Christian missions and Indian assimilation - Andrea Schmidt - ebook

Christian missions and Indian assimilation ebook

Andrea Schmidt



Christian missions and Indian assimilation“ was originally written as a Master thesis paper in Geography and was completed in 2001 at the Karl-Franzens-University in Graz, Austria. It is one of the most accurate and comprehensive books there are on Lakota history & culture as well as intercultural contact and its implications. Driven by the idea of culture clash and its consequences Andrea Schmidt was curious to find out how two seemingly so very different or even contradictory cultural and religious systems, the Oglala Lakota cultural system and the (European) system of Christian belief and mission, can exist, side by side, within the Lakota individuals, tribes and within the reservation. The contents of this book are based upon comprehensive field study and data collection at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for several months starting in 1999, accompanied by literary and historical research at the archives of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and several other academic institutions including the Oglala Lakota College in Kyle, South Dakota. Things changed dramatically after 2001, when the paper first came out as a thesis paper; a lot of clergy left the reservation, missionaries seemed to be less active and less interested in Lakota culture than their predecessors. No such paper could have been written at any other point of time.

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This book was originally written as a Master thesis paper in Geography and was completed in 2001 at the Karl-Franzens-University in Graz, Austria. I was doing field study and data collection at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for several months starting in 1999, accompanied by literary and historical research at the archives of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and several other academic institutions including the Oglala Lakota College in Kyle, South Dakota.

My interest in Lakota culture and history started in my early school years. I was about 12 years old when I came across a cultural heritage book about “Indians” in our local school’s library in Austria. It was back then when I decided to travel to South Dakota one day and visit the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, to experience the world of the Lakota people with my own eyes; and at some point I did not want to rely on books any longer.

Then, in 1999, as a graduate student, I had the opportunity to do research for the thesis paper in the US, and the time for the realization of my project had finally come.

The focus of this paper couldn’t have been more evident: Having been baptized Roman Catholic myself and highly interested in the traditional Lakota culture and belief system, I was driven by this idea of culture clash and its consequences; I was curious to find out how two seemingly so very different or even contradictory cultural and religious systems, the Oglala Lakota cultural system and the (European) system of Christian belief and mission, can exist, side by side, within the Lakota individuals, tribes and within the reservation.

Things changed dramatically after 2001, when the paper first came out as a thesis paper; a lot of clergy left the reservation, missionaries seemed to be less active and less interested in Lakota culture than their predecessors. No such paper could have been written at any other point of time.

Now, 14 years later, I am still on this wonderful journey that the Lakota people once put me on and it is because of their encouragement and calling, again, that this paper has finally been published. It is for them that this book was written and it is to them, that I look up to with the utmost respect and gratitude, for they have made me grow as a person.


I would like to thank several people for their support.

Thanks go to Dr. Linea Sundstrom, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, and Dr. Glen Fredlund, Professor of Geography at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin for getting me started in Milwaukee and for their practical assistance in many ways.

Special thanks also go to Mark Thiel, Marquette University archivist, for his assistance and motivation.

I would like to thank all the people I encountered on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for their willingness to talk.

Special thanks go to the Whitings, Kyle, especially to Joe Whiting, who provided me with a home and a family, and for his advice and guidance on the reservation.

Special thanks also go to Francis White Lance, for his introduction into Lakota spirituality.

I would further like to thank Lyle Noisy Hawk and Ray Takes Warbonnet for their interest and cooperation.

Thanks also go to Barbara Means Adams for many things.

Among the priests and ministers serving on the reservation I would especially like to thank the Jesuit priests for their willingness to cooperate.

Finally my thanks go to Professor Dr. Friedrich M. Zimmermann for being my academic supervisor for this paper and his ideas that also contributed to this paper.

Graz, Austria, June 2001









1.2.1. Lakota Oyate – The People

1.2.2. The Land



1.4.1. A Theory of Acculturation

1.4.2. The Relevance of Assimilation to the Lakota Sioux

1.4.3. The Indian as a Projection of White Images



2.1.1. The Theory: Social Developmentalism and Its Implications

2.1.2. The Goal: A Christian Civilization

2.1.3. Justification: Expansionism and Assimilation as a Christian Ideal

2.1.4. Conclusion: The Cooperation between Church and State


2.2.1. Introduction: The Federal Policy of Paternalism and the Indian Reservation

2.2.2. The Role of the Army in Assimilation

2.2.3. The BIA and the Agency System

2.2.4. Annuities and Rations

2.2.5. The Missionaries as Federal Agents of Assimilation


2.3.1. The Treaty of Ft. Laramie 1851

2.3.2. The Establishment of the Great Sioux Reservation 1868

2.3.3. Grant’s Peace Policy and the Loss of the Black Hills

2.3.4. The Sioux Agreement of 1889 The General Allotment Act Split Into Six Sioux Reservations


2.4.1. Introduction

2.4.2. Early Missions to the Sioux Catholics (‘Blackrobes’) Protestants (‘Whiterobes’ and ‘Shortcoats’) The Missionary Movement under Grant’s Peace Policy Difficulties of the Early Missions

2.4.3. Opening up to All Denominations: Red Cloud Demands the Blackrobes Mission Method: Christian Indoctrination and Cultural Replacement The Court of Indian Offenses Missionary Adaptation of the Jesuits Interdenominational Conflicts and the Lakota Solution

2.4.4. Education: Holy Rosary Mission Boarding School The Goals Making Them White Curriculum Indian Voices in Retrospect Holy Rosary Mission School as a Federal Contract School


2.5.1. The Ghost Dance Movement and the Massacre of Wounded Knee 1890

2.5.2. The Role of Missions and Missionaries in the Ghost Dance Movement


2.6.1. Traditional Lakota Society

2.6.2. Lakota Response to the Federal Instruments of Assimilation

2.6.3. Lakota Response to the Missionary Movement The Lakota Perspective The Missionary Perspective

2.6.4. Destruction: The Sacred Hoop is Broken – Split in Lakota Society

2.6.5. Survival through Accommodation: Persistence of Structure and Change of Contents Resistance and Adaptation to the Federal Framework Adaptation to the Christian Framework

2.6.6. Conclusion



3.1.1. Cultural Relativism and Contemporary American Society

3.1.2. Church, State and Selective Assimilation


3.2.1. The Indian Reorganization Act 1934

3.2.2. Termination, Relocation and Return to Self-Determination

3.2.3. The Effects of Self-Determination upon the Christian Missions

3.2.4. Conclusion


3.3.1. Indians Fighting against Indians

3.3.2. The Ghost Dance Returns – Revival of Tribal Religion

3.3.3. Recent Unrest on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation


3.4.1. Introduction

3.4.2. From Indoctrination to Inculturation The Theory: Vatican Council II and Its Implications Catholic Experiments in Inculturation Inculturation in Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Today Self-Determination Holy Rosary Mission Boarding School Today: Red Cloud Indian School

3.4.3. New Radicals: Pentecostals and Fundamentalists


3.5.1. Lakota Dual Religious Participation

3.5.2. The Native American Church

3.5.5. Roles and Functions of the Religious Groups Today – “Church-Shopping”

3.5.4. Mending of the Sacred Hoop: Return to the Roots









Map 1: The Great Sioux Reservation and Other Sioux Lands - as defined in the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868

Map 2: Contemporary Sioux Reservations

Map 3: Grant’s “Peace Policy” President Grant’s Assignment of Indian Agencies to Religious Denominations, 1970

Map 4: Distribution of the Catholic, Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches and the Oglala College on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Picture 1: St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Wakpamni, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Picture 2: St. Agnes Catholic Church, Manderson, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Picture 3: St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, Badlands near Kyle, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Picture 4: The Church of the Nazarene, Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Illustration: A Lakota Continuum



This thesis analyzes the role of the Christian missions in assimilating the Oglala Lakota Sioux and its effects upon Lakota people and their institutions. It is necessary to explain a few things beforehand, as Christian missions are a complex phenomenon. Native American societies in general have a distinct, narrow relationship between culture and religion, or rather spirituality. In other words, there is no activity done, no field of life that is left untouched by spiritual implications. My main consideration was to find out what happens when this central aspect of life is challenged, changed, and partly replaced by another form of religion, Christianity, in the course of the missionary movement. For a society in which religion is the essential integrative system, synonymous with a people’s identity, a change of this factor naturally effects a change in every other area of life.

This paper is not restricted to the missionary movement alone. One cannot study Christian missions to the Lakota Sioux without considering federal Indian policy. Federal Indian policy has provided the framework under which the missions could work. Besides, the close cooperation of church and state with regard to the assimilation of the Indians at times, made their goals, methods and strategies of assimilation similar, if not identical. The whole development of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is a direct result of the policy of assimilation and will thus be presented in a basic outline. Still, the missionary movement has always held a central role in the assimilation of the Indians and will remain the focus of consideration, including its effects upon the Lakota Sioux.

The Lakota Sioux have been confronted with two distinct forms of assimilation; coercive assimilation throughout the 19th century and selective assimilation beginning in the first decades of the 20th century. This division is addressed in the paper and forms the two main parts of it. In each part, a definition of the American society to which the Indians were required to assimilate will be given, and the Christian missions to the Sioux and the Lakota Indian response will be analyzed. Federal Indian policy will be illustrated to the extent of its relevance to the missionary movement.

The Lakota must not be regarded as passive victims in the assimilation movement. They actively responded to whatever was imposed on them. In Lakota society, in which religion is the integral factor, cultural conflict is defined as a truly religious conflict. Strategies of resistance and adaptation will naturally focus on religion. As will be illustrated, the history of Lakota assimilation, of which Christianization was the central part, is a history of adaptation and, above all, survival. The Lakota have survived, as a tribe and as a people.

Before getting into the topic of the missionary movement several basic explanations will be given which are necessary to an understanding of my topic. After introducing the Oglala Lakota Sioux, my personal experiences collecting data on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will be presented. A general definition of assimilation will be given and its relevance for the Oglala Lakota Sioux explained. Finally, a summary of white perspectives upon Indians will help the reader understand why the demand to assimilate the Sioux changed radically over time.

Altogether, the basic structure of this paper thus consists of four parts, the Christian missions to the Lakota Sioux, federal Indian policy, coercive assimilation in the past, and selective assimilation in the present. All parts are inseparably interwoven and each factor is necessary to get the whole picture on assimilation.

Finally, it should not be left unmentioned that this paper is written from a white European point of view, and is to be read with this fact in mind. Native Americans might have a different perspective on things.


1.2.1. Lakota Oyate – The People

The focus of this paper is on the Oglala Lakota Sioux. The popular way of classifying the Sioux1 is through the concept of ‘Oceti Sakowin’ or ‘Seven Council Fires’, dividing them into seven tribal segments, the Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Wahpeton, Sisseton, Yankton, Yanktonai, and the Teton. The Lakota are part of the Tetons meaning ‘Dwellers of the Plains’, which was the largest and westernmost division. To the east lived the four Santee groups, the ‘Dwellers at the Knife [Lake]’, in the middle the Yankton and Yanktonai, or ‘Those Who Speak Like Men’. This division corresponds to different dialectal variations of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, derived from the word ‘koda’ of the Santees and ‘kola’ of the Tetons, both signifying friend, together forming the ‘alliance of friends’ (Powers 1982). The Teton, in turn, can be divided into seven bands, the Oglala, the Sicangu or Brule, the Hunkpapa, Miniconjou, Itazipco or Sans Arc, the Oohenumpa or Two Kettle, and the Sahsapa or Blackfeet (Robinson 1974).

The Oglala Lakota Sioux make up the majority of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation residents. Reference will also be given to other reservations, especially to the Rosebud Indian Reservation which borders to Pine Ridge. Its people, the Sicangu or Brule, have always been closely interrelated with the Oglala, and have experienced a similar development. The Sioux in general, and the Oglala Lakota in particular, were selected for this study because one cannot study Native American2 issues without inadvertently encountering the Sioux whose image as horse-riding wild dwellers of the plains has come to represent the Indian, at least in the European stereotyperidden mind. They, or their images, have always enacted a special magic on the outside observer. So much has been written about them that one is tempted to believe that the Sioux are just a heroic myth and not real. The names of some Sioux chiefs like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull are often-heard and familiar. They played a prominent role in the history of white-Indian relations. The Sioux fought the longest against the American military and have, although conditions do not reflect it at this point of time, actually won the federal-Indian war. Their last and most well-known battle was the Battle of the Little Bighorn, 1876, against the 7th Cavalierly of General George Armstrong Custer. In the 20th century the Sioux are often connected with the American Indian Movement (AIM), and are practically identified with Indian radicalism and the fight for more rights. The Indian civil rights movement culminated in the occupation of Wounded Knee, a small village on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in 1973 (Lazarus 1999). The reservation today is regarded as one of the most traditional, but it is also one of the poorest. Demonstrations and protest movements are not a thing of the past, as the recent occupation of the tribal headquarters in Pine Ridge village, January 2000, reveals (BHPN 1/00). All in all, the fact that the Sioux were one of the last tribes to be subjugated and pacified, and who have been the epitome of resistance for a long time, makes a study of their assimilation into white American society even more interesting.

1.2.2. The Land

The traditional homeland of the Sioux was the Minnesota area, the woodland spread about the headwaters of the Mississippi. They lived there in semi-permanent houses of wood, earth and bark on a mixed economy consisting of horticulture, hunting, gathering and fur trading. Driven out first by their enemies, the Ojibwas, who lived closer to white settlement and who had got firearms before them, and by incoming American settlers, they gradually moved further west. The Tetons were the first ones that reached the western plains and by 1775 only the Santee were still residing in the lake country. Reports show that when the Lakota first encountered whites, they were already living in the prairie lands (Robinson 1974). There they developed their distinctive plains culture. They abandoned the settled woodland life and became nomads, exploiting the wild ponies, descendents of Spanish horses, and following the buffalo herds. In time the Sioux were the most powerful tribes of the plains, dominating large parts of Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, Nebraska and almost all of South Dakota, with hunting grounds extended far beyond.

The Sioux lived in that area relatively undisturbed until the 1850s. They officially came under the authority of the United States by the Louisiana Purchase in 1804, but even before 1800 the Sioux were involved in fur trading. The first agreement between the whites and some Sioux bands was made in 1825, to emphasize the overall supremacy of the U.S. over the Sioux country, to regulate all trade and intercourse with the Sioux, and to keep peace and keep away settlers. Because early explorers were convinced that the land was unfit for agriculture the whole area was called ‘Great American Desert’ and was reserved as ‘Permanent Indian Country’ for the sole use and occupancy of the native tribes (Lazarus 1999). A fixed frontier was established along the western borders of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota, and tribes living to the east of this line, such as the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw were removed. Although the main part of the Sioux except of the eastern bands still occupy parts of their original homelands today, their land loss in the course of the assimilation policy was tremendous (ibid).

Seen from the perspective of a Native American, their loss was not only of a material, but above all, of a spiritual nature. Native Americans have a close relationship to land in general, and especially to their homelands. There are special places, associated with origin myths, that include the ground for ceremonies and rituals, so that the Indians’ assertion that the land is actually their religion is not far-fetched (Deloria 1999a). To the Sioux the Black Hills, which was illegally taken in 1877, was such a place and they are still fighting for its return. Their special relationship to the land is one of the reasons why a many Native Americans have always regarded the conflict with the whites as a truly religious conflict (ibid).


The results and conclusions for this paper mainly derive from two sources. For background information literature research was done at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as at Marquette University Archives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during my stay there from the end of August 1999 to mid-December 1999. I was confronted with an overwhelming amount of literature on the Sioux including the Oglala Lakota, especially on historical issues. Most information on the missionary movement to the Sioux in the past was gathered by research at the Catholic archives at Marquette University and the Episcopal Archives at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The major parts of this paper, especially contemporary issues, derive from my field study on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation from September 20th to October 18th, 1999. Reasons for conducting research on the spot were, first of all, that there is little literature available on present day Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, especially with regard to Christian missions. Secondly, the majority of publications on the Lakota Sioux are written by non-Indians, and in order to avoid a one-sided perspective, interviews with Lakota people were simply a necessity. Third, my long-time interest in the Oglala Lakota Sioux could finally be satisfied by this visit.

As Pine Ridge Reservation is a unique place for research in many ways, I will include a few personal remarks here. Data collecting on Indian reservations is not an easy thing. It requires getting acquainted with the right people, a good preparation, and good luck. When entering the reservation I had roughly defined the outline of my paper, and a few contacts were established via e-mail beforehand, such as the Oglala Lakota College on the reservation and the Catholic Holy Rosary Mission. I knew what questions I wanted to ask. My greatest concern was that the Lakota people would not want to talk to me, as they have been continually invaded by all kinds of researchers in the past and present, and I figured that they would have had enough of it. As it was, the complete opposite turned out to be true. Most Lakota were very much interested in the research I conducted. I got to know more people and collected more interviews which were essential to my study than I could have possibly envisioned. Most interviews focused on experiences with Christian missions and the mission boarding schools and how individuals come to terms with the religious diversity on the reservation. Interviews were also carried out with Christian priests and missionaries, in order to gather both views upon religious diversity on the reservation and the functions religious groups provide for the Lakota today. As Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is quite overrun by missionaries, collecting information about every existing denomination there was simply impossible within the short period of my stay. A selection of the religious groups on the reservation is contained in the paper. The acquaintance with all kinds of ministers and priests and other clergy was not less interesting, as their doctrines and approach to the Lakota people ranged from fundamentalist beliefs to very liberal attitudes.

Where I ended up after the information was gathered was in total chaos. All attempts to classify the information I gathered turned out to be in vain. I began to wonder why the Lakota just could not make up their minds about religion and make life easier for researchers. Apart from the interviews, several parts of the paper I was going to write turned out to be inseparately interwoven, which made it difficult to bring them into a linear form. Over time things cleared up when I stopped trying to separate things which cannot be separated.

Finally, I want to stress that without the cooperation of the Lakota people this paper would have never been possible. Their generosity, hospitality and patience was overwhelming. Although they had come to call me the ‘question box’ by the end of my stay, and although, in search of understanding, I asked one and the same persons the same questions over and again, I always got an answer.


1.4.1. A Theory of Acculturation

Acculturation, as the name already indicates, consists of processes of interaction that are initiated whenever cultures come into contact. Acculturation is generally defined as “a cultural modification of an individual, group or people through prolonged and continuous interaction involving intercultural exchange and borrowing with a different culture; especially modification in a primitive culture resulting from contact with an advanced society“ (G&C Merriam Company 1991). The character and extent of this major culture change depends upon the distribution of power among the involved cultures. Acculturation is generally a mutual, reciprocal process, but can affect only one side if a society in superior position forces its culture system upon the subordinate group. This form of acculturation is called coercive acculturation and stands in contrast to permissive or selective acculturation, when a culture deliberately chooses to imitate desirable material or spiritual components of another one. Whereas coercive acculturation demands the radical adjustment of tribes as well as individuals to the dominant group, which is mostly accompanied by severe internal conflict and resistance, selective acculturation is generally rated as a cultural enrichment and a contribution to progress.

Although often used in like manner, assimilation and acculturation are not identical, as assimilation is but one of four possible results of acculturation. In assimilation, “relinquishing cultural identity and moving into the larger society is the option taken“ (Padilla 1980, 13). This means not only superficial, outward adaptation of one culture to another, but an inner modification, which leads to the loss of identity and inner values, to the integration of a culture into another, bigger, community. Assimilation can be coercive, as was the case with Native Americans up to the 1930s when they were required to ignore their Indian heritage and assimilate completely into the American mainstream, or selective, allowing the group to integrate selected parts of a culture to the extent wished. Altogether we have to distinguish between assimilation, deculturation, resistance and integration as possible forms of cultural modification, of acculturation. Deculturation is the total destruction of certain elements of a culture, or of entire cultures, which leads to marginality or even to ethnocide in the long run. Resistance and rejection means a complete rejection of the other culture. If not accepted by the major political power it often leads to segregation and racism. In contrast to assimilation, “integration, however, implies the maintenance of cultural integrity as well as the attempt to become an integral part of a larger framework. Therefore, in the case of integration, the option taken is to retain cultural identity and move to join the dominant society“ (ibid).

Whether a society can successfully maintain its own identity when integrating into another culture depends on the condition of the other. If the target culture is monocultural, its members are likely to oppress the people trying to integrate. In multicultural societies, a new people is more understood and tolerated. Sometimes their integration is even considered desirable. There is also a difference between multicultural and pluralist societies. If there are many cultural groups existing within one society we speak of a pluralist, if the variety of groups is even appreciated, and estimated as a valuable part of society, we speak of a multicultural society. The American society is pluralist, defining itself by assimilation through separation. Acculturation affects all fields of life, religious, social, political and economic. In religious circles, acculturation was replaced by the term ‘inculturation’ in the 1960s. This is the re-expression of Christianity within the Lakota culture, as the mainline churches started to differentiate between culture and religion in evangelization (Lienkamp 1997). In the history of Lakota-white relations integration, assimilation, deculturation and resistance are highly interwoven concepts and appear in two circles, one lasting from the days of early contact up to the 1930s, the second one from the 1930s to the present. Those two circles will be presented in the course of this paper, but the focus will be on the assimilation of the Lakota Sioux, because this factor is the most relevant and persistent.

1.4.2. The Relevance of Assimilation to the Lakota Sioux

The Lakota Sioux have a long history of acculturation in their contact to whites1 as well as to other tribes. Intertribal exchange of goods and techniques as well as more spiritual things like rituals was common practice among North American Indians. However, no other culture contact changed their lifeways so radically as the selective, as well as coercive acculturation to Euro-American ways. The Lakotas’ selective acculturation to the white lifeways started in colonial times when they were heavily involved in the fur trade, especially with French fur traders. The traders exchanged tools such as knives, kettles and guns for furs, all objects that were perfectly integrated into Sioux society and were highly estimated, because they facilitated their way of life. The fur traders often intermarried with the Sioux and became active members of their society. Of course, the first contact with the non-Indians did not occur without effects. Indian societies were changed by the newly acquired goods and the Euro-American civilization brought destructive diseases and alcohol (Malan 1961). The history of Indian-white relations is, however, for the most part a history of coercive assimilation, imposed upon them by federal Indian policy and the missionary movement. Although assimilation strategies were often changing and sometimes contrasting, the goal always remained the same, the Indians were bound to disappear, some way or the other.

In the 19th century, which is often termed the Age of Assimilation, ‘the Indian problem’, with which the country saw herself confronted from the days of Columbus’ discovery onwards, was addressed by an increasingly coercive force to assimilate Indians into American society. Assimilation in the colonial days until the 1850s meant isolation and removal. Due to rapid western expansion of the settlement frontier, the white-Indian borderline, the Mississippi River, was soon transgressed and reservation policy began. Assimilation in the reservation period was very close to extermination and deculturation. Although the Indians were weakened by the white man’s diseases and warfare they still survived. The federal government began attempts to eradicate the Indians by exterminating them culturally. According to this policy, the Indians should, in a given amount of time, be transformed into mainstream American citizens, having left all Indian traits – cultural, political, economic and spiritual, behind. In the long run, so it was hoped, the Indians, not as tribes, but as individuals, would be fully integrated into mainstream American society as American citizens, as a part of the American melting pot of nations, as for example propagated by Thomas Jefferson (Dippie 1982). The Lakota Sioux responded to the radical change with a good deal of resistance, ranging from wars to a revitalization movement, the Ghost Dance, that evoked hopes of a return of the old tribal life (Utley 1963).

The Lakota were forced to walk the path of coercive assimilation until the 1930s when Indian-white relations were addressed under a New Deal, rejecting former radical assimilation and giving the Indians the opportunity of self-determination and selective assimilation into American society. Here, the second circle of assimilation starts. Assimilation into American pluralist society means something completely different than the coercive assimilation of earlier days. It means assimilation through integration into American society without losing one’s cultural identity. The key method under which this is achieved is separation, first having served as a means of isolating the Indians, then of civilizing, and now of integrating the American Indians into the larger society. Self-determination was interrupted by the short-lived but life-threatening termination and relocation policies in the 1950s and 60s when the old demand of eliminating Indian tribes as distinct identities was revived. Resistance finally came into the open in 1973 with the American Indian occupation of Wounded Knee village on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, under the American Indian Movement (Lazarus 1999). The occupation was an expression of protest which shared more than only the location with the 19th resistance movement, the Ghost Dance. Both the occupation of Wounded Knee and the Ghost Dance movement were religious revitalization movements, focused on the restoration of traditional Sioux culture and the end of assimilation (Pierce 1992). The creation of the American Indian Movement, which is a synonym for Indian activism and protest, as well as other pan-Indian organizations in the 20th century, can be seen as a direct result of acculturative stress (Padilla 1980).

1.4.3. The Indian as a Projection of White Images

“To Each Age Its Own Indian“ (in: Dippie 1982, 274)

The character and intensity of Indian assimilation in the U.S. has always been determined by the way American civilization was defined, and secondly, by the status or image attributed to the Indians. The character of federal Indian policy and the missionary movement was determined by whites’ image of Indians over time. Indian images were white creations created to fit the needs of the times. The historically changing and often contrasting strategies of Indian policy are thus closely interlinked with the changing perceptions of Indians (Deloria 1999b). In the very beginnings, the Indians were not even regarded as humans, but rather as “animals, vulgarly called Indians“ (Washburn 1964, 111), a status that justified any treatment. Later, with increasing need of land for settlers, their status changed to independent nations, as animals naturally could not enter treaties or sell their lands. The Indians’ image in America has always been unique and controversial. As the First Americans their assimilation into American society was desired, even in times when Blacks were kept in segregated areas and immigration was limited (Dippie 1982). There was the duality between the good Indian, the “Noble Savage”, who was respected and romanticized and whose vanishing was lamented, and the bad Indian, incorporating the perfect counter image of a Christian civilization (Berkhofer 1978, 73). The bad Indian as a projection of the whites’ own vices and sins made his assimilation and evangelization even more pressing and gave white superiority the justification it needed.

The policy of segregation and removal was justified by the theory of the Indian as the Vanishing American, which came up in the 18th century. This demanded that the Indians be segregated from whites in order to save them, as they would take over all the vices of white civilization such as alcoholism and diseases. The Indians were considered responsible for their own ruin because of the inherently inferior nature of their race. When there was no place for removal anymore, a new theory proved that the Indians were capable of adopting the civilization of the white man and intensive assimilation was propagated in the course of the reservation policy (Dippie 1982).

Assimilation did not necessarily imply racial amalgamation, but at the turn of the century the American melting pot of nations offered a widely accepted solution to the Indian problem, in which the Indians would be culturally and racially extinguished. As there was only a small population of Indians, Indian blood “could do no harm and might even do some good“ (Dippie 1982, 248). Still, opinions on the outcome of such an amalgamation were varied. A turn-of-the-century history book read that “it was perhaps fortunate for the future of America that the Indians of the North rejected civilization. [...] That would have given us a population made up in a measure of shiftless half-breeds“ (Deloria 1988, 4). Others, like Commissioner Leupp in 1910, advocated amalgamation, as the virtues of both races would come together and would even uplift the human race (Dippie 1982). In the 1930s the attitude towards the Indians changed, their cultures were increasingly valued and their preservation sought, gradually leading to the era of a self-determination.

However, this development does not mean that the days of the Indians as social constructs are over. On the contrary, the dual image of the Indian persists to this day. The good Indian of today is the one who chooses to assimilate, the bad Indian the one who wants to retain his traditions. Whites have often been unable to understand why Indians prefer their own ways of life to white civilization (Sanchez 1999). Although what would be termed theories of scientific racism today are a thing of the past, racism and discrimination against the Indians are not. The higher the percentage of Indian population in a state the more discrimination there is. Leaflets crusading in South Dakota recently declared “the hunting season“ on Indians to be reopened (BHPN 11/99). On the other hand, there is a renewed interest in Native American cultures and wisdom, with hordes of whites making pilgrimages to Indian reservations today to discover in every Indian a source of spiritual wisdom and a hidden shaman. What many people continually seem to forget is that Indians are not only images but real people with real existences and real needs.

1The name ‘Sioux’ is a French corruption of the Algonquian word ‘nadoweisiwug’, meaning ‘snakes’ which was attributed to them by their eastern rivals, the Ojibwas (Powers 1982, 5).

2Although the term ‘Native American’ is generally regarded as the more politically correct today, America’s natives themselves seem to prefer the term ‘Indian’. Both are white inventions and will be used in this paper interchangeably. The proper designation is by tribal name (Pierce 1992).

3The term ‘white’ will be used as a short-hand term for all non-Indians throughout the paper.


“For a Nation under God, there could be no choice.

The Indians must be civilized“ (in: Dippie 1982, 97)


2.1.1. The Theory: Social Developmentalism and Its Implications

In the middle of the 19th century the policy of segregating and removing Indian tribes practiced by the political authorities since British colonial times, could no longer be continued as the frontier continually