Indian Peoples and Jesuits in the PacificNorthwest:
Enduring Dreams in Changing Contexts

By Patrick J. Twohy SJ

The Meeting of Two Dreams

On a cold spring day in 2003,my Jesuit mentor for work with Indian Peoples, Fr. Tom Connolly (ORE), and I stood in a cemetery in suburban St. Louis. We were accompanying members of the Ni段知ipu (Nez Perce) and Salish (Flathead) Nations gathered around a white granite monument carved into two eagle feathers pointing skyward. We were honoring the four warriorstatesmen who made the first 1,600 mile journey from the Pacific Northwest Plateau to St. Louis in 1831, a journey followed later by three more delegations of their countrymen.

These four courageous men were seeking the new spiritual powers that their grandparents had learned about from Catholic Iroquois who came west with the fur trade from Caughnawaga, a village on the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada. Two of the warrior-statesmen fell victim to European-born diseases and were buried in this cemetery. A Jesuit had baptized both men shortly before their deaths.

A young Ni段知ipu man led two fully saddled, rider-less appaloosa horses in a slow circle around our gathering. I thought of Fr. DeSmet痴 dream of an Indian-Christian Wilderness Kingdom that would reach from the Northern Plains to the Northwest Plateau. I also thought of Ni段知ipu and Salish dreams that the new knowledge would help their Peoples thrive on their ancestral lands.

It began to rain. I wondered whether the Native and Jesuit ancestors were weeping in sadness because neither dream had come to pass.Or were they weeping in joy because a circle of love and respect had been completed and that Ni段知ipu, Salish and Jesuit dreams were indeed being realized, if only we had the spiritual eyes to see this unfolding mystery? Some dreams seem to be born only to be destroyed. Great dreams have a marvelous power to sustain themselves.

The Contemporary Context

After a century of heroic resistance to assimilation, all Pacific Northwest tribes from the 1960s onwards have made an enormous effort to re-surface and reclaim what is still recoverable from their ancient lifeways. Northwest tribes have also been successfully building stronger tribal infrastructures, first with federal dollars in the 1970s and then increasingly with monies derived from their remaining natural resources. Further dollars from a growing gaming industry have given many tribes an economic prosperity that they are using to implement tribal programs of their choosing and to buy back ancestral lands.

Jesuit Mission churches and schools, once central to Indian communities, are now on the periphery. Tribal administrative headquarters and longhouses, tribal law and order, tribal courts, businesses, health clinics, Elder housing, recreation, drug and alcohol treatment centers, as well as 釘irth to Three, kindergarten, Head-start, grade school, high school and junior college educational adventures are now the most visible focal points of tribal life. Many Indian families are moving back from the cities to enjoy the new economic and political opportunities afforded by growing tribal economies. Some of these families can be largely unfamiliar with their own unique tribal lifeways and the Roman Catholic ways that their ancestors cherished and followed.

Many forces still weaken tribal communities from within: disintegration of family social structures, family feuding and factionalism, alcohol and drug abuse, and a continued grieving for all that has been lost. There is still a profound sense of being not welcome, not understood, and not wanted by the surrounding American cultures. There is still a fear that lives at the base of men and women痴 psyches and stomachs that too much has been lost and that the annihilation and complete disappearance of their Peoples is always imminent.

Yet much has been gained. Tribal leadership can be strong, imaginative, focused and courageous.The reclamation and resurgence of original lifeways has given many Indian persons and families a growing confidence in their abilities and unique identities. Tribes have taken back legal jurisdiction on tribal lands and have become more powerful and more independent in dealing with surrounding county and state governments.

A Jesuit Response

We have experienced in the Northwest an unexpected and natural progression since the 1970s that has brought joy and healing to many Reservation communities. First came the Cursillio movement which Indian Peoples enlivened with their absolute generosity, belief in community and intense ability to pray and speak eloquently out of their own life stories. Then came 撤ilgrimage, a unique retreat experience of Twelve Step and Catholic healing spirituality. This was followed by Kateri Northwest Ministry Institute, a traveling program of formation led by Jesuit and Indian teachers that encouraged Indian men and women痴 full participation in the life and ministry of the Catholic Church. All of these movements were supported and sustained by the prayer leaders, religious sisters, deacons and priests in all of our reservation communities.

And now there is a request from Catholic Elders carrying the spiritualities of the western plains, plateau and coast for a more intentional conversation with Ignatian spirituality. Jesuits are introducing more Indian prayer-leaders, deacons and catechists to the 鉄piritual Exercises in Everyday Life and eight-day retreats on reservations and in urban centers. Throughout the Northwest we are actively searching for a clear and compelling way forward together that will enliven us and especially the young who will follow us.

It appears now that the best way forward for Indians and Jesuits is to increasingly embody in the witness of their lives the exquisite teachings of the original lifeways that reveal a respectful, compassionate and generous way of being in the world. These manners complement perfectly a participation in the kind, understanding,merciful love and forgiveness offered to us by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Christian way. Many respected Elders often speak of the perfect and deep complementarity of these two lifeways. They realize that the Origin, Guide and Sustaining Power of both lifeways are one Sacred Mystery.

Following the union of these lifeways, Indian Catholics and Jesuits, with all of the spiritual help in the seen and unseen world accompanying them, participate equally in one, great, sacred work: the attentive, kind regard and caring response to the beauty and suffering of the earth and all living ones. Walking in this way together in mutual love and respect, perhaps we are realizing the dreams of both our Indian and Jesuit ancestors in a manner that neither we nor they could have ever foreseen. The incredible bravery of the Salish and Ni段知ipu warrior-statesmen who made the treks to St. Louis in the 1830s and the generous response of the early Jesuits has birthed enduring friendships in one shared and sacred adventure.

Twohy (ORE) is provincial assistant for Native Ministries, director of the Rocky Mountain Missions NW and chaplain to urban Native Americans for the Seattle Archdiocese. Indian Peoples and Jesuits in the PacificNorthwest: EnduringDreams in Changing Contexts jesuits and interreligious dialogue

 

 

 

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