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Posted on May 24, 2014 |

Review: The Sacraments and Indigenous People

Review: The Sacraments and Indigenous People

The first catechetical book written for indigenous Americans can be useful to any Catholic.

The first catechetical book written for indigenous Americans can be useful to any Catholic.

by Gail Deibler Finke

The first-ever catechetical book written specifically for Native American tribal people, The Sacraments and Indigenous People came out of a need that no one seemed inclined to fill.


Fr. Bob Hater, a Cincinnati priest and former teacher who has written many books and has worked for many years with various tribes, knew first-hand the need for a book that mentioned issues and cultural references common in tribes in North America. Finding no one ready to write or publish one, he wrote and published one himself.


This slim volume on the sacraments would make a good introduction for anyone. The information on the sacraments themselves is not new; what makes this book different from others is the examples Hater uses to explain them. Sometimes these are simple cultural examples, such as relating baptism to the Hopi custom of keeping mother and newborn baby in a darkened room for 19 days and then taking the baby outside for an elaborate naming ritual that is also a kind of rebirth.


Sometimes the examples are more complex. The chapter on the Eucharist, for example relates Christ’s constant gift of self to the belief about possessions that many indigenous peoples hold. Unlike people from Western cultures, people from these cultures view possessions as temporary and consider being ready to give them away — sometimes to an extent Western people consider extravagant or even unfathomable — as the norm.


Each chapter includes pen and ink artwork by Gus Antoine and begins with a quote from a famous native speaker. It’s followed by an introduction that relates the sacrament to an indigenous custom or story, a brief section called “Seeds of the Gospel” that further explores the connection between indigenous customs and Christian sacraments, an explanation of how the Sacrament is rooted in the Old and New Testaments, an outline of the basic beliefs reflected in the Sacrament, and a list of suggestions for group or individual reflection.


The book could easily be used by any reading or catechetical group. Fr. Hater says people who find out about it are fascinated by the idea of looking at the Sacraments through Native American eyes. Parishes throughout American and Canada could use it as a way to interest people in a subject they think they already know, and a way to bridge the gap between our majority culture and ethnicities and a diverse group of peoples who are often romanticized, misunderstood, or forgotten.


Fr. Hater self-published the book and is donating all prophets to the Tekakwitha Conference, a Catholic religious non-profit international organization made up of and serving indigenous peoples. Because it’s printed on demand, groups ordering the book in quantity can change the words used to reference tribal peoples in title and throughout the book — “indigenous peoples” is preferred by most tribes, Fr. Hater says, but not all.


The book is available for $10 at the Tekakwitha Conference online store. To  learn more about the Tekakwitha Conference, click here.


Hater, Robert. The Sacraments and Indigenous People. Sky World Publications, Great Falls, MT, 2013.


Gail Deibler Finke is Senior Editor of The Catholic Beat.


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