Monday, March 27, 2017

A Collaborative Partnership with the Religious of Niles

Cross grave marker commemorating Father Allouez
along Bond Street in Niles near Fort St. Joseph
Hiya! We, Hailey Maurer and Meghan Williams, are part of the Anthropology 5030 class at Western Michigan University. As stated in earlier posts, our Anthropology in the Community class is working to explore the potential for collaborative partnerships between the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project and various community groups within Niles.  Our specific focus is on building a partnership between the religious community of Niles and the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project. Up to this point, we have been unable to concretely define ways in which the religious community, as a whole, might be interested in collaborating with the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project, though we know members of the religious community have attended the Archaeology open house, our annual summer lecture series, and other events that we have sponsored with community support.
To reach out to the religious community in Niles, we decided to focus on Niles’ Catholic community. We selected this group because we know that Fort St. Joseph was established as a mission by the Jesuits in the 1680s with the support of the French crown.  Brandão and Nassaney have written about religious activity at the site in a paper entitled “Suffering for Jesus: Penitential Practices at Fort St. Joseph (Niles, Michigan) During the French Regime,” published in The Catholic Historical Review 94(3), 476-499. You can access it by going to:
The French prioritized the establishment of a mission in this area of the St. Joseph River due to the large numbers of Native Americans who could become converts to Catholicism and as part of a larger strategy to create social and trade alliances with Native groups. Archaeological work at Fort St. Joseph has identified religious pendants and relics which may have been used by the site occupants—Jesuits, French men and women, or even converted Native Americans.

The obverse and reverse of a religious medallion found at
the Fort St. Joseph site during excavations in 2016
Our primary goal is to establish collaborative, and hopefully sustainable, partnerships with members of Niles’ Catholic community. Academics and professional archaeologists have far too often taken advantage of, or failed to listen to, their community partners. Our aim is to avoid such errors by encouraging community involvement in the study, and ongoing preservation of, the Fort St. Joseph site. As such, we plan to speak with, and gain the input and perspectives of local congregation members as well as religious leaders in Niles’ Catholic community. We also recently attended the Kalamazoo Living History Show to meet with a member of Support the Fort, a community organization supporting Fort St. Joseph, who also happens to be a Catholic member of the Niles community. We hope to learn about the religious community’s interests and determine how they coincide with the interests of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project.