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In the Beginning with Baraga

Father Baraga first sought to come to the United States to work with the Native population in the year 1830. Not long after his initial request a huge boulder swept across that United States that would forever change the landscape of North America and leave many Natives longing for their place they once called home. That boulder was called the Indian Removal Act. Soon Father Baraga would find himself in the middle of one of the biggest battles the Native populations would face within their lifetimes.



 

The Grand river flowed in front of him in what was considered the territory of Michigan. Sitting on the edge of the river bank he stared at the opposite side. The opposite side which was easily seen from his view was now land that belonged to the United States government. He knew that the side that he was sitting on was unceded territory [1]. He took that moment to contemplate the challenges that were ahead of him and sat in reflection of what he knew was coming down the corridor for the Ojibwe populations. He knew that he would have to choose. He knew that what was important to them ultimately became important to him. But which side of the river would he stand on?


"Nosse! Nosse!" An Ojibwe child called out to him in the Ojibwe language with Nosse meaning Father. "Come see!" His memories returned back to the previous year that he has spent with the Ojibwe Natives in Arbre Crochet and Beaver Island on the northeastern side of Lake Michigan. "Come see!" The little voice in Ojibwe had a shrill of pleasure behind it. Father Baraga went over to where the young hand guided him and saw what should have been the makeup of a small church. In that moment, although the newly built structure in front of him looked as though it needed mending and work, he could not help but smile. They had given their whole heart to this little church that was being built as a surprise to him.


He remembered his time in Europe with all the majestic churches that were there. He thought about the parishioners in Europe who may have scoffed at the lowly structure that stood before him as they entered their churches built with marble and stone. Baraga though was not focused on the beauty of the structure, but instead the beauty and dedication of the hearts that had given their all to have it built. He understood that though this little chapel was built was logs and bark it was more majestic than a temple. He reflected on how much joy their joy brought to him and Baraga smiled in joy and told the Ojibwe how incredibly proud he was of them and their dedication. That day he and the Ojibwe put their hands to work to finish the structure that the Ojibwe had started. He remembered the next day as he was able to dedicate this little church to Mother Mary. This was the name he promised that he would dedicate his first church to if he was so granted the ability to consecrate his life to the Native missions.[2]


Father Baraga returned back in that moment to his spot on the river with his eyes mildly wet from remembering that little chapel having his heart softened by their humility. He was now on land where he had the ability to build yet another mission. Father Baraga felt the stones by the riverside under the palm of his hand with his mission behind him now. He knew this land, although it was Native land, would face the same battle as the land across from him faced. He knew how much the land he sat on had importance to the Ojibwe who he worked with. He knew that ultimately he would have to choose a side. He took a moment, paused and took a deep breath in and out as he contemplated what was considered the right thing. He remembered that child's face lit with joy. He wondered about that child's and families future. In the end he knew that he had to give his whole heart to them in the same way that they had done for him. "And whosoever shall compel thee to go with him a mile, go with him twain."[3] The words of the Christ rang out in Baraga's ears. In that moment his decision was clear. He was there for the Ojibwe. He was there to live as the scriptures had commanded. He was there to walk with them twain.


 

This blog marks a time between the years 1831 and 1833 when Baraga worked with the Ojibwe on the eastern side of Lake Michigan. In 1833 Baraga was sent down to Grand Rapids Michigan to work with the Ojibwe in that region. Around this time rumblings about another treaty which would threaten the removal of the Ojibwe began to surface. This forced him to take a position whether to side with the United States Government or to help the Ojibwe stay on their lands.


References:

[1] Rezek, R. A. (1906). History of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette, Vol. I. Houghton, MI: M.A. Donohue & Co. 46

[2] Verwyst, F. C. (2017). Life and Labors of Bishop Baraga. Caritas Publishing. 108

[3] Matthew 5:41, KJV



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