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Metlakahtla and the North Pacific Mission of the Church Missionary Society

By Eugene Stock

London: Church Missionary House, 1880.

Chapter XI. Outlying Missions--Fort Rupert

Fort Rupert is a trading post at the northern end of Vancouver's Island, some three hundred miles south of Metlakahtla. In that neighbourhood are found the Quoquolt Indians, and among them a Mission has lately been begun. This is, however, but a tardy response to their repeated entreaties for a teacher. It has always been a problem beyond their power to solve, why, when Mr. Duncan first arrived on the coast, he actually sailed past them on his voyage from Victoria, and went first to the Tsimsheans, who were so much further off; and on one occasion they stoutly remonstrated with the captain of a man-of-war, sent to punish them for marauding on the territory of another tribe, that they were left without a teacher, and were only visited when they had done wrong.

In due time teachers did appear, in the shape of a party of Roman Catholic priests; and Mr. Duncan, stopping at the Fort when on a voyage to Victoria in 1860, found that two of them had been there and had taught some of the Indians "a hymn to the Virgin Mary in the trading jargon." "I told them," he adds, "of Jesus the true and only Saviour, which the priests had neglected to do." These Romish Missionaries held their ground for eleven years, and then abandoned the Quoquolts as hopeless. As will be seen however, their hopes revived when at length a Protestant Missionary was found to be gaining an influence over the tribe.

In October, 1875, the head chief at Fort Rupert took the three hundred miles journey to visit Metlakahtla, and once more preferred his request. He addressed the Christians of the settlement, and said that "a rope had been thrown out from Metlakahtla, which was encircling and drawing together all the Indian tribes into one common brotherhood." Mr. Duncan planned to go and begin a Quoquolt mission himself; but it proved quite impossible for him to leave his multifarious work at the settlement, and ultimately the Rev. A. J. Hall, who was sent out in 1877, volunteered to go.

It was on March 12th, 1878, that Mr. Hall landed at Fort Rupert, and was kindly received by the Hudson's Bay Company's officer in charge. A large Indian house was purchased for the price of sixty blankets, and a school at once opened. On June 11th, Mr. Hall wrote:--

"I have taught them one English hymn, 'Jesus loves me, this I know,' and three simple chants in their own language; also three prayers--one the Lord's Prayer, four texts which they read from the black board, and a catechism, arranged and taught by Mr. Duncan at Fort Simpson. All this instruction has been given in their own tongue, translated to me by Mr. Hunt's son, who acts also as my interpreter at the Sunday services.

"I have been able to hold two services every Sunday since I first came, and sometimes I have had perhaps eighty attend. Many are away from the village now, trading and visiting other tribes, so that my congregation is reduced. I have felt it a great privilege to stand up before this dusky assembly and open up to them the Word of Life. They are all clothed in blankets, some of them highly ornamented with needle-work and pearl buttons. When they enter the building, the men take off the bandannah handkerchiefs which are tied round their heads, and squat all around me. The men sit on one side, and the women on the other, as a rule. This fact is in consequence of the inferior position of the women, and because they are not allowed to attend the meetings which the men constantly hold to talk over the affairs of the camp. At first my congregations came with painted faces, and were little inclined to stand when we sang. They are now, however, more clean in their appearance, and, with few exceptions, rise when I play the tune on my English concertina.

"I have almost exclusively spoken to them from the Book of Genesis, and have brought in the work of our Lord from these lessons, e.g., when speaking on sacrifices, the offering of Isaac, and the life of Joseph. These narratives in Genesis have attracted them very much, and they listened very attentively to my interpreter. All my addresses are written before I enter my church, and read to the interpreter, and therefore, I believe, they are already acquainted with many truths from God's Word, which do strike against the immorality in which they are living. Sometimes, when I speak in the church, they talk among themselves, either approving what is said, but more often because the truth spoken is a rebuke to some of them."

In a later letter, dated March 1st, 1879, Mr. Hall further describes his interesting congregation;--

"The Indians did not rush to my services at first, and then drop off. No! a few came at first, and they have gradually increased, and on the Sunday before they all went to Alert Bay there were probably eighty at my first service, the majority being men--men who have frequently committed murder, and who have bitten each other from their youth upwards in the winter dances. Medicine-men were present who have often eaten the bodies of dead men, exhumed from their graves, and who to this day are dreaded by all the people, because there is not an Indian in the camp but that superstitiously believes these doctors can kill them by their sorcery. I cannot tell you yet that these wicked men who come to my services are earnestly seeking a better way. I cannot tell you yet that I can see any change in them. I know that some of them hate me and my message, and speak against it; but they come and hear the truth; and who can say but that God will give them His Holy Spirit, and that they may be turned from darkness to serve the living and true God?

"My congregation will not sit upon the forms I have had made; they prefer to draw their dirty blankets tightly round them, and to squat on the floor. When I am speaking, they generally rest their heads upon their bent knees, and fix their eyes upon the floor. Not a muscle seems to move, and they appear to drink in every word that is spoken to them, as if they thirsted for the truth. In teaching these people I treat them as children, but I know they have nothing of the gentleness and simplicity of children; they are cunning, 'deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.'"

The Roman Catholics having left a memorial of their abandoned mission in the shape of a good school-house, which was standing idle, Mr. Hall wrote to them at Victoria for leave to use it. The request was refused, "because," they wrote, "our missionaries may require it again." And a few months afterwards, when Mr. Hall was beginning to feel his way among the people, a priest appeared at Nu-wit-ty, the northern point of Vancouver's Island, thirty miles from Fort Rupert, just when Mr. Hall was visiting the tribe residing there. He (the priest) called a meeting of the Indians, concerning which Mr. Hall writes, on March 10th, 1879:--

"The Indians went to the meeting, and I went as well; probably one hundred were present. He told them to kneel down; they did so, and then he told them to look at him, and cross themselves as be did, and the poor Indians followed him. He then told them about the Fall, and it was very good what he said; but soon he spoke of a way that went to heaven, and one that went to hell, and he told them that if they followed him he would lead them to heaven, and that if they followed me they all would go to hell, and I should go with them. He said he wanted to baptize them, and then they would be as white as snow. When he spoke against me, many Indians interrupted him, and one went up to where he was standing and blew a lamp out. They then called out my name, and wished me to address them. I did so, and told them all to kneel down, and put my hands together, telling them to do the same. We repeated the Lord's Prayer, which is very beautiful in the Indian language; they call it 'good words.' When the priest spoke I took my hat off and listened, but when I spoke the priest kept his hat on, and smoked all the time.

"My address had been written some time before; it was about 'Lying, stealing, pride, and drunkenness.' Perhaps I did wrong, but I did not refer to what the priest had said against me. George Hunt, who was present, was indignant at the way the priest spoke, and, directly the priest finished, he made an earnest speech in my favour. In coming away from Hu-wit-ty, the head chief begged me to come and live among them, and I promised I would do something for them."

The work at Fort Rupert is much interfered with by the migratory habits of the Indians there. From June to November, 1879, for instance, they were almost all away on a visit to Nu-wit-ty River; and at our last date, March, 1880, they were gone for a month to Alert Bay. Mr. Hall, however, has not been content to be left behind sitting still. He has made canoe voyages to other parts of Vancouver's Island, and sought to gain access to other tribes; but he describes the vice and degradation as most painful, especially amongst the women. In September, 1879, in company with Admiral Prevost, who was paying him a visit, he walked across the island to the west coast, where the Koshema (or Quatseno, or Quatsinough) Indians are found, a tribe hitherto quite untouched. The Admiral addressed a large number who gathered together, and said, "Thirty years ago I came among you with my man-of-war, but to-day I come with a message of peace from the King of heaven." "It was," writes Mr. Hall, "an act worthy of an Admiral to struggle, for ten hours, across the most difficult trail I have ever met."

It is possible that the Mission may be moved from Fort Rupert to some other place more convenient for reaching a large number of Indians. That God has a people among the Quoquolts and Quatsenos, as well as among the Tsimsheans and Hydahs, we cannot doubt, and in His own time, and by His own grace, they too shall be gathered out.

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