February 26, 2016 — The Provinciaal Cultuurcentrum Caermersklooster in Ghent, Belgium, recently opened a new exhibit on Jesuit missionary Pierre-Jean (or Pieter Jan) De Smet, featuring a wide array of artifacts and documents from the Jesuit Archives of the Central United States. "The Call of the Rockies — Pieter Jan De Smet and the Indian Tragedy" opened Feb. 4 and will run until May 1.
The exhibition includes a variety of documents, letters, rare books, maps, drawings, watercolors and other artifacts, more than 60 of which came from the archives located in St. Louis. Archivist David Miros escorted a large crate from St. Louis to Ghent and oversaw the installation of its contents in the museum display.
“The people of Belgium have long been fascinated by Native American people and their cultures,” Miros said. “There’s also some national pride for the accomplishments of De Smet.”
The exhibition focuses on the role of De Smet, not only as a missionary, but also as a defender of Native Americans. He acted as an advocate for peace and negotiated with the United States government. The common thread that runs through this exhibition is De Smet’s life story, together with his travels and many encounters with the different peoples to the west of the Rocky Mountains and in the Upper Missouri Valley.
A map from the Pierre-Jean De Smet Map Collection.
De Smet, as a missionary to indigenous populations, played a central role in the historical beginnings of the United States. His firsthand accounts describe the marginalization of indigenous people and the subsequent loss of their time-honored, traditional ways of life.
The exhibit does not end with the death of De Smet in 1873, but continues to tell the story of the American Indians and the missionaries who followed in his footsteps up until the present day.
Unique items of 19th-century clothing, ritual objects and weapons illustrate the world of the Native Americans and their way of thinking, as described extensively by De Smet in his many letters. De Smet’s travels and encounters with the Native American are also recalled by means of maps, drawings, paintings, photographs and documents. In addition to the maps and drawings by De Smet, the more refined drawings of fellow Jesuit Nicolas Point are also on display.
The exhibit is a joint project of the MAS/Museum aan de Stroom (Antwerp), the KADOC/Documentation and Research Centre for Religion, Culture and Society at the Catholic University of Leuven (Louvain) and the Caermersklooster, a cultural center in Ghent.