The Missionary in a Cultural Trap

In 1965 the Catholic weekly America published an article titled “The Indian in a Cultural Trap” by one Lawrence E. Barry, a Jesuit priest stationed at St. Stephen’s Mission on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. The magazine’s editors admitted that Barry proposed a “somewhat unconventional” analysis of the problems facing tribal communities, but ran the piece anyway. It provoked an intelligent response from at least two readers, whose letters appeared six weeks later, and another disclaimer from the editors, this one more explicit than the first. Barry’s article also found its way to the desk of the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, Vine Deloria, Jr. He immediately penned a clever rebuttal in the form of a parody, turning the tables on Barry while mimicking his argument point-by-point, but America refused to publish it. The manuscript circulated among tribal leaders and an abridged version was included in a 1972 anthology of Indian literature. The original essay is published here for the first time, alongside Barry’s provocation. The seeds of Deloria’s religious critique in Custer Died for Your Sins are easy to see in this piece, and the razor-sharp sarcasm of his trademark sense of humor is also present in ample supply.

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