The history of the catechesis of the Catholic Church on the Crow Reservation
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The Crow traditionally looked to the mountains for centering their lives. The Catholic missionaries recognized this when they selected the site for the St. Xavier's mission in 1887, hoping to create a new focal point around which the people would gather. The schools were the backbone of religious education of the Indians; Crows gathered around the school in order to see their children and at the same time took part in religious activities. They learned the teachings of the Catholic Church by listening to their children recite the catechism and prayers in Crow. The missionaries believed it was necessary to have the children in a boarding school (instead of a day school) to protect the students from the uncivilized elements of their former life. The children were given a basic understanding of academics including reading, writing, and arithmetic (in English) as well as industrial skills, mostly in agriculture and carpentry for the boys and domestic skills such as sewing, cooking, baking and housekeeping for the girls, to form habits of industry and useful toil to overcome their aversion to real labor.The author spends a lot of time explaining the role of catechesis, teaching the Catholic doctrine, to the Crows. The Jesuits, especially Father Prando, worked hard to translate the catechism, sermons, and Bible stories into Crow, though the actual rites in the church were delivered in Latin. The author believes this exhausting work could have been made much easier had the priests made use of the existing Crow practices and beliefs in their efforts to teach Church doctrine. They taught them to the Crow using their "logical" method: reject sin, follow God's laws, and God will reward you. This was the exact opposite of the Crow's cosmological sequence: one experienced the Creator's power and gift, and, because of this gift one followed the instructions when using the gift.Despite the effort the missionaries spent learning Crow and translating religious texts into it, the Indian languages were to be suppressed, and children were always taught in English.The Crow found the sacramental system with its inherent mysticism more meaningful because of their belief in the power of their own medicines. Faith, belief in the power behind the use of the sacrament, and the sacramental instruments used by the Catholics were familiar to them. When the priests asked the Crow to believe in the sacred power of water used for baptism, the Crow already knew that power; they had fed the river people to ensure the water would remain friendly and spare their lives. They also found similarities between the purification brought by the sweat lodge ritual and the baptism. The oil used to anoint the baptized was comparable to the crow custom of painting one?s body, which gave the person new power.Though many Crows were willing to believe in "the strength of the Church's medicine" especially for the benefit of their children, the early missionaries perceived Indian medicine as false and evil. The medicine bundle was at the very least a superstition and more often than not considered diabolical. The Jesuits wanted to replace the Crow customs with their own sacramental system, while the Crow simply added the Catholic sacraments to their existing ones. To this end they tried to get the Crow to give up their medicines in exchange for "nicely framed" religious pictures. The Crow were glad to have them and considered them as new helpers to add to the old ones. Though there were some connection between the symbols of the Crow belief system and those of the Catholic Church, there remained a large amount of confusion over the meaning of sacraments.The Jesuits gave new first names (usually biblical ones) to those they baptized and for a short while (around 1888) also gave the children English family names. This latter practice was soon overcome by the government giving English translation of the Indian name of the head of the house to the whole family for a surname.Both the Catholic Church and the government sought to regulate marriage; the whites considered the Crow marriage customs crude and were especially appalled by the idea of wife-stealing which often resulted in divorce. The Jesuits hoped that eventually the educated young adults from their school would marry one another. With the help of the Indian Agent, they would receive a plot of land with a house on it near the mission compound and "the couple became a nucleus of civilization and Christianity." With this in mind the Church quickly took control of the marriage ceremony. The author spends some time describing the new ceremony and all it entailed.By the late 1800s the white sentiment was turning against the government subsidizing religious education in the form of Catholic boarding schools. They used the excuse of monetary savings to move the Indian children into public schools when possible and to day schools when this failed. This was touted as a move toward individualism - the idea was to weaken the ties among the tribal members. The government wanted to assimilate the Indians into the wider society. They saw the tribal culture as an obstacle toward this goal: "tribes must be dissolved as social, commercial and political entities." The Indians must come into the nation as individual units.Faced with the loss of government support for their boarding schools among the various Indians the Catholics came up with several schemes to raise money to keep them open. One, advocated nation wide, was the idea of a white child adopting an Indian child in a boarding school, through mail. Once the adoption occurred, the white child would then support the education of her adopted friend by sending money to the school. The Fathers at St. Xavier's didn't think the Crows were far enough along in their Christian education to benefit from this plan. Next the Jesuits at St. Xavier's wanted to transform one of the mission buildings into a hospital, since the Father's commonly provided care for the sick. Their superiors refuted this idea on the grounds that the Ursuline nuns were not trained as nurses. The one plan that found approval, and was successful, was a mission cattle operation. This provided more than adequate amount of meat for the school and more than paid for itself. Lastly they hoped to secure support for the school from the government by presenting them with a petition signed by the Crow parents themselves. This one failed because the Crows were in favor of day schools so they could have their children at home.The Indians found the open animosity between the various white religions, especially the Catholics and the Baptists, confusing. When the government decided that the parents had the right to request which religion their child would be instructed in the government schools, the Catholics complained saying most of the parents were pagan and would pick the church where they received the most material benefit. In 1921 all schools on the reservation were to be turned over to the Big Horn county and become public schools. This is the year St. Xavier's boarding school was closed.Since 1979 the changes in the Catholic Church on the reservation have flowed from the Crow themselves; they have been integrating their Crow values with the teachings of the Church.