CATALDO - The sun shined down brightly on the 485 faithful onlookers Wednesday as they listened to and watched CeCe Cook sing a traditional Catholic hymn while dressed in traditional Native American regalia.
It would seem like a clash of two cultures to someone new to the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Old Mission State Park, but for the Tribe of the Coeur d'Alenes and others in attendance, it's more of a celebration of two cultures coming together.
The traditional Feast of the Assumption is held annually on Aug. 15 as Catholics celebrate the assumption, or elevation, of Mary into heaven at the end of her life. The ceremony is a traditional Mass around the world, but only one Assumption Mass can claim to include Native American tribal members dressed in traditional garb performing rituals during the ceremony.
The Coeur d'Alene tribe has celebrated the Feast of the Assumption at the Cataldo Mission for more than a century. The tribe originally helped to build the church back in the 1840s and have continued their pilgrimage to Cataldo every year to honor their people and their ancestors.
Mark H. Stanger, who does outreach education for the tribe, has been a participant in the event for 12 years. Decked out in traditional Coeur d'Alene tribal clothes, Stanger said the Mass is a big part of the Coeur d'Alene tradition.
"This is a big deal to our tribe. It's a very important event," Stanger said.
Stanger said not only is it a celebration of the two cultures coming together, it's a chance to pray for good blessing for their families and the tribe.
Cindy LaDeaux, of the Coeur d'Alene tribe, helped to plan the Mass this year and said it's also about celebrating the heritage of the tribe.
"It's a pilgrimage back (to the Cataldo Mission) because this is where we are originally from in the 1800s," LaDeaux said. "It's a celebration."
After Communion and toward the end of the Mass, Cook again stepped up to the microphone and began reciting a prayer. It's nothing unusual to hear a prayer at Mass, but then she recited the prayer in the Coeur d'Alene Salish language.
The traditional Catholic prayer recited in the dying language of the Coeur d'Alene displayed the distinct traditions merged into a one-of-a-kind event.
The uniqueness of the event and the beauty of the backdrop at the Cataldo Mission bring people to the Mass from all over. Italy native Ana Tei, who now splits time between Italy and Idaho, has been in attendance every year since 1994, and she said the event is something she wouldn't miss.
"My Catholic background is one reason I come," Tei said. "I also fell in love with the area and the event."
George Fawkes was at the Mass with Tei, and has been in attendance for the last six years. Fawkes said the "people, the uniqueness, everything" are what make the Mass something special.
To close out the Feast of the Assumption, tribal children dressed in regalia danced in traditional Native American fashion for the onlooking crowd circled around them The Shooting Stars dancers performed in groups as they danced wildly to traditional music. Fifteen-year-old Franky Skwanqhqn has been doing the traditional dancing for seven years and said the event and the dancing give him an opportunity to be closer to the tradition of the Coeur d'Alene tribe.
"(I do it) because I get a chance to represent my tribe," Skwanqhqn said.
That tribal pride is the backbone of the Cataldo Mission's Feast of the Assumption.
SHAWN GUST/Press Two women, on in traditional Native American dress, clasp hands during a prayer.
SHAWN GUST/Press Catholic Bishop Michael Driscoll leans against a staff while praying during an outdoor mass with nearly 500 in attendance.
SHAWN GUST/Press Fancy Dancer Jonathon Nomee performs for a large crowd following Catholic mass during a tribal pilgrimage ceremony in Cataldo.