South Dakota Conference continues land transfer to Dakota Association

It’s never too late to right a wrong. With that idea in mind, the South Dakota Conference of the United Church of Christ and the Dakota Association came together in a moment that embodies continuous reconciliation; with the conference returning the deeds to eight parcels of land that belong to the association. Winifred Boub, administrator and program coordinator for the Dakota Association, says the process of transferring the lands is one of faithfulness and trust.

“I have been in touch with Robert Burton (chair of the conference land committee) and he worked so hard to get this all done, along with our conference attorney and conference minister,” Boub added. “They are dedicated to get this all done, and so are we. We know it will be completed.”

So far, the South Dakota Conference has transferred nine of 11 tribal land parcels on which UCC churches are located, mostly throughout the eastern portion of the state, to the association.

The deeds to the church lands were held by the mission organizations of the denominations that preceded the UCC and were transferred to the South Dakota Conference after the UCC was formed in 1957. The conference held those deeds for decades “in trust” on behalf of the Dakota Association. It wasn’t until a few years ago that the conference and association began the process of transferring the lands, when the “desire of the Dakota Association to hold the deeds had finally arrived,” said Boub.

The move was what the Rev. James A. Moos called “a moving experience for all,” during the South Dakota Conference annual meeting, which took place June 6-8 at First Congregational UCC in Rapid City, S.D.

“We are fulfilling a contemporary calling to address historic injustices in our time,” said Moos, executive minister of the UCC’s Wider Church Ministries and a national officer of the church.

Two building blocks that paved the way for the tribal land transfer from the conference to the Dakota Association – Sacred Conversations on Race resources and a 2013 General Synod resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.

“The deeds to the lands were held ‘in trust,’ and we were OK with that. There came to a time we felt that we were able to manage our affairs [at the Dakota Association], so we proceeded to incorporate,” Boub said. “About that time, the national office came out with the Sacred Conversations on Race, so we had those conversations [with the South Dakota Conference], because by then we felt at odds with the conference… Eventually, the conference voted to transfer the lands to the Dakota Association.”

As for the General Synod resolution, it passed in early July 2013 and called the church to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and restored seized lands to their rightful owners. The Doctrine of Discovery, which originated out of Christian Europe in the 1400s, was a way to assert a right to claim indigenous lands, territories, and resources on behalf of Christendom, and to subjugate native peoples around the world – including Native Americans in the U.S.

The Rev. David Felton, interim conference minister for the South Dakota Conference, said in August 2013 that the conference, guided by Sacred Conversations on Race the last four years, was working to return more land in the near future. “We began talking and listening to each other. Over the years it has developed into trust and respect,” Felton said. “Our goal is to become sisters and brothers. It is out of these renewed relationships that we returned the first deed two years ago, that we ordained the three most senior Lakota pastors, and that we have returned eight more deeds this year. I believe this is God’s spirit at work in the hearts and minds of the UCC people of South Dakota.”

There was already a precedent to return the lands to the Dakota Association. The South Dakota Conference previously returned the title to church lands to Native Americans of the Dakota Association two years ago at the 2012 annual meeting. Before that, three other parcels were returned to the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe in the 1960s.

However, the restoration of property isn’t complete. After working through legal issues, there are plans to return two more parcels of land to the Dakota Association in the next year, one in Sioux County and another in Knox County, Nebraska.

“They tell me it’s going to take a little more work with contacting attorneys in those states to get those papers processed,” Boub said.

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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