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Tribe requires visiting churches, missions to register after inflammatory pamphlet circulates

Oglala Sioux Tribal council meeting
Oglala Sioux Tribal Council members at a recent meeting.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has banned an evangelist from entering the Pine Ridge Reservation and is requiring all visiting churches and mission groups to register.

The tribal council reached a tipping point when a pamphlet that heavily criticizes traditional spirituality appeared.

Michael Monfore is with the Jesus Is King Mission located in the southern Black Hills. That group created the pamphlet. Monfore said he recognizes the document is offensive to those who believe in Lakota spirituality.

"According to the Bible, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father but by him," Monfore said. "I know that may not be considered politically correct, or it might be considered intolerant or bigoted, but that's what Christ said."

The tribe has banned Monfore from the reservation.

The pamphlet claims Tunkasila is a false god and demon. It also says the late Lakota medicine man Nicholas Black Elk had a “racist vision.”

Myron Pourier is a decedent of Nicholas Black Elk. During a tribal council meeting last week, Pourier said the pamphlet is wrong.

“To have any type of church entity come on this reservation, regardless of the denomination you are, you have to accept who we are as a people and our spirituality as a nation,” Pourier said.

Nicholas Black Elk was a practicing Catholic and also a keeper of traditional ways, and he is currently under consideration for sainthood in the Catholic Church.

Besides the uproar over the pamphlet, some tribal members are concerned about a lack of vetting for groups that interact with children.

“We just want to ensure that our kids are safe when they go with these groups," said Councilman Ryan Jumping Eagle.

He said the tribe is also concerned about pictures of Native children being used for fundraising efforts.

“They’re soliciting funds on behalf of our kids. Does that money really come back to our reservation?” Jumping Eagle said. “We wanted them to, basically, take those pictures off their websites until they register. They’re exploiting our kids for money, which isn’t right.”

Jumping Eagle is one of several council members who voted for a registration requirement for visiting churches and missions.

The ordinance does not affect local, native-run churches and ministries.

Churches have a documented history of abuses against Native Americans dating back to the late 1800s. Last month, Pope Francis visited Canada to apologize for actions the Catholic Church took during the boarding-school era.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.