How do I respond to this Native American complaint?

We visited a pow wow this weekend. One of the elders speaking was talking about his youth and how he was forced to cut his hair, not speak his native language, and has his named changed from a native name (Laroy I believe – meaning Royalty) to Lereoy.

He talked about having his traditional beliefs ‘stripped’ from him and being “forced” into catholic ways. After time, he rejected Catholicism and went back to his traditional (small t) ways.

As a Catholic, how should we respond to these statements?

Same for other religions…eg, Mr. Teresa dealing daily with Muslims and Hindu? We want to evangelize, yet we can’t alienate in the process. Simply telling them “you’re wrong, and are going to burn in hell unless…” isn’t a way to win souls…


Like St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel always. Use words if necessary.”

You have to love them like Christ does and live your faith more than you speak about it. Love NEVER includes force and you don’t have to become Anglo or Western at all to be a good Catholic. A true Catholic would never ask someone to give up their whole lifestyle (unless it was seriously immoral) to join the Church. I think Mother Teresa would be appalled if she heard what was done to this man.

that is one version of one man’s story. it ignores the rest of the story. years ago many parents of native Americans feared for the future of their children if they remained isolated and poorly educated on reservations and send their children to schools run by Catholic (and other) missionaries for the express purpose of educating them in mainstream American culture to give them what they envisioned as a better future.

A similar debate goes on continually in the field of education all over the country, and has always been there: the best way to assimilate immigrants, use of “eubonics” and afro-centrism, etc. Changing a child’s language changes culture as well and w/o a strong family and community support the next generation almost inevitably loses much of the distinctiveness of their native culture.

Even today in my area school districts differ on the issue of bi-lingual, all English, or all Spanish education for newly arrived children from Mexico. Those who take one position or the other are not evil oppressors, they have for better or worse sound reasons for advocating their policy.

Mother’s mission was not education it was primary care for the poor, so I don’t even see the connection.

The Catholic missionaries who ran, and still run those schools did so to supply a lack that was not being met by the government or the tribes t that time, and did so with the best available resources and education theories of the day, with charity, extreme sacrifice and good will. That the theories may have been wrong and the methods–commonly approved and used in schools in general in that era–does not automatically make them evil and abhorrent. The same missionaries continue that work today, and with a growth in knowledge, experience and sensitivity that parallels and has actually exceeded that of the wider society, do make extreme efforts to honor the existing native culture and help preserve it.

why the topic is on this forum is a mystery to me

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Unfortunately, these actions were prevalent in ‘Residential Schools’ (run by Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican & United Churches) in Canada for decades. Children were effectively kidnapped by government agents from distant reserves, brought to residential schools, stripped of every shred of their nativeness and punished (often corporally) for speaking their language and performing their native rites. Many, when they returned to their reserves, could no longer speak their parents’ language and fit neither on the reserve nor in ‘white’ society.

This was due to a government policy of assimilation for which the Government & the Churches who acted on its behalf to implement the policy have shelled out millions in compensation for the abuse.

Add to this the gov’t policy of using these children for medical experimentation (by denying them the same treatment that would be given to the non-native population of the same age) and I can easily understand the aboriginal person’s rejection of the religion that did this.

aboriginal person’s rejection of the religion that did this

The religion didn’t do this. People did. Christianity doesn’t teach people to abuse and mistreat people. It also doesn’t call for the obliteration of language, culture and history.

One must always use caution when evaluating things that happened in the past by standards of today.

For example, just think of the subject of hygiene. I think if we were to go back in time and lived with folks from previous centuries, we would be appalled at the lack of cleanliness in people’s kitchens. We might be tempted to say that the parents were doing horrible things to their children by allowing them to live with such dirt. I think it is unfair to judge in this way. Yes, the hygiene would be unacceptable by today’s standards… but that does not mean that the parents of that home were bad parents. They simply had no way of knowing.

So I think we need to humbly refrain from making harsh judgements of those who have come before us and ask God for the grace of wisdom and truth to help those hurt by the mistakes of our predecessors.

I realize that. History on many subject has been distorted by political agendas. In particular the “noble savage” has been romanticized, and at the same time ‘white man’ giving smallpox infected blankets has been ignored.

The fact is, this gentleman perceives that what happened to him was that he was forceabily stripped of his beliefs and forced into catholicism. Now he rejects that and lives the “traditional way”.

He is not alone – this is the way many of my native friends perceive the past.

I can’t say it didn’t happen, because it did. It is an embarrassment to me.

The question is – how do I deal with it when the subject comes up?

I guess the question also applies to other parts of Catholic history too. The scandals, the middle ages. There is some truth, but a lot of distortion. :frowning:

You’re kidding, right? That’s mentioned many, many times in every history class in the United States, whether it’s relevant to mention or not.

Does the child who suffers abuse ever differentiate between the abuser and the institution he/she represents? Perception is everything and no amount of saying “the Church” didn’t do this is going to change the fact that this child experienced this at the hands of priests & brothers in cassocks and sisters in habits “THE CHURCH” to him.

Since when is civilizing people abuse?

**and has his named changed from a native name (Laroy I believe – meaning Royalty) to Lereoy. **

And Leroy means “The King” in French. Basically, the same thing.

They were civilized.

In some cases we harmed them greatly. I see the unfortunate results of our interference daily since a people close to me was forced by gov’t and the Church, in the 1960s, to stop being a nomadic people and settle into villages – without giving them the skills to do so or anything to do once they’d stopped being nomads. It’s not a pretty picture.

“You’ll go to hell” was used by St Maria Goretti, she’s a saint.
Eventually the message got through to the one she addressed.
He was converted.

I am Catholic and part Native American. I have a Catholic soul which means that being Catholic comes first. Sometimes the Native American part of me shows up and I think like a Native American that my grand-mother taught me spiritually and I take joy in the beliefs and traditions of the Native American part of me. It is a positive part of me.

I also have attended many POW WOWS’ and have heard some speakers talk bad about what happened to them on a personal level. They always have something bad to say about the white people. Then the speakers talk about how proud they were in being in the American military and their medals

Gerard, Most older generation Native Americans are truly angry with what happened to them and they pass this anger on to the younger generation with their true experiences. I wish they would stop doing that because it keeps Native Americans angry.
I used to be very angry myself but I have learned to just let the anger go because it isn’t doing me any good.

Gerard, my advice to you is to not get envolved with any Native American discussion because most of them are just too angry. It is best to keep quiet and not say nothing. Just stay positive.
Just enjoy the POW WOW’S.

I have a friend who is Lakota and was raised by an Apache family. She and I have talked extensively about this.
She has also become Catholic not too long ago.

Many of these claims are true and are terrible. This was just another case of white people treating the Native Americans as “savages” and was the permeating thought of the time.

Keep in mind that scalping, which has been attributed to the Native Americans was actually a practice that they picked up from the white people. :frowning:

Our own government took children away from parents and did its level best to destroy the Native Americans. They assigned warring tribes adjacent land on reservations, intending that they wipe each other out. They gave them blankets contaminated with disease for the same reason. That is tantamount to biological warfare.

I grew up with “Indian women” on my TV and movies being called “squaws” which my friend enlightened me is a terribly nasty way to refer to them and not one that they even use among themselves.

Another case is the fact that her own Lakota and Dakota tribes were and have been known as “Sioux” which was not only not their tribal name, but is actually a French derivative that is grossly unkind.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of universally shared prejudices that resulted in these kinds of things. It is a shameful part of being both an American and an American Catholic.

Thanks Be To God that we are somewhat better now.:signofcross:

While it is undeniable the practice of “scalp bounties” offered by European and Euro-American authorities spread the practice of scalping to Indian nations that had never heard of it, it is also a long standing myth that Europeans invented it.

During the first century of contact, numerous accounts by European’s recorded this unusual practice among SOME of the tribes they encountered–the Europeans had never seen this sort of body mutilation–and they were from cultures that all practiced judicial torture of some sort. In fact, for over over a hundred years (from 1500-1610) Europeans didn’t even have a word to describe the practice–but the Indian tribes hads words for it, and well developed ceremonies and customs, involving issues of ritual purity and social recognition. The other proof is there is undeniable skeletal remains of Indians who had been scalped well prior to any European contact–including a mass grave in the upper praries of the midwest.

Yeah, that was different. She was being raped! Not the same thing as judging a bunch of people and trying to “civilize” them.

First I am also a 'native american’for even tho my parents came from Italy I was born here so I am a native american! Many years ago a lakota boy went to the local ‘white mans’ school,his parents forced him for it was the best one around…he was teased the first day but went back…graduated and then went on to college…he became the first Indian to graduate from a 'white mans’college.: Dartmoutn…he then went on to medical school,changing his name to Dr.Charles Eastman…after reading a superb article on the boyscouts and being prepared for life and doing a good deed daily…this great man went back to the reservation from whence he came and organized boy scouts chapters and campfire girls…instead of whining he rose above it all…Geronimo was a terrorist to the settlers and a patriot to his tribe…he hated mexicans for they killed one of his wives,him mother and three of his kids…he was captured and shipped to florida…a prisoner of war for over 20 years,he kept trying to tell his side of the conflicts but no chance till Teddy Roosevelt said…why not,just when you mention an event or person,they must have a chance to give their side also,and so in this book he endorsed it to Theodore Roosevelt and finally had a chance to speak out…I have the above book by Dr.Eastman and the latter also by Geronimo…both pay tribute to TR…also I have a book on TR by James Amos who was TRs right hand man for almost 20 years…then in 1921 became the first African American to join TRs created FBI ,he broke many cases and remained in the Bureau on behest of the great J.Edgar Hoover till 1953 dieing at age 74…Amos ends his book also calling Theodore Roosevelt the greatest Christian he ever met…and so it goes with the ‘natives’ they are an independent nation within a no taxes yet complain a lot and invite ole white eyes into their gambling casinos …when the great Spanish explorer Cortez reached what is now Mexico city he discovered remains of human sacrifice to a sun god…some 100,000 skulls,most of the young…he was disgusted by this and destroyed their temple…later thru a miracle this savage nation (oops sorry not pc) converted to Catholicism…but it took a fantastic miracle! Tell the elders some of us are still upset over the massacre in Minnesota when some 640 men ,women and children lost their lives in 1864 to these native americans…they could not defend them selves for the men were old as the young men were at a civil war fighting and dieing to end slavery…which also existed in the local cuture…sorry for taking up so much space…will eat some corn for punishment…

Thanks for the posting. My wife and I are traders selling food items, we trade at about 3 or 4 pow wows a year. I can definitely see the bitter self-defeating attitude you talk about, I can also see some amazing warm and truly loving people…a warmth and loving attitude that many christians could learn a lot from.

Yes, I do my part to stay out of the disputes. Frankly, I don’t have enough knowledge of the traditional beliefs or native history to say much of anything of value. However I have found myself quite ‘friendly’ with many of the traders and am periodically put into the odd situation.

This weekend was tough. I was left with an amazingly bitter taste in my mouth after having my beloved Catholic faith attacked, by a very respected elder no less. I felt the desire to defend it or at least to start a dialog. Fortunately I was given a flash of wisdom to keep my mouth shut. I know this will happen again probably 2 more times this summer…

Gerard, you know my people really well by just listening to them and their attitudes towards their past experiences with the white people. I am giving you a new name… “The wise man”. Yes, it is best to stay quiet on all subjects. Always remember your new name and you will survive very well among my people.

I highly suggest that you hire some young Native American girls to work for you at the pow wows. It will attract a lot of people to buy food from your vendor stand because the attendees will think that your vendor stand has the best Indian

You most likely already know which food vendors are very popular because they are considered to have the best food.

Don’t get upset if the Native girls working for you give the Native American attendees extra portions of
The Native food vendors look at me and they always give me some extra food

POW WOWS are meant for people of all colors to just have fun.
The leaders like to get political, tell sad stories about their experiences. DANCE AND SING… and be joyful and angry It is fun for me just to walk around and see and meet some of the tribes. I am part Commanche and totally isolated from my tribe living a Catholic life… so it if fun when I see some of them with their colors dancing in a group.
I love POW WOW’S.

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