St. Benedict's Mission, White Earth Indian Reservation (White Earth Band of Ojibwe). The various American Indian bands living in Canada and the Northwest Territory fought among themselves and the white settlers as Indian hunting grounds continued to be lost. The Dakotas finally settled farther west and the Ojibwe made land treaties with the U.S. government which reserved land around specific lakes in northern Minnesota for them. However, in 1867, the U.S. government ordered the Ojibwe to give up their scattered settlements and gather in one large reservation at White Earth. The reservation was then divided into agencies with government officials placed in charge. The bishop of the Northwest Territory sent Father Ignatius Tomazin to serve the Catholics at White Earth. Father Tomazin was a missionary from Yugoslavia who had worked among the Ojibwe for some years in the Crow Wing area and was known for his zeal in protecting their rights. While he was courageous in protesting the evils of discrimination practiced by the government agents, he perhaps lacked patience and diplomacy in his confrontations. As a result, Father Tomazin was forced off the reservation and transferred to Red Lake. In 1878, Abbot Rupert Seidenbusch, OSB, who had been appointed bishop of the newly-formed Northern Vicariate, asked St. John's Abbey to provide a priest and St. Benedict's Convent to provide teachers for White Earth. Fathers Aloysius Hermanutz and Joseph Buh from St. John's and Sisters Philomena Ketten and Lioba Brau from St. Benedict's were sent to meet the challenges of White Earth. Six days after they arrived, the sisters opened a day school for 15 pupils (12 girls and 3 boys), which increased to a total of 40 during the following week. (*The American Indian band in northern Minnesota prefer the name Anishinabe -- "Anishinaabeg" meaning "First People" -- while the French settlers called them Ojibwe, which is the more familiar name used in these records; and the government referred to them as Chippewa.) The sketch of the mission shown here is mounted on a card with the name, L. Bergman, Louisville, Kentucky, stamped on the back (SBMA, McDonald, pages 227-232), Pamphlet: "St. Benedict's Mission History, White Earth, MN, 1878-1978, as told by Benno Watrin, OSB (Printed by St. John' Abbey), 1978]
St. Benedict's Mission, White Earth Indian Reservation (White Earth Band of Ojibwe). Survival was the sisters' prime challenge during those first years of exposure to cold and scarcity of food in White Earth. But even so, they took two orphan girls (the younger one only four years old) into their home. The care of orphans was to become an important work for them at St. Benedict's Mission as White Earth developed. Sisters Philomena and Lioba, unlike in temperaments, proved to be well-suited to work together among the Ojibwe. Sister Philomena, young and vivacious, had volunteered for missionary work; Sister Lioba, deliberate and more conservative, was fearful of venturing that far into the northern region. They learned to rely on each other's strengths and persevered through 50 years of mission work at the White Earth Indian Reservation (White Earth Band of Ojibwe). Records indicate that, when a fire destroyed the school just a few weeks after their arrival, Sister Lioba felt justified in going back home, but Sister Philomena suggested fixing up the barn to serve as the school, which they did at a cost of $35.00. [SBMA, McDonald, pp. 232-237]
St. Benedict's Mission, White Earth Indian Reservation (White Earth Band of Ojibwe). The Ojibwe accepted their missionaries, "blackrobes," as they called them. Sister Philomene Ketten, always in the midst of action, is standing among the women near the center tree in this photograph. [SBMA]
St. Benedict's Mission, White Earth Indian Reservation (White Earth Band of Ojibwe). St. Benedict's mission at White Earth thrived; more and more orphans were crowded into the convent quarters and the day school's enrollment increased. With the help of St. John's Abbey, a new church and a convent school were built in 1881-1882. The convent school, called St. Benedict's Girls Orphan School, was built for 30 orphans; classrooms were built in the ground floor of the new church. Though unaware and unprepared for the cultural sensitivity that would have been desirable in undertaking such a venture as the Indian missions, the sisters shared what they best understood -- education and friendship -- with the Ojibwe who were relegated to reservations in the mid 1800s. There, as in the German and Polish settlements which they served, they staffed schools and taught the basic learning skills, music, domestic arts, and religion. Hindsight reveals the injustice of the American government and of the early settlers in land settlements and in the expectation that American Indians must learn to live, talk, believe and look like the whites who took over the country. For example, the sisters were required to use only the English language in school. However, homey exceptions to that occurred in the life on the mission as the sisters lived, worked and played with the Ojibwe children and learned from them the native language, traditions and life values that in turn enriched the sisters. [SBMA]
St. Benedict's Mission, White Earth Indian Reservation (White Earth Band of Ojibwe). After the missionaries had settled in White Earth and had begun to build a new church and school, the Ojibwe of Buffalo River (Callaway), eight miles away, asked Father Aloysius Hermanutz to send them teachers for their children. Rather than refuse, Father Aloysius promised he would do so if they built a school. He believed that they would be unable to provide a building. However, when they did offer a place for the school, Sister Philomena saved Father Aloysius' embarrassment by offering to ride daily to Buffalo River to teach if Father would lend her his pony. After some mishaps in riding strange horses when Father Aloysius needed his, Sister Philomena begged for a pony of her own which she received. She was also able to convince the bishop to provide her with a saddle. [SBMA, McDonald, pp. 237-238]
St. Benedict's Mission, White Earth Indian Reservation (White Earth Band of Ojibwe). The traditional festive attire was an important part of all Indian celebrations at the White Earth Indian Reservation (White Earth Band of Ojibwe) (Saint Benedict's Monastery Archives).
St. Benedict's Industrial School was established in 1884 when St. Benedict's Convent contracted with the U.S. government, through the Catholic Indian Bureau, for support of 30 girls from the White Earth Indian Reservation (White Earth Band of Ojibwe). Since St. Benedict's Convent had sent sisters to teach at the White Earth mission in 1878, recruitment contacts could easily be made. However, the parents were reluctant to have their daughters leave home and the children did not take to the rigors and formalities of institutional life and education. As a result of the resistance of the Ojibwe, most of the students who came from the reservation were of not fully native but of mixed white and Indian blood. Thus, the sisters inadvertently became a part of the suppressive system which disregarded the spirit and culture of the American Indians. "The federal government, aided by church-sponsored missionaries, marched steadily toward its goal of assimilation for Indians. The drive was particularly strong between the 1880s and the 1930s. Their aim was detribalization, individualization and 'Americanization' of the American Indian." (Berg, p. 159) In the boarding schools, students, taken from their homes, were given a new wardrobe, new language and a whole new way of life. It is not surprising that before the turn of the century the government rescinded the contract system. But it has taken almost another century and the experience of assimilating peoples of different cultures for the American people to begin to appreciate the enrichment that multicultural living can offer. (SBMA, McDonald, pages 120-122 and Sister Carol Berg, OSB, "Agents of Cultural Change: the Benedictines in White Earth," Minnesota History, winter 1982, page 159).
Five young Ojibwe women in western dresses each holding a wooden stick used to play Double Ball. Double Ball is a woman's game that resembles Lacrosse. The women are identified as wives of John Druilard. Two frame buildings and Lake Superior are visble in the background.
University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn A. Martin Library, Northeast Minnesota Historical Collections
Informal portait of the Ross Indian Village in 1887. Individuals in the photograph include Chief Cobenas (center with feathered headdress) with two of his wives, Billy McGillis and a young girl. McGillis' wife is in the bonnet. Nineteen local Indians, including men, women, children and babies posed for this photograph. Two tipis and an oxcart are also visible in the photograph.