Indian Names Given.

It is a custom with the Indians to bestow Indian names upon missionaries and others who come to work among them, in order to make them, as it were, one with themselves. We had not been many months resident in Sarnia before we received an invitation from the pagan Chief at Kettle Point, to come to a grand feast which the Indians were preparing in our honour at that place, and to receive Indian names by which we should be incorporated into the Ojebway tribe.

It was one of the coldest of winter days when we started, the glass very low, a high wind, and the snow whirling through the air in blinding clouds. We went by train to Forest, and there Ahbettuhwahnuhgund met us with his sleigh. It was just a common box sleigh with two seats, and the bottom filled with straw, and two horses to pull us. We were all bundled up in rugs and blankets and wraps; the Chief, who was driving, had his head completely smothered up in a bright blue shawl belonging to his wife, and wrapped so many times round that he was as wide at the top of his eyes as at his shoulders. The only one of the party who appeared careless about the cold was an Indian named Garehees, who had come with us from Sarnia, and he sat with his feet hanging over the side of the sleigh; however, when we asked him how it was that he did not feel the cold, he replied with a grin, “Moccasins no cold,–white man boot cold,–ice!–two pair socks under moccasins me–big blanket too!” In about an hour and a half we arrived at the Chief’s house; it was the first time my wife had been to Kettle Point, and she was very much pleased to make acquaintance with the Indians of whom she had often heard, and who had sent her presents of apples and cherries from their orchards. She had brought with her a few small gifts for the children, with which they were much delighted. A little boy named Isaac had a sugar-dog given to him; he soon had its nose in close quarters with his mouth, and the people laughed to see it disappearing. Indians are nearly always very much behind time in their arrangements; they do not appear yet to understand the value of time–whether in their councils, their daily work, their feasts, or their attendance at church, they are generally behind the appointed hour. If a council is called to commence at noon, three or four Indians will have perhaps assembled at that hour; others straggle in as the day wears on; they sit or lie about, smoking their pipes, chewing tobacco, and talking; and it will probably be three o’clock before the council actually commences.

The Indian feast of to-day was no exception to the rule. It was appointed to take place at noon, but hour after hour sped by, and it was nearly four p.m. when they at length commenced. On entering the room where the feast was laid out, we found two seats arranged for us at the end of the apartment beneath an ornamented canopy decked with cedar boughs, and we were requested to sit down. Then the Chief and Shaukeens (both pagans) stood up, and the Chief made a brief oration to the people, which John Jacobs, a young native, then studying for the ministry at Huron College, interpreted for us. The Chief expressed his pleasure in receiving us among them, and his desire that we should become as one of them by receiving Ojebway names; and then, taking me by the hand, he continued: “The name that I have selected for you is one which we greatly respect and hold in fond remembrance; for it was the name of an old and respected Chief of our tribe who lived many years ago and whose name we wish to have retained; and seeing you are a missionary to the Ojebway Indians, it is the wish of my tribe as well as myself that you should be called after our late respected Chief; so your name hereafter is ‘Puhgukahbun’ (Clear Day-light).”

The moment my name was given, “Heugh! Heugh!” sounded from all sides, that being the Indian mode of expressing approval when anything is said or done.

Mrs. Wilson then rose and received her name in the same manner. The Chief, addressing her, said: “It is with great pleasure that I bestow also on you, the wife of the missionary, an Ojebway name. The name I am about to give you was the name of one of our sisters who has long since passed away from our midst, and it is our wish that her name should be retained among us. Your name therefore is ‘Nahwegeezhegooqua’ (Lady of the Sky).

“Heugh! Heugh! Heugh!” again sounded through the room, and then the Indians one and all pressed forward to have a shake of the hand with their new brother and sister. We almost had our hands shaken off, and from all sides came the cry, “Boozhoo, Boozhoo, Puhgukahbun; Boozhoo, Nahwegeezhegooqua, Boozhoo, Boozhoo!”

As soon as order was restored, the feast began. I had the seat of honour next to the Chief, and Mrs. Wilson sat next to me. The table was well covered with eatables–venison, cakes, pork, Indian bread, preserves, all in the greatest abundance. About thirty persons sat down to the first table the others waiting with true Indian patience for their turn to come; and a long time it was coming, for as soon as the first set had finished, an intermission was made for music and speechifying. Several very pretty songs were sung by the Indian choir, some in English and some in Indian.

After the feast was over and the tables cleared, I was asked to address the people, and Wagimah interpreted for me. I told them briefly hew much pleased I was to receive an Ojebway name, and thus become one of their number, and how Mrs. Wilson and myself would now feel that we could shake hands with them and regard them as our brothers and sisters. God, I said, had greatly prospered our work since I came among them. We had already our church completed and our Mission-house nearly so at Sarnia; the great Society in England had contributed five hundred dollars towards the erection of these buildings, and our friends in England about five hundred dollars more; so that there would be no debt. As soon as we had money enough I hoped that with their help we should be able also to build a little church and teacher’s house for them here at Kettle Point, and send a catechist to reside among them and teach their children. It was late in the evening when we bade good-bye and drove back to Forest, where we remained for the night and the next morning returned to Sarnia. On our arrival I found a letter awaiting me from the Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, authorizing me to place a catechist in charge of the Kettle Point Mission.

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

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