This is the burning question on my mind following a conversation with a woman who sat next to me on one of my flights here in the USA. I know it won’t be me. My place in the body of Christ is firmly marked out for me back at home in Jubilee London. But I know that our local body has a role in sending people, and this blog can also encourage other people to think beyond their local situation. Perhaps today I can play a part in helping you consider reaching out to Native Americans living near you.
The lady I mentioned was herself a Native American, but spent much of her life working within the regular American community. Her heart for her people was strong. She told me that there are still 561 tribes recognized by the federal government as “domestic dependent nations” and others listed as “terminated” that in fact do still exist. To hear that these recognized tribes have a degree of independence and their people are seen as “dual citizens” surprised me. Few Americans have ever spoken with me about the situation with the tribes. It is, of course, true that today I am relaying just my impressions of one viewpoint of all this. I may get some facts wrong. I may not share a balanced perspective. But to share something of what I heard seems like a good idea to me.
There is surely little or no dispute that historically the white man has not been kind to the Native American. There were land seizures, forcible removal of tribes to other parts of the country, taking children against their parents’ will and placing them in boarding schools, where they would be punished for using their own language. This lady spoke about some of her own recent ancestors who experienced such things personally. Even today many Native Americans do not feel included (nor in some cases do they want to be included) in mainstream society.
Some tribes, such as those living in Pine Ridge in South Dakota, are incredibly poor. A few are very wealthy. It is true that free health care and subsidized education is made available to Native Americans. But this is apparently due to an old agreement put in place in lieu of compensation for land seizures and in recognition of the extreme poverty. It seems that advances in freedom for Native Americans and for African Americans did not always mirror each other or lead to improvements. It is little known today, but some Native American tribes kept black slaves, learning this from the white man. Hostility and suspicion between races remains a problem today, not just in America, but elsewhere in the world.
My source claimed that the so-called “Native American Church” tends to be very syncretistic, marrying aspects of Christianity with aspects of their own religions. She also described the use of natural hallucinogens, which is legal for some tribes. She did not describe any deleterious effects of this, but knowing about the use of certain natural products in some immigrant communities in the UK and the harm that causes, I would be surprised if this is accurate.
Jesus told us to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. It seems that there are at least 561 groups that are called “nations” by the federal government on the doorsteps of American Christians. I would be interested to know more about what efforts are being made by evangelical churches to reach them today.
Might God be calling you to reach out to a Native American you know, or a community that lives near you?