Songs of Power and Prayer in the Columbia Plateau
Chad S. Hamill
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 oddlooking 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 power.
Songs of Power and Prayer in the Columbia Plateau reveals how song can bridge worlds, both between the individual and Spirit and 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.
Listen to audio recordings of songs featured in the book:
- Johnny Arlee singing
- Johnny Arlee singing K'ʷlʼncutn qʷo nqʷn 'miɫt ɫu
- Joe Woodcock and others singing X̣alips Č’awm (Daylight's Prayer)
- Joe Woodcock and others singing Slʼax̣t (Friend)
- Mitch and Mary Michael singing Yesu qʷo
- Joe Woodcock and others singing Yesu kʷ
- Joe Woodcock and others singing Kʷmi
- Joe Woodcock singing Qeqs nkʷneyi Sent Susep (Sing With Us, St. Joseph)
- Johnny Arlee singing Qeqs npiyelsi (We Are Going to Be Happy)
- Catherine Pascal Finely singing X̣est Spu
- Mitch and Mary Michael singing Yo Yesu qe
- Mitch and Mary Michael singing singing Č’nes t’uxʷti (If I Could Fly, I Would Rise Up To Heaven)
About the author
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 Spokane 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.
Read more about this author
Visit the First Peoples blog to read an excerpt from the book.