K of C’s charity and advocacy for Native Americans and First Nation tribes began as early as the 20th century
By Andrew Fowler
Last year at the 137th Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention, the Order launched an initiative promoting outreach to Native Americans in the United States and First Nations peoples in Canada, responding to the fact that, as Supreme Knight Carl Anderson stated, these communities are “too often are ignored.”
Knights answered the call. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida Knights traveled to the Navajo Nation in Arizona to rebuild a church and repair homes, while other councils participated in Coats for Kids drives at Native American schools, such as on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations in South Dakota.
Then, as the coronavirus began impacting people around the globe, Knights from the Southwest brought basic necessities to thousands on reservations in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah as part of the Order’s “Leave No Neighbor Behind” efforts. They also supported similar efforts in Hawaii and helped launch the Küpuna Needs Project to aid elderly native Hawaiians on Oahu.
Patrick Mason, a member of the Osage Nation, serves on the Knights of Columbus board of directors and helped with these COVID-19 relief efforts, saying that “It’s been amazing. Banding together with our brothers, we’re able to accomplish great things.”
Such outreach to indigenous peoples is not new to the Knights of Columbus. In fact, the Order established a bureau within the Knights for Native American outreach in the early 20th century and has publicly advocated for their rights.
In 1903, the Knights of Columbus released a statement calling upon the U.S. government to investigate the “injustices” and “wrongs” done to Native American populations. Then-Supreme Knight Edward Hearn wanted the Knights to focus “our energy and financial support” to the Catholic missionaries in the Southwest, who were providing education and basic needs to people on reservations.
That same year, in a Columbiad ad — “Christmas Among the Indian Children” — the Knights called on Catholics to remember their Native American neighbors. It read, “It does not seem right that we should allow this work to fail, and surely we might do something at this Christmas. … We can save the work, redeem ourselves as Catholics, and show that we have fully entered into the spirit of this glorious season by the exercise of some little generosity.”
During this time, Catholics who lived on reservations were facing discriminatory policies across the U.S. At one point, Native American-Catholic children in U.S. public schools were not allowed to attend Mass or receive religious instruction. Calling these policies “un-American,” the Knights advocated for the rights of these children and provided financial support to Catholic schools on reservations.
Grassroots efforts from Knights around the country mirrored the Supreme Council’s example. In the 1920s, Chicago Knights funded a high school basketball team from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota to compete in a national tournament when the team was searching for financial help. A Denver council sponsored a book drive and donated hundreds of books to Native American children. In Ontario, Knights formed a council to specifically assist the “temporal and spiritual welfare” of the peoples of the Couchiching First Nation.
And, like today, those efforts included helping those impacted by pandemics — in 1919, Knights from Nome, Alaska, reconfigured their buildings in the area to accommodate more than a thousand Alaska Natives whose parents died from the Spanish Flu.
Share your story of how your council is helping strengthen people’s faith and offering support during this time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in a weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. To access Knightline’s archives, click here.