As we gather on these sacred grounds, we recognize that we are on the traditional land of Indigenous people who were driven from their ancestral home through European colonization and settlement.
While neither the federal government nor the commonwealth currently recognize Indigenous nations in Pennsylvania, we would like to recognize and honor the presence and influence of the Indigenous people who cared for and stewarded this land in the past, as well as the more than 12,000 Indigenous people living today in what is now known as Pennsylvania.
We are honored to continue the stewardship and legacy of this sacred land and lovingly tend to God’s creation and share its bountiful fruits with our dear neighbors.
Why We Penned a Land Acknowledgement
As part of our Congregation’s work to end racism and white privilege, we have come to recognize the ways that history so often gets erased. One way of reclaiming history is to learn about and publicly acknowledge the story behind one’s physical place. In our Ecological Ethics of Place from 2007, we recognized many of the people who stewarded what is now the grounds of our Motherhouse before our arrival in 1901. What we did not address in that document was the history of how some of the people came into possession of that land, while others lost possession of it.
A Snapshot of Pennsylvania History
The grounds of our Motherhouse are located on what were known as “depreciation lands.” Toward the end and following the Revolutionary War, Pennsylvania was unable to pay its soldiers and veterans from that war in regular currency and instead issued Certificates of Depreciation to them.
In March of 1783 (prior to the end of the Revolutionary War), the Pennsylvania Legislature passed an act authorizing the use of Certificates of Depreciation for the veterans to purchase certain tracts of land – land which was not yet part of Pennsylvania.
The following year (after the formal end of the Revolutionary War), the federal government (which was then based in Philadelphia) forced the 1784 Treaty of Stanwix on the Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga and Mohawk people, requiring them to relinquish the land north of the Ohio River.
Some of this land, including what is now the grounds of our Motherhouse, became the land that was able to be purchased with the Certificates of Depreciation.
Pennsylvania is one of ten U.S. states that has no federal- or state-recognized tribes within its boundaries. The last Indigenous-held land in Pennsylvania was confiscated by the federal government in the 1960s and permanently flooded following the construction of the Kinzua Dam – a dam built to protect property down-river (such as our Motherhouse grounds) from seasonal and occasional flooding.
We recognize that acknowledging the history of the land on which we reside is a first step toward land justice. We ask your prayers as we move forward on this journey to respond to our commitments to acknowledge our complicity in the sin of racism and other forms of violence, educate ourselves about the structures and ongoing impacts of racism, engage in relationships with persons and communities of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and work to dismantle structures of privilege in ourselves, our Congregation, and the wider community.
One of the more comprehensive explanations of the history of depreciation lands in western Pennsylvania can be found by downloading this article, which was published by Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine in 1925.
For more information on the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, please read this article by the National Park Service.
For more information on the Kinzua dam and its effects on the Seneca people, please watch this brief video.