A view of the common good

Daily Reading for May 17 • William Hobart Hare, Bishop of Njobrara, and of South Dakota, 1909

Though born and bred at the East, I had spent six months in Michigan and Minnesota, in 1863, and there seen something of the Indian problem. I had seen that there was nothing in the van of civilization to ameliorate the condition of the Red man, because the van of civilization is often its vilest off-scourings: that its first representatives generally despise the Indians, and condescend to them in nothing but the gratification of inordinate appetites and desires; and that when civilization of a better class appears, it is too often so bent on its own progress, and so far from helpful or kindly, that its advance, like that of a railroad train at full speed, dashes in pieces those unlucky wanderers who happen to stand in its way, and leaves the others with only a more discouraging sense of the length of the road, and the slowness with which they make their way along it. In a town in Michigan I had seen Indians made drunk on the Fourth of July, and employed by white men to perform diabolical antics to attract men to liquor saloons. But schools for Indians, there were none. In Minnesota I had read in the daily papers the offer of the State of $250 for the scalp of any Indian delivered at a designated office. I had returned to the East the Indian’s advocate; and while on many subjects connected with the Indians I was not in haste to reach a conclusion, I had become convinced of this: that the Indian’s claim upon the Church of Christ was most sacred; and that I had seen nothing to lead me to think that there was anything in the Indian problem to drive us to either quackery or despair. It would find its solution, under the favor of God, in the faithful execution of the powers committed by God to the Civil Government, and a common-sense administration of the gracious gifts deposited with His Church. . . .

Now a few words as to my general views on the Indian question. I soon came to look upon everything as provisional—to quote from one of my annual reports—which, if permanently maintained, would tend to make Indian life something separate from the common life of our country: a solid foreign mass indigestible by our common civilization. I saw that just because it has been an indigestible mass has our civilization been all these years constantly trying to vomit it, and so get rid of a cause of discomfort. Ordinary laws must have their way. All reservations, whether the reserving of land from the ordinary laws of settlement, or the reserving of the Indian nationality from absorption into ours, or the reserving of old tribal superstitions and notions and habits from the natural process of decadence, or the reserving of the Indian language from extinction, are only necessary evils or but temporary expedients. Safety for 250,000 Indians divided up into over a hundred tribes speaking as many different languages, scattered on about seventy different reservations among 50,000,000 of English speaking people can be found, only if the smaller people flow in with the current of the life and ways of the larger. The Indians are not an insulated people, like some of the islanders of the South Sea. Our work is not that of building up a National Indian Church with a national liturgy in the Indian tongue. It is rather that of resolving the Indian structure and preparing its parts for being taken up into the great whole in Church and State.

From the first, therefore, I struggled against the notion that we were missionaries to Indians alone and not missionaries to all men; I pressed the study of the English language and its conversational use in our schools, and, however imperfect my efforts, the aim of them has been to break down “the middle wall of partition” between whites and Indians, and to seek not the welfare of one class or race, but the common good.

From Reminiscences: An Address Delivered by William Hobart Hare, at a service commemorative of the fifteenth anniversary of his consecration (Philadelphia: William F. Fell, 1888). Found at http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/whhare/reminiscences1888.html

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