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Or, Five Years of Church Work among Ojibway Indians and Lumbermen, resident upon that Island or in its Vicinity.

By Harold Nelson Burden

London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1895.

Chapter XI. An Indian Picnic

The suggestion that the Indians of Birch Island should visit those of Sheguiandah was carried out in August. The day was beautifully fine, a perfect summer's day, and the clear waters of the lake sparkled in the warm sunlight as the Bishop and Mrs. Sullivan arrived at Little Current. The Bishop, true to his promise, had come in the "Evangeline" to fetch the Indians and convey them to Sheguiandah. A large number from the neighbouring reserve were taken on board and in due time the vessel arrived safely at its destination.

Among the guests were two Indian chiefs, who were accompanied by their daughters, dark, handsome women, with very beautiful eyes and a wealth of raven hair. They all entered with delight into the day's proceedings, and it was pleasant to notice the wonderful play of expression upon the countenances of the two chiefs as they entered into a most animated conversation; all the more pleasant on account of its rarity, for as a rule these Indian chiefs are most undemonstrative.

The chiefs' daughters wore dresses of brilliant colour, and each had a shawl of even brighter hue. [77/78] Most of the Indian girls present were also clothed in very bright colours, for which they have at all times a great fondness.

The proceedings commenced with a short service in the church which was nicely decorated for the occasion. The village street had also been made bright and gay in honour of the event. The Bishop addressed a few words to the assembled Indians, speaking on the many advantages and blessings of social intercourse and friendliness; he expressed a hope that the gathering would be productive of good as well as of pleasure.

After the service was over dinner was prepared. Elaborate arrangements were made for this important part of the proceedings. A suitable place having been found in the bush near by, the spot was cleared by the Indians and a flag hoisted. Tables and seats were arranged in position and everything was found ready. The Bishop had kindly undertaken to provide the necessary refreshments, and an ample supply was provided. When grace had been said, the feast commenced. At this most interesting point of the proceedings a photograph of the group was taken.

When the dinner was ended, various amusements were indulged in, such as races and jumping competitions. The Bishop had brought with him a large number of prizes with which he rewarded those who entered for the different events. Both men and [78/81] women entered for the races, and prizes were generally presented to those who were unsuccessful as well as to those who were successful. The jumping especially afforded the greatest amusement to the whole party, and the laughter was hearty and prolonged. Everyone who took part in these games was satisfied, because, as the Indians themselves confessed, "Everybody received a prize, the losers as well as the winners."

When the athletic contests were concluded, the Bishop again addressed the Indians, and the proceedings were at length brought to an end by the singing of "God save the Queen" sung in Ojibway. Any food that remained from the dinner was distributed to those Indians who most needed it; then the gathering broke up, everyone having thoroughly enjoyed "The best picnic they had ever seen" as the Indians quaintly expressed it.

In the evening the Bishop returned to Little Current, taking the Indians of that neighbourhood back to their homes. He then proceeded to Spanish River, and anchored opposite to the Indian village. Very few of the Indians were absent in the bush, so on the following morning a service was held, rendered in the Indian tongue. In the course of his address the Bishop dwelt upon the terrible consequences which the atrocious trade in "Firewater" would bring upon the Indians if not avoided. After the service the Bishop, who was [81/82] negociating the purchase of some potatoes, took several women and children on board the "Evangeline" and gave them a short excursion up the river, while the men were busily engaged in digging the required quantity of potatoes.

Meanwhile the missionary visited a village or settlement of Indians at a place which was encumbered with the unprepossessing name of Ogahmeekunaung. The district known by this name is a narrow neck of land with a bay on either side, where for many years a portage path has existed for the convenience of Indians and others navigating the inner channel with their canoes. The village is built on both sides of the portage road, the greater number of houses being situated on the Western Bay. The bays and channels are studded with islands of every shape and size, picturesque and well wooded, which afford a variety of lovely scenery possibly unsurpassed by any in Canada. For many years the Indians lived at a place some distance from the village, but they abandoned it because many had died there; they therefore decided to build a new village, and in many ways the move was advantageous. At Ogahmeekunaung they are nearer their gardens, they are nearer their firewood, and what is still more important, the place affords a better harbour for their boats.

Many years before they moved to their present abode, the missionary was in the habit of visiting [82/83] them from time to time, when he would hold a service in one of their houses. Within a year or so of the missionary's present visit, several efforts had been made to build a schoolhouse, yet nothing definite had been accomplished, although some logs were hewn and carted to the site of the proposed new building. But during the summer of which we are now writing a neat little building was erected. The expenses were met partly by donations from the Indians, and partly by a grant from the Indian Department of the Canadian Government; the labour was supplied by the Indians themselves under the supervision of the missionary.

This building, which serves the purpose of both church and school, has lancet windows and a porch; the inside is lined with narrow strips of match-boarding, and the arched ceiling is covered with the same material. In appearance it is quite ecclesiastical, and the whole work reflects great credit on the Indians who built it. Two handsome chandeliers and some bracket lamps, the gift of a friend, form an ornament to the interior. The Indians, previous to a service, scrub the floor till it becomes a glistening white. All the services held in this building since its completion, have been attended by large congregations, sometimes every inhabitant of the village being present. Amongst these there are a large number of communicants. During his visit Mr. Frost held a service, and had every reason to be satisfied with the condition of the station.

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