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A Note from Sister Barbara, July 10, 2024

What’s happening at the Woods, Land Justice Ceremony and what’s happening with the Sisters

New research is underway on the history of the land where the Sisters of Providence settled at a place now called Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Acknowledgment is the first step in reparation:

⦁ The Providence Community held a healing ritual at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods giving voice to their desire to be in good relationship with the land and its peoples. The community introduced their Land Acknowledgment during this ritual,
⦁ Historical markers have been designed,
⦁ A study of Indigenous People and Land Justice is getting underway, and
⦁ Prayers and practices of Indigenous people are making their way into our awareness.

Native American Blessing

When you come to the grounds of our Motherhouse, you will be on the stolen lands of the Myaamia (Miami), Bodwewadmi (Potawatami), and Kiikapoi (Kickapoo) peoples. Most of whom, by 1850, were forcibly removed from what we now call Indiana. I use the word stolen here due to the numerous treaties made and broken.

The Treaty of Fort Wayne, definitely in favor of the US government, was signed on September 30, 1809, in which the US government obtained 3 million acres of land in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan for colonization. Within two years the U.S. Government violated this treaty. This is only one example.

An Act of Resistance

The Indigenous people in this area were deeply connected to the land, and all tribes had the collective freedom to use and the responsibility to protect it. Before the settlers arrived, the original peoples of Turtle Island lived collectively and moved freely throughout the land. Shawnee leader Tecumseh did not attend the treaty signing and would not recognize its legitimacy. He wanted every tribe to reject European influences and return to their traditional, collective lifestyle. Tecumseh intuitively believed that tribal leaders did not have the authority to sell this land. In his words, it would be like selling “the air, the sea and the earth.” The air, sea, and the earth were recognized as gifts of the Great Spirit belonging to all peoples: one tribe did not “own” the land…or the air or the sea. All tribes lived with inborn access to the land, and all tribes must agree to the sale.

Tecumseh was a man of righteousness and fairness. He was brave and spoke out against injustice. When he met with the territorial governor Harrison to discuss the Indigenous collective belief in land for use – not ownership – he asked that the treaty be rescinded. Harrison refused. Given the backgrounds of these two men, it is easy to see the lifelong culture clash over the use of land and even its ownership. In Genesis 1:26-28, humankind is given the land; in tribal culture, the land is commonly held; but in European and American law, land is “owned” and not shared. We have property lines and boundaries and easements and right-of-ways.

Tecumseh was a community organizer and began building a multi-tribal confederacy to prevent the expansion of U.S. colonization. This act of resistance caused great tension between the U.S. government and the tribes. On November 7, 1811, Harrison and his troops destroyed the inter-tribal village “Prophetstown” northeast of present-day Lafayette, IN. This violation of the Treaty of Fort Wayne began an ongoing conflict between the U.S. and Tecumseh’s inter-tribal confederacy which lasted through the War of 1812.

The Beginning of the End

After Tecumseh died in 1813, the inter-tribal confederacy disbanded and the original people of the land, the Indigenous, lost their independence. By 1838, when the U.S. was 26 states strong, 800 members of the Potawatomi Nation refused to leave their land. A hundred militiamen with Hotchkiss guns were ordered to force these Indigenous people out of Indiana. For over 60 days they marched them to reservations east of Kansas some 660 miles away. It was called the Potawatomi Trail of Death where over 40 people died, mostly children. You read that correctly – 800 people (men, women, and children) walking 660 miles under the threat of 100 militia carrying weapons.


In the U.S., tribal recognition by the government is significant. There are 574 recognized Indigenous tribes in the United States. However, there are 400 tribes that do not have federal recognition and are still fighting for their land. Federal recognition allows for a government-to-government relationship and provides:

⦁ inherent rights of sovereignty, of self-governance, and
⦁ entitles them to receive certain benefits, services and protections.

Recognized tribes have access to general welfare-related benefits, food stamps, and healthcare coverage. Beginning in 1900, tribal recognition awarded budget assistance and program services only if a tribe:

⦁ Is comprised of a distinct community and has existed as a community from historical times;
⦁ it must have political influence over its members;
⦁ it must have membership criteria; and
⦁ it must have membership that consists of individuals who descend from a historical Indian tribe and who are not enrolled in any other tribe.”⦁ [12] The existence of persistent political relationship as an aspect of tribal relations is also emphasized.⦁ [12]

There are currently six petitions for Federal recognition in process at the U.S. Department of Interior’s Indian Affairs office, one of which belongs to the Miami Nation of Indians of Indiana.

Looking at the state of affairs for the Indigenous Peoples through a wider lens… Today there are more than 5,000 different Indigenous groups making up 476 million people or 6.2 percent of the global population. They are spread across 90 countries, in every region, and speak more than 4,000 languages. Quoting Louis Armstrong, “What a wonderful world!”

Cheyenne Prayer for Peace

For as long as the sun shall shine,
For as long as the grass shall grow,
Let us know peace.
Let us know peace.
For as long as the moon shall rise,
For as long as the rivers shall flow,
Let us know peace.

Calls to Action

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Sister Barbara Battista

Sister Barbara Battista

Sister Barbara Battista is a native of Indianapolis who currently ministers as the Congregation's Justice Promoter. She credits her social justice activism to her mother Alice's strong example. Raised in a large and extended Italian family household, Sister Barbara comes by community organizing quite naturally. She is a passionate and energetic advocate for full equity and equality for women and girls in church and society.

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  1. Avatar George Strack on July 12, 2024 at 10:04 am

    The Miami Nation of Indians of the State of Indiana does not have an active petition for recognition in process. There are 6 other tribes with current active petitions if you click on the link provided in the article.

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