King's Business - 1947-01

ChristianWomenand theAmerican Indian

By Calvin T. Ryan

dispossessed Indian, except to tell him to move on. It was then that a group of Christian women decided to try their hand to stop, or at least to change, these un- Christian maneuvers and practices. Some women cir­ culated a petition, received 13,000 signatures, and pre­ sented it to President Hayes and the House of Repre­ sentatives on February 14, 1880. The petition asked for steps to be taken which would "prevent the encroach­ ments of white settlers upon the Indian territory/ and to guard the Indians in the enjoyment of all the rights which have been guaranteed them on the faith of the nation.” It was Mary L. Bonney, the senior principal of the Chestnut Street Female Seminary, Philadelphia, who originated the movement and provided for most of the expenses of it. Miss Bonney, who later was married to Dr. Thomas Rambaut, a minister, interested seven other women in the organization, and they formed the first group to take the cause of the Indian to Washington. By June, 1881, those women had drawn their constitution and had become The Indian Treaty Keeping and Protec­ tive Association. By February, 1882, they had presented their third petition to Congress, and had aroused the concern of more than one member of that body. It was near the end of 1883 before any organization of men took place, but when that organization ap­ peared as The Indian Rights Association, the women changed their group to The Women’s National Indian Association, or as we should say in 1946, the WNIA. After the WNIA had succeeded in getting our National Government interested in the rights of Indians, it seems to have turned more to straight missionary work among the Indians. In the next eight or nine years, they opened thirty or more stations, where Indians were in­ structed in Christian truths, and taught home and in­ dustrial arts. In time the work of the WNIA was trans­ ferred to the various’ denominational missionary so­ cieties. True enough, it was "woman’s quick ear” that “ caught the wail from the far-off prairies and the cry of many dusky Rachels mourning for their children per­ ishing by the white man’s arm," and having caught it, did something about it. T H E K I N G ' S B U S I N E S S

ROM the time when the New England women cooked that first Thanksgiving dinner for the In­ dians, to the formation in the nineteenth century of the Women’s National Indian Association, American women suffered much at the hands of and because of the Indian. Nowhere have American women shown a more for­ giving spirit or a more Christian attitude than theirs toward the Indian. It was they in many respects who had suffered most because of them. They had been captured, scalped and in other ways tortured by them. They had seen their own husbands scalped, their own children carried off as by wild beasts. Surely if any one had a right to believe the only good Indian was a dead one, it was the American woman. Nevertheless, we find them instrumental in procuring the protection and the human rights of those who had most tortured them. It was the interest of the Christian women of the United States that caused Congress to pass laws protecting the Indians. True enough, missionaries had long been working with the Indians, and some headway had been made. But equally true is it that great political wrongs existed. An Indian had no rights which a white man was bound to respect. Soldiers under orders might slaughter Pie- gans in Montana, among them women and children, or those at Sand Creek. They might by military force drive out the Poncas from Nebraska. The white men might fraudulently take 90,000 acres of land from the Indians in California. They could make and break nine hun­ dred treaties with the Indians. Passage of Acts of Con­ gress purporting to help and protect the Indians seemed mere political gestures. If the Indian could not farm where farming was im­ possible that was considered his hard luck. If he could not hunt without guns and ammunition, which the Government forbade him, again it was just too bad. The white man had to have the privileges of hunting and trapping for a livelihood, the Indian must move on. Our treatment of the American Indian has but little glory attached to it. As late as 1879, the white man had done little for the Page 12

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