Public Safety Officer Lila Leath Attends Annual Lasallian Social Justice Institute

This summer, Public Safety Officer Lila Leath attended the annual summer Lasallian Social Justice Institute (LSJI) at De La Salle Blackfeet School in Browning, Montana. The program, titled OKI-NI-SOO-KA-WA, which means “Come and See,” happened virtually this year due to pandemic concerns.  

LSJI is a weeklong institute organized by the Christian Brothers Conference Center in Washington, D.C. Each year, the institute takes place in a different Lasallian ministry across the United States. Prior institutes have focused on environmental sustainability in New Orleans and immigration in El Paso, Texas. The Saint Mary’s Office of Mission supports faculty and staff to attend each year. 

The program at De La Salle Blackfeet was designed for Lasallians to create awareness of the present reality of the Blackfeet American Indian Tribe in Browning. De La Salle Blackfeet School is for fourth- to eighth-grade boys and girls. In the past, Saint Mary’s Mission and Ministry Center has sent students to work at Browning during JanTerm as part of the Lasallian Service Internship.   

After attending a Mini-Buttimer Lasallian formation sponsored by the Office of Mission on campus in June of this year, Leath was excited to do another Lasallian program and connect with Lasallian educators. She says the experience was eye-opening. “I came face to face with poverty in Browning,” she said. “The reality of life on the reservation, the history of oppression, and the lack of resources were stunning. Many of the students are living the past without hope for a future.” 

The time she spent learning about the plight of Indigenous People and the effect of trauma prompted her “to appreciate the opportunities that we often take for granted,” Leath said. The virtual journey to Montana has instilled a desire in her to travel to Browning as part of the LSJI experience in the future. Leath sees “a real opportunity to focus on action” as part of the outreach to the students on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana.