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Native American Lakota star The Welcoming of StrangersNative American Lakota star
By Adolf and Beverly Hungry Wolf

Please respect this copyrighted material. It is not to be duplicated for any purpose without explicit written permission from the copyright holder.                                          *Page Updated on: 04/26/2010
In a region where native tribes were feared for their cunning and aggressiveness, the Flathead people stood out like an island of safety and friendship. Even critical missionaries of the last century credited the Flatheads with having the virtues of modesty, frankness, courage, goodness and generosity. "A nation of chiefs," said one of the Catholic priests. Although the people bravely fought their hereditary enemies - Blackfoot, Shoshone, Gros Ventre and Sioux - they never once fought against the Westward moving white men, who later cheated the tribe out of the Bitterroot Valley.

An important result of Flathead friendliness was the early intermarriage with people from other tribes and other countries. According to Father Ravalli;a Catholic priest who spent most of his life among the Flatheads and who probably recorded histories of all the families in the course of his well-accepted baptisms - there were no pureblood Flatheads in the tribe in 1875. In the 1920's the ethnographer Teit was given a list of the tribes with whom the Flathead had intermarried. Included were: Kutenai, Blackfoot, Shoshone, Nez Perce, Crow, Pend d'Oreille, Kalispel, Spokan, Coeur d'Alene, Colville, Sanpoil, Okanagan, Columbia, Shuswap, Thompson, Lillooet, Cherokee, Chippewa, Delaware, Shawnee and Iroquois.

A notorious case of intermarriage was recorded by Teit. A man named John Grant lived among the people. His mother was from the nearby Kalispel tribe; his father had been a trader for the Hudson's Bay Company. Grant lived in a round house with six bedrooms, each occupied by one of his six wives. Each wife was from a different tribe, including Crow and Shoshone. He later left his wives and children and took off to Red River, Manitoba. His descendants stayed on the reservation and intermarried there.

It is interesting to hear of people from the Delaware, Shawnee and Iroquois tribes living among the Flatheads. Those tribes are from the East of the continent, a long ways from Flathead country. They first came out West around 1800, as employees of traders and trappers. When they returned East they must have given glowing accounts of Flathead friendliness along with descriptions of the beautiful, wild country in which the native people lived, almost undisturbed. By that time, tribes in the East had already suffered long at the hands of invaders from across the oceans.Native American Indian History

One Iroquois who returned East with good thoughts of the Flatheads was Ignace La Mousse -also known as Old Ignace. He formed a party of 24 emigrants from among his people of the East. Sometime around 1815 the party left their homeland, around Montreal, Quebec and joined the Flathead tribe. Thus, many Flatheads have distant relatives in French speaking Canada.

Some of the Iroquois in Old Ignace's party had white ancestors, whose traits were soon passed to the Flatheads. An equally important contribution was made to Flathead life by these Iroquois with the introduction of the Catholic religion. The Flatheads were inspired by what they had learned of Catholicism, and decided they wanted to know more.                       a Missoula Studio, c. 1890

Accordingly, a mixed group of Flatheads and interested Nez Perces headed for Catholic headquarters in faraway St. Louis. This first Flathead party did not succeed in returning with a Catholic priest, as they had hoped to do. Of those who left, only one made it all the way to St. Louis and back. A few years later, in 1835, a second delegation set out for St. Louis. This time led by Ignace La Mousse.

Still no Catholic priests came back with them. A third delegation joined a large party of other natives who were being led East by a missionary. This party was wiped out by Sioux, along the way. A fourth delegation was also led by Ignace. This one finally succeeded in persuading the famous Father De Smet to come out and visit the Flatheads in 1840. In 1841 De Smet came back to the Flatheads and brought along five assistants. With the help of the people they soon built St. Mary's mission in the midst of the Bitterroot Valley.

But after all their efforts to learn about the Catholic religion, the Flatheads were soon discouraged by the attitudes of the priests. The people had wanted to add Catholicism to their own Ways of Life - not to exchange their ways for the ways that the priests demanded. In 1850 the mission was forced to close. It did not reopen until 1866, although the people continued on their own with the teachings they had already learned.

Reprinted from Indian Tribes of the Northern Rockies, compiled by Adolf and Beverly Hungry Wolf

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