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Ecological Conversion: Reflection on Recent Trip to Glacier National Park

Tony Garascia and his wife Beth have been lay Marianists since the early 1970s. Tony has served the lay branch of the Marianists through his service on the planning teams for the MLC-NA and the International Organization of Marianist Lay Communities. Tony and Beth belong to the Visitation Marianist State Community and their local Marianist Lay Community in South Bend, Shekan. Tony and Beth recently returned from a trip to Glacier National Park, where they joined Jim and Susan Vogt, Ken Palisin, and Lita Sharone (also members of the Visitation Marianist State Community) for extensive hiking.


Tony Garascia, September 2023


Beth and I just spent ten days visiting Glacier National Park with four other friends, one of whom is a member of the Blackfeet tribe. The trip was a great experience for both of us, not only because of the fantastic scenery but also because we got in touch with the relationship of the land to the Native peoples who have called Glacier National Park their home for longer than the first arrival of white colonists.


We did a lot of hiking in the park and a lot of processing of the beauty of nature and of the need for “truth and reconciliation” in coming to grips with how our nation has treated the indigenous people in the United States, as well as how we have neglected our care for the earth. In the ten days that we were in the park, we had encounters with a number of Native Americans, who told stories that spoke of the pain and scars inflicted on the Blackfeet.


One night, we attended a park presentation entitled Native America Speaks. That night, we

heard from Genevieve Huitt, who spoke, sang, and involved us in dance despite the rain that fell. She began her presentation by saying she attended one of the boarding schools. She said, “Everything you have heard of the boarding schools is true.” Even though she didn't elaborate, we were left with the impression of pain and hurt. She spoke of the relationship to the land that the Blackfeet had and encouraged all who love the earth to work for restoration.


Another day, we drove to Browning, Montana, to visit with Brother Dale Mooney of the De La

Salle Brothers Society, who is president of De La Salle Blackfeet School. We toured the school and met the teachers and students. Brother Dale spoke of the school’s efforts to provide quality education for Blackfeet students. He also spoke of the high death-by-suicide rate in the community and the integrated efforts of the school to support the families of their students.


That same day, we visited the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, Montana. We happened on a Blackfeet speaker who told stories of the Blackfeet, with emphasis on how the arrival of the colonists brought disease and oppression to the tribe. He spoke eloquently of the rebuilding efforts and leadership tensions in the tribe. Again, we left with a sense of the hurt and the intergenerational scars that members of the Blackfeet have endured.


The day before we left the park, we were hiking when we were greeted by an instructor at the local community college. She was a member of the Blackfeet tribe and had brought her class in environmental science to the trail to have them take pictures and prepare presentations of their experience. She lamented that many of her students – also members of the tribe -- hadn’t been to the park and that this was their first experience. Further down the trail, we met another instructor who was also a member of the Blackfeet. He spoke of the history of the Blackfeet the Indian treaties of the 1850’s, and said that at one point, the area of Glacier National Park belonged to the Blackfeet. All through these reflections was the backdrop of pain and anguish at the way Native Americans have been treated.


Through our stay, we often reflected on the need for restorative justice, how this might happen, and how complicated it all is. Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si, states in paragraph 218: “The Australian bishops spoke of the importance of such conversion for achieving reconciliation with creation: “To achieve such reconciliation, we must examine our lives and acknowledge the ways in which we have harmed God’s creation through our actions and our failure to act. We need to experience a conversion or change of heart.


I left our visit to Glacier National Park with a deeper feeling that the call to ecological conversion also involves a call to repentance. My wife and I have visited many national parks, but this was the first visit where I connected the land to a people who have made that land their home for hundreds, perhaps a thousand years. To be truly reconciled in an ecological way now means for me understanding how our national identity, with its own policies and beliefs (think “manifest destiny”), has caused harm to Native peoples, as has it caused harm to enslaved people who were violently taken in captivity from their African lands. My visit to Glacier National Park helped me understand that ecological conversion also involves a continuing conversion to racial and economic justice.


Ecological conversion seems to go hand in hand with repentance, something we celebrate during the season of Lent. Our visit to Glacier National Park, with the eco and racial justice backdrop, made me think of Fr. Bryan Massingale’s talk at the July 2023 MLC-NA Assembly. It was there that Fr. Massingale spoke of “racial metanoia,” or racial conversion. Perhaps we can apply his principles to Ecological-Racial Conversion. In his talk, he outlined a process for this conversion:


Spirituality of Racial Metanoia and Conversion Involves Cultivating a Penitential Memory


1. Examination of conscience: This means honest truth-telling and listening to the testimony of those wronged.


2. Contrition: is the next step; this means acknowledging complicity. Massingale stated that we needed to develop national rituals of lament….and sorrow, grieving our failure to live up to God’s desire for ecological and racial justice.


3. Confession: follows contrition, and it is a public, corporate acknowledgment of responsibility and complicity.


4. Penance: for our personal and social wrongdoing and harm created. This means concrete actions to redress the wrongs committed, with the goal of creating a new society and reality. True conversion is completed by acts of penance, by reparation of injury, by actions to repair the wrong that was done, and by making social restitution.


5. Proclamation of praise: which involves a resolution to walk together in a new way, where differences coexist and complement each other.


Fr. Massingale called us to engage and have the courage to love and be compassionate. He

further called us to our own “truth and reconciliation” by following the steps he outlined above.


My concluding thought is to ponder what the Marianist family would look like and how we might be transformed if we followed the process outlined by Fr. Massingale when we think of

ecological and racial metanoia. Perhaps it would lead us as a corporate entity to advocate for

concrete actions that address the call for ecological, racial, and economic justice.

Pictured above from left to right: 1. Members of our group: Lita Sharone, Ken Palisin, Jim and Susan Vogt, Tony and Beth Garascia; 2. Ken Palisin and Lita Shrone, with Brother Dale; 3. Sunset at Many Glacier Lodge



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4 Comments


Laura Leming
Laura Leming
Oct 09, 2023

Great reflection Tony - thanks very much. Love the way you made all these connections and emphasized how as tourists we need to walk gently and reflectively on the land. All National Parks should have land statements!

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Steven O'Neil
Steven O'Neil
Sep 18, 2023

Thanks for this reflection Tony. I'm glad your trip was a success!

I like the way you link ecological conversion to racial justice!

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Thomas Spring
Thomas Spring
Sep 18, 2023

Wow, Tony!! Thank you!! I have been to at least 13 National Parks but no Glacier. Your description, especially of the Native Americans and their suffering, touches me deeply. I have always felt bad about the way we treated those peoples throughout our history!! Aloha, Tom S.

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Thanks to all for sharing your enlightening and really wonderful experience and journey. You are encouraging all of us to do more in making restorative justice.

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