Archiver > AMERIND-US-SE > 2001-05 > 0990268845

Subject: Canaanites, Cowboys and Indians
Date: Sat, 19 May 2001 06:40:45 EDT

Sent: Thursday, May 17, 2001 11:41 AM
Subject: [tn-ind] Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians, by Robert Allen Warrior

: not the usual comfortable exegesis ...
: "Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians"
: by Robert Allen Warrior
: Native American Theology of liberation has a nice ring to it. Politically
: active Christians in the U.S. have been bandying about the idea of such a
: theology for several years now, encouraging Indians to develop it. There
: are theologies of liberation for African Americans, Hispanic Americans,
: women, Asian Americans, even Jews. Why not Native Americans? Christians
: recognize that American injustice on this continent began nearly five
: hundred years ago with the oppression of its indigenous people and that
: justice for American Indians is a fundamental part of broader social
: struggle. The churches' complicity in much of the violence perpetrated on
: Indians makes this realization even clearer. So, there are a lot of
: well-intentioned Christians looking for some way to include Native
: Americans in their political action.
: For Native Americans involved in political struggle, the participation of
: church people is often an attractive proposition. Churches have financial,
: political, and institutional resources that many Indian activists would
: dearly love to have at their disposal. Since American Indians have a
: relatively small population base and few financial resources, assistance
: from churches can he of great help in gaining the attention of the public,
: the media, and the government.
: It sounds like the perfect marriage -- Christians with the desire to
: include Native Americans in their struggle for justice and Indian
: in need of resources and support from non-Indians. Well, speaking as the
: product of a marriage between an Indian and a white, I can tell you that
: is not as easy as it sounds. The inclusion of Native Americans in
: political praxis is difficult -- even dangerous. Christians have a
: different way of going about the struggle for justice than most Native
: Americans: different models of leadership, different ways of making
: decisions, different ways of viewing the relationship between politics and
: religion. These differences have gone all but unnoticed in the history of
: church involvement in American Indian affairs. Liberals and conservatives
: alike have too often surveyed the conditions of Native Americans and
: decided to come to the rescue, always using their methods, their ideas,
: their programs. The idea that Indians might know best how to address their
: own problems seemingly lost on these well-meaning folks.
: Still, the time does seem ripe to find a new way for Indians and
: (and Native American Christians) to he partners in the struggle against
: injustice and economic and racial oppression. This is a new era for both
: the church and for Native Americans. Christians are breaking away from
: their liberal moorings and looking for more effective means of social and
: political engagement. Indians, in this era of "self-determination," have
: verified for themselves and the government that they are the people best
: able to address Indian problems as long as they are given the necessary
: resources and if they can hold the U.S. government accountable to the
: policy. But an enormous stumbling block immediately presents itself. Most
: of the liberation theologies that have emerged in the last twenty years
: preoccupied with the Exodus story, using it as the fundamental model for
: liberation. I believe that the story of the Exodus is an inappropriate way
: for Native Americans to think about liberation.
: ...
: In fact, the indigenes are to be destroyed. "When the Lord your God brings
: you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and
: clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the
: Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites,
: seven nations greater and mightier than yourselves, and when the Lord your
: God gives them over to you and you defeat them; then you must utterly
: destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them, and show no mercy to
: them" (Deut. 7:1,2). These words are spoken to the people of Israel as
: are preparing to go into Canaan. The promises made to Abraham and Moses
: ready to be fulfilled. All that remains is for the people to enter into
: land and dispossess those who already live there.
: Joshua gives an account of the conquest. After ten chapters of stories
: about Israel's successes and failures to obey Yahweh's commands, the
: states, "So Joshua defeated the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb
: and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings, he left none
: remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of
: Israel commanded." In Judges, the writer disagrees with this account of
: what happened, but the Canaanites are held in no higher esteem. The angel
: of the Lord says, '1 will not drive out [the. indigenous people] before
: you; but they shall become adversaries to you, and their gods shall he a
: snare to you."
: Thus, the narrative tells us that the Canaanites have status only as the
: people Yahweh removes from the land in order to bring the chosen people
: They are not to he trusted, nor are they to he allowed to enter into
: relationships with the people of Israel. They are wicked and their
: is to he avoided at all costs. The laws put forth regarding strangers and
: sojourners may have stopped the people of Yahweh from wanton oppression,
: but presumably only after the land was safely in the hands of Israel. The
: covenant of Yahweh depends on this.
: The Exodus narrative is where discussion about Christian involvement in
: Native American activism must begin. It is these stories of deliverance
: conquest that are ready to be picked up and believed by anyone wondering
: what to do about the people who already live in their promised land. They
: provide an example of what can happen when powerless people come to power.
: Historical scholarship may tell a different story; but even if the
: annihilation did not take place, the narratives tell what happened to
: indigenous people who put their hope and faith in ideas and gods that were
: foreign to their culture. The Canaanites trusted in the god of outsiders
: and their story of oppression and exploitation was lost. Interreligious
: praxis became betrayal and the surviving narrative tells us nothing about
: it.
: Confronting the conquest stories as a narrative rather than a historical
: problem is especially important given the tenor of contemporary theology
: and criticism. After two hundred years of preoccupation with historical
: questions, scholars and theologians across a broad spectrum of political
: and ideological positions have recognized the function of narrative in the
: development of religious communities. Along with the work of U.S. scholars
: like Brevard Childs. Stanley Hauerwas, and George Lindheck, the radical
: liberation theologies of Latin America are based on empowering believing
: communities to read scriptural narratives for themselves and make their
: reading central to theology and political action. The danger is that these
: communities will read the narratives, not the history behind them.
: ...
: - Robert Warrior, a contributing editor of Christianity & Crisis, is New
: York correspondent for the Lakota times, a member of the Osage Nation, and
: a doctoral candidate at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. This
: article appeared in Christianity and Crisis September 11, 1989. Copyright
: by Christianity and Crisis, used by permission. This text was prepared for
: Religion Online by John R. Bushell.

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