Sunday, June 30, 2019

What about Native Americans?

This article began as a piece on the Indian Citizenship Act, which was signed into law 95 years ago, in June 1924. But other matters are included in this article about Native Americans, who are also known as American Indians, Indigenous Peoples, or First Peoples--and the preferable term depends on whose opinion you take. 
The Indian Citizenship Act
President Calvin Coolidge signed into law the Indian Citizenship Act, which marked the end of a long debate and struggle, at the federal level, over full birthright citizenship for American Indians.  
President Calvin Coolidge with four Osage Indians after he signed the 1924 bill granting Indians full citizenship.
The “sinfulness” of the original aggressive treatment of Native Americans was compounded by the Indian Removal Act, signed into law by President Andrew Jackson in May 1830. As I wrote in my 10/5/18 blog article, there are those who see the mistreatment of indigenous people and slavery as two aspects of “America’s original sin,” and there is ample reason for agreeing with that assertion.
That Act, authorizing the President to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi River in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders, instigated what came to be known as the Trail of Tears.
In the following decades of the 19th century, there were various attempts to assimilate the Native Americans into mainstream society—and those attempts were successful to a degree.
Traditional ways continued to be maintained by the majority of the Native Americans, however, and one wonders if the Indian Citizenship Act was not primarily just a further attempt to promote assimilation.
Black Slaves, Indian Masters
In thinking about the American Indians’ plight in the centuries following the coming of the first British colonialists, I was surprised when I recently learned that even some Indians owned African-American slaves.
A well-researched book by Barbara Krauthamer, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, was published in 2013 under the title Black Slaves, Indian Masters. It is a fascinating book about some Indians owning slaves from the late 1700s until at least 1866.  
Among social liberals, there are those who have only glowing praise for Native American culture. It is seen as promoting harmony with the natural world and with other people.
Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ (all are related), a phrase from the Lakota language reflects that worldview of interconnectedness and harmony held by the Lakota Indians.
And although Krauthamer’s book was not about the Lakota people, her research showed quite clearly that at least some citizens of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian nations were guilty of the “original sin” of the British settlers in North America.
Granted, they may have learned that “sinful” practice from the whites, but still . . . .
Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys
Richard Twiss was a Native American whose book Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way (2015) was published posthumously. 
Twiss, born in 1954 on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, died in 2013--just two years after completing his doctorate of missiology in intercultural studies from Asbury Theological Seminary.
In 1997 Twiss and his wife founded Wiconi (a Lakota word meaning life). Its mission was “to work for the well-being of our Native people by advancing cultural formation, indigenous education, spiritual awareness and social justice connected to the teachings and life of Jesus, through an indigenous worldview framework.”
As one who has long been an advocate of the contextualization of Christian theology (see my 1/22/10 blog article), I was very favorably impressed by Twiss’s book.
So with regard to the Native Americans, I want to hold on to the emphases of two Richards: the emphasis on the universal Christ by Richard Rohr and the emphasis on the native American expression of the Jesus Way by Richard Twiss.


  1. Fairly early this morning, the first comments received on today's post were from Thinking Friend Jeanie McGowan in Jefferson City, Mo.:

    "Thank you so much, once again, for a good, thoughtful perspective on a complicated issue. You brought up several things I never knew or had forgotten. I continue to be amazed at what my American History and World History classes left out!"

  2. About an hour later I received the following brief comments from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky:

    "Thanks, Leroy. A very timely blog. I see why many want to see Andrew Jackson removed from the $20 bill!"

    1. Dr. Hinson, thanks for reading and responding to yesterday's new blog post.

      Yes, there are many who would like to see a new picture on the $20 bill soon, partly because of Jackson's connection to the Indian Removal Act of 1830. I think it is ridiculous that the present Administration is postponing issuing the new $20 bills for so long--and DJT's admiration for Jackson is most likely one of the reasons for that delay.

  3. Just a few minutes ago Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago send the following comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for introducing us to two authors, Barbara Krauthamer and Richard Twiss.

    "I was aware that some Native Americans had owned slaves, although Krauthamer's book would be an interesting read.

    "Twiss intrigues me more, as part of our shameful treatment of Native Americans has been the past attempts by our government to destroy native peoples and cultures. It is a tragedy whenever a Native American language is lost forever because those who spoke it have all died. Rather than trying to destroy Native American cultures, we should be working furiously to preserve them. It would be interesting to see how Twiss combines this idea of cultural preservation with a Christian perspective."

    1. Thanks for your comments, Eric.

      Like other contextual theologians, Twiss emphasizes the appropriation of the Christian message directly from the Bible in the indigenous culture of the Native Americans rather than as that message has been understood and transmitted by non-indigenous people--the "cowboys," as Twiss refers to them.

      This doesn't necessarily mean that everything in the culture of Native Americans can be preserved as it is, but it certainly means that if something is to be questioned it is because of the way it is contrary to the message of Jesus, not because of the way it is contrary to the non-indigenous (white) interpretation of that message.

  4. This is probably a topic which needs to be discussed more. I do not at all like to political religion which thinks slavery was the "Original Sin". Any reading of history would make that obviously not true. But also it must be noted that not only did colonists and Indians have slaves, but so did the families of former black slaves.

    My Aunt Ruth has stated that her Grandmother was Cherokee (part of the "slave-owning" northern Cherokee who had escaped the Trail-of-Tears and settled in Missouri). But like Senator Warren, I have no proof - the Cherokee were not citizens and so were not counted in the census. However, as you note, all of the tribes were mistreated from very early on. The worst Presidents were probably Jackson, VanBuren, Lincoln (a good reason why many joined the Confederacy), and Grant. If one truly believe in Stare Decisis, then the 1832 ruling of the Supreme Court (never overturned) still stands in Cherokee Nation v State of Georgia, and that national border includes the upper third of Georgia to this day. But most know that Stare Decisis is a common law folly. After breaking a treaty with the Lakota during the Civil War to which they rebelled violently as they starved, Lincoln approved the largest mass execution in national history, then sent rest to Rock Island POW camp to freeze and starve to death. And before his assassination, commissioned Custer to clear the plains for the westward march - Grant followed through. Sad history.

    Gospel. How it fits in anywhere is always interesting.

    1. "While the majority of Native Americans fought for the Union (particularly the Cherokees, who had been badly treated by the southerners), some tribes fought for the Confederacy. This was because they were slaveholders. The Creek and Choctaw, in particular, were large slave owners in the south, and they were invested in a southern victory in order to preserve the economic prosperity slave ownership brought them." (From

    2. Here is part of what I wrote in my 10/5/18 blog posting:

      "There are those who see the mistreatment of indigenous people and slavery as two aspects of 'America’s original sin,' in the title words of Jim Wallis’s 2016 book.

      "Wallis asserts that 'the near genocide and historic oppression of America’s Native American peoples and the enslavement and debasing of African peoples for profit were both sins—America’s original sin' (p. 57).

      I think Wallis is correct in what he said--and his use of "original sin" is not a political statement, or even a religious one, but a strong and important ethical statement.

  5. Thank you, Bro. Leroy, for these thoughts and facts not included in many of our American history books. Perhaps it was collecting all those relics on the farm in Kentucky that increased my interest in the First Nation peoples. After reading 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee", I was ready and still am prone to think it might be a good idea we give all national monuments and surrounding territories to the nations who lived around them before the Europeans took it all away through disease, slaughter, and broken treaty. I hope our country does a better job of promoting November as First Nations month than it has in the past.

    After living for a time in the White Mountains in AZ between the Apaches and the Navajoes, I have to smile about the odd justice in what we did to the Apaches there. As we pushed them farther and farther into the mountains and told them to stay there, we realized too late we had given them the best trout streams in northern Arizona. If you are an Apache, you can fish cheap. If you are not, be prepared to go into debt for the next five years!

    By the way, I really enjoyed your last article on fundamentalism. It reminded me, though conservative, I'm not one of them.

    1. Thanks, Tom; good to hear from you again. The 10/5/18 blog article I mentioned above was about changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, but I hadn't heard of the promotion of November as First Nations month.

  6. I was happy to receive the following comments from Thinking Friend Rob Daoust in Arizona:

    "Greetings Leroy, coincidentally I have just been working my way through the 3rd chapter of 'A People's History.." and [Howard] Zinn speaks of the Indigenous peoples. Interestingly he expounds that "the Creeks and Cherokees harbored runaway slaves by the hundreds. Many of these were amalgamated into the Indian tribes, married, produced children. But the combination of harsh slave codes and bribes to the Indians to help put down black rebels kept things under control" (p. 55).

    1. Thanks, Rob, for sharing this from Zinn's book. I have read parts of it, but I don't remember reading that. (That's a book I still need to read more carefully, and I am happy to hear that you are reading it.)

      Just as all whites are not the same, it seems clear that all Indigenous peoples were not the same, either. There are are books/articles about the Native Americans helping black slaves as well as about some of them owning black slaves--and both are correct it seems.

      I have just found a couple of pertinent books on that subject: One is a book written for high school students by William Katz and published under the title 'Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage' (1986; rev. ed., 2012).

      But, still, it seems that the larger narrative may be that some Native Americans were slave-owners. There is a 2018 piece on titled "How Native American Slaveholders Complicate the Trail of Tears Narrative," and it seems to substantiate the position of Krauthamer.


  7. A few minutes ago I received the following comments from local Thinking Friend Temp Sparkman:

    "Morning, Leroy. Thanks for focusing on the American Indian issue. (What you call one of America’s original sins, I call a tear in the American fabric.)

    "The claim to manifest destiny to justify our treatment of American Indians is a shameful epic in our history. I grew up in Old Hickory which was named for Andrew Jackson. Have often wished I had a high school history book to see how it dealt with the Jackson era. I’d never heard of the ownership of slaves by some in this history.

    "I didn’t get your connection of the views of Twiss and Rohr."

    1. Thanks for reading and responding to yesterday's blog article, Temp.

      The reference to America's original sin comes from Jim Wallis. In my 10/5/18 blog article I wrote,

      "There are those who see the mistreatment of indigenous people and slavery as two aspects of 'America’s original sin,' in the title words of Jim Wallis’s 2016 book. Wallis asserts that 'the near genocide and historic oppression of America’s Native American peoples and the enslavement and debasing of African peoples for profit were both sins—America’s original sin' (p. 57)."

      Concerning the two Richards: Richard Rohr's emphasis on the universal Christ would tend to see Christ as already present within Native American spirituality making the message of and about Jesus there perhaps unnecessary. Richard Twiss is very positive toward Native American culture, but he thinks that the message of the Jesus Way is important and necessary for the Native American peoples. Is this another place where perhaps it is possible to emphasize the paradoxical position of both/and?

  8. To put some context around the discussion of Indian slave owning, here is a link to a Washington Post article:

    There is so much guilt to go around all over the world, I see no alternative to restorative justice applied to all. We know what a flourishing ecosystem looks like, we can do this for ourselves. We cannot fix the world for anyone unless we try to fix it for everyone. Anthropogenic global warming, overpopulation, and imperialism are the three great threats to all of us. Finding a humane way to navigate all of them is pretty much our only hope. We have a choice, a glorious future, or no future at all.

    1. "Thanks for the link to the WaPo article, Craig. -- One quick comment: the article says that fewer than 10% of the Cherokee owned slaves, but only about 25% of white Southerners owned slaves, so I am not surprised that the percentage of Cherokee slave owners was that low."

  9. Thinking Friend Tom Nowlin in Arkansas sent the following comments about Roger Williams and the Native Americans of New England in the 17th century:

    "Thank you, Leroy. In recent studies I have been impressed with Roger Williams and his social justice activism on behalf of the Narragansett Indians in New England. It’s ironic that the many who fled from the religious intolerance of Europe were not tolerant themselves as it turned out in the new land they had come to populate.

    "While in Massachusetts, Williams chose to live with the Narragansett Indians, for weeks at a time, where he learned their language. Later he expressed that he felt these 'pagans' were far more ethical/moral than their Christian oppressors who in their ethno-religious-centrism mistreated them and dispossessed them of their land. He said this even though he felt he personally could not accept their religion, etc.

    "He ultimately was forced to flee his property (which he lost) in Massachusetts under cover of a winter storm retreating to Rhode Island. Had the Narragansett Indians of Rhode Island not taken him in Williams would have perished. His ability to speak their language and understand the indigenous ways of the Narragansett bode well for him as providence would have it. Hence, Providence, Rhode Island. In Rhode Island, Williams was extremely successful in curtailing the oppression of the Narragansett Indians. On behalf of the Narragansett Indians, he successfully advocated in Rhode Island the use of laws already established in Australia protecting the lands of the aborigines. Williams is such an example in need of discovery today. He successfully blazed the trail, at personal cost, and modeled for us tolerance to others different from ourselves."

  10. Thanks, Tom, for your comments about Roger Williams and his relationship with the Native Americans in the 17th century. My 2/5/2013 blog article was "In Praise of Roger Williams" and I write him in the sixth chapter of my book "Fed Up with Fundamentalism," about which I am planning to post a blog article on July 25.