Celebrate Inquiry

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On January 20th:

Celebrate Sagoyewatha Day


Sagoyewatha Sagoyewatha (1758?- January 20, 1830)

Sagoyewatha, a.k.a. Red Jacket, chief of the Wolf tribe of the Senecas and Great Orator of the Six Nations. The silver metal he wore was given to him by President Washington in 1792, and depicts Red Jacket and Washington concluding a peace treaty. He died in 1830 after his own family had converted to Christianity.

In 1805, a missionary, Reverend Cram, was sent to the Iroquois Confederacy by the Evangelical Missionary Society of Massachusetts to "spread the Word." A council was held at Buffalo, New York. The missionary said, among other things:

"There is only one religion, and only one way to serve God, and if you do not embrace the right way you cannot be happy hereafter. You have never worshiped the Great Spirit in a manner acceptable to him; but have all your lives been in great errors and darkness."

After two hours consultation with the Seneca council of chiefs, Sagoyewatha (which means He-Keeps-Them-Awake) made the following reply:

Friend and Brother, it was the will of the Great Spirit that we should meet together this day. He directs all things, and he has given us a fine day for our council. He has taken his garment from before the sun and has caused the bright circle to shine upon us. Our eyes are opened so that we see clearly. Our ears are unstopped so that we have clearly heard the words you have spoken.

Brother, this council fire was kindled by you. It was at your request that we came together. We have listened with attention to what you have said. You have asked us to speak our minds freely. This gives us great joy, for we now stand upright before you and can speak what we think. We have all heard your voice and we all speak to you as one man.

You say that you want an answer to your speech before you leave this place. It is right that you should have one, since you are a great distance from home, and we do not wish to detain you. But we will first look back a little, and tell you what our fathers have told us, and what we have heard from the white people.

Brother, listen to what we say. There was a time when our forefathers owned this great continent. Their seats extended from the rising to the setting of the sun. But an evil day came upon us. Your forefathers crossed the great waters and landed upon this continent. They found friends and not enemies. They told us they had fled from wicked men in their own country and had come here to enjoy their religion. They asked for a small seat and we had compassion for them and granted their request, and sat them down among us. We gave them corn and meat; they gave us poison [rum] in return. Tidings were carried back and more white people came among us. Yet we were not afraid of them. We took them to be friends. They called us brothers and we believed them, giving them a larger seat. At length their numbers greatly increased. They wanted more land. They wanted our country. Our eyes were opened, and our minds became uneasy. Wars took place, and many of our people were killed. They also brought strong liquor among us. It was very strong and has killed thousands.

Brother, our seats were once large, and yours were very small. You have now become a great people, and we have scarcely a place left to spread our blankets. You have our country, but you are not yet satisfied. Now you want to force your religion upon us.

Brother, continue to listen. You say that you have been sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to his mind; and that if we do not take hold of the religion which you white people teach, we will be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right, and that we are lost. How do you know this to be true? We understand that your religion is written in a book. If it was meant for us as well as for you, why hasn't the Great Spirit given it to us? And not only to us, but why didn't he allow our forefathers to know the book, with the means of understanding it rightly? We know only what you tell us about it. How can we know when to believe, since we have been lied to so often by the white people?
You say there is only one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is only one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why don't you all agree, since you can all read the book?

We do not understand these things. We are told that your religion was given to your forefathers, and has been handed down, father to son. We also have a religion which was given to our forefathers and has been handed down to us, their children. We worship in that way. It teaches us to be grateful for all favors we receive, to love each other, and to be united. We never quarrel about religion. We know that the Great Spirit is pleased that we follow the traditions of our forefathers, for in doing so we receive his blessing. We go to sleep content, and we wake up with gratitude to the Great Spirit. With renewed strength in our limbs, and bounding joy in our hearts, we feel blessed.

Brother, the Great Spirit has made us all. But he has made a great difference between his white and his red children. He has given us a different skin color and different customs. He has given great powers to you; about these he has not opened our eyes. We know that these things are true. Since he has made so great a difference between us in other things, why shouldn't we conclude that he has given us a different religion, according to our understanding? The Great Spirit does right. He knows what is best for his children. We are satisfied.

We do not worship the Great Spirit as the white men do, but we believe that forms of worship do not matter to the Great Spirit; what pleases him is the offering of a sincere heart, and this is how we worship him. We do not want to destroy your religion or take it from you. We only want to enjoy our own.

Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has on them. If we find it does them good and makes them honest and less disposed to cheat the red man, we will consider again of what you have said.

Brother, you have heard our answer to your talk, and this is all we have to say now. Since we are going to part, we will come and take you by the hand, and hope that the Great Spirit will protect you on your journey and return you safe to your friends.

A government official present reported that after Sagoyewatha finished speaking, the Indians moved toward the missionary to shake hands, but the missionary refused, saying, "There is no fellowship between the religion of God and the Devil." The Indians then smiled and retired peacefully.

When asked by a gentleman in 1824, why he was opposed to missionaries, he replied:

They do us no good. If they are not useful to the white people and do them no good, why do they send them among the Indians? If they are useful to the white people and do them good, why do they not keep them at home? They [the white men] are surely bad enough to need the labor of everyone who can make them better. These men [the missionaries] know we do not understand their religion. We cannot read their book — they tell us different stories about what it contains, and we believe they make the book talk to suit themselves. If we had no money, no land and no country to be cheated out of these black coats would not trouble themselves about our good hereafter. The Great Spirit will not punish us for what we do not know. He will do justice to his red children. These black coats talk to the Great Spirit, and ask for light that we may see as they do, when they are blind themselves and quarrel about the light that guides them. These things we do not understand, and the light which they give us makes the straight and plain path trod by our fathers, dark and dreary.

The black coats tell us to work and raise corn; they do nothing themselves and would starve to death if someone did not feed them. All they do is to pray to the Great Spirit; but that will not make corn and potatoes grow; if it will why do they beg from us and from the white people. The red men knew nothing of trouble until it came from the white men; as soon as they crossed the great waters they wanted our country, and in return have always been ready to teach us to quarrel about their religion. Red Jacket can never be the friend of such men. If they [the Indians] were raised among white people, and learned to work and read as they do, it would only make their situation worse.... We are few and weak, but may for a long time be happy if we hold fast to our country, and the religion of our fathers.