Songs of Power and Prayer Songs of Power and Prayer explores the role of song as a transformative force in the twentieth century. It traces a cultural, spiritual, and musical encounter that upended notions of indigeneity and the rules of engagement for Indians and priests in the Columbia Plateau.
Chad Hamill’s narrative focuses on a Jesuit and his two Indian “grandfathers”—one a medicine man, the other a hymn singer—who together engaged in a collective search for the
sacred. The priest became a student of the medicine man. The medicine man became a Catholic. The Indian hymn singer brought Indigenous songs to the Catholic Mass. Using song as a
thread, these men weaved together two worlds previously at odds, realizing a promise born within prophecies two centuries earlier.
Long before Jesuits appeared in Coeur d’Alene and Salish country, Indian prophets foretold their arrival. In their respective visions, Circling Raven and Shining Shirt were the first
to behold the odd looking men wearing long black robes, carrying with them little more than “crossed sticks” and words of a foreign prophet who lived and died a world away. Roughly
a century later, the “Blackrobes” arrived, immediately translating liturgical texts and hymns into the Salish language. Calling on centuries of Indigenous praxis in which song was
prayer, the hymns were very quickly and consciously embodied by the Salish and Coeur d’Alene people, reinterpreted and re-sung as expressions of Indigenous identity and spiritual
Songs of Power and Prayer in the Columbia Plateau reveals how song can bridge worlds: between the individual and spirit, the Jesuits and the Indians. Whether sung in an
Indigenous ceremony or adapted for Catholic Indian services, song abides as a force that strengthens Native identity and acts as a conduit for power and prayer.
Chad S. Hamill is an assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Northern Arizona University, where he serves as co-chair for the Commission for Native Americans. Of Spokan and non-Indian descent, he has also served as associate director of the Plateau Center of American Indian Studies at Washington State University. He has published and presented his work nationally and internationally, bridging the fields of Music and Native/Indigenous Studies in his research and scholarship.
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