Encounters Through Language

Jesuit Missionaries in Native American Attire

First, the Jesuit-Native relationship is strengthened once the Jesuits take time to understand the Native’s lifestyle and language. The letter written by Robert J. Smith at the beginning of “Aloysius Soer, “Letter from St. Joseph’s Mission””, gives a summary of Smith’s time on the Plateau. According to his letter, Smith saw the Native Americans as a community that had adapted to new changes, while still valuing many of their own traditions, stating, “The Coeur d’Alenes still retain, with the acquired habits of civilization, many of the good traits of their own Indian character. It is well known that no being is so methodical as a red-man, and none so scrupulous in measuring and portioning out his time as a Coeur d’Alene.” (85). Then he was forced to adjust his mission activity to the Coeur d’Alene lifestyle, which is shown when he said: “…I noticed that, by my stay, I was keeping the farmers from their work in the field, for it was harvest-time” (85).

Sisters Celebrating with Native American Men

Reverence for the Native Americans was further shown when Smith left the community and reflects, “So shaking hands once more all around, I took my departure from this Christian republic, feeling a new impulse in my heart to devote my life and labor to continuing the grand work of raising up these remnants of a deeply wronged people to thrift, industry, and religion” (85). Smith viewed the Native Americans as an unfairly treated group of people that he wished to commit his life to serving. This letter then transitions to the main part of the reading, where further examples of Jesuit-Native relations are given. One major way the Jesuits decided to gain relations with the Native Americans was by attempting to learn the Nez Perces language. The letter written by Soer explained, “I was then obliged to undertake the task of learning the Nez Perces language and became as a child again at my a.b.c” (86). Not only did the Jesuits attempt to learn the Nez Perce language, but some Native Americans even attempted to learn English. This creates moments of intercultural exchange between the Jesuits and Native Americans, and is yet another example of their mutual respect.