10 November 2004

What Really Matters...

On the Cutting Edge of "Moral Values"
Notes from Indian Country

Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji) 11/8/2004
And so the crux of Election 2004 turned on the whims of moral values? How frightening!
Whose morals and values? If God created man in his own image, which image did he use as a pattern? Because those who voted for George W. Bush and John Thune have certain values, are the rest of us expected to adhere to those values?
When the settlers and their armies converged upon the people of the Great Sioux Nation in the late 1800s, they noticed that the Lakota families often consisted of one man and two or more wives. Their Christian values immediately presumed this to be morally wrong. Did they bother to find out why this was a way of life? No, they saw what they believed to be a moral issue and set about to change it to fit their own mores.
If they asked they would have discovered that Indian values determined how the wives and children were cared for in the event of the death of the father. Indians did this because it was a very tough world out there and a woman alone with children would have had a very difficult time surviving.
This was not a moral issue to the Indian tribes, but one of necessity. Immoral sex apparently came to the minds of the Christian reformists when they saw an Indian man with more than one wife. If the brother of a man died or was killed in battle, the surviving older brother took in his family as his own. He was thus obligated to feed them and be the teacher of his brother’s children. The children were no longer his nieces and nephews, but they became his children. They became brothers and sisters to his children.
The man was the hunter and the provider and he assured the survival of a widow and her children by assuming responsibility for them. Survival not sex was the moral issue here.
But in his infinite wisdom, the white man determined that this was wrong and set about applying laws that would outlaw its practice.
There is a story of a Catholic priest stopping at the lodge of Chief Sitting Bull on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. He saw Sitting Bull seated in a chair near the front door of his lodge with his two wives seated near him. The priest said, "Chief, you know it is immoral for you to have two wives. The bible says it is wrong." Sitting Bull replied, "Here are my two wives. Now you tell them which one must leave this house."
The United States government and their Christian ministers determined that the Sun Dance of the Great Sioux Nation was immoral. Just as a man taking the wife or wives of a slain brother had been a part of the Sioux culture for time immemorial, so had the Sun Dance. In fact, the Sun Dance was one of the most important spiritual ceremonies of the Lakota People. The sacred Sun Dance of the Lakota was outlawed. Freedom of religion is only for those with the power to set the rules.
The moral values of the United States of America took precedence over the moral values of an Indian nation that had existed for thousands of years. In the space of 40 years, 1860 to 1900, nearly every religious and moral standard of the Lakota people was erased. At least the federal government thought it had eradicated all of these ancient beliefs. They did not count upon the spirit of survival among the Lakota people.
Every effort was made by the President and the Congress of the United States to wipe out a civilization by imposing its moral values over that of the indigenous people. There could not have been a wider difference between cultures and values than that of the Indian people and that of the new comers. "We will civilize you and make Christians of you or kill you in the process" was the edict of the United States of America toward the indigenous people.
It does not matter if I believe in freedom of choice for women, in same sex marriage, or in stem cell research. There are thousands of Americans who do believe in these issues. It was once said that the most segregated day in the South was Sunday. That was the day when the African American went to their church and the white people went to a separate church to worship the same God.
Perhaps under the new moral values of the Christian right gaming in Indian country will come under scrutiny and the devout will decide that it is not a good thing for Indian people. Once again the values and morals of the majority could crush the moral values of the minority.
In the next four years I am almost sure that the moral values of the new administration will infringe upon the rights and freedoms of all Americans, especially those of the minorities. Indian schools will continue to crumble and the health of the Indian people will continue to deteriorate because of the lack of money. As billions of dollars are poured into a senseless war in Iraq, the funds allocated to the indigenous people will continue to dwindle. The treaties between the United States and the Indian nations will become more meaningless.
The greatness of a Nation is determined by how it treats its indigenous people. I truly believe that we will see great tarnish upon that greatness over the next four years. The moral values of George W. Bush and those of the newly elected Senator from South Dakota, John Thune, will create a deeply divided America and the impact will be felt doubly in Indian Country.
(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the recipient of the Golden Quill Award for Editorial Writing awarded by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors in 1997. He can be reached at giagobooks@iw.net)
NTN Article#: 5467


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