Oglala Sioux at Pine Ridge Turn against Missionary Groups

Some interesting things are happening in South Dakota, First, on July 22, 2022 the Oglala SIoux Tribal Council (Pine Ridge) demanded that the Jesus is King Mission leave the Pine Ridge Reservation in the southwestern part of the state.

“This week the Jesus is King Missionary was found distributing material that literally demonizes the Lakota Culture and Faith,” said the Oglala Sioux Tribe in a statement. “This is unacceptable and completely disrespectful. It is the view of the President and Council that these ‘pamphlets’ seek to promote Hate instead of Peace. Hate has no place on Oglala land.”

This is not a new issue, as a 2019 news story about Pine Ridge reports.

[Anti-missioniary activist Davidica Little] Spotted Horse and others who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals from church supporters described incidents of aggressive proselytizing and demeaning treatment of Lakota spirituality and language, baptizing children without parental permission, use of humiliating poverty porn to fundraise, and of forwarding a colonial agenda that privileges non-Native values and goals. Some members have made allegations of sexual abuse and financial misdeeds and point to the failure of most organizations to conduct background searches for their workers and volunteers.

Another report on Twitter today (July 28th) said that ““the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council has officially suspended all activity of every single church missionary on the reservation until all employees/volunteers can pass a background check [and provide full financial transparency].” Outside religious groups were also forbidden to use such phrases as “Oglala Sioux Tribe” and “Pine Ridge Indian Reservation” in their printed or online fundraising materials.

If you go the tribe’s Facebook page, you can watch video of the council discussing this registration proposal put forth by Councilwoman Whitehorse and hearing testimony  (At least four hours’ worth—and I have listened only to a little.)

To compress history: when “Indian agencies,” precursors to the reservation system, were created in the West in the latter 19th century, it was often Protestant Christian church groups that agreed to operate them, since the pay was low but they could use the post as a basis for missionary activity. The Episcopal Church had a large footprint on South Dakota reservations at one time.

In the US and Canada, Christian denominations and religious organizations likewise operated until fairly recently many of the residential boarding schools to which many Indian children were forcibly sent — the pope is in Canada right now apologizing for all that.

In the US, the Epicopal Church is “studying its role” in the federal boarding schools. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is conducing a “listening tour” on the issue as well.

For more on the boarding schools and their sad legacy, read here.

Missionary activity continues, and many Native people today are Christian, from historically Russian Orthodox in Alaska to Mormon Navajos in Arizona.

It is common for church groups to “parachute in” youth groups for quick service trips, promoted with language like this: “Spend a life-changing week with the Lakota people of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, and you will truly never be the same! You’ll never forget the wild beauty of the land where the Sicangu Lakota, ‘Burnt-Thigh Nation;  live.

The Oglala are just one part of the larger Lakota nation. But if they do take a hardline on missionaries, it will be noticed. I will try to follow up on this later. It is a complicated issue, and there are law-enforcement issues, land issues, and more involved.