JOURNEY OF FAITH for June 16 – 18, 2006---Copyright 2006 by Lee Thomson:
Dear Lee: I want to share how Native Americans still experience discrimination.
My Dad is Mexican-American, and my mother is full-blooded Lipan Apache. They raised me Indian, not Mexican.
I've been a pastor in McAllen, Texas, for 17 years. I pastor two Native churches, and my church sponsors "Son Tree Native Path," my traveling ministry. It's a lot of work, but fun.
America is a great place. The Constitution says we're all equal under God, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs discriminates, recognizing as Native Americans only one-fifth of the tribes. The rest don't receive status papers, rights, and benefits!
My tribe, the Lipan Apaches, has been issued a tribal ID number, but is still in the process of reaching federal recognition, so we don't qualify for federal help and rights. However, illegal aliens and Hispanics qualify for those benefits. I would, too----if I identified myself as Hispanic, not Native American. How unfair!
This discrimination affects how we use eagle feathers in our Native American dancing ceremonies and worship services. Long ago, we honored people by giving them golden eagle feathers. I received 36 feathers as a teenager, and several others later.
But now, eagle feathers can be legally owned only by members of federally-recognized tribes, who must apply for government-issued feathers, and carry permits when carrying feathers. The waiting list for feathers is five years! If we carry feathers without a permit, the government can arrest and fine us, or imprison us for several years.
The eagle is no longer an endangered species. These laws are another way for the government to show that we're conquered people. They make us beg them for the right to use the eagle feathers. A recent incident in my family proves this:
Thirty-five years ago, our family started an intertribal organization which sponsors Native American pow-wows every spring and fall. Most of my family are Christians who don't live on a reservation, so the powwows help us reach out to find urban Native Americans in the community.
At the powwow in March, 2006, my brother-in-law wore dancing regalia with 40 golden eagle feathers, which he'd borrowed from me. A Fish and Game Department agent came and said that the law said I had no right to lend the feathers to anybody. When he discovered I wasn't from a federally-recognized tribe, he took away the two feathers I was wearing, and the 40 I'd lent my brother-in-law.
In the end, they gave me a verbal warning, and fined my brother-in-law $500. Since then, we've hired a law firm that deals with Native American rights violations. Our lawyers think strongly that they can get my feathers back.
The law makes Native Americans into lawbreakers! We have the right to do our ceremonies, but the government says we don't.
Ironically, our lawyers weren't Christians, but now they're coming to visit our Native American church in San Antonio.
My family has been in this community for 90 years, dancing in schools and local parades for 34 years. People KNOW us. When this agent called us "criminals," the local people laughed: they know we're Christians.
I'm on the tribal council, and the spiritual leader of 700 members of three churches. People say, "You're the one who could handle this situation best," because I don't get too excited. Read my articles, "Surrendering the Feathers," at www.SonTree.org .
The federal agent said this was only the beginning of raids on Texas powwows, to take away every feather. So I ask all believers to PRAY, not just that I get my eagle feathers back, but for the Native Americans who have no rights. These laws should change.
Pastor Robert Soto-- -Texas
Dear Pastor Soto: Absolutely! Thank you for sharing your story here.
Dear Readers, let's support Pastor Soto in prayer, so he can successfully change these laws and help end discrimination against ALL Native Americans.
Write "Dear Lee" at PO Box 697, Cascade, ID 83611; or email firstname.lastname@example.org