ESS Student Honored for Research; Helps Secure Funding for Native Schools
Katie Ward, a Notre Dame senior and future member of ACE 26, was recently awarded the 2019 Frabutt Prize for Outstanding Community-Based Research in recognition of her research on the intersection of Catholic identity and Native spirituality in three Native American Catholic schools.
Ward, an Education, Schooling and Society (ESS) minor, traces her interest in Native American education as far back as high school, during which she spent a week in an experiential learning course at Red Cloud Indian School in South Dakota. Her experiences in the third-grade classroom began to shape her academic interest in Native American education systems.
I found myself wanting to learn more and more and more.”“We spent a week on the reservation serving as teachers’ aides,” she recalled. “I found that I wasn’t only interested in the education side, but I also found the issues within Native American education that we were learning about to be very interesting.
Ward’s passion for education greatly shaped her undergraduate experience, and she explained that she chose disciplines that she could later introduce to her classroom to create a more holistic and creative atmosphere. This led her to a double major in music and Spanish with a minor in ESS.
“The ESS faculty really care about your growth and formation as an educator,” she said. “You can get into ESS really from any angle. Pretty much everyone has something to learn there.”
Ward has taken two undergraduate classes with Dr. Brian Collier, who serves as director of the American Indian Catholic School Network (AICSN) and presided as Ward’s advisor over her thesis research. The classes focused, at least in part, on the difficulty of understanding Native spirituality in the aftermath of Christian-drive assimilation.
“He was doing everything I ever wanted to do,” she said. “I took Dr. Collier’s class freshman year on Native American histories, and that class was very affirming for me in that it taught me that my high school experiences were not isolated. I kept wanting to learn.”
Collier, who studies similar questions, spoke about the complexity of reconciling these two identities, especially when many Native students find themselves at a crossroads of practicing Catholic faith while trying to honor Native spirituality.
He explained that this intersection may look different at every school, citing the example of performing a smudging or sage-burning ceremony before reciting a Catholic prayer.
Ward decided to make this complex cultural identity the focus of her senior thesis, and she grew more interested in understanding the various ways in which Native identities persisted in the face of ongoing efforts of assimilation.
She spent a week in each of three schools – Red Cloud Indian School, De La Salle Blackfeet School and St. Augustine’s Indian Mission School – where she attended religion classes, Masses, and assemblies to better understand the relationship between spiritualities.
Ward spoke of the teacher demographics within the three schools, which, although varied, all focused on curriculum and classroom presentation that honored the identities of teachers of both Native and non-Native descent.
She also recalled the way in which the two spiritual identities were often used to complement each other, as was the case in St. Augustine’s, where the Catholic story of Pentecost was used to parallel the lingual understanding and coming together of differing tribal dialects.
Ward emphasized that she took on more of an observer role than anything else.
“I was just learning,” she said. “Their generosity in welcoming me into their communities was amazing.”
The three schools that Ward researched belong to the AICSN, which includes seven of the United States’ 24 Native Catholic schools.
Ward presented her findings to members of the Better Way Foundation, which provided a grant for AICSN and played an instrumental role in securing additional funding in a series of two-year grants.
“The president of the funding board was really impressed with Katie,” Collier said. “It changed the conversation and helped them further understand the importance of culturally responsive pedagogy in schools.”
The Frabutt Prize was also accompanied by a $500 grant to Ward, who chose to split the money equally amongst herself and the three schools in a demonstration of true partnership. Ward said that was grateful for the opportunity to reciprocate the generosity that the schools had extended to her.
“I was really excited because I knew that the schools would get something out of it,” she said.
“It was a very, very small way to say thank you for all the knowledge and growth I gained.”
Ward recalled that during her thesis writing, she was surprised by the lack of scholarship on Catholic Native schools and had to be creative in discussing and shaping the culturally-sustaining pedagogy that she had hoped to understand.
“It fueled my fire,” she said. “Once I did this research, I kept seeing it creep into my other academics.”
Ward will teach fourth grade this fall in Minneapolis and is exploring the possibility of a doctorate to further her understanding of successful frameworks in Native schools.
Learn more about the American Indian Catholic Schools Network at aiscnetwork.org
Visit ess.nd.edu to learn more about the Education, Schooling, and Society minor.