Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Avella, Steven

Second Advisor

Donoghue, Michael

Third Advisor

Rindfleisch, Bryan


This study focuses on the experiences of individuals and families, on the Blackfeet, Flathead, and Nez Perce reservations of Montana and Idaho, who converted to Catholicism, adapted to agricultural living, accepted American education, and otherwise sought to find their places in a rapidly changing world. At the same time, this project follows local Catholic leaders from the missions and surrounding parishes who struggled with their contradictory roles as shepherds of their native flocks and agents of colonialism. I argue that Indians and Catholics on the reservations carved out often overlapping communities and identities as they negotiated the changes introduced by the allotment of the reservations. Both the Blackfeet and Flathead reservations witnessed a growth of Catholic communities that integrated Indians, mixed-ancestry individuals, and whites into a network of cultural, political, and economic relationships. Catholicism provided a common cultural frame for “full bloods,” “mixed bloods,” whites, and Latin Americans, to interact within. These networks provided business contacts as well as material support for people in need of it. On the Nez Perce reservation, there emerged a network of Catholic whites and Nez Perces who built a shared history with one another based on their mutual mistreatment at the hands of the federal government and the Office of Indian Affairs. Together, Catholics on the Nez Perce reservation constructed a memory of an overtly hostile Indian Agency that had precipitated the Nez Perce War and persecuted Catholics, as well. As a result, these heterogeneous communities quickly and emphatically embraced the Indian Reorganization Act, building new tribal institutions based on principles of coexistence and a recognition of the relationships that mutually tied both native peoples and non-natives to Indian Country.