American Indian Slavery - why isn't it in our history books?

It happens over and over again in this ministry, the surfacing of information and historical studies that shock the non-Natives who are deeply involved in native ministry. The shocker this week: American Indian Slavery, and how it adds yet another layer to our ministry.

Rebecca Onion, writer for Slate Magazine, in her article, "America's Other Original Sin," states:

Europeans didn't just displace Native Americans - they enslaved them, and encouraged tribes to participate in the slave trade, on a scale historians are only beginning to fathom... The record of Native enslavement also shows how the white desire to put workers in bondage intensified the chaos of contact, disrupting intertribal politics and creating uncertainty and instability among people already struggling to adapt to a radically new balance of power.

Rebecca goes on to explain that slavery was not new to the America's, but, in fact, Native Americans participated in their own form of slavery prior to the arrival of Europeans. However, the Native form of slavery existed more upon familial relationships and diplomacy than upon the use of others for personal gain. Once the Europeans arrived, the Native view and use of slavery changed along with everything else. 

So, back to the initial questions: why isn't Native American slavery in our history books? Onion has a theory:

The historians I spoke with said that they found this history challenging to talk about in moral terms—perhaps more so than the history of African slavery. “I think popular history likes to talk about good guys and bad guys,” [one historian] told me. The complexities of the history of Native enslavement leave such clear distinctions behind... Yes, Europeans did have Native assistance in implementing their ends; they were also the ones who put Native tribes under the existential pressures that forced many Indians to sell fellow Natives into slavery, which makes this story a complicated one. This tragedy does not make for so clear-cut a narrative as, say, the bravery of the fugitive African Americans who took the Underground Railroad to freedom. Yet it is a tragedy nonetheless.

Read Rebecca Onion's full article here.

But, what does this mean for Lutheran Indian Ministries?

It adds another layer to the hatred so many Native Americans feel toward Christians and Christianity.

When we, as missionaries, following the Great Commission, enter a new location, we must be aware of who it is we are trying to reach with the Gospel. We have to be able to relate to them.

The history of the Native of people of North America plays a crucial role in how we approach the conversation and gives us an idea of how receptive they may be to it. Through our work, we know that most Indians want nothing to do with Christianity (less than 5% of the population claim Jesus as their Savior), because it was the Christian Europeans who upturned their way of life. To many, we are no different than our ancestors.

Knowing the full history of American Indians helps to better understand their view of the world and to better serve them.

Read Rebecca Onion's full article here.