Native Marital Facts and Fables

God created the human race in order to communicate His Word to His people. Because human beings are made in God’s image, they desire to communicate with one another. He established the marriage covenant in order that a man and a woman might experience the deepest communication possible by becoming one flesh (Gen. 2:24).

In the Old Testament, God’s people are often referred to as His wife. “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). The depth of intimacy God desires is explained in Paul’s bridal analogy of Christ and His Church (Eph. 5:22-33). This concept is fully developed in the book of Revelation, where Christians are invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (19:9) and the Church is presented as the Lamb’s wife (21:9). 

Human beings estranged themselves from God and from one another through sin (Rom. 3:23). He sent His Son to pay the penalty for sin and thereby provided the opportunity for each person to communicate with God. It is imperative couples that desire a better relationship with each other first have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

This essay will explore the forces that have hindered the development of communicative skills. The premise of this paper is in tandem with the findings of Blaine Goss and Dan O’Hair who state that “interpersonal communication is the process of exchanging verbal and nonverbal messages in order to understand, develop and influence human relationships.” (Blaine Goss and Dan O’Hair. Communicating in Interpersonal Relationships, New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1988, 11).

It is essential that Native couples understand how the past five centuries have impacted Native familial life ways. To accomplish this, a synopsis of this period was sketched, targeting specific tribal concerns. This essay will show how this period affected the past, the present and could affect the future. The reason most Natives have not learned these skills is due to lack of opportunity, not lack of ability.   

Throughout this essay, Native Americans will be culturally categorized as exhibiting either traditional, matrix, or acculturated lifestyle choices. One can thus better understand the various degrees of cultural assimilation as these categories are referenced.

A traditional Native is a person who tries to live off the land as their ancestors did. This person would have little or no contact with the world outside the reservation, would speak only the Native language and follow the tribal religion. An individual in this category is said to have “returned to the blanket.” However, modern conveniences of contemporary life make this lifestyle choice unappealing and comparatively rare.

A matrix Native is one who lives in two worlds. One arena is created by tribal heritage and another by the dominant culture. One world usually holds a greater attraction than the other. This individual is bi-lingual, with English as a second language. This person is often torn between traditional and urban life.

An acculturated Native is Anglo in worldview and culture. Learning the tribal language, ancestry, and heritage hold little interest for this person. Because of the diversity of worldviews, traditional and acculturative Natives often have difficulty communicating with each other. The acculturated Native is usually educationally oriented and returns to the reservation only for brief visits. It is this profile that best fits Native millennials.
To more easily comprehend how their history impacts Native couples today, this study will be divided into the following eras:

Abomination 1493-1887
Acculturation 1887-1988
Actualization 1988 – to date

Abomination   1493-1887

The subheading for this section is an understatement concerning the fate of Native Americans during this time period. It is commonly believed that Native wars began with Coronado’s arrival in 1550. Ponce de Leon, who came to America on Columbus’ second voyage, actually began the carnage by his brutal suppression of a Native uprising in 1493. (Richard H. Dillon, North American Indian Wars, New York, NY: Gallery Books, 1983, 8). The period of continuous armed conflict against the original aboriginal inhabitants of the continent was the longest in the nation’s history.

Due to the number and complexity of Native kinship systems, statistics concerning marital communication are almost nonexistent. “Since aboriginal conditions are almost wholly a thing of the past, it is not easy to say what the nature of family life was.” (Leslie Spier, Yuman Tribes of the Gila River, New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1978, 226). However, the US Government never comprehended or cared that tribes were comprised of extended families. Hundreds of thousands of mothers, fathers, and children were displaced, starved and killed during four centuries of warfare. Although more than a century has passed since the last Native war, the devastating effects of these hostilities have left normative Native family life almost impossible to define.

Because the buffalo was a primary food source, their methodic extermination downsized many tribal families through starvation. The generally accepted notion that relocation was providential pushed Natives westward into territories that were the least desirable agriculturally. While most tribes were hunters and gatherers, they were not farmers. With the buffalo near extinction, tribes were forced to rely on the government for their survival. It was “not only soldiers, but farmers, ranchers, miners, townsfolk and the buffalo hunters who utterly destroyed the Plains Indians’ life support system.” (Ibid., 251).

Native couples on the brink of starvation had little opportunity to consider improving personal communication skills. In order to better understand Native familial life in this era, the diversity of approach to matrimony must first be considered. For example, marriage and divorce were taken very seriously among the Sioux, with good reason. “While the conjugal family of man and wife was subject to dissolution by divorce and death, the family of lineal and collateral relatives was permanent. An individual remained responsible to these relatives during their lifetime, regardless of marital status.” (Royal B. Hassrick. The Sioux: Life and Customs of a Warrior Society, Oklahoma City, OK: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1964, 109). Among the Cheyenne, “the man and the woman were partners, sharing equally in the work of the family, and often in a deep and lasting affection which each bore toward the others—an affection which, beginning in youth with love and marriage, lasted often to the end of life.” (George Bird Grinnell, The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Ways of Life, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1972, 128). Within the Lakota nation, “both men and women looked upon their marriage contract as something vital to their position within the tribe.” (M. Fitzgerald and Michael F. Oren. The Spirit of Indian Women, Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom Publications, 2005, 17).


With hundreds of Native groups living in the western hemisphere, it is not surprising that marriages were tribally distinct. Courtship and betrothal rituals varied greatly among the tribes. For example, a Fox girl could not have any male friends, for even talking to a male other than a relative or her fiancé was considered suspect behavior. (Carolyn Niethammer, Daughters of the Earth: The Lives and Legends of American Indian Women, New York, NY: Macmillan, 1977, 57).  “Apache girls were expected to remain chaste before marriage. A maiden who did not—and was discovered—could expect a public whipping with a rope or a stick, delivered by her father.” (Ibid., 58). A common courting ritual among Cheyenne youth was for a young man to approach a girl he was interested in and throw his arms and his blanket around her. “Then he held her fast and began to talk with her. If she did not like this, she broke away from him, and he went away, much mortified; but if she listened to him, he might talk to her for an hour or two—perhaps much longer.” (Grinnell, 132).

Because most Native tribes are patriarchal, it was usually the responsibility of the suitor to initiate a relationship. For example, verification of interest in a female Maya was shown by the interested party breaking the pottery jar balanced on her head as she went to fill it. If she likes him, she remains silent. If she doesn’t, the young man is obligated to provide her with a new jar.  (J. Eric Thompson, The Rise and Fall of Maya Civilization, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954, 216). “If a Hopi boy wanted a girl to become his bride, he made a bundle of clothing and fine white buckskin moccasins, and left them on her doorstep. If she accepted them, she accepted him too.”  (Leslie Gourse, Native American Courtship and Marriage, Summertown, TN: Native Voices, 2005, 45). Among the Ogallala Sioux, courting took on a much different form.

“A man dressed in his best clothing, painted his face in bright colors, and wore a courting robe. Then he walked back and forth in front of the door of the tepee where the woman he wanted to marry lived. If she smiled at him, she signaled that she was willing to accept him. But if she turned her back on him, she rejected him.” (Ibid., 63).

The complexity of kinship systems adds to the problem of creating realistic portraits of marital life within tribal homes. The only familial information extant from this period is the average duration of marriages within some tribes. For example, in the Yaqui nation, “the marriage or alliance bond is typically weak in terms of emotional commitment and durability; marriages or alliances that last a lifetime are the exceptions.”  (Jane H. Kelly. Yaqui Women: Contemporary Life Histories, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978, 41).  Marital duration within this kinship system in this era was usually dependent upon practical aspects of households, rather than romantic attachment. “The long-term emotional patterns appear to be much the same, whether arranged, created for pragmatic reasons or arose as a result of being enamored. Ultimately, stability and affection seem to depend on how successfully the husband and wife roles are fulfilled.” (Ibid., 4). Fidelity was often tribally defined. For example, the real reason behind Eskimo wife swapping was seen as pragmatic. “Spousal exchange almost always served to help forge bonds of kinship between otherwise unrelated families.” (Jules Billard, The World of the American Indian, Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 1993, 95). 


Many tribal traditions include parental involvement in spousal selection for a son or daughter. “The conventional union of a young woman to a man of her tribe was usually arranged by her family with great attention to what was best for the prosperity of the families, the tribe, and, only incidentally, the young woman herself.”  (Philip Drucker, Indians of the Northwest Coast, Garden City, NY: The Natural History Press, 1963, 144-145). In many societies, taboos were often attached to mate selection.  “Stories told of the terrible plights which would befall a young woman who did not accept her parent’s choice of a mate, and how such disobedience could affect the welfare of the entire tribe.” (Niethammer, 69). 

Betrothals were considered in light of their value to the entire clan. Tribes along the Northwest coast of America often married for the benefit of others. “Among the Kwakiutl groups, the Bella Coola, the Nootka, and their nearest Salish neighbors, a chief of a chief’s son might seek to marry the daughter of some important personage to create useful alliances. Marriage was regarded as a social contract, not merely between the man and his wife, but between their respective families.” (Drucker, 145). 

A parentally arranged betrothal could be a frightening experience, especially for virgin maidens. Marriage was sometimes traumatic for young women who grew up in societies that did not allow any friendly interchange between adolescent boys and girls. Many Native couples who came together by parental arrangement did not fall in love, but rather grew into love. Some couples developed deep and abiding affection for each other after years of living and working together. As one Papago woman put it, “I had grown fond of him. We had starved so much together.” (Gretchen M. Bataille and Kathleen M. Sands, American Indian Women: Telling Their Lives, Omaha: University of Nebraska Press, 1984, 62). Carolyn Niethammer, writing of the lifestyles of the Kuskowagamiut Eskimo, suggests marriage partners probably remained silent and cool toward one another during the first years of their marriage.

“Marriage partners did not have to be in love with each other to have a satisfactory life together. In many societies, especially those in which parents arranged the marriages, a woman did not expect to have her needs for companionship and intimacy fulfilled by her husband. Marriage was seen more as a vehicle for economic cooperation and child rearing.” (Niethammer, 89).


Stereotypical images of Natives with multiple wives were far less common than period novelists heralded as truth. “The excitement of having more than one wife was not all there was to it. Most of the time it was for a practical reason, like when a man would take the wife of a friend who was killed in battle.” (Joseph M. Marshall, The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living, New York, NY: Penguin Compass, 2001, 93). The missionary Carl Rister wrote in 1944, “Plural marriages were sanctioned, but not generally practiced, for a warrior who had more than one wife was forced to put forth all the more energy to provide for the wants of his family.” (Carl C. Rister, Baptist Missions Among the American Indians, Atlanta: Southern Baptist Convention Home Missions Board, 1944, 20).  “About half of all marriages of the Blackfoot tribe were polygamous, because so many men were killed in battle that the women outnumbered men by nearly three to one.” (Gourse, 12). A man’s wealth often limited the number of wives he could possess. Due to extensive obligations, his tribal status would be diminished if he failed to care for aging members of his families. “Even in those societies which permitted polygamy, a man could have only as many wives as he could support, so the practice was usually limited to the headmen or very good hunters.” (Niethammer, 92). 

When polygamy was practiced, the reasons for it varied greatly from tribe to tribe. Inevitably, justification for polygamy was for the overall betterment of the group. The different reasons for polygamy among the Tlingit and the Sioux serve to validate this fact. “An ambitious Tlingit from the coast would go so far as to marry extra wives in the inland groups in order to gain the special trade advantages due a kinsman.” (Jules Billard, The World of the American Indian, Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 1993, 225).

“Sometimes a Sioux woman would suggest that her husband take a young wife, realizing that this would relieve her of some of the burdens of housekeeping while giving her added status as the senior spouse of a well-to-do man.” (Niethammer, 92).

Levirate marriages are practiced worldwide, and are sanctioned by Scripture. “The widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her” (Deut. 25:5). In many tribal economies, such marriages were often viewed as a familial responsibility. However, the premature death of a male relative could quickly complicate a man’s life.  In some tribes, levirate marriages were compulsory; in other tribes, the sororate marriage (marriage of a man to his wife’s sister) was common but not always obligatory. While monandry (having only one wife) was the norm, the practice of polygamy was not uncommon in early Native America.

Prior to the assimilation period, marital communication within some Native homes must have been interesting. This would certainly have been true of the Mescalero Apache. “According to tradition, Apache males were allowed more than one wife, but when there were several wives, each of a husband’s families occupied separate living quarters.” (Henrietta H. Stockel, Women of the Apache Nation, Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 1991, 19).  Mescalero marriages of this era were based on propagation of the tribe, rather than on affection. “One of the major purposes of an Apache marriage was to produce children, and if a couple was childless, it was thought the husband might have been bewitched.” (Ibid., 25).  Since barrenness caused embarrassment, the pragmatic solution was polygamy. However, the complexity of multiple-spouse familial life is recondite.


It was unimportant to most Anglos whether or not Native life ways could survive wars and forced acculturation. The widely accepted racist doctrine, which came to be known as “Manifest Destiny”, held that US territorial expansion was God-sanctioned. This policy dominated the thinking of pioneers and settlers throughout the period of the Indian Wars. Following this belief, Anglos felt little shame as they proceeded with the overt genocide of American Indians. More than any other factor, Manifest Destiny helps explain the current resistance of Natives to the gospel message. As if to verify this national mindset, the General Allotment Act of 1887 (Indian Removal Act) was sanctioned while the final wars were being fought. Many problems resulted from isolationism, the diversity of tribal languages and anti-Indian sentiment in this period. This forced Native families into a defensive, rather than a cooperative position—with both Christianity and the federal government.

Joseph Marshall, a Sicunga Lakota, speaks very pointedly concerning the fantasies and realities of the Indian wars:

“The illusion is that we were defeated by a stronger, better, more moral people with more God-given rights than we had. The truth is we were overwhelmed by numbers: more people with more guns needing more and more of what we had. The illusion is that we are a conquered people. The truth is that we are survivors; we took the worst that our ‘conquerors’ could throw at us and we are still standing.” (Marshall, 121).

Land theft was specifically designed to encourage tribal familial disintegration and assimilation of Natives into American society. Under the General Allotment Act, what remained of a tribe’s land after allotment would be bought from the Natives and opened to white settlement. The results of this legislation upon Native families were devastating. “The Cheyenne and Arapaho of Oklahoma lost five-sixths of their four-million-acre reservation.”  (Billard, 359).  Referring to the myriads of broken treaties, a Sioux elder is reported to have said, “They made us many promises, but they never kept but one: they promised to take our land, and they took it.” (Dillon, 251).

The decimating effects of the Indian wars must be considered along with the tremendous diversity of tribal marital customs. The quest for survival, rather than deepening intimacy, was foremost on the minds of Native couples. The increasing encroachment of the dominant society did not allow the development of communicative skills that might have been possible in a less stressful era.   

Acculturation 1887-1988

No one can deny the attempted genocide of Native Americans by the European invaders. However, the General Allotment Act of 1887 was the beginning of the end of all Native freedoms. “First the Government tried extinction through destruction where money was paid for the scalp of every dead Indian. Then the government tried mass relocation and containment through concentration, the moving of entire tribes to isolated parts of the country where they were herded like animals and fed like animals. Then the Government tried assimilation where reservations were broken up into allotments and Indians were forced to live like white men.” (Edgar S. Cahn, Our Brother’s Keeper: The Indian in White America, New York: The World Publishing Company, 1970, 18). 


One of the greatest hindrances to the development of Native communicative skills was the implementation of government boarding schools. “Boys with long hair were given haircuts and everyone was expressly forbidden to speak Lakota. Punishment was swift and often severe for anyone who broke the rule. In the 1930’s my father was made to kneel on a two-by-four for an entire afternoon the first time he was caught speaking Lakota. The second time he was hung by his thumbs from a basement water pipe and had to stand on tiptoe to avoid dislocating them.” (Marshall, 221).  “Their long hair was clipped to the skull, sometimes as part of a public ritual in which they renounced Indian origins. They were forbidden to speak Native languages, often under threat of physical punishment.”  (Peter Nabokov, Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present, New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1991, 216). The new linguistic overlords made it clear if communication was to take place, it was to be in English only. Loss of culture, identity and language set the stage for communication barriers with their taskmasters and with one another.

It was survival, not the intricacies of familial communication that was foremost in the minds of Natives in this era. As the Indian Wars ended, Natives faced drastic challenges to familial life ways. The Indian Removal Acts of 1887 was the worst atrocity heaped upon Natives up to this time, for it was crafted to decimate Native homes. Natives could not guess how the results of subjugation would impact their future. “We’ll never know how many fighting men from all of the Indian tribes died trying to protect their homelands and their way of life against white invasion.” (Marshall, 106).  “As in all eras of Native history, women proved themselves to have warrior spirits equal to and often exceeding that of men. During one of the most difficult periods in Lakota history, women fulfilled their ancient societal role and saved their culture. They held their families together in spite of the sad fact that their children were taken away to boarding schools.” (Ibid., 172).

The stark reality of reservation confinement soon replaced the hopes of normative family life. Herded onto the worst real estate in America, the federal government was unconcerned with Native happiness. Reservations were concentration camps, not resorts. “Paternalistic policies of the 1880s and early 1900s kept Native Americans dependent upon the federal government.” (Virginia M. Simmons, The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, Boulder, CO:  University Press of Colorado, 2001, 253).  Disarmed and decimated in this era, Native communication challenges with the federal government continue to the present day.


In the minds of most Americans, the fact that comparatively few Natives could read or write often branded them as poor communicators. The 1930 census revealed a total population of 2,000 Ute Indians in Colorado and Utah. A third of these were unable to speak English.  (Ibid., 243).  The next forty years brought little change. “In 1969, 40,000 Navajos, nearly a third of the entire tribe, are functional illiterates in English.” (Cahn, 27).

In the early part of the 20th century, virtually all linguists regarded Natives as incapable of effective communication. However, Natives do not tend to share extensive personal information with strangers. Bertha Little Coyote, a Cheyenne born in 1912, explains: “Indians don’t show their love like white people do. It’s kind of private for them.” (Bertha Little Coyote, Leaving Everything Behind: The Songs and Memories of a Cheyenne Woman, Oklahoma, City, OK:  Norman Publishing, 1997 38).

Because few tribal languages had alphabets, oral expression served as the mainstay of Native life ways in the 19th century. Early attempts to translate Native languages into English evolved from crude recordings which ethnographers and grammarians transposed into texts. The reluctance of Natives to participate in early recording sessions probably stemmed from religious beliefs that their words could somehow be captured and later used against them. The stressful environment under which Natives were recorded was never factored into linguist equations. The innermost thought process of a Native American was often difficult to transpose. Early textmakers did not understand that Native culture is deeply imbedded in tribal language. As a result, they did not consider this fact essential to accurate linguistic interpretation. Recorded narratives went through “a complex process of translation and editing to reach an English-speaking audience.” (Bataille and Sands, 57). 

Since many translators viewed participants as members of a subspecies, Native expressions were forced into European rhetorical molds and screened through a series of anthropological filters. There was a prevailing tendency to transliterate Native prose and poetry into rhythmic patterns familiar to American readers. Textmakers redressed stories and legends to suit contemporary interest, assuming they had the right to freely paraphrase Native communications. Transliterated stories were often romanticized to appeal to audiences enamored by Native culture.

“A young Dakota warrior is eager to gain renown. He will not yield to his beloved wife’s soft persuasions and gentle caresses that urge him to avoid the fighting of which her dreams of ill boding have made her particularly apprehensive. When after the battle she discovers his body floating in a stream, she pined away and wept herself to death, dying happy in the hope of rejoining her young warrior husband in the happy land of spirits.” (William M. Clements, Native American Verbal Art: Texts and Contexts, Phoenix: University of Arizona Press, 1996, 133).

Forging blindly ahead, the complexities of hundreds of tribal dialects prompted translators to ignore personification and metaphors. They edited and amended their texts with embellishments foreign to all Native dialects. Few period grammarians believed Natives to be capable of feeling, caring or thinking deeply. Stories offered by Native women suffered the most. “American Indian women’s autobiographies tend to be retrospective rather than introspective, and thus may seem understated to those unaccustomed to the emotional reserve of Indian people.” Writing on the subject of communication among Eskimo couples, Norman Chance adds the following thought: “Interpersonal relations between husband and wife in the home contrast sharply with those of Anglo-American society. Spouses seldom display any feelings of emotion in the other’s presence and conversation tends to center around material problems of the household.” (Norman Chance, The Eskimo of North Alaska, Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966, 51).

Accurate representation of oral expression must take into account the speaker’s ethnography, age, gender and use of polysyllables. Intonation, sincerity, gesture and animation were factors also ignored by textmakers. “A necessary starting point for assessing the reliability of published Native American oral expressive material is determining exactly what has been textualized and translated. Doing so requires identifying the conditions under which the textmaker encountered the oral source material.” (Clements, 33). Contextual data alone failed to metamorphose European-filtered verbal recordings into accurate ethnological information. Half a millennia of English grammatical misinterpretation have allowed no Native language to survive without corruption.


The Native Citizenship Act of 1924 did nothing to foster the desire for improved communicative skills in Native America. Many viewed the Native Citizenship Act with great suspicion, accurately predicting it would result in less freedom of Native expression. “The granting of citizenship to Indians expanded, rather than limited, the Bureau of Indian Affair’s (BIA) control. New resources were put at the BIA’s disposal, and new programs guaranteed further extension of their reach into every aspect of the Indians’ individual and communal lives.” (Cahn, 6).

“U.S. citizenship was granted to Hopis in 1924, but for nearly a quarter of a century they were denied the rights of citizenship because Arizona did not ratify the federal ruling until 1948.” (Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi, New York: NY: Penguin Books, 1963, 317).  This injustice resurfaced in a recent article in The Arizona Native Scene. “In 1948, two Yavapai tribal members…attempted to vote, a right which should have been extended to all Indian people when they were made US citizens in 1924.” (The Arizona Native Scene, vol. 12, #3, July 2006, 9).  These WW II veterans filed suit and the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in their favor. A bronze statue of these men which commemorated this victory was unveiled in Fort McDowell in July 2006. To further illustrate the ineptness of The Native Citizenship Act, Natives were not allowed to vote in New Mexico until 1962.

Citizenship for Native Americans resulted in frustration rather than emancipation.  Communicative skills are developed primarily through formal training but this act provided absolutely no educational funds for Natives.


The continued suppression of Native rights, including educational rights promised by treaty, evolved into what is commonly known as the Red Power Movement. Also known as the American Indian Movement (AIM), Red Power and AIM are terms often used interchangeably to describe the indignation that surfaced during the hippie movement of the 1960s. Native youth rose up to take their place alongside others who protested government injustices and the war in Vietnam. While AIM targeted Native rights, its ultimate goal was a better future for Native families. Red power focused on power over one’s own life, not power over the lives of others.

AIM also eradicated “the stereotypes of Indian women as domestic drudges.” (Bataille and Sands, 51). Due to publicity generated by the AIM, Native women suddenly gained due prominence. For the first time in American history, their vital roles became manifest. “Indian women have been repositories of tradition and concern for spiritual ideals, upholding the stability of the tribe through both spiritual and generative power.”  (Ibid., 18).

AIM was distinctively a sectarian movement. This is easy to understand in view of the fact that the same race that brought the Bible broke all the treaties. “One of the major problems of the Indian people is the missionary. Vine Deloria (Yankton Sioux) said of missionaries when they arrived, they had only the Book and we had the land; now we have the Book and they have the land.”  (Vine Deloria, Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1969, 101). 

The 19-month occupation of Alcatraz Island (November 1969 – June 1971) perfectly illustrates AIM motives and methods. “The underlying goal of the Indians on Alcatraz Island was to awaken the American public to the plight of the first Americans, to the suffering caused by the federal government’s broken treaties and broken promises, and to the need for Indian self-determination.” (Adam Fortunate Eagle,  Alcatraz! Alcatraz! The Occupation of 1969-1971, Berkeley, CA:  Heyday Books, 1992, 141). The end of this siege did not end in hostilities. Discouragement on the island began when a Mohawk child died as a result of a fall in January 1970. This loss decimated the occupants, serving as an omen of things to come. There was an apprehension that the longer they stayed, the more children and family members would die. “The death deeply shocked the island residents. The invincibility they had all felt was deeply shaken, and drastic changes began.” (Ibid., 110). When they abandoned the island, Natives also abandoned hope for the university and cultural center they hoped to build there. The real purpose of the occupation of Alcatraz was the hope of a better future for Native families. Media exposure of Native problems resulted in greater political power for Natives.

Myriads of new tribal policies of self-determination were established through the efforts of AIM. Tangible results include the Indian Civil Rights Acts of 1968 and the Indian Education Act of 1972. Continuing demonstrations and sit-ins resulted in the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act of 1975. Typically, many Indians suspected a hidden agenda behind such legislation. “Was ‘self-determination’ a ploy to pacify Indian militancy and make reservations solvent, only to withdraw Federal assistance and open up their natural resources?” (Nabokov, 282).

The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 was the last meaningful legislation passed which served to help Native families. For the next decade, the only legislation Natives fought for and won is one that has become bittersweet: The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.


Few Native American missionaries understood how deeply Natives felt the injustices heaped upon them. Missional efforts which did not include involvement in Native rights often caused the Gospel to fall on deaf ears. “It is the Activist Movement that has forced the national denominations to take Native American rights and claims seriously, to reflect on injustice, and to feel a sense of shame for the centuries of injustice.”(R.P. Beaver, The Native American Christian Community, Monrovia, CA: Missions Advanced Research and Communication Center, 1979, 46). A sense of shame, however, does not begin to address the problem of Native apathy toward Christianity.

Paternalism dominates missional literature of this period. “White Christians must prove to thousands of doubting Indians that Christianity is a living force for good.” (Rister, 127). Period literature incorporates the fatalistic acceptance that Natives can never be mentored to reach other Natives. “It takes a Native to win other Natives” is a well-worn missional maxim that rolls off tongues far too easily, even today. The realities of Native-to-Native evangelical efforts are perhaps best summarized in a detailed 1979 report on Native churches which stated that “the relatively few Native Christians are faced with a mighty task in communicating the gospel to their fellows who generally remain resistant.” (Beaver, 37).

Although evangelical efforts to win Native America to Christ began in the early 1900s, early missional efforts were predominated by paternalism. “The missionaries sought simultaneously to evangelize and ‘civilize’ the Indian, conforming him to the white man’s cultural and ecclesiastical pattern.” (Ibid., 31). Mainline denominations, eager to parade Native conversions, often equated water baptism with true redemption.

A Baptist missionary working among Cherokees in the 1940s, stated the matter of land succession succinctly. “Again and again Natives ceded land to the white intruders until there was no more to cede. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Cherokee was suspicious of every move made by his white foe. This barrier must be broken down before effective work can be done.” (Rister, 61). To date, few missionaries have joined forces with Natives in their fight for ancestral rights. Continuing to ignore the injustices that impact Native life ways is an epic oversight. This grave missional error continues to hinder evangelistic efforts among twenty-first century Natives as well.

Actualization   1988 – to date


Because Native acculturation has accelerated in the past twenty years, fear of urban life is diminishing. “By 1960, 28 percent of American Indians lived in urban areas. This figure rose to 44 percent in 1970, reached 50 percent in 1980, and by 1990 more than half of American Indians lived in cities.” (Duane Champagne, Native America: Portrait of the Peoples, Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994, 6). According to the u,rban Native population has increased about 2% per year since 1980.

Throughout the past five centuries, acculturation has often been forced upon Native Americans. But employment opportunities prompt thousands of Natives to relocate in urban areas each year. For younger Natives, the quest for education is the primary motivation. One Navajo stated the situation succinctly; “If you want to live in a hogan for the rest of your life just don’t bother to study.”  (Cahn, 33).

Native Americans rarely move to urban areas arbitrarily. Reasons for relocation inevitably include the betterment of the family. However, loss of Native languages and tribal identity often result from urban migration. Traditional and matrix Natives often lose linguistic fluency after a few years of city life. Acculturated Natives who successfully adapt to urban living have learned new survival skills. “Global industry continues to build its dream house of spectacular years to come. They regulate us with what life will be like in the eons ahead and at regular intervals we are treated to sumptuous descriptions of cities of the future.” (Thomas E. Mails, The Hopi Survival Kit, New York, NY: Penguin Group, 1997, 315).

Natives who build strong families in the city must carefully select from the many tools the new century has provided. For many Natives, the transition to urban life will be seamless; for others, it will be traumatic. Those who minister to Natives in cities must develop heightened spiritual sensitivity regarding the challenges of urbanization. Although new-century evangelical methods are often pro-active and innovative, they will only be effective when the gospel is presented in ways that help bring peace amid the turmoil of city life.

Although the aforementioned factors have contributed to the challenges associated with Native marital communicative skills today, past injustices to Natives need not result in an apathetic attitude toward self-improvement. Through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, godly marital counseling, attending marital workshops and the reading of quality Bible-based marital materials, Native couples can equip themselves with the tools necessary for a happy and fulfilling marital life.


Maxim of the Moment

He who speaks ill of his wife dishonors himself.