“See the Indians” in 1948

See the Indians! The sign at the tourist store offered photo opps.

In a camping trip to Colorado in 1948, we went to a tourist store that featured photo ops with Native Americans. My parents truly valued the Native American culture. Our home was filled with baskets, weavings, rugs, pots, and jewelry that they started buying in the 1930s and continued to buy in the ’40s. But appreciating skills doesn’t do much for the concept of equality.

In this video from the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church, Rev. Chebon Kernell, tells of the historic mistreatment of Native Americans by the United Methodist Church. I saw this video as part of a 10-session series, Vital Conversations on Race, screened in zoom meetings at Princeton United Methodist Church.

More than 30 annual conferences are beginning to pay attention to Native American concerns and to offer acts of repentance, says Kernell. “This is just the beginning. Are we really ever done with repentance? Some have asked me ‘when will you be satisfied.’ My answer ” Repentance is like discipleship. Do not expect my contentment any time soon. As long as the church stands up for a society that has worked to eliminate our presence…we are not even close to existing in a church and world that is inclusive..”

On Thursday, September 24 at 7:30 p.m., Princeton UMC will start another 10 week session of Vital Conversations on Race in September. I found it VERY helpful. I recommend it.

Wearing the cowboy hat from my uncle, I stand next to a Native American girl just my size (I was 8) while my sister stands with our cousins. I’m sure we paid for this photo. Nobody in this photo looks very happy. And no wonder. Sisters in their matching dresses, made by our mothers, and how heavy those feather headresses must have been!
My first introduction to Native Americans, at age 3.

Looking back — at least as a child I had some idea of what a native Americans looked like, as opposed to the usual white man’s conception of Tonto and the cowboy and Indian movies. But nobody told me – not at home or in school – about the Trail of Tears. Nobody told me how the Native Americans had been forced to give up their culture.

Thirty years later, when I met the chief of the Turtle clan of the Lenape people, I found out. As a reporter for a daily paper in Media, PA, I tried to help them save a sacred spring. By going to their corn planting ceremonies and attending their rituals, I had some insights into a spirituality that did not depend on pews or stained glass or organs. It came from the earth.

These photos came from my father’s slides, curated by my sister Rosalie Ann Figge Beasley.

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