Dominicans with Native Americans

From the Provincial Newsletter, March 1996

The first Dominican missionaries to the Americas arrived at Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti) in September, 1510. Their "Holy Preaching" defended the rights of indigenous peoples and influenced a secular priest, Bartolomé de Las Casas, to join the Order. Subsequently, Las Casas became the most notorious of these prophetic Dominicans, gaining recognition as "Defender of the Indians" due to his historic writings and discourses at the Spanish Court.

Today, we Dominicans in the United States are still dedicated to the cause of Las Casas through our defense of Indian rights and accompaniment of native Americans by many Dominican women and men. We have a national collaborative ministry effort known as the Las Casas Fund, Inc., which first began in 1977 as the Legal Assistance Project for the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes (LEAPCAT) under Albert Broderick, O.P., and Regis Ryan, O.P.

Originally, the "fund" was established by Dominicans to provide both financial and human resources for LEAPCAT. Over the years, legal aid led Dominican staff persons to identify and meet other needs among the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples, who are the poorest tribes in Oklahoma. What began nearly 20 years ago in western Oklahoma resulted in ministries in such areas as: nursing; adult and child education; alcohol and drug counseling; community organizing; Indian arts and crafts; cultural recovery; spiritual direction; and much more. And typically, we learned and received from the American Indians more than we deserved.

Sponsored by the Dominican Leadership Conference, the Las Casas Fund has an eleven-member Board comprised of representatives from different Dominican congregations and provinces. The most important part of the project is the support and sponsorship of Sisters Mary Ann Cirillo, O.P. (Hope) and JoAnn Fleischaker, O.P. (Adrian) in Canton, Oklahoma, who serve full-time with the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. They are busy running White Earth Center, teaching computer skills, and kicking-off a community organizing effort, to mention just a few.

Other Las Casas Board and staff projects include: publishing the bulletin Las Casas News twice a year; promoting markets for Indian artwork made at White Earth Center; building a national network of all Dominicans who have Indian heritage or minister with Indians; coordinating the "Friends of Las Casas"; and continual fund-raising to keep the whole operation afloat.

Those of us who are privileged to serve with Las Casas Fund, Inc., always find the culture and spirituality of the Native Americans remarkably sacred. We have been invited to pow-wows and sweat lodges; listened to story-tellers and eaten fry-bread. And each encounter is like a holy sacrament. American Indians and all the Dominicans ministering with them need and deserve your prayers and wholehearted support. It makes one proud to have sisters like Kateri Tekawitha and brothers like Bartolomé de Las Casas and Chuck Leute!

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