Fascination and chuckles

This morning I attended a funeral at Fort Thompson, on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation. Rose was 90 years old and the matriarch of a large family. At the funerals I’ve attended of many elders, much of the congregation are gray-haired themselves. Rose outlived all of her contemporaries. Instead, the church was full of a lot of young people. Most of her 58 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren live in the area.

At Indian reservation funerals, it’s customary to start the services with a final viewing of the body before the casket is closed. Mourners also say a few words of comfort to the family, or give a hug or handshake. Today that process took over an hour as so many people streamed past. I have fond memories of Rose from my days as pastor there, and wanted to show my support to her family.

Today staff pulled together and the homes and classrooms are ready for the arrival of our students this weekend.

This was also the final day of our SCJ novices’ retreat. They will head back to Chicago and what the novitiate will bring them this year in a time of self discovery. I was truly blessed by listening to them listen to the Lord, and sharing with me where God is leading.

This evening was fun and festive as we took in the Lower Brule Tribal Fair and Powwow. We spent a little time at the rodeo grounds, where Juan Carlos was fascinated by the horsemanship. Next stop was the softball tournament, where James got several chuckles over the teasing banter of the PA announcer.

The highlight, of course, was the powwow with eleven drums singing traditional songs and the colorful Grand Entry with a procession of all the dancers.  The novices got their first taste of Fry Bread and Indian Tacos and found it quite tasty.

We saw lots of St. Joseph’s students. While some kids complain about having to go back to school, many of the youngsters I met were actually excited and looking forward to coming back.

That tells me we’re doing a few things right.

A day in Fort Thompson

I invited the two seminarians who are with us for the summer – Anthony and Justin and our summer intern from Notre Dame – Anna, to accompany me to church at Fort Thompson. We left early so we could drive around the community and explore a bit. What’s striking to people seeing the Indian Reservation for the first time is how many homes are sadly in need of repair. I explained about the complicated system of land ownership and tribal housing authority. As we passed the Tribal Council headquarters, and Bureau of Indian Affairs office, it presented an opportunity to teach about the governmental structure.

Going by the memorial flags near the river led to a lesson about the history about the 1862 Minnesota Uprising and how the families of those 38 Dakota Sioux who were publicly executed were sent to Fort Thompson, hundreds of miles west of their homelands.

Later in our travels, when an inebriated man started to talk their ear off, they got an idea of one of the biggest challenges of working on the “Rez”. When people are drinking, I try not to be enabling, but do try to be kind and understanding; hoping it opens doors to hope and help later on.

Church was a joyful event as seven children from Fort Thompson received their first Holy Communion today. After Church, the families of the first communicants provided a meal for the whole parish – soup and frybread, which was tasty and a nice introduction to the hospitality within the culture. Our interns got to make the rounds and visit with many people at the gathering.