I loved watching Davy Crockett movies growing up. The scenes of brave cowboys shooting Hollywood Indians off cliffs to their fantastic and splashy deaths still live on in my mind. I wanted to be like Davy so badly -- going into the woods, shooting Indians, having adventures, living free.
As a child, I knew Native Americans existed but I never encountered any of them. They weren't real to me. They were stories, caricatures of human beings who could barely speak their own language let alone English. As I grew older the narratives changed. They became whiners and drunks who, despite being given money from the government, somehow wanted more. I knew they were a nuisance but couldn't have told you why. I just knew. And that's the amazing thing about racism.
The Samaritan woman at the Well didn't exist in the eyes of the society until Jesus spoke to her.
Her existence, like all of her Samaritan counterparts, was a nuisance to the society she lived in. She was unclean and in the way. A sordid emblem of heathenism that was better to be ignored than encountered. Jesus getting water from her - let alone speaking to her - was a complete transgression, and the reason why this story is so fantastic and utterly challenging.
Today, Christians pride themselves for feeding the hungry and caring for the poor. And while these are admirable and important missions, they are relatively easy acts. Yes, it takes time and effort but people throughout history have always cared for the less fortunate. It's human nature. What Christ did was qualitatively different because he went beyond normal acts of charity by aligned himself with those society deemed untouchable and inhuman. By doing so, he cut deep into the social fabric and laid prejudices bare, challenging commonly held conceptions about who was worthy of love.
We have never treated Native Americans as full people in this country. We drove them from their homes and placed them in the middle of nowhere. Today we forget Native Americans as best we can, relegating them to the pages of history rather acknowledging their existence in the present. But they don't forget. How could they? How could they forget a history so covered in blood and pain that entire generations are lost to it?
One of the most challenging weeks at seminary was when James Cone had my class read Robert Alan Warrior's "A Native American Perspective: Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians", which looks at the Exodus story from the perspective of the Canaanites. For someone who has been on the wrong side of a conquest it's an obvious and relatable interpretation but for those of us who come from the dominant perspective, the winners perspective, we never consider it. Or at least I hadn't. Up that point, I'd probably read the Exodus story a hundred times but never once considered the Canaanites to be real people with real feelings whose lives mattered. They were always villains and heathens, caricatures of people who were in the way and deserved to feel the wrath of God. But what about their lives? What about God's love for the oppressed? What's about God's justice for those being crushed by an empire?
Let's remember that if it weren't for the Samaritan man the traveler on the side of the road would have died.
Currently, the largest gathering of Native Americans in recent history is taking place in North Dakota to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. They along with hundreds of non-Natives are protesting to save and protect Native lands and water. But ask most any of them and they will tell you they are doing it for the world at large.
As a nation, we became aware of their protest after a private security company let their guard dogs loose on the peaceful protestors. The video captured is reminiscent of the Civil Rights era when Bull Connor set fire hoses and dogs on African American protestors. Today's marketers are much smarter than Bull Connor, though. They understand news cycles and how to keep sensational headlines from happening. Once the week's headlines faded so too did our sympathies for those attacked. The fight carries on, though. Just this morning I watched as local North Dakotan law enforcement officers in full riot gear arrested protesters for trespassing. Once again, the State is forcefully taking what rightfully belongs to Native Americans ironically in a state named after them.
We have been taught as a nation to ignore Native Americans. I've always wondered why. What did they do that was so bad that to justify our treatment of them? Any propagandist will tell you that if you want to win a war, you must first convince the public they are worth beating. Harmless people must become violent savages and rapists so that the violence and cruelty against them can later be justified and called righteous.
Looking through the Gospels, we see that Christ refused to listen to the stories told to him about the untouchables in society. He broke through the noise and in doing so, exposed the rest of us to their humanity. To our own humanity. America's history with Native Americans is filled with shame and bloodshed and horror. Nothing we did in the past was righteous or justified and neither is anything we're doing now. In an era defined by polemics and false narratives, where those unlike us represent the worst humanity has to offer, it is time we begin acting as Christ did, and ally ourselves with those being oppressed.