Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Jim Elliott, the War for Oil, and the North Dakota Access Pipeline.

As protestors rally at Standing Rock, it is important to know what this fight is about, and why it is important. We know about the gold in the Black Hills that led to the Battle of Little Bighorn, we know about the gold that led to the mistreatment of Mexican Americans in the Southwest following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

But oil has taken the injustices against the indigenous population into the twenty first century. I cannot possibly address all of it in a blog article. But I can tell you the role it played in the creating of a Christian evangelical myth.

Every Christian Sunday School child knows the story of Jim Elliot and his fellow missionaries, who travelled to Ecuador to reach a tribe known as the Auca with the gospel. The "Auca" tribal name was a slander given by the enemies of the tribe, more properly known as the Waorani, or Huarani tribe.

The land that the Waorani occupied was land sought after by the oil companies. And the Waorani, who did not suffer fools lightly within their own tribe, was not going to go gently into that good night. They attacked the oilfield workers and looted their camps in retaliation for the encroachment.

Enter Jim Elliot and company. While Elliot's motives may have been pure, what happened as a result of his ministry was not. Family members Rachel Saint and Elisabeth Elliot stayed behind to reach the Waorani. What has long been sold of a story of redemption and forgiveness was really a story of pawns in a game of pacification that saw the Waorani removed by the Ecuadorian government to a "protectorate" on the far western edge of their lands. As they had in the continent to the north, the missionaries "tamed" the savages with pie in the sky promises as they stole and raped their lands

You can find the story here.

The tribes at Standing Rock are fighting against the latest in a long history of injustices against indigenous people, who have watched as the resources were drained from their lands while the people go hungry. In the case of the Waorani, while the oil companies made billions off of the land the tribe once occupied, the tribe continued in poverty to the point where Steve Saint, son of pilot Nate Saint, returned and established a ministry to help steer the tribes towards self sufficiency (and, presumably to complacency in the light of the next injustice).

It is hard for me, as a Christian, to see the Gospel abused for the subjugation of one culture and the enrichment of another. That is not consistent with the message in any context. And it is time for Christian leaders to call for it to end.

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