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Lame Deer and the American Religious Experience

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The original American Religious Experience was Indigenous, that is until Europeans appeared and colonized the Natives. Since then the American Religious Experience drastically changed and began to revolve around Christianity.

What was the Religious Experience before the arrival of the Europeans? Lame Deer provides us with a vivid image and description of the Indigenous religion in Lame Deer Seeker of Visions. One of the religion’s main components was respect for nature and all it’s living beings. The Natives made sure to only take what was needed and used up everything they could. An example of this was the buffalo, they believed the animal was incredibly noble, fierce and strong. They had great respect for it and when consuming it, made sure they used every piece of it; The fur for housing and blankets, and its horns and bones manufactured into objects and tools. When the “white men” arrived it was clear they did not hold the same respect for nature or living beings.

The white men mocked these animals, like the buffalo, by having them fight to death against other animals brought from Europe. They were very surprised when a buffalo, who seemed incredibly mellow, was able to harm a fierce looking bull. Or when a bear cub was able to slash a fierce dog’s throat. The Natives had sacred lands where they would perform ceremonies and demonstrated respect to the spirits and elements of the earth. They were lands that held history, and a lot of sentimental value for the communities. When the “white men” arrived they did not bother taking that into consideration when building their monuments like Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore, as explained by Lame Deer, is placed in the Black Hills which is a sacred land and central piece to the Lakota people and its culture.

Another important aspect of the Indian religion is sharing and caring for others. If you had more than what you needed for yourself it was only rights to give to those in need. Or if someone had passed away all of their belongings would be passed out among the members of the tribe. These actions were not done in hopes of something for exchange. The natives believed that if you did well and helped those in need maybe one day when you needed help, the help would come to you. It can be thought of as good karma. That was a big difference between the natives and white men, whose world revolved around greed and money or “green frog skins” as Lame Deer called it. Who possessed the most only to themselves were looked up to and respected in the white man’s world. Soon the natives were forced to adapt to that environment, where money ruled the world.

The indigenous people had their values and traditions forced out and replaced with what the white men called Christianity and that was when the American Religious Experience changed. Sure, Christianity in essence is good. Love your neighbors and be the best person you can be. But this wasn’t exactly what the white men were teaching through their actions. White men clearly did not love the indigenous people. In fact, the more they could get rid of the better. In Christianity it is a clear rule that you shall not kill, yet many Natives were murdered by white men. This was a conflict Lame Deer was unable to understand, the white men preached something yet did the opposite.

This country was built with the idea of religious freedom. Too bad that religious freedom did not include the natives. The indigenous people were forced to attend boarding schools where they were punished for doing simple things like speaking their languages. They were forced to learn the white man’s language, medicine, and change their names. The indigenous sacred events, like the Sun Dance, became entertainment events where even the natives had to pay to attend. Indian marriages were not valid unless they married through the Christian church or government. It was actions like these that were utilized to weaken and suppress the indigenous religion and culture that came tightly packed together. Once that was beaten down, they were replaced by the Christian traditions and culture.

We are very quick to assume that the American Religious Experience has always revolved around Christianity. And although that may be very true, we see it in politics even today, we forget there was a nation long before the European settlers colonized the Americas. This religion has since began to vanish as less and less people follow it and the elders,who passed down their knowledge orally, die. Sadly, history and Lame Deer’s experience has demonstrated that if your religion does not match that of the oppressor or majority you must adapt and lose the values and traditions of your people. That is the American Religious Experience.

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