Native Americans and Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC

On a warm spring afternoon recently, my wife and I visited a rather obscure Washington site — Congressional Cemetery. Located in the Southeast quadrant of DC, it was founded in 1807 as the first unofficial “national cemetery” to be used as the final resting place for Congressmen and Senators who died while in office in our nation’s capital. In addition, it serves as final resting spot for many famous Americans including Declaration of Independence signer Elbridge Gerry, Washington Monument architect Robert Mills, Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and band leader John Phillip Sousa.

We then noticed graves of Native Americans in the cemetery: Apache chief Taza, son of Cochise; Push-Ma-Ta-Na, a general who served under Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans; and Capt. John Rogers, a Cherokee chief and forebearer of American humorist Will Rogers.

Congressional Cemetery Washington DC Native Americans

There were 36 Native Americans buried at Congressional Cemetery. In researching this, I learned that most were in Washington negotiating treaties or agreements with the United States government. While in DC, many contracted various “white man” diseases, such as measles, pneumonia, croup, etc., and died.

Congressional Cemetery Washington DC Native American Headstone

Researching further, I discovered that 374 separate treaties were signed between the U.S. government and various Indian tribes. Almost all were broken, reneged upon or simply ignored.

Why is this important and worth sharing with the Board of Directors of Lutheran Indian Ministries?

First, unlike the history of the U.S. government, it is essential that Lutheran Indian Ministries not break or renege on any of its commitments of support to those Native Americans that it has identified, trained and equipped for ministry and who now serve their tribes as pastors, deacons and laity. We must continue to encourage existing donors to maintain and/or increase their support, as well as bring new donors on board to expand our impact.

Secondly, it is important to continually seek out Native American leaders to join the Board in overseeing the work of Lutheran Indian Ministries and bring their insight, guidance and perspective to our ministry.


Devotional given by Mark Schnarr to Lutheran Indian Ministries Board of Directors meeting March 20, 2015