Trail of Death pilgrimage in June

Published: March 20, 2015

Mary E. Klassen

Traveling the Trail of Death, the 1838 forced expulsion of Native Americans from Indiana to Kansas, is planned as a pilgrimage in late June with opportunity for participants consider what it can mean for them today.

The Trail of Death: A Pilgrimage of Remembrance, Lament, and Transformation is coordinated by Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. It will start on June 21 with class sessions at AMBS. The journey itself will begin near Plymouth, Ind., on June 23, and end on June 29 near Osawatomie, Kan.

David Miller, associate professor of missional leadership development, initiated the planning after he listened to Potawatomi leader George Godfrey speak last summer. “There’s so much here that could be investigated and explored as a course,” he realized. So he proposed the pilgrimage with the intent to help people understand what the Potawatomi group experienced and to raise awareness about questions of land, justice and “what shape repentance takes generations later,” he said.

The experience is open to any who want to join with a limit of 15 participants. There are three ways to participate: as a seminary course for three hours of credit, as a course for audit, or as a learning experience without any academic expectations. Students at other seminaries may take the course and transfer credit to their institutions.

Godfrey, a retired professor, member of the Citizen Band of the Potawatomi Nation and president of the Trail of Death Association, will be one of the leaders. In addition, Rich Meyer, a resident of rural Goshen who has studied the effects of the forced expulsion on the region, and Katerina Friesen, AMBS Master of Divinity student, are joining Miller in leading the pilgrimage.

Participants will walk at least one mile of the trail each day, although most of the travel will be in vans. Each night they will set up tents in campgrounds; cook the evening meal and breakfast together; and gather around the campfire for stories, prayer and reflection.

“We can’t do otherwise,” Miller said. “Something will happen around the campfire as we talk. It will capture our imaginations in a different way. If the weather is bad, so be it; it was for those who were forced to make this trek. Our experience will pale in comparison, but still in some way it will be one step closer to what they endured.”

Participants who are not able to camp in tents can still join the pilgrimage, making alternative arrangements nearby hotels. Transportation to and from the hotels will be provided.

At the end of the trek, the group will meet with segments of the tribe who descended from those on the Trail of Death: the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation that settled in Kansas and the Citizen Band that settled in Oklahoma.

Participants who attend Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City, beginning June 30, will be part of a seminar at that event, sharing their reflections on the experience.

Additional information about Trail of Death: A Pilgrimage of Remembrance, Lament, and Transformation is on the web page for the pilgrimage. Questions can be addressed to Katerina Friesen.


For background information on George Godfrey, Potawatomi leader who be part of the pilgrimate, visit

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