Leading the Way in Native Ministry:

A Q&A with Pastoral Coordinator Veronica Valandra

posted on September 9, 2013

Growing up on the Rosebud Reservation, Veronica Valandra always dreamed of serving her community through her church. That dream came true when she became the Director of Native American Ministries in the Diocese of Rapid City. Veronica spent over a decade working to “ensure the needs of Native Americans in the Church are recognized, understood and addressed.” Now, as Red Cloud’s new Pastoral Coordinator, she will bring her commitment and wisdom to Pine Ridge. Red Cloud Country sat down with Veronica as she reflected on her experience in Native ministry and on her hopes for the future.

Red Cloud Country: Veronica, welcome! What drew you to this new role?

Veronica Valandra: I’ve always wanted the opportunity to work for the Church on a very local level—to interact each day with individual parishioners, to visit the sick, and to work with those who cannot leave their homes. Really to bring the Church to those who need it most. And now I’ll finally be able to do that in local communities all across Pine Ridge. I’m so glad to be here.

RCC: Talk about what it means to be involved in Native ministries. What has inspired your work? 

VV: Native people represent a very important voice in the Church, and that voice must be heard, understood and welcomed. A lot of my work has focused on educating non-Native people, helping them to understand the Lakota ceremonies and blessings that are part of an inculturated Mass. There are still those who aren’t completely comfortable when we bring a drum group, or sing the four directions song in Mass—and that includes some Lakota elders, who were taught you had to choose between Mass and your Native beliefs and practices.  It is critical for us all to recognize that bringing Native culture into our faith only makes it more rich and beneficial.

RCC: You’ve also advocated for Native Catholics around the country. 

VV: Back in 1987, Pope John Paul II came to the U.S. and spoke about the importance of celebrating Native culture and allowing it to enrich the Catholic faith. To support the Pope’s vision for inclusion, I had the chance to serve as one of three Native American representatives to the Conference of Catholic Bishops’  National Advisory Council from 2006 to 2009. It was wonderful to have a stronger voice for American Indians in the Church. But still, we had to constantly educate our peers. Many people from all types of ethnic groups still believe that Native Americans live in tipis and ride horses. We emphasized that in the United States there are over 550 different tribes, each with its own unique culture and gifts. 

RCC: There are significant challenges facing Catholic parishes today. What can our community do? 

VV: I think one important step we can take is investing in training programs for Lakota lay leaders—to bring new, Native leadership into the Church. Recently, I spoke with a young man who felt he had a strong calling to be a deacon. We need to encourage and support people like him.  

RCC: With such a range of challenges, where do you want to begin?  

VV: Right now, my main priority is just to listen. I want to be visible and supportive to pastoral staff, and to listen to parishioners and begin to understand their needs and concerns. Only with that understanding can we build a vision for how the parish moves forward.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of Red Cloud Country,
a Red Cloud Indian School seasonal publication

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