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Christian missions and Indian assimilation: Role and effects upon the Lakota Sioux of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and their institutions

Christian missions and Indian assimilation: Role and effects upon the Lakota Sioux of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and their institutions

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Christian missions and Indian assimilation: Role and effects upon the Lakota Sioux of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and their institutions

303 pages
6 heures
Sep 9, 2015


„Christian Missions and Indian Assimilation“ was originally written as a Master thesis paper in Geography and was completed in 2001 at the Karl-Franzens-University in Graz, Austria. It is one of the most accurate and comprehensive books there are on Lakota history & culture as well as intercultural contact and its implications.
Driven by the idea of culture clash and its consequences Andrea Schmidt was curious to find out how two seemingly so very different or even contradictory cultural and religious systems, the Oglala Lakota cultural system and the (European) system of Christian belief and mission, can exist, side by side, within the Lakota individuals, tribes and within the reservation.
The contents of this book are based upon comprehensive field study and data collection at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for several months starting in 1999, accompanied by literary and historical research at the archives of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and several other academic institutions including the Oglala Lakota College in Kyle, South Dakota.
Things changed dramatically after 2001, when the paper first came out as a thesis paper; a lot of clergy left the reservation, missionaries seemed to be less active and less interested in Lakota culture than their predecessors.
No such paper could have been written at any other point of time.
Sep 9, 2015

À propos de l'auteur

ANDREA SCHMIDT, M.A., is a school teacher, herbalist and expert in cross-cultural studies. She lives in South-East Austria and is sharing her knowledge in seminars and presentations. Visit her website at www.zurueckzudenwurzeln.at

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Aperçu du livre

Christian missions and Indian assimilation - Andrea Schmidt




This thesis analyzes the role of the Christian missions in assimilating the Oglala Lakota Sioux and its effects upon Lakota people and their institutions. It is necessary to explain a few things beforehand, as Christian missions are a complex phenomenon. Native American societies in general have a distinct, narrow relationship between culture and religion, or rather spirituality. In other words, there is no activity done, no field of life that is left untouched by spiritual implications. My main consideration was to find out what happens when this central aspect of life is challenged, changed, and partly replaced by another form of religion, Christianity, in the course of the missionary movement. For a society in which religion is the essential integrative system, synonymous with a people’s identity, a change of this factor naturally effects a change in every other area of life.

This paper is not restricted to the missionary movement alone. One cannot study Christian missions to the Lakota Sioux without considering federal Indian policy. Federal Indian policy has provided the framework under which the missions could work. Besides, the close cooperation of church and state with regard to the assimilation of the Indians at times, made their goals, methods and strategies of assimilation similar, if not identical. The whole development of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is a direct result of the policy of assimilation and will thus be presented in a basic outline. Still, the missionary movement has always held a central role in the assimilation of the Indians and will remain the focus of consideration, including its effects upon the Lakota Sioux.

The Lakota Sioux have been confronted with two distinct forms of assimilation; coercive assimilation throughout the 19th century and selective assimilation beginning in the first decades of the 20th century. This division is addressed in the paper and forms the two main parts of it. In each part, a definition of the American society to which the Indians were required to assimilate will be given, and the Christian missions to the Sioux and the Lakota Indian response will be analyzed. Federal Indian policy will be illustrated to the extent of its relevance to the missionary movement.

The Lakota must not be regarded as passive victims in the assimilation movement. They actively responded to whatever was imposed on them. In Lakota society, in which religion is the integral factor, cultural conflict is defined as a truly religious conflict. Strategies of resistance and adaptation will naturally focus on religion. As will be illustrated, the history of Lakota assimilation, of which Christianization was the central part, is a history of adaptation and, above all, survival. The Lakota have survived, as a tribe and as a people.

Before getting into the topic of the missionary movement several basic explanations will be given which are necessary to an understanding of my topic. After introducing the Oglala Lakota Sioux, my personal experiences collecting data on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will be presented. A general definition of assimilation will be given and its relevance for the Oglala Lakota Sioux explained. Finally, a summary of white perspectives upon Indians will help the reader understand why the demand to assimilate the Sioux changed radically over time.

Altogether, the basic structure of this paper thus consists of four parts, the Christian missions to the Lakota Sioux, federal Indian policy, coercive assimilation in the past, and selective assimilation in the present. All parts are inseparably interwoven and each factor is necessary to get the whole picture on assimilation.

Finally, it should not be left unmentioned that this paper is written from a white European point of view, and is to be read with this fact in mind. Native Americans might have a different perspective on things.


1.2.1. Lakota Oyate – The People

The focus of this paper is on the Oglala Lakota Sioux. The popular way of classifying the Sioux¹ is through the concept of ‘Oceti Sakowin’ or ‘Seven Council Fires’, dividing them into seven tribal segments, the Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Wahpeton, Sisseton, Yankton, Yanktonai, and the Teton. The Lakota are part of the Tetons meaning ‘Dwellers of the Plains’, which was the largest and westernmost division. To the east lived the four Santee groups, the ‘Dwellers at the Knife [Lake]’, in the middle the Yankton and Yanktonai, or ‘Those Who Speak Like Men’. This division corresponds to different dialectal variations of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, derived from the word ‘koda’ of the Santees and ‘kola’ of the Tetons, both signifying friend, together forming the ‘alliance of friends’ (Powers 1982). The Teton, in turn, can be divided into seven bands, the Oglala, the Sicangu or Brule, the Hunkpapa, Miniconjou, Itazipco or Sans Arc, the Oohenumpa or Two Kettle, and the Sahsapa or Blackfeet (Robinson 1974).

The Oglala Lakota Sioux make up the majority of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation residents. Reference will also be given to other reservations, especially to the Rosebud Indian Reservation which borders to Pine Ridge. Its people, the Sicangu or Brule, have always been closely interrelated with the Oglala, and have experienced a similar development. The Sioux in general, and the Oglala Lakota in particular, were selected for this study because one cannot study Native American² issues without inadvertently encountering the Sioux whose image as horse-riding wild dwellers of the plains has come to represent the Indian, at least in the European stereotyperidden mind. They, or their images, have always enacted a special magic on the outside observer. So much has been written about them that one is tempted to believe that the Sioux are just a heroic myth and not real. The names of some Sioux chiefs like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull are often-heard and familiar. They played a prominent role in the history of white-Indian relations. The Sioux fought the longest against the American military and have, although conditions do not reflect it at this point of time, actually won the federal-Indian war. Their last and most well-known battle was the Battle of the Little Bighorn, 1876, against the 7th Cavalierly of General George Armstrong Custer. In the 20th century the Sioux are often connected with the American Indian Movement (AIM), and are practically identified with Indian radicalism and the fight for more rights. The Indian civil rights movement culminated in the occupation of Wounded Knee, a small village on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in 1973 (Lazarus 1999). The reservation today is regarded as one of the most traditional, but it is also one of the poorest. Demonstrations and protest movements are not a thing of the past, as the recent occupation of the tribal headquarters in Pine Ridge village, January 2000, reveals (BHPN 1/00). All in all, the fact that the Sioux were one of the last tribes to be subjugated and pacified, and who have been the epitome of resistance for a long time, makes a study of their assimilation into white American society even more interesting.

1.2.2. The Land

The traditional homeland of the Sioux was the Minnesota area, the woodland spread about the headwaters of the Mississippi. They lived there in semi-permanent houses of wood, earth and bark on a mixed economy consisting of horticulture, hunting, gathering and fur trading. Driven out first by their enemies, the Ojibwas, who lived closer to white settlement and who had got firearms before them, and by incoming American settlers, they gradually moved further west. The Tetons were the first ones that reached the western plains and by 1775 only the Santee were still residing in the lake country. Reports show that when the Lakota first encountered whites, they were already living in the prairie lands (Robinson 1974). There they developed their distinctive plains culture. They abandoned the settled woodland life and became nomads, exploiting the wild ponies, descendents of Spanish horses, and following the buffalo herds. In time the Sioux were the most powerful tribes of the plains, dominating large parts of Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, Nebraska and almost all of South Dakota, with hunting grounds extended far beyond.

The Sioux lived in that area relatively undisturbed until the 1850s. They officially came under the authority of the United States by the Louisiana Purchase in 1804, but even before 1800 the Sioux were involved in fur trading. The first agreement between the whites and some Sioux bands was made in 1825, to emphasize the overall supremacy of the U.S. over the Sioux country, to regulate all trade and intercourse with the Sioux, and to keep peace and keep away settlers. Because early explorers were convinced that the land was unfit for agriculture the whole area was called ‘Great American Desert’ and was reserved as ‘Permanent Indian Country’ for the sole use and occupancy of the native tribes (Lazarus 1999). A fixed frontier was established along the western borders of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota, and tribes living to the east of this line, such as the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw were removed. Although the main part of the Sioux except of the eastern bands still occupy parts of their original homelands today, their land loss in the course of the assimilation policy was tremendous (ibid).

Seen from the perspective of a Native American, their loss was not only of a material, but above all, of a spiritual nature. Native Americans have a close relationship to land in general, and especially to their homelands. There are special places, associated with origin myths, that include the ground for ceremonies and rituals, so that the Indians’ assertion that the land is actually their religion is not far-fetched (Deloria 1999a). To the Sioux the Black Hills, which was illegally taken in 1877, was such a place and they are still fighting for its return. Their special relationship to the land is one of the reasons why a many Native Americans have always regarded the conflict with the whites as a truly religious conflict (ibid).


The results and conclusions for this paper mainly derive from two sources. For background information literature research was done at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as at Marquette University Archives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during my stay there from the end of August 1999 to mid-December 1999. I was confronted with an overwhelming amount of literature on the Sioux including the Oglala Lakota, especially on historical issues. Most information on the missionary movement to the Sioux in the past was gathered by research at the Catholic archives at Marquette University and the Episcopal Archives at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The major parts of this paper, especially contemporary issues, derive from my field study on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation from September 20th to October 18th, 1999. Reasons for conducting research on the spot were, first of all, that there is little literature available on present day Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, especially with regard to Christian missions. Secondly, the majority of publications on the Lakota Sioux are written by non-Indians, and in order to avoid a one-sided perspective, interviews with Lakota people were simply a necessity. Third, my long-time interest in the Oglala Lakota Sioux could finally be satisfied by this visit.

As Pine Ridge Reservation is a unique place for research in many ways, I will include a few personal remarks here. Data collecting on Indian reservations is not an easy thing. It requires getting acquainted with the right people, a good preparation, and good luck. When entering the reservation I had roughly defined the outline of my paper, and a few contacts were established via e-mail beforehand, such as the Oglala Lakota College on the reservation and the Catholic Holy Rosary Mission. I knew what questions I wanted to ask. My greatest concern was that the Lakota people would not want to talk to me, as they have been continually invaded by all kinds of researchers in the past and present, and I figured that they would have had enough of it. As it was, the complete opposite turned out to be true. Most Lakota were very much interested in the research I conducted. I got to know more people and collected more interviews which were essential to my study than I could have possibly envisioned. Most interviews focused on experiences with Christian missions and the mission boarding schools and how individuals come to terms with the religious diversity on the reservation. Interviews were also carried out with Christian priests and missionaries, in order to gather both views upon religious diversity on the reservation and the functions religious groups provide for the Lakota today. As Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is quite overrun by missionaries, collecting information about every existing denomination there was simply impossible within the short period of my stay. A selection of the religious groups on the reservation is contained in the paper. The acquaintance with all kinds of ministers and priests and other clergy was not less interesting, as their doctrines and approach to the Lakota people ranged from fundamentalist beliefs to very liberal attitudes.

Where I ended up after the information was gathered was in total chaos. All attempts to classify the information I gathered turned out to be in vain. I began to wonder why the Lakota just could not make up their minds about religion and make life easier for researchers. Apart from the interviews, several parts of the paper I was going to write turned out to be inseparately interwoven, which made it difficult to bring them into a linear form. Over time things cleared up when I stopped trying to separate things which cannot be separated.

Finally, I want to stress that without the cooperation of the Lakota people this paper would have never been possible. Their generosity, hospitality and patience was overwhelming. Although they had come to call me the ‘question box’ by the end of my stay, and although, in search of understanding, I asked one and the same persons the same questions over and again, I always got an answer.


1.4.1. A Theory of Acculturation

Acculturation, as the name already indicates, consists of processes of interaction that are initiated whenever cultures come into contact. Acculturation is generally defined as a cultural modification of an individual, group or people through prolonged and continuous interaction involving intercultural exchange and borrowing with a different culture; especially modification in a primitive culture resulting from contact with an advanced society (G&C Merriam Company 1991). The character and extent of this major culture change depends upon the distribution of power among the involved cultures. Acculturation is generally a mutual, reciprocal process, but can affect only one side if a society in superior position forces its culture system upon the subordinate group. This form of acculturation is called coercive acculturation and stands in contrast to permissive or selective acculturation, when a culture deliberately chooses to imitate desirable material or spiritual components of another one. Whereas coercive acculturation demands the radical adjustment of tribes as well as individuals to the dominant group, which is mostly accompanied by severe internal conflict and resistance, selective acculturation is generally rated as a cultural enrichment and a contribution to progress.

Although often used in like manner, assimilation and acculturation are not identical, as assimilation is but one of four possible results of acculturation. In assimilation, relinquishing cultural identity and moving into the larger society is the option taken (Padilla 1980, 13). This means not only superficial, outward adaptation of one culture to another, but an inner modification, which leads to the loss of identity and inner values, to the integration of a culture into another, bigger, community. Assimilation can be coercive, as was the case with Native Americans up to the 1930s when they were required to ignore their Indian heritage and assimilate completely into the American mainstream, or selective, allowing the group to integrate selected parts of a culture to the extent wished. Altogether we have to distinguish between assimilation, deculturation, resistance and integration as possible forms of cultural modification, of acculturation. Deculturation is the total destruction of certain elements of a culture, or of entire cultures, which leads to marginality or even to ethnocide in the long run. Resistance and rejection means a complete rejection of the other culture. If not accepted by the major political power it often leads to segregation and racism. In contrast to assimilation, "integration, however, implies the maintenance of cultural integrity as well as the attempt to become an integral part of a larger framework. Therefore, in the case of integration, the option taken is to retain cultural identity and move to join the dominant society" (ibid).

Whether a society can successfully maintain its own identity when integrating into another culture depends on the condition of the other. If the target culture is monocultural, its members are likely to oppress the people trying to integrate. In multicultural societies, a new people is more understood and tolerated. Sometimes their integration is even considered desirable. There is also a difference between multicultural and pluralist societies. If there are many cultural groups existing within one society we speak of a pluralist, if the variety of groups is even appreciated, and estimated as a valuable part of society, we speak of a multicultural society. The American society is pluralist, defining itself by assimilation through separation. Acculturation affects all fields of life, religious, social, political and economic. In religious circles, acculturation was replaced by the term ‘inculturation’ in the 1960s. This is the re-expression of Christianity within the Lakota culture, as the mainline churches started to differentiate between culture and religion in evangelization (Lienkamp 1997). In the history of Lakota-white relations integration, assimilation, deculturation and resistance are highly interwoven concepts and appear in two circles, one lasting from the days of early contact up to the 1930s, the second one from the 1930s to the present. Those two circles will be presented in the course of this paper, but the focus will be on the assimilation of the Lakota Sioux, because this factor is the most relevant and persistent.

1.4.2. The Relevance of Assimilation to the Lakota Sioux

The Lakota Sioux have a long history of acculturation in their contact to whites¹ as well as to other tribes. Intertribal exchange of goods and techniques as well as more spiritual things like rituals was common practice among North American Indians. However, no other culture contact changed their lifeways so radically as the selective, as well as coercive acculturation to Euro-American ways. The Lakotas’ selective acculturation to the white lifeways started in colonial times when they were heavily involved in the fur trade, especially with French fur traders. The traders exchanged tools such as knives, kettles and guns for furs, all objects that were perfectly integrated into Sioux society and were highly estimated, because they facilitated their way of life. The fur traders often intermarried with the Sioux

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