A Reflection: Heart Mountain Spiritual Pilgrimage 2023

October 26, 2023
By Cora Velez, Park Hill United Methodist Church of Denver, Colorado

The first thing I noticed driving down the long strip of highway to our destination was one, pointy mountain elbowing the sky. As I walked through the historic site, this image of an isolated, solid rock kept coming back to me. 
It was a sunny day, with a slight breeze that showed off the yellow grass sprouting like a furry coat all around us. After hearing the traditional story of the mountain and a song from the Apsaalooke (Crow) man who is Spiritual Caretaker here, there was a reverent murmur among our group as we walked the meditation path, then the Visitor’s Center. My Mom and I brought a tobacco pouch from Colorado which we left in the waiting crook of a nearby Cottonwood.  As we sang our small prayer, I thought of The Spirit present here – in the beauty around us and within us all mixed up with the loss and the suffering. I thought of how many periods in our short history on Earth that we find this complicated human experience mirrored in each other and why God’s willingness to go through it is so moving. I wished that those who had lived on this land heard our recognition of them and their story, with our promise to keep sharing it. Is that the power of walking in someone else’s shoes for a time – the gift of stretching our stories even longer?
The exhibits were breath-taking and emotional. It is obviously important to the curators that they show what it was like from the point of view of the people who lived through Confinement. It helped me think about how hard it would be for me to leave my dog or my friends, especially not knowing where I would go and what it would be like. Not knowing what comes next is scary, even more frightening if you have lost everything you know like your home and your school. It was also empowering to see how - even though they were treated as prisoners without committing a crime - people were able to find ways to preserve their culture and traditions and keep going. With all that they had to give up and all the pain they went through, they didn’t give up. There is not one story of suicide or running away. There are only stories of how people fought the injustices in different ways. For example, there were court challenges, religious celebrations and sports. As someone who likes to paint and draw, I was happily surprised at the amount of art done even by youth at the camp. There was also sculpture, stone carving, carpentry, poetry and painting. To me this shows more than just surviving. In this way, the people detained there were like the mountain watching over them – even though they were put out there alone to be separate from others, they stood tall and persevered. You might feel this same symbolism if you visit the Japanese Confinement Historic Site at Heart Mountain, but I wonder what part of your own story you will find there too.