In 1805, Chief Red Jacket (also known as Sagoyewatha) was approached by the Boston Missionary Society about being allowed to preach to the Seneca tribe. The speech he gave to the missionaries was simply amazing. Here are a few highlights:
Brother, our seats were once large, and yours were very small; you have now become a great people, and we have scarcely a place left to spread our blankets; you have got our country, but are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon us.
Brother, continue to listen. You say you are sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to his mind, and if we do not take hold of the religion which you white people teach, we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right, and we are lost; how do we know this to be true? We understand that your religion is written in a book; if it was intended for us as well as you, why has not the Great Spirit given it to us, and not only to us, but why did he not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that book, with the means of understanding it rightly? We only know what you tell us about it. How shall we know when to believe, being so often deceived by the white people?
Why hasn’t this Christian God given them the book?
It seems obvious to us today that it was because Europeans hadn’t discovered North America yet and Christianity was a European (Middle Eastern) myth. It’s also one of the questions I asked myself in Sunday school – if believing in Jesus is so important, what happened to the Natives? Why wouldn’t this all powerful God make them aware of his presence?
But this is my favorite part of the speech:
Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit; if there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you can all read the book?
Atheists ask this question all the time. If Christians are filled by the Holy Spirit as they claim, why are they not able to come to a consensus about what their book means? There is one book and over a thousand sects of Christianity. Could it be that the thing they describe as the Holy Spirit is really their own consciousness?
I think so, since their interpretation of the bible usually mirrors what they would want.
Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion, or take it from you; we only want to enjoy our own.
Brother, you say you have not come to get our land or our money, but to enlighten our minds. I will now tell you that I have been at your meetings, and saw you collecting money from the meeting. I cannot tell what this money was intended for, but suppose it was for your minister; and if we should conform to your way of thinking, perhaps you may want some from us.
Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors; we are acquainted with them; we will wait, a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again what you have said.
Red Jacket may not have wanted to destroy Christianity, but Christianity sure wanted to destroy them. One of the mandates of Christianity was to Christianize the Natives, who they regarded as savages. They took their children and sent them to religious boarding schools, where they were stripped of their heritage and culture. The history of the religious boarding schools is a horrific one.
I love how Red Jacket connects Christianity with profit. The utter hypocrisy of many religious institutions is mind-staggering. For example, the Catholic Church is worth around 15 billion dollars. They say they want to feed the poor, alleviate the suffering in the world, but then prance around in gold robes. How many people could 15 billion dollars feed?
But the most profound statement (in my mind) that Red Jacket made was to ask to see evidence that Christianity made Christians better people.
Of course, Red Jacket would be sorely disappointed because:
Red Jacket’s forceful defense of native religion, below, caused the representative to refuse the Indian’s handshake and announce that no fellowship could exist between the religion of God and the works of the Devil.
Superstition and hatred were the response to this excellent speech made by Red Jacket.
Yet, his points remain. The questions and challenges Red Jacket offered the Christian Missionaries are just as valid today as they were back then.