallagher, of Northampton, said the focus of her talk will be on being critical of the church and the doctrine of discovery used by people coming to the New World. It was through that framework of conquering, Gallagher said, that the Puritans were able to justify many of the actions that caused harm to the Native American peoples.

“What I like about this project is two-thirds of the voices are from Indigenous folks,” Gallagher said.

Other speakers are expected to include Stephanie Morningstar, executive director of the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust; Larry Spotting Crow Mann, a board member of Nipmuk Cultural Preservation; John “Jim” Peters Jr., the Massachusetts commissioner of Indian Affairs; and Leah Penniman, who grew up in Massachusetts and operates Soul Fire Farm in New York, where African Americans and Indigenous people are aided in returning to farming.

There will also be discussions of issues such as the legislative bill to remove Native American imagery from the state flag and seal.

Leading up to the event, monks from the Peace Pagoda will embark on the “Listening to the Call of the Great Spirit” walk, a three-day journey that begins Thursday at the Sojourner Truth Memorial in Florence and ends in Amherst, with stops at faith communities along the way. On the second day, the walk proceeds from Amherst to the Peace Pagoda; on the third day, the route will go through Montague to Unity Park in Turners Falls.

Unity Park will also be where some of the livestream originates and where the Nolumbeka Project, which supports Indigenous culture and people, holds annual gatherings.

“400 Years” has additional support from more than 20 partnership organizations focused on peace and justice, such as The Resistance Center in Northampton, the Sojourner Truth School in Holyoke and the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding in Amherst.

People can donate by sending checks to the Interfaith Council of Franklin County, P.O. Box 1171, Greenfield 01302, with a note for the 400 Years Project, or via credit card at riseupandsing.org/400years.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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