July 28, 2006

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

American Indians: An integral part of the present

One of my last classes before earning my Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis was “Development of Anthropological Thought” taught by Dr. Susan Sutton.

I chose to research Woodhenge at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site as my major project for the semester. Why? Because my husband and I are natives of Belleville, Ill., not far from Cahokia Mounds, but we had never visited it before.

While in the area, Paul used his photographic skills. I collected facts, but also walked a mound, feeling profoundly and spiritually connected to the ancient Indians who once made this their home.

The next day, we attended Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Belleville. The homilist, Father Roger Karban, coincidentally spoke about how spiritually important the Cahokia Mounds were to him.

Then, two years ago, I read an article, “The Parables of Jesus,” by Father Karban in the September issue of Liguorian.

It wasn’t about Cahokia Mounds, but it reminded me of how we personally connected that day.

Another coincidence: A few years ago, I came across a “Youth Update: Connecting Native American Traditions and Catholic Faith” by journalist Catherine Walsh, published in July 1996 by St. Anthony Messenger Press (www.AmericanCatholic.org).

In part, it stated, “Native American teens have a lot of good news to tell … Strong family connections, generosity and respect for all creation are traditional values within many tribes … For many, these traditions are combined with and strengthened by their practice of the Catholic faith. Such young people make a positive difference in both Church and society.”

Walsh claimed to be “continually inspired by the Native American people and their values. … [They] have taught me what it means to live in harmony with all of creation.”

Indians respect what God provides through nature, especially the land, which emphasizes the severity of their loss of native territories to early settlers and the U.S. government.

In Walsh’s piece, Franciscan Sister Marie Therese Archambault, who is also a Lakota Sioux Indian, said, “In our [Indian] spirituality, human beings are at the bottom of the pyramid of life, not at the top like in Western society.”

Indians respect both humans and animals; they emphasize living in a good relationship with all living creatures.

Walsh also wrote, “Suffering has deep value in many Native American cultures. During the Lakota’s Sun Dance … men and women dance in a sacred circle for four days without food and water … They praise God for the gift of life and offer their thirst and hunger to God on behalf of their people.

“Catholicism also encourages and supports times and seasons of penance [so that] people of faith look inward and understand what God is asking of them.”

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


Local site Links: