Healing camp for our Lakota students

Today we held our annual healing camp for students who are grieving the loss of a loved one, especially those who have lost someone dear to them over the past year. Fourteen staff members volunteered to spend the day with 15 students (two sisters shared one counselor) in a variety of activities that help them express feelings and memories.

Lakota boy singing while playing the drum.
Harlee loves singing!

We began the day with our drum group – The Chalk Hills Singers – singing a prayer song. We now have a dozen boys crowded around the drum! Next year Mark, the advisor, is considering starting a second drum group because of all the interest. There are also three girls who came forward. Traditionally, they don’t drum, but stand around the circle and add their lovely voices to the song.

To begin healing camp, I shared the scripture from John’s gospel about Martha and Mary’s reaction to the death of their brother Lazarus. One ran out to meet Jesus, while the other stayed at home. Each of us handles grief differently; some may need the company and support of others, but others may need down time to be alone. I wanted to give students the freedom to feel whatever they would feel during the day, and know that was okay.

One of my favorite activities was when everyone gathered in the Akta Lakota Museum classroom for a guided imagery about a conversation they would have with the loved one they were missing. As students and staff shared, they each had a glow-in-the-dark pendant, which they snapped to activate. The room gradually lit up, and the sharing produced both tears and happy memories. We ended with a circle of hugs and handshakes all around, then went outside to tie a memorial prayer tie in one of our trees on campus.

Other activities included writing a letter to the deceased and placing it on a fire with the smoke rising to the heavens, some fun time in the gym and rec center, Q and A about death and heaven, and one-on-one walks with the staff buddy.

Fr. Anthony led the group in a closing prayer service, with a lighting of votive candles and a prayer in memory of the beloved deceased. Many of our students have suffered significant losses in their young lives, and this is one way we’ve found to help lead them through such difficult days.

Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 90 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

5 thoughts on “Healing camp for our Lakota students”

  1. I like Fr. Anthony’s approach to lighting a votive candle, along with a prayer, to the deceased loved one. I do this, myself. But, I do this when I feel the time is right- and, after I have had a spiritual conversation to the Blessed Mother. And, I find it very effective. It takes time- sometimes, years, to clear the path of comfort. When I do light the few that I light, I light large candles for my immediate family (the nuclear line). They last six (6) days. And, I light a smaller votive for the other relatives should it seem necessary.

    Also, there is nothing wrong with talking, silently or openly, to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit- or, the Blessed Mother, with what is on your mind and heart. I find it brings me closer to them with God.

    This is my opinion- and, approach.

    Thank you.

  2. Hi Fr. Steve,

    We think it’s wonderful that you started this healing camp for those who lost someone close in the students hearts. It’s great to combine some of the traditional Native American rituals for when someone crosses over and the Christian lessons along side these traditions.

    Of course our hearts and prayers go out to those children who lost someone close to them. That goes without saying. It is a fantastic thing you do for these dear sweet kids. So happy that you and your staff are there for them.

    Hope all is well ith you and the staff & kids.

    With the love of Christ and the love of the Native traditions,

    Nancy & Kenny Raymond

  3. Hello Fr. Steve,

    How are you feeling now with your medical treatments most likely completed? I think of you often and pray that you are now feeling better than ever!!

    I, also, wanted to let you know that I received your mailer yesterday regarding the automatic monthly donation, and after reading your well done 4 page letter, I decided to become one of your “150 caring Michigan supporters” to donate the recommended 33 cents a day, which will be deducted automatically from my checking account every month. I put the signed form and check in the mail today, and because you hoped to report the success of this program to your Board on the 22nd, I decided that I should let you know that “the check is in the mail” for my $10.00 automatic monthly donation!! I’m proud to be your friend and to be a friend to the St. Joseph Indian School!! You do wonderful work in support of your Native American students!

    In Peace & Love,

    Lana L. Boldi
    Grand Rapids, Mi.

    1. Lana,
      Thanks for asking about my health, and especially for your prayers. I don’t update my health condidtion too much any more because I feel pretty close to the way I did before the cancer, treatments and surgery and there’s not much news to report. The only noticeable difference is a weaker right foot because they cut 2 nerve endings to get the tumor off the spine. I get scanned and checked every 6 months now, and doctors are pleased with how it has all turned out.
      God Bless! Fr. Steve

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