Native Village 
Youth and Education News

October, 2013

Denouncing of Doctrine of Discovery Warrants a New Look at Tinker's "Missionary Conquest"

Condensed by Native Village

In May, 2012 "The Doctrine of Discovery" was the theme for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues." Issued by Pope Alexander I in 1493, the Doctrine of Discovery was used to dominate and colonize Indigenous Peoples, including American Indians and Alaska Natives.

At the UN Forum, The World Council of Churches Executive Committee denounced the "Doctrine of Discovery." An Executive Committee statement called the doctrine "fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus." They stressed the need for churches to be sensitive to this issue.

The Episcopal Church also responded by issuing a Pastoral Letter on the Doctrine of Discovery and Indigenous Peoples.  Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori presented this Pastorial letter at the United Nations Forum on Indigenous Issues. One part of her Pastoral Letter states:

"The Doctrine of Discovery work of this Church is focused on education, dismantling the structures and policies based on that ancient evil, support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and challenging governments around the world to support self-determination for indigenous peoples."

One book which enlightens readers to the consequences of these doctrines is "Missionary Conquest" written by George E. Tinker.

George Tinker is an American Indian theologian. His mother was Lutheran; his father was a traditionalist Osage. Tinker earned a doctorate in Biblical studies from the Graduate Theological Union in 1983. A tribal citizen of the Osage Nation, Tinker is on the board of directors of the American Indian Movement of Colorado.

"Missionary Conquest" is a harsh examination of missionary work in the United States. Tinker argues that missionaries were complicit in the violence against American Indians. This violence has resulted in prolonged genocide of this country’s first peoples.

Tinker's book presents a unique perspective because of his integration of Christian and Osage spiritualities. He offers examples of cross-cultural miscommunication that occurred between Christian missionaries and "converted" American Indians.

In one case, a group of American Indians went through the formality of being baptized.  The American Indians thought it was simply a ceremonial gesture pledging friendship with the French. The missionaries didn't realize the Indians weren't aware they were accepting Jesus Christ.

Within the "Missionary Conquest," Tinker examines four sincere missionaries and the unintentional havoc they wreaked among Native Peoples.

Junipero Serra
Franciscan whose mission work took him to California.

Tinker writes that Serra's legacy included forced labor of converted Indians to support the missions, and creating an environment equivalent to a concentration camp. Overwhelming evidence suggests that native peoples resisted Spanish intrusion from the beginning. Tinker also states that Serra's intentions in evangelizing were honest and genuine.

John Eliot
Puritan missionary who ministered to Massachusetts Indians.
"In Eliot we witness the intentional erosion of Indian culture along with its results, the unintentional devastation of those peoples, all accomplished by thorough confusion of gospel and culture."

Pierre-Jean De Smet,
Jesuit missioner to the Indians of the Midwest;

Tinker shows that, in arranging Lakota participation for the Ft. Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1868, De Smet was in alliance with the fur companies, military, and  federal government, and functioned as a agent for the pacification of native peoples.

Episcopal Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple,
Ministered in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Tinker writes: "The story of Henry Benjamin Whipple and Indian people is an example of cultural genocide with clear political and religious aspects. Again, we are dealing with a man of the highest moral character who had only the best of intentions."

Tinker's examination does not stay in history. He fast forwards to the present.

He discusses how today’s churches are still run by non-Indians who control the purse strings.
He argues that reservation churches, or those ministering to American Indians in urban settings, are typically underfunded.
Thus, Indian communities and the underfunded churches become co-dependent which does a gross disservice to American Indians.

When "Missionary Conquest" was first released, many resisted it because its harshness. Now, perhaps with churches willing to admit their wrongs, there will be real healings and revelations for believers in the Christian Gospel.

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