Voices: Sacred Indigenous Homelands

By Lenore ThreeStars

62_lenorethreestarsSome days I’ve had as much reality as I can take, so I turn to my favorite fiction for a few hours of escape. But my literary spa is disturbed when my story characters pack up a load of food to take to the Indian reservation to help them make it through the winter. My mind snaps back to reality. I know that reservation. It’s next to the reservation where I was born in South Dakota.

The irony is that today, more than 130 years later, folks are still packing up food to help Indians on reservations make it through the winter. In fact, some people send food home in the kids’ backpacks to help them make it thru the weekend. It’s not fiction – food is still a need.

My heart paces back and forth between ache and anger. In this prosperous country, in what was once our sacred indigenous homelands, it grieves me that our native people still need this kind of help. On many reservations, we still have no running water let alone jobs, grocery stores, or food on the table.

The American empire strategically put the reservation system in place, forbidding hunting and forcing the tribes to live on the system’s handouts. To still need this help from the government that blithely robbed them of their lands and resources is beyond galling. How did it come to this? That story is not taught in U.S. schools because this nation refuses to own it.

As I consider the scope of injustices against native people in this country, the offenses inevitably point back to the Doctrine of Discovery established by fifteenth century papal bulls. This ideology told explorers that they had the right to subjugate or destroy inhabitants of non-Christian lands, thereby instilling a perception that indigenous peoples were less than human.

In a new America, Christian imperialism evolved into a Manifest Destiny philosophy that allowed unrestrained greed for land and resources, with a complete disregard for the humanity of the indigenous peoples already here. I am those people.

We already had an ancient and sacred relationship with our homelands. When I first read Wendell Berry’s words, ‘There are no unsacred places, only sacred and desecrated,” I could’ve wept.

Today, the yoke of the doctrine continues to oppress natives legally, spiritually, and culturally. For instance, in 1824, SCOTUS (Johnson v. McIntosh) upheld the principle of ‘discovery’ and established property law that Indians could occupy land but could not own title to it. The colonial ideology of federal Indian law continues to oppress natives on reservations.

When I first read Wendell Berry’s words, ‘There are no unsacred places, only sacred and desecrated,’ I could’ve wept.

The empire is still colonizing and appropriating native lands, extracting resources and leaving behind toxic land and water where natives still live. The spirit of the Doctrine still sees natives as less than human.

It’s been too much for too long and I support those who have had as much reality as they can take. I support the water protectors who, in the power of prayer and peaceful resistance, stand unarmed against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Sacred Stone Camp on the Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota.

That reservation is near where our great-grandmother survived the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre. I’m sure the protectors are relying on the strength of our ancestors today as they resolutely face the terror of attack dogs, mace, arrests, strip searches and now “less than lethal” weaponry on unceded treaty land.

My great-grandmother endured so I and her oyate (extended family) could be here – her DNA compels us to resist, even through a harsh winter. As a Lakota woman who follows Jesus, I am called to be more than a survivor and to resist in a way that reflects the values of Creator and all my relatives. My story will end, and for now I must believe that love will always be radical and will always be stronger than hate.

Editor’s note: This is a slightly edited and updated version of a column originally posted on the blog Theoloqui.


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