The world of the Rosebud Sioux that he encountered there was strange to him. It was difficult to get his seventh- and eighth-grade students at the St. Francis Mission boarding school to line up in a row or follow a rigid schedule. The Rosebud Sioux had what he considered a permissive method of child rearing, and the younger children would return from summer vacation speaking a combination of Lakota and English.
In those days, the Jesuits forbade Lakota to be spoken in school, though a formal apology to the tribe was issued and the remaining reservation Jesuit school in South Dakota, the Red Cloud Indian School, now teaches the language.
“In the early ’60s, we didn’t have much respect for their culture,” Father Doll said. “We were trying to help them adapt to our society, learn their English, so they could enter the American society, without respect to their culture. We are much more respectful now of who they are, and of their experience. At least, we try to be.”
Father Doll figures that he learned at least as much from his students as they did from him during the three years he taught on the reservation. He says he began to see the “sacred in their lives.”
“I learned to respect another culture, because we were immersed in it,” Father Doll said. “And I really learned about the values that the Native Americans have of sharing and their sense of generosity with one another, and how they honor you.”
It was during this education on the reservation that Father Doll received a second calling – to photography. Now, decades later, his photographs are collected in a new, autobiographical book “A Call To Vision: A Jesuit’s Perspective on the World,” published this year by Creighton University Press and Magis Productions.
Don Doll Grandmother Therchik, a Yupik Eskimo, enjoyed a moment with her grandchildren. In tribal society, kinship is all-important.
This calling dates to 1962, when, on the Rosebud reservation, a fellow priest asked Father Doll if he would be interested in learning photography to help with fund-raising for the mission. Soon, he was rolling his own film and printing photos in the school darkroom. He also took a summer class in photojournalism at Marquette University.
After he had been at it for two and a half years, he became discouraged because he “still hadn’t taken a decent picture.” He was considering giving up photography and went for a walk in the South Dakota prairie to ponder what his mission as a Jesuit should be.
Though he didn’t consider himself brilliant academically, he felt he was better at teaching Native Americans than some of his colleagues. He loved working on the Jesuits’ ranch, but the Jesuits were selling it, and, as he says, he “couldn’t be a cowboy without a cow.”
And then: “I heard a loud voice saying: ‘Stay with photography. It’s the first thing you really loved doing. Stay with it. Don’t worry if it takes 10 years.’ ”
Father Doll, now 75, has since used photography to promote and protect Native American culture. His photographs have graced the pages of National Geographic magazine, as well as three books. His work with Native Americans wasn’t penance for the Jesuits’ earlier missteps at Rosebud, he was just applying the lessons he learned when teaching at the boarding school.
After leaving the reservation in 1965, he went on to complete his studies in theology and began teaching photography at Creighton University in Omaha in 1969.
In 1974, about 10 years after he had received his calling to photography, he returned to the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota — this time as a documentary photographer. Influenced by W. Eugene Smith’s “Spanish Village” project, he spent a year taking photos in Spring Creek, a town of 175 people, who all spoke both Lakota and English. He knew many of them from his years of teaching.
Don Doll Kaltag, Alaska. Kaltag High School’s prom king and queen, who are Athabaskan, and half of the graduating class, took to the dance floor.
While there, he often prayed before releasing the shutter. “I used to pray that I could really make photographs that portrayed how special they are and something of the empathy they had and that God has for them.”
At the end of the year, Father Doll bought half a cow as a thank-you present, and there was a feast and plenty of speeches. He was honored with a name in Lakota: “Wahacankayapi” which, he said, “means something like, he who shields them.”
After the year, he returned to teaching photography at Creighton. His book of photographs, “Crying for a Vision: A Rosebud Sioux Trilogy,” was published in 1976 by Morgan and Morgan.
Father Doll went on to photograph the Yupik Eskimos of Alaska in 1980 and 1981 and the Athabaskans of the Northern Yukon from 1987 to 1989. Both were published in black and white in National Geographic magazine.
Then he undertook a series of portraits of tribal elders, medicine men, teachers, artists and people who were making a difference in the Sioux Nation. He photographed and interviewed his subjects in Sioux reservations in five states and in Canada. The striking color images, accompanied by the subjects’ stories, were collected in the book “Vision Quest: Men, Women and Sacred Sites of the Sioux Nation,” published in 1994 by Random House Crown Publishing.
While many photographers — even agnostics — may whisper a prayer before releasing the shutter when faced with capturing the most important moments of their career, very few combine a religious vocation with a photographic one. And it’s safe to say that not many photographers have spent 30 consecutive days praying.
But it was during a monthlong retreat, which often meant five or six hours of daily prayer and deep contemplation of a single biblical passage, that Father Doll discovered the profound connections that, for him, link prayer and photography. No matter what he did in his prayer, “nothing was happening,” he said. But it was this lack of revelation that provided him with insight.
“I said: ‘Oh my god! Prayer is just like photography, where you have to let go of what you want to happen or what you think’s going to happen. You have to let go of your preconceptions and I think that same thing applies to photographing. You have to let go of your suppositions of what the picture is or should be and just be present in the moment.’ ”
Don Doll Beau Big Crow competed as a dancer at powwows around the Midwest. He is originally from Oglala, S.D. The word for powwow came from an Algonquin word for a gathering of medicine men and spiritual leaders in a curing ceremony — pauau.Fonte