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The relationship, as it changed . . . There were other critical events that they talk about. Lewis and Clark just sort of opened the door. But it was going to happen. So if it was a total negative issue, you can't blame Lewis and Clark, because if it hadn't been him it would have been someone else. It's like Columbus. We're always beating poor old Christopher to death. Well if it hadn't been him it would have been somebody else. And it might have been someone who knew what he was doing. Then we would've really been in trouble from early on. But as it was, it was going to happen. It was inevitable, because the world around us . . . they were searching and expanding, and it just had to happen.
But when you look at turning points, I think you have to look at Lewis and Clark probably being the smallest and the least effective, as far as changing the tribal way. The coming of the missionaries, the gathering of the missionaries. That was always misinterpreted by the Salish. The Salish knew about the missionaries and knew of their existence in the 1830s, because there were different tribes had visited the Salish, and further to the north, they had visited and talked with tribes like the Iroquois, who had already been exposed, a hundred years earlier, to missionaries. They already had the stories. And when they came they talked about these people that had this massive power. So much power that even the white man would bow before them. And so, the Indian could understand, "Yeah, that's a lot of power." Especially since their relationship with the non-Indian, they could see the power that even the traders had.
So there was a thing going on there, but they went looking for the priests, the Jesuits, especially in through here, for power, not religion. And then you've got the old story. They show up and they've got one idea, which is, they're going to bring the religion. And the tribes wanted the power -- the power usually either to defend themselves, or defeat their enemies. And there are stories within the tribe that are endless, about that relationship. But even the fact that after the 1850s, after the establishment of St. Mary's down here in the Bitterroot, the Jesuits lost out. The tribes wouldn't stick around them, and there were different reasons given. And like all things that go wrong, everyone was trying to find someone else to blame for the reason. Which is OK.
But basically, the tribe didn't want to give up their way of life. And the Jesuits interfered. The Salish were not well known for taking prisoners. You take a prisoner, you got to feed him, you got to drag him along. Just do him in, right there. And of course that wouldn't go well with the Jesuits, because the idea is, you should forgive them. It's that type of thing that caused that early conflict. I think they'd caught a young Blackfoot warrior trying to steal a horse, and they wounded him. Then of course they wanted to . . . "Why waste your time with him. Let's do 'im in." But the Jesuits intervened, and had them not only get the man back on his feet, but give him a horse to ride home with. That type of thing did not go well with the tribes, because they were still in that old relationship. They appeased the Jesuits, but then the favors started to fall aside, because they were simply interfering in how the tribes lived. There's a big difference with that living, because the native spirituality is not a separate thing from living. It's all together. In any event, the Jesuits definitely had an impact.
--Ron Therriault, 02/2002