Until the mid-1800's, Plains Indians lived as they had for hundreds of years with little contact with white men. Each tribe of Indians exhibited all of the elements of a sovereign nation. Each tribe maintained boundaries around lands that it considered its tribal property (national boundaries). Each had a system of civil government, autonomous and independent from other tribes. Each tribe established a system of internal justice, maintained a system of defense (and offense for some) a military, and provided for the internal welfare of tribal members to one degree or another. Each tribe conducted relations with other tribes, or as we say today, conducted foreign relations. Tribes entered into treaties and formed military confederations much as nations do today - NATO for example. Indeed, they called themselves nations.
Examples of eastern Indian nations are the Iroquois, the Cherokee, and the Seminoles. One of the Plains nations was what we call the Great Sioux Nation, which included the five bands of the Sioux. One of these bands is the Lakota. The Sioux Nation occupied lands including all of what are now North and South Dakota, and parts of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana. The Sioux led a nomadic lifestyle. Much of their sustenance was drawn from buffalo, which lived in great numbers on the Plains. Villages would move with the buffalo herds; there was little farming. They entered into very little permanent development - buildings, roads, bridges, etc., which is so characteristic of white American existence.
Although each tribe maintained and defended its territorial boundaries most Indians, Sioux included, did not recognize individual land ownership; land was owned by the tribe. Again, this is very different from the individual property rights practiced by white Americans. Another key difference was the manner of maintaining historical records and records of agreements between individuals and tribes. Indian peoples typically did not utilize a written language and keep written records. These differences would cause much misunderstanding between Indians and white Americans and contribute to abuses by the whites as relations deepened in the mid-1800's.
Prior to 1850 white Americans considered the prairie a "desert", of little use - a big piece of real estate separating the eastern states from territories which are now California, Oregon, and Washington. Then some discovered that the prairie soil was fertile and deep; public pressure on the Federal government to open up the Plains territories for settlement mounted. Of course, Indian tribes already lived there and they rightly considered themselves nations, equal in autonomy with the United States. Federal agents, accompanied by U.S. Cavalry, engaged Indian tribes and attempted to get them to agree to national boundaries containing much less land than that which they had before.
Recognizing the presence of the U.S. military, sooner or later, many tribes, including the Sioux, agreed to the treaties. They were written, of course, and Indians could not be sure of their content, nor were they aware of the government's future penchant for strict adherence to every provision. Subsequently, whenever Indians ventured off their agreed to lands the Cavalry dealt with them harshly and, on more than one occasion illegally entered tribal lands and conducted raids on Indian villages, killing innocent people. The Sioux, recognized by Indians and whites alike as being militarily strong, bore especially harsh treatment.
After a few years, using a variety of legal pretenses based on the written treaties and, sometimes, just military threats, Federal agents again approached tribes to "renegotiate" treaties. The end result was a tribe's agreement to confining themselves to less land. Inevitably, their motivation to do so was their recognition U.S. military superiority and memory of the Cavalry abuses. Other tactics were used to encourage their complicity such as wholesale killing of buffalo upon which the Plains tribes depended for their sustenance. The cycle of treaty renegotiations and harsh treatment by the Cavalry repeated itself several times for the Sioux such that by 1890 their lands consisted of a handful of reservations containing a tiny fraction of their original tribal lands. And the reservations were scattered, tribal lands were no longer contiguous and the tribe united.
So, by 1890 the Sioux, a once proud and autonomous people capable of directing their own affairs were reduced to welfare recipients, dependent on annual doles of money and staple goods from the U.S. government for their survival. They could no longer effectively hunt the buffalo; their governmental structure was destroyed; their freedom to conduct autonomous relations with other tribes and the U.S. government was destroyed. Their societal structure, built around the freedom of small clans to roam the plains, was destroyed. But, worst of all is the fact that the government that treated them in this manner is the government of a Christian nation. At the very time that the church should have been reaching out to evangelize Indians they felt the sting and humiliation of slow subjugation and destruction of their society by the government of the very nation of people set to bring them the Gospel. This was a tragic witness for Christ. For this reason Indian peoples are very difficult to evangelize.
Why should they embrace the religion of the people who treated them this way? Nevertheless, the responsibility of the Church is the same now as ever - the Church still must reach out to Indian peoples. This is why we have established an ongoing relationship with Christian Life Fellowship Church located on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation.
At the time in his life when people typically retire, Marrles Moore, who grew up on Rosebud was painfully aware of the social, economic, and, particularly spiritual condition of his people - the Lakota. So, instead of retiring he and his wife, Frances Moore moved to Mission, SD and founded Christian Life Fellowship Church. His son, Jack, is now the minister at the church and president of White Eagle Christian Academy. The Moores need Christians from outside the "Rez" to visit the congregation there and demonstrate that the real Church consists of people who do not wish to change their culture and dominate them but to extend simple Christian love and friendship to them.
Contact us for more information on how you can be a part of bringing the gospel to the Lakota people.