Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Jesuits subject of planned exhibit

Cataldo, Idaho (AP) 11-07

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe in northern Idaho plans to build a 5,000-square-foot exhibition space to detail the tribe’s complex and sometimes contentious interaction with Jesuit missionaries.

With Native songs, prayer and tobacco, tribal leaders during late October blessed the area where the $3.8 million building housing “Sacred Encounters: Father DeSmet and the Indians of the Rocky Mountain West,” is planned.

Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet was one of the first Jesuits to make contact with tribes in the area.

“It’s good for our people,” Coeur d’Alene elder Milton Nomee told the 70 people gathered below the mission for the groundbreaking ceremony. “For many years our history has been in boxes. Now it can come out for everyone to see.”

Crews plan to tear down the cramped visitors center in the next two weeks to make way for the new structure that will be built next to the Cataldo Mission on ground along the Coeur d’Alene River where the two cultures met in the 1840s.

The new visitors center will include a permanent exhibition providing a blunt look at the tribe’s relationship with the Roman Catholic church. The tribal council donated $1.5 million to complete the project.

Jackie Peterson, a Washington State University-Vancouver history professor, designed the original “Sacred Encounters” exhibit that began a four-year tour in 1993.

“It’s these people’s history we want to preserve,” Peterson told The Spokesman-Review.

Though the exhibit was never in northern Idaho, Peterson said, some tribal members saw it in neighboring states and that gave them the idea to create a permanent exhibition.

“It’s a righteous project,” said Ernie Stensgar, of the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council. “I always look at Cataldo as a beacon to all the visitors that pass though.”

Harry Magnuson, a Wallace businessman, has worked to preserve the Cataldo Mission, which was completed in 1853. He said his grandfather spent the winter of 1893 at the mission when area mines closed.

“It’s a lasting memorial for generations to come,” he told The Spokesman-Review. “It’s something to preserve the culture and history of the area.”

Officials said the exhibit will use personal accounts and historical documents to help explain how some tribal members embraced the new religion but others resisted, creating a rift in the Coeur d’Alenes.