- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 12, 2005

It’s cheaper to educate Indians than to kill them.

Indian Commissioner Thomas Morgan at the establishment of the Phoenix Indian School in 1891.

In a whiny column (March 5, Page A13) about the American Indian Museum, Terence P. Jeffrey wrote: “A Native American museum is an important addition to the Mall, and it should highlight true injustices Westerners inflicted on Indians. But Christianity is not one of them.”

This is one of the most ridiculous assertions I have ever read and reveals Mr. Jeffrey to be a complete ignoramus (this assessment is very kind) when it comes to First American culture and history.

Beginning in the early 19th century, the federal government actively — and often forcibly — supported the “civilization” and “Christian education” of First Americans.

Religious mission activities were supported financially by Congress and legislative support was enacted for establishing 200 “Indian” schools where Native children — often forcibly removed from their families — were prohibited from practicing their traditional religions or speaking their Native languages.

“Christian” education was required, including the mandatory memorization and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer as well as the Beatitudes, the Psalms, and the Ten Commandments.

Pupils were required to attend Sunday school and services off campus and to perform church-related service. Students who did not attend church were subjected to corporal punishment, e.g. whippings. Amulets and other items of Native religious significance were confiscated and their possession could result in severe punishment. Pupils found practicing a Native religion often were beaten to the point of severe bodily injury sometimes requiring medical treatment.

And, not at all surprisingly, many of these Native children were sexually abused by their “Christian” mentors.

In 1887, at the behest of “Christian” leaders in this country, Congress passed the General Allotment Act (more commonly referred to as the Dawes Act) which — among other things — prohibited Native religious ceremonies and practices in direct contravention of the U.S. Constitution. This was the law of the land almost 50 years.

Many state laws added restrictions on the practice of Native religions. Not until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 was passed by Congress did First Americans once again have a right — with limits — to practice their religions.

Even a ceremony as innocuous as the Apache “Sunrise Ceremony,” central to the cultures of several Apache bands, was prohibited because it celebrated a “heathen” creation belief that anathema to “good” Christians.

And even today, the freedom of First Americans to practice their traditional religions continues to be questioned in the courts and discounted in federal legislation. As a result, one can only question the U.S. government’s true commitment to protecting religious freedom for all people in the United States, including Native Americans.

The above is just a hint of the realities. But Mr. Jeffrey still hasn’t a clue, which reflects rather negatively upon the credibility of The Washington Times and insults it readership.

SUSANA CARDENAS

First American,

Espanola, N.M.

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