Indigenous Peoples Day takes place on Columbus Day for a good reason. Native Americans were the first inhabitants of what would become the United States of America. The residents of the land looked at Columbus as a colonizer with a goal to conquer land and people. Christopher Columbus never set foot on the soil that would become the continental United States, yet once a year we celebrate his first contact with the people he would enslave and the mentality that would later cause genocide of Native American people.
The first contact native people had with settlers heading west was a pre-civil war mentality: it was the moral duty to expand the greatness of America across the continent at the expense of unchurched natives of the land. The native people have an ancient right to the land and every basic reason to protest from here until eternity.
We Americans choose to overlook that we currently do not own the Black Hills in South Dakota, yet continue to occupy it in a perpetual state of uniquely high esteem for ourselves. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1980’s that the United States took the Black Hills and all the surrounding area after gold was found, even though we agreed to stay away after losing battles on the Great Plains. We broke the treaty, took the land and choose to look past the court ruling. To this day the Lakota people refuse the monetary settlement—millions of dollars—because the land will not be given back.
The Treaty of Fort Laramie was made in 1868 after Oglala Lakota Red Cloud defeated the United States in a series of battles across the Great Plains. A decade after Red Cloud’s war Pine Ridge Reservation came into existence as a permanent reservation. The Lakota people living in Oglala, South Dakota live inside Pine Ridge Reservation.
You might be asking yourself, “This is important information, but what is the relationship between Springfield Dominican Sisters and Native Americans?”
Ten years ago Sister Barbara Ann Bogenschutz started to minister to the people of Our Lady of the Sioux Catholic Church as Parish Life Coordinator. The church is in Oglala, South Dakota. In total, Sister Barbara has served Native American people for 18 years including her time at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana and Red Cliff Indian Reservation in Wisconsin.
Sister Barbara has a frim understanding of the most important needs of her community. She is intertwined her work so deeply into the daily goings of the community that she has made herself available at all hours of day. She helps the young people understand their history and who they are both as Lakota people and Catholic parishioners.
The congregation is impacted by ongoing generational trauma. Practicing Lakota traditions was taken away from the people for years while every other religion in the United States was free of persecution. Children were tormented and abused when they would try to speak their own language in schools. They were humiliated by cutting their hair, a practice only done by a family member after a death. The trauma is exacerbated by the fact that most people that live in this area are descendants from the Wounded Knee massacre.
Black Elk, whose grandson, George Looks Twice, is a parishioner at Sister Barbara’ church, was a witness to the massacre. He was the most photographed Lakota of his era and he utilized his fame to share some of the most honest quotes documenting the massacre.
“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream…” ~ Black Elk
The poverty is overwhelming for any visitor. The most prosperous nation on earth, the United States, rates the poverty of its people at a level where a family of four makes $25,100. In Oglala Lakota County a family’s median income is less than $21,000. The county has a poverty rate of 52% and the average life expectancy of a person is the lowest of any county in the United States of America: 66 years of age.
In late 2013 Sister Phillip Neri Crawford asked Sister Barbara what attracted her to choose a life of service with Native American people. Sister Barbra explained, “ I would have to say it was God’s hands because it wasn’t anything I had planned in my future. When Sister Kristen Crawford was going to work in the lab at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana, she asked if I would help drive out with her and help her move in. And when I did that I was there some extra days and as I looked around and saw the circumstances I said to myself, ‘I think I could do this.’”
You can see a short video of Sister Barbara’s ministry here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jlr2OmE_OwE
“I say this to you with regret: Many grave sins were committed against the native people of America in the name of God.”
“I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”
~ Pope Francis, July 9, 2015