From the Archives: January 1991

A YOUNG MAN of American Indian heritage said to me: "Imagine growing up an American Indian halfbreed with the blood of Caddo, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribes in you ... Imagine growing up ... knowing that you belong to a culture long native to this land before the white man 'discovered' it. Imagine trying to assert your identity when the majority of society affirms that 'Indians are a dead race.'" ...

With words of dismissal, the politicians wipe out the tribes' meaning and deface them of their honor. With words, they strip American Indians of race, culture, philosophy, reason. With words they cover the Indians with a gloss of alienation and meaninglessness, leaving them hollowed-out entities, repeating over and over the rules of a society that was never their own. ...

We have far to go down the good road toward racial justice. When our "friends" regard us as curiosities; comment on our clothes instead of our words and thoughts; interpret our ceremonials instead of accepting our religious knowledge; realize something lacking in their own spirituality and take and trivialize ours; and when they try to assimilate us into their culture by destroying our identity, thereby depriving us of opportunities to offer our gifts to church and society, then we wonder if we will ever realize our dream of racial justice.

Carol Hampton, a member of the Caddo Nation, was national field officer of the Native American Ministry of the Episcopal Church when this article appeared.

Image: Dream catcher, -Markus- /

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What's in a Name?

Our current practice in the U.S. actually reflects the earlier legal reality of coverture: In the process of the "two becoming one flesh," the wife lost her rights to property, legal representation in court, and even her public identity as her husband became the sole representative for the family. This combination of identities (or, rather, the wife becoming lost in her husband's identity) led to wives taking their husbands' last names. For me, losing my surname would have represented silent assent to this oppressive practice.