Native American speaker calls for truth and reconciliation commission

WCRC should ‘seek ways to make restitution to tribal people’

June 29, 2010

A man in Lakota/Sioux traditional dress.

Richard Twiss


A renowned Native American leader appealed to the newly created World Communion of Reformed Churches to establish a truth and reconciliation-like commission to “seek ways to make restitution to tribal people” for the churches’ complicity in “co-opting the Bible as a tool of colonialism and imperialism” in North America over the last 400 years.

Richard Twiss, a Lakota/Sioux originally from South Dakota and now living near Portland, Ore., said such a commission — comprising indigenous people from North America and the global South — is necessary to overcome “cowboy theology,” which he said has perpetuated “a distinct evangelical bias against Native and indigenous culture and ways.”

The “demonizing” of Native religious expressions means that “most (Native American) people reject Christianity because they consider it a white man’s religion,” Twiss said, “and it breaks my heart because Jesus is the hope of the world in all its brokenness.”

Twiss, who became Christian in 1974 while in the depths of drug and alcohol addiction, said “following Jesus started out very simple ... but then becoming a Christian became very complicated” as institutionalized churches insisted that Native American cultural and religious expressions were unacceptable. “I had to change my clothes, cut my hair, play different musical instruments — just a drum wasn’t good enough anymore. We were never allowed and never learned to contextualize the gospel in our culture,” he said.

The story of Native American suppression “is the worst occurrence of ethnic cleansing and genocide in the history of the world,” Twiss said. War and disease reduced the Native population in North America from some 50 million in 1400 to barely 230,000 in 1895. “But perhaps what makes the story most tragic is that so much of this was the result of the misappropriation of the biblical narrative that was co-opted as a tool of colonial imperialism.”

But Twiss sees signs of hope in the emerging missiological model called “missio Dei” (“mission of God”), which, he said, “points to the radical communal nature of God” rather than focusing on the institutional nature of the church.

“God’s very nature is missionary. It is not primarily about the propagation or transmission of intellectual convictions, doctrines, moral commands, but rather about the inclusion of all creation in God’s overflowing, superabundant life of communion,” he said.

In “missio Dei,” Twiss said, “indigenous people find a place of identity, belonging, value, peace, justice and affirmation — Shalom. Can we re-imagine a new or changed future where people are living out their faith in Jesus in light ... together as fellow learners and co-equal participants in the life, work and mission of Jesus?”

  1. I agree with Richard Twiss 100%. A third of my book, "Spiritual Terrorism: Spiritual Abuse from the Womb to the Tomb," is about non-Christian religions including Native Americans' Beliefs. We have tried to westernize more than Christianize native peoples. We Christians, by espousing the false doctrine of eternal torment, have done a terrible disservice to native Americans and to adherents of other religions around the world as well as to the church of our Lord Jesus Christ!

    by Rev. Boyd C. Purcell, Ph.D.

    July 6, 2010

  2. While I agree that all Christians, including our Presbyterian USA denomination, should consider and appreciate the vital contributions of every culture to our modern shared global society and to our Church, discussions of "restitution" imply that only one historical perspective of "Colonialism" is true. An historical absolutism of right versus wrong, good versus evil, etc., overly simplistic. Please consider for instance that during the Westward expansion of the United States, numerous immigrants from Europe and many other nations died very cruelly at the hands of Native Americans. Additionally, many Native American tribes warred persistently with other tribes and many of these deep seated conflicts predated the arrival of immigrants from other places. The politics of that era was complex. The violence was not all one-sided, and victims of mistreatment can be found from amongst every participating group. I feel personally no compunction whatsoever to offer any "restitution" for this bloody history which occurred long before my birth, and I don't see any benefit now to enpaneling a commission to dwell on that issue. In fact, one of my ancestors (about seven generations removed) was in all likelihood murdered during the "French and Indian Wars" in Pennsylvania. Should I now demand restitution for his death from descendants of the tribe believed to have been responsible for his demise? Or blame traditional Native American religious beliefs for this tragedy? Presbyterian USA congregations instead in my opinion should be more proactive in focusing upon the relevance of our faith today to guide our lives in the present. We cannot and should not endeavor to apologize for the past because we should not consider ourselves judges of the past. It is the fellowship and communion which should be created amongst Christians from every cultural background today which should be the focus in my view-- especially since apologies and restitution could flow in every direction.

    by Dorothy Ahlswede

    July 4, 2010

  3. The concept of "church" needs to be replaced with the concept of "community". Buildings that sit empty most of the time are not consistent with the great commission to "go into all the world". All of us are native people and imperfect people. Tribal allegiances are just a form of community. We are slowly re-gaining our sense of community and this internet is creating a new world-wide sense of tribe. "Woman Spirit Rising" is the current needed development in the growth of the "king-dom" and the "queen-dom". Richard Twiss is correct--genocide has happened and continues to happen. The term "king-dom" denotes male power---the terms "community" and "garden of God" denote peace and shalom. The gates of Eden are re-opened by the Nazarene---ALL are welcome into the garden. We are all in the garden andt the garden is in us. To re-phrase the Nazarene's quote: Fear not, little flock, it is our God's great pleasure to give us the garden. Our gardening task is to tend the garden and invite all who pass by to come in and join our community and dance. Carla

    by carla cothran

    July 3, 2010