Unaffected by the Gospel: Osage Resistance to the Christian Invasion, 1673-1906: A Cultural Victory

Battle for the BIA: G.E.E. Lindquist and the Missionary Crusade Against John Collier

Indians, Missionaries and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers

Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism

Reviewed for the

International Bulletin of Missionary Research,

Journal of the Overseas Ministries Study Centre,

New Haven, CT.

Jon  J. Bonk, editor.

August 5th, 2005.


Native Ministry

St Mary's First Nation


UNAFFECTED BY THE GOSPEL: Osage Resistance to the Christian Invasion, 1673-1906: A Cultural Victory, by Willard Hughes Rollings, University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, NM. 2004. Pp. xii, 243. paper. $22.95. ISBN #0-8263-3558-6.

BATTLE FOR THE BIA: G.E.E. Lindquist and the Missionary Crusade Against John Collier,  by David W. Daily. University of Arizona Press: Tucson, AZ. 2004. Pp. xii, 217. cloth. $ 39.95. ISBN #0-8165-2437-8.

INDIANS, MISSIONARIES AND MERCHANTS: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers, by Kent G. Lightfoot. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA. 2005. Pp. xvii, 338. cloth. $ 45.00. ISBN #0-520-20824-2.

BLACK ELK: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism, by Damian Costello, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY. 2005. Pp. vii, 193. paper. $22.00. ISBN #1-57075-580-9.


Reviewed by: Wayne A. Holst


During the past century, research in Native American missions has evolved through three phases or eras.

The first era saw major efforts by missionaries to civilize and Christianize American indigenous peoples in ways similar to what was happening world-wide.

The second era anticipated the demise of the First Nations as distinct peoples. It focused on the just treatment of Native Americans as they assimilated into the dominant North American culture.

The books considered here are products of the third era. There is an acknowledgement of Native American cultural revitalization and a revival of traditional religion.

Each of the four titles under consideration speak in various ways to the relationship of the Christian Gospel and contemporary Indian spiritual and cultural recovery.

Unaffected by the Gospel by Willard Hughes Rollings, a Cherokee scholar, argues that for more than two centuries the Osage Nation living in the Central States was  exposed to the missionizing efforts of both Catholics and Protestants. In spite of this, few of the Osage actually adopted the Christian faith as the white missionaries understood it.

When their traditional world began to crumble in the wake of the euro-american incursion, the Osage determined to retain their traditional faith and adapted Peyotism, a religion shaped not by white Christians but by the Osage themselves. The Osage reasoned that they already possessed a gospel and found no need for another since Christianity as they had experienced it was foreign and lacking integrity.

The resistance of the Osage to the missionary message suggests that many Native Americans were not passive in their response to the newcomers in spite of what the mission literature of the time frequently reported. Rollings asserts that tradiitional aboriginal religion was  reconfigured and practiced in new ways.

Battle for the BIA: G.E.E. Lindquist and the Missionary Crusade Against John Collier,  by David W. Daily traces the disturbing interpersonal conflict between Lindquist, a representative of the Home Missions Council of the Federal Council of Churches and Collier who headed the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs during the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The conflict produced a transformation in the previously symbiotic relationship between the federal government and a key agency coordinating Protestant/Native American missions.

At the heart of the disagreement was the question of what to do about the Indian. Was he (sic) to be assimilated into mainstream culture or maintained as a ward of the state?  Were there, indeed other policy options?

Lindquist did not at first believe that Native Americans were able to manage their own affairs. As time went on, however, he abandoned the idea of wardship for Indians and promoted their full political equality.

Meanwhile,  Native Americans continued to languish in the paradox of dual US and tribal nation citizenship and all that implies. In many ways, that anomaly  continues to this day.

Indians, Missionaries and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers, by Kent G. Lightfoot defends the thesis that it is not possible to understand the current status of Indian tribes in California without a detailed investigation of their colonial history with missionaries and traders as well as their subsequent encounters with anthropologists and government agents.

Who are the real California Indians today? Classic social scientific catagorizations no longer effectively describe what groupings are “vital”  and what are “extinct.”

Many Native Americans in the state are re-grouping around revived practices and new tribal identities. Groups that were once splintered beyond recognition and heading toward eradication are experiencing communal transformation and  redevelopment.

Lightfoot proposes that contemporary ways are needed to define Indians and their communities. He challenges standard social scientific assumptions. He states that it was not early missionary and merchant contact that destroyed indigenous identities but the biased perceptions of twentieth century social scientists who studied the Native people.

Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism, by Damian Costello, revisions the faith of the Native catechist and elder Black Elk who represents survivor people everywhere. He was  exposed to the Gospel as part of his colonial experience. He continues to have something unique to say to us about Jesus.

Costello claims Black Elk was not a passive victim of colonialism, but  an active agent against it. He rejected the missionary colonialism represented by the church but accepted the message of Christ.

Black Elk critiqued Westernization but offered, in return, a Jesus stripped of colonial accretions. He saw how the West had compromised and domesticated the faith it proclaimed in order to accommodate colonialism. He believed that in the process, the Gospel was emptied of its meaning.

Costello writes that Black Elk considered himself both Native American and Catholic but did not live in two religious worlds. He lived in one Lakota Catholic world and was able to refashion Lakota tradition in light of the Christian narrative.


All four books contribute to exploding the myth of the vanishing Native American. All desire a strong Native American spiritual identity but  differ on how to locate and affirm it.

Several anticipate an inter-faith dialogue between Christianity and Native American religion.

In spite of much sad Native American mission history, good seeds of Gospel proclamation were planted. Many of these truths remain to be discovered and claimed. They hold the potential to mutually renew and enrich aboriginal and non-aboriginal cultures alike.


Reviewer's Bio: Wayne A. Holst is an adult educator at St. David's United Church, Calgary, AB. He has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.