Sacred Mission Day of the dolls

110-year-old dolls will be part of exhibit at state park

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JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Greta Hansen, the conservator for the department of anthropology at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, carefully removes a handmade doll from a storage box Thursday at the Old Mission State Park museum in Cataldo. A total of three dolls that were crafted more than 100 years ago by Coeur d'Alene tribal members will be on display in the Sacred Encounters Exhibit that opens Oct. 15.

CATALDO - First, the crate was opened.

Next, one of four secured boxes inside was removed, the lid lifted off.

Finally, Greta Hansen slipped on a pair of surgical gloves.

Time for the dolls.

Felix Aripa, elder with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, watched closely as the conservator for the National Museum of National History carefully picked up the cloth doll, and placed it gently on a table.

Within a few minutes, another box was opened, another doll was displayed.

And finally, a doll depicting a baby on a traditional Native American baby carrier joined the others.

Aripa smiled. Seeing the family of dolls, he said, was "just like coming home."

"This is a good day," the 88-year-old said Thursday.

The 110-year-old dolls were made by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. They will be part of the Sacred Encounters exhibit that opens Oct. 15 at the Old Mission State Park visitor center.

The 2-foot-tall dolls - detailed with beads - portrayed a woman, man and baby, each in Native American clothing. This was their return to their homeland, since shortly after they were made in 1901, they were sold to an American officer who in turn gave them to the Smithsonian Institute. They've been there since.

"We're thrilled to have them back," said Ray Brinkman, Coeur d'Alene Tribe linguist.

About 15 people on Thursday toured the exhibit, "Sacred Encounters: Father De Smet and the Indians of the Rocky Mountain West," which is still in progress.

It will feature about 60 artifacts, some liturgical materials, others Native American objects, some more than 200 years old. There's a 1797 chalice and Jesuit rings from the 1750s, each protected in glass cases. Some items are on loan from museums across the country, transported with great care.

All will tell stories of the relationship between the Tribe and the Jesuit priests led by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, who traveled to the tribal homeland in 1842.

The exhibit "will give all visitors an even deeper understanding of the park's unique place in history and the amazing yet complex story that took place here which was repeated in places wherever tribal people and missionaries met," according to a project summary.

The 5,000-square-foot, climate controlled exhibit, with beefed up security measures, will include nine scenes, highlighted by video and music, as guests walk from one theme to the next. There will also be videotaped interviews with tribal elders, photographs and murals.

"We have De Smet's cross right here," said Project manager Lisa Watt of the exhibit.

The centerpiece is a "dream-like recreation of the Sacred Heart Mission on Christmas Eve, 1842."

Putting the exhibit together has been a detailed, slow process, Watt said, but the result is a brilliant, beautiful display, historically accurate, that should draw thousands of visitors.

The $3.3-million, 9,000-square-foot visitor center was built to be home to Sacred Encounters.

"It illuminates the history of the Cataldo Mission and that it's connected to the Coeur d'Alene Tribe," Watt said.

The dolls took center stage Thursday.

Tribal elder Bertha Garrick-Swam, 86, said she had a picture of herself in a baby board on her mother's back. She said her dolls were destroyed in a fire when she was young.

"Could I look at that?" she said as she stood slowly while Hansen held up the doll.

"It's beautiful," Garrick-Swam said.

Jaysee Goudy, granddaughter of Garrick-Swan, said the dolls brought back many memories for her grandmother.

"It just makes me excited to see her excited," the 19-year-old said.

Aripa was pleased Sacred Encounters is at the Old Mission State Park, home to the Sacred Heart Mission, a Jesuit mission built between 1850 and 1853 by Jesuit priests working with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.

"From this very place we were given the true faith that we follow up to this day," Aripa said.

The dolls, he noted, "came back to their mother."

"Welcome home," Aripa said.

JEROME A. POLLOS/Press The dolls were crafted as gifts and were later donated to the Smithsonian where they have remained in storage.

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