Overcoming the Hurts of the Past So They Can See Jesus
Jean Steffenson is the editor of The Reconciler, published by the Native American Chapter of the Reconciliation Coalition. She and her ministry are a part of the United Prayer Network of the AD2000 Movement. She gives a powerful testimony of the need for reconciliation in reaching Native Americans with the gospel. -Rick Wood
Last year the Reconciliation Coalition took a team on a prayer pilgrimage to the site of the Sand Creek Massacre. We listened as a Native American gave an account of what happened there. At the end John Dawson made the comment, "Black Kettle was the hero of the day." We honor him as a great American.
The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 did not relinquish any rights or claims to Indian lands to the whites but permitted the whites to establish roads and military posts across Indian territory. Both parties swore "to maintain good faith and friendship in all their mutual intercourse and to make an effective and lasting peace." That changed ten years later when the territory assigned to the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho was invaded by white men, some with gold fever and others staking out ranches.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho maintained peace in spite of this invasion. In 1863, Black Kettle was given a peace medal by Abraham Lincoln recognizing him as a peace chief. He was also given an American flag and told that the soldiers would honor it and not fire upon him when they saw it. None of this hindered the cavalry from firing upon a Cheyenne hunting party later that year. Black Kettle rode out in the midst of the battle shouting, "Stop the fighting! Do not make war!" The shooting stopped. Over and over Black Kettle prevented the Cheyenne warriors from retaliating against the whites. He met with officials at Fort Lyon and the governor of the Colorado territory, reaffirming his desire to bring peace and safety to his people.
Black Kettle was at Sand Creek precisely for that reason; to bring peace and safety to his people by trying to cooperate with the government and the settlers of Colorado. He faced ridicule from others in his own tribe, but somehow believed that continued raiding would only make it harder for his people. According to the historian Dee Brown, Black Kettle spoke these words in 1864 at a meeting called by the government just before the massacre at Sand Creek. "…All we ask is that we can have peace with the whites. We want to hold you by the hand. You are our father. We have been traveling through a cloud. The sky has been dark ever since the war began. These braves who are with me are willing to do what I say. We want to take good tidings home to our people, that they may sleep in peace. I want you to give all these chiefs of the soldiers here to understand that we are for peace, and that we have made peace, that we may not be mistaken by them for enemies…"
In November 1864, Colonel John Chivington, a former Methodist minister, and his men descended upon the Sand Creek camp at daybreak killing men, women and children. Black Kettle, stunned again at the white man's actions, began waving a white truce flag and the American flag that was supposed to be a protection, as promised by the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Colonel A.B. Greenwood. Black Kettle called many to rally around the flag, but they were cut down and their bodies were mutilated in a most horrible way. Black Kettle, his wounded wife, and several others were able to escape. In a few short hours, Colonel Chivington and his men destroyed the foundation and hope for peace, and many Indians turned to the war chiefs for protection. Even then, Black Kettle was still for peace and reconciliation. In 1867 he was one of the signers of the Treaty of Medicine Lodge.
A few years later this man of peace was mistaken for the enemy again. Black Kettle and his wife were killed by troops of General George Custer. With his death another voice for peace was silenced.
The Ministry of Reconciliation
God has chosen to involve His covenant people in His redemptive plan by giving to us the ministry of reconciliation. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 2 Cor. 5:18-19. God's people, are His authorized representatives to carry out the finished work of the cross. Through the shed blood of Jesus Christ the power to bring reconciliation was released. The veil was rent, removing the separation between God and man; and the power behind the enmity between people, the Jews and Gentiles was destroyed.
First and most important is the need to be reconciled to God, then to be reconciled to others individually and corporately. John Dawson says it this way, "Individuals can hurt each other through selfish and unjust behavior and it is also possible for a wound to be sustained by a corporate entity within national life. Animosity and bitterness sometimes festers unresolved for generations. Today's generation has inherited the task of both honoring righteous ancestors and seeking forgiveness for ancestral sins."
The walls that have been built between people and people groups hinder effective evangelism. A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city; and their contentions are like the bar of a castle. (Proverbs 18:19)
For example, many Europeans who first presented the gospel to the Native Americans were, for the most part, poor representatives of Jesus Christ. How the gospel is first presented to a people group has an effect on those people for generations. The gospel has been preached to Native Americans for over 500 years and it has been reported only 10% profess to be Christians with a much lower percentage believed to be born again believers. This raises the question, "Why have so many Native Americans resisted the gospel? One common answer from the Indians themselves is, "Because it is the white man's religion." They have been offended by the white man and his religious ways. There were numerous injustices committed against the Indians in the name of God, The Sand Creek Massacre presented here was led by a former Methodist minister who said, "I have come to kill Indians and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians." He advocated the killing and scalping of all Indians, even infants. Sometimes Indians were tortured, even killed, if they did not accept Christ and conform to the white man's religion and culture.
Strongholds of the enemy have been established from past sins, unresolved guilt and wounds. God requires an account of what is past. (Ecclesiastes 3:14,15) God led the Reconciliation Coalition to hold a reconciliation ceremony in Denver, Colorado on Nov. 12, 1992 to acknowledge and repent of the injustices and atrocities committed against the Native Americans in Colorado. Representatives from the church, the City of Denver, the State of Colorado, and several Native American nations attended. A man from the Cheyenne nation said, "It was a man of God who so poorly represented Jesus Christ to the Indians, and it will take a man of God to undo that."
We began the meeting by standing in the gap as Nehemiah and Ezra did and asked God to forgive us and the sins of our forefathers where we have so poorly represented Jesus to the Native Americans in our merciless actions toward them. Then we asked the Native Americans for their forgiveness, particularly for the atrocities that were committed in Colorado. The Holy Spirit brought a witness to the power of reconciliation when a Kiowa brother got up on his own, went to the microphone and began to preach about Jesus Christ. He said God called him into full time ministry during the time of repentance.
The ministry of reconciliation is becoming powerfully effective on many of the reservations in California and Montana. There has been reconciliation and restored fellowship between Native Americans and whites, and also between tribes, that has promoted the healing of many wounds. ,We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. Who is our neighbor? In Luke 10:29-37 Jesus gave the example of the Samaritan and the man from Jerusalem. The Jews and the Samaritans were divided in their cultural conflict. (John 4:9) God is looking for a people who will reveal Jesus to the world by our unity and our love for one another. If we are to see Native Americans reached with the gospel then we must first reach out to them in love and reconciliation of past hurts.