Maka Black Elk & Deacon Andy Orosco — Healing from Historical Harm - Encounters With Dignity

Episode 6

Published on:

29th Jun 2022

Maka Black Elk & Deacon Andy Orosco — Healing from Historical Harm

Maka Black Elk and Deacon Andy Orosco intimately understand the impacts of the historical harm that has been inflicted on Native communities.

In this episode, Maka and Deacon Andy will discuss the history of the Catholic Church and Native American boarding schools, the resulting harm these schools caused in their community, and the restorative approaches they are implementing to work towards healing.

These Catholic Indigenous leaders illuminate how restorative justice paves a way of healing from intergenerational trauma — for all of us.



Hello there, and welcome to Encounters With Dignity. I’m Caitlin Morneau, your host for this podcast on restorative justice from Catholic Mobilizing Network.

On Encounters With Dignity, we bring you stories, learnings, and actionable wisdom from people who are putting restorative justice into practice. We want to help prepare people of faith to bring this reconciling approach to their communities, churches, and everyday life.

Here at CMN, we often talk about restorative justice as an approach to crime and harm that focuses on repairing relationships that were broken and human dignity that was violated. In other words, modeling Jesus’ reconciling way.

As we do this work, it’s important to remember that not all harm happens on the interpersonal level. Relationships and dignity can be violated on a much larger scale, by governments and institutions. In this episode, we’ll focus on harm like this -- specifically, the intergenerational impacts of Native American Boarding Schools which were administered by the U.S. federal government with the cooperation of Catholic institutions.

A series of papal bulls issued in the 15th century endorsed a colonizing worldview that wrongfully legitimized the displacement, enslavement, and dehumanization of Native peoples. These statements were effectively revoked and rebuked by subsequent Popes, however, they had lasting political and cultural impacts.

In a few moments, you’ll hear from two Indigenous Catholic leaders as they explore the complex relationship between the Catholic Church and Native peoples here in the US, and how restorative approaches can help the Church walk in solidarity with Native people toward healing and right-relationship.

First, we will hear from Maka Black Elk, Executive Director for Truth and Healing at Red Cloud Indian School, a K through 12 Jesuit school on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. In his role he works to address historical trauma and racial injustice of former indian boarding schools and deepen the intercultural and interfaith dialogue between his own indigenous community and the catholic church.

Later in the episode, Maka will be joined by Deacon Andy Orosco who serves as Deacon for Native American Ministry in the Diocese of San Bernardino, California. He is active in Native causes locally and nationally that help give voice to the accomplishments of America’s first people.

Going into this episode, it is important to remember that restorative practices are rooted in Indigenous tradition. These peacemaking ways were nearly wiped out through forced assimilation as we’ll hear described. We who are proponents of restorative justice are indebted to the resilience and generosity of those who share this enduring wisdom for the healing of all people.

And so, before we continue listening. Let us each take a moment and contemplate whose land we are seated on. What happened to the community who originally dwelled here? How might that community still be present? How am I invited to honor their story and dignity by my prayerful listening?

MAKA (from breakout session)

ting began really in the late:

If you were to Google search Indian boarding schools, you'll find pictures, before and after pictures, most of them coming from Carlisle, that show native American children in a before state where they are still in sort of their cultural clothing, not assimilated yet into Western society. And then after pictures where they are now fully dressed in Western clothing, their hair cut and their language having been totally ripped from them and their culture now entirely different from what they were familiar with and grew up with.

This legacy is still relevant today because this boarding school history encompasses generations of native American children who are forcefully removed from their home and taken to these schools to be in an environment completely unfamiliar to them, where the language was spoken, one that they had not yet heard before, typically, especially in the early years. And that sought to again, erase and make them ashamed of who they were.

ontinued all through the late:

There were many Christian denominations that operated these schools. The Catholic Church was by and large one of the largest. And it's through that legacy that we continue to reckon with a deep divide in certainly my community and in many indigenous communities across this country, all of the countries in the broader, I guess, sort of former British empire, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, they've all reckoned with something like this as well with similar boarding school experiments, where children are ripped from their communities and made to change. All of those countries have apologized in some way, shape or form except for the United States. But this really is beyond apology as I'm sure you all know.

When it comes to the relationship between indigenous peoples and the church and the history there, it is really important to be mindful of every indigenous group having a different history and relationship. That there's nuance within the different communities. My community's history with the church is much more difficult and challenging than some say, other communities who engaged with the Catholic immigrants in a very different way, and that history sort of fell out differently. So I think it's always very important for when you're thinking about engaging in the conversation around indigenous peoples in the diocese where you live, that you have to start there with the people who are of the land and whose relationship is meaningful to that history.

The legacy event again, of this, of this relationship between boarding school and Catholic Church and broader colonization wrt large remains a fundamental barrier between indigenous peoples and certainly the ability to reconcile and the trust that can be placed within the broader Catholic Church at large. Here at Red Cloud Indian School today, most of our students are not Catholic and continue to question the very existence of the Catholic Church still being present in their community today.

I grew up here. I went to school at Red Cloud. I'm aware of the way in which the community understands the institution as being one that does not wish to address its history. And that's at the core of really the challenge that we face for indigenous peoples related to all of this history, the history of colonization and the specificity of the boarding school experience. It is not the fact that we sort of aren't dealing with the ramifications of it. It's the greater reality that the broader American community, the Catholic Church itself has not engaged in this history. In fact, many people across the country still don't know about the history and legacy of Indian boarding schools. And so it's actually the lack of knowledge around the pain of that history that continues to breed the ongoing hurt and pain today.

And so we've made a decision as an institution to begin this process. We've been certainly one small pocket of the broader Catholic Church represented by one specific faction of the Jesuits to start and already it's a difficult process. Already, these very early stages of the truth telling process there is a discomfort in broaching this challenging, painful history on all sides. I've spoken with community survivors of the boarding school era who really don't know if they can engage in the memories that they have of their experience and who are unsure of their ability to do that. I've spoken with Jesuits in the community who are really, and in certain ways, understandably, really hyper focused on litigating what happened and what didn't happen. And I have been really working to communicate that this is not about what did or didn't happen.

This is not about litigating any particular accusation of abuse. This is about... Of entire relationship between these very different communities that is really rooted in this whole legacy of the Catholic Church's initial eagerness in what was the doctrine of discovery to name that indigenous peoples were not fully human and who needed to be saved. We have come certainly a long way from that, but that legacy is still raw and real. I get asked the question all the time, how can you be indigenous and Catholic? And it's a really valid question. It's a really valid question that deserves a really honest and sincere, and I think worthy investigation into answering. And I think at the core of that answering is engaging in this very important legacy that continues to impact my community and many communities across the country to this day.


I find it so helpful to hear about what healing this national harm looks like within a particular local community - and no doubt, the work has evolved even since this talk was recorded. Though, the questions are enduring…

What more can I learn about the relationships between Native people and the Catholic Church in my area?

How does my faith call and equip me to engage anew with the truth of this history?

How do we, as Church, walk in solidarity with Native and Indigenous people toward healing, repair, and reconciliation?

In this next segment, Maka and Deacon Andy talk with one another about these very questions. Let’s listen.


I'm here to bring awareness to the beauty of the Native American culture and traditions, of the Indigenous peoples of this land for over 10,000 years, and to put a human face on the invisible. I'm here to promote the embracing the historical sins, to bind the wounds of these sins, and finally heal so that we may all live in a peace-filled heart. Restorative justice calls for the healing of all people. Those who were the perpetrators, those who were the victims, including all who were affected, the families on both sides, the community, and those who serve the community.


Thank you, Deacon Andy. In my role and in my work, I started off as an educator with our students, working with our young people in our high school, but really my work has always been focused on how we understand ourselves as Indigenous peoples and what that means for our future and our relationships by and large. So, in this current role, Red Cloud Indian School is a former Indian boarding school.

And, for those who are not aware, Indian boarding schools have a very dark history of pernicious cultural genocide, and so that is true of our history as well. And, it's something that our community still broadly feels and understands and experiences in different ways, especially the aftermath and the long-lasting effects of historical trauma. So, my work is really about addressing that and facing that in our community for the first time in a way that's intentional because in order to really recover, we have to face the pain and the hurt that has been impacted.


Well, since the fall of man, the beginning of creation, there are tragic stories of people imposing their will on others. And, it hasn't stopped. It continues to this day. For the Native American people, specifically for my region, we have the mission system where we had the Spanish come and impose their way of life without looking into who we are as a people, since we had been in this land for over 10,000 years, and imposing their laws, their ways, and basically taking away our livelihood as Native people, taken away our culture, taken away our language. Though it may have been, in their eyes, a good thing for us as a Native people, specifically for our area, there was a lot of loss of culture, a lot of loss of tradition, a lot of language. Those things that are important.

e are a lot of deep hurts. In:


I would just echo a lot of the historical pieces that Deacon Andy described are also true of my community, as well, in terms of the specifics of historical harm and the damage to cultural practice, languages, etc. But, I think it's also important to understand the long-term impact of that particular set of actions and the broad consequences that still linger today. I think for a lot of Indigenous peoples, there is still a strong need for discernment about who we are as Indigenous peoples. So much of the dialogue around Indigenous peoples today has this very challenging question about our status and our sense of belonging. Are we the separate nations, or are we integrated into this society? And, to what extent are either of those things true?

And, I tend to refer to this outcome that's come about as this false binary that Indigenous peoples are faced with this choice that's a false choice, but nonetheless, it's a choice that's presented often where we have to choose either empowering our traditions, our language, our culture, and trying to be true to those or return to those, or, in lieu of that, that we're choosing some westernization, and then that these two things are fundamentally incompatible.

So, we have these really difficult conversations that need to happen around our unique place in American society and questions about what we want for our future as communities through healing from those historic wounds. And, that's a conversation that I think doesn't exclude our non-Indigenous communities either because they have a role to play, I think, in asking that same question to themselves of what does it mean for our Indigenous communities to belong to this nation or to have the sort of self-determination that has been recognized? And, to what extent are those things incompatible or not? And, I think the answer is that they're not, but we're not in a place to fully understand that yet. And, communities really have to have these difficult conversations through this work.


What is also important to understand is that God, our creator, God, the father, is present in only that that brings us closer to him spiritually and through a deeper relationship through him because of our deeper relationship with each other. In the Lord's prayer, Jesus prays, "Your kingdom will come when your will is done on Earth as it is in heaven." And in heaven, there is only peace, never chaos. Restorative justice practiced in a way that embraces true healing and forgiveness by all allows us to heal in a loving way, a way that wills the heavenly good of another before self. It is a complete circle where we help heal each other so that we can live as one with each other.


This is a painful history to hear. As a non-native person, I acknowledge how it is even more painful to relive and recount for those who have survived it. So we are deeply grateful to Maka, Deacon Andy, and all those who have shared their stories and those of their loved ones in the sacred labor of truth-telling.

Indigenous scholar Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, names this truth-telling as the essential beginning to healing intergenerational trauma — along with collective understanding, giving way to healing, and, with great hope, transformed relationships.

In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis describes “cultivating a penitential memory” He says: “We can never move forward without remembering the past; we do not progress without an honest and unclouded memory.”

The Holy Father modeled this by listening deeply as delegations of Canada’s First Nations, Metis (maytee) and Inuit peoples visited the Vatican earlier this spring. After sharing about the abuses and traumas that they endure(d) as boarding school survivors, Pope Francis offered a heartfelt apology - acknowledging the depth of wounds suffered.

This long-awaited utterance held deep significance for many. Of course, apology is not the end of this or any journey. Rather, it marks a first step in walking toward a new future where we may be in right relationship with one another, bringing our Creator God’s vision of justice to life.

If you enjoyed this episode of Encounters With Dignity, make sure to subscribe to our show from your favorite podcast platform, or by visiting For podcast updates and other news from Catholic Mobilizing Network, follow us on social media or sign up for our emails at

Feeling ready to engage more deeply with restorative justice practices? Then check out “Paths of Renewed Encounter,” CMN’s restorative justice engagement guide for Catholic communities. Get it at

Coming next month on Encounters With Dignity: Fr. Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries and author of the bestselling Tattoos on the Heart joins us to share stories of accompaniment through his work with gang-involved individuals in Los Angeles, California.

As we close, I invite us to pray with this quote from Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk:

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” Amen.

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About the Podcast

Encounters With Dignity
A Podcast on Restorative Justice from Catholic Mobilizing Network
Encounters With Dignity brings you stories, learnings, and actionable wisdom from people putting restorative justice into practice in their everyday lives. Each episode explores the synergies between Gospel values, Catholic Social Teaching, and restorative justice, preparing listeners to bring this reconciling approach to their communities, churches, and broader society.

Encounters With Dignity is a project of Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic organization working to end the death penalty, advance justice solutions in alignment with Catholic values, and promote healing approaches like restorative justice. Learn more at:
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