A History

Bent Grass: A (DOC) History

When Reason Becomes Faith

If you have never heard of the Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine), you are not alone.  Folks in the United States do not teach the Doctrine in the public school system, citizenship classes, or religious (particularly Christian) institutions.  The Doctrine, therefore, is a silent and present part of everyone who lives in the United States.

“That is a bit of leap, don’t you think?”  You might ask.

Well, determine for yourself.  You are about to read the first of 17 posts (These posts were first posted at Ridged Valley ReflectionsIn this reposting, a few have been edited. © David B. Bell 2011) telling a bit of the story telling of how the Doctrine influences developing American Christian theology and polity.  Though this is a story of all Christian institutions in the United States, it is the story of the Christian institution, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) that is used to give example to how the Doctrine is played out in the developing Christian- American Indian relationship.

Let us begin!

To begin this conversation it is good to say the Doctrine of Discovery is not a document, but rather a series of papal bulls, edicts, Supreme Court decisions, newspaper articles, International government policies, U.S. government policy-legislation-laws, and even DOC resolutions.  There is no clear date on when the Doctrine begins.  Just importantly, there is no ending date, the Doctrine continues to influence DOC polity, decision making of the U.S. government, and our everyday lives.  However, if a start date were assigned to the Doctrine, typically, it would be about a month before Cristóbal Colón (Columbus) returns to Spain in 1493.  Yet, the thought process begins long before that.

Aristotle’s philosophy in the Nature of Man argued man has a unique nature: the soul.  Located within the soul is reason.  Reasoning, guides humans every action.  The human ability to reason, Aristotle argues, is rationality.  Rationality, in turn, is unique to the human soul.

Saint Augustine of Hippo restructures Aristotle’s argument of rational man into a theological construct.  In Confessions, Augustine holds

…a perfect man to be in Christ—not the body of a man only, nor, in the body, an animal soul without a rational one as well, but a true man.  And this man I held to be superior to all others, not only because he was a form of the Truth, but also because of the great excellence and perfection of his human nature, due to his participation in wisdom.

Augustine believed it is humans “participation in wisdom” (or rationality), which places the human soul into relationship with Christ.  Importantly to Augustine is the human rational soul is something very different from that of the animal soul for the rational soul creates the “perfect man…in Christ” who is “superior to all others.”

Saint Thomas Aquinas furthers Augustine’s work of setting the “rational soul” of humans against that of the “animal soul.”  Aquinas holds much of creation has a soul, yet there is clearly a difference between the rational soul of humans and that of, say, a dog.  This standpoint places the rational human soul as better than and therefore above all other created souls.  Thus, Aquinas argues for soul layering where the human rational soul is above all other created souls.  This soul layering argument allowed Christianity to create a structure of belief where not only does the animal soul reside at a level lower than that of the rational human soul,but also, those humans who are not rational have a soul that resides somewhere between that of the rational person and that of a dog.

Aquinas’ soul layering argument matters when word of Cristóbal Colón’s voyage reaches Spain in 1493…

The Freaking of a Pope

…Word of Colón’s return and stories of land previously unknown to Europeans preceded his March 15, 1493 arrival to Barcelona.  The mistaken European belief of land not currently under the rule of an European empire was open for the taking unnerved Pope Alexander VI.

Christianity had come a long way since Emperor Constantine.  Now settled solidly into the political structure of many European empires, Alexander recognized a wholesale rush to claim land was surely to create conflict, lead to wars, and damage Christian church power.  Alexander’s fear led him to write a number of papal bulls concerning the probable conflict rising from the claiming of non-European land.  His most important bull concerning indigenous peoples throughout the world was the Inter Caetera papal bull on May 4, 1493 where he declared “his desire that ‘barbarous nations’ be overthrown or subjugated and brought to the Catholic faith and Christian religion ‘for the honor of God himself and for the spread of the Christian Empire.’”  Through this writing, Alexander made it clear that by the authority that the Almighty God conferred upon the vicarship of Jesus Christ, any land not currently under the purview of a Christian king or prince is granted to those “kings of Castile and Leon, forever.”

Through the Inter Caetera papal bull, Pope Alexander VI provides Spain with the legal Christian authority to conquer all non-Christian indigenous nations.  Thus begins the Christian Doctrine of Discovery…

To Laugh or Weep

…Twenty-one years after the writing of the Inter Caetera papal bull, the expansionist mindset of Spain is in full swing.  Spanish jurist Palacios Rubios writes the infamous Requirimiento (the Requirement) which provides Spanish “legal authority to wage a ‘Just War’ against indigenous nations and peoples.”

When Spanish conquistadores found a “new” land, the priests who sailed with them stood at the edge of a village and read the Requirimiento which “describes what would happen if they decided to accept:

If you do so, you will do well, and that which you are obliged to do to their highnesses [acknowledge yourselves as their subjects and vassals], and we in their name shall receive you in all love and charity, and shall leave you your wives, and your children, and your lands, free without servitude…

The consequences of resistance should the village decide not to accept these conditions, continued the priest,

But, if you do not do this, and maliciously make delay in it, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their Highnesses; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make salves of them… and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us.

Obviously, since the reading of the Requirimiento was in either Latin or Spanish, Indians were unable to understand the priest, and unable to accept the conditions of the Requirimiento (should they have wanted), which required the conquistadors to enter the village and dispose of the villagers as the Requirimiento stated.  “On reading the Requirimiento, the great Indian advocate Bartolomé de Las Casas said that he ‘could not decide whether to laugh or weep…’”

How To Become a Chosen People

…Normalized by the 1500’s, the Alexander/Rubios Christian construct supporting the subjugation of non-European land and peoples is driving the colonization of the America’s.  In 1557, Pedro de Santander an official of the Catholic Church, places a new spin on an old paradigm.  He writes concerning the indigenous people of Florida,

This is the Land of Promise, possessed by idolators, the Amorite, Amulekite, Moabite, Canaanite.  This is the land promised by the Eternal Father to the Faithful, since we are commanded by God in the Holy Scriptures to take it from them, being idolators, and, by reason of their idolatry and sin, to put them all to the knife, leaving no living thing save maidens and children, their cities robbed and sacked, their walls and houses leveled to the earth.

By imaging the Americas as the “Land of Promise” and the indigenous of the land as “idolaters” and “Canaanites” Santander endorses Spain’s colonization and genocidal policies.  Such imaging permits Europeans to believe themselves Israelite, the Atlantic Ocean as the Jordan River, and the America’s as Canaan.  Reworking of the Christian text allows the chosen people (Europeans) to cross the Jordan River (Atlantic Ocean) and enter into the land of Canaan (the America’s) as “promised by the Eternal Father to the Faithful.”  Thus, Santander creates a hierarchal chosen people mindset where Europeans are “chosen people” of a “higher” and more “advance” class who have dominion over indigenous peoples who are “idolaters” of a “lower” and more “backward” class…

The Justification of Subjugation

…Three hundred and thirty years after Alexander VI justifies European expansionist efforts, John Marshall, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court writes an opinion that not only modernizes the Doctrine of Discovery, but also creates Indian land law that fits the expansionist desires of the United States.

Writing on Johnson & Graham’s Lessee v. M’Intosh, Marshall notes, “all the nations of Europe, who have acquired territory on this continent, have asserted in themselves…the exclusive right of the discoverer to appropriate the lands occupied by the Indians.”  He then asks, “Have the American States rejected or adopted this principle?”  Arguing the question he says, “Conquest gives a title which the Courts of the conqueror cannot deny” and that which was obtained by Great Britain “have passed to the United States.”  He further recognizes that because “the tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages…to leave them in possession of their country, was to leave the country a wilderness.”  Therefore, “however extravagant the pretension of converting the discovery of an inhabited country into conquest may appear; if the principle has been asserted in the first instance, and afterwards sustained…it becomes the law of the land, and cannot be questioned.”  Thus, Marshall gives modern support to Europeans self-justified right of discovery.

Arguing only the colonizer’s perspective, Marshall claims a God given preference for land for those who reason and develop.  Those who do not develop land in a western sense are no more than savages whose creation—whose souls, from a hierarchal perspective, are less than those who reason.  As such, Marshall maintains, “Indian inhabitants are…merely…occupants, to be protected…[who are] in possession of their lands, but [are] to be deemed incapable of transferring the absolute title [of their land] to others.  However, this restriction may be opposed to natural right…if it be indispensible to that system under which the country has been settled…it may, perhaps, be supported by reason, and certainly cannot be rejected by Courts of justice.”  In making such an argument, Marshall goes beyond supporting European right of discovery and brings the Christian Doctrine of Discovery to the modern era and embeds it into U.S. land law…

Manifest Destiny: Modernizing the Chosen People Mindset

…Two events occur and come together in the first half of the 1800’s that helps embed a core aspect of the Doctrine into the public’s mindset.  First, the iron printing press arrives in the early 1800’s, which in turn allows for the development of the steam-operated press.  The steam-operated press changed the ease by which the public would access information, as it would occur in another generation with the radio, another with the television, and another with the internet.  The steam press gives the public the daily newspaper.  Such accessibility ratchets up the influence and authority of the newspaper reporter.  Second, in 1845 President James Polk’s administration pushes to expand U.S. territorial borders.  Butting heads with Great Britain the administration supports pushing northern Oregon territory border to 54°40′ north latitude.  Congress and the press widely argue this dispute.  John L. O’Sullivan, a newspaper reporter, jumps into the middle of the dispute—supporting the northern 54°40′ line—on December 27, 1845 saying,

We have a still better title than any that can ever be constructed out of all these antiquated materials of old black-letter international law…And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federative self-government entrusted to us.

O’Sullivan modernizes and gives a U.S. spin to Santander’s chosen people mindset by saying Providence (God) has ordained (manifest destiny) U.S. white citizens to possess the whole of the continent.  From this point forward, manifest destiny becomes the idea and the term that not only drives U.S. expansionist efforts, but also becomes embedded in U.S. politics, business, education, and American Christianity.  An example of how this spin occurs in U.S. politics transpires a year later when

Senator Thomas Hart Benton speaks to Congress saying white Americans, “’had alone received the divine command to subdue and replenish the earth,’ and indigenous people had no right to the land of the Americas because this land had been created for use…by the white races…according to the intentions of the Creator.’”

Thanks to Marshal’s opinion creating U.S. land law which subjugates American Tribal land and O’Sullivan’s writing in which God endorses this subjugation (overspread and to possess the whole of the continent) to be completed by white folk, the European Christian Doctrine of Discovery becomes an American Christian Doctrine of Discovery…

Disciples Unified Destiny

…Alexander Campbell arrives in the United States from Ireland as the first decade of the 1800’s closes.  Two realities impressed Campbell when he arrived in the United States.  The concept of States agreeing to be separate but one, thus United, came to influence his thinking concerning unity of the church.  Second, the power he attained the moment he arrived.  Though the phrase Manifest Destiny was yet to come, upon arriving to the U.S. Alexander quickly found the slavery issue deeply mattered and the difference in power white folk held compared to folk of color was large.  These two issues, unity and white power, were to shape Campbell’s faith, impact his writings, and in turn, influence the theology and judicatory structure of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Disciple).

Campbell was a man of his time.  As an immigrant to the soil of North America, Campbell bought into the traditional U.S. perspective of privilege—God ordained whites to have dominion in this landscape.  This should be of no surprise because as a white-free-land owning-educated-male Campbell acquires great privilege.  There is little wonder Campbell adopts the American power construct—the chosen-people mindset, hook, line, and sinker.  Campbell’s social thought, theology and writings reflect his systemic privilege and power.

As an immigrant, one who chooses to live in a land different from birth, Campbell has a deep desire for his chosen nation to be the best.  Therefore, Campbell takes the social concept of manifest destiny, adds a touch of theology (Protestantism), mixes in White superiority, and develops a social construct for Disciples.  Writing “The Destiny of Our Country” in the August 1852 edition of the Millennial Harbinger, Campbell pronounces,

In our countries destiny is involved the destiny of Protestantism, and in its destiny the destiny of all the nations of the world.  God has given, in awful charge, to Protestant England and Protestant America—the Anglo-Saxon race—the fortunes, not of Christendom only, but of all the world.

As the slavery issue heats up, Campbell becomes more and more uneasy.  When the Methodist church splits over the slavery issue, Campbell becomes deeply concerned for the unity of the young Disciple movement.  To maintain unity, Campbell settles on a systemic-judicatory structure which benefits white folk and white congregations.  Though he feels his “education [is] strongly prejudiced against” slavery, unity calls him to choose White privilege because “as Paul once affirmed of a certain class of ‘all things,’ so I affirm slavery in the present day.”  Therefore, when Campbell writes,

Much as I may sympathize with a black man, I love the white man more,

he endorses a homogeneous church system that places white folk first and theologically supports Aquinas’ argument of soul layering, which, places the white soul just a notch over the soul of color….

An 1870 Faith Based Initiative

…Within a month of entering office, President Grant’s administration begins developing the Grant Peace policy.  The concern of the policy is to deal with what was termed in that day as the Indian problem.  Whilehistorians often regard the policy as a high spot in Indian treatment, policy action is best termed as one of charity—serving the White population, rather than justice.  Often missed in understanding the policy is five years earlier the United States had ended a war to ensure only one nation would occupy the land from sea to shining sea.  However, once the Civil War is over, the reality that years of treaty making between the U.S. and American Tribes has created multiple independent Indian nations across the American landscape confronts the Grant administration.  The question before the Grant administration was how to eliminate the Indian nations—thus the Grant Peace policy.

To eliminate Tribal sovereignty and nationhood the U.S. must first “abrogate” existing treaties.  A rider on the March 3, 1871 Indian appropriation bill makes it a reality that, “no Indian nation or tribe within the territory of the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power with whom the United States may contract by treaty [U.S. Statutes at Large, 16:566].  This radical congressional action of dismantling Tribal identity and structure changes the U.S. government opinion of American Tribes from that of sovereign nations to that of designated “wards.”

However, the legal re-designation of Tribal status is not nearly enough for the Grant administration.  As Albert Memmi writes in The Colonizer and The Colonized,

In order for the colonizer to be a complete master, it is not enough for him to be so in actual fact, but he must believe in its legitimacy.  In order for that legitimacy to be complete, it is not enough for the colonized to be a slave, he must accept his role.

To eliminate all aspects of Tribal nation status, down to its very core, the Grant administration believes every individual Indian must accept American Tribal sovereignty genocide and replace it with the singular identity of United States of America.  In order to reframe the Indian mindset, the administration had to find a method in which to implement the reframing.  Grant and his administration, being a group that largely held a military mindset (after all, the war was only four years in the past and nearly every male of age had participated in one manner or another), paid attention to past military engagements.  Paying attention to past military/Indian engagements, they could not help but become aware that in 1819 the “Congress of the United States appropriated $10,000 to the Department of War to for use as a ‘civilizing’ fund.”  They would find that in fighting a psychological war with American Tribes, the 1819 Department of War engaged those folks who were already committed to reframing mindsets.  To recruit these folks the 1819 Department of War distributed a circular saying,

Such associations or individuals who are already actually engaged in educating the Indians, and who may desire the cooperation of the government, will report to the Department of War….In proportion to the means of the Government cooperation will be extended to such institutions as may be approved, as well in erecting their necessary buildings as in their current expenses

Recruitment mindset reformers went well as reflected in 1820 when the sole recipients of the $12,000 appropriation were “twenty-one church schools.”  By recognizing 1819 Christian theology is based in conversion—the unbeliever must be saved and converted from their unchristian way and that white Christians had become experts in converting white people, the Department of War recognized Christian denominations as those best suited to implement a system of converting Indians into White people (or minimally adopt a White civilized mindset).

Grant’s administration believes the Christian work done with Indians over the last fifty years had gone so well that in his Second Annual Message to Congress on December 5, 1870, Grant said,

The experiment of making it [management of Indian affairs] a missionary work was tried with a few agencies [American Tribes] given to the denomination of Friends, and has been found to work most advantageously…Indian agencies being civil offices, I determined to give all the agencies to such religious denominations as had heretofore established missionaries among the Indians, and perhaps to some other denominations who would undertake the work on the same terms—i.e., as a missionary work.  The societies selected are…to Christianize and civilize the Indian, and to train him in the arts of peace…I entertain the confident hope that…in a few years…Indians upon reservations…will live in houses, and have schoolhouses and churches.

Little wonder the 1870 Congress increased the annual appropriation for Indian education to $100,000, which allowed the government to recruit a wide variety of Christian denominations.  To enhance the Christian’s ability to convert and civilize, “Attendance at these mission schools was made mandatory by regulation on many reservations for all native children aged six through sixteen.”  Thus, to legitimize U.S. government dominance and a single nation identity on the American landscape, Grant created a policy that endeavors to educate the American Indian to accept his/her role as a subjugated person/people…

Choosing War Rather Than People

…They didn’t arrive by choice.  When the fourteen Tribes and Bands, who were to become the Yakama Nation, arrived in Walla Walla, Washington in 1855, it was more of a summons than a request for conversation.  Isaac Stevens, Washington Territory Governor, had an agenda and used the resources at his disposal (mostly military) to call for a meeting with Tribes across the northwest.

Stevens agenda was one of ambition rather than concern for the people (White or Indian) living or moving into Washington Territory.  Having supported Franklin Peirce’s bid for presidency, Stevens wrangled his appointment as the governor of the Washington Territory.  At age 35, Steven’s became the youngest governor in Washington history (either Territory or State) and he did not intend this position to be the highlight of his career.  When “Indian Commissioner George Manypenny  wrote and directed him to ‘enter at once upon negotiations…having for principle [sic] aim the extinguishment of the Indian claims to the lands…so as not to interfere with the settlement of the territories,” Stevens intended to show he was the man for the job.

Negotiations at Camp Stevens in Walla Walla resulted in the Tribes and Bands of the new Yakama Nation (Yakama) ceding 11.5 million ancestral acres.  The Treaty of Walla Walla held that the Yakama’s “settle upon, the same [reservation] within one year after…[treaty] ratification by the [President and Senate of the United States].”  Holding hard and fast to the Treaty’s ratification clause meant Yakama Tribes and Bands had roughly five years to move from their traditional lands to the reservation.  However, letting his political desires get ahead of him and the need to influence folks in D.C., “Governor…Stevens…carefully laid [out a] plan that in just one or two years would free up the entire territory for white settlement.”  The first step in the implementation of Stevens plan was to scarcely allow two weeks to elapse from the signing of the Treaty before opening Yakama ceded lands to White settlement.

Allowing white settlers claim ancestral Tribal lands prior to Yakama’s having the opportunity to move to the newly created reservation revealed a level of incompetency that was to have white folks call for Stevens’ resignation in the future.  In allowing only two weeks to elapse before White settlement began on Yakama, Stevens intentionally laid the groundwork for conflict.  That conflict was certainly to lead to the deaths of both Yakama and white settlers, seems to have mattered little to Stevens.  Rather, conflict served Stevens in two ways.  First, politically, he met the urgency of folks like Manypenny who wanted a quick extinguishment of “Indian claims to the lands.”  Second, the Treaty legally (from a U.S. standpoint) gave sovereign nation status to the Yakama’s, thus diminishing Stevens control over both the Yakama people and the reserved lands.  By opening ceded lands to settlement, Stevens created conditions that would advance his control over the Yakama people and their reserved lands.

With settlers claiming land before Yakamas had the opportunity to leave land they ancestrally lived on, conflict soon arose.  Stevens engaged the forces at his disposal, and war began.  War allowed Stevens to justify implementing military control on the reserved lands of the Yakama.  Therefore, within a year of Treaty signing, with the military establishment of a fort (Fort Simcoe) on the reservation, Stevens gained the control he desired.  The war lasted three years and with its end, the military left the fort.  Yet, the unjust conditions, which Stevens implemented, remained and were soon experienced in another manner as the Yakama Indian Agency replaced the military at Fort Simcoe.  Soon, the lack of choice raises its head again as the Christianization, civilization, and education of Yakama children begins…

The Plow and The Bible

…James Wilbur, one of the most influential White people on the reservation in the last half of the 1800’s, came to the Yakama Reservation in 1860 to teach at the Fort Simcoe School (Developed by the Yakama Indian Agency after the military left the fort.).  A man of large stature—six-foot-four and 200 pounds—Wilbur would dominate Yakama life “for the next twenty-five years.”

Wilbur, a Methodist pastor, cared for the health and wellbeing of the Yakama people.  More than once he argued for additional money and resources to enhance the health and nutritional needs of the people.  Far too often, he experienced malnutrition and deaths on the reservation while the bordering White communities lived well.  Additionally, he fought to maintain reservation land for the Yakama’s and to hold off White settlers from appropriating the same.

Christianity drove Wilbur and his work on the reservation.  Wilbur believed Christianity as the earth’s only correct religion and only through conversion is ones salvation assured.  He strayed little from this viewpoint during his tenure and “governed the reservation with a strong hand…under the standard of ‘The Plow and the Bible’”—treating the Yakama people as children whose eternal wellbeing is based in learning and adopting the virtues of Christianity, education, and physical work.”  Wilbur’s beliefs arise in his 1878 report to the Commissioner on Indian Affairs,

The Indians of the Yakama Agency were as low at our beginning with them as humanity gets without getting into the pit that is bottomless.  They were taken from the war-path, gathered upon the reserve,…clothed with annuity blankets and goods, living in idleness, using the goods furnished as a gambling-fund, drinking whisky, running horses on the Sabbath, stealing each other’s wives, and carrying out the practices of the low degraded white men to great perfection.  The Bible and the plow (which must never be divorced) have brought them up from the horrible pit, and put a new song into their mouths, and new hopes into their hearts.  They are washed and clothed and in their right minds.  Between five and six hundred are accepted members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The U.S. government held Wilbur’s mindset in good regard throughout his tenure.  In the Indian Commissioner’s 1871 report on the Yakama Reservation, Felix R. Brunot’s notes,

The school has been under the direction of Rev. J.H. Wilbur; at first as teacher, and subsequently as agent, for about ten years, and has been very successful.  It has been conducted as an industrial boarding-school, the boys being taught to labor, and the girls, while being instructed in the elementary English branches, to sew and so housework….The results upon this reservation, which I have briefly attempted to describe, are due to the ability and Christian zeal of Mr. Wilbur and the policy he has pursued, the latter being identical to the wishes of the President [Grant], and that recommended in the first report of the board of Indian commissioners…He manages the Indians in ‘a kindly and benevolent spirit, yet with firmness and without fear.

Wilbur ruled with a heavy hand during his twenty-five years never straying from his focus of civilizing and Christianizing the Yakama people.  Wilbur chastised Indians who lived and worship traditionally.  Stories were told of Wilbur traveling days to end traditional services and ramrodding Yakama’s back into his influence.  The hand by which he ruled led him to give preference (“he was reprimanded for not equitably distributing the treaty-mandated goods”) to Methodist converts over Indians of either Catholic or Traditional faith.

However, though Wilbur carried a tremendous amount of power and authority on the reservation, he could not control everyone…

The Bottomless-Pit becomes The Arch-Nemesis

…If James H. Wilbur feared anything, it was non-Christian religion, or at least what he considered non-Christian.  For instance, Wilbur held little stock in Catholicism.  Like many Protestants of his era, Wilbur figured Catholicism was something other than Christian.  Understanding the Catholic faith as non-Christian, Wilbur did all he could during his tenure to keep priests off the reservation.  However, if Catholicism troubled Wilbur, the Yakama Dreamer religion terrified him.

Wilbur brought the mindset of his generation to the reservation.  Full of Santander manifest destiny, Wilbur not only knew himself and White Christians as the chosen people, which meant Yakama’s were a pagan and nearly bottomless-pit people, but also the Dreamer religion endorsed immoral behavior and held people from ever attaining salvation.  Such a mindset led to a clear conclusion, the wellbeing of Yakama’s lay in their conversion to his Christianity, and only evil would stand against conversion.

One Yakama religious leader in particular became Wilbur’s arch-nemesis.  Born sometime after 1810, Smohalla was neither a chief nor shaman, but iyánča—“one who trains or disciplines.”  Smohalla was Wilbur’s opposite.  Where Wilbur was Christian, conventional, and earth bound, Smohalla was Dreamer, prophet, and known for trances allowing him to visit the Spirit land.  Where Wilbur was six foot four and 200 pounds, Smohalla was frail and slight.  Where Wilbur had the political weight of the U.S. government and military behind him, Smohalla had his priests.

During their relationship, Smohalla never backed away from opposing Wilbur and his Christianity, and became known for his rejection of Wilbur’s “The Plow and the Bible” conversion-civilizing efforts.  Where Wilbur believed land and person became civilized the day a Yakama picked up the plow and dominated the land by physically turning the soil; Smohalla believed the plow was a destruction of spirit to both land and person.

My young men shall never work.  Men who work cannot dream, and wisdom comes to us in dreams.  [When] challenged that his people were even then hard at work digging camas in the hills, he replied: ‘…it is natural work and does them no harm.  But the work of the white man hardens soul and body.  Nor is it right to tear up and mutilate the earth as white men do.’  [When challenged further] he responded: ‘We simply take the gifts that are freely offered.  We no more harm the earth than would an infant’s fingers harm its mother’s breast.  But the white man tears up large tracts of land, runs deep ditches, cuts down forests, and changes the whole face of the earth…Every honest man know in his heart that this is all wrong.

Smohalla and Wilbur stood on opposite sides of a theological fence.  On the one hand, Wilbur understood human domination over Creation as a requirement of God.  On the other hand, Smohalla believed the Creator created on a horizontal-equal plane and no part of creation has a right to dominion over another.  Smohalla, therefore, not only places all people as equal to one another, but also believes a collaborative state should exist between people, land, animals and wind.

Smohalla’s theology arises at the July 31, 1871 council meeting with Indian Commissioner Felix R. Brunot held in Wilbur’s church.

This is our land. We have been planted and grown like a tree on the land.  As a tree is valuable on the land, so is our being planted here good for the land.  First was the earth, then riches was placed in it, then man was placed on it.  It is good for man and woman to be together on the earth; a home is given and they are placed in it.  We do not know how the earth was made, nor do we say who made it.  The earth was peopled and their hearts are good, and my mind is that it is as it ought to be.  The world was peopled by whites and Indians and they should all grow as one flesh

Brunot’s response best reflects the theology of Wilbur’s church,

You have not got it quite right.  God was first.  He made the earth and all things.  He made the whites and Indians; the whites away to the East, the Indians here.  God gave the white man the Bible to tell about Him.  The white and red men were all bad once, God took pity on them and sent His Son to die, instead of having all the people die.  We would have you learn from this.

Brunot’s response maintains the manifest destiny theology of White people as the chosen people of God, who are privileged with a secret knowledge, and who are called to tell and convert those whom God has chosen not to privilege with such knowledge.  Brunot’s response endorses and preserves Wilbur’s system of Yakama subjugation.

All though Brunot and the U.S. government imbue Wilbur with power and privilege over the Yakama people, he is unable to bring an end to Smohalla and the Dreamer religion.  Smohalla continued to influence the Yakama people by centering his activities in Priest Rapids, while his priests held worship services throughout the reservation.  Smohalla’s tenacity is evident to this day; the Dreamer religion stands equal to Christianity on the Yakama reservation…

Disciple Prosperity and A Little Bullheadedness

…While James Wilbur is setting Methodist roots in Yakama soil, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Disciples) are setting their roots throughout Washington Territory.  The briskness of Disciple growth attracts the evangelistic efforts of the American Christian Missionary Society (ACMS) and by 1887, two years before Washington statehood, ACMS begins supporting “ministers in Tacoma, Seattle and Davenport.”

Not unlike that of Wilbur and the Methodist Church late 1800 Disciple theology has a conversion base.  Though carrying a heavy dose of Campbell unity, the westward expansion of the Disciple movement has a fair focus on growth through converting nonbelievers.  An adopted resolution of the 1902 Disciple convention in Omaha is an example of Disciples conversion-unity theology and vision.

We do hereby express of cordial approval of the effort…to give truer expression to the degree of unity that already exists, as the best means of promoting that complete unity for which our Lord prayed, and we pledge our hearty co-operation with this and every other movement that has for its object the unification of believers, to the end that the world may be converted and the kingdom of righteousness established in the earth.

As the nineteenth century closes out, Northwest Disciples focus on converting the burgeoning numbers of White settlers in Washington.  The pace of conversion is so rapid during the last decades; it seemed that “[s]o long as there was an open frontier…Disciples [growth] outran the general population increase.”

Thanks to military removal of American Indians and governmental structuring of land ownership to benefit northwest White settlers, Washington Disciples experience prosperity both congregationally and regionally.  One example is Purdy J. Flint.  Flint, originally from Wisconsin, settled in the Yakima valley in the 1860’s.  With the previous residents of the valley confined to the reservation, Flint took advantage of buying land, running cattle on open land, and developing orchards.  Flint prospered in the cattle and fruit business and

With his family and others he organized the [Yakima] church [on] October 16, 1880.  There were twelve members.  The entire town was solicited for funds for the erection of a building…contributions [came] from sixty-two residents, including the leading saloonkeeper…the church was dedicated on January 1, 1882.  It was the first and only church in Yakima City.

Isaac Alvinza Flint, Purdy Flint’s father, became the first minister of the Christian Church.  Isaac arrived in Yakima County in 1869 and settled in Parker Bottom, a few miles south of Yakima City (now Union Gap).  During the next ten years, Isaac preached throughout the valley.  An account of Isaac’s success is given by Preston Underwood who traveled to Yakima from Fifteen Mile (now Dufur), Oregon and visited with Isaac and Lucy Ann (Purdy’s wife) in 1879.  Underwood attended and preached at the Sunday service and later wrote,

At five o’clock the Disciples met to break bread for the first time in that valley. At the conclusion of that impressive and solemn act, I addressed the congregation for an hour, seeking to build them up in their faith and to fortify them against the trying time of their warfare.

Bro. I. A. Flint has been preaching publicly and from house to house all over Yakima county for the last ten years, and has so labored that he thinks the time for a good ingathering is at hand. Owing to high water in the Natchey river which prevented many from attending, we did not organize.

It is one of the best openings that I have seen, and I hope to be able to make a cheering report from there before the season closes, for I expect to visit the valley again in a few weeks, and remain several days, endeavoring to so water what Bro. F. has planted, that a precious crop shall grow up unto the Lord.

Isaac Flint achieves his ultimate ingathering with the construction of the Yakima City Christian Church in 1882.  However, it seems Isaac had a tendency towards self-centeredness.  Orval Peterson, a Disciple historian, writes that Isaac

lived in the little community of Donald, a few miles down the valley from the location of his church at Yakima, which is now Union Gap.  If those who were to take him to church were late, he would not wait but would go afoot.  He said, “I wait for no one.”  When he would arrive at the Yakima River, he would transport himself across by canoe and journey on to keep his preaching appointment.

Isaac’s bullheadedness became apparent in 1885.  When the Northern Pacific Railroad came through valley, the railroad decided to place the rail yards and depot four miles north of Yakima City.  The Northern Pacific offered to move the entire town of Yakima City (renamed Union Gap after the move) to the depot site (named North Yakima).  Though the members of the church felt the move best for the congregation and agreed to have the railroad move their church building to North Yakima, Isaac would have nothing to do with it and ended his ministry with the church.  It took three weeks to move the church building from Yakima City to North Yakima and it might be out of this move from which the congregation took on the motto, “The Church on the Move.”  Purdy took over the leadership of the church for roughly a year, which at that time “Jacob Eshelman of Goldendale was selected as the new minister.”

Purdy Flint died in 1929 and Lucy a year later.  Having no children, they left $20,000 to the Yakima First Christian Church they had help begin.  They also left $20,000 (the Flint Endowment) to the Eugene, Oregon Bible University, now known as Northwest Christian University.

Due to efforts like the Flint’s, Disciple membership grew quickly throughout Washington.  With the help of the American Christian Missionary Society (ACMS), Disciple congregations flourish as the century ends and the structure of what is now known as Northwest Regional Christian Church is solidly in place.  As the new century arrives, the power of Northwest Disciples, the Yakima First Christian Church, and ACMS become a formable voice in the treatment of the Yakama people…

How to Propel Unfortunates Into The Realm of Euroamerican Tastes, Values and Sensibilities

…As the nineteenth century transformed into the twentieth, the Doctrine of Discovery transformed as well.  During the last decades of the century, with financial and political support from the U.S. government, Christian boarding schools were busy christianizing and civilizing American Indian youth.  However, as the last decade fell into place and the financial figure for Indian education edged closer to three million dollars, and the media’s perception that the West is settled—no longer able to use fear of Indians as a selling point for newspapers and books, and thoughts of Indian wars now located in grandparental memory, public, and in turn, political support for Indian education wanes.

In 1905, Francis E. Leupp became Indian Commissioner.  Having sat on the Board of Indian Commissioners prior to his stint as commissioner, Leupp understood political ramifications lay ahead if something were not done to reduce the yearly outlay of Indian education funds.  Taking stock of the current U.S. educational system, Leupp found public support of funding for the public education for white children increasing.  It only made sense, in Leupp’s estimation; if Indian children could enter into the public education system then the government could reduce the funds allotted to Indian boarding schools.  However, a roadblock laid in the middle of the road leading to public education of Indian children in a White school system.

In 1896, nine years before Leupp became commissioner, the Supreme Court opinioned on the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson.  Homer Plessy was a successful businessman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Homer Plessy was also an “octoroon” as defined by Louisiana law—one whose ethnic makeup is seven-eighths White and one-eight African-American.  Legally, Plessy was a black man.  As a successful businessman, Plessy, who easily walked in two racially charged worlds, felt he had attained the power and privilege required to risk civil disobedience on behalf of the Committee of Citizens who were challenging Jim Crow laws.  Returning home by rail, on June 7, 1892, from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, Plessy boarded a railcar designated for Whites.  When he refused to move to the “colored” car, the authorities arrested and jailed him.  The Supreme Court heard Plessy’s case in 1896, and in a 7-1 decision the court upheld Louisiana law requiring segregation.  Justice Henry B. Brown delivered the court’s decision saying,

Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences….

Allowing the court to argue,

If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically.  If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.

Significant to the decision was the belief that as long as facilities are equal to one another, segregation is both legal and constitutional.  Thus doctrine is developed (one more in the long line of the Doctrine of Discovery) leading to sixty years of racial segregation under the framework of “separate but equal.”

Leupp’s proposal to move Indian children into segregated White public schools was much more progressive than he could have imagined.  His proposal directly countered the public’s resolve for system of separate but equal schools for children of color and white children.  Therefore, Leupp needed to come up with an argument allowing the White public system to accept the desegregation of schools when it came to Indian children.  Leupp began writing, speaking, and traveling promoting a message which endorsed having Indian and White children in the same classroom.  Leupp builds White public support by first arguing Whites as an advanced race who needs to help backward races,

All primitive peoples are, from our economic point of view, grossly wasteful of their natural resources.  As nomads they require a vast field to roam over; and where they have reached the stage of stationary habitations [reservations] and crude tillage of the soil, they still cover a great deal more space, with poorer visible results, than a community of civilized people…Hence the most we can ask of the advanced race is to deal justly with the backward races, and give always a fair equivalent for the land it invades…

As an advanced race, Whites should not fear the Indian who is but a “petty landholder” but rather, is it ”not better that we lay hold now of the means which are nearest our hands, save all we can for the Indian and nail it fast, while the times are still favorable for such an undertaking?”  Leupp goes on to argue that once the public grasps those means nearest to our hands—the White public school , great value is attained, for when Indian youth enter the White public classroom their

overwhelming number of non-Indian ‘peers’ might serve to propel such unfortunates away from their own traditions and even more rapidly into the realm of Euroamerican tastes, values and sensibilities.

Leupp continues to argue his progressive stance for the integration of Indian youth into White schools beyond his tenure as Indian Commissioner.  Finally, in 1917, Leupp’s arguments achieve moderate success when the government provides two hundred thousand dollars to place Indian children into White public schools…

When Sympathy Calls for Action

…Seven years after Francis E. Leupp begins to imagine Indian youth attending White public schools, the Yakima City Church (now First Christian Church of Yakima (FCCY)) calls William Franklin (W.F.) Turner as their congregational minister.  Turner remains the congregation’s pastor for six years.  During Turners tenure at FCCY, he develops, according to D. Duane Cummins “an immediate and sympathetic interest in the Yakama Indians.”

Turner acquires his sympathetic interest, unlike James Wilbur, from a distance.  As the congregational pastor of FCCY, Turner spends his time serving the needs of the Yakima congregation.  When it comes to learning about the Yakama people and their culture, Turner depends on stories told by” white farmers and business people [of the church who had]… elbow[ed] Indians out of their land.”  One story Turner tells is,

‘We heard of the old “Pom Pom” Indian worship as well as that of the “Shakers,” and of the “Long House” and annual camps with their “stick games,” weird customs, and often orgies….Finally the writer was aroused by a story of a young Indian mother who writhed in the agonies of childbirth for some three or four days while Indians, following the best course they knew, danced about her bed beating tom-toms and singing and making noises and incantations until she was relieved by death with no physician called in to relieve her.  All this with many other bad conditions only a few miles from a beautiful modern city with great Protestant churches who seemed wholly indifferent and doing nothing to change the situation.

Turner’s choice of stories to tell exposes the set of Doctrine lenses—one of manifest destiny and another of Christian conversion/social-gospel theology—which frame his sympathetic interest.

Turner’s sympathy first arises out of a manifest belief that what is his normal and within his cultural context is right and correct.  Culture different than his own is “weird” and, at times, what one is best relieved from by death.  Turner is sympathetic towards those people who live a cultural life different from his own.

Sympathy also arises from his conversion theology.  Like James Wilbur before him and most of American Christianity of his era, Turner believes those who discern Creator/Creation through non-Christian lenses (like “Pom Pom” and “Shaker”) often participate in “orgy” worship practices.  Turner has deep sympathy for those whom he understands as unconverted pagans.

However, while Turner is sympathetic to the Yakama because of a perception that his culture and his religion are the only right and correct way of living/believing, sympathy also arises out of the social-gospel theology of his era.  The social-gospel construct of the early twentieth century called Christians to place as much care and energy into another’s wellbeing on earth as in heaven.  Turner recognized few within society and the Protestant church were paying attention to the lack of health care, commodities, and housing on the reservation.  This lack of care certainly aroused Turner’s sympathy, yet it also called him to “change the situation.”  Therefore, though Turner’s relationship with the Yakama is one sided and developed from a distance, it is one which calls him into action…

Cornerstones Are Seldom as Solid as They Seem

…Being called into action is one thing.  Finding yourself alongside a mentor who has already devoted and acting on behalf of the Yakama people is another.  W.F. Turner soon finds he has a mentor who is no slouch when it comes to speaking out for Yakama human rights and is not one to cut his silence (or anyone else for that matter) any slack.

No one in either the upper or the lower Yakama valleys came close to Lucullus V. McWhorter when it came to advocating for Yakama sovereignty and self-determination.  Yet, even McWhorter was a product of his education and religion, and believed right and correct as those actions and beliefs similar to his own.  Therefore, when he writes and gives solid evidence to the hurt inflicted upon the Yakama people by government and business, and calls society “to alleviate the bitterness” of these atrocities, he cannot help but recognize the Yakama as “childlike aborigines” who need to move forward from their current station in life.

McWhorter was Turner’s opposite when it came to developing personal relationship with Yakama folk.  For instance, he became a close friend of Yoom-Tee-Bee (then Chief of the Yakama) and together they traveled the reservation speaking with Yakama’s, persuading many not to sign government documents during a time when government and business were trying to reclaim reservation land.  McWhorter’s unrelenting advocate work promoting Yakama self-determination was not only a model for Turner, but a way of life— from McWhorter’s viewpoint—from which Turner should never stray.

It is hard to say why Turner left FCCY after a short six-year stay, however, it seems reasonable to suppose McWhorter’s advocacy for the Yakama had become part and parcel of Turner’s life.  In 1918, Turner takes the position of general superintendent with the American Christian Missionary Society (ACMS) of Washington State and moves to Spokane.  Little time passes before Turner begins to develop support for the construction of a Yakama boarding school.  Working with two men who presented themselves as Christians and Blackfeet—Red Fox and Black Hawk, Turner arranges to have them present before the American Christian Missionary Society in Cincinnati.  The impact of their presentation before ACMS led to the approval of funds for a Yakama boarding school at the Disciples 1919 Cincinnati International Convention.

Since Turner had little understanding of what it took to develop or run a boarding school, he along with F.W. Burnham, president of ACMS and S.G. Buckner, now the pastor of FCCY, visited the Episcopal Wind River Mission in Wyoming.  There they found a boarding school for Shoshone girls developed by the Reverend John Roberts.  Turner became thoroughly impressed with Roberts belief that if Indian children were “taught how to work and how to live as good Christian people,” they would also learn “to live like civilized people.”  Turner returns to Spokane and from a distance begins to develop a boarding school for Yakama children whose focus is Christianizing and civilizing.

Soon after ACMS approved the funds received from the International Convention, Turner approves buying an eighty-acre allotment two miles south of White Swan for $8,800.  With land bought, Turner turns to “[a] local board of managers, consisting of four white men and three Indians…Mr. Buckner, pastor at Yakima; C.C. Wheat, J.N. Price, and L.V. McWhorter…The Indian members were Neely Olney, cashier of the Indian bank in Wapato, Ben B. Olney, an Indian stockman, and Chief Stwire G. Waters,” to develop the Mission’s practices concerning work, education, and Christianity, as well as the compound layout and building design.

The board lost little time beginning construction on the boarding school and “[t]he cornerstone of the first cottage…was laid on June 26, 1920.”  However, soon after construction began, Turner and the board found they had gotten ahead of themselves.  In Turner’s sympathetic zeal to make a difference on the reservation, he failed to understand public support for Indian boarding schools had been lost when Indian youth began attending public schools in 1917.  Therefore, as the first Mission buildings were constructed, the board began reassessing the proposed boarding school.  Reevaluation resulted in redefining the boarding school as a Christian Home.  With a new identity in place, the American Tepee Christian Mission opened its doors to Yakama children in 1921.

Soon, though, Turner’s distance based Christianizing and civilizing efforts butt up against McWhorter’s local right of self-determination efforts, and the mentor and protégé relationship begins to unravel…


By Bell and Plow: Disciples Evangelization of American Indian’s

Today is Columbus Day in the United States and an appropriate day to end the series of stories on the Christian Doctrine of Discovery as it pertains to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) development of the Yakama Christian Mission.  The series of entries beginning July 2, 2011 are not always easy to hear; however, as one more Columbus Day is celebrated by some and mourned by others, it is time to grasp that injury inflicted by the Doctrine is ruinous to all people and the time has come to begin healing.  Healing, though, is not an easy process for there are surely times when the scabs we thought restorative must be removed to allow for a deeper and more holistic curing that includes all the sisters and brothers.  Yes, the healing will not be easy, but what lies on the other side of all the scratching and un-comfort is a chance for our children’s children to know family only as we imagine family.

…The relationship between mentor and protégé is often tenuous.  The fragility of the McWhorter-Turner relationship becomes apparent as the American Tepee Christian Mission begins operations and Turner’s worldview comes into practice.  Now living in Spokane, Turner settles into a perspective that relationship, understanding, and governance of Yakama life can be done from a distance.  Working from a distance skews Turner’s understanding of the reservation.  For instance, the when he writes, “The tribe was living in the restraint of a reservation and in a strange isolation from the mass of citizenry—a tribe apart,” Turner condemns the fact that Yakama’s and Whites are not one society—one citizenry.  However, the citizenry Turner alludes to is not one that Yakama’s are interested in participating within.  For when Turner speaks of one citizenry he is not promoting a diverse society that looks and sound multicultural—one which would include Yakama’s as they are, but rather a society that thinks and acts White.  What Turner misses, because of his lack of time on the reservation, is the normalcy of Yakama family and community life.  He is not able to grasp the richness of Yakama culture or understand the people whom he hopes to help have the same wants, desires, and loves as his own.  This is in contrast to McWhorter who engages in Yakama daily life—from riding, hunting, camping, eating in homes, and most importantly, engaging in conversation with Yakama’s as equals (and who becomes an adopted member of the Yakama Nation).  Rather than standing, as McWhorter does, alongside the Yakama, Turner accepts the role of Patrón who guides the wellbeing of others as if on a city upon a hill.

Upon the Mission opening its doors, Turner’s objective is threefold.  First was to teach and convert children to Christianity.  Turner rejoices saying, “at last we have a share in the work of evangelizing the American Indian,” and of those who live at the Mission, “most of the Yakimas [convert] of [their faith of] the now to the faith our new home represents.”  His second aim was for staff to begin civilizing Indian youth by teaching them how to work like White folk—plowing, farming, ranching, sewing, and cooking.  His third goal, was to better instill a White way of thinking by engaging youth in the public education process by busing them “back and forth [between the mission and the public school] in an autobus.”  When talking about the importance of educating Yakama children, Turner acquired the language of Francis E. Leupp saying the Christian Home model is vastly better than the Boarding School model, for attending the local public school, “is best for the [Yakama] children—to mix and mingle with other [White] children.”

To attain these goals Turner and the Mission Board felt the Home should remove children from the influence of their parents and elders.  By separating youth from their parents, Turner felt youth would better hold onto the new Christian values they would acquire from the Home.  Thus meeting the Mission’s primary “purpose…to bring the Indians to Christ and to teach them by example the way of abundant life.“ To engage in this purpose, Turner and the board hired Joe Montague as the mission’s first director.

While it is impossible to know Montague’s social and theological construct, in all probability, his theological construct mirrored Disciple conversion theology of this era.  Conversion is critical, from the Montague/Turner perspective, because “[t]he Indian children come from a background of paganism, [and] superstition.”  With sure knowledge that Yakama salvation is only attainable through ones conversion to Christianity, Montague governs the Mission with a heavy hand (not unlike that of James Wilbur) that compels youth to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.  For Montague, there was a time and place for everything and everything, in the case of the Mission, was run by the bell.  Resembling a military school, the bell rang to tell youth when to rise, to come to meals, to attend to chores, to go to school, and to attend evening worship.  Though Montague lived on the reservation, his faith never allowed him to step outside the spiritual, mental, and emotional boundaries of the Mission.  Such distance, led Montague to believe that even a Yakama converted to Christianity could be detrimental to the conversion process of children.  Therefore, it only made sense from his perspective, all people engaged in the decision-making processes of the Mission (teachers, matrons, field supervisors, and board members) should be generational Christians.  This meant they needed to be White.  With such a manifest worldview, little time passed between Montague’s arrival and his running Ben Olney off the Mission Board.

It might be said that Ben Olney, a Yakama converted to Christianity, loved his faith, the Disciples, and the Mission.  A strong supporter of the Mission from the time of its first visioning, Olney spoke across the reservation in favor of Yakama support.  He believed deeply in the work of Disciples, and spoke many times of his intentions of raising his children as Christians and Disciple.  However, for Montague, being Indian meant Olney could easily return to his pagan heritage at any moment and therefore could not be fully trusted with the salvation of Yakama youth.  Furthermore, Montague believed it irresponsible to trust Olney-an Indian (and board member), with the financial wellbeing of the Mission.  In the end, Montague carried the greater power and soon Olney was off the Mission board.

With the booting of Olney, McWhorter worked to awaken Disciple structure to the foolish actions of the Mission director.  McWhorter first began his conversations with Turner.  However, not only did he find Turner unwilling to intervene, but rather support for Montague’s civilizing efforts.  When McWhorter found Turner unwilling to move beyond conventional structure, he drafted a letter on Ben Olney’s behalf to the United Christian Missionary Society (UCMS had replaced ACMS by this time) President F.W. Burnham.  The McWhorter/Olney letter informed Burnham that Montague’s actions demonstrated a belief that, “An Injun can only follow his ‘superiors’” and at no time were Yakama’s “given any chance to prove our abilities.”

Burnham like Turner did not buy McWhorter’s line of reasoning which held Yakama’s as equals to White Christians.  Finding no relief from UCMS, McWhorter turned to the Disciples of Christ Board in St. Louis.  In the case of the Disciple Board, McWhorter ran into two obstructions.  First, he found a board whose knowledge of the west came from newspapers, books, paintings, and stories.  Having acquired their understanding of western thought and relationship from a distance made it impossible for the board to comprehend Yakama’s as White folks equals.  Second, he found the foundation of the movement’s decision-making structure was that of manifest destiny.  Such foundational thought made it impossible for the St. Louis board to comprehend the words, thoughts, and culture of the Yakama people equal to their own.

By 1923, only two years after the opening of the American Tepee Christian Mission, it became apparent to L.V. McWhorter, Neely Olney, Ben B. Olney, and Chief Stwire G. Waters that the Disciples of Christ, locally and nationally, could neither comprehend nor support the self-determination of people living in a non-White culture.  As a result, L.V. McWhorter, one of the greatest White voices in favor of Yakama autonomy, and all three Yakama’s resigned from the mission board.

Today’s entry ends two years after the Yakama Christian Mission accepts the first Yakama child into the Christian Home.  As the story progresses beyond 1923, Disciple worldviews change and understandings of equality transform.  However, core Disciple belief, structure, and polity based in the Doctrine of Discovery fiercely fought to maintain the status quo (A reading of Keith Watkins A Visible Sign of God’s Presence: A History of the Yakama Christian Mission is informative to how this has occurred).  Today the Doctrine remains intricately laced within all manifestations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  The need to renounce the Doctrine and begin unlacing it from Disciple structure and polity are critical near future steps for the Disciples of Christ.  These are steps endorsed by both the staff and board of the Yakama Christian Mission.  If you have an interest in working towards change to help bring greater wholeness to Creation, please contact a board member or staff.

Becoming White In America

Nearly nine decades after children first walked through the doors at the American Tepee Christian Mission, Ms. “L,” a young woman, got off a plane in Yakima in late spring.  She arrived at the Mission with dark blond hair that ended just above her shoulders and white-Danish skin sorely in need of sunscreen with its first meeting of the Yakama sun.  Ms. “L” arrived telling a story about the adoption of her great -grandmother off the reservation.  She also talked about childhood stories concerning her great and grandparents being shrouded and obscure.  When Ms. “L” arrived at the Mission (now known as the Yakama Christian Mission) she was unable to explain why she came other than to say this was the place of her great-grandparent’s birth.  However, it was also clear that she felt a need to be in the landscape of where she had once been, generations before.

Ms “L” was born and raised in a predominately White community.  Self-assured with a quick wit, thoughtful of the world around her, and with a compassion for animals, she grew up in an attentive and caring community and  attended one of the communities best high schools.  Her community (e.g., school and church) helped instill a mindset committed to social and spiritual justice.  Thanks to the questioning of her home church community, she arrived at the Mission with an inquisitive attitude.

It was not long before Ms. “L’s” caring nature had children coming and telling her stories in confidence (“Did you know the Praying Mantis changes its colors so it can be friends with whatever plant it lives on?”  “Yes, Yes, I do.  Just like you when you help fill Sam’s sand bucket!).  As weeks passed, adult conversations led to consideration of the differences between life at home and life on the reservation.  Ms. “L” spoke about those familial and cultural attributes she loved: her Danish roots (the roots of her dark blond hair and light skin), her traditional foods—Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ham, and Easter lamb, and her religious family—Disciples of Christ.  When speaking about race or ethnic issues she identified as White, Anglo, and Danish.  Conversation over the weeks led to a community realization; Miss “L’s” life reflected the hopes, desires, and prayers of the 1921 American Tepee Christian Mission and the U.S. Government: the young brown-skin Yakama girl who left the reservation in the 1920’s had returned, no longer Indian, but as White, educated, civilized, Christian, Disciple, and American.

Over the last decade, I have learned Ms. “L’s” story is not unique, but normal.  People return the reservation and Mission each year looking to fill an unexplainable embodied hollowness.  However, the search for rootedness on the reservation, for one whose family has experienced generational removal, brings up a type of hurt and loss few are able to confront.  To engage in the reflective work needed to confront White culture, which robbed a person of their roots, history, and parental culture, and replaced the void with White privilege, is simply overwhelming.  And who can criticize…after all, how many non-Indian people, have seriously engaged in considering the loss of family story, food, name (it has been at least a generation since the last “Olga” in my family), or dress since becoming American?

There is a great need for conversation pertaining to American Christianities supporting role of the Doctrine of Discovery.  And while there is a need for every Christian denomination to engage in the conversation, it is critical for those, like Disciples, who directly participated in the attempt to remove culture and identity from the indigenous peoples of the American landscape.  This is important, for if denominations do not confront their Doctrine of Discovery history (and its embedment within their identity) concurrently while they jump on to the transformational-missional-emerging church bandwagon, the best they achieve is a new look and a new sound.  True reformation, though, never occurs and the attributes of the Doctrine of Discovery (e.g., white privilege, Christian superiority, monoculture) remain institutionally embodied.  Christianity gravely needs a conversation concerning its alliance with the Doctrine of Discovery, for without it Christianity is no more than bent grass—alive but mortally injured