November is Indigenous People’s Month, which is a time to celebrate the diverse cultures, histories, and traditions of indigenous people. At the same time, it is a month to educate ourselves about the challenges faced historically and in the present by Native peoples and recognize how we are connected to those struggles. This Land Acknowledgement and Indigenous People’s Month Statement incorporates both elements in an acknowledgement of our relations to indigenous people, the land we occupy, and our church’s history. This is intended to be a start of a longer conversation and intended to inspire our community to investigate how we should attempt to act more justly with this information.
Indigenous peoples always have lived on the land now called Kentucky and continue to live here today. We remember, honor, and mourn the peoples who environmentally managed and cared for this land before the arrival of European settlers. Briefly living on these lands were the Osage, Wyndott tribe, and Miami peoples. The Adena and Hopewell peoples lived here permanently. Some of their mounds remain in the Lexington area, including at UK’s Adena Park.

 In more recent years, the Cherokee lived in southeast Kentucky, the Yuchi in southwest Kentucky, the Chickasaw in western Kentucky and the Shawnee in central Kentucky, including what is now the city of Lexington. White settler violent attacks forced the Shawnee to leave what is now known as Kentucky in the late 1700s. The US federal government forcibly removed the Shawnee from all their ancestral land through treaties and federal law by the 1830s. Today, the Shawnee Tribe is headquartered on a reservation in Oklahoma, and their citizens are working to reclaim their language, culture, and land.

As Presbyterians, we have a complex history with indigenous peoples of the Americas beyond the land we occupy. Though there are many Native American Presbyterians, and some Presbyterians actively opposed the Trail of Tears, many Presbyterians participated in violent land theft, forced migration, military attacks against tribes, and abuse of children through Indian Boarding Schools. Over 28 Presbyterian Indian Schools have been identified by the Presbyterian Historical Society and continue to be researched to determine what abuse occurred in this schools (cultural, physical, sexual, etc). Indigenous nations, the Presbyterian Historical Society, and researchers continue to investigate ways the church and its members harmed indigenous communities. The Presbyterian Church USA is working to renounce doctrines and policies that supported systemic racism, the stealing of children from tribes, and endorsed settler colonialism. At the General Assembly in 2022, the PCUSA renounced the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny, which played a huge role in encouraging theft and violence against indigenous communities by settlers in the name of the church and God. At Maxwell Street, we recognize the complicity of our denomination, and we are committed to rethinking our relations to the land, indigenous people, and our community in response to this information.

Our own congregation was founded by First Presbyterian Church of Lexington to minister to the University of Kentucky community, a type of university founded through violent land theft, euphemistically called “land-grant universities”. The United States used military power to massacre indigenous communities, force tribes off their lands, and produce land parcels for settlement in the Upper Midwest, Great Plains, and the West. These land parcels were then transferred to states through the Morrill Act of 1862. The Morrill Act required states to sell this land to create the endowment principal for state agricultural and military science universities, in Kentucky the University of Kentucky and later Kentucky State University. Kentucky raised $164,960 from selling 74 land parcels on land belonging to approximately 38 different indigenous nations.
 We honor indigenous people who are beloved and resilient members of our community, celebrate their spiritual and deep connections to the land we occupy, and refuse historical injustices and theft as the end of our stories together.

Other Resources

Christianity, Colonialism, and Relationships with Indigenous Peoples Book on theology and the doctrine of discovery: The Land Is Not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery by Sarah Augustine

Book on the personal journey of an Indigenous Christian woman reclaiming her traditions and culture Native: Identity Belonging and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin Curtice

Presbyterian Affiliated Boarding Schools:

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition:

Suggested other Resources:
Film on Indigenous Food Sovereignty:

Articles on Land Grant Universities and indigenous land theft:

Map of Land Parcels and Land Grab Universities: