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Dayspring in the Far West
Sketches of Mission-Work in North-West America

By M. E. Johnson

London: Seeley, Jackson and Halliday, 1875.

Chapter XIII. Progress at Metlakatlah

Bishop of Columbia baptizes Converts.--Consistent Conduct of the baptized.--Operations are commenced at Naas River.

THE new Missionary village was visited in April, 1863, by the Bishop of Columbia. On this occasion, Mr. Duncan presented fifty-seven candidates for baptism, of whom Legaic, the head chief, was one. It was the height of the fishing season, when the bishop arrived, and many of the candidates were absent at the fishing grounds; they immediately made arrangements to leave their nets and travelled back to the village, a distance of eighty miles, to meet the Bishop. The examination of the catechumens lasted three days, and the answers given by each one to the questions put to him by the Bishop proved that they understood the great truths of the Bible, and looked to Christ only for the pardon of their sins and the hope of eternal life. A few only were deferred. The Bishop thus describes the service held on the occasion when he admitted these wanderers into the visible Church of Christ.:--

"The impressiveness of the occasion was manifest in the devout and reverent manner of all present. There were no external aids, sometimes thought necessary for the savage mind to produce or increase the solemnity of the scene. The building is a bare, unfinished octagon of logs and spars--a mere barn, capable of holding 700 persons. A simple table covered with a white cloth, upon which stood three hand-basins of water; and I officiated in a surplice. Thus there was nothing to impress the senses--no colour, 'no ornament, or church decoration, or music. The solemnity of the scene was produced by the earnest sincerity and serious purpose with which these children of the Far West were prepared to offer themselves to God, and to renounce for ever the hateful sins and cruel deeds of their heathenism; and the solemn stillness was broken only by the breath of prayer. The responses were made with earnestness and decision. Not one individual was there whose lips did not utter in their own expressive tongue their hearty readiness to believe and to serve God. Fourteen children were also baptized on the same day. It was pleasing to see the strong desire of the Christians for the admission of their children to the same privilege as themselves." Children over seven were not admitted, the Bishop thinking they might be imbued with heathen ideas, and should be specially instructed preparatory to baptism.

At the close of the year 1863, the Rev. R. Dundas, of the British Columbia Mission, visited Metlakatlah, when he baptized a considerable number of converts. "It was a pfetty sight," he says, "to see the whole population, old and young, at the sound of the bell thronging to worship God. No need to lock doors, for there were no empty houses. Service began with a Tsimshean hymn, then followed the prayers in Tsim-shean, at the close of which all joined in the Lord's Prayer in English. Mr. Duncan's address was upon the story of Martha and Mary; it lasted nearly an hour. The attention of the people never seemed to flag throughout. The service was most striking. It was hard to realize that three years ago, these had all been sunk in the deepest heathenism, with all its horrible practices. What hours, what nights of supplication to God, must have been spent by this single-minded servant of God, that he might 'see of the travail of his soul,' and how has he been answered? 'There is nothing too hard for the Lord.' Fifty-two persons were baptized, on this occasion, of whom thirty-nine were adults, the remaining thirteen being infants. This interesting place," wrote Mr. Dundas, "now takes its place as one of the civilized villages of British Columbia. But it is more than that, it is the enduring witness of the faith and patience of one unaided Christian teacher whose sole reward (the only one he has ever coveted), is the souls he has been the honoured instrument of bringing out of darkness into light."

"The conduct of these converts when absent from the settlement afforded satisfactory proof of the reality of the change which had taken place in them. 'Wherever these Indians go,' says Mr. Duncan, 'they always carry their religion with them, assembling themselves together for worship on the Sunday, and getting as many of the heathen to join them as possible. An Indian of Fort Simpson who has received instruction from one, though he is not a resident of our new village, came here a few days ago, bringing seven young men with him from one of the highest villages up the Naas River, over loo miles distant. He brought them that they might witness for themselves the things of which they had heard him speak. He has been residing at this village as a fur trader, but he has diligently employed his talents for God, setting forth the Gospel where it had not been preached before, and has met with great encouragement and apparent success. I had the whole party at my house last Wednesday evening, when I endeavoured very solemnly to impress upon their minds and hearts the first principles of the Gospel of Christ. Though intending to return home on the following day, they decided to remain over Sunday that they might receive further instruction to carry back with them to their waiting and thirsty tribe. They were anxious to carry back a portion of God's Word, so I wrote out for each on a piece of paper--'This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.' I also gave the Indian trader and teacher some instructions, and pointed him outportions of Scripture suited to him and his flock." During this year many plans had been set on foot by Mr. Duncan for the benefit of the Indians. A new road had been made round the village. Two good-sized houses had been built for the accommodation of strange Indians coming to trade. Rests had been fixed on the shore for canoes when unemployed, and slides for moving them into the water at low tides. Wells had been sunk, and a public playground laid out. Thus profitable employment was found for the men at home, and they were kept away from the labour markets, where temptations presented themselves too strong for the Indian in his then morally infantine condition to withstand. The Indians were also encouraged to prepare articles for exportation to Victoria, such as salt, smoked fish, fish grease, dried berries, and furs.

Another plan which Mr. Duncan had in view, and which he ultimately carried out, was to purchase a schooner for the purpose of trading to Victoria, in order to render the settlement independent of the barbarous class of men employed in running vessels up the coast, who by trading in intoxicating drink were working most terrible mischief. "The visits of these traders to the Indian camps were marked by murder and the maddest riots."

The Dean of Victoria after visiting the village, wrote thus respecting the trading operations:--"No step of a temporal nature was more loudly demanded, or has conferred such important benefits on the people of Metlakatlah in conducing to their comfort and contentment in their new home. Instead of having to go seventeen miles for supplies to a heathen camp, they can procure them at their own doors at a cheaper rate. Persons who come hither to trade carry away some word or impression to affect their countrymen at home. During my sojourn in the village there has not been a single Sunday in which there have not been hearers of this description, attendant on the Word of life. This is one of those branches of the work taken up by Mr. Duncan, simply because it was forced on him by circumstances as necessary to his entire success.

"The time has passed away when he felt himself humiliated at being offered the sale of a fur. A striking benefit of the trade is the disposition of the profits, for with a view of transferring it when possible to other parties, he has always conducted it on business principles, in order that the parties assuming it might be able to live by it. Hitherto the profits realized on this principle, absorbed by no personal benefits, have been expended on objects conducive to the public benefit, in the erection of public buildings, in subsidies to the people in aid of improving their roads, and wharves for canoes, in charity to the poor, and even in the redemption of slaves. The sum of £600 has been already expended on such objects, and £400 are in hand ready to be applied to similar uses. In fact the only person who suffers is Mr. Duncan himself, who has sacrificed his comfort, his repose, and almost his health for the sole benefit of the people, but has been compensated by the rich reward of feeling that God has owned and blessed his sacrifice. Besides this, the trade affords industrial occupations for the people, and thus aids them in a more steady advancement in the comforts of civilized life. It is quite a lively scene to witness the various parties of labourers engaged, some in bringing the rough timber rafts from the forest, others in sawing it into planks, others planing, and others cutting shingles, others with nail and hammer erecting the building--all devoting themselves to their daily task rather with the constancy of the English labourer than with the fitful disposition of the savage."

Such is the testimony of an eye-witness, who sojourned for a time in the village. Let us set by the side of this testimony the assertion of a recent traveller, that the Indian is so absolutely indolent by nature that it is impossible to make him work, and his extermination is therefore only a matter of time, and we think our readers will admit that what civilization alone failed to effect, the Gospel has accomplished. The contact of the Indian with the civilized trader during centuries left him only more degraded than before, for he added to his vicesown those of the white man. But when earnest, self-denying men of God went forth and preached to those wild men the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Indian was transformed from the indolent savage to the industrious, artisan and husbandman. Metlakatlah and the Missionary village founded by Archdeacon Cockran at Red River, are a standing testimony to what may be accomplished for the Red man, which none can gainsay. The Spirit of God touching the heart, and enlightening the understanding, has raised the wild Indian out of the darkness of cruel superstition; his home and his person no longer present the aspect of misery, his countenance no longer indicates the savage nature within; instead of this, cleanliness and comfort prevail in his cottage, intelligence beams in his eye, and as he labours diligently at his daily work, and reverently worships God in His house of prayer, the beholder may well say, "What hath God done?" "It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes."

In July, 1864, the Rev. A. R. Doolan arrived to assist Mr. Duncan. It was at once arranged that he should take a distinct work amongst the Indians on the Naas River, to which district he proceeded, accompanied by Samuel Marsden, a native catechist. These Indians belonged to a tribe called Nishkah. They had been twice visited by Mr. Duncan, who received from them a most friendly reception. "Pity us, great Father in heaven, pity us," said a chief standing before Mr. Duncan. "This chief," he continued, pointing to Mr. Duncan, "has come to tell us about thee. It is good, great Father. We want to hear. Who ever came to tell our forefathers thy will? No, no. But this chief has pitied us and come. He has thy Book. We will hear. We will receive thy word. We will obey." As the chief uttered the last sentences, a voice said, "Your speech is good." They assured Mr. Duncan that they wanted to cast away their bad ways and be good. They told him they loved him, and wanted him among them, seconding these assurances by feasting him in their houses, and giving him presents of furs. After he had preached to them about Christ, a chief said, "We are not to call upon stones and stars now, but Jesus. Jesus will hear. Jesus is our Saviour. Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus Christ. Good news! good news! Listen all. Put away your sins. God has sent his Word. Jesus is our Saviour. Take away my sins, Jesus. Make me good, Jesus." Such were the people amongst whom Mr. Doolan commenced his Missionary labours. Thus "the grain of mustard seed which a man sowed in his field" had grown up into a tree, and was spreading around its branches, and the people sat under its shadow with great delight.

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