Posted by on Apr 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

A Demand for Respect for Indigenous Beliefs

By: Ruth Hopkins

Man has shown himself to be a spiritual being.  Every culture, for time immemorial, has held a belief in a higher power(s), communed with those deities by means of prayer and ceremony, and based on that belief system, established core values that promoted virtuous life practices.

Sounds great, right?  So where’s the controversy?  Well, humans are flawed.  Over time, people have twisted belief systems, born of grace, love, and sacrifice, and manipulated them so they may be used to strike fear into people’s hearts.  Combined with wealth and power, religion became a viable means of controlling the general populace.  Indoctrinated fear, coupled with ignorance, breeds hate.

Worldwide, the topic of religion is a lightning rod.  Serious discussion of religion and spirituality between people of differing religious faiths often leads to an impasse or worse; anger, and condemnation.  Mankind wages war in the name of ‘God.’  All the while, each side claims to have his blessing.  I wonder what The Creator God thinks when individuals from opposing sides pray to him, and then set out to kill one another in his name?

This disconnect is particularly evident in Christianity, in all its incarnations.  Ancient text written by ardent Disciples of Christ was interpreted by monks living in the dark ages.  Translations are fallible.  Books were excluded.  Even so, the Bible holds meaningful passages.  Here are just a few:  “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” (Mark 12:31) “Love never fails,” (1 Corinthians 13:8a) and “The truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32)

Unfortunately, some Christians focus on other passages and interpret them in such a way that it affords them province over nature and ‘unbelievers.’  The verse, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man cometh to the Father but by me,” (John 14:6) is used by factions of fundamentalist Christians to justify persecuting others who are not Christians.

What do we get as a result of a religion that believes it alone has the power to decide who goes to heaven or hell, if such places do indeed exist in the afterlife?  The Spanish Inquisition.  The Salem Witch Trials.  Manifest Destiny.  Genocide of Indigenous peoples.  The Doctrine of Discovery.  Boarding Schools assigned the task of ‘killing the Indian and saving the man.’ Environmental devastation on a global scale, by a people who believe they have dominion over every living creature on the surface of the planet.  A culture of fear.  ‘God Hates Fags’ signs at military funerals.  Governmentally mandated rape by vaginal ultrasound.

Apparently they’ve forgotten another verse, which speaks to hypocrites:  “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:5)

There’s been a rash of racist flyers distributed in South Dakota lately.  These flyers exemplify my concerns about the need for tolerance and respect for the spiritual beliefs of others.  It’s been said that the flyer I’m including here has been circulated by Christian church members.  The flyer calls the sacred Lakota rite of Yuwipi, as well as hand games, ‘satanic,’ and claims our sundancers suffer from ‘mental illness.’  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Not only is this racist flyer disheartening, it also incites hatred and violence toward Natives who are only practicing the spirituality of their ancestors.  Our right to observe these ways is currently protected by The American Indian Religious Freedom Act- but even if it weren’’t, we’’d keep practicing our sacred rites anyway.

It amazes me that a religion based on the sacrifice of such a selfless, loving, and wise individual as Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Jew, could contain bigots, misogynists and racists, who’ve hid behind crucifixes as innocents were massacred by those who called themselves conquerors.

Don’’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Christianity.  There are Christians who’ve spent their entire lives in service  to others.  I just don’’t understand why so many self-professed Christians are determined to spread hate and lies about those who don’t practice their religion, nor why they are so set on trying to control the decisions and behavior of others.  There are even denominations under the umbrella of Christianity that hate each other.

Christians can be respectful.  My grandmother was a good Dakota winyan (woman).  She converted to Christianity in the early 1900s.  Her conversion was sincere, just as our people were sincere in all they undertook in those days.  She traveled through blizzards in a horse-drawn wagon just to attend church on Sunday morning.  She sang hymns in Dakota, just as many Dakota did when 38 of our warriors were hung in Mankato in 1862.  She lived her beliefs and stayed up late at night praying for her family and community.  Yet, there was no condemnation in her heart for those who didn’’t believe as she did, even her own children.  Looking back on it, perhaps it was her conversion that allowed her and others like her to survive, so her grandchildren could find their way back to the sacred hoop.

If we as Natives are sincere in our desire to decolonize our minds and our communities, it only stands to reason that we must return to the sacred ways of our ancestors.  These traditions were given specifically to us.  For those of us who are Dakota, Lakota, or Nakota, this means we should observe the seven sacred rites as given to us by White Buffalo Calf Woman.  Don’t perceive this statement as a threat.  You see, unlike Christianity, those of us who practice ancient Indigenous ways aren’t consumed by the need to convert outsiders- just the opposite.

People should find their own path to redemption.  If dancing with snakes in a mountain church, meditating, wearing ‘magical’ underwear, traversing to Mecca, or even choosing to scrap religion all together to believe only in science improves a person’s life and makes them feel whole, who am I to judge?  As for me, my heart beats for The Tree of Life.  It’s not a religion- its my life.  I choose the way of my ancestors.  Call me a heathen if you like, but if you respect my ways, I’ ’ll respect yours.

“God is love.” (1 John 4:8)