Catholic School Matters

September 23, 2018

The Native American Experience in our Catholic Schools

Last week, I toured 8 Native American Catholic schools in Montana and South Dakota. It strikes me as exceptionally appropriate to study these schools in these turbulent times. First, the number of Indian Catholic schools have plummeted to around 24 from a high of over 100 at one time. Second, Native American Catholics have suffered from historical marginalization and trauma from the Church itself yet they remain part of the church. And third, as lay Catholics wonder what we can do to repair our Church, we have a tremendous opportunity to rid ourselves of Indian mascots in our schools. There are currently 14 Catholic high schools in the US who hold on to Indian mascots.

Notre Dame’s ACE program houses the American Indian Catholic School Network, currently boasting 6 schools and hoping to join with all 24 schools. The network provides professional development, fellowship, and advocacy for these threatened schools. The recent Washington Post article highlighted the great work in Indian Catholic schools and a EWTN segment also showcased the great work. The Catholic World report detailed the resilience of Native American Catholics and Catholic Answers discusses the Church and Native Americans. NPR highlighted the changes which have taken place in many Indian schools, all of which I saw on display on my tour last week.

These schools operate in a very difficult environment. US News & World Report detailed the dropout and graduation rates of Native American students and the Native Partnership also spotlighted the poor graduation rates. Living amid systemic poverty with few economic opportunities, Native American students live disadvantaged lives alongside the impacts of systemic poverty—drug abuse, unemployment, inadequate health care and nutrition, etc.

But this is not simply another sad story of a disadvantaged group. The Catholic Church—and Catholic schools in particular—must take ownership of contributing to this situation. The Native Partnership details this history in devastating detail in American Indian Boarding Schools which describes the “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” philosophy which dominated Indian Board Schools—including, and perhaps especially, Indian Catholic boarding schools. Native traditions were not simply ignored, they were punished. Boys’ hair was cut, native languages were prohibited, and native religious ceremonies were outlawed. NPR had another article in “Native American Boarding Schools Haunt Many” and NCR covered it in “Boarding Schools: A Black Hole of Native American History.”

Fortunately, our Indian Catholic schools have changed. In Montana, all of our schools embrace their cultural heritage. All-school Masses include drum groups, smudging, native dress, and prayers in native languages.

An interesting reflection on the reality of how Native Americans are perceived is “Why Tonto Matters” which came out with the movie “Lone Ranger” and examined Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Tonto. This serves as a transition to an examination of the harmful Indian mascots. Despite the change of many schools and teams away from Indian mascots detailed here, these mascots persist on the professional, university, and high school level.

The following articles are meant to give context to the argument against their use. It’s not simply a question of political correctness, it’s a matter of the group in power (namely, whites) ignoring the reality of the past in the interest of their own fanatical support of their favorite teams.

· The Washington Post ran a great story on how Native American mascots were proven to be harmful to Native Americans in “Sorry, Redskins fans, Native Americans mascots increase racial bias” NPR referenced the same study in “Can a Native American Mascot Cause Psychological Harm?”

· The National Council of American Indians came out with “Ending the Era of Harmful Indian Mascots” which included a great video entitled “Proud to Be

· Simon Moya-Smith wrote a great first person commentary “We’re Not Your Mascots” in CNN

· The ACLU produced “Why ‘Redskins’ is Wrong

· Native Circle posted a great blog post which presents the arguments for the mascots, refuting each claim in detail

· The Center for American Progress produced “The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names”

· “Why Native American Nicknames Stir Controversy Across Sports” in ESPN gives a fair and balanced perspective

· “The Real History of Native American Team Names” in USA Today gives historical perspective.

I know it’s not realistic to think that you will read all of the above articles. But I hope you’ll read a few to broaden your perspective. Also, there might be a school or two out there with leaders, teachers, or parents who have always been bothered by the names and are looking for ways to bring about recognition of the injustice. Perhaps we’ve reached a tipping point and those 14 schools will need to change. And maybe we can make headway to get the Redskins, Chiefs, Braves, and Indians out of the professional sports ranks.

As a closing note, I encourage you to find time to watch this video which might change your perspective of Native Americans.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

Community Engagement

  1. Dr. Anders Ericsson, the co-author of Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise (2016) has agreed to come on the podcast in early October to discuss his book. The book outlines "deliberate practice" and we'll explore its application to Catholic schools. If you've like to participate, pick up the book, read it, and then submit questions for Dr. Ericsoon to
  2. I'm putting together a collection of scenarios of Catholic leadership as a means to teach Catholic leaders how to develop their own moral leadership compass. I'll preview a scenario each month and ask you to submit any ideas of Catholic school leadership moral dilemmas to This month's example:

You have a 12th grade basketball player who is being heavily recruited. A four year starter, last year he suffered a panic attack on the court and has been dealing with anxiety issues on and off the court for the past couple of years. A story came out in the newspaper about his mental health issues before the season began. As a heated rivalry game begins against the crosstown Catholic school, you notice that the school's student section has started a cheer mocking your player's mental health issues. You notice that students are yelling "He is Crazy" and "Get a Shrink" in unison. First, identify the issues. Then, reflect on different responses.

Context on the American Indian Experience in Catholic Schools

Articles about Native American Mascots

What I'm Up To

This week I'm heading around western Montana to Butte, Browning, and Missoula. We have our first WCEA revisit of the year, I'll get a chance to practice learning observations with Mike O'Brien in Browning, I'll meet with Monsignor O'Neill at the Chancery, I'll attend the Missoula Catholic Schools board and then will visit classes at Loyola Sacred Heart HS and St. Joseph's.

This week's podcast will include conversations with Dr. Howard Fuller, Sr. Angie, and Antonio Felix of LMU. Here is the link to the podcast. Here are videos showing you how to download and subscribe to a podcast on iTunes and how to download and subscribe a podcast on Android.

  • Monday: Office, Butte Central Elementary WCEA revisit; drive to Browning
  • Tuesday: Visit De La Salle Blackfeet School
  • Wednesday: Catholic School Matters Radio Hour; Helena meetings; Missoula Catholic School Board
  • Thursday: Visit Loyola Sacred Heart & St. Joseph's Elementary
  • Friday: Office (Helena)

Miles this week: 665 driving miles

Miles travelled in 2018-19: 11,878 road miles; 17,059 air miles

NCEA Events

  1. NCEA Seton Awards & Philanthropy Symposium Oct 1st
  2. Catholic Leadership Summit & New Leaders Academy Oct 20-24 , Jacksonville
  3. NCEA Conference & Expo April 23-25, Chicago

Last 5 Books

  1. Teaching and the Case Study Method (1994) by Louis B. Barnes & C. Roland Christensen
  2. The Art of Theological Reflection (1994) by Patricia O'Connell Killen & John De Beer.
  3. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2016) by Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool.
  4. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (2015) by Peter Frankopan
  5. The Spirit of Community: The Reinvention of American Society (1993) by Amitai Etzioni
  6. Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (2008) by Geoff Colvin

Click this link for a full list of my professional reading along with links to Wed Book Blogs

For Montana Administrators & Teachers

Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

September 16, 2018 "How Are We Forming our Leaders?"

September 9, 2018 "Where is Your Attention?"