Wheaton College in Illinois removes plaque that refers to indigenous people as “savages”

Wheaton College in Illinois has removed a plaque that referred to indigineous people as “savages” after the staff and the students’ growing concern with the term.

The plaque is 64-year old and it paid tribute to 5 missionaries who were killed in Ecuador in 1956. The 5 missionaries were in Ecuador as part of operation Auca. It was an attempt to introduce Christianity to the Waorani or huaorani people of the rainforest of Ecuador. The tribe were known for their violence towards outsiders and their own people. The missionaries embarked on a journey to introduce and evangelize the uncontacted tribe of Huaorani. The members of this missionary group were: Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian. In order to become friendly with the tribe, the missionaries regularly made flights above the huaorani settlements and even dropped gifts which were appreciated by the Huaorani.

After months of this, on January 6th, they decided to make a camp at Palm Beach which was only a few KiloMeters away from the Huaorani settlement. One of the natives, Nankiwi, claimed that the missionaries had attacked them on the beach, and in their haste to flee, they had been separated from their chaperone. Gikita, a senior member of the group, recommended that they kill the foreigners. On January 8, the Huaorani arrived at Palm Beach and in order to divide the foreigners before attacking them, they sent three women to the other side of the river. Two of the missionaries waded into the water to greet them, but were attacked from behind by Nampa. Elliot, the first missionary to be speared, drew his pistol and began firing. One of these shots mildly injured Dawa, still hidden, and another grazed the missionary’s attacker after he was grabbed from behind by one of the women.

The other missionary in the river, Fleming, before being speared, desperately reiterated friendly overtures and asked the Huaorani why they were killing them. Meanwhile, the other Huaorani warriors attacked the three missionaries still on the beach, spearing Saint first, then McCully as he rushed to stop them. Youderian ran to the airplane to get to the radio, but he was speared as he picked up the microphone to report the attack. The men’s bodies and their supplies were dumped into the river by the Huaorani after they had been killed. They then returned to their village and, anticipating retribution, burned it to the ground and fled into the jungle. By January 13, four of the bodies had been identified, and one had washed away. This became international news and it sparked a support for evangelization around the world. It was even made into a movie called “End of Spear” [US News].

Jim Elliot’s wife, Elisabeth, along with Nate Saint’s sister Rachel, returned to the area and lived among the Huaorani. The women were largely successful in their missionary work, and many Huaorani (including some of the individuals who attacked and killed the men) converted to Christianity. The plaque was donated by the Wheaton class of 1949, of which two of the missionaries were members of. College President Philip Ryken has stated that “The word ‘savage’ is regarded as pejorative and has been used historically to dehumanize and mistreat Indigenous peoples around the world. Any descriptions on our campus of people or people groups should reflect the full dignity of human beings made in the image of God.” Caitlyn Kasper, a student at Wheaton, has praised the decision to remove the plaque, stating, “Plaques like that have caused pain to people and are almost a symbol of white superiority in their very presences and in how they make people of color feel unwelcome at Wheaton” [AP].





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