Native Identity, Oppression, and Resistance

I began my project by reading a number of critiques of Liberation Theology written by Native American thinkers. Despite the fact that Native Americans face many of the problems that other cultures are using Liberation Theology (from here on referred to as LT) to fight, they may not be able to benefit from the theology for a number of reasons. LT is based on Western intellectual, European cultural, and Christian religious traditions, which are fundamentally incompatible with a Native world-view. The notion of progress is at the heart of LT, which inevitably harms creation (all things created, not solely humanity) and destroys minority cultures. Proof of this can been seen in the value LT places on the Exodus. Because the slaughter of the Canaanites might be the part of the bible Native peoples can most closely relate to, idealization of this process is necessarily problematic for Indigenous theology. The Exodus exemplifies George Tinklers complaint that “by conceptualizing ourselves as oppressed peoples who are to be delivered at all costs, we necessarily become complicit in oppressing those who stand in the way of our deliverance.” Not only is the theology and praxis of LT problematic to Native cultures, but the goals are as well. Tinkler criticizes the institutional way in which Liberation Theologians seek to decrease repression and further just development. This model does not appeal to a culture that seeks to change the world through spiritual realization rather than adjusting unjust systems, which can leave the problematic ideals in place. Thus it is clear that some alternative model is needed for the resistance of Native Americans against colonialism and the unjust systems that maintain their oppression.

Many American Indians have argued that this model must be based on using Indian identity, and thus necessarily religion, as a way to resist conformity and spread values that can help reorder our society. Return to Native religion, as opposed to the reinvention of it, holds the key to using spirituality to fight oppression. This is due to the cultures deep values of equality for all of creation and respect for all life. It is argued that these values are uniquely possible in a culture that values space over time. This makes the notion of stasis possible, as development lives in the sphere of time whereas stasis has a deep connection to place. Stasis in turn creates the possibility of honoring and maintaining all living things, whereas development necessarily mandates oppression of a certain amount of life. If it is accepted that current Indigenous religions contain the ideals that can create a truly just society, an idea which history certainly makes a strong case in support of, then we must ask how it can be used to create the desired reality.

One important aspect is simply the revival and survival of American Indian culture, which has been viciously attacked by genocide, missionaries, western education of Natives, adopting away American Indian children, encouragement of urbanization, the media, and many other governmental and cultural factors. The fact that traditional religious practices remain is a testament to the strength of the resistance put forth by the American Indians. In order to use religion and identity as a tool to fight oppression, Native Americans need to find a way to spread their ideals while avoiding the loss of their identities to self interested new agers.

When I reached this realization during my study of this topic, I was forced to truly question our role in the process and the effects of what we have done this class. There is no doubt that in ways we are negatively affecting the identity of those we interact with. We commodify their religion, alter it in unperceived ways, and sustain a colonial framework in which we are entitled to what we want from Native people and in return view ourselves as having something needed by Native people (be that money, support, CC tobacco, etc.). However there are positive aspects to what we do. We acknowledge the value of the culture that our ancestors have been trying to destroy for the last 500 years. We learn to appreciate Natives in ways that may only be possible through these interactions, and all certainly have only the best of intentions when it comes to the future of Native people and out role in their struggle. We have developed an understanding of unity that will help us make decisions with the value of all creation in mind.

All I ask is that we be careful to limit the ways in which we may be stealing identity and unknowingly acting out the final step of genocide, and to always consider the unexpected consequences of our seemingly helpful actions. We must be able to see the forest of oppression through the trees of good intentions. It is our job to learn and teach the values that our society desperately needs, but to do so in a way that does not harm Native cultures.

Seiniger.IRT final

Sam Seiniger (samuel.seiniger@coloradocollege.edu)

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