NEW YORK – Members of one of America's oldest Protestant churches officially apologized Friday — for the first time — for massacring and displacing Native Americans 400 years ago.
"We consumed your resources, dehumanized your people and disregarded your culture, along with your dreams, hopes and great love for this land," the Rev. Robert Chase told descendants from both sides. "With pain, we the Collegiate Church, remember our part in these events."
The minister spoke on Native American Heritage Day at a reconciliation ceremony of the Lenape tribe with the Collegiate Church, started in 1628 in then-New Amsterdam as the Reformed Dutch Church.
The rite was held in front of the Museum of the American Indian in lower Manhattan, where Dutch colonizers had built their fort near an Indian trail now called Broadway, near Wall Street.
The Collegiate Church was considered the "conscience" of the new colony, whose merchants quickly developed commerce with the world in fur and grains — till then the turf of the natives.
Surrounded by Lenape Indians, the Dutch colonists "were hacking men, women and children to death," said Ronald Holloway, the chairman of the Sand Hill band of Lenapes, who lived here before Henry Hudson landed 400 years ago.
The Indians dispersed across the country, eventually ending up on government-formed reservations. On Friday, some came from as far away as Oklahoma.
During the ceremony, Chase embraced Holloway and, as symbolic gestures of healing, the two sides exchanged wampum — strings of beads used by North American Indians as money or ornament. A boy representing the Lenapes and a girl from the Collegiate Church put necklaces on each other.
While Friday's ceremony exuded warmth and openness, accompanied by an Indian drumming circle and the haunting sound of a wooden flute, the feelings leading up to the reconciliation were mixed.
"After 400 years, when someone says 'I'm sorry,' you say, 'Really?' " Holloway said before the ritual. "There was some kind of uneasiness. But then you've got to accept someone's sincere apology; they said, 'We did it. We ran you off, we killed you.' "
In New York City, the Collegiate churches are composed of four congregations including the landmark Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue led by the late Rev. Norman Vincent Peale.
The church plans to sponsor educational activities and exhibits to teach children history — including the Indian reverence for preserving the purity of the land taken over by the Dutch colonists.