A REVIEW of the work in Alaska gives much cause for gratitude at what has been done, and one feels that as Bishop Rowe looks back over the twenty-five years of his episcopate--which will be complete (November, 1920) when these words are generally read--his heart must be filled with thankfulness and joy that he has been permitted to see such happy changes.
The changing, precarious nature of the work amongst the white people has been repeatedly referred to and its main features and locations described in the preceding chapter.
As regards the native work, there are today, speaking broadly, no unbaptized natives left in Alaska. There may indeed be a few scattered Eskimo families of the rivers that discharge into the north coast, very hard to reach, who have not been Christianized, but the writer knows of none in the interior. Ten or eleven years ago he was privileged to preach the gospel to some--at the Tanana Crossing--who had never heard it before, as he had previously been privileged to do on the Koyukuk, but, thank God, there are none left now.
In material condition of life, in improved domestic arrangements, always fostered by the missions, there has also been slow if gradual advance. It is folly to expect that change in the habits and customs of native people can be other than slow. No rough and ready and expeditious way of bringing it about has been discovered, at any rate, by the Alaskan missionaries. But that there has been vast improvement no one who knew native conditions twenty-five years ago, and knows them now, will doubt. By the gift of windows and doors--so difficult to obtain in the wilderness--the mission has been able to exert pressure upon the natives in the direction of greater commodiousness of cabins, privacy for girls, more air and light. Long ago the writer's attention was drawn to the influence of these matters upon conduct by a remark out of Dr. Chapman's experience, to the effect that we cannot expect chastity unless there be modesty and we cannot have modesty without privacy; while there is no question that more daylight and better ventilation are essential features in the fight against tuberculosis.
Morally there has been growth, beyond any question--though there is yet very much to be desired on this score--as where is there not?--and the intelligence of the people has been kindled in no small degree by the schools that in some places have been in operation for a whole generation.
Those who are devoted to the cause of the Yukon Indians take courage in the retrospect. There seems a reasonably bright future before these people, one present menace set aside. That they will ever be other than hunters and fishers and trappers, that any general "industrial development" (why are hunting and trapping and fishing not industries?) is at all likely, the writer does not believe, or even desire; and finds himself out of sympathy with those who consider that the only praiseworthy occupation of mankind is labour in manufactories or mines. "What do your Yukon Indians contribute to the welfare of the world?" he was lately asked by a senator of the United States. Furs are hardly necessary to the welfare of the world, though the world, at any rate the beau monde, seems so to consider; and the writer would answer that he does not know and does not care. The rating of people by their exports seems to him folly. That there may be some part to play, that there may be some valuable contribution to make (if we must be high-flown) by the Yukon Indians, he deems not impossible. The contemptuous dimission of all the little peoples of the world as beneath the regard of the great races, or even a supercilious rating of them by the white man's own standards, does not seem to reflect the feeling of thoughtful men today as much, perhaps, as it did some decades ago.
It suffices for the present writer that here are four or five thousand of gentle, simple, kindly people, living in an uncoveted land which they have occupied for untold generations; living amidst a rigourous environment into which they have ground themselves, through those generations, to perfect adjustment; God's children, even as we are, if it be true that He "hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the whole earth", and, by the same token, our brethren. That they should be left in the ignorance of heathen "animism", a prey to the superstitious terrors, and the oppressive exactions, of their venal "medicine men"; that they should be left to be destroyed by the vices and diseases which the coming of the white man has brought to them, does not comport with that Christian faith which makes a man his brother's keeper; or with the command of the Master to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."
It was said that there seems to be a reasonably bright future before these people, one present menace set aside. That menace is the commercial canning of salmon at the mouth of the Yukon River, already begun. In the summer of 1919 there was a very general failure of the native fishing, with much distress during the following winter, and a killing of dogs throughout the interior because there was no food for them. Not only is dried salmon a very large part of the native food but it is almost the sole food of the indispensable dog. Without dogs for transport and travel, for hunting and trapping through wide regions, the whole present Indian economy would be destroyed. Efforts that have been made to secure legislation prohibiting such commercial canning on the Yukon during the present session of Congress have been defeated by a combination of the can-ners, whose interests are concerned, and the departmental officials, whose dignity was invaded and wisdom questioned by the advocates of the measure. So incapable are the latter of conceiving of any disinterested endeavour on behalf of any cause whatever that one of them, in important office, referred on several occasions to the present writer as having for his "ostensible purpose" the protection of the Indians; implying that he had some ulterior, real purpose concealed.
The struggle is not ended by the failure of the present (1919-20) Congress to enact the law; it is only begun. The present writer is convinced that once the conscience of the American people is aroused to the enormity of sacrificing these thousands of natives to the greed of a canning company, it will bring such pressure to bear as will compel the requisite legislation; and he pins that faith more particularly to the quick sympathies and vigorous activity of the women of the Church. For this year (1920) there seems at this writing no hope of relief. The bill is not yet reported out of committee of the lower house; Congress is near its adjournment; the cannery has already resumed its operations. The present writer, on the point of returning to Alaska, solemnly commits this cause to the people of the Church. [Copies of the "hearings" on this bill before the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries of the House of Representatives, which contain the whole case, pro and con, may be had on application to the Secretary of the Committee, Washington, D. C.]