Featured Pilgrimage Social Justice Society St. Columba

Walking Backwards Into the Future, a Pilgrimage of Remembrance

Undertaken in June 2019

Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called Children of God.

An open letter to William Penn (b.1644, d1718) – colonial settler and alleged founder of Pennsylvania.

Dear Mr. Penn Esq.

You and I will never meet, this side of eternity, as we are separated by over three hundred years of history and an even greater chasm of cultural expectation and understanding. Yet despite this obvious impediment I seem to keep bumping into you on my travels. Last June 2019 before I left on my pilgrimage to the USA, I briefly met you at The Blue Idol in Coolham, a property you purchased and converted to a Quaker meeting house. You will be pleased to hear that it is still a meeting house to this day and an place of great reflection and serenity. A testimony to your undying commitment to the Prince of Peace.

The Blue Idol Quaker Meeting House - Founded by William Penn

The Blue Idol Quaker Meeting House – Founded by William Penn

 

However I have to inform you that your efforts in the new world to establish peaceful relations with the original Americans, has not developed in the manner you so fervently prayed and worked tirelessly to bring about. No doubt what I have to tell you will be a source of great discomfort and disappointment, indeed, emotional and spiritual distress, when you hear of the pilgrimage from the Blue Idol to Philadelphia.

Accompanying me on this extraordinary pilgrimage were Larry (Kewa/Laguna Pueblo) and Deborah Littlebird. Larry and Deborah desired to resurrect the ancient tradition of a pilgrimage of witness. From their home at Hamaatsa an indigenous retreat centre in New Mexico, they invited me to join them on this pilgrimage to ‘bear witness to the truth’ of the holocaust and ongoing cultural genocide of the First Nations people of North America. We came to bear witness to the truth – Lest we Forget – and acknowledge the innocents that died at the hands of the white supremacist ideology. Also to witness and to pray for the souls of those who perpetrated such heinous crimes and the distorted cultural legacy they have left to their progeny.

It’s the UCL group’s estimate that 60 million people were living across the Americas at the end of the 15th Century (about 10% of the world’s total population), and that this was reduced to just five or six million within a hundred years.

Extract taken from BBC report in January 2019 on University College London’s research into the American genocide and carbon sequestration entitled ‘America colonisation cooled Earth’s climate’.

The Last of the Quinnapiac.

I am confident Mr. Penn, like many of your Quaker peace loving brethren, you would be horrified that such wide and deep atrocities occurred. But even today this horror continues to reverberate throughout North America. In New Haven we spent the day with some of the local people. Moe Armstrong – a veteran of the Vietnam war, spoke of Emil, a fellow veteran who had died. Emil was the last of the unrecognised Quinnapiac nation. Imagine if you will, the death of the last person of an entire nation, a death unknown, unnoticed, not even a murmur of recognition by the civil or religious leaders of the USA. This is the  society you so fervently believed could live in peace with its First Nations people. We only know about Emil because he wrote an article in the Elm City Echo in the winter of 2012 about his search for his lost tribe.

The Pequot Massacre – an act of intentional un-remembering.

Our pilgrimage continued up the Connecticut river through Pequot land, where we visited the massacre site of the Pequot Nation in Mystic (now famous for the 1988 coming of age Hollywood film Mystic Pizza starring Julia Roberts), Mystic is a testimony to affluent middle-class suburban Americana. An suburb whose life and livelihoods are built upon the active dis-remembering of this atrocity.

William, our pilgrimage was an act of intentional remembrance. We have a saying, that history is written by the winners, and as the European colonisers expanded across the America’s they re-wrote history, believing they were God given victors over uncivilised savage people. Both a misappropriation of God who Just and a very bad and destructive piece of theology. The town of Mystic is a living illustration of these points.

The Peskeompscut Massacre.

Mystic was not the only massacre site we visited. Turner Falls is a small town named after Captain William Turner who led a militia assault on a summer fishing camp. The Peskeompscut massacre killed over 200 women, children and elders. To celebrate the slaughter the town was named after the leader of the massacre. This is akin to renaming Bethlehem (the biblical location of the slaughter of the innocents), King Herod town and erecting a statue in his honour. It is hard to comprehend how the site of such a slaughter is now a serene picnic site for tourists and locals alike. Another diabolical twist in the un-remembering of the colonial settler new world order.

Our pilgrimage progressed through Quinniapiac, Mahican, Narragansetts, Wampanoags, Abenaki, Esopus, and Connastoga lands, their existence, removal and extinction accompanying us on our journey in road signs, picnic camps, tourist stops and on road side diner menus. Yet this presence was more akin to the ghosts that we knew, than the present presence of a people in whose land we were passing through. Any civilisation that knowingly characterises and reduces the original people to pop culture menus and road side remembrances, has forgotten its ‘Language that speaks to God’ as Larry Littlebird would say. There is a blood in the land that cries out to be acknowledged. The Spirit of Holiness does not forget these innocents, their voices are heard in eternity and the nations that perpetrated these massacres are not innocent of the blood until forgiveness, truth and justice is delivered.

Penn Treaty Park.

Before I draw my letter to a conclusion, William, I want to speak about the final location on our pilgrimage, Penn Treaty Park in Philadelphia. You will recall the Elm tree that you sat under with the Lanape people. You came in good faith, unarmed as was your Quaker custom. You met with the Lanape as an equal, expressing these words of friendship and solidarity in the native Algonquin tongue.

We meet on the broad pathway of good faith and good-will; no advantage shall be taken on either side, but all shall be openness and love. We are the same as if one man’s body was to be divided into two parts; we are of one flesh and one blood.

William Penn

Saint Tammany Chief of the Lanape Turtle clan replied, “We will live in love with William Penn and his children as long as the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.

These are powerful words expressed by two men, a timeless vocal synergy that is alive today, a prophetic word I witnessed on our final pilgrimage day that has now been burned into my memory for life. Upon reaching Treaty Park, Larry, compelled by the need to pray and make offerings, stumbled across the boulder strewn banks of the Delaware (a river now polluted by generations of industrial carelessness), down to the waters edge. Larry’s spirit arrived before his own body was able too, given his age. From his hand he offered water from his own lands to purify the Delaware, a song of gratitude and remembrance for all those who had gone before and a prayer of forgiveness for the peoples who have so ruthlessly sought to destroy the memory of the native people. A people whom God had originally placed in this land. I am confident William that you would smile upon such amazing grace expressed from Native peoples towards descendants of colonial settlers.

Offering prayers and songs of lament and forgiveness on the banks of the Delaware river.

Offering prayers and songs of lament and forgiveness on the banks of the Delaware river.

First Nations people are the reflection of our own true selves and we must be honest in confessing our reflection has become ugly in the deliberate un-remembering of our history. Yet I am hopeful Mr Penn, that the generation that now walks America’s soil has begun to see a glimpse of what is possible when they take direct action to overturn systemic injustice and the legacy of white privilege in the Americas. These are a generation of children born for peace, not the peace of placid conformist convention, but the peace demonstrated by the Prince of Peace. Who in the face of political, economic, religious collusion and persecution was prepared to stare down the violence of state oppression, false history and sacrifice himself for the good of all humanity.

Mr. Penn, a great lament is rising now, crying for justice for the forgotten, for a recognition of the suffering caused by the will of the privileged power brokers and seeking a time when we all can look each other in the eye and call ourselves brothers, sisters and Children of God. Pray for us Mr Penn, it may just be that this is the generation who will realise your prayers at Penn Treaty Park.

Yours faithfully,

Greg Valerio

 

Footnote: For more information on all the places we visited on our pilgrimage please visit

https://www.listeningground.org/slideshow.html

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Peter Callen
    June 14, 2020 at 1:37 pm

    Once awake to this profound truth… there is no sleeping comfortably in the gears of the machine, no going back, no un-seeing what was seen. And the more people who are awake to this truth, living in this land, not on it, the more will have the courage to look, to listen, to allow that profound truth of the genocide to touch their hearts….

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