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Metlakahtla and the North Pacific Mission of the Church Missionary Society

By Eugene Stock

London: Church Missionary House, 1880.

Chapter V. The New Settlement

As early as July, 1859, Mr. Duncan had foreseen the necessity, if the Mission were not only to save individual souls from sin, but to exercise a wholesome influence upon the Indian tribes generally, of fixing its head-quarters at some place removed from the contamination of ungodly white men. "What," he wrote, "is to become of children and young people under instruction when temporal need compels them to leave school? If they are permitted to slip away from me into the gulf of vice and misery which everywhere surrounds them, then the fate of these tribes is sealed." What that fate would be may be gathered from one of Bishop Hills' first letters in 1860. He found that of one tribe more than half had been cut off in a dozen years by drink and dissolute habits; and the traffic in Indian females for immoral purposes was openly carried on, from L40 to L60 per head being paid for them. "Victoria," wrote Mr. Duncan, "although it is 500 miles from Fort Simpson, will always prove the place of attraction to these tribes, and to many even further away. There they become demoralised and filled with disease; and from thence they return, laden with rum, to spread scenes of horror too awful to describe."

The Tsimsheans who had come under Mr. Duncan's influence, themselves implored him to devise some way of escape from the ruin they saw impending on their nation. And he laid before the Society a plan for establishing a colony, where well-disposed Indians might be gathered together. His objects are thus succinctly stated in an official report presented by him to the Canadian Government some years afterwards:--

"1st. To place all the Indians, when they became wishful to be taught Christianity, out of the miasma of heathen life, and away from the deadening and enthralling influence of heathen customs.

"2nd. To establish the Mission where we could effectively shut out intoxicating liquors, and keep liquor vendors at bay.

"3rd. To enable us to raise a barrier against the Indians visiting Victoria, excepting on lawful business.

"4th. That we might be able to assist the people thus gathered out to develop into a model community, and raise a Christian village, from which the native evangelist might go forth, and Christian truth radiate to every tribe around.

"5th. That we might gather such a community around us, whose moral and religious training and bent of life might render it safe and proper to impart secular instruction.

"6th. That we might be able to break up all tribal distinctions and animosities, and cement all who came to us, from whatever tribe, into one common brotherhood.

"7th. That we might place ourselves in a position to set up and establish the supremacy of the law, teach loyalty to the Queen, conserve the peace of the country around, and ultimately develope our settlement into a municipality with its native corporation."

The Indians themselves pointed out the locality for such a settlement, a place called METLAKAHTLA, [Metlakahtla = the inlet of Kahtla, Kahtla was the name of the tribe formerly settled there.] occupying a beautiful situation on the coast, seventeen miles from Fort Simpson. It had formerly been their own home; but they had removed their tents to Fort Simpson twenty years before for convenience of trade. Here they would be free from the influences of the Fort, which were decidedly adverse to the well-being of the Mission; they would have more opportunity of social improvement; they would have plenty of beach room for their canoes; and they would have plenty of land suitable for gardens, which they did not possess at their present station, and a channel always smooth, and abounding with salmon and shell-fish, while its beauty formed a striking contrast to the dreary country around.

The project met with the entire approval of the Governor, and the winter was occupied in preparing wood for the buildings, in the expectation that the removal would be effected in the spring. But the departure of Mr. Tugwell delayed the accomplishment of the scheme, and it was not until the summer of 1862 that Mr. Duncan found himself able to carry it out.

On May 18th, 1862, he began taking down the large temporary school which had been put up at Fort Simpson, and three days later its materials were rafted, and were on their way to the new site. Just then a message from God of a most solemn kind came to the coast tribes. Only two days after the raft had gone away, canoes from Victoria arrived with the news that the smallpox had broken out among the Indians there; and, worse still, it immediately became evident that the canoes had brought the fell disease with them. "It was," wrote Mr. Duncan, "evidently my duty immediately to see and warn the Indians. I had previously determined to do this in a farewell visit to each tribe before my departure from Fort Simpson, but I now felt doubly pressed to call upon all quickly to surrender themselves to God. I therefore spent the next few days in assembling and addressing each tribe (nine in all) separately. Thus all in the camp again heard a warning voice; many, alas! for the last time, as it proved. Sad to relate, hundreds of those who heard me were soon and suddenly swept into eternity."

Even at that moment of alarm very few of the Indians could make up their minds, when the time for departure came, to throw in their lot with the new colony. Nor can we be surprised at this, when we read the rules Mr. Duncan had framed for its guidance, admirable in themselves, and now abundantly justified by their signal success, but still involving a radical change in the habits of the Indians, and the abandonment of some of their most cherished practices. They were fifteen in number:--

1. To give up their "Alied," or Indian devilry; 2. To cease calling in conjurors when sick; 3. To cease gambling; 4. To cease giving away their property for display; 5. To cease painting their faces; 6. To cease drinking intoxicating drink; 7. To rest on the Sabbath; 8. To attend religious instruction; 9. To send their children to school; 10. To be clean; 11. To be industrious; 12. To be peaceful; 13. To be liberal and honest in trade; 14. To build neat houses; 15. To pay the village tax.

Nevertheless, when the day of removal came, fifty Indians accompanied Mr. Duncan to Metlakahtla:--

"On the 27th May, in the afternoon, we started off. All that were ready to go with me occupied six canoes, and we numbered about fifty souls--men, women, and children. Many Indians were seated on the beach, watching our departure with solemn and anxious faces; and some promised to follow us in a few days. The party with me seemed filled with solemn joy as we pushed off, feeling that their long-looked-for flit had actually commenced. I felt we were beginning an eventful page in the history of this poor people, and earnestly sighed to God for His help and blessing.

"The next day, the 28th May, we arrived at our new home about two p.m. The Indians I had sent on before me with the raft I found hard at work, clearing ground and sawing plank. They had carried all the raft up from the beach, excepting a few heavy beams; erected two temporary houses; and had planted about four bushels of potatoes for me.

"Every night we assembled, a happy family, for singing and prayer. I gave an address on each occasion from one portion of Scriptural truth suggested to me by the events of the day."

And a much larger number were not long in following. On June 6th a fleet of thirty canoes arrived from Fort Simpson, bringing nearly three hundred souls; in fact nearly the whole of one tribe, the Keetlahn, with two chiefs. Not many days, however, elapsed before the dreaded cloud overshadowed the coast. Small-pox broke out at Fort Simpson, and seized upon the Indians; and although for awhile they were content to ward it off, as they thought, by incessant conjuring, yet when some of the leading medicine men themselves fell victims to the disease, a great fear fell upon all, and they fled in all directions, but only spread the fatal scourge more widely by so doing. Many came to Metlakahtla, and though Mr. Duncan refused to receive some, he could not refuse all. "For the temporal and spiritual welfare of my own people," he wrote, "who now clung to me like timid children, I was kept in constant labour and pressing anxiety. Death stared us in the face on every hand. But God remembered us in the day of our calamity;" and of the original settlers only five were cut off. One of these was Stephen Ryan, one of the first group baptized by Mr. Tugwell in the preceding year. A touching account is given of his end:

"He died in a most distressing condition, so far as the body is concerned. A way from everyone whom he loved, in a little bark hut on a rocky beach just beyond the reach of the tide, which no one of his relatives or friends dared to approach except the one who nursed him; in this damp, lowly, distressing state, suffering from the malignant disease of small-pox, how cheering to receive such words as the following from him: 'I am quite happy. I find my Saviour very near to me. I am not afraid to die; heaven is open to receive me. Give my thanks to Mr. Duncan: he told me of Jesus. I have hold of the ladder that reaches to heaven. All Mr. Duncan taught me I now feel to be true.' Then, saying that he wished to be carried to his relatives, his words were, 'Do not weep for me. You are poor, being left; I am not poor: I am going to heaven. My Saviour is very near to me: do all of you follow me to heaven. Let not one of you be wanting. Tell my mother more clearly the way of life: I am afraid she does not yet understand the way. Tell her not to weep for me, but to get ready to die. Be all of one heart and live in peace.'"

Notwithstanding this heavy trial, the infant settlement grew and prospered; and in the following March, 1863, Mr. Duncan, in a letter to the Society, summed up the results of the Mission so far in these remarkable words:--

"The Lord has sustained His work, and given marked evidence of His presence and blessing. Above one-fourth of the Tsimsheans from Fort Simpson, a few Tongass, Nishkah, Keethrathla, and Keetsahlass Indians (which tribes occupy a circle of about seventy miles round Fort Simpson), have been gathered out from the heathen, and have gone through much labour, trial, and persecution, to come on the Lord's side. About 400 to 600 souls attend Divine service on Sundays, and are being governed by Christian and civilized laws. About seventy adults and twenty children are already baptized, or are only waiting for a minister to come and baptize them. About 100 children are attending the day schools, and 100 adults the evening school. About forty of the young men have formed themselves into two classes, and meet for prayer and exhorting each other. The instruments of the medicine-men, which have spell-bound their nation for ages, have found their way into my house, and are most willingly and cheerfully given up. The dark and cruel mantle of heathenism has been rent so that it cannot be healed. Numbers are escaping from under its deadly embrace. Customs, which form the very foundation of Indian government, and lie nearest the Indian's heart, have been given up, because they have an evil tendency. Feasts are now characterized by order and good will, and begin and end with the offering of thanks to the Giver of all good. Thus the surrounding tribes have now a model village before them, acting as a powerful witness for the truth of the Gospel, shaming and correcting, yet still captivating them; for in it they see those good things which they and their forefathers have sought and laboured for in vain, viz., peace, security, order, honesty, and progress. To God be all the praise and glory! Amen and amen."

To this may be added some extracts from a formal report which he sent to the Governor at the same time, and which gives a most interesting account of the material prospects of the settlement:--

"Metlahkatlah, 6th March, 1863.,

"Sir,--The Tsimshean Indians, who have lately removed from Fort Simpson under my superintendence and settled here, are very anxious to tender your Excellency their warmest thanks for the liberal and timely aid which you have rendered them in building their new village. The 150 window-sashes and 600lbs. of nails, which came of your bounty of L50, arrived quite safely in September last by the Hudson Bay Company's steamer 'Labouchere,' and have been duly distributed and appropriated as follows:--To thirty-five houses (averaging about 34 feet by 18) four window-sashes and 13lbs. of nails each; and to two smaller houses two window-sashes and 6lbs. of nails each. Five window-sashes and about 130lbs. of nails remain.

"In obedience to your Excellency's kind wish, I will proceed to lay before you a few particulars respecting our new Indian Mission settlement.

"Your Excellency is aware of the dreadful plague of the small-pox with which it pleased Almighty God to visit the Indians of this coast last year, and by which many thousands of them were swept away. Though no fewer than 500, or one-fifth of the Tsimsheans at Fort Simpson, have fallen, I have gratefully to acknowledge God's sparing mercy to us as a village. We had only five fatal cases amongst those who originally left Fort Simpson with me, and three of these deaths were caused by attending to sick relatives who came to us after taking the disease. Yet so fearful was the amount of death and desolation on every side of us till about the end of September, that the Indians had but little spirit left for building, or even for the gathering necessary food for the winter. Thus it was that they found inclement weather upon them long before they were properly housed. In addition to the great amount of labour and trouble attendant upon moving and building new houses, we have had to encounter great opposition from many of the Indians from Fort Simpson, who, in spite of the great warnings they have had, continue still to be steeped in drunkenness and heathenism. Nor has the conflict been one wholly outward, if indeed mainly so. For to many who have joined me, the surrendering their national and heathen customs performed over the sick--ceasing to give away, tear up, or receive blankets, etc., for display, dropping precipitately their demoniacal rites, which have hitherto and for ages filled up their time and engrossed all their care during the months of winter--laying aside gambling, and ceasing to paint their faces--had been like cutting off the right hand and plucking out the right eye. Yet I am thankful to tell you that these sacrifices have been made; and had your Excellency heard the speeches made by the chiefs and some of the principal men at our Christmas evening meeting, alluding to these and other matters, you would, I am sure, have rejoiced.

"On New Year's Day the male adult settlers came cheerfully forward to pay the village tax, which I had previously proposed to levy yearly, viz., one blanket, or two and a half dollars of such as have attained manhood, and one shirt or one dollar of such as are approaching manhood. Out of 130 amenable we had only ten defaulters, and these were excused on account of poverty. Our revenue for this year, thus gathered, amounts to 1 green, 1 blue, and 94 white blankets, 1 pair of white trousers, 1 dressed elk skin, 17 shirts, and 7 dollars. The half of this property I propose to divide among the three chiefs who are with us, in recognition of stated services which they will he required to render to the settlement and the other half to spend on public works.

"As to our government, all disputes and difficulties are settled by myself and ten constables, but I occasionally call in the chiefs, and intend to do so more and more, and when they become sufficiently instructed, trustworthy and influential, I shall leave civil matters in their hands. I find the Indians very obedient, and comparatively easy to manage, since I allow no intoxicating drinks to come into our village. Though we are continually hearing of the drunken festivals of the surrounding tribes, I am happy to tell you that Metlahkatlah has not yet witnessed a case of drunkenness since we have settled here--a period of ten months. Still, not all with me are true men. Some few, on their visits to Fort Simpson, have fallen, and two, whose cases were clearly proved and admitted of no extenuation, I have banished from our midst.

"On Sabbath days labour is laid aside, a solemn quiet presides, and the best clothing is in use. Scarcely a soul remains away from Divine Service, excepting the sick and their nurses. Evening family devotions are common to almost every house, and, better than all, I have a hope that many have experienced a real change of heart. To God be all the praise and glory!

"We have succeeded in erecting a strong and useful building, capable of containing at least 600 people, which we use as church and school. We held our first meeting in this building on the night it was finished, the 20th December last. I have about 100 children, who attend morning and afternoon, and about 100 adults (often more) in the evening. I occupy the principal part of the time in the adult school, in giving simple lectures on geography, astronomy, natural history, and morals. These lectures the Indians greatly prize.

"On the 6th February we commenced our first works, viz., making a road round the village. This will take us some time to complete, as the ground is very uneven, and much of it wooded. I propose, after the road is conveniently finished, to set about building, out of our public fund, two good sized houses for the accommodation of strange Indians when they come to trade with us, and thus prevent the interference to domestic comfort and improvement arising to the villagers from these visits under the old system. I have other public works in view, such as fixing proper rests for canoes when unemployed, laying slides for moving canoes on the beach and into the water at low tides, also sinking wells and procuring pumps for public use, etc., etc.

"I feel, also, that it is of vast importance to seek out profitable employment for those with me, and thus keep them away from those labour markets which exhibit temptations too strong and vices too fascinating for the Indian, in his present morally infantile condition, to withstand. Hence, I have already measured out and registered over 100 plots of ground for gardens, situated in various parts of the channel in which we are settled. These, the Indians are anxious to cultivate. I have also desired them to prepare salt and smoked fish, fish grease and dried berries, which, with furs, will form our first articles of exportation. Other branches of labour will arise in due course. But in order to set about thus much, we need seed (especially the potato), salt, direct means of communication with Victoria, and an agent there.

"I am anxious that even the trading vessel should be in our own hands, first, because the Indians would, on that account, feel a deeper interest in her, and exert themselves the more to keep her well and profitably employed, secondly, the profits of the vessel would redound to the village, and, thirdly, it is necessary to avoid having intercourse with that barbarous class of men who are employed in running the small vessels up the coast, which, by trading in intoxicating drink, are all doing a work not easily described, and not readily believed by those who do not witness it. Their visits to the Indian camps are invariably marked by murder, and the very maddest riots. To purchase the vessel we need, I suppose from L100 to L150 will be required. I therefore propose that 100 Indians shall subscribe L1 or L1 10s, or the equivalent in furs. The Indians are willing to do their utmost, and I expect to have to render them little help, beyond seeking out the vessel, and I do not intend to give them any pecuniary aid, except to procure such things as, through ignorance or inexperience, they despise, but such as are, nevertheless, essential to their well-being and prosperity.

"Trusting, by God's blessing upon us, we shall go on improving, and continue to merit your Excellency's favour and good-will,

"I have the honour to remain, with warmest gratitude,

"Your Excellency's humble and obedient Servant,


"To His Excellency, James Douglas, Esq., C. B,
"Governor of Vancouver's Island and British Columbia."

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