Spirit man

Daily Reading for June 12 • Enmegahbowh, Priest and Missionary, 1902

The consecration of [St. Columba’s] church [on the White Earth reservation] by Bishop Whipple in August of 1872 was a gala occasion, with a huge crowd of both church and Indian dignitaries present. On that occasion, one of the chiefs spoke to Bishop Whipple: “I heard the new message which you had brought into the country. I went to your spirit man, Enmegahbowh. I sat at his feet, and I have all that story in my heart.”

The following year, Enmegahbowh was instrumental in inspiring the chiefs of the various Ojibwe bands to offer their lives, if necessary, to make peace with the Sioux. This historic, dramatic, and successful Peace Mission ended the 133 years of Sioux-Ojibwe warfare and can be credited primarily to our Ojibwe missionary.

It is claimed by his critics that Enmegabowh was too tolerant when he turned a blind eye to what his detractors called the “foolish war dances” of the Ojibwe—a “sinful pagan ritual” from the traditional Christian perspective of the time—but “John Johnson,” Ojibwe Medicine Man, knew from his own experience the relative innocence of the tribal practices. His Ojibwe name meant “The One Who Stands Before His People,” and that he did.

He had been a “traitor” to his own bloodthirsty Ojibwe band by warning the white settlers of their murderous intentions in 1862; and he had been a “traitor” to his intolerant Christian associates by not condemning wholesale the ancient rituals of his native people. But he was no traitor to his Lord. . . . When his twelve-year-old son Alfred lay dying, the boy accepted that he would die. He took his father’s hand and with his last breath said, “Father, pray much and do good”—a simple and deep byword which characterized Enmegahbowh’s life and death. . . .

In recent history, the Rev. Howard Anderson tells of asking an Ojibwe man with whom he worked why he belonged to the Episcopal Church. The man’s answer: “While others will killing us, you were ordaining us.”

From “(John) Enmegahbowh (Johnson)” in Stars in a Dark World: Stories of the Saints and Holy Days of the Liturgy by Fr. John-Julian, OJN (Denver: Outskirts Press, 2009).

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