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Songs of Power and Prayer in the Columbia Plateau

The Jesuit, the Medicine Man, and the Indian Hymn Singer

Chad S. Hamill

Publication Year: 2012

Songs of Power and Prayer explores the role of song as a transformative force in the twentieth century. It traces a cultural, spiritual, and musical encounter that upended notions of indigeneity and the rules of engagement for Indians and priests in the Columbia Plateau.

Chad Hamill’s narrative focuses on a Jesuit and his two Indian “grandfathers”—one a medicine man, the other a hymn singer—who together engaged in a collective search for the sacred. The priest became a student of the medicine man. The medicine man became a Catholic. The Indian hymn singer brought Indigenous songs to the Catholic mass. Using song as a thread, these men weaved together two worlds previously at odds, realizing a promise born within prophecies two centuries earlier.

Long before Jesuits appeared in Coeur d’Alene and Salish country, Indian prophets foretold their arrival. In their respective visions, Circling Raven and Shining Shirt were the first to behold the odd looking men wearing long black robes, carrying with them little more than “crossed sticks” and words of a foreign prophet who lived and died a world away. Roughly a century later, the “Blackrobes” arrived, immediately translating liturgical texts and hymns into the Salish language. Calling on centuries of indigenous praxis in which song was prayer, the hymns were very quickly and consciously embodied by the Salish and Coeur d’ Alene people, reinterpreted and re-sung as expressions of indigenous identity and spiritual power.

Songs of Power and Prayer in the Columbia Plateau reveals how song can bridge worlds: between the individual and Spirit, the Jesuits and the Indians. Whether sung in an indigenous ceremony or adapted for Catholic Indian services, song abides as a force that strengthens Native identity and acts as a conduit for power and prayer.

Published by: Oregon State University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

My first encounter with indigenous music of the Columbia Plateau region took place during a Native American music course at the University of Colorado, where I was laboring toward a PhD in ethnomusicology. I viewed the course as an opportunity to focus on music I wished to know but had for too long neglected. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Only through the generosity and support of many has this singular work been possible. I have received critical guidance from exceptional teachers during this process, both within the academy and in the Columbia Plateau. ...

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pp. 1-10

Comprehensive studies into the relationship between song and spirituality are few. Scholars have acknowledged song as important, perhaps even integral to spiritual processes, but inquiry often ends there. While participating in the Ghost Dance, I encountered in a very direct way the use of song as a catalyst for spiritual power (Hamill 2008), ...

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1. Power and Prophecy in the Plateau

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pp. 11-24

Among religious prophetic traditions, found at the roots of many faiths throughout the world, indigenous Plateau prophecy stands out for one reason in particular: its reliance on song to relay its message and bring forth its power. Long before the influx of settlers and well into the postcontact period in the Plateau, ...

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2. Christians Answer the Call

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pp. 25-38

Upon his arrival in Coeur d’Alene country in April 1842, Fr. Pierre-Jean DeSmet was escorted to the lodge of Twisted Earth. The air within the lodge hung heavy. It had been one hundred years since Circling Raven’s vision, and there before Twisted Earth sat the fulfillment of a prophecy. ...

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3. The Old Indian Hymns

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pp. 39-62

Like the Jesuits in Paraguay, the first Blackrobes in the Columbia Plateau viewed hymns translated into Salish as lures to draw in converts who, through the pedagogy and protocols of their reductions, might be plucked from the dark recesses of their own “savage” souls. ...

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4. Song and Power

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pp. 63-84

Power, as it is understood in the context of Native ceremonies, might be defined as the energy that first passes from the spirit realm to the individual, which may then be made manifest through explicit methods spelled out in the exchange or implicitly understood within the context of a ceremony or larger cultural matrix. ...

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5. Gibson Eli: A Case Study of Song and Power

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pp. 85-102

The accounts that follow have been drawn from Tom Connolly’s written recollections and excerpts from interviews—one recorded with Gibson Eli in 1972 and others recorded by Connolly and myself. Eli’s voice and the voices of those touched by him are privileged here over my own, which serves only to emphasize, clarify, or elaborate on certain facets of the accounts for the reader. ...

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6. Medicine and Miracles

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pp. 103-134

In 1969, Mitch Michael approached Fr. Connolly with news that Gibson Eli wanted to become a Catholic. Although Eli had never attended church as a boy, his relatives on the Moses side (belonging to the band of Upper Spokan) were largely Catholic, as was his wife, Rose. ...

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7. The End and the Afterlife

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pp. 135-145

On a beautiful summer day in July 1972, Mitch and Mary Michael’s world came crashing down around them. They had just returned from White Swan on the Yakama reservation, where they were celebrating the Fourth of July with family and friends. ...


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pp. 146-153


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pp. 154-159


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pp. 160-170

Color Plates

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pp. 186-189

E-ISBN-13: 9780870716768
E-ISBN-10: 087071676x
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870716751
Print-ISBN-10: 0870716751

Page Count: 182
Illustrations: 4 page color insert
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 868220630
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Songs of Power and Prayer in the Columbia Plateau

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Spokane Indians -- Music -- History and criticism.
  • Spokane Indians -- Missions.
  • Spokane Indians -- Religion.
  • Spokane Indians -- Cultural assimilation.
  • Jesuits -- Missions -- Columbia Plateau.
  • Indian Catholics -- Columbia Plateau -- History.
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