The speaker might have been Negro militant James Forman. Except that his face was not black; the state he was attacking was South Dakota; and instead of a beard, his distinctive marks were a red jacket and a beaded headband.

He is Dennis Banks, a Minnesotan, and he does not like his American Indian Movement to be compared to the militant blacks. But the comparison is inevitable.

Like Forman, he was disrupting a church conclave—this time a meeting in Sioux Falls of some 150 Lutheran workers among the Indians. Like Forman, he is seeking civil rights for his people. And his words, like Forman’s, carry a sting.

“You tell me Christianity is a good religion—the best,” he declared. “But if so, why aren’t Indians in your churches?… This is America’s most racist state.… Justice: the whites spell it ‘Just Us.’ ”

The delegates reacted sympathetically, assuring the Indians they would have more influence within the three major Lutheran bodies. More significant, however, was what the confrontation symbolized: Indian culture and religion in the midst of change.

For decades the American Indian population has been growing rapidly, and it now numbers about 700,000.Government Indian raids in the late 1880s dedmated the nation’s Indian population, leaving only 250,000. It once had been one million. Two-thirds live on reservations in the poor-land areas of the West, where they were driven a century ago.

As a class, they are poor, with a median per-capita income of about $800 a year (several times smaller than that in the Los Angeles Watts area). They are still mainly rural, though there is a growing shift toward the cities. They are young; more than half are under ...

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