By Lenore Three Stars
Winter is a time of beauty, reflection, and hardship. It brings to mind my relatives in the bitter winter at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, December 1890. We know the grim story: the U.S. army slaughtered about 350 unarmed Minnecoujou Lakota, including the aged, women and children. My mom is Minnecoujou Lakota and her grandmother, Jenny Leads On, was a survivor of Wounded Knee. She survived because when she was fleeing on horseback, the baby strapped to her back stopped the bullet. The freezing and starving Minnecoujou travelers were trying to escape the death-camp conditions of their reservation by making their way to the Oglala camp, my dad’s Lakota band. I often reflect that I carry those survivor genes. I feel a deep need to honor my great grandmother and all my ancestors who endured that history of inhumanity. To honor them, my life must wrap around a thread of resistance, one that finds healing and harmony in carrying on our cultural values. I did not anticipate that this would be a spiritual journey with Jesus.
Coming from the activist zeitgeist of the 70’s, I was dead set against accepting the “white man’s religion.” After centuries of evangelizing, only about 4% of Native Americans call themselves Christians. Christians had not brought good news to the Indian people, such as when churches took over the administration of residential schools from the federal government. The brutal schools were designed to assimilate Indians into the white culture, to “kill the Indian to save the man.” As I heard one native educator say, “Instead, they killed the child in the Indian.”
It’s a wonder that I know that Creator Jesus loves me and that he made me Lakota by design, on purpose. The missionaries did not teach that to my ancestors. Who knows how our narrative might have changed if their evangelism offered the truth that we are free to worship Jesus as the Native people he created us to be? What if they entrusted the Spirit with the holy work of revealing a right relationship with Jesus within the context of our native cultures?
By the time I was 30, Jesus had loved me over the threshold of Christianity being the “white man’s religion.” When I said Yes to Jesus, I did not hear, “Follow Christianity;” I heard, “Follow me.” I do not self-identify as a Christian but as a Jesus follower. Since my faith was formed in a dualistic Western context, the tension of living for Jesus as a Lakota woman compels an ongoing decolonization of my theology. I want to share the truth that Jesus sacrificed for the people to make us free, not white. Native people have a place in eternity with every tongue, nation, and tribe. Until then, we seek Shalom here in the community of creation, in the spirit of “mitakuye oyasin,” a Lakota expression meaning, ‘we are related to each other and all of creation.’
Guest Blogger: Lenore Three Stars (Oglala Lakota)
Lenore was born on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, where her father was born. Her mother is Minnecoujou Lakota from the Cheyenne River reservation. She received her BA from Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO and moved to Washington State where she reared her son. Lenore retired from a federal civil rights career in Seattle and moved to Spokane to be Unci (grandmother) to her two takojas (grandkids).
Currently, Lenore is a part-time grad student (Master of Arts Intercultural Studies, North American Institute of Indigenous Theological Studies through George Fox University). She serves on the board of Three Generations, Ltd, a native nonprofit; as a Commissioner on the Washington State Human Rights Commission; on the Executive Board of the PacNW Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC); and on the ECC Christian Action Commission.