in the Columbia Plateau
and the Indian Hymn Singer
The book Songs of Power and Prayer in the Columbia Plateau: The Jesuit, the Medicine Man, and the Indian Hymn Singer explores the role of song as a transformative force in lives of indigenous peoples of the interior Northwest. In particular, it traces a cultural, spiritual, and musical encounter that began in the mid-nineteenth century, when Catholic hymns introduced to Columbia Plateau tribes were reinterpreted and re-sung as expressions of an expanding indigenous identity. Like the sacred songs of a pre-contact era, the Indian hymns became vehicles for prayer and spiritual power, upending notions of indigeneity and the rules of engagement for Indians and priests in the Columbia Plateau. Hamill’s narrative includes the recent story of a Jesuit and his two Indian “grandfathers”—one a medicine man, the other a hymn singer—who together engaged in a collective search for the sacred. The priest became a student of the medicine man. The medicine man became a Catholic. The Indian hymn singer brought Indigenous songs to the Catholic mass. Using song as a thread, they weaved together two worlds previously at odds.