On April 2, 1975, Sylvester J. Tinker, Chief of the Osage Nation, presented to Pope Paul VI at the Vatican a solid silver Osage Peace Medal, saying:
“I present this Medal as a symbol of peace and friendship and ask that you pray for all mankind so we may live in harmony. God has given us the land, the sky, the water and all living things. Let us endure and enjoy.”
Chief Tinker’s medal was among the first to be presented by a tribal sovereign nation to another sovereign and the first to a prominent Christian leader. The face of the medal depicts Chief Tinker holding the Eagle Wing Fan, a Christian cross, and the year. On the reverse are the ten chiefs preceding Tinker since the 1870s.
The Osage have had a strong relationship with the Catholic Church since shortly after Marquette and Joliet first paddled the Mississippi River along what is now Missouri in 1673. The “black robes,” as the Osages called the Jesuits and the cassock-clad priests who followed them, conveyed a faith imbued with symbolism and ceremony that was less critical of Indian culture than the presentation of a flinty Protestantism by earnest New England preachers. We cover the story of Harmony Mission, in our book Damming the Osage. This well-intentioned effort to convert this powerful tribe to Protestantism was an abject failure.
The Catholics were more successful in converting Osages to Christianity. There is still a strong Catholic presence among the Osage, but today there is a diversity of religious affiliation within the Osage nation. Chief Tinker was a strong Catholic, whose work to improve conditions for tribal members was recognized by naming him a Knight of the Order of Malta: “The members of the Order may be defined as Catholics enlivened by altruistic nobleness of spirit and behaviour.” (From the website of the Order of Malta: Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta)
Peace medals have a long history as gifts of respect and recognition to principal leaders of Native American tribes, first from the French and Spanish, later from the U. S. federal government. George Washington was the first American president to present these honorific tokens to tribal dignitaries, a tradition followed by every other American president until the 1880s. Lewis and Clark carried 89 peace medals in five sizes with them on their 1804-06 expedition to the northwest. Only one medal came back with them to St. Louis.
An interesting, contemporary note: Pope Paul VI is now on the road to sainthood. In October this year, Pope Francis beatified him.