What is the plot of The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, by Louise Erdrich, can best be understood if one is familiar with the author’s earlier novels, especially Love Medicine.  Erdrich’s stories revolve around a fictional Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, Little No Horse, and the trials and tribulations that are a routine part of daily life on the average North American reserve.  The plot of The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, however, is complicated.  The story moves back and forth through a period extending from 1912 to the present, and its main character, Father Damien Modeste, is revealed early on to be a woman in disguise, pretending to be the parish priest who was traveling to his new parish at Little No Horse when he died in a flood.  This woman, though, is no ordinary imposter.  Agnes Dewitt is a former nun whose ambitions of a life serving God in the highly structured and occasionally repressive Catholic Church were derailed due to her passionate love for playing the piano.  Posing as the deceased Father Damien, Agnes assumes his place at the reservation, and thus begins her spiritual transformation.  Right from the start, Agnes/Father Damien is exposed to the legacy of a history of genocide directed against Native Americans by the European settlers who swept across the vast expanse of North America.

When first she reaches Little No Horse, she meets Kapshaw, a member of a family that plays a major role in Love Medicine, and who proves to be the novel’s most important voice of conscience.  Despite her departure from the Church, where she was known as Sister Cecilia, “Father Damien” remains spiritually devoted to the Catholic Church, and fully intends to minister to the parish accordingly.  Upon meeting Kapshaw, however, and viewing the social and economic deprivation prevalent throughout the reservation, her commitment to one spiritual path begins to transition toward another one.  The Ojibwe’s approach to Catholicism is, unsurprisingly, that of an alien theology introduced into their ancient midst, and in the form of the European settlers who caused the calamity that is the modern-day reservations.  As Kapshaw asks, rhetorically, upon meeting the newest parish priest,

''Our world is already whipped apart by the white man.  Why do you black gowns care if we pray to your God?'' 

Father Damien’s spiritual transformation, a lifelong process, has imbued in her conflicted feelings regarding Catholicism and its role on the reservation.  Towards that end, she continuously sends letters to the Pope requesting his attention to her concerns – requests that go unanswered.  She is, however, eventually visited by a representative from the Church regarding Sister Leopolda, who the Vatican is investigating as a potential candidate for sainthood.  Father Damien knows of Sister Leopolda’s true character, however, which is malignant, yet can say nothing while Sister Leopolda is alive because it is she who alone, Father Damien mistakenly believes, knows the truth about Father Damien’s true identity.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse is a moving and rewarding novel about the conflict between Eurocentric theological tenets and those of the natives whose own relationship to God is every bit as legitimate yet which has been the target of hundreds of years of proselytizing intended to convert them away from that about which they more deeply believe.

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