Friday, August 31, 2007

A Violated Covenant- from "For This Land" by Vine DeLoria ,Jr.

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On The Case of The American Indian In World History from: "For This Land" by Vine DeLoria Jr. The essay was written some time in the sixties the Book itself is a year or two old. A reviewer of this book wrote,
"This is a book that every American should read, especially Christians, educators and students of religion. Vine DeLoria is one of the great interpreters of religion in America. If one can remain a Christian after reading this book, s/he might be a pretty good one."

I agree with this assessment completely as a Christtian and an American Indian. Real truths, especially religious or political truths, are only arrived at when the mind and the beliefs it stores are challenged and contemplated.  This essay definitely brings some very relevant points that bring the breadth and depth of the case into a clearer and more accurate focus.

American Indians are in the situation they are in to this day because of a total inability of the non-Indian Christian world to understand itself. Educational, economic, social and legal problems of Indian peoples stem almost directly from protestant theology and a misapplication of basic
biblical ideas in the arena of political thought. Until the non-Indian peoples understand themselves and the religion they profess to confess, the situation will grow continually worse. The time may yet come within our lifetime of a genocidal war against American Indians being waged by these same churchgoing Christians who are now obliterating other parts of Southeast Asia. With such a prospect in the offing, is it any wonder that from a variety of sources from within the American Indian community have come voices attempting to raise a variety of issues? For many Indian people understand all too well the inability of the Christian peoples to realize their religion here on Earth as a viable social force. Too many times Indian peoples have seen the humanity of Christianity give way to more abstract forms of oppression by people firmly convinced they are following God's will. And fanatically determined to carry out God's will as they are able to understand it, they have perpetuated massacres and theft unparalleled in the history of mankind.

The most drastic error of Protestant theology as applied to the American Indian peoples has been the total inability of the Christians to understandtheir own idea of "covenant".
Initially, a covenant was a pact between the peoples of two nations whereby the integrity of each nation was pledged to uphold the agreement. A covenant did not give people the right to intrudeon the other partner of the agreement. Indeed, it meant that the spiritual faith of the two peoples was pledged so that the agreement called for the best efforts of the two groups to fulfill the terms of the agreement.

With the development of Christian theology after the death of Jesus the whole idea of The New Covenant permeated explanations of the meaning of life and death of the founder of the religion. Declaring that everyone who accepted the teachings of Jesus, later Paul and still later Luther, the various Christian denominations found in the idea of a New Covenant a community transcending time and space and bound together by a faith in the uniqueness of history as exemplified in the Christian story.

Where the New covenant meant new community, a gathering of saints, a
communion of the saved, to that degree the individuals composing the heavenly city were required to act positively in response to the message they proclaimed to the world and by which they were encouraged to judge the secular world. Thus Christians were told that they had been freed to live in a state of near-grace. By transcending the law and dwelling permanently within covenantal relationship, Christians bound themselves to living a life of creative , a life in which they were not judged solely by their transgressions of law, but by the vision of life in it's totality toward which they marched.

But, there was no corresponding understanding by Christians taken as a corporate group that they had a duty to incarnate the covenantal life in their relationships with peoples different than themselves. Law quickly replaced covenant and Christianity bogged down to the concept of a god who laboriously recorded each and every transgression of individuals for use in the afterlife when He would exact vengeance. It was this lower conception of divinity and hence society that Christians believed in when the "New World" was "Discovered". And the early colonial governments reflected ascales-and-balances concept of both law and covenant in their dealings with each other and with their own settlers. Combined with the perversion of covenant was a misapplication of the conceptof Genesis to go forth and multiply and the placement of man as havingdominion over all other species of creation. According to the Genesis legend, when man was given the right to name the animals, he was given dominion over them since by creating their names he had in effect participated in their creation also. As Co-Creator, one might have argued, man had a corresponding responsibility to care for the non-human elements of creation. In tending the garden of Eden, man had a corresponding responsibility to the earth itself to maintain it's fruitfulness. All of this, particularly the edict of man's responsibility, was perverted by Christian theologians.

Early in the history of North American exploration, the fundamental responsibilities of Genesis became interpreted as man's right, and basically the White Man's right, to use whatever he wanted and however he wanted to use it. Thus, slavery was justified as God's rightful contribution to the economic well being of the Americans, God's chosen people. Wholesale destruction of forests, the game, the original peoples of the continent were justified as part of god's plan to subdue and dominate an untamed wilderness. Nowhere was there any sense of stewardship between diverse elements of the new Christian settlers, either collectively or individually, and the continent as they found it.

Within THIS context one can trace the tragic story of the American Indian peoples. The United States and the individual colonies signed treaties with the various tribes at which the faith and good will of the United states and it's component states was pledged. Missionaries representing the respective denominations attended these treaty signing sessions, each assuring the tribal leaders that if the government of the United States did not uphold the treaty, his church and his God would guarantee them. Indeed, missionaries promised that God himself wanted the tribes to sign the treaties because of his foreordained plan to create cities, suburbs and shopping centers on the North American Continent.
Within the treaty context, then, total faith and good will of the two parties, the Indian tribe and the United states, were pledged. Treaties were covenants of the new lands insofar as they affected the relationships of individuals of the two disparate treaty groups. But, as soon as the treaties were signed, and often before the signing was even official, large groups of settlers following God's divine command to subjugate the Earth went forth into the reserved Indian lands. The tribes were thus pushed further and further backwards into the interior. At no point was there an acknowledgement by the allegedly religious people of the new nation that once having pledged the faith and validity of their religion, there was a corresponding responsibility to actually uphold the treaty.
The settlement of the continent, therefore, was one in which people, claiming to be divinely inspired members of a New Covenant, refused for a moment to keep their covenantal commitments to people whom they had given them.

Article by article, treaty by treaty, the spiritual faith given by the white Christians was violated in favor of God's other commandment, also misinterpreted, to subjugate the earth. It is therefore ridiculous to view Indian tribes as a people who do not and probably cannot understand the requirements of either religion or civilization. Both religion and civilization require, for their fundamental integrity, the premise that one can be taken at his word for what that word spiritually represents. Instead history has shown a marvelous ability of the white Christian to quibble on the meanings of specific words contained in treaties and statutes, finding in tortured interpretations of those words the loophole required when one is breaking faith.

In a corresponding development, responsibility to the Earth and it's creatures has been studiously avoided. Instead, exploitation for the sake of exploitation has been the rule. Property rights have taken precedent over any sense of affinity for living creatures and their rights. The buffalo were exterminated to provide grazing lands for cattle, and misuse of these grazing lands resulted in the creation of the Great Dust Bowl followed by farm programs in which land is kept unproductive in order to maintain a false economy for selected land owners while millions throughout the world starve.

The justification for taking American Indian lands has always been: they are not doing anything with them. Underlying this complaint has been the idea
that the earth itself can have no rest. it also must be exploited and used. There is no responsibility of man not to destroy the world. On the contrary, the more the world can be changed, the theology has run, the more concrete poured, the more freeways, apartment buildings, slums, football stadiums, in short, the more confused edifices created, the better God is pleased. God, then, created the Earth most ineptly. It was fortunate for God that man was available to recreate the world as it should be.
Now, the chickens have come home to roost. The entire Viet Nam fiasco revolves around the question of covenant. To what extent are we bound by our promise to protect the south Viet Nam republic? And the answer has been that we are bound to the point where it becomes our duty, our God given duty, to massacre old men, women and children and babies- for their own good - and for our good, to defend them. When 83% of the citizens of this country, this Christian Country, think that Lt. Calley did right in executing the people at My Lai, then one can see how far from the reality of
what they proclaim, the Christians have drifted in four centuries.

Instead of creating the world in a better way than the Deity- Christian peoples have only succeeded in creating a situation in which mankind may well extinguish itself within a generation unless pollution is controlled. And even that statement is not really correct. Unless the white Christians control pollution, all of mankind, Christian and non-Christian, may become extinct. This obvious fact, rather than the theological fancies of the past, tells us of the relative truth of the genesis legend. For if man was given the right to totally subjugate, then no harm would come to him. such, according to to our best scientific minds, is not and has not been the case. Outside of a massive repentance and a society turned completely around, there appears to be no solution to modern problems. Unless mankind takes it's responsibilities to the world, and unless Christians take their responsibilities to non-Christians, as serious and critical calls to action, we really have no future. We will have created our own judgment day far in advance of any divine plans for the event.

In the field of human rights there must be a radical change in the attitudes. If it has been stated that Indian treaties will be upheld, then it is the responsibility to uphold them. No amount of quibbling over phraseology can change that basic response. If all men are created in God's image, there should be no question, at least among those alleging to be Christians, to carrying out those programs and projects that will most nearly approximate that condition. The continual bickering over legal sophistries with respect to treaty rights, integration and race relations, welfare, the aged, orphans and burial rights, speaks of a society in which law and not covenant dominates. That society and it's members who so loudly proclaim to be members of the covenant, the New Covenant, should either put up or shut up.

Most of us really know what is right. We rarely do it. But, there is a corresponding responsibility on Christians today that faces no other group. For Christians have not only proclaimed that they are right, they have proclaimed that they ALONE are right and that everyone else is wrong. And then they have backed away from their responsibilities to uphold the right. When minority groups have tried to get them to respond in a manner of spiritual commitment to the principles which they proclaim and not the legalistic footnotes behind which they have always hidden, then the
Christians have fought back thinking all efforts to make them live up to their responsibilities are subversive to the great society that they, allegedly with God's help, have created.
The case of the American Indian is clear and uncomplicated. American Indians suffer because the non-Indians have devised ways and means and rationalized arguments for not keeping their word. Non Indians have violated their covenants with Indian tribes. let them fulfill these treaties and covenants and then come talk to us about problems. for it is then we will be able to discern which problems are our problems and which problems created by non-Indians for us.- END

Thus, these issues at hand are not part of some ancient or revisionist history but part of the legacy of HERE and NOW. look at statistics on social problems within the remnants of Indian's sickening, the highest ratios of poverty, mental illness, addiction, disease, suicide...look it up yourself instead of getting your news of the world from cable TV or talk show hosts who tell you all that all this multiculturalist crap is just an angle at raiding your tax dollars. These are the problems that beset a people when they are dehumanized by a white washed version of history and constantly reminded that their ancestors were not really people at all, the continent being empty of real people until 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue and they are not really people now, who deserve to have their treaties and rights upheld and deserve nothing more than a status as cartoonish mascots. Note that the council on race relations that convened under the Clinton administration and did a national tour composed itself of Whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians. Where is the voice of the American Indian today? Nearly wiped out...nearly forgotten...
Do not insult our intelligence by telling us we are all on some theoretical equal playing field nowadays...after the hypocritical dominating culture has decided how when, where and why the "game" is played. I dare say the "playing field" would be very different if any philosophical or ideological input had been allowed by minority cultures...What year was it anyway when Blacks or Indians or women respectively were finally allowed to cast a vote?

Land ownership is the basis for all socio political power. Where the lands of the American Indians have gone so too has gone most of their power, their voice and possible contribution to the betterment of the human race....

However, my father taught me this...The Indian Nations are not a defeated people, but rather, a people still under siege by a force that does not have our spiritual, cultural or ecological best interests at heart. The choice is yours...let it go and have yourself a drink...assimilate and participate in it...or fight it to the very bitter end...Is my choice too obvious? As too the religious aspects of the argument I would simply say that I wonder sometimes how God's will could be such as to produce this situation...the answer is that it has more to do with man's will than God's. It is not the fault of faulty data or religious insight from God, but the twisting of it by prideful man...his freewill that has made things the way they are. It's not God's's man's fault...and I choose to remind people of that and hope they will reassess what they believe and why. So what does modern day America owe the remnants of the American Indians? That is the question it all comes down to every time isn't it? It is understood that either justice or the honoring of old promises and treaties is still too expensive or at least more than the culture at large is willing to give...How about some truth is history lessons then? Or perhaps a little bit of respect...a little dignity? How about changing the name of the professional football team in the Nation's capital to something other than "Redskins"? That in itself would be a start. I also encourage the Indian nations such as they are to move away from the mentality of smoke shops, tourist traps, bingo parlors and casinos. My message to them is that before people will much listen to these kind of rants about the loss and disrespect of our culture- we need to raise the next generation to be something more than drunks, convenience store clerks, bingo callers, cocktail waitresses, blackjack dealers and bickering tribal politicians.

It has all the earmarks of a lost cause eh? So what...I'm still going down swinging all the way. I think this is what a man is for in this fight the good fight no matter what the odds....besides I figure my time is better spent doing this than watching TV and filling my head with crap that a person would have to be crazy to give a rip about in the larger context of the meaning of life as a human being in God's image on this Earth.)
S. Starr

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