[Marxism] Iroquois, Jesuits, Intermountain Natives -- and syncretism

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Fri Feb 13 17:17:12 MST 2004

Note by Hunter Bear:

Jesuits were guided into the Montana/Idaho sections of the Intermountain
West in 1841 by John Gray [Ignace Hatchiorauquasha] and his wife, Mary Ann
Charles  [Marienne Neketichon]. Both were Mohawks [Iroquois Confederacy]
who, as very young people, came West with the fur trade in 1816.  [They are
great/great/great grandparents of mine.  My youngest son, Peter Gray Salter,
is named for their oldest, Peter Gray, who was born in 1818 just to the west
of this very Idaho house of ours.]  The principal leader of the Jesuit
delegation was Father Pierre Jean De Smet whose key associate was Father
Nicolas Point.  Father Point was an extremely gifted artist.  Among all
sorts of subjects, he sketched John and Marienne -- and John in his famous
fight with five grizzly bears, all of whom John eventually killed.  [Much on
the Grays, and Father Point's sketches of them, are on our Hunterbear
website  www.hunterbear.org

John Gray was the leader of the Mohawk [and a few Abenaki] fur hunters in
the Far West for a quarter century -- and was a hard-line fighter for Native
rights, often clashing directly with the fur companies. It is likely that
the strike initiated by he and his band against fur boss Peter Skene Ogden
in May, 1825 -- south of present day Pocatello, Idaho -- may have been the
first labor strike in the West.

Father Peter De Smet became a major advocate for Indians in a broad section
of the Intermountain region and the northern Great Plains.

A thoroughly fascinating collection of much of Father Point's work,
accompanied by his commentary and notes, is WILDERNESS KINGDOM: INDIAN LIFE
IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, 1840-1847 [Translated and introduced by Joseph P.
Donnelly, S.J., with an appreciation by John  C. Ewers.]  New York:  Holt,
Rinehart and Winston, 1967.  A very large book in every respect, 274 great
big pages, it contains hundreds of Father Point's in-color prints and
paintings of Native people, Native cultures, the Land.

The Jesuits, who personally and first-hand studied Native theologies and
Native cultures  in great detail and generally over a long period of time,
respected the Old Ways [which were always very viable and vital indeed!] and
their complexities and direction -- and were very open to a blending of
those traditional beliefs with Roman Catholicism.  [I often use the term,
"Jesuit Catholicism," in this Native context.]  Vatican purists were unhappy
with these syncretic [syncretism] approaches, but the Jesuits are known for
pretty much doing as they please, sometimes a bit circuitously.

Funeral for a forgotten era Sacred prayers and honor songs

Kevin Taylor Staff writer

DESMET, Idaho -- Wednesday was that rare morning of full winter sun. Its
rays beamed upon the cemetery here, lighting up the frost crystals that
every needle bristling off the clustered pines.

This place, the priest said during the funeral Mass, "is an ancient place of
prayer where Felicity and her people gathered at sacred times."

He may not have meant this exact spot where the family and friends of
Felicity Joan Adams, known as Ply, gathered on a soft carpet of snow and
pine needles
to lay her body to rest among the people of the Coeur d'Alene Indians.

But this place and this time were indeed sacred Wednesday, in a strictly
personal way, as Ply Adams came home at age 65 accompanied by Roman Catholic
prayers, an honor song in Salish and a smudging with smoke from grasses,
herbs and roots spread with an eagle feather.

Ply Adams was not famous, or some sort of VIP in the official workings of
the tribe. But her passing is an important marker in a timeline.

She was among the last of her people who grew up speaking Coeur d'Alene and
Spokane, two dialects of interior Salish, as her native language.

Language, of course, carries more than words. It is weighted with a sense of
place, history, identity.

And this "ancient place of prayer" became, on a sun-warmed morning, an
intersection of the sometimes complicated bundle of identity threads that
tell what it means to be Schitsu'umsh, Catholic and American all at the same

Right here, where the edge of the Palouse crashes against a steeper, more
forested landscape like waves upon a shore. Right here, where mourners
tossed handfuls of earth upon her wooden casket as the honor song pierced

Right here, not far from U.S. Highway 95, and smokeshops and the shuttered
ghost of the old brick boarding school where Indian kids like Ply Adams had
hair cut and their native language suppressed.

Sometimes words cannot express the losses, the layering of realities, the
determination to keep living.

"She was one of the few in her generation to keep speaking the language. The
church wouldn't allow it," said Marlene Justice, one of Ply Adams'
daughters. Being forced to speak only English "was part of the assimilation
into the

But right away, there are layers upon layers.

Justice found comfort Tuesday in the rituals of the Catholic funeral
service. And she found comfort in more indigenous rituals -- a recorded
wooden flute
melody by musician and tribal member Loren Swan, the smudging by tribal
elder Noel Campbell, the honor song and drum by tribal member David Stanger.

"I remembered all the funerals I attended for people in the tribe, and how
rich our culture is and how important it is to teach that to our children,"
Justice said. "And going through the Mass gave me a sense of security. The
were so familiar."

As a child, Ply Adams would have known the older place names for the
forested ridges and buttes that pitch up out of the open Palouse around

She was raised by her grandparents, Stanislaw and Mary Aripa. From her
grandfather, she learned Coeur d'Alene. From her grandmother, she learned

Stanislaw Aripa was one of the first Coeur d'Alenes to learn English. He
accompanied tribal leaders such as Andrew Seltice and Peter Moctelme to
Washington, D.C., to interpret during negotiations with the United States

But at the meal following the funeral, a number of people said they felt a
powerful sense of a circle closing when Stanislaw Aripa's voice was heard
Monday night during a rosary for Ply.

A precious tape-recording was played, the recorder placed at Ply Adams' open

But Stanislaw Aripa was not talking in English. He was praying. He was
praying in Coeur d'Alene.

"To me, when I heard my father say those prayers ...," tribal elder Felix
Aripa, Ply's uncle, said, "it seemed like it was coming from the heart. She
grew up
with the language, and to hear that microphone by her casket last night it
was like her grandfather was there and praying for her.

"If she were alive, she would have understood the words," Aripa said. "It
was kind of like a pep talk to all of us."

A reminder to remember where you are, who you are, in your own words.
Despite everything.


When you cut to the bone  and cut away the college degrees, academic and
other titles, published books and articles, ours is essentially a working
class and Indian family.  We consistently join unions  -- and we always
support them with the greatest vigor.

It's critical to always keep fighting -- and to always remember that, if one
lives with grace, he/she should be prepared to die with grace.

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