Tim Giago: Kill the Indian and save the child

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, speaking about the religious convictions of President George W. Bush said, “I worked for two presidents who were men of faith and they did not make their religious views part of American policy.”

She also said that when Bush speaks of his war commitment he says, “God is on our side. President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War said, “We are on the side of God.” I would think that the people of Islam would object to the comments of Dubya and the people of the Confederacy would certainly take exception to the comments of Lincoln.

Since this is Holy Week in the Christian world one can find its reflection even in the Sunday comics, or “Funny Pages” as we old timers used to say. Sunday’s comic pages had strips from The Family Circus, Hi and Lois, For Better or Worse and all the way to B.C. containing references to the Bible and to Jesus Christ.

Radio and television commentator Bill O’Reilly is notorious for saying that “We are a Christian Nation,” and he means this unequivocally to the near exclusion of all other faiths.

For those who are not Christians the two holidays that makes them feel like strangers in America are Easter and Christmas.

Nearly all-traditional Native Americans are at odds with the cultural and spiritual imperialism brought to this country from Europe that made their own religious convictions inferior and unacceptable to the devout Christian Pilgrims and the other Christian denominations that settled this land.

Christianity brought into play the concept of Manifest Destiny. This was the policy adopted by the new government of the United States that looked west for expansion and used the doctrine of Manifest Destiny as a weapon of growth for a young, Christian nation. According to Webster, manifest destiny is an ostensibly benevolent or necessary policy of imperialistic expansion.

In other words, the founders believed that it was decreed by God that they move west by whatever means even if it meant crushing and destroying the thousands of indigenous people already residing on the lands they coveted.

France planted flags in the territory that would be known as the Louisiana Purchase and claimed it as their own. They did not consult with the people of the many Indian nations already living on those lands since time immemorial. And then France turned around and in 1803 sold the land they did not own to the United States under the auspices of Thomas Jefferson. We often joke in Indian country that perhaps we should now plant the flags of our sovereign Indian nations upon the lands stolen from us and reclaim it for our own. Of course, we also often joke about our lax immigration policy that allowed so many illegal immigrants to enter our country in the first place.

But jokes aside, it took a powerful religious bent starting with the Papal Bulls to Manifest Destiny to all but destroy the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere.

During this Easter Week I think all Native Americans should go back to their roots and examine the costly programs of this Christian Nation that took away nearly all of their freedoms.

The thing most Americans fear is to have another nation impose its religious beliefs upon them or worse, to have one religion become so dominant that it can displace all of their religious convictions with its own set of beliefs.

Most Native Americans had no choice when it came to religion. The United States government divided the Indian reservations up like so many pieces of pie and different religious groups were given land to build churches and schools in order to indoctrinate through education. Children were oftentimes taken from their homes in the middle of the night and hauled away to these religious and state-run boarding schools. The policy of “Kill the Indian; Save the Child” was the pogrom intended to acculturate and assimilate those people the United States could not otherwise conquer.

Some portions of the program of cultural imperialism, particularly that portion handed over to the different church denominations, did work and as happened throughout the Americas under the Spanish invasion, thousands of Indians capitulated and became Christians. The Spaniards had a more liberal interpretation of “kill the Indian, save the child.” They literally killed those standing in the way.

But always making a mockery of total success for the American government and the Church were those hardcore traditionalists who refused to be indoctrinated. Many of these so-called non-believers were considered to be “off the reservation” and were hunted down and killed. Those not killed outright were imprisoned. They were labeled as “renegade Indians” and outlaws.

Isn’t it enlightening what a nation of Christians can do for the good of mankind?

Undeterred, these “renegades” took their traditional religious beliefs underground. Because of the relative isolation of Indian reservations, they found the sanctity to practice their beliefs away from the unforgiving and prying eyes of the federal government and its minions in the different church groups.

One should never forget that by making religion a part of its policy the United States forced its will and its religion upon the indigenous people of this continent. Although extremely spiritual in their own beliefs, the Indian people never said, not once, that, “We are on the side of God.” Those Indians labeled as renegades by the government survived and are now bringing back the traditional spirituality to the Native people. And those who turned their backs on the traditionalists are now scampering, while still clinging to their Christian beliefs, to include this “old” indigenous spirituality into their own Christian beliefs. Well, they can’t have it both ways.

McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago’s weekly column. He can be reached at najournalists@rushmore.com. Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the class of 1990 – 1991. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM (harmon@clearlightbooks.com) published his latest book, “Children Left Behind”)

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