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Church Input I
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TitleChurch Input I
DescriptionThe arrival of the missionaries and their religion often confused the Indian people. In Virginia Irving Armstrong's anthology of Indian views, I Have Spoken; Sitting Bull summarizes a part of the confusion. During a discussion with John Carnigan, a school teacher at Standing Rock, Sitting Bull says, "Our religion seems foolish to you, but so does yours to me. The Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians and the Catholics all have a different God. Why cannot we have one of our own? Why does the agent seek to take away our religion?" An Analysis of Protestant Missions and American Indian Response of 1787-1862 by Robert F. Berkhoffer, Jr. contend that "these missionaries sought nothing less than a revolution in social relations and basic values of the Indian. The only other agency capable of demanding such a transformation was the government, and it "hired" the missionaries in most instances in which it desired such change. Thus, of all the forces for acculturation from the Revolution to the Civil War, missionaries pushed more aggressively for change than any other whites, but while they led the drive, they still acted within the larger framework of contact: governmental coercion in the form of army and annuity and increased white contact due to advancing settlement." Robert Fox, an ordained minister and native of the Ft. Berthold Reservation relates the background of the government employed missionaries. "To give a little background.... ex order....sent by government....educational system perhaps just educational center on Indian reservation....I find myself a little critical....Indian religion nearly a thing of past....We have lost many things.... land, life style, respect....defeated people....because our whole life style has been changed." Mr. Burkhoffer's research and analysis agree with Mr. Fox's statement, "Not only was the convert to abandon his old rites and priests for new ones and alter his attitudes toward the universe and his neighbors about him, but he was to change profoundly his secular ways as well. Religion, in addition to being a philosophy of the unknown, is a system for ranking basic values, and thus a new religion implies new behavior. With the added stress of the white civilization true Indian conversion meant nothing less than a total transformation of native existence. While the missionaries may not have instituted the New Jerusalem in the forests, which they hoped, they did much of the traditional tribal life." Father A. M. Beede proved to be an exception to this rule of the missionary. His story is related in Ernst and Julie Seton's book The Gospel of the Redman, Father A.M. Beede, a Jesuit missionary went to Standing Rock, Fort Yates, North Dakota in 1887 as an enthusiastic young religionist. Convinced that the highest calling on earth was that of a missionary, his noblest triumph would be the conversion of these Indians to his particular form of Christianity. After learning the language and studying the peoples philosophy, he ceased calling them "benighted heathens" and admitted that they were a noble race with high standards of religion and ethics and that the Medicine Lodge of the Sioux nation was in his words "A true Church of God, and we have to right to stamp it out." He describes the society as follows: "hospitals for the poor would be useless among them, there are no beggars; those who have are so liberal to those who are in want, that everything is enjoyed in common, the whole village must be in distress before any individual is left in necessity." Consequently, he abandoned his role as missionary and studied law, becoming their legal advisor, because in his words. "I realized that the Sioux were worshippers of the one true God, and their religion was one of truth and kindness. They do not need a missionary, but they do need a lawyer to defend them in the courts." In the book Red Man's America by Ruth Murray Underhill, the trend of the federal government during the period of 1869-1921 is recounted. "President Grant's administration began this period of strict reservation supervision." President Grant made efforts to improve the management of reservations by appointing agents nominated by the churches (1869-79). It was no solution. The church nominees were often poor administrators and more interested in gaining converts for their sects than in studying the Indian question." The missionaries' interest in gaining converts for each their own religious sect is described by Mr. Robert Fox. "The competition carried on....Roman of horse and buggy....never did receive horses and buggy.... Roman Catholics made a purchase of Indian human life." This competition between religious sects led Chief Joseph of Nez Perce Reservation to ban white man's churches. He explained, "They will teach us to quarrel about God, as Catholics and Protestants do on the Nez Perce Reservation and other places. We do not want to do that. We may quarrel with men sometimes about things on earth, but we never quarrel about the Great Spirit. We do not want to learn that." During an interview with Sharon Cobb, Mr. Fox describes the Indians reactions to missionaries. "What was reaction? Mistrust.... keeps Indian people from carrying on with their ceremonies." To add to the Indians' discouragement, his native ceremonies were forbidden, particularly the Sun Dance, whose temporary discomforts were set down as barbarous. In addition, to forbidding traditional ceremonies, Mr. Fox comments on their missionaries other activities. "What seemed to be activities of missionaries? First thing...forbid the Indian people to speak in their own by their attitude we lost our language" The Record, a newspaper published in 1861, gives the account of the "Applications of Sioux Indians to Become Citizens, "Like many missionaries, the judge was unwilling to accept less than complete transformation of Indian life. Though these eight Sioux had learned to live as industrious agrarians as the missionary had demanded, they were denied the rights given to white farmers because they still spoke their native tongue. This experience was symbolic of the Christian Indian's quest 5or citizenship and acceptance in a white man's world. Hence it is evident that the activities and attitudes of the missionaries' fellow whites were important to the success and failure of mission work." A reprint of the governmental rationale is found in Red Man's America, 1887 it was obvious that the Indians were not changing their way of life, and many were still being subsisted by the government. As an incentive to farming and a means of using the land not farmed, the Allotment Act was passed, permitting allotment of land to individuals in severalty with full ownership when they proved able to handle money. Un-allotted reservation land was then opened for white settlement." "Looking back on this period with today's knowledge, we are appalled at the lack of understanding shown the red man. Most of the planners were not even aware of the fact that some of the tribes were agriculturists who, with intelligent help, could be expected to settle peaceably, while some were hunters whose very roots were being destroyed" An evaluation of the Indian land loss due to the governmental actions is made by Mr. Fox. "I feel that the was valuable....because they didn't do this....many people lost good land.... missionaries who come to educate Indian people criticized for this." The ownership of land was not understood by the Indian, according to Ruth Murray Underhill, "The Indians, whose activities were collective, who had, plenty of land for roaming and no need for private ownership considered that they were selling only the right to use the land, not its permanent possession, with all trespass forbidden. They could not understand the land hunger of the whites, who had lived in something like a caste system, under landlords who could eject them at any time. Nor could they understand their demands for obedience to the white customs." Leo Cadotte, past tribal judge and native of the Standing Rock Reservation reviews the attitudes of the non-Indian toward land and gold. "After discovery of gold more aggressive one really against....Bishop Harris....Indians won't get square deal especially when it comes to gold." Bishop Harris' views were unique among the missionaries according to Mr. Cadotte. The more common approach is related by Mr. Cadotte, "You know they put fear....missionaries even resp....they played possum as long as they were selling their religion....I Would say never did understand Christianity....they thought Christianity was a joke, they didn't accept it." At least a portion of the missionaries failures were a result of misconceptions the missionaries believed about the people they were serving. Francis Bakke states in "Baptist Missionary Magazine" of 1851; "Very indefinite, not to say erroneous, ideas prevail respecting the character and condition of the Indians. He came to learn that the milder affections are active, especially in their domestic relations, and their hospitality to strangers is proverbial." Often the energetic missionaries failed to understand the new culture they were viewing. Alvina Alberts relates one example of this. "I always think of the story of old Indians....Indians went to please people....all around....everyday....feel this way." This concept of daily worship is recorded in the Gospel of the Redman. "In the life of the Indian, " says Ohiyesa, the Sioux, "There was only one inevitable duty - duty of prayer, the daily recognition of the Unseen and Eternal. His daily devotions were more necessary to him than daily food. He wakes at daybreak, puts on his moccasins, and steps down to the water's edge. Here he throws handfuls of clear, cold water into his face, or plunges in bodily. After the bath, he stands erect before the advancing dawn, facing the sun as it dances upon the horizon, and offers his unspoken prayer.. His mate may precede or follow him in his devotions, but never accompanies him. Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone!" The traditional missionary approach is described by Mr. Fox. "That when the missionaries came....this is devils way....get rid of everything." Generally, missionaries' belief maintained that the only good Indian was a carbon copy of a good white man. As a Methodist missionary, John H. Pitezel states in his book Lights and Shades of Missionary Life: "In the school and in the field as well as in the kitchen, our aim was to teach the Indians to live like white people. Hence the Indian utopia envisaged by the directors of the various societies was the same - a mirror of their ideal world." Mr. Cadotte describes this very philosophy which was implemented by the mission. He comments on the success of the programs and the suppression of culture. "Frankly....most of religion comes from Ft. Totten....Jesuits....schools....After while they expanded....all taught by sisters....sad thing.... prohibited native language.... in homes maintained good....left alone....retained native language....they would have done better." The missionaries unknowingly contributed to even another loss by changing the Indians names to "Christians" names or non-Indian names. Mr. Cadotte explains. "Most of Indians....went by own homes....missionaries....gave non-Indian name....ID is lost." Mr. Berkhoffer's research of early missionary approach concludes that, "Missionary belief in the inferiority of aboriginal customs and morality only emphasized the necessity for the character training of the youth, for they aimed to revamp Indian life by raising a godly generation. The missionary hoped to snatch the children before their "habits of life" were formed and teach them to become "fluent readers write a good hand, " and see them "well instructed in the arts and customs of civilization, refined and docile in their manners, (and) have their minds stored with considerable knowledge of Christianity." By thus instructing the untrained children/ the missionaries would, as Gideon Blackburn said, "not only rescue the rising race from savage manners, but also to light up beacons, by which the parents might gradually be conducted into the same field of improvement." Alvina Albert comments on this educational theory. She was subjected to the theory in the mission school at Ft. Totten. "It seems that schools in the old days....even talk Indian....thank God for summers....harder to get used to school....they couldn't be....product of boarding.... Whiteman's teaching....I'm not too much for church." The early missionaries were ignorant the values of the Indian culture. Even today, "The American Indian is probably the most studied but least understood of our cultural minorities" according to David Ramage, Jr. in the study The Right To BE Indian. "He is a historical curiosity, a villain in western stories, the object of anthropological research and the recipient of considerable missionary effort, is still subjected to the fears and prejudices of his white neighbors. Our historical relationships with our Indian brothers have created some peculiar problems for the present and future." Mr. Fox evaluates the role of church input in this situation. "This is my reason of being critical....instead of studying.... understand Indian people....people are confused about the status Indian people."
Ordering InformationConsult:
Date of Original1973?
General SubjectIndians of North America
Subject (LCTGM)Religion
Subject (LCSH)Indians of North America
Indians of North America - Spiritual life
Indians of North America - Education
Organization NameUnited States. Bureau of Indian Affairs
LocationNorth Dakota
United States
Item NumberUA Mss. 10. program 14
Format of OriginalTranscripts
NotesScript from the "For Eagles to be Crows" Collection, no audio file available.
Biography/HistoryProgram part of the "For Eagles to be Crows" radio series by KDSU broadcast in 1973.
Publisher of OriginalKDSU Radio (Radio station : Fargo, N.D.)
Place of PublicationFargo (N.D.)
Repository InstitutionNorth Dakota State University Libraries, University Archives
Repository CollectionFor Eagles to be Crows Collection UA Mss 10
Collection Finding AidConsult:
Credit LineNDSU Archives
Rights ManagementCopyrights to this collection remain with the University Archives.
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