Project Canterbury

Pioneer Work in Algoma

By Eda Green

London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1915.

Chapter V. Indian Reserves and Schools.

As we have said, the great western regions belonged to the Indian and the hunter, until the idea came of building a railway right across the continent through the forest primeval.

The children of the forest saw with wonder, first the engineers, then an army of spade-men to level down or up, then the 'ties' (sleepers) laid in order and then, coming to the very end of the track, a car bearing steel rails from the Old World. They watched these being fastened down, and then on, ever on, into the New World across the prairies and the woods, they saw the construction train make its way week by week, pushing to the front the carriage which formed the navvies' barracks. Always farther and farther westward stretched the iron way, with trees towering for miles on either side and Lake Superior--Hiawatha's 'Shining Big Sea Water'--gleaming through the forest, far away.

Past the wigwams of the Algonquin Indian this march of civilisation swept on. Their solitudes became less solitary, log-house after log-house sprang up, and clearing succeeded clearing. The Indian was there still, but he had no fixed habitation and therefore he did not count. The roving habits which made him in a vague way claim the right to occupy those wide and fertile hills, regardless--because unconscious--of the wealth of possibilities they contained, were quite absurd in the settlers' eyes. It improved the value of the land to clear and till it, and for the Indian there was still plenty of room to wander, to pitch his wigwam and to light his camp fire, even though settler after settler did fell the trees and plough the land at their feet, and though the blue smoke rose from the chimney of a little cabin instead of under the open sky beside the group of wigwams.

Formerly the Indian had been terrible enough in his way to be treated with a sort of respect, but by degrees contempt took the place of fear. The White man was no longer afraid that a savage in plumes and war-paint, with terra-cotta coloured skin and lank black hair, might spring on him from behind any tree, bind him to its trunk, and after slowly roasting him, tear off his scalp. Such things indeed had been, and for each scalp the 'brave' had added another feather to his head-dress; they could not be forgotten, nor perhaps forgiven, but their day was over. Cruel as he was, the Red Indian had originally a pride and dignity of his own. He held his head high and believed in himself. Too often, however, he learnt nothing but evil from the first White men who came, and saw only two reasons why he should make friends with them--they could give him guns and gunpowder, and they could give him 'fire-water.' The sons of the forest were learning the habits of the bad settlers, not of the 'good ones; drink was enfeebling their constitutions and so rendering them a prey to epidemics that they were fast dying out. Reserves, as they are called, were established--areas where White men are not allowed to take up the land and where the Indians live after their own manner, under supervision by agents of the Indian Department of the Government. These Reserves are almost all near water, so that the Indians can fish; whilst on the land they grow the maize which is their chief food.

There are a considerable number in the Diocese of Algoma, and it is on these centres that the forces of mission work are best concentrated; but many of them are in the hands of the Roman Catholics. On the mainland the most important are Garden River near Sault Ste. Marie, and Ningwenenang on the beautiful Lake Nepigon. The latter is reached from Lake Superior up the river Nepigon, which is more beautiful even than the lake. It was in this far-western outpost that Bishop Fauquier established the first mission at the request of the chief, and here Mr. Renison lived for many years. He taught and baptised a band of Indians who remained faithful when, on account of his wife's illness, he was obliged to leave them and go down to Port Arthur. He tells how they used to come down the fifty or sixty miles to inquire for her, coming generally on the Saturday and staying for the Wednesday evening service. These journeys were made, of course, in canoes down the river, with several portages--that is to say, unnavigable places, where the canoes had to be unloaded, and they and the contents carried overland until it was possible to launch them again.

Mrs. Renison was buried in the churchyard at Nepigon Station, and from the reading-desk one Sunday soon afterwards her husband saw three Indians at the grave. With their snow-shoes they scraped the snow off, then with their mittens brushed the little mound quite clear, and kneeling down prayed, with tears streaming from their eyes. They did not wish to disturb the service by coming in; so Oshkopekuhda the chief, and his two companions, sat down quietly in the snow, till Mr. Renison sent some one to fetch the shivering Red men in. They had proved their devotion before by hauling and sawing the planks for the church--regular work which is very distasteful to the roaming native. For many years they were left alone; for no missionary came forward who knew the Indian tongue. Each summer the Bishop and his chaplain visited this faithful band and heard their laments over their dead, whom they had laid in graves without Christian burial and over the infants who had died unbaptised; and each year the Bishop's heart was wrung as he--whom they called the 'Revolving Sun' and 'Menokezhegud,' 'a fine day,' because he brought to them the Gospel light--could only tell them he had no means and no missionary to send them.

In 1900, a layman in the diocese volunteered for this work. He gave up his occupation and sold some land he possessed in order, with the proceeds, to support himself and his family while he read for Holy Orders. In due time he was ordained deacon and established by the Bishop among the neglected flock. Whilst the Mission was unoccupied Roman Catholic influences had been at work, but the chief and many of his band remained steadfast.

The Bishop told them that he was bringing a missionary who had left his wife and family in order to come to them. 'He has no house to live in here: he cannot live without a shelter when the stormy winds do blow. I want the Indians to work and to help in building a house. I do not ask for money, because I know they have no money. I want the Indians to cut logs for the walls and floor and roof, and I will buy the windows and doors and nails and other things which the Indians cannot make.' He asked them also to help the missionary to go along the shores of the lake to seek out, for Christ, the poor pagans, and to bring him offerings--fish, venison and moose meat which they get in hunting, and maize from their gardens.

Oshkopekuhda first answered for himself, and then the others promised to do what the Bishop asked them. The building of the house was urgent; so the very next day they went out into the bush, and in two days had cut and squared fifty-six logs--a great effort to be made so quickly by the Indians, to whom time is a matter of supreme indifference. A hut, fourteen feet square, was first built; then the church was repaired and the house added to, so that the next summer when Mr. Fuller came down to be ordained priest, he was able to take his wife and children back with him. He laboured there for eight or nine years, absolutely alone among the Red men, until he was called to the charge of the Indian Schools. There is a weird grandeur in the dreamy woods which stretch far back from Lake Nepigon, interspersed by clusters of smaller lakes and pools, some of which the Indians believe to have mystic qualities, and still here among the forests wander undisturbed the children of the primeval dwellers.

The Garden River Reserve is some twelve miles from Sault Ste. Marie. Here Shingwauk, the old chief who received Mr. McMurray, came to end his days. He was buried near the banks of the St. Mary River, and some years later a church was built on the spot. On the old tombstone is a sketch of a pine-tree (Shingwauk) and the inscription 'Shingwauk, Chief of the Ojibway Nation.' Lately a window to his memory has been put in by Longfellow's daughter. The Indians here are proud to bring their treasures out of many wrappings of paper to show to a stranger--the silver medals of George III, a tiny hand-loom used generations ago, or the pipe of peace, which used to be smoked when warring tribes made peace together. Shingwauk was a great friend of the 'Black Coat,' and he and his son Buhgwujjenene set their hearts on having a big 'Teaching Wigwam'; Buhgwujjenene was a very earnest Christian and gathered his people together for service in his wigwam until at length a missionary came to live among them. The chief got a church and then a schoolhouse built, and he came to England to raise funds for the 'Big Wigwam' his father had wanted. He was received by King Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, and by Dr. Tait, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was much gratified by the way he was treated; but he said: 'The poor are too poor, and the rich are too rich. I want to be with my own people where there are fish in the river and game in the bush, berries on the rocks and sugar in the maple-trees--all free.' At last the 'Teaching House' was built at Garden River, and called the Shingwauk Home, after the old chief. It was of wood and was opened on September 22, 1873, with fifteen boys and girls as pupils. There were great rejoicings; but alas! six days later the Home was burnt to the ground. It was then decided that the next attempt should be more substantial, and in the following year Lord Dufferin laid the foundation of the stone building which bears the same name, and fronts the St. Mary River about two miles from Sault Ste. Marie.

The Wawanosh (White-Swan-gracefully-sailing) Home for girls was originally built some distance away; but it was found better to have all the children under one roof, and in 1897 a grant by S.P.G. from the Marriott Bequest made it possible to build on to the boys' part a wing for girls.

This has been the only Church of England Home for the Red man's children in Eastern Canada, and it has had representatives from the Ojibways and Delawares, and a few Iroquois, Crees, and Pottawattamies. The girls are taught sewing, house and laundry work, and out of school the boys' time is divided between the farm, and carpentering, tailoring, and shoemaking. The Indian instinct of quick perception is very noticeable in the accurate writing in their copy-books, and the clever way in which they model in clay from a leaf or flower placed before them. Besides the main block, the hospital, gymnasium, and schoolhouse, there has been provided a most beautiful chapel, built in memory of the first Bishop of Algoma. Passing down a grassy glade, overarched by tall pines, you come to a wooden gateway surmounted by a cross. It is the gate of the little cemetery: here lie the boys who have been cut down by the Indian's scourge, consumption, and here rest Bishop Fauquier and his wife and the native boy whom he found long ago on that first visit to Lake Nepigon and laid his hand upon, baptising him under his own name of Frederick.

Twice a day the pupils assemble for prayers in the chapel, and besides the religious influence thus carefully provided for, the training received in the Home, by the successive sixty to eighty children it can take in, has fitted them to take their place as useful workers and citizens of the Dominion. The Indian Department makes a grant for each child, S.P.C.K. has given scholarships, the Colonial and Continental Church Society an annual grant, and the New England Company occasional help. Special children have been supported by K.M. and the English Algoma Association. After a time of great difficulty, the Home is now recovering and bids fair soon to become independent of outside help except the Government grant.

The Manitoulin Island has several Reserves. At Sucker Creek a cement church has lately been built, to the great joy of an old Indian woman who just lived to see it. One of her sons is ordained and working in a western diocese, and as long as she could get out Catherine Magrath was never absent from the services in the school-house. A comparison of Mr. O'Meara's account of his travels and the scrupulously clean house of this aged Indian proves what Christianity has done even for the material welfare of her race.

At Sheguiandah a yearly gathering of the Indians is held. Whenever he can arrange it, the Bishop is present and speaks to the people in their own church; they have come from many islands round in their canoes and the building is closely packed with a dusky congregation. After the service an outdoor feast is held, and sports and games end the day.

At the western end of the Manitoulin is a very beautiful Reserve, surrounded by woods, which in summer are carpeted with gorgeous purple flags, scarlet lilies, and wild roses. This Sheshegwaning was a Roman, settlement; but some years ago discontent which had been simmering came to a head, and fourteen families sent in a petition that they might be admitted to the Anglican Church. One cause which led to this was the unsatisfactory teaching given to their children in the Roman Catholic school; but a greater reason was the action taken by the Roman authorities in excommunicating parents who sent their boys to the Shingwauk Home, and in refusing to allow the people to read the Bible for themselves. One of them thus expressed their feeling: 'Why does not the priest give us the Bible? It is God's letter. It is just as if I went away from home for a long time and I wrote a letter to my boys telling them what to do on the farm and how to do it. Then I come home and find they have not done things right, and I learn that they put my letter on the shelf and never read it.'

They had thought it well over and were resolved no longer to remain Romans; they wished to be received into the Anglican Church, but if this was impossible they would join the Methodists. Fifty of them were received, among whom were eighteen children of school age, for whom a school was opened. Hardly ever did a child miss attendance, and daily at noon, before the school broke up, the little brown children joined in their native tongue in prayer for missions. The school bell gave notice of the moment, and a copy of the prayer was given to the parents so that they too could join in their own homes. Services were held in the school, but the Indians were keenly anxious to have a church apart from the schoolhouse. Eighteen pounds due to the men for work was returned by them as the beginning of a fund; they gave entertainments in 'White' villages, and the women made things for sale. By these means they provided £100--a large sum for them--and through the generous help of a lady in England they have now a very well finished cement church. Most of the work was done by the Indians themselves, and almost every one of them was present at the first service, a 7.30 A.M. celebration of the Holy Communion.

These people have suffered much persecution from their Roman neighbours. Among those who came over was the old man who had been chief for many years. Shortly afterwards he was deposed, and a Roman elected by the vote of the community. The gift of a site for the church was almost stopped also, in the same way; for a gift, even of a man's own ground, on a Reserve, must be confirmed by the general vote. Faithful teaching has been given by the English catechist. Once when he was away, the baby grandchild of the old chief became very ill; the father had to go off some thirty miles for a doctor, but doubting if the child could live till his return, he baptised it himself before he started.

Here, and at other native settlements on the Manitoulin, women do beautiful work, making boxes and other things of birch-bark, delicately embroidered with dyed porcupine quills and edged with a sweet-scented grass. The Indians are said not to be actually decreasing now in numbers, but the mortality from consumption is very sad. Last year a pathetic scene was witnessed on a little island close to a Hudson Bay store. The Indians had camped there with their furs. In one of the families two children had died in the early summer; the furs had all been exchanged and the time had come to go back to the woods, but another child had sickened. Beneath a tent, with branches of trees propped up to keep off the flies, lay this boy of three years old panting for breath, while the mother, a tall lithe Cree woman, with beautiful features, stood leaning against a tree, watching, as if turned to stone. Within an hour her third child would have gone, and the eldest, a girl of twelve, was already showing signs of the fell disease. The night before, other families, hearing the Bishop was on the mainland, had come across in their canoes for service, bringing the babies in their papoose cradles which were stood up in the pews, and the sorrowing parents, who could not come, were comforted by the words of consolation and of hope spoken to them by the death-bed of their child.

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