The Burden

Posted by: “Robert Francis” Robert Francis   pgpersons

Wed Feb 21, 2007 12:01 am (PST)   From: Robert Francis

Often, well meaning non-Indian men or women will approach me saying, “I have a burden for the Indians.” This statement most often comes from those I do not know and have never met before. It is generally followed with an offer to come to teach our little Indian children or to come with me to preach to the Indians. When I do not immediately jump at such an offer, the person may be somewhat taken aback. The following poem is an attempt to express the thoughts and feelings I have when I hear these words.

The Burden
by Robert Francis 2003

A burden for the Indians, you say/ you have a burden for the Indians
and anxiously wait for my reply/ thinking your words warm my heart.
Instead they send a chill down my spine./
A burden for the Indians, you say / you have a burden for the Indians.
Be my Indian guide; take me to your people./ Be my Tonto; I’ll be your Lone Ranger.
I’ll be your Custer; you be me White-Man-Owns-Him./
A burden for the Indians, you say/ you have a burden for the Indians.
You’ve always dreamed of this:/ A two-week adventure with lifetime bragging rights,
Indians left to live or die with the consequences.
A burden for the Indians, you say/ you have a burden for the Indians.
Have you, your church, your denomination/ ever opposed the slaughter, the theft of land,
the termination of our ways of life?/

A burden for the Indians, you say/ you have a burden for the Indians.
Is this the burden of Columbus and Smith,/ of Bradford and Amherst and Sevier,
of Wayne and Harrison and Dawes?
A burden for the Indians, you say/ you have a burden for the Indians
to kill the Indian but save the man? / The only good Indian is the one who died
or behaves as one already dead.
A burden for the Indians, you say/ you have a burden for the Indians.
Is this the burden of the gospel of greed/ that comes calling itself civilization
preaching the salvation of selfishness?
A burden for the Indians, you say/ you have a burden for the Indians.
Is this the burden of a cannibal culture/ prowling around, looking for one to devour,
crossing earth and sea for a single convert?
A burden for the Indians, you say/ you have a burden for the Indians.
Who am I to pass judgment on another?/ But, you will know them by their fruits.
Grapes will never grow on sawbriers.
A burden for the Indians, you say/ you have a burden for the Indians.
Did Creator lay such a burden on your heart?/ “My burden is light,” the Great One says.
“You are the burden and I will cast you off.”
A burden for the Indians, you say/ you have a burden for the Indians.
The white man’s burden lays a heavy load/ that bends and breaks the backs
of all for whom he is burdened.
A burden for the Indians, you say/ you have a burden for the Indians,
and you anxiously wait for my reply.
GET OVER IT! I say; then maybe we Indians can/ get over 500 years of your burden lain on us.

For those non-Indians who feel they have a burden for the Indian: The “white-man’s burden has consistently made things worse for American Indian people. You may be thinking that what you are feeling inside is different. I hope it is.
a.. Are you willing to help without seeking to control?
b.. Are you willing to listen before you speak?
c.. Are you willing to observe before you ask questions?
d.. Are you willing to acknowledge the neediness of your own people and of your own self as well as the neediness or “plight” of the Indians?
e.. Are you willing to acknowledge that the healing of your people and the healing of other peoples, including American Indian peoples, is intricately bound together?
f.. Are you willing to understand that healing for Indian peoples does not mean Indian people becoming more like you?
g.. Are you willing to lay aside the idols of civil religion and denominational or religious dogma that you may hear the voice of the Spirit and act on what you hear?
If you have answered “Yes” to, at least, some of these questions, there is hope. Let’s talk.

Native American Indian spiritual helpers live in poverty on a fraction of what white ministers or white missionaries to Indians are paid. This disparity remains regardless of the level of education achieved by Indian helpers or ministers.
If you really want to help American Indians, encourage your church to get involved in financially helping an American Indian helper who is working within the culture (the only New Testament approach) of his/her own people.
To make this a reciprocal, helping relationship, encourage your church to invite that person to speak in your church periodically (not five-minutes before worship to explain the “plight” of the poor Indian, but the whole worship time to meaningfully share in ways that will help the people of your church).
Bible References: Matthew 23:15; Romans 14:4; Matthew 7:16; Matthew 11:30; Jeremiah 23:33
____________________________
Robert Francis
RR 3 Box 194A
Butler, MO 64730
(660) 679-4014
maif77@earthlink.net

My response:

Dear Robert,

Thank you for posting this poem and stuff.  It has made some things clearer for me.  I don’t know if you care to hear what I have to say, if not, you can delete, or just skim it over.  Sometimes I get long-winded, specially when I am trying to figure things out.

I am non-native (yaats-haadai = white person, in my husband’s language, Haida).  We will have been married 25 years this May, plus were together for a couple years before that.  We have 5 children and a grand-child.   It has been a long learning journey for me, and still there are some things that puzzle me.  I have come to see that we are always deep down what we were born, and I understand and accept that and don’t think I am a “native wanna-be.”  And my husband has been accepting more and more who he is.  We find that this walk together has to accept that for each other, (and we might not have made it this far if we didn’t both come to have the journey with Jesus in common after awhile.)

Anyway, about what you wrote…

>>Often, well meaning non-Indian men or women will approach me saying, “I have a burden for the Indians.” This statement most often comes from those I do not know and have never met before. It is generally followed with an offer to come to teach our little Indian children or to come with me to preach to the Indians.

I remember a couple who came to the village (well, to the white village near-by), moved far from their family and gave up a great job, because they literally said they “had a burden for the Indians.”  But their whole idea seemed to be to make the people into “white Christians.”  It was so blatant.  They were really disappointed when the response was not enthusiastic.  My husband, having spent time in some institutions like residential schools and the Canadian armed forces, tried to be polite to them in spite of that, at least until the lady, giving what she thought was a great compliment, said he was “the most like a white man of any Indian she had met.”  He did not take it as a compliment at all.

I was feeling pretty self-righteous about all this, thinking that I am not like that.  After all, I have been married for a long time to a native man, have 5 children with him, and now grandchildren starting to come.  When we first got together, I noticed that when I would come into a room where the people were, the conversation would stop and shift gears all of a sudden.  But after 15 years or so that didn’t happen hardly anymore, and I thought that was pretty good, that they trusted me now.  I thought they just didn’t trust me at first because I am white, and they’ve had a lot of bad experience at the hands of white people, that it wasn’t really personal.

But when you wrote this about “the burden” I thought back to how I have been in the past.  I thought about teaching in the high school there, and feeling proud of myself that I changed the curriculum to include some “native foods.”  (As if the kids didn’t already know way more about it than I did).  And teaching Sunday School to 35 or so children in the village every week, and being frustrated because it seemed to me like the parents didn’t really “appreciate” all the work I was doing for them, I felt they were just taking advantage of me to get a couple hours of free baby-sitting every Sunday afternoon, and didn’t understand why they didn’t want to help out, when I was working so hard to teach with all the best methods I’d learned as a child in Sunday School.  And I didn’t understand why my sister-in-law was mad at me when I sided with the principal at the school, when she felt her son had been treated with prejudice.  I saw the incident in question, and told her so, and I was offended because she said, “I’m sorry, sister, but I have to trust my son over the principal.”  But then I was offended a few years later when I stuck up for my children, to the principal, when they got older and were in that school, because he told me that “All the native kids are just here to be babysat for five years and then we give them a party and send them on the way,”  and I said, “My kids are native,” and he said, “Oh, sure, legally, but the way you’ve raised them they are white.”  Then I began to understand what my sister-in-law was saying.

So when you wrote this poem, it has helped me to see more clearly how I really am, or at least have been, and probably still am somewhat.  I never thought of myself as prejudiced back then, but I have come to see over the years that I do see the world through the eyes of my own upbringing.  So I see how deep inside I, too, had this “burden” mentality, not so strong as some people, but there anyway.  And it makes me wonder if they keep on talking now when I come in the room, because they’ve just decided I’m here to stay, but maybe it is also because I gave up trying to “do” all those “helpful” things, and just raised my kids and took life a day at a time (a really hard lesson for me… but biblical… and native…  Though it sure bugged me at first when my hubby was like that… one day at a time…).

A few years back, we had to move away from the village because my parents were sick and needed me to take care of them, so I don’t know how things would be now if we went back (we might go back… my dad has died, and my mom won’t be with us much longer… anyway, my husband did not mind moving here, even though he always said he would never move away from the village… but then he did anyway because he says it is right to care for the elders…).  You can see that it has not been easy for me to work through all this, but that is probably good, because bit by bit, I begin to see my husband’s thoughts about things… and your comments have helped me too, now.  Thank you again.
>>Be my Tonto; I’ll be your Lone Ranger.
I’ll be your Custer; you be me White-Man-Owns-Him.

I guess those lines would be pretty offensive to a lot of white people, they would have been to me at one time.  It is good that you write with strong words.  It seems like us white people only start to hear when the words are strong, and sting.

>>You’ve always dreamed of this:
A two-week adventure with lifetime bragging rights,
Indians left to live or die with the consequences.

Yes, I see that.  I only planned to go to my husband’s island for a couple of years to teach, and when I got there, I nobly took a “course” on the Haida people so I could teach them “with understanding.”  Funny, I recently found the course materials at the bottom of a box.  They are scary, knowing what I know now.  Still, what if I didn’t meet my husband and fall in love?  Maybe I’d have just stayed my two years, and be bragging ever since.  It wouldn’t surprise me.  I think I was bragging in my heart, even so, for a long, long time, and sometimes out loud, not in direct words, but in actions, and in “advice” I’d give and stuff.  I didn’t even know I was doing that.  I thought I was pretty understanding.  The longer we are together, the less I know…  My husband thinks that is good.
>>Have you, your church, your denomination
ever opposed the slaughter, the theft of land,
the termination of our ways of life?

Ha!  I don’t even want to start to go there.  I’ve felt too much of my husband’s and his people’s pain over the church-run residential schools.  And the cut-down-and-burned-for-firewood totem poles.  And the “don’t bring in your drums and songs in to the church; learn our songs and play guitars and piano instead because that is Christian.”  I’ve seen religion totally divorced from politics.  Or should I say, I’ve seen anything that makes the “church” uncomfortable, placed in the “politics” folder and ignored.  No understanding that Jesus’ message was all about life and relationship…  My husband’s people went from well over 10,000 people to only 300-500 in a few short years due to smallpox which was purposely introduced.  Guess that made it easier to outlaw all the rest, the totem poles and the potlatches and all those things, beliefs, traditions…  Sometimes I feel guilty for “watering down the blood-line” but my husband says I shouldn’t think that way.  My kids seem so lost between sometimes…
>>to kill the Indian but save the man?
The only good Indian is the one who died
or behaves as one already dead.

Yes, these few words speak so much truth of the attitude of “my ancestors” … How I hated it when my husband would get angry and talk about “your ancestors!”  I’d protest so hard, my grandparents immigrated just a few dozen years ago… it wasn’t my ancestors that did all that…  But I didn’t see in those early days of our relationship that it doesn’t really matter if it was “my” ancestors by direct lineage or not… because it is an attitude that is so imbedded and still exists so strong in our (white) people even if some have learned to be “PC” about it… maybe PC is worse because it just whitewashes the filthy truth, which means that people ignore it.  It’s so dishonest.  Reminds me of when Jesus called the Pharisees “whitewashed sepulchures.”  I remember watching movies together like “Little Big Man” or whatever it was called, about Custer’s last stand.  And my husband just hated it, and here I thought it was way more fair than those old westerns.  Slowly I’m beginning to see through his eyes.  Not for lack of trying, but its so embedded, like I said… and my family aren’t prejudiced like other people… or are they???  I fear we are, more than I realized.

>>Is this the burden of the gospel of greed
that comes calling itself civilization
preaching the salvation of selfishness?

Ow!  I remember being a child in school, and learning “Canadian history” (and a bit of “US history” and about the “Incas and Aztecs”).  All about the “noble savage” and the “fur traders” and “bringing Christianity and civilization.”  Well, they’ve changed the textbooks now, sort of, rewriting history, hopefully to be more accurate (but not very… I’m a history teacher, and we still write what makes us feel comfortable, we like our lies, and sometimes we don’t even see that they are lies, because we come with such deeply embedded pre-conceptions that we are blinded to truth).  And yes, rewriting history goes both ways.  My husband’s people took slaves from other coast tribes, regularly, and the old people talk about it with a certain degree of pride, and the other tribes with a lot of anger arising out of long memories.  But in school, in “Haida culture” class, the younger Haida teachers tell the children that “we didn’t take slaves.  We just had such a superior culture that people from other tribes would beg to come and live with us and be our servants, because they wanted to experience our lifestyle.”  Well, maybe we’re all human after all….  Or maybe those young teachers have just learned their white-man school lessons and TV lessons well…  But I’ll tell you one thing,  you are right about the greed of our “civilization”… and it hurts us, too, it hurts everybody and it hurts the land and it hurts the Creator.  Yet we don’t seem to learn.  But we must learn….

>>Is this the burden of a cannibal culture
prowling around, looking for one to devour,
crossing earth and sea for a single convert?

Yes.
>>>>>
a.. Are you willing to help without seeking to control?
b.. Are you willing to listen before you speak?
c.. Are you willing to observe before you ask questions?
d.. Are you willing to acknowledge the neediness of your own people and of your own self as well as the neediness or “plight” of the Indians?
e.. Are you willing to acknowledge that the healing of your people and the healing of other peoples, including American Indian peoples, is intricately bound together?
f.. Are you willing to understand that healing for Indian peoples does not mean Indian people becoming more like you?
g.. Are you willing to lay aside the idols of civil religion and denominational or religious dogma that you may hear the voice of the Spirit and act on what you hear?
If you have answered “Yes” to, at least, some of these questions, there is hope. Let’s talk.

I hope that I am coming to the place that I can at least say I am starting to be willing.  I used to think I was willing.  But I was blind to myself.  I do see now, at least a little, the things you have spoken of so clearly and eloquently (and, if need be, offensively… maybe we need to be offended ourselves before we can begin to see the offenses we have committed)…  I’ve been very fortunate to have a patient, loving husband who has put up with me, as I have very slowly started to learn, one on one, in relationship with him, to start walking toward these acknowledgements and attitudes and actions.  I have slowly learned what it means to be, as his wife, a “help-meet” without seeking to control him.  I have slowly been learning to listen, really listen, instead of assuming I know all about it.  I’ve been learning (and how hard it has been for me) to stop my mouth and appreciate his quietness, his example of not speaking all the time just to fill up the silence and/or “be heard.”  I am slowly being taught by his example to learn by observing, instead of talk-talk-talk “teaching.”  And so on through the list…  Because of living with my husband, and walking this journey together, I am learning.  Learning more than all the books and college degrees I have ever taught me.  Learning the truth of what is really valuable.  And in this learning, I am also coming to start to hear the voice of the Spirit, and hopefully to act on what I hear.  I feel like I have come such a short distance in a long time, but even that short distance gives me hope.

Thank you.  You have brought some things together for me.  I hope that they will become part of my journey, too.

>>If you really want to help American Indians, encourage your church to get involved in financially helping an American Indian helper who is working within the culture (the only New Testament approach) of his/her own people.

My husband went to BibleSchool when our kids were young.  I was so excited.  I thought he would become a “pastor” in the village.  But he wasn’t interested.  And his people were suspicious of his “white man education” and afraid that it might have changed him.  He graduated 15 years ago.  He never, ever since, preached a sermon, or taught a Sunday School class, or anything like that.  He works in an ordinary job.  He doesn’t much like to go to church meetings.  But he knows Creator.  He just lives day by day and doesn’t say much.  Funny thing, though.  People are drawn to him.  And sometimes through him they are drawn closer to Creator.   Maybe I am beginning to understand and accept that, finally.  Maybe we can go back to the village and it will be okay.  Maybe I can just really be his help-meet and support him, and trust Creator, wherever He leads us.  And maybe that’s enough.
>>To make this a reciprocal, helping relationship, encourage your church to invite that person to speak in your church periodically (not five-minutes before worship to explain the “plight” of the poor Indian, but the whole worship time to meaningfully share in ways that will help the people of your church).

Or maybe hubby has a better way.  He just tells them, these white people at church where we live right now, that our house is “Indian house” and to come over anytime.  The door is unlocked, come on in, help yourself to coffee and the soup’s on the stove.  Make yourself at home.  Not everybody comes.  Lots of people feel uncomfortable about that.  But the ones whom the Spirit is calling, they start coming, and he listens to them, and when they run out of words, they start listening to him.  And then all start listening to the Spirit together.  Some people are upset that he doesn’t “help out” at the church, since he’s got a “degree in Pastoral theology” but others have seen a different way, and I think their attitudes are changing too – about our own culture, about “church,”  about native people, and about walking with Father.  And living with my husband (he’s so patient) I’ve started to change, also, I hope.

Thank you for your patient listening.
Osiyo Norma,

Wa-do (Thank You) for the deep and prayerful reflection that went into this e-mail.  You really touch my heart.  You know, of course, that white-man’s burden is not confined to white men or women.  I remember years ago, when I was pastoring a mostly white Southern Baptist church in western Missouri.  I got aquainted with an old Choctaw preacher named Hershell Daney (I’m probably spelling his name wrong.) who was head of Indian ministries for the American Baptist Denomination.  Hershell tried to get me to send a resume to an AmericanBaptistChurch in the Navajo Nation.  He said I’d be a “good cultural match” since my family raised some sheep and goats.  I couldn’t really see it.  I’d never met a Navajo before, and in my mind, they seemed pretty foreign.  I’ve since learned differently.  But anyway, I remember this old Choctaw preacher, telling me that “Those Navajo Baptists are really anti-culture.”  Hershell had grown up “anti-culture” himself.  He was, himself, a Choctaw preacher’s kid.  But somewhere along the road he started to see things differently.  “Do you know why the Navajo Baptists are so anti-culture?” he asked.  When I shook my head, he said, “They weren’t missionized by white people.  They were missionized by preachers from the Five Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole).”

“Oh,” I said.  “I think I see.  Instead of being twice the sons of hell like we are, we made them four-times the sons of hell.”

“Exactly,” Hershell said.

Well, I didn’t go to the Navajo Nation.  I stayed with my own people.  But Navajo people asked me to come to Denver a few times and I’ve met Navojos in other places.  Believe it or not, even the Navajos are starting to see things just a little differently now.

Would it be possible for me to share what you have written?  So much sacrifice has gone into this.  I think it would people good to read it.  If I could have your permission, I’d like to share it with those on our Mid American Indian Fellowships Linkup and also with a class that I teach at a community college.

Do’hi,

Robert

Robert Francis

RR 3 Box 194A

Butler, MO64730

(660) 679-4014

maif77@earthlink.net

Haadaa Laasaas!

(Well, that means “good people” and is the greeting you most often hear in Haida land.  I do not know how to greet an individual; I don’t even know if there is an individual greeting… maybe not, because everything is done in community…  Languages are so interesting, they really reflect the way a people think and their deepest values…  I have learned a little Haida, quite a bit of French, plus a smattering of Japanese, Spanish, Inuvialuktun, Slavey, Loucheux, as I have been privileged to know and live with different people…)

>>You know, of course, that white-man’s burden is not confined to white men or women.

Oh yes!  I’ve seen so much of that!  I’ve met many people who were “missionized” through many generations, just like the example you gave.  My own husband has struggled with that a lot, his chinnie (grandfather), who raised him, was an Anglican lay-minister as well as a school-teacher, and when my husband talks about what his chinnie taught him, I can see so much “conflict” because his chinnie was raised, as a child, in a remote village, in the traditional way, but sent away to a church run (Catholic) residential school when he was about 10, and later indoctrinated under the Anglican church in his new village (the old village being abandoned)… and he tried to teach my husband both (all three) ways… and so there was…. I don’t even have words for it, but a conflict in my husband’s soul that he will not… probably cannot… talk about.  But over the years what I do see is his faith, his relationship with Christ, growing deeper and deeper (very quietly), and at the same time his attachment to his roots also growing clearer (also quietly), and somehow, I think, peace is growing in his soul.

>>Would it be possible for me to share what you have written?  So much sacrifice has gone into this.  I think it would people good to read it.  If I could have your permission, I’d like to share it with those on our Mid American Indian Fellowships Linkup and also with a class that I teach at a community college.

Yes, of course, if you think it will help.

How’a (thank you) for your reply.  I was afraid to send it after I wrote it, but I am glad I did, because you have been understanding, and that has helped me.

Take care,

norma

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