No Wonder

Whipple

“I know of no other instance in history where a great nation has so shamefully violated its oath. Our country must forever bear the disgrace and suffer the retribution of its wrongdoing. Our children’s children will tell the sad story in hushed tones and wonder how their fathers dared so to trample on justice and trifle with God.”

The above quote was penned by Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple, the first Episcopalian Bishop of Minnesota, advocate for Native peoples, and negotiator for the U.S. He earned the name “Straight Tongue” from the Native people he tried to reach. Those sobering words were in response to the flagrant U.S. violations of the Fort Laramie Treaty with the Lakota (Sioux) people.

My purpose in highlighting these haunting words is not to revisit the violations of the treaty, but to point out that Bishop Whipple and other churchmen of the day actually believed that “to trample on justice” is to “trifle with God.” Do we believe that today?

Another sobering reality is that Whipple’s prediction that “our children’s children” would somehow “tell the sad story in hushed tones and wonder how their fathers dared so to trample on justice and trifle with God.” The sad reality is that the children’s children don’t know the story. As a country and a church, we are have mostly forgotten about our Native neighbors. More than that, people today in this country don’t even know what to forget—they never knew. And our Native neighbors know that about us.

Ancient History?

Many people are actually surprised to know that Native Americans still actually exist. And most of those Americans who do know that Native Americans exist view their first neighbors according to stereotypes created for them by Hollywood, U.S. public and private school education, headlines, and good old mascots.


Reel Injun

If you are willing to take a hard look at the main source of our “knowledge” of Native America, then you must watch Reel Injun a 2009 Canadian documentary film directed by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond, Catherine Bainbridge, and Jeremiah Hayes that explores the portrayal of Native Americans in film.


The seemingly dominant view of Native American history begins with the Pilgrims and ends with the so-called Indian Wars, which ended at the massacre of Wounded Knee in 1890. In the minds of most Americans I speak with, there is a clean, bold line of demarcation separating the past from the present — a that-was-then-this-is-now paradigm that ignores the entire 20th century’s continual assault on Native peoples. We are stuck on the false notion that all the injustices happened a long time ago, and the Native Americans today simply refuse to get over it.

What was so bad about the 20th century?

What most Americans are unaware of is that the 20th century was one of the most harmful centuries to Native American and First Nations in our history together. People wonder why there is so much brokenness among Native America and First Nations people. The is answer is quite simple: Because they were broken.

One of most important chapters in that story of brokenness happened during our lifetime. The boarding/residential school experiment took Native children away from their family and communities, beginning in 1878 at the Carlisle Indian School. The boarding school movement spread throughout the U.S. and Canada, lasting for a century.

To learn more about this dark stain on our history, see my two posts below to hear Native people in their own words:

The Indian Boarding School Movement: Christian Complicity, part 1

The Indian Boarding School Movement: Christian Complicity, part 2

If you thought that all of the problems in Indian country were a result of casinos, government handouts, and some kind of genetic propensity towards alcoholism, then you will have to re-adjust our equation. They live with realities that we just don’t understand. They live in a story that was written for them by a dominant culture that tried to “civilize” and “Christianize” them. Now we as modern-day Christians wonder why there is so much distrust among our first neighbors towards Christians.

In order for us to be good witness for Christ, we need to be good neighbors. Let’s give Jesus a better witness in Indian country. Let’s go in meekness and love. Let’s get some genuine understanding of our Native neigbors before we ask questions like, why don’t they assimilate? or why don’t they just get over the past? Let’s just meet them where they are at and love our Native neighbors.

New Wonder

We have a vast and diverse mission field underneath our feet (I never say “our own back yard”). Perhaps the Lord will give our children’s children a sense of wonder when they look back on us as we followed the Lord of the Harvest into His field in Native America. Perhaps it will be Native children’s children that will be evangelizing our children’s children one day. We cannot predict the Lord, but we must obey Him. I believe is calling us into Native America to discover what He is already doing. Let’s go.

Recommended readings:

Dear Missions Commitee

RECONCILIATION: It’s Not as Black and White as It Seems

Who Needs Fixing?: A New Perspective on Native American Missions

Native Americans: Reached, Unreached, or Mis-reached?

Now You Know: Answering the call to Native America

Let’s talk at GA booth #249.

Patrick Lennox

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Patrick & Regina Lennox

Missionaries to Native America

Mission to the World

Phone: 407.416.1482

Email: LennoxLetters@gmail.com

Blog: www.lennoxletters.com
Facebook.com/patrick.r.lennox
Twitter: @patricklennox

Instagram: @patrick_lennoxletters

RECONCILIATION: It’s Not as Black and White as It Seems

A couple of years ago, I attended a gathering of church leaders gathered to discuss racial reconciliation particularly in light of the PCA’s relations with the black community. Leading the discussion was a well-known and respected theologian and another gentleman who had recently authored a book relative to the topic being discussed. Following their presentation, there was a time of Q & A and discussion. As a missionary to Native America, I couldn’t resist voicing an observation. It went something like this, “I hear a lot about racial reconciliation being talked about, but I notice that it is nearly exclusively about black and white relations, and a little about Hispanic folks, but I have yet to hear anything about Native Americans.”

no-hope-beyond-pointUnfortunately what followed was anything but hopeful. The main speaker acknowledged the bad history with Native Americans, but then went on to educate the room about the fact that “never before in world history there has ever been such a great displacement of people from one continent to another” (paraphrase). He went on to cite the statistics concerning the 12.5 million African slaves brought across the Atlantic to the New World. It was as if he were saying that this issue is more important than the Native American issue simply by showing the immensity of the numbers.

He then said words to the effect that if you are going to talk about Native Americans, then we are going to have to address the Japanese-Americans who were put into camps during WWII.  Sadly, I heard that line of reasoning many times before. What was noticeably absent from the response was any kind of affirmation that there was a need to discuss Native America, as if it were a settled issue that does not need to be revisited.

My Issue

Here is my issue with that response. First, I must say that I am glad there were no Native Americans in the room to hear that answer. Additionally, I would like to emphasize that I don’t believe for a moment that the gentleman did not care about Native Americans. But his response revealed the common lack of knowledge of our history with Native Americans in this country, especially where the church was involved. It would be easy to believe that the government alone is responsible for the injustices against Native people, but that is simply not the historical record.

How much knowledge did he have concerning the relationship between the church and state regarding laws that were designed to outlaw, therefore, destroy hundreds of Native American cultures and everything that held them together?  Who today knows that it was the Presbyterian church (General Assembly 1887) that urged then U.S. President Grover Cleveland to push for legislation to outlaw all Indian cultural and religious practices? That meant all language, music, dance, art, etc. Essentially it was against U.S. law to be an Indian. How easy would the Great Commission be if everyone looked, talked, lived, and acted just like us?


Looking unto JesusDark Reality

Space will not allow to list all the grievances Native people have with the church, but one of the issues that is most pressing on Native American and First Nations peoples is the effects of the Indian boarding/residential school era in the U.S. and Canada. For more on that, see my blog posts, The Indian Boarding School Movement: Christian Complicity, pt 1 and The Indian Boarding School Movement: Christian Complicity, pt 2. We cannot begin to understand Native America today until we grapple with the dark reality of the Indian boarding school movement and the role the churches had with the government.


Secondly, concerning the statistics, my effort here is not to compare who is more important by showing which people group has the biggest numbers. That is not my intent. In fact, I resisted writing this response fearing that it would be seen that way. But I didn’t bring up the statistics.

By the Numbers

There are a few divergent estimates of the Native population on the North American continent prior to 1492, but 12 million is a number that has gained acceptance. By the end of the 19th century, there were less than 250,000 Native Americans in the U.S., perhaps as low as 230,000.

Much of the decline in the population was due to disease, but what must be remembered is that many Natives were exposed to disease by design. Many died due to the result of malnutrition, starvation and exposure resulting from displacement. Tribes were reduced to what we now call “refugees.” They were continually displaced and forced to live in places and regions of which they had no knowledge or skill to survive. Prisoner-of-war camps (many of which became reservations) provided inadequate and often spoiled rations. They were often killed by other tribes as they were forced westward. Population reduction was also due to tribes being splintered apart. With no land to call their own, always on the move, many tribes simply disappeared in oblivion. Space will not allow to list the effects the many massacres and wars had on the population. Whatever the proportions of each factor, the cumulative effect of European and American conquest on the Native populations in North America is staggering and heart-breaking.

Our speaker was quick to point out the sheer number of African slaves that were stolen and transported across the Atlantic Ocean. Yet only 3% of the 12.5 million were sent to North America, which is about 388,000 African souls, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.* Pointing that out in no way minimizes the pain and suffering of those image-bearers of God. I would never suggest that, but if we are going to use numbers to measure historical import in the racial reconciliation discussion within our denomination, then I believe Native Americans deserve a place at the table — certainly more than a footnote or an add-on in any forthcoming resolutions. 

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Native tribes such as the Mobile — the namesake of the city in Alabama where PCA GA 2016 took place – are now an extinct tribe. Incidentally, the Alabama still exists, just not in Alabama anymore. They are now in Texas. What many folks didn’t know is that Native Americans also had to ride on the back of the bus in Alabama until the civil rights movement. During my time at this General Assembly, I asked person after person if they knew what Mobile was. Not a single person knew it was the name of an Indian tribe. I say this only to demonstrate our prevailing ignorance of the indigenous people of the land in which we live, worship, and carry out the Great Commission. 

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Numbers in Perspective

When the African slave trade began, there were approximately 12 million or more Native peoples in North America. Through the following centuries, European settlers, mostly confessing Christians, managed to take over the continent and reduce its indigenous population down to 230,000 by 1900.

There are many differences between the two people groups, i.e. Africans and Native Americans, yet there is kind of apples-to-apples comparison, even if they are different kinds of apples from the different orchards. For instance, the 12.5 million African, men, women, and children were displaced from their homeland, as were the Native Americans. It’s just that we cannot apply the word “transcontinental” to the Native Americans’ displacement, unless we count those who were sold and shipped to the West Indies.

Essentially, within the same relative period of time, both Native American and African peoples were displaced from their homelands by the same numbers (approximately 12 million) — the stark difference being is that the greater number of victims on U.S. soil belongs to the Native American side of the ledger, if we dare call near oblivion as displacement.

Where are They Now?

indian-reservatin-map-e1528593740796.pngBut there is actually hope. The Lord has given us a gracious gift. Our Native neighbors live among us everywhere, yet we often don’t recognize them unless they signal us with some kind of cultural symbol, e.g. long braided hair, turquoise or feather jewelry, etc. Not fitting our stereotypes, they have become invisible.

Today there are 573 federally recognized Native American nations in the U.S. and 638 First Nations in Canada. In the U.S., approximately 22% live on the 325 reservations, while others live in surrounding communities, or in major U.S. cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. There are approximately 2.9 million U.S. Native Americans who identify themselves as full-blood. Of those who identify themselves as full or part Native, there are 5 million. Can you imagine if all of the tribes like the Mobile disappeared by 1900 rather than the remnant of 230,000 preserved by God’s providence?

The Lord of the Harvest has given us a vast field with 1,207 distinct and federally recognized nations. We have plenty to do. By His good providence, we live in the information and communication age. We have more than enough resources to reach the lost and assist those Native pastors in Indian country. And we have more than enough history to learn from regarding destructive methods that have contributed to many of the problems in Native America. We also have an opportunity to examine our own hearts to see if we still share the same attitudes with our forefathers that drove wrong-headed and destructive methodologies. Ultimately, we have an opportunity to reach our neighbors with the Great Commission rather than the Great Imposition. Let’s give Jesus a better witness in Indian country!

In a follow-up to this article, Reconciliation: Long History, Short Memories, New Beginnings, I would like continue these thoughts and to submit a possible way forward with efforts to reach our first neighbors.

*http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/how-many-slaves-landed-in-the-us/

 

 

 

 

The Indian Boarding School Movement: Christian Complicity, part 2

Looking unto Jesus

The following post is the second in a two part series, The Indian Boarding School Movement: Christian Complicity. You are encouraged to read part one here. I understand most thinking folks will question the subtitle of this post, wondering why I chose the word “Christian” rather than “church” or some other term. I know full well that the issue we are dealing with here was not prescribed by Christ, therefore we cannot properly ascribe it as Christian. I chose the term so we (the church) would feel the weight of the criticism as the world sees it. We need to feel it. To answer that criticism, I highly recommend the book This Rebellious House: American History and the Truth of Christianity, by Steven J. Keiller. Keiller does a great job parsing the difference between European/Western cultural expressions of Christianity and the biblical Christianity. Much of missions to Native America was not the Great Commission. It was the Great Imposition, to say the least. Paternalism and colonialism were confused with gospel mission.

This post is simply a list of resources to for you to investigate yourself. A simple Google search using the term Indian boarding School or Indian residential school will give you plenty to grapple with. Below are only a few select resources that I have found. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject. I am just a guy who believes that the world, especially the church today, should know what happened in this country as late as the twentieth century. More than that, I want the people in Indian Country to know that many Christians are grieved to learn of so much pain was caused in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is a Healer and Friend. We know the pain continues for you.

There will be many of us who will be shocked at what they read, see, and hear. Many will seek to minimize the extent and effects of the boarding schools on Indian people. To those folks, I simply implore you hear the personal stories from the victims themselves. When we consider the hundreds of thousands of Native children who passed through the schools over a one hundred year period (1879 – 1979) in the U.S. alone, not including Canada, it is little wonder why their is so much distrust and pain in Native America. When people ask why there is so much brokenness in Indian Country, the answer is quite simple: they were broken.

Books

Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875 – 1928, David Wallace Adams

Pipestone: My Life in an Indian Boarding School, Adam Fortunate Eagle

Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Experiences, 1879 – 2000, K. Tsianina Lomawaima and Brenda J. Child

Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900 -1940 (North American Indian Prose Award), Brenda J. Child

Video

There are so many videos worth watching, it is difficult to decide which ones to highlight. If we can get passed our need for big-budgeted “quality” productions, and just listen to the stories being told by the people themselves, we will gain a better understanding of the realities behind the propaganda of the government and churches.

Unseen Tears: The Native American Boarding Schools Experience in Western New York Part 1

Unseen Tears: The Native American Boarding Schools Experience in Western New York Part 2

The Wellbriety Journey to Forgiveness

Online articles

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Indian_boarding_schools

http://www.nrcprograms.org/site/PageServer?pagename=airc_hist_boardingschools

http://www.pbs.org/indiancountry/history/boarding.html

http://www.nmai.si.edu/education/codetalkers/html/chapter3.html

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865

 

I will continue to add to this list as I discover more resources.

 

 

 

Discipleship with Dignity: An Invitation to Native American and First Nations Peoples

A few months ago, I met Dr. Richard Pratt, founder of Third Millennium Ministries at a missions conference where he was the featured speaker that weekend. Richard’s goal is to provide biblical education for the world for FREE. Upon hearing more about what they do and how they do it, I became very excited about the prospect of what kind of impact this could have on the Native Christian church, and by extension, the rich mission field in Native America.

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Here we are with Dr. Richard Pratt and Rob Griffith of Third Millennium Ministries. Dr. Pratt was the keynote speaker at the Carriage Lane Presbyterian Church’s annual missions conference.

I suggested to Richard that he give a personal invitation to the Native American/First Nations peoples to partake of the rich biblical resources from Third Mill. But I told him that he would first have to address the elephant in the room – his name. General Richard H. Pratt was the father of the Indian boarding school movement. He coined the term “Kill the Indian, save the man” back in the 1870s. That adage was the essence of the guiding doctrine that has had devastating effects on Native families and communities.

Same Name, Different Story

I couldn’t help but see the radical differences in educational philosophy. Richard H. Pratt sought to strip the Indian of all cultural identity. Native children were taken from their families, given a “Christian” name, stripped of identity, clothes, language, and dignity and were abused in ways unimaginable. Western (American) ways were forced upon them, and worst of all, Christianity was forced upon them. If it were only the U.S. government, then my lament would be tempered; I expect that from the kingdoms of this fallen world. But sadly the churches participated as well. You can learn more about that on my previous post, The Indian Boarding School Movement.

Compare that with Richard L. Pratt, Jr., minister of the gospel. His whole ministry is designed to get biblical education to where the people are in their own cultures wherever they are in this world. They retain their dignity and study God’s word in the context of their culture, allowing the people in that culture to be led by Scripture as they make their cultural adjustments if and when needed. For this reason and others, I am excited to see what the Lord has in store for a new chapter of history. I am hopeful.

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Lunch in the situation room with Richard (and Princess) and the GO team.

Still Dreaming

A personal bonus for us is that Third Millennium Ministries is only a twenty minute drive from our home here in Florida. A few weeks ago, Regina and I were invited to sit in on the recording with Richard and dream with the GO team at Third Mill. We are still dreaming together, but for now, the main thing we want to do is get this invitation to as many Native American/First Nations people as possible. With the internet at your fingertips, you can be a part of reaching that goal.

In the Meantime

Until we get to our field, the Mokahum Ministry Center in Bemidji, MN, we are still traveling, blogging, Facebooking, and Tweeting – essentially educating the church about the rich mission field in Native America. Opportunities like the one with Third Mill remind us that we are right where we need to be in our journey to the field. Ministry is happening now. Please continue to pray for us. Please also consider joining our support team. We can’t get there without you.

To join our team as a financial supporter, click here to GIVE.

Third Mill behind the scenes

Behind the scenes

Richard Patrick Regina 2

Dr. Richard L. Pratt of Third Millennium Ministries, Patrick and Regina