Adrian, Michigan, October 11, 2018 – Adrian Dominican Sisters and their special guests – Native Americans from the local area – celebrated unity and “oneness of heart” between indigenous peoples and the descendants of predominantly European immigrants on October 8 during a Liturgy marking Indigenous People’s Day.
With this Liturgy, the Adrian Dominican Sisters and their guests joined 55 cities and five states that celebrate Indigenous People’s Day rather than Columbus Day on the second Monday of October.
“Columbus Day represents the violent history of the colonization of the Western Hemisphere,” explained Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation and a member of the planning committee. It is more fitting, she said, to recognize the indigenous peoples “who were here first and persevered and continue to share so much of their knowledge, culture, and understanding of our relationship to Earth and land.”
The liturgy reflected a spirit of joy and unity. After a welcome by Sister Susan Gardner, OP, Director of the Native American Apostolate for the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, the names of six Adrian Dominican Sisters with Native blood and more than 50 Sisters and one Associate who have ministered with Native Americans in the United States and First Nations people in Canada were read.
The liturgy also incorporated key elements of Native American spirituality. To the beat of Native American drums, Native guests and the Sisters who ministered with Native Americans and First Nations people processed into St. Catherine Chapel, following the cross carried by Sister Kathleen and the Eagle Staff – which can be carried only by combat veterans – carried by Art Robertson. Sister Mary Rae Waller, OP – a chaplain with the retired Sisters at the Dominican Life Center who has some Cherokee blood and who has ministered with Native Americans – prepared to smudge the Sisters and Native people in the procession. Similar to incense, smudging is a ritual that brings blessing and healing.
The readings focused on right relationships among people. The first reading, read by Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP, was an excerpt from an 1805 address by Chief Red Jacket of the Seneca Nation, imploring the white settlers of New York to respect the Native religions.
Noting the challenge of the readings for people to “live in right relationship” with one another, Sister Mary Rae said that people have been slow to learn that lesson but that there are signs that people are beginning to listen. She spoke of manifestations of “deeper communities of the spirit” among descendants of European immigrants and Native American people.
“This manifestation overcomes the historical, racial inaccuracy embedded deeply in the fabric of American legal life and implicitly imposed within spiritual formation and human potential,” Sister Mary Rae said. These inaccuracies and prejudices were enshrined in the Doctrine of Discovery, principles of law articulated in the late 15th century but still used as precedent today that gave Christian European settlers the “right” to conquer lands in the Americas held by non-Christian natives.
But Sister Mary Rae focused on the transformation of understanding of many Americans. Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel from John read during the liturgy – that “all might be one” – is being answered today in part by Sisters who have ministered with Native American peoples.
Sister Mary Rae noted the “open-hearted” ministry of the Sisters who walked with their Native brothers and sisters and who were accepted in turn. “Sisters have been adopted, invested in, become part of the tribal community in which they were,” she said. “Where this transition and this transformation takes place is in the heart. You don’t have to wear beads. You don’t have to wear feathers. It’s in the way you live and breathe.”
Noting the unity of all as brothers and sisters, Sister Mary Rae added, “Some of us have been gifted as members of this community to be able to minister in this time and in these places that have been pushed aside and neglected, to be a sign of hope.”
The Native American spirit continued to be manifested throughout the liturgy. During the prayer of consecration – and particularly when the bread and wine were transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus – the drums continued beating, adding a unique sense of reverence to the prayer.
At the close of the liturgy, Sister Susan and Sister Marilee Ewing, OP – members of the planning committee along with Sisters Kathleen and Mary Rae – were presented with Native blankets in appreciation for their efforts to bring the communities together in worship.
In turn, Father James Hug, SJ, presider, thanked the Native guests for enhancing the celebration of the Eucharist. “You have truly helped us pray today in a deeper and more reverent way, and we thank you,” he said.
As the assembly processed from St. Catherine Chapel to the sound of drums, the joy of the experience continued as Sisters and guests spontaneously began a joyful circle dance around the chapel.
Participants at an afternoon session by Sister Susan, however, were reminded that the people of the United States and Canada still have a long way to go in accepting their Native sisters and brothers. Sister Sue spoke on the effects of the Doctrine of Discovery and of the boarding schools in the United States and Canada that attempted to force Native children to conform to the mainstream culture.