A Trip Up Lake Superior.

It had been arranged that directly the holidays commenced at the Shingwauk Home, the Bishop and myself should start on a Missionary tour up Lake Superior, the plan being simply as follows:–We would take with us our boat, _The Missionary_, five or six Indian boys to man it, and provisions for six or seven weeks. We would first proceed by steamboat 300 miles direct to Prince Arthur’s Landing, taking our boat on board; remain there about a week, during which we would pay a visit into the interior; then coast the whole way back, visiting all the Indians along the north shore of the Lake.

When we reached the Landing, the Indian superintendent, to our great satisfaction, invited us to join him in an expedition to the “Height of Land” where he was going to pay the wild Indian tribes their annuity money.

At length after four days we reached the Hudson Bay waters, the Savanne connecting through a long chain of lakes and rivers with Lake Winnipeg. Lac des Milles Lacs, into which we soon entered, is a perfect labyrinth of lakes and islands. Here and there were expectant Indians come out to meet us in their frail bark canoes, and, paddling up alongside, they joined the cluster at our stern. A strange and impressive sight was it when we at length hove in sight of the “Height of Land,” a huge rocky eminence like an upturned basin, literally swarming all over with Indians, in every position and every imaginable costume. One solitary wigwam stood at the top and others could just be seen, betraying a considerable village in the rear. A large Union Jack also floated from a mast planted in the rock. There they sat and crouched and smoked, or stood, or leaned with that majestic composure peculiar to the Indian race; while below, on the slippery sides of the rock, tumbled and rolled about their dirty children, or prowled their grim and wolfish-looking dogs. It was a gay holiday time for them all. For three days and three nights pork and flour and tobacco would be flowing freely into their laps from their great and good mother, the Queen; and to every individual, man, woman, and child, yea, to even the papoose of a day old, would be given L1 to spend as they pleased.

We got our tents pitched–the Bishop’s and our own–and then went out to survey the scene. A most novel and interesting one indeed it was, wigwams on all sides of us, some of them containing perhaps forty people, others conical, in which were two or three families with a fire common to them all in the middle. In the water near the dock were several boys bathing and diving, as though perfectly in their element. Here and there stalked a stately chief in his scarlet coat, leggings, mocassins, and feathers in his head. The councillors, of which there were three to each band, wore dark coats with scarlet trimmings. But there were more outlandish personages than these to be seen; tall, lank men, with nothing on them but a scarlet blanket wound around the naked body, at times covering the shoulders, at times drawn only around the waist. Nearly all had plaited hair and silver earrings, and many had feathers in their heads, or head-dresses of beads and ribbons. The squaws were dressed much the same as our own Indians in bodices and skirts, though not quite so tidily. Some of the bead-work worn by the men was very handsome; it consisted mostly of garters below the knee, waistbands and tobacco-pouches worn round the neck and covering the front of the body. They also had their curiously-carved pipes, some of them with stems a yard long, tomahawks, knives, and other appendages.

Soon men and squaws were seen wending their way to their wigwams, bending under the weight of a side of bacon or a bag of flour. Now was a high time of joviality for them all–even the dogs licked their lips and prepared for the feast.

A crowd collected in rear of the Government buildings; and squatting upon mats on the ground were the musicians, three or four in number, beating away vigorously at their very unmusical drums–just the size and shape of a flat cheese, their drumsticks being shaped like a crook. Soon the war-dancers appeared upon the scene, each with a whoop and a flourish of his knife or tomahawk. Conspicuous among them was Blackstone–no longer in European dress, but with legs bare on either side to his hips–a white shirt almost hidden by massive beadwork ornaments, long braided hair, feathers in his head, and his right hand flourishing a bayonet. The dancing consisted in the actors leaping suddenly to their feet with a whoop, and working the whole body convulsively up and down while standing on their toes, without moving from their position, a monotonous whirring sound being kept up all the time, in which the squaws sitting around assisted. This was kept up long enough for me to sketch one man, when with another whoop and a flourish they sank into a squatting position, the drums still going on unceasingly. After a little rest up they got again, and so it kept on for a couple of hours. The proceedings, however, were broken in the middle by a speech from Blackstone.

When it was nearly tea-time I went out to look for my boys, and found Esquimau talking to an old man under a bark shelter with a stick or two burning at their feet; the old man was living quite alone and this was his wigwam, just room for him to lie down and no more. I sent the younger boys to light a fire and get tea ready, and then stayed with Esquimau to talk to the old man. When he found I was going to speak about religion, he called to his children–two men and a squaw–to come and listen. Another man came up, and in rather an officious manner informed me that it was no use for me to talk to the Indiana about religion; that they would not listen to me, and did not intend to accept Christianity. The Great Spirit, he continued, has made us all, and he has given one religion to the whites and another to the Indians. He does not wish his red children to accept the white man’s religion. I said I was sorry that any of them should think that, but that if any of them did not wish to hear me they could go somewhere else, and I would talk only to the old man. The old man, however, had now changed his mind and said he did not wish to hear me speak. Several others came round and all said that I must not speak to them about Christianity. One said their custom was for any one who wished to speak to them first of all to put down tobacco. This roused me. “No!” I said, “I am not a trader to carry tobacco about. I am working for my Master, the Great Spirit: the Great Spirit has told His followers that when they go out to preach they are not to carry money or anything else with them, they are simply to tell His message, if they are received, it is well, if not, they are to go away from that place and take the message to others.” I then said to Esquimau–“We had better kneel down and ask God to help us, and teach us what to do.” So we knelt, and each offered prayer, amid the jeers and interruptions of the Indians. Then I stood out among them and said in a loud voice, “My friends, I have come here to see you about religion, not to buy and sell, and trade with you, but to tell you about the Great Spirit who made you. Your Superintendent, Mr. Wright, has come to pay you money, but I have come to speak to you on religion. I have no tobacco, no pork, no money to give you. But I come to tell you of God who made us, and of His Son who came into the world to save us. I have been told that I must not speak, that none of you will listen to me, but I tell you that I will speak to you: God has told me to speak to you, so this evening I will come among you to speak; those that wish to hear me can listen, those who will not hear can keep away.”

During tea it was arranged that the Bishop and myself, with the four Indian boys, should go out about sundown and address the people. Before starting we knelt together in the tent, and the Bishop offered up an earnest prayer to God that He would give us grace and wisdom to speak, and incline the hearts of these heathen people to hear and accept His word.

On the road there we were met by Blackstone. He seemed very angry, and said, “I am told that you are going to speak to the people to-night. You must not speak to-night, you must wait until to-morrow.” I said, “No, my friend, I must speak to them to-night.” “It shall not be,” said Blackstone, “you will not be listened to to-night; to-morrow I will let you speak.” I pointed to the sky, and said, “The Great Spirit has told me to speak to-night and I must obey the Great Spirit, I cannot obey man about this.”. Blackstone still refused to allow me to speak, but I was determined, and we went on. We went to the top of the rocky elevation, and immediately began singing a hymn in Indian. Our boys stood out nobly, and sang splendidly. I felt that it required more determination on their part to face the opposition of their own people than for us who were recognised as “black-coats.”

The singing attracted a number of people around us, and I spoke out loudly and addressed them. We then sang another hymn suitable for the occasion and the boys sang out lustily, like good soldiers of Christ. After this the Bishop gave a short, but very earnest and pointed address. Then Esquimau spoke very freely and forcibly, urging upon the people to give up their vain customs and accept Christianity. Then we knelt on the bare rock and prayed God to turn the hearts of the people to Himself, after which we left. Quite a number of people had gathered together when the singing commenced, and remained during more than half the time.

_July_ 24.–The next evening we had service again; myself and my four boys standing on the summit of the rocky eminence in the dim twilight, wigwams on all sides below us; a couple of old women cooking at a fire just beside us, and a few straggling Indians or children lying or sitting about. We sang a hymn in Indian at the top of our voices. This brought a great many people out, but not so many as last night. Then I addressed them.

We then sang another hymn, after which Esquimau spoke and urged the people to give up their vain customs and to become Christians; and, after kneeling on the hard rock and offering up an earnest prayer to God to change the hearts of these poor heathen, we departed.

Black clouds had gathered overhead and it was beginning to rain heavily when we sought the shelter of our tent.

_July_ 25.–The day following Blackstone appeared at my tent door. I asked him to come in but he declined. He seemed to be in a better frame of mind, and spoke in friendly terms, telling me all about the journey from here to the place where he generally lives, at the North-west angle about 200 miles distant. I showed him a photograph of the Shingwauk Home, and he asked some questions about it. He stayed some little time, and then said that the Indians were going to hold a council, and left.

About noon the boys returned with a tin pail of raspberries which we stewed and had for dinner. The monotonous sing-song and drum-beating of the Indians had been going on the whole morning in an adjoining wigwam; we were expecting hourly that the council would begin, but Blackstone kept putting it off. I suspected that he intended to have it at our usual time of meeting so as to draw away the people, and so for that reason we had our meeting earlier, about five o’clock. Before starting I called the boys together into the tent, and, after reading a few verses of Scripture, asked them if either of them were inclined to give up the attempt to teach these heathen people; they had been with me through it all, they had seen the reception we had met with, they had acted their part according to the talent committed to them; would they now give it up as hopeless, or would they go with me again to-night? To this they each in turn replied cheerfully and earnestly that they wished to go with me; so we knelt in prayer and asked for God’s help and proceeded forth once more to our rocky pulpit. We saw Blackstone going to and fro among the wigwams, and I thought I would ask him once more whether he would give his countenance to our service. So I called to him, “Blackstone, may I speak to you?” “Pahmah, pahmah,” (by-and-by, bye-and-bye), was his reply; “I am busy just now.” We waited until he came round again, and as he merely brushed past I resolved to commence at once. We chose a new situation this time, another rocky eminence in the middle of the wigwams. We conducted our little service as usual, and urged upon the people once more to forsake their customs and to accept the crucified Saviour. When I spoke of the Resurrection of Christ on the third day, there was a jeering laugh from some of the Indians which made me think of Acts xvii. 32. Blackstone, as I had expected, commenced his pow-pow or council directly we began our service, and so drew away all the principal men.

But it was time to prepare for our departure.


Topics:
Missions, Ojibway,

Collection:
Wilson, Rev. Edward F. Missionary Work Among the Ojebway Indians. London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge. 1886.

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