Pine Ridge youth led the charge against the latest manifestation of white supremacy on their lands.
Matt Monfore, a non-Native man from the fundamentalist group Jesus is King Mission, was distributing pamphlets to Lakota youth calling Jesus “the one true God of Native Americans.” It referred to Tunkasila, the Lakota name for “Creator,” as “a demon idol.”
Lakota youth alerted elders to the pamphlets and urged the tribal council “to ‘decolonize’ the reservation by shutting down new evangelical outreach programs and creating stronger tribal oversight of existing missions,” according to an article in America: The Jesuit Review.
Eleanor Ferguson, Oglala Lakota and representative of the International Indigenous Youth Council, spoke during a tribal council meeting concerning the pamphlets. “Christianity didn’t become a world religion because of the quality of its teachings, but by the quantity of its violence,” she said, Native News Online reported.
In late July, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted to exclude Monfore from Pine Ridge lands, saying he was spreading hate by distributing the pamphlets. The Council also voted to temporarily suspend all Christian mission activity on the Reservation.
The Tribal ordinance called for a halt to all church and missionary activity until mission’s employees, volunteers, and service groups passed background checks, according to the article in America. The ordinance also required “a comprehensive audit of those entities to determine how much money they are raising, if they were exploiting images of Lakota children in doing so and how they are spending the donations they accept.” (Find ordinance here.)
The Tribe rescinded the missions ban a few days later, “mainly because folks had events — such as weddings and funerals — scheduled,” according to an email from the Lakota People’s Law Project. “Still, previous law requiring review and registration of religious entities will now be enforced with greater vigor.”
In an interview with Indian Country Today, Monfore expressed surprise at Pine Ridge’s reaction. His comment reflected both a belief in Native assimilation into “white” ways and ignorance of the pain caused by his words.
“I’m not racist; I love Native Americans,” he said. “I’m against Native religion. I’m not against Native people.”