Prior to entering this discussion participants are encouraged to watch this brief explainer video on the harms and legacy of Indian boarding schools in the United States.
The history of Indian boarding schools in the United States exemplifies a longstanding erasure of the experiences of American Indian nations. The Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, with the support of federal dollars originally meant for individual Indian families, operated hundreds of boarding schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Critical to the foundation of these schools was the systemic suppression and eradication of native languages and culture. Many Native American children suffered from physical, mental, and sexual abuse, separation from family, loss of culture and language, and even death.
This conversation will bring this history into perspective as the experience of one particular former Indian boarding school is shared and discussed. The Society of Jesus was one of many Catholic orders that ran some of these schools including the one highlighted here. This dialogue is focused on understanding that history, facing the challenges produced by that history, and seeking to understand what the future might hold for the possibility of healing. Questions that will be pondered include: What must the Church do to reckon with this history? How can we imagine a Catholic faith that rejects the colonial project?
Maka Black Elk (Oglala Lakota) is the Executive Director for Truth and Healing at Red Cloud Indian School, formerly known as Holy Rosary Mission, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Red Cloud is one of the few remaining Jesuit schools serving an indigenous community in the country. As an alumnus of Red Cloud, Maka continued his Jesuit education at the University of San Francisco. He returned to Red Cloud after earning his master's in Peace and Human Rights Education at Teacher's College, Columbia University. Over the past eight years, Maka has been a high school history teacher, volunteer coordinator, and the director of curriculum during which he earned a master's in Educational Leadership from the University of Notre Dame. He serves as the chairperson of the American Indian Catholic Schools Network and is a board member of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and the Catholic Volunteer Network. He also serves as an advisor to the Taking Responsibility initiative on clergy sexual abuse at Fordham University. Maka has dedicated much of his work to leading and fostering educational empowerment for his community through his unique lens of being both Lakota and Catholic.