The Catholic Calumet: Colonial Conversions in French and Indian North America

By Hughes, Sakina M. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2013 | Go to article overview

The Catholic Calumet: Colonial Conversions in French and Indian North America


Hughes, Sakina M., The Catholic Historical Review


The Catholic Calumet: Colonial Conversions in French and Indian North America. By Tracy Neal Leavelle. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2012. Pp. ix, 255. $39-95. ISBN 978-0-8122-4377-2.)

In 1730, in an audience with the French governor in New Orleans, Illinois leaders Chicagou and Mamantouensa presented Jesuit missionaries with two calumets, or ceremonial pipes. The pipes symbolized the shared FrenchIllinois attachment to Christianity and the diplomatic and military alliance between the two groups (pp. 1-2). In The Catholic Calumet: Colonial Conversions in French and Indian North America, Tracy Neal Leavelle uses this indigenous cultural vessel as a symbol for the ways in which the Illinois incorporated Catholicism into their lives. In a broader sense, it also is a symbol that aptly describes the results of many decades of encounter and cultural translation, particularly the exchange of spiritual gifts, among Native Americans and French missionaries in the Upper Great Lakes region. The Calumet existed among many cultural vessels-both indigenous and French-that took on new meanings as native and French peoples interacted across the long seventeenth century. Indian peoples assigned Mass, Catholic songs, and prayers indigenous meanings as they performed them more and more in their own spaces. French missionaries baptized and converted, but were themselves moved to different expressions of their own religion due to close interactions with Indian peoples, traditions, and culture (p. 10).

Leavelle shows the importance of human relationships, showing that the trade in ideas-not just the trade in skins and iron implements-was crucial to Native-French alliances. Trade between the Ottawas and the French, for example, was not based solely on material goods. Ottawa worldviews had long valued cooperation and exchange. When the French arrived in the seventeenth century, they brought with them (from the Ottawa perspective) new opportunities for cooperation and idea exchange. The Ottawas developed strategic positions in the Great Lakes region to take advantage of the French presence in North America (p. …

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