Holy Rosary Mission
Stained glass windows inside the Holy Rosary Mission on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Raymond Bucko, SJ
Papal Bull-ology
Friday, June 18, 2021
Native Sun News Today Columnist

During the war in Vietnam (68-69), I was asked “Why do your people take to Christianity even though it nearly wiped you out?”

Here I am, 52 years later and I can finally respond to that challenging question. But, I could be off the mark, especially since I’m not “educated” with a degree in Theology or History, especially American history. Instead, I went to the University of Life regarding religion and history.

I begin with the stuff that was hidden for centuries. In 1454, Pope Nicholas V decreed with his man-made law (Papal Bull) that Christians have the right to enslave, kill, and take the land from the “enemies of Christ wherever they may be found.” After 567 years, we are still reeling from this man’s law.

The 1875 words of Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin (1829-1902) helps to explain what I mean by that, “We instill in them a pronounced distaste for the native life so that they will be humiliated when reminded of their origin. When they graduate from our institutions, the children will have lost everything native except their blood.”

Ivan F. Star Comes Out. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Grandin was a key architect of the Canadian Indian Residential school system that is now described as an instrument of cultural genocide. The remains of 215 little children were found in a mass grave under one of his “schools” in Kamloops, British Columbia. As of June 4, 2021, Edmonton and St. Albert’s city officials removed his name from their infrastructure (streets, buildings, etc.)

Anyway, my English language vocabulary was very limited when I entered a Roman Catholic residential school at age 6 here on the Pine Ridge. There my first language was strictly forbidden and was punished when I spoke it, which was often. Ironically, our principal, a Jesuit priest, learned Lakota and spoke it often.

Years later, I learned that the school’s mission was to “Christianize” and “civilize” us.

For ten years, I was made to pledge allegiance to the American flag every weekday morning and had to attend mass every single day, twice on Sundays. The name of the school was Holy Rosary Mission where the erasure of Lakota language, culture, and history was the standard throughout the 50s and 60s. I had to spend my entire adult life relearning how to be a Lakota person, and I’m still learning.

The school did everything in its power to “kill the Indian” by completely isolating us from Lakota culture. Some say we were successfully indoctrinated as we now follow a set of beliefs belonging to someone else. Some have even said we are no longer able to think independently. It certainly seems that way. In other words, we won’t do anything unless some authority figure says we can (or can’t).

The parochial school taught me a new American culture and a history that included “Indians” but only as an anomaly. I learned that it was not good to be an “Indian.” We were supposed to forget our language and culture.

Although I decided to drop out, the school’s “education” process succeeded as I knew nothing about my culture when I went home. I managed to maintain my language speaking ability but that was all I had.

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Ivan F. Star Comes Out can be reached at P.O. Box 147, Oglala, South Dakota, 57764; via phone at 605-867-2448 or via email at mato_nasula2@outlook.com.

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