The relationship between Christianity and Native Americans has been a matter of great debate for many years. This topic has been explored in many short stories written by Americans. Among the many stories on this subject, the best example is by Louise Erdrich titled Saint Marie and another is by Leslie Marmon Silko titled The Man to Send Rain Clouds.
In the two stories, the writers have discussed the topic in a way that leaves no doubt as to the nature of the relationship between Christianity and Native Americans. In The Man to Send Rain Clouds, the Christians are tolerant towards the Native Americans but the opposite is the case in Saint Marie. (Silko; Erdrich)
In Leslie Marmon Silko’s story, there is a clear picture of the life lived by Native Americans. From the moment when the story opens, we are confronted with rituals, which seem to have been the order of the day. In the story, Ken and Leon have gone to find their grand father whom they already suspect to be dead.
Just to make sure that they have everything needed to perform the ritual, the two brothers have taken the time to pack some feathers and paint which they use to decorate the old man’s hair. By tying the feather in the old man’s hair, painting his forehead with different colors, throwing corn meal in to the wind then painting his nose, the brothers hope that the old man will be able to send them rain.
While all this rituals are performed, we do not see any sign of Christianity featuring anywhere. Immediately after the ritual that is meant to ensure that their grandfather sends them rain, we are able to see the first relationship between Christianity and Native Americans.
When the brothers are taking their grandfather home, the brothers meet Father Paul who gestures for them to stop. In the ensuing conversation, one is able to realize that there is respect between the two parties. To begin with, the virtue of the brothers agreeing to stop the car to chat with the priest is in itself an act of respect.
Although the brothers do not necessarily agree with the priest, they are courteous in their conversation with him. This courtesy is seen when the priest castigates them for leaving Teofilo to stay out in the sheep camp alone. Instead of rebuking him for meddling in other people’s affairs, the brothers politely answer that “No, he won’t do that any more now.” (Silko)
This relationship is also seen in the way the gravediggers begin doing their work after “the church bells rang the Angelus.” (Silko)This good relationship is further exhibited as the people head to the grave when Louise seems bothered about the absence of a priest in the burial. This thing keeps on bothering her until she decides to confide in Leon.
Despite the many rituals that the family has undertaken, Louise feels it is important for the “priest to sprinkle holy water for Grandpa. So he won’t be thirsty.” (Silko) Despite Louise being the person who comes up with this proposal, the same thing seems to have been in Leon’s mind since he does not object to the request. Instead, the only answer he gives is “I’ll see if he’s there.” In fact, everyone seems to accept this arrangement since no one objects the presence of the priest in the graveyard.
This good relationship between Christianity and Native Americans is further exhibited in the way the priest receives the request of Leon. When the priest is told of the old man’s death, all that he asks is “Why didn’t you tell me he was dead? I could have brought the Last Rites anyway.” (Silko)This shows that the family not being practicing Christians did not bother the priest.
Although the priest at first refused to honor the summon since there had not been called to perform the Last Rites and a Funeral Mass, he later agreed to the request. As he poured the water in the grave, memories of such a ritual almost came back into the priests mind.
In a strange way, the priest seems to concur with the family that the water would make the old man not to experience thirst something that pushes him “shakes the container until it is empty.” Despite the numerous rituals that the family has undertaken, Leon only believes it is the priest’s water that had the ability to make the “old man send them big thunderclouds for sure.” (Silko)
Although there seems to have been a good relationship between Native Americans and Christians in The Man to Send Rain Clouds, the case is not the same in Saint Marie. From the moment the story begins, every side seems to be fighting to discredit the other. Through Marie, we get to understand that whatever it is that the Natives did was not done from a pure heart.
While the characters in The Man to Send Rain Clouds seemed to believe in the God of the Christians, the same is not true with characters in Saint Marie. Right from the start, Marie who is used as a representation of the Dark One has a sole purpose of ensuring that the “nuns stoop down off their high horse to kiss” her toenails. (Erdrich)
While Father Paul uses persuasion to convince the Native Americans to join the church, the nuns in Saint Marie led by Leopolda use threats and brutality to achieve this purpose. In fact, Leopolda seems to have been so brutal such that even revelers at the local pub had to erect a poplar stand to ensure that there was no holy witness to their fall.
This is different from Father Paul who coexisted with the locals in a very peaceful manner. Marie likens Leopolda’s attempt to get the locals to join the church to the viciousness exhibited by a Walleye when it is about to strike. (Erdrich)
While Father Paul minds his own business and is willing to welcome anyone in the church, Sister Leopolda uses a “long oak pole” to drive Satan from the midst of her students. Instead of welcoming Marie in a polite manner when she decides to join the Convent, Sister Leopolda literally throws her bundle in the corner and tells her “You’ll be sleeping behind the stove.” (Erdrich)
This is unlike Father Paul who is overjoyed wherever the natives decide to pay him a visit. By analyzing the two stories, it becomes clear that while the relationship between Native Americans and Christianity was good, it could get nasty at times as witnessed in Saint Marie.
The relationship between Christianity and Native Americans has been a topic of discussion among American authors for a long time. Among the authors who have discussed this topic in a deep way are Louise Erdrich and Leslie Marmon Silko whose stories titled Saint Marie and The Man to Send Rain Clouds respectively are regarded as the best examples explaining this relationship.
By closely reading the stories, one is able to realize that this relationship was good but at other times, it could get nasty as witnessed in the relationship between Sister Leopolda and Marie.
Erdrich, Lousie. Saint Marie, 1984. Web. April 16, 2011.
Silko, Leslie. The Man to Send Rain Clouds, n.d. Web. April 11, 2011.