Here’s the event it’s actually portraying, which took place in 1839:
“On the 18th of last September, two Catholic Iroquois came to visit us. They had been for twenty-three years among the nation called Flatheads and Nez Perce, about a thousand Flemish leagues from where we are. I have never seen any natives so fervent in religion.
“By their instruction and examples, they have given all that nation a great desire to have themselves baptized. All that tribe strictly observe Sunday and assemble several times a week to pray and sing canticles. The sole object of these good Iroquois was to obtain a priest to come and finish what they had so happily commenced.” – Father Pierre DeSmet
These Iroquois guys, who proudly called themselves Young Ignace and Pierre Gaucher, had walked all the way from FREAKING MONTANA. And they wanted Jesuits because they were Iroquois, and their Canadian Iroquois leader (Old Ignace, aka Ignace La Mousse) had always told them that Black-robes were the best priests. It was their Catholic community’s fifth try at getting a priest sent to them. The fourth time, the entire delegation (including Old Ignace) was martyred by Lakota on their way back. And there’s DeSmet saying, “Yes! I’ll help you and bring you the Mass!”
So this is a famous, proactive moment of a triumph for lay catechists, for Native Americans evangelizing Native Americans, and for the reputation of Jesuits among Native Americans. It is Iroquois badassery, as well as a tribute to Nez Perces and Flatheads being on fire for Jesus, and persistent in trying to get a priest.
Oh, but it’s racist. Because amazingly, Catholics kneel before the Cross.
Or is it that St. Louis University is ashamed of the efforts of lay catechists? Do they hate admitting that Iroquois Catholics can do important stuff?
P.S. In case you’re wondering – yes, Nez Perce and Flatheads wore warbonnets, but not down to their feet like that. Of course, an artist is going to show that anyway. DeSmet never got a chance to evangelize the Lakota or Dakota, AFAIK, although he did do peace negotiations with Sitting Bull because of his good reputation. He gave them a beautiful banner of the Virgin Mary (probably as Queen of Peace), and he stayed in Sitting Bull’s tent. DeSmet was quite old at that time, and of course it was very suitable to have an elder negotiate in order to get people to decide on more serious negotiations.
Fr. DeSmet was not asked by the government to assist in drawing up the peace treaty once a Lakota delegation was sent to make peace, probably because they knew he wouldn’t have liked it or gone with it.