Different demoninations of Christianity have come through Comanche land in the past. Some seemed more appealing to reservation Indians than others. It seems the market is still open. Pentecostals are the lastest “trader” in Comanche land.
Let’s look at the lay of that land. By 1881, six years after the final Quahada band came into Fort Sill (1875), the Episcopalians started a mission program under J. B. Wicks. But before then, as early as 1869, the Quakers (and Dutch Reform) were working in southwestern Oklahoma among the plains tribes. Yet, even Laurie Tatum made no progress among the Comanche–who still resisted the “civilized” life. (The Comanche got into peyote, anyway, once they did start settling. Some say Quanah Parker brought it into the tribe, but others say Mumsekai.) Commissioner Thomas J. Morgan (under U.S. President Harrison) was a strong assimilationist, and missionaries influenced him to clamp down on the peyote “religion.” But the Comanches were not really considered much of a market for the missionaries. Comanches were still isolationists, psychologically, as well as demographically.
Mumsekai, ca. 1920.
Most of the missionaries established themselves around Anadarko. The Methodist-Episcopal were there. The Reformed Presbyterians were there also. Between 1885 and 1893, there were five different government agents trying to manage the programs. There were Indian schools set up, both mission schools and government schools. It was all about assimilation, to prepare young Indians for American citizenship.
Of course, the original encounter with Christianity, for the Comanche, was the old Spanish mission. That was Catholicism. That involved the imagery, the visual aids, and the trinketry, so to speak. These things do catch the eye. The Tortured Man had a psychological appeal as well. He could take pain. He was brave. But, Comanches were to close to the wind to abide in a domestic setting. They didn’t go for the contemplative life.
So no one made any real headway. Not even the old Mormon “messianic” influence, in the modified, adapted form of Wovoka (Paiute) the Ghost Dance prophet, lasted long. Comanches saw it in 1890. Only a band of Penetekas involved themselves temporarily, and that was because they happened to have been assigned lands bordering some the of the more northern plains tribes down in southwest Oklahoma–and those tribes were getting into it.
Comanches didn’t even go in for the Sun Dance. There’s only one historical recorded dance among the Comanche, at that was in 1874, not long before the Comanche freedom was to end. Comanches just didn’t do the group religion thing. Organized community ceremony was foriegn to the Comanche psyche and its incredible individualism.
Chewing Elk, 1872.
Adventism came into Oklahoma at the turn of the century. Some rural families affined themselves to it. My own Comanche family did. But Adventism was never an influence within the people. It offered nothing beautiful to look at, and nothing emotionally exciting. The end of the world? Comanches had already been through that.
Interesting, though, the word for “Saturday” in turn of the century Comanche was ka po hah rab by. The same basic word for “sabbath.” Probably, po hah is from po ha cut, or power (medicine.) Rab by? I’ll take that for “rabbi.” The Comanche word for “father” is ahp. The way it’s pronounced, it is quite similar to the Hebrew abba. (Ah, the wonders of etymology and linguistics.)
That instinctive Comanche affinity with the wind is showing itself currently in another Christian influence: pentecostalism. This is a community emotion. This is something like the wind. Everyone can feel it together. It has been in Indian country a good while, but, recently, it has blown up a storm right in the middle of Comanche land. It hit the tribal meeting yesterday, July 10, 2010.
At the Comanche Nation Business Committee meeting yesterday, the two new committee members were sworn in, one of whom was Mark Wahadooah. Mr. Wahadooah, who won his election by a 17% margin, clearly considers that fact a serious mandate to act on his campaign promises. He made that distinctly obvious. Mr. Wahadooah is an Assemblies of God activist, and himself was apparently involved in the Palo Duro event which we have addressed. It seems that his faith, and his promises to the people, gave him his great margin of victory over Ed Eschiti for the position of Committee Member No. 2.
Mr. Wahadooah, brings pentecostalism (and tu-taiwo blood) to the very seat of tribal authority. This is of grave concern.
Mr. Wahadooah is a warm and appealing person, with great spirit. He is also very forward, aggressive, and, for his first public showing as a tribal committee member, a bit too much so. He behaved as though he had equal authority as Chairman Michael Burgess. He challenged the committee several times, and repeatedly ignored the kind cautions Chairman Burgess offered him. Of course, Mr. Wahadooah feels he is manifesting the spirit on which he campaigned. He feels he is doing what he was elected to do. He is not repecting any authority above the people who elected him, or, what he considers to be their wants. He feels he is representing them.
This amounts to non-cooperation, at least, and insubordination, at worst. This is the outcome of that kind of aggression. Regardless of the sincerety, the passion, the intent, it manifests itself as disruptive and challenging.
I do not know Mr. Wahadooah, but I know how Comanche meetings go. I am concerned about this. I am concern because the matter of Christian religion is involved in Comanche affairs. The people want honesty, accountability, and transparency. A good number are demanding it, more and more. Shall it come through pentecostalism?
We must remember, leaders are elected to lead, not to follow. The numunu simply cannot lead themselves anymore. We’re not living out the free, open plains now. We’re “organized,” and we’re following rules of order. The affairs of the tribe are hectic, and there are constant crises occurring. Decisions have to be made rapidly, often without consultation. Under the present constitution, there is no possible way for all the Comanche people to know every detail of every situation. There is no possible way to get a consensus on every decision that is made. (This is why I have suggested a very different kind of constitution.)
And so the wind blows in Comanche country. Pentecostal wind. Is it a good thing? Will it blow in the right direction? Will it bring good rain?
I will say only this: there are many different religious groups among Comanche people today. Many Christian denominations, and even some new, non-Christian influences. I would not want to see any one denomination creating a dominant influence. I don’t consider Indian country some ironic hunting ground for competing Christian denominations. Indians have enough problems without this divisive force from the outside. A social hunting ground may be how Indian country is perceived by the outsiders, but, I hope Indians, especially Comanches, can navigate through these high winds, and remain sovereign and independent. I know many Christians want to see Indians become more self-reliant and independent. However, what we saw in Palo Duro in April may not be the path to preserves us.
With Mr. Wahadooah’s premier performance July 10, it is clear that the April affair in Palo Duro was a power grab.
Maybe it was a good thing. Maybe it will lead to good things. I express great caution right now, that’s all. I feel like it is an invasion. I feel we are under seige. This is ironic and agonizing–or, at least, suspicious. I would not want to offend any Christian brother, or any Comanche in this. Good may come of it. I hope it does.
I am only trying to bring a historical perspective to what’s happening, and to help achieve an objective view.
I do not want the chairman to be undermined, and that’s what happened July 10. I express these thoughts with the greatest reserve and concern. Hear me, my people.
EDITOR’S NOTE, July 12
I neglected to mention the earliest Comanche mission of all, the Deyo Baptist Mission, 1888. It was the work of Elton Cyrus Deyo, from Colgate Theological Seminary (Maine). Robert Yappa Teka Coffey (1902-1994) became the first Comanche to be pastor. As a matter of fact, my mother (Norma Portillo) played piano for the congregation when she was a young girl in the early ’30’s. She knew three or four chords on the keyboard, and that sufficed for most hymns.