Ministering Among the People
Zuni, N.M. located 150 miles west of Albuquerque, is home to the Zuni Indian reservation. Desert, dry heat, mesas, ponderosas and juniper pines blanket the community of 19 pueblos where the Zuni people reside.
Nestled in a scenic valley, Zuni is home to Sister Maria Angelina Medina who ministers as a teacher at St. Anthony Indian School. “I’ve always wanted to work with the Native Americans and I feel connected to them,” says Sister Maria Angelina whose family on her mother’s side is Comanche. “The Native Americans are close to Mother Earth and they see God’s presence in everything.”
Sister Marina Angelina describes the Zunis as a gentle people and the reservation as a poor area. “Many struggle to make ends meet,” she says. “Some are successful artists and many are beautiful jewelry makers although it is difficult to make a profit.”
In most cases, parents work for the tribe, are nurses at the hospital or work in the tribal offices in Gallup. The annual tuition at St. Anthony Indian School is $100, and parents have all year to make the payment. During the school year, breakfast and lunch are provided to the students. The federal government provides these meals during the summer, as some children would not be eating otherwise.
“The Native Americans have been here forever,” says Sister Maria Angelina. “This is their home. We are the immigrants.” However, she says the Zunis need to carry a green card to identify themselves as Native American. Recognizing New Mexico as their home, Sister Maria Angelina says those who go away to college usually come back in order to share what they have learned.
Teaching the children is a blessing for Sister Maria Angelina. “It is a challenge, however, to foster their Catholic identity and relationship to God. The children know more of their Zuni language than English when they come to school which can be difficult to deal with at times. Some are baptized in the Catholic faith and practice the Zuni religious ways along with Catholic practices. As children they are very good when it comes to religion, however once they graduate from the eighth grade they are rarely seen in church.” She says there is no other Catholic school in the area, and to attend a Catholic school in Gallup in most instances is unaffordable.
Sister Maria Angelina feels welcome living and working on the reservation, but recognizes that she is still an ‘outsider,’ an immigrant among our Native Americans.