RED SHIRT, South Dakota — Hoping to launch a new era of partnership with Native Americans, more than 500 pilgrims spent Memorial Day weekend camping, praying, and pondering new possibilities here at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Taizé Pine Ridge drew young adults from as far away as California, Canada, and Finland to a grassy plateau called Red Shirt Table at the edge of the vast, rugged Badlands. Six monks from the Taizé Community in France led the pilgrims and their Oglala Lakota hosts in simple outdoor Christian worship amid sagebrush and cactuses.
The event — festive at times, somber at others — capped years of collaboration between the Diocese of South Dakota and Lakota communities with longstanding Episcopal ties. While it drew Lutherans, Roman Catholics and others, Episcopalians were especially well represented as tent-toting groups made road trips from Sioux Falls, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago, and Cincinnati, as well as from Indian reservations around South Dakota.
The result was the largest gathering on the Pine Ridge Reservation since 1973, according to Michael Two Bulls, an artist who helped organize Taizé Pine Ridge. In 1973, American Indian Movement activists occupied the town of Wounded Knee for 71 days, where as many as 300 Oglala and Cheyenne River Lakota were massacred on Dec. 29, 1890.
“What happened in 1973 was aggression,” Two Bulls told pilgrims as they arrived. “This is about reconciliation.”
With Taizé Pine Ridge, the monks completed another pilgrimage of trust. These multiday events aim to foster healing among divided peoples through heightened spiritual awareness, hospitality, and simple Christ-centered worship in places all too familiar with strife, such as Kigali, Sarajevo, and Zagreb.
At Pine Ridge, 250 people symbolically confronted a difficult place and troubled time in history. They boarded four buses and visited the mass grave at Wounded Knee, where they joined hands in silence for 20 minutes.
The weekend did not focus on particulars of past injustices or how to make amends. The emphasis was on listening and watching, in the spirit of Isahiah 40, for how God might be doing something new. Each of the seven Taizé-style worship services included long periods of silence and no preaching.
Organizers had no results in mind, they said, other than to bring young people together and see what emerges. Young adults, like the brothers of Taizé, have “a particular charism for the work of reconciliation,” said Rita Powell, coordinator for youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of South Dakota.
“Reconciliation is something that you experience, more than something you talk about,” she said. “That experience of coming together is the fabric of reconciliation. When friendships are developed, friendships easily cross boundaries. And the boundaries are not as firm as you thought.”
G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Photo: Brother Alois, abbot of the Taizé Community, leads worshipers out of the natural amphitheater worship spaces after Morning Prayer on May 25. Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service