Friday, March 07, 2008

Cultural Violence


About the only time I think about my Native American heritage is when I fill out one of those forms that asks your racial identity. Although I always check "Anglo" or "Caucasian," I stop and think about my great-grandmother who was a full-bloodied Creek Indian (at least according to family lore). That would make me one-eighth Native American if my calculations are right.

Last Saturday, my grandson Noah and I went on a mini-journey to consider our Native American heritage. We attended an annual "pow-wow" or Native American Festival at Middle Tennessee State University. We saw some colorful costumes, met some interesting people, watched some ceremonial dancing (which Noah described as "boring"), and did some shopping at various booths (Noah liked the shopping best).

The life of Native Americans today is complex. I am no expert on these matters, but it appears that as the European settlers tried to impose themselves on the native population, there were several stages: first, Native Americans held onto their basic culture, but tried to get along with the settlers; second, this was not good enough for the land hungry settlers, so the natives either fought or moved; third, the settlers had better weapons than the natives, so the settlers eventually exercised their power over the natives; fourth, the natives went to ghettos (reservations) or assimilated to the culture (as my grandmother did in marrying a white man).

I know this is over-simplified, but it starts me to thinking about how one culture engages another. It is difficult for two cultures to co-exist. When they confront each other, are the only alternatives violence or subjugation?.

When it came to the Western religious culture (read Christianity) engaging the Native American religious culture, the story was the same: convert or face the consequences.
Are there lessons we can learn from the mistakes of the past as the Christian faith engages contemporary culture(s)? And, yes, there is more than one contemporary culture at work in our nation today. Can we identify what are the core values of the Christian faith and separate those from a Western point of view? If we had it to do over again, could our forebears have found a way to mesh the Christian faith with Native American heritage? Surely there has to be a better way.

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