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Music: First Nation Hymnal Missionary Contact


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Q. What is the reason that all that American blue grass country music that starts up high?
A. Because of all the contact with First Nation People whose music starts like that.

The Missionary



Missionary contact brings the Hymnal. Attribution withheld by Request
Indians now have dual citizenship, they are citizens of their nation and of the U.S., during the days when America was young, they were not citizens of the U.S., but citizens only of their own nations, be that Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk, Cayuga, or whatever their nationality happened to be. Yes, they are considered American citizens on one hand. They are not citizens of any state, but they are also considered a semi-sovereign nation. They have sovereignty, but come also under the US. Office of Indian Affairs. They have formed treaties with the U.S. government historically. Only much later did Indians become Americans. Because they were not Americans, but of different nations entirely during America's early days, I don't see how Indian music could be considered the first or one of the first American musics. The meaning of Indian nation citizenship is very tricky.

Answer: Native people were Americans long before the United States was established.

1890--Jesse Walter Fewkes records the Passamaquoddy Indians off the coast of Maine. This is the first field use of the newly-invented recording machine.

This story was told to Kathy Condon as "true" in 1977 by Joe Hickerson at the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress.
As I remember, Joe told me that the remark was made to anthropologist Jesse Walter Fewkes by one of the Passamaquoddy Indians he had recorded on cylinder back in 1890. As the story went, Fewkes had invited several Passamaquoddy then visiting Portland (or Boston?) for a presentation honoring Passamaquoddy culture to join him for a night at the opera.

The New York Oneida Nation form of hymn singing has many similarities to Sacred Harp Singing
In both traditions, a lot of the repertoire is drawn from the Isaac Watts material which he composed early in the 18th Century.
I'm not enough of an historian to know how to research it, but it would be interesting to investigate when the Oneida Episcopal and Methodist hymn singing began. Of course the Oneida Longhouse singing tradition is much older, an earlier form of American singing than Sacred Harp.

The Oneida hymn tradition may parallel the Cherokee in some ways, in roughly the same era.

Most of the Oneidas I know attribute the creation of their hymnal to Eleazer Williams, the charasmatic preacher who led a portion of the tribe from New York to the vicinity of Green Bay, WI in 1822. Williams was a controversial figure who later in life claimed to be the "Last Dauphin," the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. He was lampooned by Mark Twain in "Huckleberry Finn."
He was a published author both in English and in "The Language of the Seven Iroquois Tribes" as early as 1813. Although printed versions of the hymnals were not published until the 1850s, knowledgeable Oneidas have told me that their tradition of hymn singing pre-dated the move to Wisconsin. That the same type of singing is done in their Wisconsin, New York and Ontario communities is consistent with that assertion.
Although most Oneidas converted to Christianity in the 18th Century, I wouldn't say that they are "pretty danged acculturated." They have it both ways, actually. They've retained continuous Iroquoisan ceremonial traditions in the community too.

Acculturation is relative. Some Cherokee living in Georgia had plantations, African slaves (which they took to Oklahoma with them), dressed in "white" fashions (or close Cherokee adaptations), sang Christian hymns (some of which were written by Charles Wesley, who corresponded with Boudinot as he compiled the Cherokee Hymnal), and voted for the "compromises" of the Echota Treaty, which ended up with the Trail of Tears.
On the other hand, other Eastern Band Cherokee, notably those who lived just outside the Qualla Boundary managed to hang on to the traditional language and culture of the Cherokee back in the 1830s. It was their descendants who were Mooney's informants in his landmark ethnological report (1888). This was the basis of much that is known and retained of traditonal Cherokee Myth and religion.

The Ghost-dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 by James Mooney Published 1896

James Mooney's Ghost Dance Recordings (1894) A series of recordings made by James Mooney in 1894 of different Native American Ghost Dance songs. According to the Library Of Congress notes that accompany the recordings, the performances are probably by Mooney himself and not by Native Americans.

Ironically, these same Snowbird Cherokee who still sing from the old shaped note Cherokee Hymnal, and were the ones (Walker Calhoun among them) who reported that they sang the Cherokee translation of "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah" on the Trail of Tears. To this day, the Cherokee versions of "Guide Me O" and "Amazing Grace" are sung at the annual Trail of Tears Gospel Singing at the Jacob Cornsilk Community Center in Snowbird.

Perhaps one of the earliest Indian language hymnals was published by Elias Boudinot (signator of the notorious Echota Treaty) in the Cherokee language a few years before the Trail of Tears. I'm pretty sure he used shaped notes, though I've never seen a copy. I don't know if he used harmony, fugued or otherwise. Harmony singing was not, I believe, part of Cherokee singing tradition before Christianization, but, by the 1830s, the Cherokees were pretty 'danged' acculturated.

When the Indian nations were divided up among Christian denominations for evangelizing, the Presbyterians were given territory occupied by Dakota-Nakoda-Lakota peoples. There are still people on the Fort Peck Reservation who sing Presbyterian hymns in the Dakota language in 2006.

Nez Perce, in Idaho. Our archives have a tape from a past apprenticeship that contains "Nez Perce Hymns" where one can hear Jesus Christ's name interspaced with Nimiiputimt'ky. These hymns have been sung by the Nez Perce since the times of Reverend and Mrs. Spalding (1836...) and other missionaries who established a mission at Lapwai.

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