Wednesday, September 14, 2011

From Wounded Knee to Dancing the Way--my day about the American Indian

If you know me, it's no secret I am in love with INDIA.  Bollywood movies, making chai...and well KOLKATA are just some aspects of it that I enjoy.  Though I wish my blog was more organized or comprehensive, I am going to go ahead and explore a (seemingly) random group of people/issue that has been on my heart.  Another kind of "Indian..."

I invite YOU to learn w/me too--click on the links! comment!

I am having trouble placing the origin of this urge, but I lately it has grown stronger.  I have been wanting to learn more about Native American history.  To hear some TRUTH--about the way of life, culture, and traditions of tribes, about the tragedies and triumphs.  History just makes me so sad AND angry.  My first brush-up with these feelings (besides when I watched Disney's Pocahontas) in recent times was when I saw an exhibit in Denver, Colorado that gave a story of how treaties were blatantly broken and an entire people group exploited over a century (series of photos w/story here).

Since then, I heard from students through the UMD Alternative Spring Breaks program about their volunteering on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  However, I really failed to ever REALLY capture the story of just what happened the indigenous peoples in America.  

I am not an expert in a day, but here's what I did on Monday and learned:

I began my day with watching an HBO movie called Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  It always helps me to SEE what things were like rather than just have the dates, names, and facts written out in front of me.  Through the acting, I could begin to sense what people were actually feeling.  The movie chronicles the Sioux victory at the battle of Little Bighorn, the subsequent attempts to have peace treaties with the white men, and then the massacre at Wounded Knee.

Three main things I pondered after the film--NAMES, LAND, and TREATIES.  Basically, how much identity can be wrapped up in a name and the sadness of how people had to change the name given to them to a "biblical" name.  Then how this applies to learning names--even the hard ones--for me to make MORE of an effort to remember people's names and not be so lazy just because it seems hard or foreign.  The concept of land--I just really liked how one of the main characters said there was no word or phrase in any tribe's tongue about OWNING THE EARTH. Finally, treaties--they can be a bunch of bull #*&%--they can't make peace and create equality, someone has dominance and has the most freedom to break it.

I then spent afternoon exploring the National Museum of the American Indian.  I started with general information about each tribe's culture & beliefs, moved down a floor to learn about histories of each tribe, and then to the floor about "where we are now."  I took in A LOT of information.  For me at museums, I like to read a lot of the text--I don't really look at a ton of the stuff.  Anyways, I also stopped at a learning station to learn about CORN and saw a short AWESOME multi-media film introduction.  I ended my journey in the gift shop & food court--skimming some books and eating delicious vegetarian options from the various regions of tribes.

I took careful notes on how Christians/Christianity was involved amidst it all.  It was probably the most detrimental force for the spirit of the Indian.  Religion was forced on them and used to oppress the people --to devalue their belief system and take away their cultural identity.  There was no attempt to incarnate the gospel with cultural understanding--just judgement.  Boarding schools were instituted by the government and run by the church to assimilate indigenous children.  I eventually found SOME respect for the American Indian by Christians when I read about people who translated the Bible into different indigenous languages and then invited people, rather than force them to hear about Jesus.  It just saddened me how so-called Christians misrepresented the Word made flesh and Creator by not only making the indigenous assimilate, but also how they DID NOT stand in solidarity with them against greedy governmental forces.

Any chance for hope or redemption?


I searched not because I needed to see how "Christianity" is redeemed, but how God is redeeming this to himself.  One thing that came to mind was a speaker, Cheryl Bear, I remember from a conference I went to followed by a performance by the First Nations dance group, Dancing the Way. (WATCH HER SHARE HER STORY followed by THE PERFORMANCE ABOVE).  She shares about her struggles with identity as a First Nation Christian and also about how her and her family travel to every first nation community in the U.S. and Canada to heal past wounds and represent the true Jesus in a way that people of that culture can embrace.  

I also read up on this non-profit on the Pine Ridge reservation that some friends have worked for called RE-MEMBER.  I just LOVED how they described their mission (click to read).  I found it interesting they titled a section on their site "non-evangelical mission," which some Christians may look at it and say THAT'S DOESN'T INVOLVE GOD'S WORK or HOW COULD THIS SERVE PEOPLE, BUT NOT BE EVANGELICAL OR EXPLICITLY CHRISTIAN-BASED?! And I would side with what Re-Members says and say it is still part of God's redeeming work: "RE-MEMBER's approach to outreach ministry is based on our understanding of our Christian responsibility, mandate and desire to feed, clothe, shelter and heal those who are marginalized by society. We do not travel to the Reservation to preach, proselytize or convert."  They seem to have a heavy focus on building relationships.  I know Jesus preached, but I also know he set out a model of BEING with the marginalized and how his gospel story of being God and then  BEING INCARNATED among us is quite a BIG and sufficient model of Christ's kingdom.  HOWEVER, you do not have to be Christian to volunteer with Re-member and I also respect people of all faith-backgrounds working together.

A Quick Poem-ish I wrote
There is no name
           There is no word
Speak it into existence
          Silence it into extinction
Murder the flesh
          But not the spirit
It still cries out
          Echoing--echo, echo!
One cannot contain it
          One cannot wish it away
One can only...hear it
          Remember it
Speak it into existence
          Before silence brings extinction
They have names
          They have words
Stories of massacre
          Some of triumph
They still cry out
           Present-voices heard
They cannot be contained
           Or declared inanimate
We can only LISTEN to them

So now what?
I don't know.  I think the tug on my heart was to LEARN MORE first.  Then SHARE some of what that was and to CONTINUE to remember the stories I've heard.  I hope you explore some too! I will look for opportunities to become involved and keep an ear turned toward the issues indigenous people face today.  Feel free to comment, add some knowledge/wisdom, suggest good books or movies related to this, ask questions...whatever!  :)


  1. I'll have to send you the psalters song called "remember"--it's all about a lot of what you were just talking about.


  3. "weep with us, sing with us": RIP Richard Twiss--