- Who We Are
- What We Do
- Partnership Model
- Focus Areas
- Campaigns and Actions
- Public Policy
- UU College of Social Justice
- What You Can Do
- Ways to Give
- Get Involved
- Enlist Your Congregation
- Read Our Blog
- Shop in Our Store
- Media Center
- Volunteer Network Resources
- Campaign Resources
- Multimedia Resources
- Congregational Resources
Return to the Earth, by Beth Brownfield
Beth Brownfield of the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship in Washington state is a participant in the UUSC Return to the Earth JustWorks camp.
I met Lawrence Hart, Cheyenne peace chief and director of the Cheyenne Cultural Center of Clinton, Okla., in Washington, D.C., in March 2006. He told us then about a project called Return to the Earth. He explained how between 600,000 and 2 million Native American remains were collected and are still stored in our museums and universities; of these, up to 110,000 of them are “unidentified.” This means that information about where they were collected was either not taken or lost.
Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), tribes may claim those remains that are identified pertinent to their culture. There was nothing in place for claiming and burying with honor the unidentified remains.
Hearing Lawrence describe his program and understanding the call to study their materials, construct burial boxes (the size of a human skull), and sew burial clothes, I knew that this was something Unitarian Universalist congregations could do as an act of restorative justice. I also interested Lawrence in hosting a UUSC JustWorks camp where people from across the nation could come and work on finishing up this first burial site.
It is beyond description to share the emotions and thrill of participating physically in this project with other committed people. We have had incredible teachings from Lawrence, shared meals prepared by his wife Betty, and learned a lot about Cheyenne culture. We have worked hard, scraping rust off of fence posts and painting them brick red. We also completed painting the building that will house the remains as they are repatriated, the burial boxes and burial cloths, as they are completed, and until proper ceremony and reburial can take place.
Return to the Earth is an effort of love, compassion, restorative justice, and reconciliation. What an honor it is to be a small part of its unfolding. My husband Jerry and I are participants in this JustWorks camp. I have a commitment to bring this project of study, building burial boxes, and sewing burial cloths to congregations in the Pacific Northwest and then to the entire country.
Our Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship had 39 people participate in this study-action program. It was profound. Not only did we learn about repatriation work, but we also learned about our neighboring tribes, Indian boarding schools, sovereignty, and treaties.
Return to the Earth is made for UUs' commitment to the worth and dignity of all people, and to justice and compassion in human relations. JustWorks carries that commitment several steps beyond that.