Thomas Kemper, general secretary of the UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries (left), and Billy Friend, chief of the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma, display a deed document during an event Saturday, September 21, 2019, marking the return of sacred land to the Native Americans. (Photo: United Methodist Church Global Ministries)

Atlanta-based ministry returns sacred land to Wyandotte Nation after 176 years

The United Methodist Church on Saturday afternoon returned sacred land to the Wyandotte  Nation.

The land in Ohio has been held in trust for 176 years by the UMC’s Global Ministries, which is based in Atlanta.

The deed was transferred during a special ceremony and procession denoting Native American ties.

A stone church built in 1824 and a cemetery are part of sacred land that the United Methodist Church returns on Saturday, September 21, 2019, to the Wyandotte Nation. (Photo: United Methodist Church Global Ministries)

“This is monumental,” said Billy Friend, chief of the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma. 

The transfer of  roughly three acres of land in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, includes a stone church built in 1824 and a cemetery.

Billy Friend, chief of the Wyandotte Nation in Okahoma

“I think when our ancestors left, they always thought that someday they would be back and, of course, that never happened.”

He said students, tribal members and elders have visited the site to have a connection to their ancestral land and history.

Friend said the nation includes more than 6,600 tribal citizens, most of whom live in Oklahoma.

Thomas Kemper, general secretary of the UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries, said the link between the ministry and Native Americans has gained significance as the mission celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. 

He said it’s a history that contains both admirable and regrettable chapters “that give context to the expanding opportunities we have today to be in ministry with Native American communities.”

Native Americans lands were often taken by the government or settlers. Now, this is being returned.

The Native American tribe was forced from their land by the federal government under the Indian Removal Act and relocated to Kansas and, later, Oklahoma. 

Friend called the forced removal “our Trail of Tears.”  

The mission was started in 1819 by John Stewart, a African-American minister . The Wyandotte Indian Mission is one of the 49 United Methodist Heritage Landmarks.

John Stewart (Image courtesy of United Methodist Church Global Ministries)

The fact that the Wyandottes let the missions ministry hold the land in trust “was an amazing expression of their trust and friendship with John Stewart that they were able to build.”

While historically, there have been negative encounters between white settlers and missionaries and native people, this was a positive one. 

Global Ministries is the arm of the United Methodist Church responsible for the training and oversight of more than 350 missionaries in more than 65 nations

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