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What Does it Mean to be Catholic in an Indigenous Context?

This project aims to facilitate a collaborative forum for indigenous Catholic communities and individuals from around the world.

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

The American Indian Catholic Schools Network, along with other partners from Australia, Canada, and the United States, hopes to facilitate a forum on the indigenous Catholic experience around the world. The work of AICSN in American Indian Catholic schools within the United States has proven opportunities for collaboration among teachers and leaders were sorely lacking, and provide tremendous results when offered. Upon looking at the global landscape for indigenous Catholicism, there clearly appears to be a similar lack of opportunity for collaboration. This forum hopes to bring indigenous Catholic leaders, teachers, and social activists together to collaborate and formulate strategies for meaningful partnerships for the future. Some key questions to guide the convening: 1) What does it mean to be Catholic in an Indigenous context? 2) What do indigenous Catholic schools look like globally? 3) What does Church recognition of the Doctrine of Discovery mean to Native communities? 4) What common sources of funding are there for cross-collaborative / international (intra-national) opportunities? 5) What hope and beauty have Native communities brought to the Church? 6) What ways have Native communities sustained the Church both historically and in the present? Though the formal forum would take place in the Summer of 2021, in many ways that convening would formalize a structure and field of global indigenous Catholic communities. The intent will be to leave the forum with a document outlining key points of unity for groups to commit to together, as well as a clear research agenda. We note this idea will not impact firsthand individuals like some other projects This is fully acknowledged, and it is understood that this may impact the status of the proposal. It is the hope of those involved that this is just the beginning in a movement to bring together indigenous persons from all over the world, to unite in a shared vision of peace and prosperity. .

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

While the Catholic conferences of each country will help facilitate and benefit from this project, it is indigenous Catholic families and individuals who will benefit from this forum. Topics like access to Catholic education, violence prevention, social welfare and poverty alleviation will lead the forum, and the sharing of innovative ideas will lead to improved security and opportunities for indigenous people around the world. In Canada, 60% of First Nations children live in poverty, while Aboriginal children in Australia have a poverty rate over 50%. 28.3% of American Indians in the United States live below the poverty line, the highest rate of any group. The Catholic Church has often been effective tackling these issues of injustice, and this forum will leave each country’s indigenous Catholic community better equipped to take on the problems facing their indigenous population.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Indigenous populations are a small minority in Australia, Canada, and the United States. Within that minimal population, the number of practicing Catholics is even smaller. While each country has a Catholic group representing and advocating for the rights of its indigenous population, there has been no space or opportunity for these groups or people to interact internationally. The Catholic indigenous experience, and their marginalization, is often unheard around the world, and the opportunity for these communities to come together has great potential for transformative change.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Initial Design: I am exploring the idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

The American Indian Catholic Schools Network was formed to create a foundation of mutual leadership that encourages and supports American Indian Catholic schools, while strengthening shared efforts to help promote awareness of common goals, address common needs and challenges, leverage best practices and build trust among its members.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • No, but we are a formal initiative through a university.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

This project in many ways was inspired by the teachers and leaders of American Indian Catholic schools. Witnessing the passion, tenacity, and effectiveness in which they educate America's most marginalized students has become an inspiration for this network. The growth seen in their schools from collaboration opportunities inspired the idea to create a global forum for similarly meaningful partnerships.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Indigenous communities have historically haven mistreated by governments, and this surely has been the case in Australia, Canada, and the United States. And, the myriad economic and social challenges these groups continue to face today can be traced back to this dark history of injustice. By providing an intentional opportunity and space for dialogue and collaboration among indigenous groups around the world, there is an opportunity for solidarity that hasn’t been experienced before. Not only can this collaboration lead to strong and peaceful relationships, but it will also result in rich cultural identity and prosperity. The indigenous experience has not been shared internationally, and each group is more likely to build peace and justice at home with a growth of relationships globally.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

AICSN will work alongside the leading indigenous Catholic Church organizations in each country in facilitating this forum. The Australian Bishops’ Commission for the Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council, and the United States Committee of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee on Native American Affairs will co-sponsor the event, as well as identify indigenous leaders and communities to help facilitate the forum.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Across the world, Catholic schools led by indigenous teachers and leaders prove to outperform the other educational opportunities academically, and also provide unique opportunities for values and character development. Additionally, the Catholic Church has many churches, parish halls, and schools in these communities. This existing infrastructure could prove to be essential as these communities become more deeply involved in providing social services to those most in need.

Geographic Focus

This idea targets indigenous Catholic communities in Australia, Canada, and the United States.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

The forum will take place in 36 months, in the summer of 2021. The steering committee will meet once a year for collaboration and planning leading up to the event.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Maija West

William, I so appreciate your vision for bringing this inquiry forward. I am working in support of indigenous Catholic communities, in the name of reconciliation. Perhaps we can connect at some point so that I can learn more about the Catholic Church's perspective on this topic?