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Taking Matters to the Heart

May 12, 2004

Almanac Transcript

Taking matters to the heart this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

When Europeans first began wandering in North America reaction among the Native Americans was mixed and diverse. Some tribal nations were hostile to the encroachers, others were neutral and some accepted the new comers with little concern or question. Among those tribes exhibiting more of an accepting nature were the Pottawatomies. As French Jesuit and Benedictine Priests made their way into the northeastern part of what would become the US, most of the Pottawatomies accepted the new culture and religion wholeheartedly. As the European population pushed, pulled and forced the Pottawatomies further and further west, the tribe began to depend increasingly upon the help of the Catholic Church and priests.

This reliance upon the church had a negative impact on the Pottawatomies. First, it split the nation in two, those wishing to live a more settle religious life became known as the "Citizens Band" and those wishing to maintain a more traditional lifestyle were called the "Prairie Band." Secondly, the tribe became so accepting of the white culture, even to the point of voluntarily giving up their communal land for private farms, that they lost their identity as a tribe.

In the 1860s and 70s the Pottawatomies were forced to move one more time, now into what would become Oklahoma, settling into the area known today as Pottawatomie County. The tribe decimated by disease, warfare and cruelty numbered at the most in the low hundreds and were for the first time in more than two centuries set out on their own. Since the early 1600s the tribe had relied on the help of the Catholic Church to acclimate to whatever surroundings they were forced to endure. Here in the Indian Territory however, there wasn't any foundation of support, no churches and no priests. The US government had made no provision at all for the very different lifestyle of the Pottawatomie Tribe.

Hearing of their plight, priests from Louisiana journeyed to Indian Territory in 1875 and began the work of setting up a mission and school. For two years work continued as the tribe and church cooperated to build a community. It was in this week of 1877 that the first service was held in the Sacred Heart Mission of the Pottawatomie Tribe. The mission school served the tribe and the surrounding community until it burned in 1900 replaced a few years later by St. Gregory's in Shawnee.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of Oklahoma's Public Radio and the Oklahoma State University Library.

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