The Oglala Sioux Tribe (part of the Lakota people) has officially blocked Christian missionaries from coming onto the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota unless they first jump through some regulatory hoops. The move comes after one missionary spread what was widely considered hate speech against Lakota spirituality.
The chaos began last week when a member of the Jesus is King Mission distributed pamphlets denouncing Lakota beliefs in order to elevate (who else?) Jesus.
The pamphlet says Jesus is the “true God” while Tunkasila (a Lakota word meaning “creator”) is a “demon idol.” It invokes the names of Russell Means (an Oglala Lakota rights activist who died in 2012), Leonard Crow Dog (a spiritual leader), Black Elk (a revered holy man who died in 1950), and the Wounded Knee Massacre (in which the U.S. Army killed about 300 Lakota people)… all in an attempt to convert people to Christianity.
The mission group’s website elaborates on all this with passages such as, “Jesus judges righteously. Tunkasila doesn’t. Jesus sets people free fom sin. Tunkasila doesn’t. Jesus has power to raise the dead. What power has Tunkasila demonstrated? [crickets…]”
This, of course, wouldn’t be the first time Christians have attempted to wipe out tribal culture, but doing so through this particular form of disrespect is especially egregious, partly because they’ve been doing it for a while. Here’s a description of many of the same complaints from 2019:
Spotted Horse and others who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals from church supporters described incidents of aggressive proselytizing and demeaning treatment of Lakota spirituality and language, baptizing children without parental permission, use of humiliating poverty porn to fundraise, and of forwarding a colonial agenda that privileges non-Native values and goals. Some members have made allegations of sexual abuse and financial misdeeds and point to the failure of most organizations to conduct background searches for their workers and volunteers.
Although many on Pine Ridge eagerly accept the donations of food, school supplies, toys and other goods, some people wonder about the motivations behind the seemingly uncoordinated charitable work that is seldom based on community need or any public assessment.
Last Friday, an emergency meeting was held to discuss the “hate speech targeting our way of life,” leading to this statement from President Kevin Killer:
… While the President and Council adhere to the Oglala Lakota Constitution’s Bill of Rights, the President and Council also have an obligation to ensure that the Colonizing principles of the past are not asserted against the Lakota people again.
This week the Jesus is King Missionary was found distributing material that literally demonizes the Lakota Culture and Faith. This is unacceptable and completely disrespectful. It is the view of the President and Council that these “pamphlets” seek to promote Hate instead of Peace. Hate has no place on Oglala land.
Thus, President Killer and the Council demand that the Missionary Matthew Monfore and the Jesus is King Mission leave the Oglala Lakota Sioux Nation immediately and cease any further hate speech actions.
The Oglala Lakota Tribe is open to all faiths and opinions, but we do not tolerate Hate.
On Tuesday, the governing body of the tribe formalized that statement while making important additions to handle everyone’s concerns.
The end result is that missionaries will now be required to register with the tribe, conduct background checks of anyone evangelizing, and provide financial reports. They’ll also be prohibited from using pictures and videos of Lakota children in order to fundraise for more mission trips, nor will they be able to use “Oglala Lakota” or “Pine Ridge Indian Reservation” in their fundraising requests. (Those last ones are a big deal; church groups tend to get a lot of donations when they’re earmarked for converting Indian tribes.)
Any groups caught breaking these rules will be kicked off the land.
The reaction online was primarily celebration from people who were happy to see a tribe push back against this form of Christian bigotry:
Just to state the obvious: Christianity itself isn’t banned in the tribe. People can go to church, read the Bible, and, yes, evangelize too. But a Christian missionary who thinks everything belongs to him and disrespects the Oglala people in an effort to earn tally marks for Jesus won’t get a free pass. Those missionaries will have to overcome more hurdles now if their only goal is to replace one set of beliefs with their own.