Wednesday, April 8, 2009

An Unusual Event: Ourada Tells the Menominee Conversion Story

The conversion story of the Menominees was my first exposure to Algonkian church history. Many years ago, my third grade teacher had us watch a weekly series about the history of Wisconsin. As you might imagine, I remember very little about that television series, but I never forgot the story that I will pass on to you in this post.

Patricia Ourada, who also wrote a Menominee tribal history aimed at a more "adult" audience, is the author of The Menominee , a title that is part of the Indians of North America series which I introduced a few weeks ago.

The map above, taken from page 23, shows how the French fur traders and missionaries were able to come as far as what is now Green Bay, Wisconsin as early as the 1600's.

The map below, taken from page 61, shows the current Menominee Reservation.

Here's the Menominee conversion story as told by Patricia Ourada on page 27:

In 1671, Father Louis Andre' came to minister to the Indians and lived among the Menominee until 1684. Andre' gained the trust of the tribe through an unusual event. In 1673, the Indians believed that the sturgeon run had bypassed the Menominee River. Fearing the loss of a major source of their food, they begged the priest to help them. He said, 'Take down your sun symbol from the high pole. We will raise a great cross instead.' The Indians did as the priest advised. The next morning, for whatever reason, the fish returned to the river. The grateful Menominee thanked Father Andre' and pledged their life to God forevermore.
In the next paragraph (pages 27-28) Ourada explains how far the conversion actually went:

During his stay with the tribe, Andre' baptized children and adults and persuaded them to abandon their worship of animal gods and the sun. However, the priest's attempt to make the people give up their traditional dances and magic was less successful. He also scolded the people for wearing what he deemed as too little clothing in the summertime, but this only made the Menominee laugh. Nevertheless, relations between Andre' and the Indians were generally good, and his work made many Menominee loyal converts to the Catholic faith.
According to Ourada, at the time her book came out (1990), "80 percent of the Menominee people [were] Roman Catholics."

No comments :