First Americans

Kelly Lafferty Gerber I CNHI News Indiana

SHIRLEY  WILLARD, with the Fulton County Historical Society and organizer of the event, talks about why she thinks an apology should be issued during Indiana Indian Day on Saturday, April 22, at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Rochester

Tribal descendants accept apology for Trail of Death

at Gathering in Rochester, includes governor's proclamation


ROCHESTER - Descendants of the Potawatomi and Miami tribes were given a formal apology recently for their ancestors being driven out of the state, which resulted in the Trail of Death, a forced emigration of Native Americans from Indiana to Kansas in the 1800s.

Community members gathered Saturday at St, Joseph Catholic Church in Rochester as the stories of the Potawatomi and Miami Indians and their forced removal were told,

"There is an old Indian prophecy that a Great Awakening will start in Indiana and spread across the nation and world," said Shirley Willard, event organizer and member of the Potawatomi Trail of Death .Association "We believe it has started."

Ceremonies began with a blessing to reclaim peace by Father Mike McKinney in the very area the Potawatomi Indians were forced to leave. Main Street, which sits adjacent to the church, is where the tribe

was marched at gunpoint out of the town.

State Rep. Bill Friend then read a proclamation by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to commemorate the event as the official Indiana Indian Day.

"The state of Indiana recognizes the special and historical significance of the many Indian tribes that have their legacy cemented in Indiana history as well as the sacrifices that these groups have made throughout the history of Indiana," the proclamation read.

And for descendants of the two tribes, acknowledgement by government officials of the atrocities that took place in September 1838 for the Potawatomi and in October 1846 for the Miami means continued healing.

The ceremony included stories and a play dedicated to the Potawatomi and Miami ancestors, performed by fourth-graders from Bethany Christian (Mennonite) School in Goshen. Descendants of both tribes were also given the opportunity to reflect on their heritage and what it meant to have the community come together in mourning and to ask for forgiveness.

"For the governor to agree with the citizens, it's a land- mark," said Brian Buchanan, principal chief of the Miami

Nation of Indians of the state of Indiana.

It's an epitome of citizenship in the state of Indiana right now and I thank the governor. Unfortunately, I don't have that feeling with state legislation and haven't for many, many years"

At least six Miami Indians died as a result of their journey before settling farther west. There were 42 known deaths from the Potawatomi tribe. To- day, Native Americans still struggle to receive legislative support for their communities, Buchanan said.

"That's a good start, for the future to come, but we're still fighting the same battles we were 25 to 30 years ago" he said. "And I don't see that changing anytime soon."

Attendees also recited an emotional apology as the descendants of the two tribes stood in place of their ancestors.

"Therefore we, the citizens of Indiana, on behalf of the slate of Indiana, do issue this formal apology to the Native American Indians whose ancestors were forced to leave Indiana," the crowd read in unison. "We ask for your forgiveness, and pledge to tell the stories of this tragic part of our state's history so that the suffering of your people may not be forgotten,"