I find many people that seem to think WE are some how required to "protect" the Indian from any outside contact. I find this attitude to be very arrogant. The Indian is a person like anyone else, and with education is just as capable to determine their own future. Neither is their culture something so fragile that they will discard it if made aware of another culture.
Last year a Venezuelan Army General learned this from the chief in our village. The military arrived and began to announce their plan to "place" Cuban doctors in our house. The village did not want this. The General said that the village would no longer need to depend upon the foreign missionary for help.
The chief, Bertico, responded that Cubans were also foreign. They also said they did not want Cubans living among them. The tribes do not like for single men to move in as it almost always creates a problem as they begin to seduce their girls.
Then the General began to accuse us. This was done by showing a folder with pictures of our family, even our children. He accused us of atrocities, such as rape, starvation, slavery...the chief, a non- Christian, became very irate!! He expressed the same opinion to the General that I have put forth here . Indians are not likely to permit someone to come in and live among them and FORCE them to do anything, and certainly not to abuse them. He actually told the General , " If anyone came in here and did those things to us...well, we are Indians, we would just kill them!! So be careful!"
At that point the military decided to leave and has yet to return to the village.
This photo was taken by another missionary in the 60's. This is the chief, Bertico, as a young man. He still weaves baskets and teaches the young men to as well.
I am often told by academics and government representatives, that the culture must remain untouched and that any exposure to something from outside will "destroy" it. I have a hard time believing this.
Consider the case of the modern day Jew. Although spread around the world, although having had to survive several bouts of genocide, the Jewish culture survives. The Hebrew language was even revived. The Jewish people have certainly been exposed to other cultures and have even taken an active part in many different cultures but has yet managed to retain their ethnic identity, culture, as well as religion.
I also point to the fact that tribal cultures co-exist, live next door to one another, and yet each tribe manages to keep their ethnicity and language differences. The Ye'kwanas share the same territory with the Sanema and Yanomamo. Each culture is distinct. Each language is completely different and do not even derive themselves from the same language family. They interact and have for centuries, but each culture remains to this day distinct from one another.
The cultures differ in the most basic areas. Their spiritual beliefs, their marriage rituals and burials are very different. The Ye'kwana bury their dead, the Yanomamo burn their dead. The tribes do not even inter marry.
A culture that has a strong moral fiber will survive. A culture that does not , will not. And, frankly, should not. I often hear Chavez sing the praises of the Ancient Aztecs, but consider the culture? Should a culture that practices human sacrifices be allowed to continue? Will that lead to a better world? Would you like to live in that culture? The Aztec culture was intent on conquest, slavery, and brutality! I am not saying they were not admirable in many other ways, but it is not a model society nor one in which you or I would enjoy living in.
Back to the American Indian of today. To maintain a culture, the most important factor is the language. That is the primary factor that will determine if the culture will continue after assimilation by what is referred to as the "host" culture The criollo culture of Venezuela is the host culture to many tribal cultures. What group of people through out the world is most dedicated to alphabetizing, translating and printing tribal languages?
The missionary! We set out to learn the language, create a written alphabet of the language, but that is not enough. What good is a written language if no one knows how to read it? And what is the motivation for the Indian to work and learn how to read, if there is nothing available in their language to read?
Anyone who has taught a child to read knows what hard work it is!!! Imagine teaching a child to read, and then the child have nothing available in print to read. Hard to motivate the child to bother to learn! More so with the adult Indian! They have a lot to do without learning to read for no apparent reason.
The missionary, of course, wants the Indian to read for himself! Why? So that he can read the Word of God for himself. And with that knowledge, be exposed to the Laws of God, such as the 10 Commandments which will only strengthen any culture if put into practice.
With the new found knowledge and ability to read and write, the culture can then flourish to a new level. Poetry, music and even science can become available to all. The Indian now has the tool needed to chronicle his own history. This will protect the tribe from falsehoods another culture may chose to perpetuate about them.
Missionaries have written for the Ye'kwana of Venezuela, in their own language, The History of Venezuela, several hygiene pamphlets, a Literacy Primer as well as the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament. We have provided teaching aids and a complete phonics program for literacy classes.
Literacy is a powerful tool that should not be denied anyone! An Indian that learns how to read is able to progress and progression is not evil! You and I enjoy our modern life. We enjoy the many things that our ancestors were able to learn and teach us. We then build upon that knowledge each and everyday and we all hope to leave the world a better place for our children and grand children.
Who are we to deny the same opportunity to the Indian?