Las Casas News Oct. 1995

Las Casas Fund & Board.

Number 24 October 1995:
Making Life a Little Better
Friends of Las Casas Retreat
White Earth Center
Bartolome de Las Casas
Las Casas National Network News
Native American Spirituality
Letter From the Chair


"Catholic project benefits Indians in Canton area. Sr. Mary Ann Cirillo and Sr. JoAnn Fleischaker make this happen. "
In 1978, a project aimed to provide legal assistance for the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians of the Canton area was born with the help of legal scholars from around the country, specifically from the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.

The Indians were receiving biased attention from authority figures and in the courtroom they had little defense. That project, started and administered by the Dominican order of Catholics, became known as The Las Casas Dominican Ministry among the Cheyenne and Arapaho.

Today the project is still active as the goals have broadened in an effort to meet the needs of the area. From the high school proficiency tutoring to transportation needs, the Dominican ministry endeavors daily to heighten the quality of life for the Cheyenne and Arapaho.

There are two women who make that ministry happen. Taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience many years ago and following their hearts into the Catholic order of the Dominicans, they are adherents to the way of Bartolome de Las Casas. They are two in a series of dedicated women who have made the Cheyenne-Arapaho project a reality. They are Sister Mary Ann Cirillo, 52, whose motherhouse is in Newburgh, NY and Sr. JoAnn Fleischaker, 63, whose motherhouse is in Adrian. MI.

"We follow the way of Las Casas," Sr. Mary Ann said. "through his writings he released the heavy burdens placed on the Indians by the Spaniards." And through their efforts, they release the Cheyenne and Arapaho from the struggles of living on the fringe of American society.

We have a lot of traditional people who follow the Indian way with their rituals and they don't want to give that up; they want to pass that on," added Sr. JoAnn. "If they leave the tribe and assimilate with the white culture, they lose that."

"The Indians are not even on the periphery," Mary Ann said of their recognition in today's America. "The worst thing you can do to someone is pretend that someone doesn't exist."

Ada Little Man, 54, is one of those people who benefit from the work of the Dominican ministry. She lives eight miles from Canton on a homestead with her husband Earle who is confined to a wheelchair. The Little Mans have four grown children and are raising two teenage grandchildren.

"They are compassionate and caring," Little Man said. "Their work around here helps everybody. And they are interested in our Indian culture and our dances as well. It is a really good project.

Little Man and her family lived without electricity and running water for six years because of, at a time, an inability to pay for the escalating costs. Sr. Mary Ann was able to find donors from California to Oklahoma City and in joint financial efforts, the Little Mans were able to get back on track financially.

Excerpt from END NEWS and EAGLE by Louisa McCune,


Experience in Native American Spirituality

Over the past Memorial Day weekend at the end of May, Friends of Las Casas gathered in Canton, OK for a time of prayer and reflection among the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. The retreat was designed around a quiet time at Canton Lake, a smudging ceremony, a water and Spirit ritual to remind us of our common origin, a prayerful pow wow, a sweat lodge for invocations and purification, and conversation.

Sharing sessions led by Larry Roman Nose, Sr. Toni Harris, and Bede Jagoe inetroduced the primal vision of the Native Peoples as contrasted to the values of present day western society. Rewarding too, was the welcoming of shared experiences, interreligious expressions of faith, and dialogue that was informed and not seeking convincing or conversion to one's own religious tradition. Dialogue was respected as a new way of being Church. Friends of Las Casas look forward to another Native American Spirituality retreat.


524 West Pine
Canton, OK 73724


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     1 1/8" without stone or feather  -  6.00
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     -- Phone: 405-886-3413


The life of Bartolome de Las Casas spans the decades of the "discovery" of the Americas by the Europeans and its exploration and eventual conquest of those lands by Spain and Portugal. The history of that period of time is filled with accounts of cruelty, even genocide of whole peoples. Since the father of Bartolome was a merchant his family was closely involved in the "New World." After studies in Salamanca, Spain, at 18 Bartolome journeyed to the islands of Hispaniola (now the location of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). There he worked with his father in taking over lands given his father by Columbus. He had to be aware of the adverse effects of this takeover on the native population and in later years drew memories of this period of his life when he wrote his History of the Indies.

Had Bartolome remained a Spanish landowner becoming ever more prosperous at the expense of native inhabitants of the islands no doubt he would have no place in the history books. As it is he becomes better known as the centuries go by since his death in 1566. He took note of the evils surrounding him as a young man and began to preceive the injustices that the conquest of New World as causing. After returning to Spain for further studies and being ordained in 1507 he returned to Hispaniola as a priest-landowner.

His sense of justice would in the end prevail, however. The Dominicans arrived on the island in 1510 as missionaries and soon began to preach against the system of the "encomendero" which in effect brought about the enslavement of the natives. The Spanish military secured the "pacification" of these peoples and the church personnel were expected to support the cruelties imposed on the original peoples of the newly discovered lands. By 1514 Las Casas had made up his mind that he had no right to his ill-gotten lands and slaves. He gave freedom to his workers and returned to them his lands. In 1515 he sailed for Spain where he intended to "tell the king" of the horrors he had witnessed.
-to be continued-


While the concept of the proposed network is being explored, the Las Casas Board of Directors enthusiastically agreed to advance the idea through the following initial actions:
  1. Congregations/provinces were contacted for names of Dominicans who are, have been or wish to be in ministry with Native Americans and for names of Dominicans who are Native Americans. These sisters and brothers will be added to our mailing list.
  2. Respondents to the initial survey on the proposed network who expressed an interest in having Native American handmade craft items displayed for ordering and/or for sale at theDominican Leadership Conference in September were contacted. Information was sent to each person so that definite plans can be made for the marketing opportunity.

Other suggestions are still in the hopper for discussion at the fall board meeting. We invite your input.
What do you think about the proposed national network of Dominicans in ministry with Native Americans?
How do you see yourself relating to the network?
How could the network support you in your ministry?
Would you like to volunteer to help the network?

Send your responses to:
Midge Fantasia
Las Casas Ministry
7200 W. Division Street
River Forest, IL 60305-1294

--Gerry O'Meara, OP


While the cultures of American Indians are as diverse as those of European ethnic blocks, they do seem to me to have points of intersection.

An example: The Modoc version of Genesis tells us that at the beginning there was only one God, existing in a void. He listened but heard nothing, reached out but felt nothing. So God began creating the elements, first water in which he was immersed, then the other elements. He created earth on the palm of his hand, decorated it with mountains, oceans, rivers, forests, populated it with birds first, and then the animals, and found it so beautiful that he came to love it. Then he created four men and four women and gave them as their duty protection of his world.

In that vein, common among Indian religions, one finds the reason for their reverend attitude, so different from that of Western civilization, toward the despoiling of the planet and the slaughter of its fish and fowl.

Toni Hillerman


Dear Friends,
It is my pleasure to write on behalf of the Board of Las Casas. We are indebted to you for your interest and support of our mission in Oklahoma.

The needs are many-employment, education, health and social services, legal assistance and transportation. Sisters Mary Ann Cirillo and JoAnn Fleischaker feel blessed to work among the Cheyenne and Arapaho.

They operate the White Earth Center where native artists create their crafts and pass on the tradition to the young; where G. E .D. and computer instruction is provided and where gatherings are held to explore ways of improving living conditions for native families.

Life has been difficult for native peoples but they maintain their role of family and nature and experience of the sacred. We have much to learn from them and are doing so through our work in Oklahoma.

Please continue to be part of this Dominican effort. We need your support and active participation.

Sister Mary Eileen O'Brien, OP
Las Casas Board

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