Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Jesus Road and the Trail of Tears

LeRoy Koopman, author of Taking the Jesus Road recognizes, as I do, that the Christian church has had a mixed record in regards to Indians. Usually I like to make an effort to point out the positives because they seem to get less ink.

The short description of Taking the Jesus Road in Google Books sums up the negative side of the church in Native history very well. First, the church often cooperated with the government "in implementing shifting policies that allowed the native peoples little or no voice in their own destiny." The other negative was the tendancy to equate "the Christian faith with white culture."

An internet search about the removal of New York Indians led me to Koopman's book. Pages eight through ten tell us something about the "complex and...strange career" of Reverend John F. Schermerhorn, an Indian agent who was appointed to the level of Commissioner by President Andrew Jackson. Tragically, Jackson's Indian removal policy called for all Indians east of the Mississippi to be pushed west. Koopman tells us that Schermerhorn participated in treaty negotiations with twenty tribes between 1832 and 1837, "paving the way for the removal of thousands of Indians" (page 9).

So Schermerhorn's work caused great hardship for many Indians, but oddly, one of his biographers described him as a "minister of the gospel who believed that the Indians' racial and eternal salvation required their removal west of the Mississippi River"(page 9).

Of the tribes that Schermerhorn negotiated with, the Cherokees are the most famous - you've probably heard of their Trail of Tears. The lesser-known tribes he negotiated with include the Stockbridge Mohicans, and the Brothertown Indians. More on that in future posts.

For Further Reading:
Taking the Jesus Road: The Ministry of the Reformed Church in America Among Native Americans By LeRoy Koopman
Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005
ISBN 0802831257, 9780802831255
512 pages

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