Honors Native American Literature Students Attend Mission Week Program at Marquette University
Students in Honors Native American Literature, taught by Mrs. Colleen Whelan, attended “Opening the Archive, St. Charles Mission School” at Marquette University on Tuesday, February 6. The discussion was part of Marquette’s Mission Week programming, which brings opportunities for students to listen to inspirational speakers, participate in service, pray, worship, reflect, and take time for silence each day. The evening’s discussion was led by Alexandra C. “Alex” Gambacorta ’14, a former student of Mrs. Whelan. Alex graduated from Marquette in 2018 and subsequently joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, where she taught at St. Charles Mission School on the Apsáalooke Reservation in Pryor, Montana.
Alex discussed her experience as a Jesuit volunteer and acknowledged the contradictions of participating in contemporary mission education. She talked about coming into anti-racist consciousness while contemplating the nature of her presence as a white person on indigenous land within a historical context of colonization that deeply implicates Jesuit educators. She explained how, in 2021, she returned to Marquette for her masters in English and, in 2023, launched her archival project “Opening the Archive: St. Charles Mission School.”
The project, which was created in collaboration with Fannie Cliff, Crow elder at St. Charles Mission School and the Pryor community, enabled Alex to present photos and archival material from the Bureau of Catholic Indian Mission (BCIM) archives to elders and community members who were able to identify their family members and even themselves in the photos.
“Alex is the reason this class exists; she inspired me! Her dedication and commitment to doing justice offers all of us motivation to be better…better Ramblers and better people in an incredibly complex world.” - Mrs. Colleen Whelan
“Hearing Fannie Cliff, Crow Elder, talk about how meaningful the pictures are to her and her community was very moving. It helped me understand the impact that projects like Alex’s have on Indigenous communities.” - Marin Rooney ’24
“The field trip was so important because we were able to connect everything Alex was speaking about to what we have spent the entire year learning, especially the regalia and music. Prior to this I never thought of how valuable photos can be, but it was so touching that the archives helped Elder Fanny Cliff and the Pryor community identify their own family members.” - Katie Hayes ’24