Truth and Racial Healing Conference to be held Jan. 28
By Billy Critchley-Menor,
SJ Holy Rosary Mission, Pine Ridge
In his apostolic visit to Canada in July 2022, Pope Francis implored forgiveness from the indigenous people of Canada for the Catholic Church’s harmful role in the colonization of their land. In his apology, he noted, “I trust and pray that Christians and civil society in this land may grow in the ability to accept and respect the identity and the experience of the Indigenous Peoples.”
While the pope was referring to Canada, the realities of colonization are equally present in the United States and especially right here in our own Rapid City Diocese. To unpack some of these realities and heed the Holy Father’s call, Red Cloud Indian School, The Diocesan Office for Native Ministries and the Diocesan Social Justice Commission are hosting a workshop on Saturday, January 28 at Terra Sancta Retreat Center. “Truth and Racial Healing: Historical and Theological Perspectives on Catholicism and Indigenous Communities” will begin at 9 a.m. and conclude with Mass at 4 p.m. with a meal to follow. Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend free of charge. Registration will open at 8:30 a.m., and pre-registration (see below) is greatly appreciated/required.
The conference will focus on the historical realities, and the theological aspects of the relationship between Indigenous people and the Catholic Church. Maka Black Elk, executive director for Truth and Healing at Red Cloud Indian School and parishioner at Sacred Heart Parish in Pine Ridge will be presenting. Maka will be joined by Fr. Peter Bisson, SJ, and Rosella Kinoshameg of Canada. Father Bisson and Kinoshameg will present talks on their experience of how the practice of reconciliation between indigenous people and the Jesuits has played out over a number of years in Canada.
Maka Black Elk will also share insights into the process of “Truth and Healing” currently underway at Red Cloud and the challenges towards healing. Maka, a practicing Catholic himself, will also unpack the ways in which the church’s theology can help us understand this history and the ways we are called to respond to that history. He will also present an historical perspective on the issues, highlighting especially the role of Indian boarding schools and the church’s role in those.
Much of Pope Francis’s trip to Canada focused on the trauma inflicted on native peoples by the boarding schools. In his apology to native peoples in Rome in 2022, Pope Francis said, “It is chilling to think of determined efforts to instill a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to sever their roots, and to consider all the personal and social effects that this continues to entail: unresolved traumas that have become intergenerational traumas.”
The boarding schools were an effort by the U.S. Government to establish control over native communities and assimilate them into white, primarily European, American culture. The Catholic Church and many religious orders, including the Jesuits, ran many of these institutions in cooperation with the government. This was the case for multiple Catholic boarding schools in South Dakota.
Is an apology from Pope Francis enough to undo the damage of the past? Even the Holy Father has said that it isn’t. A longer process of reconciliation, of learning and engaging this history deeply is needed from many people in the church. We hope this conference will invite many people into this dialogue to learn, to encounter, and to heal. Free registration is available at www.rapidcitydiocese.org/sjc.