The Histories between the Native populations, Christianity and the American government are relatively recent but have created a substantial impact among the Native populations. Below you can find a list of the major pieces of history which changed the landscape in the United States and created such harm among the Native populations.
The Civilization Fund Act was passed in the United States Government in the year 1819. This fund to help pay the missionaries who worked with the Native populations. In return these missionaries helped to bring forward the desires of the United States with the Native populations which included teaching the Natives the English language, absolving them of their Native traditions and backgrounds, helping them be removed from their lands at the United States request and teaching them about Christianity. Often this created mistrust within the Native populations with the missionaries they worked with and restrained the missionaries abilities to work with the Native populations in a way that they felt was aligned with gospel principles.
The Civilization Fund Act (1819)
The Indian Removal Act (1830)
The Indian Removal Act attempted to create a separation between Native land and European land. Essentially Congress initiated this act to have all the Natives who lived east of the Mississippi River moved to the west side of the Mississippi River. Given that some of the Native communities had already established themselves as land owners, farmers and had married those who were European, this Removal Act sparked the attention of many within the Christian denominations. During this timeframe many people stood up for the Native populations. These efforts then were met with resistance on the part of the government until the Natives were forcefully removed from the regions which resulted in the Trail of Tears, the Potawatomi Trail of death, etc.
The United States 'Peace Policy' (1869)
In the year 1869 congress passed an act which began the start of the boarding schools throughout the United States. This was called the Peace Policy. In this policy Ulysses S. Grant replaced corrupt Indian Agents with Christian missionaries. The United States chose which denominations were to work within specific reservations. Even though the Catholic denomination was the most trusted by the Native populations at this time, the Catholic church was substantially underrepresented on the reservations though they had the greatest of success among Native populations prior to this policy. At this time, and due to the demands of the Native populations, the Catholic church started the Black and Indian Missions in 1874 which gave them opportunity to finally work with the Native populations again on the reservations.
The Native Languages are banned (1887)
Not long after this was created however was a line drawn by the United States government which then led into the next phase of change within the Catholic Faith on the reservation systems. In the year 1883 the Religious Crimes Code banned Native dances, ceremonies and practices of medicine people. If the Native populations were found to have been performing their religions agents were permitted to use force, imprisonment or withholding of food from the Native populations. At this time Native police forces were put on reservations and supervised by the government. In this same year Canada's First Prime Minister authorized the creation of the Residential School System.
In the year 1887, the Indian Affairs Commissioner banned Native languages in the school system in the United States. Not more than a year later Chief Red Cloud started the Holy Rosary Mission on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Catholic Faith was allowed to be present on this reservation after initially being assigned to the Episcopal Church. Chief Red Cloud (who was Dakota) was true to Christianity and the Catholic Faith until the end of his life as he ultimately was buried in the Jesuit Black Robe which showed his trust of the Catholic Faith at that time. One of the last statements that he made at the end of his life in 1909 as he pleaded that we would care for his Native children.
American Indian Religious Freedom Act (1978)
Towards the end of the 1970's, Native parents started to increasingly keep their children at home which resulted in the closure of many of the boarding schools. By 1978 congress created the American Indian Religious Freedom Act which then finally had allowed the Native populations to begin connecting with their traditions and heritages again.
The Native population wouldn't legally be allowed to speak their languages again until the year 1990. By this time many of the Native elders were the only ones left who spoke their languages. The younger generation primarily only spoke English while rarely knowing the whole of their traditional cultural language. At this time the Native populations began instituting ways to be able to learn the languages but even to this day struggle to be able to have the funds available to assist in this wide-spread effort.
Today we have an opportunity to reflect upon the mistreatment of the Native populations. Today we have an opportunity to carve a different future where understanding and compassion can flourish. Today we have an opportunity to understand the gospel of Christ through a different lens. As we study the scriptures and pray for ourselves to learn about Christ's mission, we learn that we ourselves are called to be better Christians in the world. Today we have an opportunity to embark on one of the passages from the gospel of Christ that shares about our responsibility in making amends. "If your brother hath ought against you, leave your gift at the altar and first be reconciled unto your brother."
Our Native brothers and sisters have many 'oughts' against us and thus in Healing Wounds Ministry brought into being. This allows for us to have the opportunity to share what Christianity really looks like and to make amends for our past mistakes. A statement from a Native elder taught me a lot, "Many people think that Natives do not know about Christ, but they do. They were forced to learn about Christ." They do not know though what it means to be treated with care and concern. That is where our task lies ahead of us, to really show and be the Christians we are called to be.