The Selling of the Sacred: Pe’ Sla, Colonialism and Christianity

By Kevin Gonzaga 8-27-2012

Recently the owners of a large tract of land in South Dakota began looking to sell their property. The problem is that the land that they own is Pe’ Sla, land sacred to the Lakota Native American people. Currently the Lakota are organizing efforts to raise money to buy back their sacred land in hopes of preserving access to it and to prevent the building of a highway the state has planned.

This situation would be top news if it were any other religious site were involved, but this has barely made it into mainstream media.

I myself only found out about this issue in part due to the fact that I try to stay  involved in Native American issues. In 2005 and 2006 I participated in missions trip to a Native American reservation. The beauty and tragedy I saw on the reservation had a lasting impact upon me, and since then I have studied the history of colonialism, Native American rights, and related issues when and where I can.

In these studies, one thing that tragically sticks out is the complicity of previous Christians in the injustices perpetrated during the colonial era. It was Christians — from Columbus to the priests, nuns and pastors who ran the residential schools — who have actively participated in the genocide of the Native American people and intentional dismantling of the Native American cultures.  

It was Christians who provide theological and spiritual justification for “Manifest Destiny” as we scripted the Native Americans as the “New Canaanites” and the Americas as the “New Promised Land” that God was giving to the Europeans. 

It was Christians — like my Dutch ancestors who moved from Netherlands to Sioux County, Iowa when “land became available" — who took the land and made a life here at a steep cost to the 500 tribes who used to live on that land. 

While Native Americans have been strong enough to survive whatever challenges they have faced, they remain the most under-served, over-looked, and at-risk demographic in the United States and Canada. And most Christians continue to be complicit with colonialism and its aftermath in our silence and ignorance.

I encourage all Christians to educate themselves about these issues. I encourage them to get involved with the saving of Pe’ Sla (which can begin by going HERE) and other such initiatives throughout the country. I encourage all Christians to listen to the simple message of the Native American people which is: “We are still here.”

I say this because to me it is absurd that right now, even though it is fashionable for American Christians to decry economic injustices, environment destruction, racism, discrimination, and oppression, most American Christians remain aloof and detached from the primary example of all these problems that is closest to home.

At the end of the day, can we say we follow the God of Israel, a God who demands justice for the poor and liberation to the oppressed, and ignore the challenges that face Native American communities? Can we claim to have the Spirit of Truth inside of us and continue to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to recognizing where these challenges came from? 

Editor's Note: The family involved in auctioning off the land canceled the auction. According to the Rapid City Journal, the fund raisers hoping to purchase back the land are unaware what the move means for them. 

"It could be good and it could be bad," said Rodney Bordeaux, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. "We just don't know what the family wants. That's kind of the unknown. We'll just have to wait and see."

Kevin Gonzaga is a recent grad of Fuller Theological Seminary and an aspiring writer. He can be reached on Twitter @speakfaithfully.

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