Early last year our Governor called the state of South Dakota to a Year of Reconciliation. In his call he appointed a Council for Reconciliation to plan, coordinate and enable various activities and celebrations of Lakota culture in South Dakota. The Council identified issues and problems which divide persons in South Dakota and suggested strategies for reconciliation. It endorsed and supported opportunities to raise consciousness and educate through events highlighting the contribution Lakota culture has made to the state of South Dakota.
Art exhibitions, ecumenical religious services, pow-wows, various dedications of reconciliation artwork, educational events and many other activities far too numerous to list contributed to the breaking down of prejudice and the building of trust through sharing, education and celebration. Especially significant and noteworthy were the events that took place surrounding the celebration of the first Native American holiday in the state of South Dakota and the commemoration of the massacre at Wounded Knee.
On Sunday afternoon, October 7th the Convention Hall in Pierre, South Dakota was filled to overflowing, as members from the various Christian Churches and Lakota spiritual leaders gathered to celebrate an ecumenical observance of the first Native American Day. The service which included prayers, singing, sermons and speeches was followed by a feast and an opportunity to be with persons from all over the state in sharing hopes and reviewing ways to continue the ministry of reconciliation.
The following day the celebration continued at Crazy Horse Monument with the Governor and the Council for the Year of Reconciliation gathering to reflect on the events of the past year and provide a vision for the needed ongoing work of cooperation in the decade and generation to come.
On December 28th, an ecumenical service and vigil began in the community of Wounded Knee culminating in an ecumenical service on December 29th in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the massacre at Wounded Knee. The service included a litany of repentance and prayers for restoration, new beginnings, healing and hope for the future.
Given the events and publicity, along with the praises and criticism of the Year of Reconciliation, what can we conclude in evaluating this year as possibly representing a new beginning for our common life together in the state and Diocese of South Dakota?
From its inception there were critics of the whole concept of a Year of Reconciliation. Some were vocal and registered their suspicion regarding the motivation for the Year of Reconciliation given the fact that this was an election year. Others were critical of the fact that the year seemed to concentrate on celebrations rather than substance.
Still others registered concern that such a year might create the false impression that substantive issues and problems dividing the people of South Dakota had been addressed and resolved. Other individuals and groups raised concerns regarding particular issues such as questions of sovereignty, treaty rights, economic development and curricular revision within the educational systems within the state.
In addition to its critics, the year also had its supporters. Persons from varied backgrounds from around the state caught the Governor’s vision and used the Year of Reconciliation as an opportunity to sensitize, educate and call for new understanding and cooperation. Tribal organizations, churches, educational institutions, businesses, governmental agencies, service clubs, community groups and committed individuals used the call for reconciliation as an opportunity to respond with hard work and personal sacrifice in attempting to bring about understanding, healing and a new sense of cohesiveness in anticipating the decade of the nineties.
Given its critics and supporters, how do we assess the Year of Reconciliation and the work of the Governor’s Council and other groups throughout the state? Any such review would disclose as much about the reviewer as the Year of Reconciliation itself. Said differently, the expectations were as varied as the participants in the many reconciliation events throughout the year.
There were those who had minimal expectations and maintained a pessimistic stance in terms of what such a year could accomplish. At the other extreme there were those who saw the announcement of such a year as heralding a new day and bringing an end to the silent apartheid within our own state. Any measured evaluation of the year must admit to both failures as well as successes.
On the plus side, and perhaps most importantly, the very basis and cause of racism was squarely confronted. Racism can be defined in many ways but in most definitions there is an awareness that ignorance coupled with fear leading to stereotyping result in that phenomenon that we call racial prejudice and haired, which give rise to racism in its individual and institutional forms.
Perhaps the most important contribution of the Year of Reconciliation was in addressing such ignorance. The many articles, speeches and reconciliation events served to sensitize and educate all persons who participated directly or vicariously. As an educational process and an exercise in consciousness raising, the Year of Reconciliation certainly has to be regarded as an overwhelming success.
The initiatives that were borne of the Year of Reconciliation in the area of curriculum revision in the various state schools, grass root organizations wanting to further the work of reconciliation and a new openness and enthusiasm for Lakota/Dakota culture and language are all indicators that the Year of Reconciliation began the process of education in the face of ignorance. The new knowledge and sensitivity has resulted in a mutual understanding which can provide the basis for trust and cooperation.
On the debit side it must be acknowledged that little of substance came by way of new legislation, program or institutional change in addressing some of the ongoing problems that persist. The hard work of advocacy and empowerment have yet to be realized. And yet it is this very criticism that has provided the basis and recognition for the need for this Year of Reconciliation to be continued into the decade and the next generation.
Said differently, its critics have provided the necessary impetus to continue to work toward reconciliation given the realization that reconciliation cannot be accomplished in a year, decade or perhaps even in a lifetime. This past year has been a year of new beginnings, promise and vision in calling us to a new reality, a new way of relating to one another within our state.
It is difficult to assess how the Year of Reconciliation will be regarded historically because it has served as an introduction to needed change rather than a year in which all the changes were accomplished. 1990 served as an invitation, call and vision to a new reality in South Dakota that could bring reconciliation, not only between cultures but also proleptic of other forms of reconciliation in working against discrimination born of age, gender and class. Such reconciliation might also give us a renewed sense of stewardship and vision for reconciliation with not only other people and institutions, but also our environment and the earth itself.
“Reconciliation” has been a word that has enjoyed increased usage in the last several years. Whether the word is employed in talking about the Persian Gulf crisis, apartheid in South Africa, the reunification of Germany or tensions in the far east, reconciliation may be a watch word for the entire globe at this point in history. Given our increasing awareness of interdependence that characterizes our common life together, the idea of a global village presupposes reconciliation between peoples and countries.
The Church has a special role in reconciliation as a “global Church” in recognizing that all reconciliation is first and foremost a spiritual vocation inviting us to a state of righteousness. Righteousness has to do with being in a right relationship with others born of our being in right relationship with God and God’s creation. During this Decade of Evangelization or LI.F.E. (Leadership In Faithful Evangelism), the message of reconciliation is that which we share and proclaim as ministers of Jesus Christ.