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The Story of Father Baraga's journey with the Ojibwe Natives

"There was hardly a locality of the lake which is not connected with the history of his life, either because he built a chapel there, or wrote a pious book, or founded an Indian parish, or else underwent danger and adventures there, in which he felt that Heaven was protecting him." 

-Johann Kohl, Kitchi Gami, 1855

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His footsteps could be found all around Lake Superior which is considered the largest lake in the world amassing about 2,800 miles in shoreline [1].  Due to his extensive travels on snowshoe in the early 1800's when car, train or roads were not found amongst the Ojibwe, he was given the nickname "The Snowshoe Priest".  It was around this time that he founded several missions to aid in the care and concern for the Ojibwe natives. 
Father Baraga set the example what it truly means to be there for 'the least of these my brethren" caring for a people that were undergoing significant change and undue hardships.  When the  government was against them, he was there for them.  When the fur traders took advantage of them, he helped to pick up the pieces.  He was their physician, their counselor, their lawyer, their teacher and their friend and advocate in a time when few raised their voices in their favor.  He taught them the principles of the Gospel of Christ not only through word, but through example.  

Father Baraga's Early Years in Europe: 1797 - 1830 

Father Baraga was born on June 29, 1797 in the manor house at Mala Vas near the Carniolan village of Dobrnic being the fourth of five children.  Today this is known as a municipality of Trebnje in Slovenia.  His full baptism name was Irenaeus Frederic Baraga or Irenej Friderik Baraga.  He grew up during the Napoleonic Wars which aided him in his learning of several languages before the age of 16.  By the time he came to the United States he knew German, French, English, Slovenian, Latin and Hebrew.  He lost his parents at a young age and as a result he finished his boyhood in the house of Jurij Dolinar who was a lay professor at the diocesan seminary at Ljubljana.  He became engaged to Dolinar's daughter and went to law school to be able to support his upcoming family and the manor house which became his estate after the death of his parents.  

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Father Baraga's home prior to working with the Ojibwe

While at law school at the University of Vienna he was introduced to Clement Mary Hofbauer who later would be declared a Saint.  It was here that he grew in his desire to be of service in the church and upon his graduation with his law degree began his time in the seminary having to deliver the heart-breaking news to Anna, his betroved, that he would be becoming a priest.  Due to his chosen vocation he also relinquished his estate to his brother-in-law in support of one of his sisters Antonia.  He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest on September 21, 1823 in the St. Nicholas Cathedral by the Bishop of Ljubjana.  

While in seminary he captured the eye of the new Bishop of the region who allotted him his first assignment as an assistant in the famous church of St. Martin during his last year in seminary.  This was a rare opportunity as these assignments were given primarily to those who made advances in the literary field or to those who had an exceptional history of service.  The Bishop at that time wished that Father Baraga deliver sermons to what was considered the popular practices of Jansenism which made communion available only to those who were considered worthy and used the confessional as a place to determine this worthiness.  The Bishop made it known that these were the expectations and that anyone who opposed would be subject to the consequences.  

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Father Baraga was in stark opposition to the teachings of Jansenism due to his Redemptorist roots gained from Clement Mary Hofbauer.  The Jansenism movement was resulting in a sharp decline of participation in the Catholic Church.  Soon his teachings would be known, his fame spread abroad and long lines would start to form at early hours as he began his time caring for the people of the community.  His popularity and his resistance to the desired teachings would end up costing him his job in St. Martin and he was given another position as an assistant in a more remote location Jansenism prevailing in his new parish as well, except more so.  Father Baraga began his journey again teaching of his understandings of the gospel of Christ.  Soon Father Baraga found his confessional growing and would sometimes arise at 3:00 in the morning to hear confessions and stay up until midnight until they were finished.  He worked tirelessly for the care and welfare of the people.  

Not long after his second appointment Father Baraga became inspired by the opportunity for the missions in the United States and the possibility of working amongst the Native populations.  Filled with a zeal of a missionary he requested a reappointment and in the year 1830 was granted permission to come to the United States and to work with the Ojibwe natives around Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.

Ojibwe in the United States: 1797 - 1830
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This map shows the locations of the all of the tribes of the Ojibwe nation in the early 1800's outlined in their various colors and the years that the treaties were made with the United States.  

Father Baraga primarily worked with the Ojibwe and Ottawa tribes in the green and purple though he stayed closer to the region in Lake Superior.


Please note the location of the Mississippi River on the left side  of the map in blue.  The United States wanted to relocate the Ojibwe to the locations left of this blue line and Father Baraga would work with the Ojibwe to help them stay on their land.  

During these same years as Father Baraga was learning his faith, the Ojibwe people in the North America were undergoing significant transformations.  Treaties were being formed from the east of the Mississippi River (dark blue line on the map) and extending all the way to the east coast in the regions of Montreal and Quebec which affected the entirety of the Ojibwe nation. 

In 1805, when Father Baraga was seven years old and in Europe, one of these first treaties that would be created would be with the Sauk (Sac) and Fox tribe in the region southwest of Lake Michigan.  A treaty would be signed in 1805 called the treaty of St. Louis that would cede over 50 million acres of land and was signed by only five people.  This treaty led to the Sauk siding with the British during the war of 1812 as they said that the appropriate leaders of the Ojibwe at the treaty signing.  Given the histories, the Ojibwe and the British ended up losing the war and soon more treaties would be encroaching on their region. 


Then, in 1819, while Father Baraga was in law school, the United States government would pass an act called the Civilization Fund Act which helped to stimulate the civilization process for the Native American people.  The Ojibwe needed help and needed it quickly.  The Cincinnati Diocese would be growing at a rapid pace and Bishop Fenwick was in desperate need of additional missionaries to meet the demand.  As a result the Leopoldine Society was created and Bishop Fenwick sent his vicar-general, Father Rese, to Europe who published a description of the Cincinnati Diocese.  The result was an audience with the Emperor. 


Father Baraga heard of this mission while in Europe and knew in his heart that this was the direction that he wanted to pursue.  He wrote to Bishop Fenwick in hopes of joining the mission.  In the year of 1830 he received the news that he had long waited for as he was accepted for the mission in the growing United States. 

While the United States was pressing in further and further towards the Mississippi was making it known to the Ojibwe that they had an expectation that all Native Americans became civilized.  Civilization for the Ojibwe along with other Indian nations throughout the United States meant that they had to learn to farm, learn to build houses and settle in a certain region and also they had to learn the Christian religion.  Soon representatives from all different faiths started to visit the various Indian tribes throughout the United States, but this wasn't the first time that the Ojibwe had learned about Christianity.  Father Baraga had predecessors to the region.  

The Ojibwe Prophecy and the "Black Robes"
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The Ojibwe people were led to Madeline Island where Father Baraga would primarily serve and which was a land that was especially sacred to the Ojibwe people.  The Ojibwe would arrive here prior to arrive of the Europeans around the 1400's.  It was told in a prophecy that they would need to follow a sacred shell to them called the Megis shell until they came to a place where there was "Manomin" which in their language meant "Food on the water".  Eventually they found this food and rested in what they considered sacred land due to this prophecy.  This food is commonly known as "Wild Rice" and served as a food supply for the Ojibwe people for several hundred years.  The prophecy also told of the Europeans arrival and they knew that by moving to this location, they would be able to survive what was going to happen.  

About 150 years prior to Father Baraga's arrival the Ojibwe people met the people they called the Black Robes.  The Jesuit priests made their way from Montreal and followed the Ojibwe to meet the Ojibwe that now resided on Lake Superior.  These Jesuit priests spoke French much like the fur traders of their region at that time and won the hearts of the Ojibwe people through equal sharing of their religion and understanding the Ojibwe's.  In the Ojibwe world this was the time of the black robes which happened previous to the French rule (blue coats), then to British (red coats) and finally to the Americans (long knives).  

The stories of the black robes were handed down generation after generation.  They knew the stories of the scriptures taught to them by heart and were even able to recite them.  Some of the Ojibwe people longed to be able to have a priest back in their midst again after hearing of these stories.  As could be seen in Father Baraga's books that he wrote for the Ojibwe he often wrote at the end "Frederic Baraga, Mekatowikwannie" which translated as "Frederic Baraga, Blackrobe".  Father Baraga was familar with his predecessors and the title that he bore to the Ojibwe after his arrival amongst them. 

The Indian Removal Act: 1830


In 1830 just prior to Father Baraga's arrival to the United States, a major boulder swept through the United States that would impact thousands of Indigenous People.  This act which was passed by congress was called the "Indian Removal Act".  In this legislation any Native American's who lived east of the Mississippi river would be forced west.  For the Ojibwe, this meant that they would be forced to leave their lands.  The treaties were fast encroaching in their region and would soon affect the entirety of Lake Superior and the remaining Ojibwe of that region.  Father Baraga felt the call to help the Ojibwe when he was in Europe and on December 31 of 1830 Father Baraga arrived in New York on American soil.

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When Father Baraga arrived in the United States he was immediately put to work.  While in Cincinnati he began working with the Germans.  He taught masses in Protestant Churches and the homes of the people he met as he traveled.  He could see that the need for his services was plentiful but his focus once with them would always end up being the Ojibwe people.  

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Soon in Cincinnati he would begin his understanding of the Ojibwe language from a Metis (Half Ojibwe/Half European) who was attending the seminary.  Not long afterwards he was brought to Arbre Crochet to the Ottawa Tribe of the Ojibwe Nation in the northern part of Michigan which is now called Cross Village.  It was here that he would begin learning and collecting the words which would later become his 'lexicon' or his famous Ojibwe Dictionary which is still considered the largest Ojibwe Dictionary to date.

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Cross Village

He and the Bishop who had brought him there were greeted with joy.  Bishop Fenwick struggled having to leave the village to go back to his labors again and slightly envied Father Baraga's upcoming mission among the Ojibwe.  He would be cared for...the Ojibwe would make sure of it.  Father Baraga's greatest joy would be in working with the Ojibwe people.  They accepted him readily into their community.  The first year he baptized over 150 Ojibwe families of whom only a small amount were children.  He was more than pleased with how well he was received his demeanor, perseverance, willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good, and the well-formed arguments making that all possible.  Soon his name became known around the region.  At times he would find that the missions he visited often had a chapel being built for him prior to him even setting foot on the land and solutes of gunshots would be heard as they welcomed him to their regions with joy.  


During this first mission here Father Baraga was able to compose his first book in Ojibwe called Ottawa Anamie-Masaigon which means Ottawa Prayer Book in Ojibwe.  This was the first time that Father Baraga spoke of going to Madeline Island, but soon found himself in central Michigan working in un-ceded territory just on the opposite side of the river from the recently created treaty line.  It was here that Father Baraga found out how opposed he was by the Protestant missionary who had established himself in that region.  He soon found himself needing to leave the location out of need for adequate winter shelter given the hinderances that year he experienced in building his church.  Not more than three years later Father Baraga would find himself at the very location that he had spoken of earlier, on Madeline Island working with Chief Buffalo.


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The map seen here shows the removal of the Potawatomi Ojibwe.  Father Baraga worked in the southeastern side of Lake Michigan in 1832 just prior to the establishment of the treaty that would end up removing the Potawatomi from this region.  The Potawatomi ended up being removed in 1838, two years after this treaty was enacted.  Given the strong communication connections, the Ojibwe that ended up working with Father Baraga would have of course told him the outcome of their brothers in the region in which he worked.  While in this region Father Baraga worked to help them stay on their lands.  Given that removal was inevitable, the Catholic Church removed him from this region and placed him on Madeline Island next.

Madeline Island was the central home of the Ojibwe people and rested on the southwestern side of the mighty Lake Superior.  In their travels from the eastern side of the United States to the land west, their ending point, final resting spot was found on Madeline Island.  It is here that Chief Buffalo, the primary Chief of the Ojibwe people would live.  Not too far after Father Baraga's arrival he would also have found that the fur trading post would move it's headquarters to this region.  This location was still far distant from the locations of the treaties that were encroaching in the region and yet still east of the Mississippi River.  Removal had not yet begun for the Ojibwe people who were reluctant to leave these lands due to the prophecies of their people but it was constantly on their mind.  Father Baraga arrived in this location in 1835 and in that same year established his first small church building a graveyard just adjacent to it which would later house Chief Buffalo as well as others who were celebrated on this land.  


The government knew that the Ojibwe would have to be able to learn how to work and assimilate with the new culture that was sweeping over the country in order to stay on their lands.  The European culture was something that Father Baraga was able to assist with and help the Ojibwe become accustomed to.  Assimilation also meant that the Ojibwe people would be able to provide for themselves more adequately and create housing that would be able to provide a comfortable living situation given that they would no longer be able to be nomadic and living in various regions due to the harsh winters experienced in living around Lake Superior.

When Father Baraga first met the Ojibwe, he could see that their living situations were challenging.  They had minimal clothing and their shelter was not adequately suited for the winters in comparison to the comfort of the European living to which he was accustomed. Food was becoming more and more scarce due to the overhunting that happened in obtaining furs for the fur trade.  Death often accompanied the lives of the Ojibwe due to starvation, disease, intoxication, war from other tribes or cold.  

Father Baraga arrived he knew that there was much work that was needed to help the Ojibwe if they were going to be able to succeed in the environment and the shift from nomadic life to life living on a particular plot of land.  He had a short period of time in which to help them not only learn of the Christian ways but also help them into this life that appeased the government, prepared them to remain on their lands and allowed them to have the necessary provisions.  In order to do so, Father Baraga would have to subject himself to the same degree of challenge that the Ojibwe were faced with.  He gave up his mansion in Slovenia with its large plots of land that was farmed and found himself learning to love the life that he now was becoming accustomed to:


"The small log cabin which housed the missionary did not serve to combat the elements.  Like the church and school, it had a birch-bark roof, and during the rainy season he found it necessary to spread his overcoat over the table to keep books and papers from becoming damaged.  An open umbrella over his bed served to prevent at least a portion of it from becoming saturated.  When the weather was bad Father Baraga would find a spot in the room where the rain dripped the least and remain in that place until the storm abated.  'Nevertheless,' he wrote, 'I am happier in my little room than so many of those who live in gilded palaces.' 

-Shepherd of the Wilderness, 64

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Father Baraga, in order to connect with the Ojibwe, would also have to learn how to be able to travel the lands as they did often traveling hundreds of miles during the winter to go to the various regions in which they asked him to travel.  He would go and visit and care for the Ojibwe in the wigwams to which they were accustomed in order to teach them or in order to accommodate to their last wishes and need for healing.  In order to be able to provide their teaching in religion he at one time even  had to have a wigwam built which was used as a church.  If the area that they had lived in was not capable of farming, then he would seek the resources of a blacksmith and carpenter so that they had the ability to learn these trades and become accustomed to their new way of life.  He worked beside day after day with the duties of farming and building alike in between his time of administering to their needs often waking up at four o'clock in not sleeping until midnight and often traveling through the night to be able to make it to his destinations. These were not the only challenges that Father Baraga would have to face during his time amongst the Ojibwe.  

Overcoming Obstacles: The Government

Treaty Payment at Fond Du Lac 

c. 1865, three years before Father Baraga's passing.

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The government, though inclined towards civilization, ultimately wanted to remove the Ojibwe to a region west of the Mississippi given the Indian removal act.  The government would lean towards caring for and providing help for missionaries that would so support their plans.  Missionaries that were truly there to help the Ojibwe such as Father Baraga were often not provided any additional assistance from the government.  Father Baraga then would do all in his power to help the Ojibwe to be able to succeed despite these oppositions.  


Due to the lack of financial help Father Baraga would often have to travel outside of the United States and speak about his missions to be able to provide for the adequate funding that was needed to have these missions become a success.  People would write to him afterwards and tell them of the amount that they donated to his missions.  Often times these monies were even tied up in the diocese and he had to write several times to even access them.  Regardless, Father Baraga would use whatever resources were available to be able to help his individual missions succeed.


One way that the government provided funding for the missionaries were through the treaties.  When the Ojibwe signed the treaties the government first negotiated with the Ojibwe the terms of the treaties.  The Ojibwe were not inclined to sell their land, but rather to allow permission for others to reside on their land with keeping retaining their rights to the land such as the ability to continue to hunt and fish on them.  As the fur trade continued to diminish, the Ojibwe were dependent on these treaties.  The treaties then also helped the Ojibwe towards becoming civilized by providing aid to the missionaries so that they were able to obtain the blacksmiths, carpenters, money towards schools and churches.  


In some cases the government would even attempt to sabotage the success that the Ojibwe had in becoming assimilated. The Ojibwe found that just as soon as the Ojibwe people would cultivate the ground and create a space for them to live, not long afterwards settlers would find their way to the region and would try to obtain the land that was just molded for their success.  In order to stop this from happening, Father Baraga would purchase certain lands so that the Ojibwe would have no threat of removal.  When the land was secure and the threat of removal diminished Father Baraga would then deed the land over to the chief of the tribe.  

Life with the Fur Trade Industry


The fur trade industry would be just as much of a challenge to Father Baraga as the government was.  In 1835 when Father Baraga arrived on Madeline Island, Michel Cadotte, a famous fur trader known for his quality character who himself was married to an Ojibwe, would not too long after depart from the world.  This would mark the beginning of a new era in fur trade as the good men of the fur trade were soon replaced with people who had little desire than to profit as much as possible from the Ojibwe.  Father Baraga soon found himself contending against alcohol and the continued usury of the Ojibwe people.  

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Father Baraga, in addition to other missionaries, depended on the treaties then as well to be able to share in these resources.  School funding was promised, carpenters and blacksmiths were promised, and help for the churches were promised.  Yet, when the time arrived for those promises to be fulfilled, the government would often proport either to not have them fulfilled at all leaving Father Baraga and his missions penniless or the government would provide the aid to the other Christian missions. 


In one instance on Madeline Island the government gave the aid to the protestant missions there for a schoolhouse.  Father Baraga received nothing even though there were substantially more Catholics than Protestant Ojibwe.  There were several times that he needed to expand the size of his church to care for these Ojibwe while the Protestant missions had around six converts in all.  Father Baraga found a way to make a win/win situation by having the Protestant missionary run the schoolhouse which helped him with his time and his ability to travel to connect with the Ojibwe.  

In another instance, when Father Baraga arrived in L'Anse, he found a Methodist mission established across the bay.  The government would provide the Methodist mission with the necessary blacksmith, farmer and carpenter.  If the Ojibwe decided to work with the Methodist mission they would have all of these benefits.  Father Baraga was given none of them.  Despite the opposition of the Methodist mission and these obstacles he persisted in setting up a mission in L'Anse.  Soon he helped to erect a church with a room for himself, a school and fifteen small log houses.  Father Baraga worked beside the Ojibwe natives in the field to cultivate despite the government refusing to give the missionary even seeds for his farm.  He once again turned to private resources to be able to obtain what was needed to help the mission succeed.  The Ojibwe natives then started to make their way over to Father Baraga's mission on the opposite side of the bay.  The former Methodist minister was then removed from the station and replaced with a new Methodist minister who soon became Father Baraga's good friend.  

The fur trade industry just prior to Father Baraga's arrival in 1835 started to see a decline in the trend for fur in Europe.  Soon the fur traders realized that they would have to switch their business model.  First it became the fisheries, then the logging industry, but primarily their business model switched from selling goods to making profits from the treaties.  They understood the Ojibwe's weak points: alcohol and the need for food and materials for their survival.  The trend for furs in Europe provided additional hardship to the Ojibwe as saw the decline in the animal population which was one of their only means of survival and food outside of treaty payments. 

Alcohol was an incredible problem as well and the fur traders knew this about the Ojibwe and used this as a means for greater gain. Sometimes they would follow them to the places after they had been hunting.  The fur traders would lie in wait and then show up when they rested and after obtaining a large sum of furs.  The fur trader would bring along a bottle of alcohol to share with the Ojibwe and not long afterwards the fur trader would be walking away with the furs with the Ojibwe person left behind drunk with only the bottle of liquor to show for their work. 


Alcohol also created a lack of peace.  The Ojibwe not only became accident prone with a loss of life as one of the common problems, they would also have permanent disfigurement as fights broke out between man and woman or other people of the tribe.  One of the only recorded times that Father Baraga ended up being in physical danger was when he was down in Grand Rapids, MI in 1833.  At that time the missionaries from the other church and fur traders incited the Ojibwe to take Father Baraga's life.  In a small cabin and alone he heard the drunken mob outside and soon found himself in a life-threatening situation.  He vowed inside the tiny cabin that if his life were spared that he would never indulge in intoxicants again which he only did as he traveled to help warm his body.  He was rescued by the United States Marshall who had come to disburse the mob.  


After this incident and see the harm that it caused the Ojbwe, Father Baraga banned alcohol it in its entirety from the regions where he would work.  He created some of the first sobriety pledges with the Ojibwe writing their name on their pledging to walk away from the fire-water.  He became so successful that during his time on Madeline Island the Ojibwe banned alcohol from the island and told the fur traders that if they brought it in they would cease to do business with them.  The fur traders obliged and peace ensued on the small island.  His fellow missionaries that followed in his footsteps soon realized that this was the most important challenge that needed solving even prior to the teaching about the church. An 1800's the first AA meeting was created so to speak with the missionaries as they first helped the Ojibwe become sober so that they sober decisions regarding their lives and the changes that were happening.  

Christian Rivalry


Father Baraga had nothing but the greatest of joy in sharing what he knew which was the Catholic Religion with the Ojibwe people.  He worked tirelessly to help the Ojibwe to what he knew and understood to be God and the Ojibwe people responded in kind to not only his words but also his actions.  During the course of Father Baraga's ministry he would be consistently challenged with other Christian religions.  He would end up having to face similar situations to what was presented to him in Europe with his continuents. 

When Father Baraga was in Grand Rapids, MI the protestant missionary that was there already had full reign of the territory.  He was the person that was helping to run the saw mill and saw Father Baraga as a threat to him.  As a result he would obstruct Father Baraga's attempt at building and he would do everything he could to say that a Catholic Missionary was not welcome in the region.  In the end this resulted in a threat to Father Baraga's life as the Ojibwe were riled up against him as well. 

Part of the reason for the removal of the Methodist minister in L'Anse was related to the attacks that the Methodist minister created when Father Baraga's mission started to see success.  The Methodist minister sent letters of complaint to the Acting Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Detroit and asked to have Father Baraga removed.  The government approved this without investigation and a circular went around which said that it would not permit one sect to interfere with another, especially among the same band of Indians.  If anyone acted contrary it would not receive it's share of the school fund.  At this point the mission had been established for seven months and Father Baraga was not going to abandon it.  He took action by writing to the Bishop, his mission continued to grow, the Methodist minister continued to create a negative reputation for himself and soon, with the Methodist ministers replacement, Father Baraga found that he gained the support of the government officials of the region and his challenges dissipated.  

Attempted Removal


The Ojibwe natives were under constant threat of removal.  Due to the 1830 Indian Removal Act the government wanted no less for them to be removed to the land that was west of the Mississippi River.  Father Baraga used his law degree as well to ensure that the Ojibwe were able to remain on their lands.  While on the Island with Chief Buffalo the treaties of 1836, 1837, and 1842 were enacted that affected almost the whole of the region on the southern end of Lake Superior and western Wisconsin.  Chief Buffalo was one of the primary signers representing the tribe.  Chief Buffalo and Father Baraga knew that the only way to possibly win the lands of the region was to do it peacefully, resolutely and with evidence to back up their assertations.  Chief Buffalo, being the primary signer and the voice of the tribe, in his aged years had to continually present himself in front of the government to ensure that there was understanding that they signed the particular treaties only to be able to authorize the settlers use of the land.  The signatures were not purposed for removal.  

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Despite all of the attempts that the Ojibwe people made to stay on their lands a covert attempt at removing the Ojibwe took place in fall of 1850 which resulted in the loss of over 400 Ojibwe lives who were all connected with the varying regions that Father Baraga set foot.  In this attempt the Indian Agents changed the treaty payment location from Madeline Island, WI to Sandy Lake, MN.  In order to collect their payments and rations, the Ojibwe would need to travel 150 miles west of their typical location.  When they arrived the Indian Agent did not show for more than a month, when he arrived he came with scarce provisions and without their necessary payments.  That month and additional challenge that came afterwards resulted in disease, starvation and exposure.  Due to the number of lives lost this event became known as the Sandy Lake Tragedy.  



This attempted removal only seemed to have Father Baraga become more determined to find a way to care for them.  He would start making his way towards having a broader scope of benefit for the Ojibwe by trying to become a Bishop within the Diocese.  Prior to him even being chosen he started to make plans as to how he would go about instituting change.  Father Pierz, who had been inspired by Father Baraga to come to the region in 1835 was tending the territory of Sault Ste. Marie.  In the year 1852, two years after the St. Paul Diocese was created in Minnesota, he would find himself in a dispute with the Diocese of Detroit.  The result was Father Pierz move to Minnesota and his taking over the entirety of the region that contained the Ojibwe north of St. Paul.  Father Baraga would then become Bishop in 1853 and he would be soon be given the regions in the northern parts of Michigan, some regions in Canada, northern Wisconsin and North-Eastern Minnesota to care for.  He printed his Ojibwe Dictionary during that time and solicited the help of other missionaries from Europe to come and help the cause.  Father Lautischar from Slovenia would soon be tending the Red Lake Mission which has become what is considered the Ojibwe Headquarters in many ways throughout the years.  Father Pierz continued to help in establishing the missions throughout all of Minnesota where the primary reservations are now seen.   


Then in 1854 the Ojibwe people finally had success in establishing land east of the Mississippi and around their main tribal homelands in Lake Superior.  Some of the largest reservations east of the Mississippi can be seen after Chief Buffalo made another trip to see the government officials.  It was here that he gave the proposition for the lands that he had wanted and marked out the regions.  His work and Father Baraga's work for the people would pay off and he would be given lands in the region.  Red Cliff Reservation is just southwest of Madeline Island and was considered the Catholic Reservation.  Bad River Reservation is just southeast of Madeline Island and was considered the Protestant reservation.  The Ojibwe people were also given land on the northern part of Lake Superior which was considered their favorite fishing location.  Other reservations were strewn about surrounding the southern and western part of Lake Superior and Manomin, the food on the water that brought them to that region, would then become protected by this 1854 treaty.  Not more than one year later in 1855, Chief Buffalo would end up passing and would be buried in the Madeline Island cemetery across from a small plaque that shows the location of Father Baraga's original church on the Island.  It is noted that on this same year Chief Buffalo also became baptized as a Catholic.  He had stated throughout his years as Chief that he had wanted to do so, but his role as Chief kept him from being able to do just that.  

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In the next three years (1855-1857) there would be widespread press happening in that region that would bring the understandings of the Ojibwe people around the world.  Eastman Johnson, a famous painter, would begin spending time on the western side of Lake Superior amongst the Ojibwe people making drawings of them which can still be seen in Museums such as the St. Louis County Historical Society in Duluth.  Johann Kohl would be chaperoned by Father Baraga himself and would write his book called Kitchi Gami that would bring fame in Europe.  Henry Longfellow would publish his famous poem "The Song of Hiawatha" in that same year.  In his poem, amongst the Ojibwe words strewn throughout, his last chapter would speak of a missionary, with a cross around his neck, coming to visit the Ojibwe people. 

Father Baraga's Compassion


Father Baraga would be there for the Ojibwe people, risking life and limb, getting up at all hours of the night to be of service to them, worked tirelessly to help them achieve their objective and help them achieve was was rightfully due to them.  He would be their physician, offer them hope during times of grief, take on fur traders and government officials alike so that ultimately they were cared for.  He would teach them of the ways of civilization during a rapidly changing period, would teach them of Catholicism, something he loved and held close to his heart, while applying the gospels of Jesus Christ in every situation.  "If a man asks you to walk with him a mile, walk with him two.  If any man asks to give of thy cloak, give him your coat also.  Judge not that ye be not judged.  Blessed are the peacemaker, for they shall be called the children of God" 

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Father Baraga's Cross in Schroeder, MN


Father Baraga's Cross stands as a testament of who he is.  In this journey he attempted to cross Lake Superior on what was considered an impossible mission to reach the Ojibwe people of Grand Portage.  White crests formed on the western side of Lake Superior and his Ojibwe paddler and helper would swear that they would depart from this world at that location.  Father Baraga watched and suddenly saw an opening.  He essentially said, "I knew that we would be safe.  Trust in God."  When arriving at the mouth of a small river Father Baraga went into the woods, cut down a tree and erected a cross both to show the Ojibwe people that he was there and as a thanks to God for his safety in arriving at that location.  This location later had a monument placed in it's stead which is now called Father Baraga's Cross.  The river, next to this cross, was so named after this journey as well and is called Cross River.  

The Result of Father Baraga's Missionary Services


Even in Father Baraga's last days of his life as he worked more regularly with the settlers of the region, he would say to those who asked who he was that he was "primarily an Indian missionary."  After his stroke in a region that was far away from the Ojibwe he begged, despite opposition, to be brought back to his work with them.  At the end of his life he gave away the last of his money to the Ojibwe people and for the missions that he had created among them.  

During the course of his ministry Father Baraga would end up baptizing and confirming over 1,000 people in the region.  His legacy can be seen throughout the region of Lake Superior through the various shrines and the number of Catholic churches built throughout the region which were established as he walked Lake Superiors shoreline.  

Father Baraga's care and concern for the Ojibwe people can be seen throughout the region even today as the Ojibwe practice their cultures in addition to Catholicism, braiding together the two respectively different yet similarly connected worlds.  It is one of the few regions in the United States where the positive connecting of two cultures has been seen to happen.  This shows how his ability to teach Catholic religion with love has the capacity to leave a positive and lasting legacy.  As a final result Father Baraga was easily put on the path to Sainthood.


Father Baraga's Path to Sainthood

St. Joseph Catholic Church

Initially established by Father Baraga

La Pointe, Madeline Island, WI


Given all that Father Baraga accomplished he would soon be recognized by the Catholic church on a path of Sainthood.  This can only be obtained after a person has passed from this world and their works can be seen as having great value to the world in having lived and died in an exemplary and holy way.  His cause was opened in 1952 and the official process began for him in 1973.  

Please click here to see Father Baraga's process of Canonization as written by the Bishop Baraga Association (BBA).  

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