#RacialRec: Voice # 2 ~ American Indian

To prepare for my racial reconciliation independent study, I read Dr. Rodney Cooper’s book entitled, We Stand Together: Reconciling Men of Different Color. I appreciate the insight provided by the men of different ethnicities. Each chapter closes with a summary of what the featured race or ethnicity can do, and what those approaching people from that particular ethnic group can do to enhance opportunities for racial reconciliation. Several conclusions shared here are drawn from that resource.

In Chapter Five, Jeff King shares from the perspective of the American Indian. Jeff is an enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek Nation) of Oklahoma on his mother’s side. His father is white.

In the book, Jeff King briefly shares about the Muscogee Creek Nation. In my effort to hear from other voices in the Muscogee Creek nation, I found a Creek history and storytelling interview with Principal Chief George Tiger who echoes King’s sentiments.

Who are the American Indians?

American Indians are either referred to as such, or as Native Americans or indigenous peoples. Indians use the term Indian amongst themselves. Jeff recommends using American Indian when addressing this particular people group, at least until a personal relationship is developed.

American Indian demographics from Dr. Cooper’s resource are provided in the previous post. A brief history of the American Indians reveals a common thread of oppression and mistreatment at the hands of whites. When European settlers arrived, land was taken from the American Indians. In an attempt at maintaining some level of fairness, treaties were established with the United States government. However, King writes that over 400 of those treaties were broken. In attempts to educate, civilize the Indian people, and convert them to Christianity, Europeans stole the Indians property; often ignored the Indian ways of life; undermined the role of the Indian parents; and removed Navajo children from their homes and families, while forcing them to learn and speak the English language. Until the 1920s, “the federal government strongly enforced this ‘process of assimilation’ (84).”

Why do we need to get the Thanksgiving story right:

When I spoke with Kimberly Owen, she revealed prior to the Europeans arrival, her tribe had a regular culture of offering thanksgiving and celebration. Thanksgiving was not a one time event or simply an annual thing. Our celebration of Thanksgiving is at least in part adopted from the history and traditions of the Indian people. We need to honor this truth when celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday with our children. Thanksgiving is not just about celebrating the Pilgrims, their “Christian” heritage, and all the “goodness” they brought to this country. In many ways, Thanksgiving can be a time for us to confess sins against the Indian people, while honoring their history and sacrifices as we continue to benefit as a result of them. We can correct the stories of the history books and the false images shared through our school systems.

King sets the record straight in his writing: “The Wampanoag tribe [helped] save the Pilgrims that first Thanksgiving…the Wampanoags did not live in tepees. Plains tribes lived in tepees; most Northeastern tribes lived in longhouse or similar structures (85).” We have much to learn about the stereotypes of American Indians that we have so nonchalantly accepted as truth.

What can the American Indian do for racial reconciliation to take place?

1. Be willing to forgive.

2. Be willing to embrace the love and forgiveness of Christ.

3. Be willing to work through feelings of bitterness.

4. “Probably the most difficult task for us as Indian men is to address the issues of discrimination, prejudice, inequity, ignorance, and oppression without becoming like those we oppose (93).” Be willing to take this risk of confrontation.

5. Be willing to “cultivate an attitude that trusts a faithful Creator who will right all wrongs and execute righteous judgment throughout the earth (1 Pet. 2:23; 4:17-19) (93).”

What can non-Indians can do for racial reconciliation to take place?

1. Be willing to recognize the sins against the Indians and be willing to ask for forgiveness, even though you did not directly complete them.

2. Be actively involved in the reconciliation process.

3. Be willing to understand: To “live in harmony with the Indian also means that one lives in harmony with the group. Cooperation rather than competition is emphasized [among the Native American culture]…In Indian culture what is emphasized is interdependency, being part of the group, and allowing others’ input into your decision making (94).”

4. Be willing to recognize that generally, “time is not of the essence to the Indian man…time is not a big issue for Native people (94-95).”

To find more accurate stories concerning the American Indian people group, Jeff King recommends the following TV documentaries:

How the West Was Lost,” a historical presentation of U.S. truces

In the White Man’s Way”, a look at Indian boarding schools and education. Actual video is linked.

Natasha: PBS.org also has a channel of Native American documentaries viewable online.

Here are a couple of present day Christian American Indian voices to pay attention to:

Richard Twiss, President of Wiconi International. I look forward to hearing him speak at The Justice Conference in February 2013.

Tom Claus, Founder and President of Chief Ministries.

All summaries, paraphrases, a research from Rodney Cooper’s, We Stand Together: Reconciling Men of Different Color, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995.

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