Honoring Two Religious Traditions: Parish Team Launches Lakota Catholic Radio Hour

posted January 13, 2017

Almost every Friday afternoon, the sounds of beautiful, historical hymns float over the radio waves and across the rolling hills of the Pine Ridge Reservation. The familiar melodies come from the Christian tradition—but the words themselves have been translated and sung in the Lakota language. Each hymn brings together elements from both spiritual backgrounds in poignant harmony. And for that reason, they provide a perfect foundation for the Lakota Catholic Radio Hour—a new program launched through the pastoral efforts of Red Cloud Indian School—that seeks to explore the deep connections between the two religious traditions.

”A core part of our mission is to build and sustain a Lakota Catholic community that welcomes everyone—and that honors the power of Lakota spirituality and culture in all that we do,” said Fr. George Winzenburg, S.J., Red Cloud’s president. “The Lakota Catholic Radio Hour provides an opportunity to look carefully at Christian scripture and Lakota stories, and to discover and explore the bonds between them. Our hope is to reveal those connections and to celebrate all that we share as one community.”

In Red Cloud’s parish, Lakota lay leaders work alongside priests and parish staff to provide essential ministry services across the reservation. Today parish teams embody the many ways that Lakota spirituality and Catholic traditions and briefs have become intertwined. According to parish staff, the radio show was created as a forum for exploring sacred stories from both the Lakota and Catholic perspectives, to better understand the powerful connections between them.

The show features a diverse range of voices that represent the richness of both spiritual backgrounds. Charles McGaa, a lay minister and parish life coordinator at Sacred Heart Church, and Patricia Catches the Enemy, a long-time parishioner and Lakota speaker, serve as the show’s primary hosts and give it its unique perspective.  

Charles has spent many years of his life reaching out and building strong connections with parishioners and communities members across the reservation. Through his work, he has spent untold hours visiting with parishioners in times of need and offering them any support and comfort that he can. And for Charles, speaking to listeners over the radio feels like a direct extension of that work.       

“Some of the most important experiences of my life have been sitting with elders, listening closely to their stories, and guiding them in prayer. And just as I do when I visit and speak with parishioners, I hope that people listening to our radio show will find some inspiration and encouragement in the words they hear,” said Charles.

“There is so much negativity around us that we have to cope with each day. In our community, it’s obvious that there is difficulty and struggle in people’s lives. Disease is rampant here, with diabetes, alcoholism, and drug addiction. If affects every part of our society: our families, our schools, our businesses, everything. And when we’re on the air, I’m hoping that people will hear something constructive that they can use to help them cope—and to bring hope to their lives.”

Charles has always had a deep love for music, and he and Patricia work together to select, perform, and record the historical hymns that are then played during the show. He explains that they were translated into Lakota well over 100 years ago, when missionaries first arrived on the Plains. They have been used for many generations. Charles learned them by singing along with the elders he has visited over the last 30 years. For those elders, they elicited powerful memories of the comfort they found in church. And now, he and Patricia are sharing them with a new generation of listeners.

“Although we don’t interact with the audience during the show, people have called or come up to me to say that they really appreciate hearing those songs and hearing them sung in the Lakota language,” said Charles. “During the month of November, we honored the fact that it was Native American Heritage Month, and included a Lakota story, as well as a hymn, as a central part of the show. People really liked that—and so we want to continue to celebrate those Lakota stories in our programming.”

Sharing traditional Lakota stories is something Patricia Catches the Enemy is honored to do. Born on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Patricia developed a strong connection to both Lakota and Catholic spiritual practice through the guidance of her parents. When she was very young, her father was a Catechist in the Church, but ultimately left that role when he was called to become a medicine man. Her mother supported her father in that decision, but decided to stay involved in the Church and continued to work alongside the nuns at a local Montessori school to educate young children. As a result, Patricia learned to worship and pray in both Catholic and Lakota ways. And while the harsh assimilation policies previously established in the early 20th century later led her to split from the Church for a period of time in her life, today she maintains and celebrates her roots in both spiritual paths.  

“When I was little girl, I had my foot in both cultures. Then I was forced out of my home to attend boarding school—and punished for speaking Lakota, my first language. After that, I had a lot of bitterness and moved away from the Church,” said Patricia. “But over the last 20 years, as I practiced my Lakota traditional ceremonies, I realized that they teach us to pray for those who have done us wrong. And I saw how much the Church has changed, and how today it includes and honors Lakota traditions as well. So now I’m following in my father’s footsteps as a Catechist; I’m in the fourth year of a class to become a Lakota lay minister in the Church. I’m letting the Lord lead me in that way.”

During the radio show, Charles and other guest hosts read and reflect on the scriptures being discussed that day. Patricia translates and reads the same passage in Lakota—and then shares her thoughts on how the message in the passage relates to Lakota history, culture, and spirituality. She says she loves offering that Lakota perspective and bringing light to how spiritual practice can help inform our responses to the critical issues facing our communities. Recently she spoke passionately to listeners about the protests on the Standing Rock Reservation—and the importance of joining together to protect Mother Earth.

Like Charles, Patricia hopes that—through the show—she’s able to reach out and offer listeners some comfort, peace, and inspiration.

“My main purpose in doing the show is reaching the ones who are homebound—either elders or those who are ill,” she explains. “My hope is to reach them and inspire them, or somehow enlighten their lives. I want to share our culture and give our listeners courage and strength.”

The Lakota Catholic Radio Hour can be heard most Fridays on KILI Radio at 2 pm MST. Stream it live at http://www.kiliradio.org.

Photos © Red Cloud Indian School



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