A quote from the U.S. Court of Claims decision in the Sioux Nation's Black Hills land claim case appears on a sign on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Hamner_Fotos

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn: No one knows more about religious clashes than Indian people

Religion: A matter of faith, not reason

By Elizabeth Cook-Lynn
Native Sun News Today Columnist

Almost anything that a writer like myself wants to say about religion ends up being slander because religion is a matter of FAITH, NOT REASON, and even though it may be, therefore, exempt from rational debates, any writer’s position still may be accused of slander if its conclusions offend.

I understood this as soon as I learned to read English and, later, when I began to write English. In this commentary, it is not my intention to slander anyone’s faith but it is an effort to explain how it is that a journey into religion or faith might become a journey toward a different state of being, i.e., politics.

I have not carried on much challenging study of the Bible and can barely distinguish the differences between the authors of the Old Testament and the New Testament, so this commentary may be faulty but it is not meant to be slanderous. 

Recently, when I read some history (purely by chance), a narrative which is said to be deeply embedded in the faith called American Evangelicalism (Jeremiah 29:11), I renewed my speculation about faith as well as slander.

It seems that in such Bible narratives as mentioned here, there is a cycle available that suggests an important cycle of survival for religion in Christ, and it does it in this way: Captivity (in Babylon), Deliverance by God, and Restoration through Faith which takes hold when the people are convinced that God will bring believers back to the place from which they went into exile. 

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn

This means, I guess, that believers are often called to live in exile and then when things go bad, there is the hope that  they will be delivered if their Faith (for Christians) is strong enough. These deliverance themes were explained to me during some of my elementary schooling when I was nine years old and even later when I briefly attended a Catholic middle school as well as the transfer to an Episcopal girls’ school and then the public schools took over. We were told that this deliverance awaits only those who are willing to accept Jesus as their "personal savior."

I’ve really spent little time in those religious school venues which means that since the time of that early schooling, I have been done with organized religion. As a writer, I turned elsewhere: to Politics and fiction and poetry.

Today I am reading that a religionist known as Ben Netanyahu, the Jewish leader of Israel for the last dozen years re-arranged an embassy dedication recently, and it took place as he moved the United States Embassy-home citadel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv on the West Bank where it has been for decades. 

His rationale for this shocking action was his faith as a Jew.  The Netanyahu’s government now assigns itself and its strange bedfellows, conservative Christian allies (the Evangelicals) to this historic shift so that some of his supporters (but not all) can wait for the biblical prophecies about a Second Coming of Christ. 

History has shown that the founding of the State of Jewish Israel 70 years ago (largely supported by the U. S.) has left the Arab/Palestinian indigenous population without a homeland and a continuous war in the region has been the result.  Millions of Palestinians have been slaughtered in the fifty years since, starved and disappeared. 

The odd alliance of the Jewish State of Israel with the Christian-influenced U. S., and European Evangelicals whose numbers are estimated at 600 million worldwide, has revived old animosities and many fear that more massacres will result. 

These warring factions have been the subject of many studies and certainly have been of interest to contemporary American Indians who know a lot about sacred narratives and oral traditions…and faith…..and sacred landscapes as well as an understanding of the natural world which is usually the basis of belief systems.  

The problem with Netanyahu and his ilk is that he has turned it all now into the importance of his own government and he even assigns to his conservative Christian allies (called Fundamentalists), public recognition that might include other less willing consorts.   Never mind that millions of Palestinians who live in Israel are angered by this measure and have shown the world for generations that they will persist.  Aggressive conservatives are everywhere, we are told,   Guatemala, Paraguay and Honduras who are said to be already thinking of  following the US in announcing their intention to move their embassies to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.   

All of this dilemma was brought closer to me last week by my surprising and brief and unexpected encounter with a small downtown circle of sign carriers. At the corner of the Mount Rushmore turnoff in downtown Rapid City I saw a gathering of six young American men silently holding huge colorful flags high, flags which said: ‘WE STAND WITH THE PALESTINIANS.’  I went around the block so I could drive by twice. I honked my horn and held up my outstretched hand, not knowing exactly why.

It is true that no one knows more about the clash of religious views, and faith, and, yes, even slander than American Indians.  No one knows more about how “Devout  Christians" in America and across the world are generally thought to be in support of Israel, that  tiny, troubled place in the middle of Arab country;  to say nothing about their willingness to stamp out native religions right here in our homelands (the Northern Plains) a hundred years ago. This reality, of course, continues in many regions, but Sioux Indians, also, persist.

Because of Middle Eastern history, the displacement of the Palestinians (whose religious views of the world are not in compliance), and the treatment of them as non-existent by the Israeli government in this troubled age, may not be as “bipartisan” to American Indians (a lip-service claim by the US Congress), as one might think

There is, after all, in U.S./Indian history a mass murder and “removal” we do not talk about ... the millions of indigenous peoples in The Americas who were wiped out in fewer than a hundred years and the passing of many subsequent genocidal laws. By whom?  Some say it was the power and obsession of religious people, colonists, capitalists, long-standing powerful European nations.


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Elizabeth Cook-Lynn is a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, born and raised at Fort Thompson, South Dakota. Her latest book is A Separate Country: Postcoloniality and American Indian Nations (2012. Texas Tech U Press.) The University of Nebraska Press will publish her memoir In Defense of Loose Translations, available late this summer.   

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today