King: Uncharted lands

Feb 12, 2018 by

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There is a sculpture of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea on a bluff above the Missouri River in Great Falls, Mont. As they point west, they seem to dream beyond the setting sun. They believe they’ll find lands mirroring the East, proposes Tod Bolsinger in Canoeing the Mountains (InterVarsity Press, 2015).

Michael A. King


Drawing analogies pertinent to Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, as his subtitle summarizes, he portrays them as expecting modest mountains from which they’ll glide down a western-style Mississippi to the Pacific. This will delight Thomas Jefferson, who wants them to explore the Missouri River in search of a waterway “across this continent for the purposes of commerce.”

Instead of a glide, their expedition crashed into the staggering realities of the Rocky Mountains. As Bolsinger puts it, they would have to go off the map into uncharted territory. They would have to change plans, give up expectations, even reframe their entire mission. There were no experts, no maps, no “best practices,” no sure guides.

Despite no direct waterway, reach the Pacific they ultimately did. The country burst across now-mapped “wilderness.”

Except people with their own maps already lived there. When the expedition arrived in 1805 in what is now Missoula, Mont., hospitable Salish Native Americans cared for the weary explorers. For decades after, the Salish sought constructive relationships with the following hordes.

In Missoula, the Salish had a campground. That’s where the University of Montana now sits. Behind Grizzly Stadium rises a mountain marked with a huge M. The Clark Fork River flows between it and downtown Missoula.

Though rebuilt since the first 1870s version, Higgins Bridge still connects the sides a few blocks downstream. On the university side is a plaque that tells of 1891. Amid promises broken then, before and later, the U.S. government said it was time: The Salish must move to the Flathead Reservation.

Today you can stand on the bank and watch cars whiz past where an age-10 Mary Ann Pierre Topseh Coombs and her Salish people, wearing their best ceremonial clothes, left home across Higgins Bridge while the white folk watched. There “Mary Ann recalled that ‘everyone was in tears, even the men’ and said the procession was like ‘a funeral march.’ ”

I learned about Mary Ann while my wife, Joan, who consults with behavior health-care providers, was connecting with Salish and other Native American health-care leaders in the Flathead Reservation. They wrestle with how to offer care — a 2018 version of the hospitality their people once provided Lewis and Clark — amid effects of yesterday’s traumas and today’s realities.

As by the Clark Fork I imagined Mary Ann’s crossing, I felt haunted by the Lewis and Clark saga. Their courage is evident. So is the fact that in charting their world on top of Native American charts they imposed tragedy in which most of us participate, myself included, as I love the land, likely first loved by Unami Native Americans, on which my home is built.

Does the shredding of familiar maps invite us to move beyond them and shift sources of inspiration? What if, when we encountered Lewis-and-Clark-like leadership, we imagined the alternate maps? Maybe last-shall-be-first maps like Jesus describes lurk in such paths not taken, such as collaborating with — instead of exploiting — the hospitality of Mary Ann’s people.

Michael A. King is publisher and president of Cascadia Publishing House LLC and blogs at Kingsview & Co.,

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