In February, I went to Reserve to interview Sr. Felissa Zander, who has served in various capacities at St. Francis Solanus Catholic School for six decades. Among other things, we discussed religion. The Ojibwe faith is, like Judaism, culturally integrated and pre-Christian, and so it has been her mission and her joy to share Jesus with generations of students – not because their Creator is somehow lacking, but because she and her ministry partner, Sr. Maryrose Theobald, are teaching them about his Son.

There was never a boarding school at St. Francis. There was never an effort to destroy Native culture or hide it behind European heritage; on the contrary, the Franciscan sisters who have ministered there for more than a century have celebrated the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe’s cultural treasures. The school’s store selling Ojibwe handiwork, which has been run by the sisters since 1900, features beadwork, handmade dolls, birchbark canoes, wooden pieces – all part of a long tradition of bringing money into the local economy while supporting a missionary school that has offered tuition-free Catholic education since its inception.

Similarly, the sisters and their students have traveled, sharing their heritage with others through Native drumming and dance performances. The cultural exchange allowed St. Francis students to go on low-budget educational trips while exporting Ojibwe culture. For years, anyone attending the diocese’s Chrism Mass has witnessed these performances as well – but they are not simply pretty costumes and catchy beats. They are prayers and, as anyone who pays attention would observe, are quite Franciscan in style. Much like St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun,” Native prayers have a deep reverence that sees and celebrates God in all natural things.

Consider this plea, spoken by Sr. Felissa at the Chrism Mass and quoted by reporter Jenny Snarski: “Creator and Maker, help us to walk straight the sacred path of life, and hear your voice and see your beauty in creation and creatures alike. Give us the strength and courage, O Creator, to perceive the sacredness of life.” No thinking Catholic could possibly perceive any “shamanism” in these words.

One of the biggest problems with cancel culture – or simply trolling around online, looking for targets – is that it reflects the ignorance and prejudices of the influencer, and often on the lack of analytical thought among the influenced. Post-Vatican II, Catholicism celebrates the diversity of cultures, languages and peoples that gather together for the universal feast. In attacking one another, we are pushing pins into this Body of Christ – and, in this case, further castigating a marginalized population that has suffered rejection for generations. Here in the Diocese of Superior, our Native brothers and sisters will always be welcome at our table.