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Indigenous Peoples Day Teach-in Explores the Culture and Suffering of Native Americans
Sacred Fire Keeper Kenneth Johnson builds the Sacred Fire that burned outside of Weber Retreat and Conference Center until the end of the all-day Indigenous Peoples Day Teach-in.

October 31, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – While many people throughout the United States were observing Columbus Day on October 9, Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, Co-workers, and friends were celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day – and exploring the cultures of Native Americans, the injustices, and ways of reconciliation with the dominant U.S. culture.

The event was planned by a committee of The People of the Four Winds of Lenawee County, a local Native American organization, as well as Adrian Dominican Sisters, Co-workers, family members, and friends. 

The day-long event began with the lighting of the Sacred Fire outside of Weber Retreat and Conference Center, the site of the teach-in, by Firekeeper Kenneth Johnson. The fire remained lit throughout the event.

Elder Joseph Brave-Heart, a full-blooded descendant of the Oglala Lakota Nation, opened the morning session by speaking of his own experiences and those of his people with the arrival of Europeans and the need for healing and reconciliation of all people. “It is my personal hope that we establish a balanced and cohesive relationship or association, that we may honor the Creator,” he said.

Elder Joseph recalled an address by Pope John Paul II to Indigenous People in the United States. “The early encounters between your traditional cultures and the European way of life was an event of such significance that it profoundly influences your collective life even today,” he quoted the pope. “The cultural oppression, the injustices, the disruption of life and your traditional societies must be acknowledged.” 

After reviewing several past hurts – such as the boarding schools in which the U.S. and Canadian governments tried to force Indigenous children into abandoning their cultures and ways of life and adapting to the dominant culture – Elder Joseph encouraged a spirit of reconciliation between descendants of Indigenous peoples and Europeans. Historically, the “fickle nature” of human beings has led us to forget the words of Jesus: “Love others as I have loved you,” Elder Joseph said. “It is only through true empathetic love, understanding, and humility that we may all heal and go forth as the children of God – or the Creator.” 

Sister Susan Gardner, OP, Director of the Native American Apostolate for the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, spoke about the Doctrine of Discovery, predominantly made up of three 15th-century papal bulls, letters written by popes.  

Inter Caetera, the bull most often associated with the Doctrine of Discovery, was written by Pope Alexander VI to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The bull stated that any land not inhabited by Christians “could be claimed and exploited by Christian rulers,” Sister Susan explained. “The presiding theory of the time was that indigenous people, because they were non-Christian, were not human, and therefore the land was empty” and could be claimed by Christian settlers, she said. Christians who claimed the land were also encouraged to convert the indigenous people to Christianity but had the authority to enslave and exploit them.

Sister Susan said the Doctrine of Discovery has been used over the centuries – and even in recent times – to settle court cases. For example, the 1823 U.S. Supreme Court case Johnson and Graham’s Lessee v. McIntosh involved a land dispute between Johnson, who bought the property from a Native American, and McIntosh, who bought adjoining and overlapping land from a white person. Justice John Marshall granted the land to McIntosh. 

“The decision allowed our government to legally ignore or invalidate any Native claims to property,” Sister Susan said. “It’s still used by courts to decide property rights cases brought by Native Americans in the United States against non-Natives.” The ruling “stands as a monumental violation of the natural rights of humankind, as well as the most fundamental human rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Sister Susan said.  

Pope Francis rescinded the Doctrine of Discovery in March 2023. A joint statement by the Vatican Dicasteries of Culture and Education said the concepts in the Doctrine of Discovery are not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church. “In no uncertain terms, the Church’s magisterium upholds the respect due to every human being,” the statement reads. “The Catholic Church therefore repudiates those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of the indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political ‘doctrine of discovery.’”

Participants concluded the morning by attending one of two break-out sessions. Some chose to participate in a Talking Circle, a sacred way of listening for Native Americans and a private experience for those who attend. 

From left, Sisters JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, Marilyn Francoeur, OP, Janice Holkup, OP, and Mary Rae Waller, OP, offer a panel discussion on their experience as either a Native American or a minister with Native Americans.

Others attended a presentation by a panel of Adrian Dominican Sisters: Sister Marilyn Francoeur, OP, a native of Adrian and a member of the Citizens Band of the Pottawatomie Nation; Sister Mary Rae Waller, OP, whose father was of Cherokee descent and who learned about the meanings and principles of Native life during a summer with her grandmother; Sister JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, who ministered for 21 years among the Cheyenne/Arapaho Tribe in Oklahoma as part of a collaborative Dominican ministry; and Sister Janice Holkup, OP, who for three years directed a summer school work-study program for children, funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
View a recording of the morning session.

McKell Johnson demonstrates her
skill as a fancy Shaw Dancer.

The afternoon session allowed participants to watch and – when invited – participate in traditional native dancing led by McKell Johnson, a Shaw Dancer and leader of the People of the Four Winds.
View a recording of the afternoon session.


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Avatar  Flappy Bird 4 months agoReply

Christians who claimed the land were also encouraged to convert the indigenous people to Christianity but had the authority to enslave and exploit them.

Avatar  spacebar clicker 6 months agoReply

It's realle a useful article for me to read



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