Baptism Of Pagans.

There were not many genuine Pagans either at Sarnia or at Kettle Point. Pagan practices had fallen altogether into disuse. There were some Indians living who had been “medicine men,” but we never heard that they practised their charms. Still there were several families who held aloof from Christianity. When spoken to about being baptized, their reply was that they thought the Christian Indians behaved worse than the Pagan Indians, and they were afraid that if they were baptized they would become as bad. It was sad that such a thing could be said, and sadder still that there should be any truth about it. Of course the mere fact of the Indians being brought into contact with white people would lead them into temptations from which, in their wild wandering state, they had been comparatively free. It has been said even by white travellers that they have found the pagan Indiana of the North more honest and trustworthy than those in a semi-civilized and nominally Christian state. The Indian when he mixes with the Whites soon learns their bad habits, but is more slow to learn what is holy and good.

There were several families at Kettle Point who at the time when we established our Mission were still nominally Pagan. Chief among them were Ahbettuhwahnuhgund and his sister, and Shaukeens, with his wife and family. Ahbettuhwahnuhgund’s wife had been baptized, and so also had his two eldest children. One of the first religious rites that I was asked to perform when I began to visit Kettle Point was to receive into the Christian fold the Chief’s little boy and aged sister; and at the same time the wife of Shaukeens, who had had several rather dangerous attacks of illness, was baptized. We called the little boy Cornelius, and Mrs. Shaukeens received the name of Tabitha.

It was strange how superstitious the Indians continued to be even after their acceptance of Christianity. They seemed never to lose altogether their faith in witchcraft, especially in that form by which it was believed that certain persons had power to cause sickness or misfortune to others. They seemed also to have a firm belief in dreams. Once I was visiting at a poor miserable little shanty on the Sarnia Reserve, and found an old man and his son both lying very sick. The poor creatures were in a wretched condition, the hovel they were in consisting merely of strips of bark and old boards outside and inside hung with rags and tatters and old cloths of every description. The only person to tend them was an old woman–wife, I suppose, of the elder man–who was crouching over the fire smoking her pipe. When we came in, the sick man was gnawing a duck bone, some one having shot him a wild duck. He said it was the first time he had eaten anything for several days; his son was too ill to eat anything. The old man told Wagimah that he had seen me before, a night or two ago in a dream. I had made a garden, and divided it into four parts, and one of these parts was very miserable and wretched. I was walking through this miserable part one day, when I found this poor man. He was very sick indeed, and I took him up and brought him into another part of the garden which was very beautiful, and told him that he might stay there and work, and be happy for ever. Such was his dream. I repeated some verses of Scripture to the poor creature, and then we knelt and prayed. I heard afterwards that the people around believed the old man to be bewitched; some evilly-disposed “medicine man,” they said, had brought this sickness upon him by his enchantments.

It was a very interesting occasion, when the whole of Shaukeens’ family, consisting of seven children, were brought to me for baptism.

At 2 p.m. the horn was blown, and the people began to come together to our little temporary school-house. About twenty-eight assembled, and we began service with a hymn; then I read the evening prayers from my Ojebway prayer-book, and at the close of the lesson began the baptismal service. David Sahpah, his wife, and Adam stood sponsors for the children. The names given to them were Stephen, Emma, Sutton, Esther, Alice, Talfourd, and Wesley. Before their baptism, they had no names, and I had to register them in my book as No. 1 boy, No. 2 girl, and so on. It was curious to notice how Pagans attending our services never made any change in their position as the service proceeded. This time the mother, who had been baptized about two months before, kneeled, or stood, or sat with the other people; but the father and children sat quietly on their seats. After the service the children joined in the devotions, and the father only remained sitting.

The Chief Ahbettuhwahnuhgund for a long time refused to be baptized, although I very often had conversations with him on the subject, and I felt that in his heart he fully believed the great truths of Christianity. It was partly, perhaps, pride that kept him back, and partly that he was waiting, as he said, to see the Church of England Mission firmly established at Kettle Point.

In the first week of January, 1870, our new school-church and master’s house at Kettle Point were opened for use. Very pretty they looked as we approached; three flags were flying, and there were crowds of Indians around. Mr. Jacobs, who was now settled in charge of the Mission, met us on the steps of the little church, and accompanied us in. It was most tastefully decorated, and fitted up with a reading-desk on each side, dark-stained communion rails, and crimson coverings. Forty-five persons assembled at the opening service, and just filled the seats. It was a cause of much satisfaction to the Indians to have their little church, which they had worked so hard to build; at length completed. They had themselves supplied all the saw-logs out of which the lumber was made, and had put up the framework, so that it had been but a very small expense to the Mission.

Shortly after this I received word from the Chief that he was anxious to be baptized. His answer to my questions were very simple and childlike, and I had every reason to hope that he was sincere in his desire to be a Christian. “Many of these things that you tell me,” he said, “are new to me. I hear them now for the first time; nevertheless, I believe them. I believe all that the Christian’s book teaches; I cannot but believe it. No man could have written that book. I receive it all as true, and I trust that I may gradually learn all that there is to be learnt about the Christian religion.”

I gave him the name of Isaac, that being a name by which he had been commonly known among the white people for some time past. It was very interesting to kneel with that newly-baptized Indian Chief, and hear him for the first time pronounce those sacred words, “Wayoosemegooyun Kezhegoong ayahyun”–“Thou who art our Father, in heaven who art.” The Chief, his wife, his sister, and his children were all now Christians, and could unite together in prayer and praise and Christian worship.

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

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