Jesuits & Native Peoples

Fr. Eugene Buechel, S.J. and John Red Wing

A History of Jesuits and Native Peoples


A History of Jesuits and Native Peoples

Jesuits in the Americas
The newly formed Society of Jesuit (Jesuits) first began working with Native people in 1549 in Brazil.  This was followed with associations throughout what is now termed the Americas.  The first Jesuits to work with Native peoples in what was then called New France arrived in 1632.  Jesuits first came into contact with Native peoples in what is now called California in 1697.  The government invited the Jesuits from Maryland to work with Native people.  They opened a novitiate in 1823 in Florissant Missouri and in 1829 they opened a center for missions in Saint Louis, Missouri.  The order was asked to head mission efforts in the west in 1834.  

While the Jesuits were certainly people of their time and indeed were part of the colonial movement of Europeans into these territories and shared in many of the mistaken views of the invading societies, they also stood for the rights of Indigenous people, were sensitive to Native customs, took time to learn Native languages and social systems, and accommodated to Native social expectations.   Most importantly we often lived among Native people and committed our lives to them.   We were not always correct when thinking out what was best for Native people and indeed we learned that what is best is not the decision of outsiders but that our role is to work together and modestly share our resources as they are requested in service to Native people.  Thus the creation of schools at the request of chiefs and, when we realized the wrongfulness of assimilation as part of the school project, the creation of Native language and culture programs taught by local Native peoples and the welcoming of more Native teachers and staff.

Jesuits of the Wisconsin Province and work with Native People
Creighton University is part of the Wisconsin Province of the Jesuits.  Our first partnership with Natives was formed by exiled German Jesuits who came to the Rosebud and then Pine Ridge Reservations in the 1880s.  They were part of the Buffalo Mission, exiles from Germany who took up residence in Holland and eventually came to the United Sates.  This area eventually became part of the Missouri Province and later was subdivided into the Wisconsin Province.  Subsequently we served relocated and emigrant Native populations in Rapid City, South Dakota at St. Issac Jogues and the Mother Butler Center.  The Jesuits continue to work in Rapid City as well as on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations.  They also operate Red Cloud Indian School whose students have distinguished themselves by winning 39 Gates Scholarships since 1991.

Creighton's Role with Native Populations
Creighton has had a relationship with the Jesuit schools on Pine Ridge and Rosebud since the 1950s when the school offered a single annual scholarship to the University.  It was in 2000 when then university president Fr. Michael Morrison, S.J. also served as a board member for Red Cloud who had direct contact with the people on the reservation and subsequently increased the number of Native students at Creighton so that they could form a community, find a home and succeed well here.  At the same time Ms. Tami Buffalohead-McGill, worked tirelessly to recruit and retain these students.  She and Dr. Herb Grandbois worked to create a Native American Studies program at Creighton the only one in any of the 28 Jesuit Colleges and Universities in the United States.  Ms. Patty Suarez of the Undergraduate Admissions Office and Ms. Tami Buffalohead and Mr. Ricardo Ariza of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, in collaboration with the Northern Ponca tribe and other Native people located in Omaha, created Creighton's Native American Retreat. This weekend college experience was designed to encourage Native grade school students to enter higher education.

Creighton also has begun increasing its number of Native faculty, adding Dr. Rudi Mitchell and Mr. Ashley Hall and Mr. Taylor Keen.  A large number of Jesuits on campus have served Native populations at some time in their careers and some continue to maintain these relationships.  Fr. Don Doll, S.J., an internationally known photographer, continues to highlight the richness of Native cultures through his well-published images.   Since 2004 over 60 faculty and staff have been welcomed to Pine Ridge as we mentor students in their Gates applications, eat with their families, and learn about the lives of the people there, some of whom we welcome to our campus annually as freshmen.  We have also intensified our focus on retention.  We are not perfect in this by any means.  We are as much learners as we are teachers, but we continue in the spirit of the first Jesuits who came over 460 years ago to establish, honor and work to make this ongoing commitment grow stronger.   

As Jesuits we are taught by our founder Ignatius of Loyola to find God in all things.  We have truly learned through our long history with Native people to look more carefully and, at times, to look again, by our mentors who indeed are peoples of great faith and belief.   For our teachers who continue to mentor us we are grateful.  We are a school in the Jesuit Catholic tradition, and because of our deep roots and commitment to our vision, we are able to welcome peoples of other beliefs and traditions as well as those who share in ours.

Written by Rev. Raymond A. Bucko, S.J., Ph. D.  (2008)
Former Chair: Sociology and Anthropology