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Metlakahtla and the North Pacific Mission of the Church Missionary Society

By Eugene Stock

London: Church Missionary House, 1880.

Chapter X. Outlying Missions--Queen Charlotte's Islands

On the group of islands named after George the Third's Queen, dwell the finest and the fiercest of the coast tribes. The Hydahs are a manly, tall, handsome people, and comparatively fair in their complexion; but they are a cruel and vindictive race, and were long the terror of the North Pacific coast. They even ventured to attack English ships, and in 1854 they plundered an American vessel, detaining the captain and crew in captivity until they were ransomed by the Hudson's Bay Company. No tribe, moreover, has been more fearfully demoralised by the proximity of the white man's "civilization." Drunkenness and the grossest vices have spread disease and death among them.

But the Hydahs have not failed to recognise the advantages that Christianity has conferred upon their neighbours on the mainland. Trading expeditions up the coast took them occasionally to Metlakahtla, and the peace and prosperity they saw there deeply impressed their minds. A striking instance of the moral influence of the Christian settlement occured in 1873. Many years before, a young Tsimshean woman had been captured by a party of Hydahs, and carried as a slave to Queen Charlotte Islands, where, after a while, a son was born to her. Five and twenty years passed away, and then she was restored by her owner, for a consideration, to her relatives at Fort Simpson. The Hydahs seem to have thought this a good opportunity to make friends with their old enemies, and they sent a deputation to Metlakahtla with her son, now a grown man, to give him up as a voluntary peace-offering. "We had," wrote Mr. Duncan, "a solemn peace-making at the Mission-house. Several excellent speeches were made, and a document was drawn up and signed by the relatives of the young man, expressive of their reconciliation with their ancient foes."

The principal trading post, Massett, is on the northern coast of the northern island, Graham Island. Here Mr. and Mrs. Collison, with their two little children, landed on November 1st, 1876--

"On our arrival I had intended to have wintered in one of the Indian houses, as the winter season was too far advanced for building, but Mr. Offut, the officer in charge of the H. B. Co.'s post on the island, kindly offered us a small house, in which goods had been stored, and as it was within 100 yards of the Indian encampment, I gladly accepted the offer. This I immediately put under repair, covering it with barks outside, and putting up a stove inside. The house was very small, measuring eighteen feet by twelve, and, in order to secure a little privacy, I partitioned off eight feet, leaving for all purposes an apartment ten feet by twelve. This has usually been well filled with Indians, sitting almost on each other, and as we were both to entertain such numbers at meals, we have often had to remain without food all day. Of course this, with many other difficulties, will be overcome by a command of their language, but any attempt to carry out order without a fair knowledge of their tongue might only insult and estrange them."

To the privations thus endured were soon added those attendant on sickness First, their eldest child was attacked by fever, and for some weeks his life was despaired of, and then Mr. Collison himself was struck down and brought nigh unto death Both, we need not say, were tenderly nursed by the wife and mother, and both, by the mercy of God, were raised up again.

In the same letter Mr. Collison describes a remarkable peculiarity of the Hydah villages--

"In approaching a Hydah village from a distance one is reminded of a harbour with a number of ships at anchor, owing to the great number of poles of all sizes erected in front of every house. These are carved very well, with all kinds of figures, many of them unintelligible to visitors or strangers, but fraught with meaning to the people themselves. In fact, they have a legend in connection with almost every figure. It is in the erection of these that so much property is given away. They value them very highly, as was instanced lately on the occasion of the Governor-General's visit. He was most anxious to purchase one, but they would not consent to it at any price."

Patiently and prayerfully for the next two years and a half, with one or two intervals for visits to Metlakahtla, did Mr. Collison labour among the Hydahs, on the same lines as Mr. Duncan had done originally among the Tsimsheans; first, diligently trying to pick up their language, and making himself known as their friend; then opening a school; then seeking to win them from some of their most degrading customs. Very quickly he gained a remarkable influence over them, and though the medicine-men were, of course, bitterly hostile, greater was He who was with the Missionary than those that were with his opponents; and the tokens of the working of the Holy Ghost were manifested sooner than even an ardent faith might have anticipated.

During the winter of 1877-8, school was conducted daily, women and children attending in the morning, and men in the evening, and the Sunday services were generally attended by three hundred and fifty Indians. Gambling, heathen dances, and the manufacture of "fire-water" from molasses, began gradually to diminish; and Mr. Collison's growing influence was well tested on the occasion of the death of a principal chief:--

"I visited him during his illness, and held service in his house weekly for the five weeks preceding his death. On the morning of the day on which be died I visited him, and found him surrounded by the men of his tribe and the principal medicine-man, who kept up his incantations and charms to the last. He was sitting up, and appeared glad to see me, and, in answer to my inquiries, he informed me that he was very low indeed and his heart weak. I directed him to withdraw his mind from everything, and look only to Jesus, who alone could help him. He thanked me again and again whilst I instructed him, and when I asked him if he would like me to pray with him he replied that he would very much. I then called upon all to kneel, and, with bowed head, he followed my petitions earnestly. He informed me that, had he been spared, he would have been one of the first in the way of God, but I endeavoured to show him that even then he might be so by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Afterwards I sent Mrs. Collison to prepare some food for him, and make him comfortable, and about mid day he sent for me again, but why he sent for me, or what he wanted to say to me, I never learned, as before I reached his house he expired.

"His death was announced by the firing of several cannon which they have in the village. On my entering the house, the scene which presented itself was indescribable--shrieking, dancing, tearing and burning their hair in the fire, whilst the father of the deceased, who had just been pulled out of the fire, rushed to it again and threw himself upon it. He was with difficulty removed, and I directed two men to hold him whilst I endeavoured to calm the tumult.

"I was very much shocked to find that a young man--a slave--had been accused by the medicine-men as having bewitched the chief and induced his sickness. In consequence of this he had been stripped, and bound hands and feet in an old outhouse, and thus kept for some days without food. I only learned this about one hour before the death of the chief, and it was well I heard it even then, as I learned that they had determined to shoot him, and a man had been told off who had his gun ready for the purpose. I lost no time in calling the chiefs and the friends of the deceased together, and showed them the wickedness and sinfulness of such proceedings, and how, by their thus acting, they had probably kept up a feeling of revenge in the mind of their friend who had just expired. They accepted my advice, and had him unbound, and he came to the Mission house to have his wounds dressed. His wrists were swollen to an immense size, and his back, from hip to shoulder, lacerated and burned to the bone by torches of pitch pine. He was deeply grateful to me for having saved him.

"The dead chief was laid out, and all those of his crest came from the opposite village, bringing a large quantity of swan's down, which they scattered over and around the corpse. At my suggestion, they departed from the usual custom of dressing and painting the dead, and, instead of placing the corpse in a sitting posture, they consented to place it on the back. The remains were decently interred, and I gave an address and prayed; thus their custom of placing the dead in hollowed poles, carved and erected near the houses, has been broken through, and since this occurred many of the remains which were thus placed have been buried."

The first Hydah to come out distinctly as a Christian was a chief named Cowhoe, concerning whom an interesting incident is related. One day he brought a book to Mr. Collison, saying it had been given him many years before by the captain of an English man-of-war, and asking what it was. It proved to be a Testament, with this inscription on the fly-leaf--"From Capt. Prevost, H. M. S. 'Satellite,' trusting that the bread thus cast upon the waters may be found after many days." More than twenty years had passed away, and now that prayer was answered, though not by the instrumentality of the gift that bore the record of it. Cowhoe became a regular attendant at Mr. Collison's services and school, and we are told that at a meeting held on the Day of Intercession for Missions, Nov. 30th, 1877, he "prayed very earnestly for the spread of the truth amongst his brethren." When Admiral Prevost visited the coast in the summer of 1878, Cowhoe and his father went to Metlakahtla in a canoe on purpose to see the benefactor of their race. Of this visit the Admiral gives the following account:--

"Edensaw, the chief of the Hydah nation, arrived with his son, Cowhoe, and Mr. Collison. They had heard of my visit, and were anxious, to see me "face to face." I knew him in 1853, when I first visited the Queen Charlotte Islands in command of H.M.S. Virago. An American schooner had been plundered and destroyed by the Islanders; my object was to punish the offenders, but, after a searching enquiry, I was not able to fix the guilt upon any particular tribe. Some portion of the property was restored, and no lives being lost, I was obliged to be satisfied by assembling together all the chiefs, and reminding them of the power I held to punish the guilty. In my own mind, I believe Edensaw was the guilty person. From that time up to this hour, he has "been halting between two opinions"--a proud man--he could not give up his power, his wealth and standing over the heathens, to follow the Lord God; still he knew the Missionary had brought something better than he had ever possessed in all his glory, and it was expedient for him to be friends with the white men. When Duncan first arrived at Fort Simpson, in 1857, he frequently entreated him to come over and teach the Hydahs, and when I met him again on board the Satellite in 1859, he made a similar request to me. I may here remark that anxious as we were to establish a Mission amongst that fine race of Indians, it was not until October, 1876, the Committee of the C. M. S., were able to comply with their request. During that time hundreds, principally females, had passed into eternity through vice and disease contracted at Victoria.

"I may add, when I visited Massett last October (1879) with Bishop Ridley, he left Cowhoe with Sneath to assist him during the winter, the first native teacher from the Hydahs. I trust the good seed has taken root in many hearts. "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform!" It was to show me this book, and to shake me by the hand, that the father and son came this long journey."

In the autumn of 1878, some touching evidences of the Spirit's work gladdened the missionary's heart. On October 26th he wrote:--

"Not a few are enquiring earnestly for the way of life. At a little social meeting which I had a few days past, the principal chief said: 'I was careless and unconcerned about the message which the white chief brought us, but I can be so no longer. Even at night, when I lie awake on my bed, I cry to God to pardon my many sins and save me. I know now it is true--all true, and I want to be safe in the Ark, even in Jesus the Saviour'; and he continued at some length exhorting the others to receive the Word.

"Another chief also spoke with intense earnestness and feeling. He said, 'A short time since I was blind, and knew nothing of these great things. But Jesus has opened my eyes, and now I see. Jesus is the way, and I am in that way now. I am happy, very happy; but one thing keeps me back, and when that is over, I will seek to be baptized, and live only for God.'

"This one thing referred to is a giving away of property on account of a deceased brother whose effects he took charge of, and promised to give away property, and put up a carved pole to his memory. As he has already promised, and given notice to the tribe, he does not wish to draw back.

"Another--a young man--is already obeying the injunction, 'Let him that heareth say, Come'; and at the salmon fishing and elsewhere has endeavoured to gather his friends together for prayer and praise."

And on March 20th, 1879, reviewing the winter's work, Mr. Collison again wrote:--

"In October last, having mastered the difficulties of the language, I was induced to commence a weekly prayer-meeting. At this meeting we opened with a hymn, after which I prayed, and then delivered a short Gospel address, at the close of which I invited those of them who understood the solemnity and responsibility of prayer, and to whom God had given hearts to pray, to lead briefly and successively in audible prayer.

"This mode of conducting the prayer-meeting was attended with good results, as it united those who were in earnest, and who had received the truth into their hearts, more closely together, and led several of those who were halting between heathenism and the truth to decide for the latter.

"Thus a band was formed (amongst whom were several of the chiefs and principal men) which confronted the heathen customs on the one hand, and drunkenness and gambling on the other, and, having come out boldly on the side of the truth, their influence was soon perceptible.

"I dare not attempt to convey to you in words the intense earnestness and fervour of the petitions which they offered up on behalf of themselves, their families, and the surrounding villages; whilst, at the same time, there was nothing like excitement, but rather a calm solemnity and quiet earnestness prevailed amongst all.

"And surely our united petitions were graciously answered, and a great change was soon apparent.

"The Lord's Day was observed by the majority, and the services of the day attended by almost all encamped, as well as by a number from the opposite village, which is about three miles off.

"The flag which I received from the Missionary Leaves Association, to hoist on Sundays, in order to acquaint them of the weekly return of the day of rest, now no longer hangs alone; but nine of the principal men now follow the example shown by the Mission, and have set up their banners also."

"Dancing has been abandoned and the medicine work is almost overthrown, and, in passing along the village after dark, my ear is now often greeted with the Christian hymn or the song of praise where formerly the noise of the heathen dance, or the frantic orgies of the medicine man drowned all other sounds. Thus a change has been effected during the past three years, in the contemplation of which I can only exclaim, 'What hath God wrought!'"

Even the chief medicine man himself abandoned his sorceries, and came forward as an inquirer--

"The charms and rattles of the leading medicine man are now in our possession, he having given them up, and he is now an earnest inquirer after the truth and is always present at the services. He was first brought into contact with the truth shortly before Christmas last in the following manner.

"A young man was brought home very sick, and I went to see him and found him suffering from a severe attack of 'brain fever', brought on by his swimming for some time in the cold salt water, in order to cure a severe headache which he had.

"I did all I could to alleviate his sufferings, and instructed his relatives as to how they should nurse him. This resulted in his resting more easily and in his obtaining some sleep, to which he had been a stranger for several nights.

"Not satisfied, however, with this, they sent off for the medicine-man, who was encamped up the inlet. He arrived at midnight, and at once commenced his whooping and rattling. This he continued at intervals, until the following day, when I paid him a visit.

"The house was full, and the patient evidently much worse. The medicine man, or 'Scahaga,' as he is called in their own tongue, had just finished another performance, and sat down exhausted as I entered.

"All appeared surprised at my intrusion, but I knelt down beside the sick man, and took his hand to feel his pulse. I shook my head, and then informed them that he was much worse. The medicine-man then answered in his own defence, and commenced by informing me that he had found out the cause of his sickness. A man from the other village had caused it by snatching the cap from the head of the sick man when up the inlet together, which had led to his being smitten or bewitched by a land otter. To this statement several agreed, as they stated the nervous twitches and convulsive movements of the sick man were exactly similar to the movements of the above-mentioned animal.

"I then addressed them all on the power of God and His dealings with man, and how that He alone bringeth down and raiseth up. I then called upon all to join with me in prayer for themselves and also on behalf of the sick man. The medicine-man was evidently humbled and discomfited, though ashamed to acknowledge it before so many. Shortly afterwards the young man died, and I attended his funeral, and gave an address and prayed, according to portions of the Burial Service. The medicine-man was present, and most attentive.

"From that time he appears to have lost faith in his profession, though he informed me that the 'Scahnawah,' or spirit, appeared to him, and advised him to continue his medicine work, which would be a source of great gain to him; but that he had replied, saying God's Word had come, and he was determined to give up his practice, and seek the salvation of his own soul. His long hair, which has never been cut, and which folded up serves him for a pillow at night, he speaks of having cut off as soon as he can do so with safety to his health. When I see him sitting at our services, clothed and in his right mind, I am reminded that the Gospel is now as ever 'the power of God unto salvation.'"

At Christmas (1878), when the Indians from other villages came in canoes to Massett, the usual festive custom of "dancing with painted faces, and naked slaves with their bodies blackened," was dispensed with, and in lieu of it the visitors were received by a choir of a hundred Hydahs, children and adults, chanting the anthem, "How beautiful upon the mountains." "The unanimous opinion of all was that the new and Christian welcome was far superior to the old heathen one."

In the same letter Mr. Collison mentions his translations, in which he had succeeded beyond his expectations. Portions of Scripture, a simple catechism, the Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the General Confession and Thanksgiving, several collects, ten hymns, and a series of "Short Addresses on Great Subjects," had been produced by him in the Hydah language.

Mr. Collison had visited several tribes at a distance, both on the islands more to the south, and on the coast of Alaska to the north. At Skidegate Inlet, which divides the two principal of the Queen Charlotte Islands, he had a particularly warm reception.

In a letter, dated March 21st, 1879, he wrote that he had thirty names on the list of catechumens, most of them heads of families.

Mr. Collison has since removed to Metlakahtla, to undertake the pastoral and school-work there. His place at Massett has been taken by Mr. G. Sneath, a zealous young missionary artizan, who twice went to East Africa to join the Victoria Nyanza Mission, and twice was ordered home by the consular surgeon at Zanzibar, and who has now essayed missionary service in a colder climate.

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