That title is offensive on several levels. First, the culturally appropriate word for them is Native Americans. Second, the idea that “they’re just” is a pretty odious sentiment. It conveys the idea that how we treat people can be based on who they are rather than on who WE are or on an intrinsic value that lies within all humanity.
Unfortunately, this seems to be precisely the sentiment many people are taking towards the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline. In case you’ve been living under a rock:
The pipeline is currently under construction by Dakota Access, LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. The minor partners involved in the project are Phillips 66, Enbridge, and Marathon Petroleum. The route begins in the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota and travels in a more or less straight line south-east, through South Dakota and Iowa, and ends at the oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois.
I’m not particularly concerned with environmental issues in this post (that’s a conversation for a different post). What I am concerned with is how we treat people. Christians have a biblical mandate to treat people well. In fact, we’re called to treat people well even when people mistreat us (one of the Bible’s most difficult teachings regarding suffering under evil rulers and masters). Additionally, people of faith are called to be honorable in how we deal with others.
Do you remember the last time someone broke a promise to you? How did it make you feel? The Bible refers to vows or promises and that God’s people are supposed to known as vow keepers.
If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. ~ Numbers 30:2
Since God himself is a covenant maker and covenant keeper, we are also supposed to be like that. Yet our government has been notoriously bad at keeping covenants with Native American tribes. Historically, when we have desired something that was on Native American land, we would break treaties, take what we desired, and relocate the people to new land and/or new promises.
I’m reminded of the words of the prophet in Hosea 10:4:
They speak mere words, With worthless oaths they make covenants; And judgment sprouts like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field.
It doesn’t matter who the people are – we are called to treat people well. Unless the covenant is an immoral or ungodly covenant, we are called to be covenant keepers just as God is a covenant keeper with us.
Chris Linzey is husband to Tené, father to the three most beautiful children in the world, movie addict (seriously, if it’s on a screen he'll watch it—doesn’t matter how crummy or low-budget), and a Navy Chaplain, currently assigned to Naval Air Station, Meridian. Chris has a deep desire to help people live lives of faith where the Bible is more than mere words on a page, but the way we live everyday. His undergrad and Master’s studies were in Biblical Studies and he focused on the New Testament (his mentor was a Gospel of Mark scholar). He went on to get a Master of Divinity (MDiv) in Pastoral Preaching. Follow him at @chrislinzey.