Trail of Death
A Pilgrimage of Remembrance, Lament, and Transformation
This nine-day pilgrimage traces the route of the 1838 forced removal of Potawatomi people by the U.S. military from their ancestral homeland in northern Indiana to present-day Osawatomie, Kansas. Pilgrims will remember the history of this expulsion through reading journals from the removal and prayerfully walking a few miles of the route each day. Katerina Friesen, instructor, Rich Meyer, a local historian and educator, and George Godfrey (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), president of the Potawatomi Trail of Death Association, will travel with the group as co-leaders. Along the way, pilgrims will meet with descendants of those who were deported from Indiana. Pilgrims will examine what it means to inhabit lands from which others were expelled, what priorities and theologies fueled that expulsion, and what it means to seek God's shalom in our moment and place in time.
Katerina Friesen, instructor, is a Mennonite pastor and educator whose work focuses on inviting the church to reparative justice for the ongoing harms of colonialism and racism. She recently created a curriculum for Anabaptist congregations about the Doctrine of Discovery, which accompanies a documentary film available on the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition website: dofdmenno.org
George Godfrey, PhD (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), is a retired university professor and president of the Potawatomi Trail of Death Association who has dedicated the last 25 years of his life to researching the history of the Potawatomi people, and will join the journey to facilitate the learning and discussion. Biographical Information about Dr. Godfrey | George Godfrey Writings
Rich Meyer, trip navigator, is a northern Indiana historian who started his research and relationship-building with Potawatomi people by asking three questions about the farmland he owns near Goshen: Whose land was this before white settlement? How did the people lose their land? Where are their descendants today? Rich has participated in numerous Trail of Death Caravans led by descendants of the Trail of Death through the Potawatomi Trail of Death Association, which inspired this pilgrimage class.
Lodging: Lodging during the pilgrimage will be in tents, in order to better enter into the original experience. Tents will be provided, but participants may bring their own if they wish.
For those who require hotel lodging, planners will recommend a hotel near each overnight stop and those participants are responsible to make their own reservations and cover those costs; transportation to and from the recommended hotel will be provided.
Meals: The cost of meals will be included in the pilgrimage fee. Meals will be a combination of eating in restaurants and preparing meals at the overnight campsites.
"At the beginning of the pilgrimage, I was compelled to feel sympathy for the Potawatomi people. But the more reading we did, the more we heard from Native peoples, the more I realized that they are survivors, a strong and courageous community. Rather than seeing them as victims, I saw them as my teachers." — Amy Kratzer, Associate Pastor, Sunnyside Mennonite Church, 2015 participant
'The Trail of Death' pilgrimage was an incredibly relevant, informative, and life-transforming experience. Through this experiential learning journey, we developed a lens into the ways in which United States citizens, political representatives, and churches participated in the past, present, and future exploitation of American Indian people. We also developed ways in which we can, and must be, an active part of ending these oppressive systems and structures of exploitation." — Grant Swanson, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary student, 2017 particpiant
The most recent Trail of Death course took place June 1–9, 2017. Registration for the next pilgrimate is not available at this time.
What is the Trail of Death?
The Potawatomi Trail of Death was the forced removal of the Potawatomi Indians from north central Indiana to eastern Kansas in the fall of 1838. Read more.
- Download the itinerary
- See the series of maps created created by Shirley Willard, Eric and Susan Campbell, George Godfrey, with help from Rich Meyer.
Credit or audit
Participants in the pilgrimage may earn three credit hours of graduate study, take the course as auditors, or may join the pilgrimage for no credit. For those earning credit, the course may be taken as an HTE or a CHM course. Credit also may be transferred to other ATS schools.
2017 Course Reading
- George Godfrey Biographical Information
- George Godfrey Writings
- Indigenous Land Cessations in the US
- The Doctrine of Discovery - The Legal and Theological Basis for the Removal of First Nations Peoples
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is a sponsor of the 2017 Trail of Death Pilgrimage.