Archive for the ‘Native Spirituality’ Category
By Egerton Ryerson Young
Written in the late 1800s
(author of Stories from Indian Wigwams and Northern Campfires)
I was interrupted one day while sitting in my study by the quiet entrance of a stalwart Indian whom I had not seen for a year. I had met him the previous summer in his own wigwam on the banks of a beautiful lake a couple of hundred miles north. After a few words of kindly greeting I asked about his family, when, to my surprise, he exclaimed, almost passionately, “Missionary, my heart is sad, and I have come to ask you to get me a wife from one of the Christian families of your village.”
Somewhat annoyed, I said: “Do you not know that I do not believe in a man having two wives at the same time? When I visited your wigwam and had religious services among your people last summer I thought you had a very good wife and a pretty babe, and that you were very fond of them.”
“Yes,” he said, passionately; “all true, missionary!” and then his spirit broke, and he wailed out, “Non pimatissit!” which means, “Not among the living.”
This is the pagan Cree Indian way of referring to the death of friends. Having none of the consolation which Christianity gives in reference to death, the very word itself is to them one of such terror that they seldom utter it. When obliged to speak of those that are gone they use the Cree phrase non pimatissit— not among the living. Shocked at this sad news, and pitying the poor fellow, we made him sit down with us to tea, and then after a while we got him to tell us his sad story. He said:
“Missionary, a short time after you left us I started from the place where you had met our people on the Burntwood River to go far away to my own hunting-grounds to catch beaver. I pitched my wigwam on the bank of a fine large lake in which there were plenty of fish, and there I left my wife and babe and my wife’s mother. They had every thing they needed to make them comfortable. There were fish in the lake and rabbits in the woods. With plenty of food in the wigwam I left them light of heart, for I was glad to see them so well. The last thing I saw of them was the baby laughing in the hammock and my wife sitting beside him and busy making the new white fish net for the fall fishing. I went up the lake for some miles until I reached a large stream that flowed down into the lake. As I had seen before this time plenty of signs of beaver up this creek I went up it a few miles and there set my traps. I hunted around for a few days and did very well. Then I packed up my furs and beavermeat, and started on my trip home. My load, which I carried on my back, supported by the carrying-strap from my forehead, was heavy, but my heart was light, for I had been successful as a hunter, and then I was also on my way to see my wife and baby boy. I hurried along on the side of the stream until it entered into the lake, and then I turned to walk along the shore. I had not gone very far before I was surprised to find lying in the water at the edge of the lake the body of a large dead reindeer. I examined him to see if he had been shot, but instead of any bullet marks I found that he had been badly cut about his head with an ax. As he was not fit for food I left him there for the wild beasts to eat and hurried on toward my wigwam. I had not gone very far before I found on the shore one of my canoes badly broken. This very much surprised me, and so I hurried on faster than before, for my heart began to feel strange and heavy; and there was reason for it, missionary, for I had not gone on much farther before I found at the shore in the water the bodies of my wife, babe, and wife’s mother. They were cold and dead, although there were no wounds on their bodies. They had been drowned all drowned.”
The poor fellow had been able to control himself fairly well up to this point while in his simple yet eloquent manner he had told his pathetic story. But here even the Indian’s stoical nature was overcome, and his heart was stirred to its depths by the memory of his great loss. So for a time in a hushed silence my sympathetic wife and I sat with him until he had mastered his emotions and could proceed with his narrative. He said:
“I carried the bodies home to my empty wigwam, and as they lay there so still I could but think of how different when I left them a few days before. I hurried away to the wigwams of some of my people miles away, and they came to see me in my sorrow and helped me to bury my dead.”
In answer to our questions as to his impressions or ideas as to the manner in which his loved ones had met their death he said nobody had seen how it happened, as all the people were in other places, hunting or fishing, but he and his relatives had talked it over, and they had all come to one mind about it. And this was how they thought it happened: The women in the tent must have seen that large reindeer swimming in the lake, and, being anxious to kill him, they had launched the canoe to go after him. As there were sometimes gray wolves or other wild animals prowling about they were afraid to leave the baby behind, and so they took him with them in the canoe. They only took with them their paddles and a couple of axes.
The reindeer has good lungs, and so he can swim high in the water, and sometimes he will make a desperate fight, even in the water, for his life. So it seemed in this case that, while the women succeeded in so striking him in the head with their axes as to mortally wound him, he succeeded in breaking the canoe, perhaps with his hind feet, for they are able to kick very savagely, even when swimming. The result was, the boat sank, and the women becoming entangled with their clothing, and perhaps trying to save the baby, all were drowned together.
We listened to the recital of this sad story, and would not have been human if we had not been moved by it and also by the simple, pathetic way in which he tried to tell us how he felt when he reached his wigwam and found the fire out, the hammock empty, and the wooden needle still dangling in the last mesh of the net which his wife had been weaving ere she had doubtless hurried out to try and show how bravely she and her mother could kill the deer. We kept the poor fellow all night, and in the morning were better prepared to sympathize with him in his desire to obtain a wife than when he had in such a strange way referred to the matter the previous evening at the beginning of our interview.
“Why,” I said to him, “have you come hundreds of miles for a wife? Why did you not go to Nelson River, or to some other place nearer to your home?”
His prompt answer was: “Because I want a Christian wife. I am convinced that what you told me is true. I am trying to believe in your religion and know more about the true God and his Son, and as you can only come once or twice a year to teach us and preach to us I thought a good Christian wife might help me along in the good Christian way.”
Still anxious to draw him out, for I saw that I had here a man of more than usual character and thoughtfulness, I said: “But I cannot forget that although I manage to get down once or twice a year by canoe or dog-train to visit your people, and they have always received me kindly and listened very attentively to what I say, yet it is only a very short time since they began to hear about the true way, and many of them are still pagans; so you see there might be a good deal of fear that if a Christian young woman went to live there they would persuade her to return to the old Indian way.”
“No, no!” he said very earnestly. “We have all lost faith in the old way, and she would be able to help us to be good Christians all the sooner.”
So, after my good, judicious wife and I had listened to the story and talked the matter over, we thought of a family where there were several marriageable daughters dependent on a sickly father, one of whom we thought would make this fine-looking fellow a good wife and help him to be a Christian. Soon after, I escorted the suitor over and introduced him to the family, and had him tell his story and plead his loneliness and make his promise of how good and true he would be. As it did not take Rebekah long to make up her mind, in the ancient primitive times, to consent to be the wife of Isaac, and to start off on a long journey, so it was here. A few days after there was quiet marriage in our little church and a happy wedding-feast. Then the bride and the bridegroom embarked in their birch canoe for their far-distant home. With machine-like precision their paddles rose and fell together as they rapidly propelled their beautiful craft along. We could not help but breathe the prayer that their lives might move along in equal unison. If so, they were assured of many days of sunshine.
I visited them years after. They are consistent Christians, as well as the majority of the Indians in that section of that vast country.
(From Stories from Indian Wigwams and Northern Campfires, pp. 302-306, Lighthouse Trails)
By David Dombrowski
Editor at Lighthouse Trails Publishing
I find it rather interesting how God has orchestrated things in life, which demonstrate His great love and ongoing mercy to ordinary people like myself. But, more specifically, I am thinking right now about how years ago I happened to come across a copy of a nearly forgotten book at the university library while working on a project. I still find it amazing that this secular humanistic library even had a copy of Stories from Indian Wigwams and Northern Campfires – a book written by a missionary to the Canadian Native peoples of the 1800s sharing not only his life among them but the amazing stories they would tell him as they would warm themselves before a fire. This book is a treasure of the long-forgotten heritage of the Cree and Saulteaux tribes and how their lives were wonderfully transformed through the proclamation of the Gospel.
Though I first read that book over thirty years ago as a young university student, in 2010 God put it in our hearts here at Lighthouse Trails to publish this nearly forgotten book; then, when we were preparing to release it for publication, Nanci Des Gerlaise, a Canadian Cree, contacted us about a book she had written titled Muddy Waters. The great surprise was that Nanci, whom we then sent a review copy of the Wigwam manuscript, recognized in it the name Mask-e-pe-toon as being the name of the best friend of her great, great grandfather. Nanci agreed to write the forward to that book. We also agreed to publish Muddy Waters. Later we added a DVD (not our own) titled I’ll Never Go Back!: The Testimony of Chief Shoefoot. In this film, Chief Shoefoot shares his own story of what life has been like for him both before and after he received the Gospel, hence his words “I’ll never go back” became the title of the video. Chief Shoefoot is a member of the native people known as the Yanomamo. The Yanomamo reside in a northern region of South America bordering Venezuela and Brazil. Hearing that Chief Shoefoot is part of a Yanomamo tribe especially caught my interest because I remembered studying these people in an anthropology class back in 1972.
Anthropologists have been studying the Yanomamo for many years now, and the typical reaction by many anthropologists to missionary outreaches to these people is that they would have been better off if they had been left alone. Granted various missionary efforts were probably not conducted as they should have been, the fact remains that Jesus commissioned the Gospel to be shared with the whole world. What makes this video unique is that it is the testimony of an actual member of the Yanomamo tribe sharing his viewpoint and his side of the story, and his conclusion is an emphatic yes to having received the Gospel. Contrary to what these anthropologists are saying, Chief Shoefoot makes it clear that his life has been forever changed for the better.
Today, even much of the mission field has been marred by the mentality that we should be less intrusive about sharing the Gospel (see New Missiology). Now don’t get me wrong; it’s true that there may be many non-spiritual aspects of a culture that don’t need to be changed, but the Gospel is very intrusive in calling all people everywhere to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came as Savior to the whole world, and people from all tribes and nations are offered one way to God. But today organizations, like YWAM, have been taking a more politically correct approach in assuming that every culture already has within their religious traditions an acceptable pathway to God, and our only duty is to encourage them in what they already believe and are already doing with little more than perhaps an occasional reference to the Jesus Christ of the Bible. The sad truth and reality is that, although many peoples and cultures may believe in some type of supreme being and do have a sense of right and wrong, the Gospel is unique in that it is God’s revealed Word and offer of salvation based on grace through faith alone as opposed to a gospel of good works based on a belief in the innate goodness of mankind and God’s willingness to accept any and all man-made plans of salvation.
The truth is that God has declared in his Word that all are sinners and in need of a Savior. So while it may be true that God has not called us to impose European customs on the indigenous peoples of the world, the Gospel is God’s “culture” for all mankind in that it calls all people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. All I can say is that I personally am so glad that God “imposed” Himself on me when I received Christ as my Savior; and in both Muddy Waters and in the I’ll Never Go Back video, you will witness the powerful and convincing testimony of two people – a medicine man’s daughter (in the book) and a former shaman or witchdoctor (in the film). Their stories are evidence that knowing Jesus Christ as Savior is more precious than anything the world has to offer and does require us to forsake those things that are displeasing to Him.
So, while it may be true that people from all over the world have a sense of right and wrong, the spirituality of all tribes and nations must give way to the truth of the Gospel rather than trying to reshape the Gospel to make it more palatable to any culture. After all, what part of the Gospel would we change? The fact of the matter is that the “preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Thus, it remains that the Gospel will always be offensive and politically incorrect to the unbeliever regardless of cultural setting. The Gospel is offensive not because it is the “white man’s religion” (which it never was) but because it is the way God chose to redeem mankind – which appears foolish to the carnal mind. But as Scripture declares, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
Now, let me share something that caught my attention as I was watching the I’ll Never Go Back video. I was listening to Chief Shoefoot share how he became a shaman or witchdoctor and about the spirituality that ensued, and I was amazed by the realization that as he was describing his spirituality as a shaman, he was describing the spirituality that is being promoted in the church today as “cutting-edge Christianity.” In fact, Chief Shoefoot’s spirituality was far ahead of contemplative spirituality and the New Age of today. Furthermore, they were already incorporating spiritual disciplines into their meditative practices. When I realized this, I listened to Chief Shoefoot very attentively and with much interest because I understood then that they had been practicing “contemplative spirituality” and the “spiritual disciplines” probably for many centuries – perhaps even longer than the Desert Fathers. In listening to him describe his spirituality as a shaman, I also realized that he was at the same time describing where the spirituality of contemplative prayer, the New Age, and the spiritual disciplines will be in the future.
So, while the meditative practices and disciplines of the Desert Fathers phased out to near extinction after the Middle Ages and is being resurrected today, the Yanomamo have preserved and developed these practices and brought them to full fruition. In other words, as the church and the New Age movement are in unison developing these practices, they will in time become like the Yanomamo.
In the film, Chief Shoefoot describes how he was introduced to shamanism at an early age because he was far advanced for his age in spiritual acuteness. Like contemplative prayer and New Age meditation, connection with “God” is accomplished by going into an altered state of consciousness (i.e., the silence). A drug is used for this purpose along with chanting (mantra), rhythm, and dancing. Spiritual disciplines – to include the withholding of food and sleep (i.e., fasting) – were also used to make the spiritual senses more acute. Chief Shoefoot, as I listened to him describe his story, was much more advanced than the mystics and contemplative prayer leaders of today. He literally saw into the spirit world and beheld various spirits which the Yanomamo even had names for.
The Yanomamo shaman recognizes the spirit world as a reality, not a superstition. According to Chief Shoefoot, spirits of various sorts are seen as desirable and are invited to “get inside your chest” while others are avoided as being evil. I am reminded how contemplative leader Richard Foster warns his students to beware of dangerous spirits when they practice contemplative prayer. In Faith Undone, Roger Oakland talks about this:
Proponents of contemplative prayer say the purpose of contemplative prayer is to tune in with God and hear His voice. However, Richard Foster claims that practitioners must use caution. He admits that in contemplative prayer “we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm” and that sometimes it is not the realm of God even though it is “supernatural.” He admits there are spiritual beings and that a prayer of protection should be said beforehand something to the effect of “All dark and evil spirits must now leave.”1
What Chief Shoefoot realized too late is that none of these spirits are good and those considered to be evil cannot be avoided either. He learned that once a person enters into the occultic or contemplative realm, he becomes subject to the spirits that inhabit that realm. Christian mystics who engage in contemplative prayer think they are encountering the Holy Spirit, but Chief Shoefoot literally saw that this realm is inhabited by nothing more than demons who in time also made their habitation in him (and in other members of the tribe).
Understandably, much of the activity of the tribe was marked by immorality and violence. Even anthropologists who are unsympathetic to the Christianizing of these tribes recognize that there is a problem in their social and domestic interactions. Consider, for example, the following quote from an anthropological source regarding the role and treatment of wives in Yanomamo culture:
It is interesting to watch the behavior of women when their husbands return from a hunting trip or a visit. The men march slowly across the village and retire silently into their hammocks. The woman, no matter what she is doing, hurries home and quietly but rapidly prepares a meal for her husband. Should the wife be slow at doing this, the husband is within his rights to beat her. Most reprimands meted out by irate husbands take the form of blows with the hand or with a piece of firewood, but a good many husbands are even more severe. Some of them chop their wives with the sharp edge of a machete or ax, or shoot them with a barbed arrow in some nonvital area, such as in the buttocks or leg. Many men are given to punishing their wives by holding the hot end of a glowing stick against them, resulting in serious burns. . . . It is not uncommon for a man to injure his errant wife seriously; and some men have even killed wives. Women expect this kind of treatment. Those who are not too severely treated might even measure their husband’s concern in terms of the frequency of minor beatings they sustain. I overheard two young women discussing each other’s scalp scars. One of them commented that the other’s husband must really care for her since he has beaten her on the head so frequently! . . . Some men . . . seem to think that it is reasonable to beat their wife once in a while “just to keep them on their toes.”2
For lack of space, let me just say that the interactions of men with each other both within and between tribes is often not peaceable either. But, in any case, Native Spirituality plays a highly significant role in the happenings of these tribes.
Now, I imagine my statement made earlier that those who practice contemplative prayer or New Age mysticism will eventually become like the Yanomamo must now sound too extreme or at least a tongue-in-cheek statement. Actually, it would bring me much comfort if I were to know that I am completely wrong in this assertion. But I am deeply concerned about people, many of whom are Christians, delving into contemplative prayer, eastern meditative practices, and New Age mysticism thinking that they will better themselves by doing so. All of these are occult practices that will tie the user in with the demonic realm though he may think he is connecting with “good” spirits or the Holy Spirit.
It is not unusual for people to join the New Age movement or engage in Yoga or meditative practices like contemplative prayer to reap health benefits to include higher levels of relaxation or to live a more victorious life, but, all the while, they are being introduced to something demonic both in origin and operation. The Bible makes a clear statement about occult or mystical practices in Deuteronomy 18:9-12 by sounding the alarm that these practices are “an abomination unto the Lord.” Then, too, Jesus warned against praying as the heathen do by using “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7), which is a clear indictment against chanting or the mantra-like words and phrases used in contemplative or meditative prayer.
Yet, more and more Christians are joining in contemplative or mystical prayer, thinking it will make them stronger spiritually when the opposite is the case. In fact, what Christians are being drawn into is very antichrist in nature. Our research shows that those who engage in contemplative prayer in time see less and less relevance to the Cross (the atonement) to where it becomes unnecessary. The reason for this is quite simple: contemplative prayer makes a person feel one with and a part of God to where a sacrifice for sin no longer makes any sense.
Contemplative prayer is one and the same thing as New Age or mystical prayer; both are occultic practices in that they bring the practitioner into the demonic realm though he believes all the while that he is connecting with God. Then when I heard Chief Shoefoot’s testimony, I realized that shamanism is one and the same thing as contemplative or New Age mystical prayer as well. As one adherent of mysticism explains, “The meditation of advanced occultists is identical with the prayer of advanced mystics.”3 Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk, who helped pioneer the modern-day contemplative prayer movement identified with Buddhism (saying he “intend[ed] to become as good a Buddhist as [he] can”)4 because he realized that the prayer of the Buddhist monks was the same as his. Alice Bailey, whom I consider the mother of the New Age movement, predicted that New Age (or occultic) spirituality would not go around the Christian church but rather through it. She called it the “the regeneration of the churches.” In explaining this, Ray Yungen says:
[I]nstead of opposing Christianity, the occult would capture and blend itself with Christianity and then use it as its primary vehicle for spreading and instilling New Age consciousness!5
In other words, occultic prayer all over the world is coming to a head and bringing about the great falling away that the Bible predicts will happen. Modern day proponents refer to it as quantum spirituality; and through borrowing terms used in physics, they tell us that if enough people meditate at the same time, we will achieve a critical mass, and we will then witness the dawning of the age of Aquarius where peace will guide our planet. However, Alice Bailey and New Age leaders who have followed her see Christians who do not practice New Age style meditation as in the way because they are not being “vibrationally sympathetic.” Such people, they maintain, will have to be eliminated! Having come from the New Age movement, Warren Smith has been warning Christians about this for some time. New Age leaders speak of love, but those who have birthed and perpetuated the movement have something much more sinister in their hearts.
We at Lighthouse Trails, as do other ministries like ours, have a sense of urgency to call all Christians to return to their true roots – namely the Gospel. Our loyalty needs to be with our Savior and not with the traditions of men. Whether we are Native American or of any other descent, Jesus Christ needs to be more precious than any of the things that would make us appear politically correct or gain the favor of men.
1. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing), p. 99.
2. Napolean A. Chagnon, Yanomamo: The Fierce People (New York, NY: Holt, Reinhart adn Winston, 3rd edition), pp.112-113.
3. Richard Kirby, The Mission of Mysticism (London, UK: SPCK, 1979), p. 7; as cited in A Time of Departing, p. 32.
4. David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” (Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969), as cited in A Time of Departing, p. 78.
5. Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2nd edition), p. 124.
Note: To access information about the books and DVDs we mention in this article, click here.
LTRP Note: For those who think that shamanism is a far cry from the contemplative mysticism being practiced in the church today and that this warning has nothing to do with Christians, think again. The realms reached are the same, and the results can be the same too.
By Nanci Des Gerlaise
(author of Muddy Waters: an insider’s view of North American Native Spirituality)
Basically, shamanism is the belief system that utilizes shamans in order to make contact with the spirit world. According to the Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, traditional shamanism “is where the shaman functions as healer, spiritual leader, and mediator between the spirits and people.”1
Shamanism is found in most cultures. In Western society, Native Spirituality is the main venue, but it is not confined to Native Spirituality. The New Age movement began incorporating shamanistic rituals into their own New Age spirituality:
New Agers have felt attracted to shamanism for a variety of reasons. A major factor in this attraction is that, while the shaman is a kind of mystic, the focus is on the forces of nature rather than an otherworldy mysticism. . . . Other attractions are the use of mind-altering drugs, including peyote, and the romanticized images of nature. 2
Within Native Spirituality, shamans depend heavily upon drumming, singing, dancing, and chanting in order to get spirits to enter them and to help them. What many people probably do not realize is that shamanism is very dangerous.
In biblical terms, shamanism is the use of supposed spirit guides to attain spiritual power, knowledge, and healing, but the cost is ghastly, and the “dangers of shamanistic initiation”3 are many. Some of these dangers and symptoms would be identical to what happens in Kundalini, which is a dangerous and powerful energy coming from deep meditation. This list shows what can happen when demonic realms are accessed through deep meditation practices in Native Spirituality, shamanism, and the New Age movement. Shockingly, Christians are now practicing this occultic meditation through the contemplative prayer movement:
Burning hot or ice cold streams moving up the spine.
Perhaps a feeling of air bubbles or snake movement up through the body.
Pains in varying locations throughout the body.
Tension or stiffness of neck, and headaches.
Feeling of overpressure within the head.
Vibrations, unease, or cramps in legs and other parts of the body.
Fast pulse and increased metabolism.
Disturbance in the breathing—and/or heart function.
Parapsychological abilities. Light phenomena in or outside the body.
Problems with finding balance between strong sexual urges, and a wish to live in sublime purity.
Persistent anxiety or anxiety attacks, due to lack of understanding of what is going on.
Insomnia, manic high spirits or deep depression. Energy loss.
Impaired concentration and memory.
Total isolation due to inability to communicate inner experiences out.
Experiences of possession and poltergeist phenomena.4
Other dangers would include insanity and psychosis. What’s more, the use of shamanism in contemporary culture is widespread and the results are often devastating:
[S]hamanism often involves the shaman in tremendous personal suffering and pain (magically, he often ‘dies’ in the most horrible of torments) . . . it often involves the shaman in demon possession, insanity, sexual perversion, and so on.5
Such a terrifying perversion of God’s merciful ways is completely unnecessary, for Christ gives the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of love and goodness—to all who call upon His name and put their trust in Him (Romans 5:5).
Colossians 2:9-10 states the truth for Christians:
For in him [the Lord Jesus Christ] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.”
(To understand more about the contrast between Native Spirituality and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, read Nanci’s book, Muddy Waters and watch the film I’ll Never Go Back by former shaman, Chief Shoefoot. Many Christians are involved with this same kind of occult practice through the contemplative prayer movement.)
An excerpt from I’ll Never Go Back:
1.. John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1996); (taken from http://www.ankerberg.org/Articles/_PDFArchives/new-age/NA3W0801.pdf).
2. John P. Newport, The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Co, 1998), p. 34.
3. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute (http://www.ankerberg.org/Articles/archives-na.htm, scroll down page to section on Shamanism – 8 parts).
4. “Kundalini, Short Circuits, Risks, and Information” (http://kundalini.se/eng/engkni_1024.html).
5. John Ankerberg, John Weldon (Ankerberg Theological Research Institute, http://www.ankerberg.org/Articles/archives-na.htm) quoted from Joan Halifax, Shamanic Voices, (New York, NY: Penguin, 1979), pp. 7-27.
By Egerton Ryerson Young
(A Canadian missionary from the 1800s and the author of Stories From Indian Wigwams and Northern Campfires)
Far away in the forest wilds, several hundreds of miles north-east of the city of Winnipeg, there dwelt in an Indian village a notorious old conjurer. His reputation was very bad among the people. To the deadly effects of his poisons the sudden deaths of numbers of the Indians were ascribed, and many a maimed and disfigured Indian in secret muttered his denunciations against this wicked old man and blamed his “bad medicine” as the cause of all his troubles.
When reports reached him that the missionary with the great book was going around through the land among the Indians, traveling in summer in a birch canoe and in winter with his dog-trains, and that scores, and in some places hundreds, of the people were gladly listening to his words and giving up the old habits as well as the old religion of their fathers and accepting Christianity, the heart of this old conjurer was filled with wrath, and he declared that if ever that missionary came to their village neither he nor the Indians who brought him should leave the place alive.
So remote and apparently inaccessible was the Indian band that years passed away before it seemed possible for the missionary to make the long journey to that place. It so happened, however, that the same year the missionary heard of the old conjurer’s threat, that summer the way opened by which two Christian canoe-men could be secured to go with him on the perilous journey—perilous in more ways than one. The dangers of the way and the old conjurer’s threats were all talked over, and then with their eyes open as to the character of the undertaking, and earnestly seeking the divine blessing, they began the trip. They were twelve days on the way. Of course, it was impossible to carry in a birch-bark canoe sufficient food to last for such an extended trip.
However, as they were armed with a good rifle and shotgun, and had plenty of ammunition, and much game abounded in that part of the country, they had abundance of food. So full of rapids and falls were the rivers that they had to make over fifty portages during the trip. At these obstructions, one Indian would carry the canoe on his head around the rapids until he reached the smooth water beyond. The other Indian and the missionary would carry the blankets, kettles, guns, and other things which made up the load. Then all would be re-arranged and on they would go. It was not an unpleasant trip during the fine weather, although the mosquitoes and flies were very numerous. When it rained, however, it was somewhat trying. They had no tent, and there was not to be met with on the whole trip a single house. Several times were they drenched to the skin and had to remain so, which was on one occasion for several days, until the warm sun came out and dried them with its welcome rays. Their bed was made where night happened to overtake them. A smooth granite rock was preferred, although there were times when even this could not be found. At length, after a variety of adventures they drew near the end of the journey. When about six miles from the Indian village, the hearts of the two Indian canoe-men seemed to fail them, and, to the missionary’s surprise, they wanted to turn around and go back.
“What!” said the missionary, “come at least two hundred and ninety-four miles and not travel the other six! Never! Let us go on.”
Vainly they pleaded their fears of the old medicine-man and his terrible deeds and threats. However, the missionary was firm, and so the men yielded, while he appealed to their manhood and promise to him ere they left home. He also cheered them with quoting some of the promises of God, whose servants they all were, and for whose glory and the good of these poor people this journey was undertaken. Encouraged by these things, the paddles were resumed until the wigwams of the Indians were visible in the distance. Then resting on their paddles the faithful Indians said:
“Missionary, there is one thing we want to ask of you. You know we, like you, have left our wives and children behind and came on this dangerous journey. How could we think of going back if any thing should happen to you? We think we can take care of ourselves, but our great fear is about you. This old conjurer with his ‘bad medicine’ is very wicked and cunning. What we want you to promise us is that you will not eat any food except as we prepare it for you.”
While admiring their devotion, the missionary only laughed at their fears and said: “You make my heart very warm toward you for your love and anxiety about me, but I have another plan in my mind. I think I will eat with that wicked old conjurer before the sun goes down.” They were amazed at this, and protested most earnestly. Very blood-curdling were some of the things they had heard about this bad man and his medicines, so powerful that a little dropped into the food would cause death in a few minutes. However, the missionary was firm, as he had decided on another method for dealing with this old Indian, whose reputation was so bad, than that very timid one suggested by his faithful canoe-men.
Another half -hour’s paddling brought them into the Indian village. It was small and poor and looked like a place blighted and cursed. Quite a number of careworn and sad looking women and children were around; but very few men were visible. However, the majority of them seemed pleased to see the missionary, although some quickly began to speak out their fears that his life was in danger on account of the threats of the old medicine-man. “Where is the wigwam of this old medicine-man about whom I hear so much?” said the missionary. His tent was pointed out. It stood off by itself in a gloomy-looking place, and toward it the missionary, taking with him a few things, immediately started alone.
When he reached it, he pulled aside the blanket which served as the door, and, stooping down to avoid striking his head against the poles, he entered. So gloomy and dark was the interior that it was a few seconds before the missionary, coming in out of the bright, dazzling sunlight, could clearly make out, or rather take in, the situation. However, he soon observed the object of his search sitting on the ground directly opposite. With some tea and tobacco, the missionary went over in front of him, and, reaching out his right hand, he cheerily addressed him in the Indian way, saying, “What cheer, mismis?” which in English is, “How do you do, grandfather?” But the old man, who by some fleet runner had already been informed of the missionary’s arrival, with a growl of disapprobation refused to shake hands with the white man who had thus dared to brave his wrath and crowd himself into his wigwam. But the missionary was not to be thus easily rebuffed, and so, stooping down quickly, he caught hold of the Indian’s hand and shook it heartily in a pump-handle sort of a style. While vigorously doing so he began talking to the old man, saying, among other things, “What cheer, mismis, what cheer? I am not your enemy, but your friend. I have come all this long way to do you good. Our feet have been sore and our hands blistered. Our bones have ached with the hardships of the journey. We have been drenched by the rains and have tried to sleep in our wet clothes as we lay down on the rocks, while in the distance we have heard the howlings of the gray wolves. We came not to buy your furs or to trade with you, but to do you good. The Great Spirit has given us white people his book, and as its wonderful story is for his red children too we have come to tell it to you. You had better listen and let us be friends. It is true you will have to change your life, and you will have to stop your drumming and conjuring and burn your bad medicines and make your own living by hunting and fishing as do the other Indians.” Still he refused, and so the missionary adopted another plan. He took a large plug of tobacco and placed it in his hands. Tobacco among Indians is like salt among the Arabs. If he accepted his tobacco, he must be his friend, and would not dare to injure him while in his wigwam. For a time, he refused to accept it, but the white man continued talking kindly to him, but all he could get in response were his growls of annoyance. “Take it, grandfather,” he said; “I never use the stuff myself, but those who do say this is a very good kind.”
Perhaps fortunately for the missionary, the old man’s supply had run out a few days before, and so his appetite was proportionally keen for the narcotic, and after a little more persuasion his hand closed upon it, and the missionary knew he had him. Then taking up a pound package of tea, the missionary said, looking up to some dirty dried meat that hung in shreds like straps across a pole, “You have meat, and I have tea. You furnish the meat, and I will the tea, and we will eat together.”
A gleam of malignant triumph passed over his face as he seemed to say to himself, “Is this missionary such a fool as to thus put it into my power to so easily poison him?” The missionary had observed that look and had read its meaning, and so he said, “Never mind your poisons. I come as a stranger and challenge you to a dinner, if you furnish part. Never mind your fire-bag with its bad medicines about which you are thinking, and let us as friends eat and drink together.”
The old fellow fairly quailed under those words, especially at the reference to his bad medicines, and began to think that the man who could thus read his innermost thoughts must be a bigger conjurer than he was himself. So turning quickly to his old wife, who was crouched down on the ground a little way from him, he ordered her to take the tea and get down some meat and prepare the dinner. She quickly set to work. The meat was dirty, but she did not stop to wash it. Dirty and dusty as it was it was soon in a pot over a fire quickly kindled. In a half sulky manner the old man invited the missionary to sit down beside him, and they talked about various things until the dinner was ready, and then together did the missionary and that old conjurer eat and drink. The old fellow said the meat was venison; the missionary thought, and still thinks, it was dog-flesh; but what it was is of very little consequence. The old conjurer was conquered, and not long after burned his fire-bag and bad medicines and became a sincere, earnest Christian. Only twice a year could the missionary visit that distant region; but whether he came by canoe in summer or dog-train in winter no one could give him a more cordial welcome than did the once notoriously wicked conjurer, but now the earnest, consistent Christian. He followed the missionary around like a shadow. He heard every sermon and address. He acted as guide to the different wigwams where personal visitation and talks could influence unconverted ones to decide for Christ. He also took the missionary to the homes of the sick and sorrowing ones, and drank in with avidity the sweet promises of the word of God which were there quoted and the prayers there offered. Sometimes so hungry did he seem for every thing spiritual that he would follow the missionary to the spot where he was about to unroll his camp-bed and rest after the day of this blessed toil. And when he bowed in prayer ere he wrapped himself for sleep the old man would kneel beside him and softly whisper, “Missionary, please pray out loud, and pray in my language, so that I can understand you.” And then again at the morning devotions, no matter how early they were, the now dear old saint was there, and again his earnest words were, “Please, missionary, pray out loud, and pray in my language, so that I can understand you.” Such genuine conversions repay a thousandfold for all the risks run and privations endured. Very blessed indeed is it to be able to quote Paul’s words and say:
Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. (2 Corinthians 2:14)
LTRP Note: In the spring of 2011, Lighthouse Trails published Stories From Indian Wigwams and Northern Campfires. The book, written by Egerton Ryerson Young, an itinerate preacher and missionary to the Canadian Native Americans in the late 1800s, is a fascinating and inspiring account of Young’s work with the Cree people. Amazingly, as we were in the process of preparing the manuscript, we came in contact with Nanci Des Gerlaise, a Christian Cree First Nations woman from Canada who spoke to us about her own manuscript, Muddy Waters: an insider’s view of North American Native Spirituality. We were so moved by the “co-incidence” that we asked Nanci to write the foreword to the Wigwam book. Nanci agreed with us that Stories from Indian Wigwams and Northern Campfires was a needed and worthwhile read about how the Gospel was given to this intelligent resourceful people who desperately needed to hear about Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the Cross for them.
The Story of Mask-e-pe-toon
By Egerton Ryerson Young
The following incident occurred years ago on the great plains of the Canadian Northwest, long before the waves of Anglo-Saxon civilization began to surge over those glorious fertile prairies which for so many generations were hid from the gaze of the outside busy world. Among the Indian tribes that roamed over those vast regions the Crees in those days were perhaps the most numerous and powerful. The terrible small-pox and other epidemic diseases had not entered in among them, mowing them down by thousands, leaving them, as they are to-day, but a shadow or a wreck of their former glory. The most powerful chief among this tribe was called Mask-e-pe-toon, or “Crooked Arm,” from the fact that one of his arms had been so hacked and wounded in his hand-to-hand conflicts with his neighbors, the Blackfeet Indians, that, in healing, the muscles had so contracted and stiffened that the arm remained crooked. He was a warlike chief, and his delight was in all the excitements of Indian conflicts, in cunning ambuscades, and, when successful, in the practice of unheard-of barbarities upon the captives of other tribes who fell into his hands. Very picturesque was the dress of many of these warriors of the plains. The quills of the eagle, which with them is considered the royal bird, formed the head-dress. Their shield was generally made of the tough leather of the neck of an old buffalo bull. The clothing, which was most elaborately ornamented and fringed, was made of the skins of the deer or moose, most beautifully tanned and prepared by the Indian women. Some of their horses were really magnificent animals, and marvelously trained for Indian warfare.
The Rev. Mr. Rundle, of the English Wesleyan Missionary Society, was the first missionary who at great personal risk visited the Cree tribes and faithfully declared the message of salvation to them. It was news indeed, and startled those wild prairie warriors; and the question went around among them, “Where did this little man come from with such strange tidings?” The conjurers were called upon to solve the question, and the answer was that he had come direct from heaven wrapped in a large piece of paper.
The Rev. James Evans, also . . . visited Mask-e-pe-toon and faithfully preached to him and his people. Some accepted the truth and became Christians, but Mask-e-pe-toon was too fond of war to quickly receive the message of peace.
A number of years later the Rev. George McDougall went out, in prosecution of his missionary work, to those mighty plains, on one of which in after years he so mysteriously died. That he might be more successful in his efforts to bring them to Christ, Mr. McDougall frequently left his own home, and for months together lived with these red men as they wandered over vast stretches of country, hunting the buffalo and other game. His custom was always to have religious service every evening where they camped for the night. . . . At these camp-fire services hymns were sung, prayers were offered, and God’s word was read and expounded. One evening Mr. McDougall read as his lesson the story of the trial and death of the Lord Jesus. He dwelt particularly upon the prayer of the Savior for his murderers, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and, well aware of the Indian spirit of revenge that was so prominent in the hearts of his hearers, he dwelt strongly upon it, and plainly told them that if they really expected forgiveness from the Great Spirit they must have the same mind that was in Christ, and forgive their enemies. Mask-e-pe-toon was observed to be deeply moved under the sermon, but nothing was said to him that evening. The next day, as the great company, consisting of many hundreds, was riding along over the beautiful prairies, an Indian chief rode quickly to the side of Mr. McDougall, and in quiet but excited tones asked him to fall back in the rear, as they did not wish him, the missionary, to witness the torture and killing of a man who was in that little band of Indians that was approaching them, although still so far away as to be almost indistinguishable to the eyes of a white man.
It seems that months before this Mask-e-pe-toon had sent his son across a mountain range or pass to bring from a sheltered valley a herd of horses which had there wintered. Very sublime and magnificent is some of the Rocky Mountain scenery. Travelers who have visited the Alps and other picturesque mountainous regions declare that some of the views in the Canadian “Rockies” are not excelled in any other part of the world. . . . Among the foot-hills of these mountains are many beautiful valleys, where the grass and herbage abound all the year, and it was in one of them that Mask-e-pe-toon had kept his reserved horses. He selected one of his warriors as his son’s comrade to aid him in the work. From what afterward was found out it seems that the man, having a chance to sell the horses, his cupidity was excited, and so he murdered the chief’s son, disposed of the horses, and hiding for the time his booty returned to the tribe with the plausible story that when they were coming across one of the dangerous passes in the mountains the young man lost his foothold and fell over one of the awful precipices, and was dashed to pieces, and that he alone was unable to manage the herd of horses, and so they had scattered on the plains.
Knowing nothing at the time to the contrary, Mask-e-pe-toon and his people were obliged to accept this story, improbable as it seemed. However, the truth came out after a while, for there had been, unknown to the murderer, witnesses of the tragedy. And now, for the first time since the truth had been revealed, the father was approaching the band in which was the murderer of his son. That the missionary might not see the dire vengeance that would be wreaked upon the culprit was the reason why this subordinate chief had requested Mr. McDougall to slacken his pace and fall into the rear of the crowd. Instead of doing so he quickened the speed of his horse and rode up to a position a little in the rear of the mighty chief, who, splendidly mounted, was leading the van of his warriors. On they galloped over the beautiful green sward, the missionary’s heart uplifted in prayer that the wrath of man might be turned to the praise of God.
When the two bands approached within a few hundred yards of each other the eagle eye of the old warrior chief detected the murderer, and, drawing his tomahawk from his belt, he rode up until he was face to face with the man who had done him the greatest injury that it was possible to inflict upon him. Mr. McDougall, who still kept near enough to hear and see all that transpired, says that Mask-e-pe-toon, with a voice tremulous with suppressed feeling, and yet with an admirable command over himself, looking the man in the face who had nearly broken his heart, thus sternly addressed him: “You have murdered my boy, and you deserve to die. I picked you out as his trusted companion and gave you the post of honor as his comrade, and you have betrayed my trust and cruelly killed my only son. You have done me and the tribe the greatest injury possible for a man to do, for you have broken my heart and you have destroyed him who was to have succeeded me when I am not among the living. You deserve to die, and but for what I heard from the missionary last night at the campfire before this I would have buried this tomahawk in your brains. The missionary told us that if we expected the Great Spirit to forgive us we must forgive our enemies, even those who had done us the greatest wrong. You have been my worst enemy, and you deserve to die.” Then, in a voice tremulous with deepest emotion, he added, “As I hope the Great Spirit will forgive me I forgive you.” Then, speaking up sternly, he added, “But go immediately from among my people, and let me never see your face again.” Then hastily pulling up his war-bonnet over his head his forced calmness gave way, and, quivering with the suppressed feelings that tore his heart, he bowed down over his horse’s neck and gave way to an agony of tears.
Talk not of grief till thou hast seen
The tears of warlike men.
Mask-e-pe-toon lived for years afterward the life of a devoted, consistent Christian. All his old warlike habits were given up, and, mastering the syllabic characters in which the Cree Bible is printed, the word of God became his solace and his joy. He spent the remainder of his days in doing good. Very earnest and thrilling were the addresses which he gave to his own people as he urged them to give up all their old sinful ways and become followers of that Savior who had so grandly saved him. Many listened to his words, and, like him, gave up their old warlike habits and settled down to quiet, peaceful lives. Anxious to benefit his old enemies, the Blackfeet, and to tell to them the story of the Savior’s love, he fearlessly and unarmed went among them with his Bible in his hand. A blood-thirsty chief of that tribe saw him coming, and, remembering some of their fierce conflicts of other days, and perhaps having lost by Mask-e-pe-toon’s prowess some of his own relations in those conflicts, he seized his gun, and in defiance of all rules of humanity he coolly shot the converted Christian chieftain down.
Thus sadly fell Mask-e-pe-toon, a wondrous trophy of the cross, and one whose conversion did a vast amount of good, showing the power of the Gospel to change the hardest heart and to enable the warlike savage to conquer so thoroughly the besetting sin of the Indian character, even under the most extreme provocation, where very few indeed could have found fault if the price of blood had been exacted and the murderer summarily executed. (From chapter 7 of Stories from Indian Wigwams and Northern Campfires)
Can Cultures Be Redeemed by Nanci Des Gerlaise
The New Missiology – Doing Missions Without the Gospel by Roger Oakland
By Nanci Des Gerlaise
(Canadian Cree author of Muddy Waters)
God and Satan are not two equal powers in a dualistic battle between good and evil. God’s power is infinite whereas Satan can only do what the Lord gives him permission to do, as evidenced in the Book of Job. Therefore, Satan’s power is limited whereas God’s power is without limit. Our Lord reigns as the supreme Creator and King of the universe, and His purposes are being accomplished in the world whether or not His creatures accept Him as Lord. The following information illustrates the relationship between God and His creation.*
He is before all things. (Colossians 1:17)
For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” (Galatians 6:8)
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20-9-11)
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. (Revelation 22:13)
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:17)
. . . an angel come down from heaven . . laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him . . . And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. (Revelation 20:1-2, 10)
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. (Psalm 18:2)
Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. (1 Timothy 6:15)
Rejected His Lordship: And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took . . . and did eat, and gave . . . to her husband . . . and he did eat. (Genesis 3:6)
Deceives people through lies, threats, deception, twisted truths and counterfeit promises . . . [F]or Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14)
. . . the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. (2 Timothy 2:26)
Before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth. (Psalm 96:13)
Faced with spiritual death and bondage as a consequence for sin. (See Genesis 2:17 and Romans 4:12.)
Charged with rebellion. How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! . . . Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12, 15)
Before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth. (Psalm 96:13)
Faced with spiritual death and bondage as a consequence for sin. (See Genesis 2:17 and Romans 4:12.)
Charged with rebellion. How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! . . . Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12, 15)
[W]e . . . know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world. (John 4:42)
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God. (John 1:11-12)
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:15)
Has limited access to faithful believers: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9)
In God’s economy, He takes what was meant for even the worst evil and works it all to His good: “. . . the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him” (John 13:2).
In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
. . . ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound . . . lo, these eighteen years, be loosed . . .? (Luke 13:16)
. . . healing all that were oppressed of the devil . . . (Acts 10:38)
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. (Matthew 6:30-32)
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed. (Genesis 1:29)
And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot. (Deuteronomy 29:5)
Assigned limited power—yet ultimately accountable to God. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:12)
Therefore, Satan’s power is but a droplet in the ocean of God’s power!
(From Appendix I in Muddy Waters: an insider’s view of North American Native Spirituality) –
*Most of the material from Appendix I has been taken from Kjos Ministries website, used with permission. You may view this and other valuable information at: http://www.crossroad.to/charts/spiritual_war.htm.
LTRP Note: Egerton Ryerson Young was a young Canadian missionary in the late 1800s, who, with his wife and two small children, spent years with the Native people in Canada, living among them, loving them, and sharing the Gospel and the Word of God with them. This is one of the stories from the “Wigwam” book. While some of the terms and writing would be considered “unpolitically” correct today, Young’s great respect, admiration, and acknowledgment of the value and worth of the Native people is above reproach.
By Egerton Ryerson Young
(author of Stories From Indian Wigwams and Northern Campfires)
I was sitting in my study one day when noiselessly and quietly there came filing into the room a dozen or more stalwart Indians. I greeted them kindly and bade them welcome. On scanning their faces I observed that they were all entire strangers. Seating them as well as the limited accommodations of my little study would admit, I began a conversation with them. They were a fine-looking lot of men, with characteristic Indian faces. After a few commonplace remarks had passed between us I became anxious to know who they were and what was the special object of their present visit. So, addressing the one who seemed to be the principal man among them, I asked:
“Where do you live?”
“Very far away,” he replied.
“How far?” I asked.
“Thirteen nights away,” he said.
The Indians compute long distances by the number of nights they spend on their journey. So, to see me, these Indians had, in their birch-bark canoes, traveled fourteen days down great rivers and across stormy lakes.
“What is your object in coming so far?” I asked.
Very decidedly one of them spoke up and said, “We have come for you!”
“For what purpose do you want me?” I asked, beginning to get interested by the earnestness of these stalwart men.
“Why,” they answered, “we have the great book and can read it, but we do not know what it means.”
“O, I am delighted to hear that you have the great book and can read it,” I said; “and of course you have had a missionary who has taught you to read.”
Their answer amazed me: “You are the first missionary we ever saw.”
“Then you have had a teacher who has instructed you?”
“What is a teacher?” was the questioning reply. So I explained to them what a teacher was, and to this they said, “We have never seen one as yet.”
Becoming intensely interested now in these children of the forest, I replied with a certain amount of inquiry and perhaps incredulity in my voice, “Do you, who have never had a missionary or teacher, pretend to tell me that you can read the great book?”
Quietly they answered, “We can read the great book.”
To put them to a test was an easy matter, and so, picking up my Indian Bible—printed in Rev. James Evans’s beautiful syllabic characters—I opened it and said to one of them, “Read.”
Without any hesitancy he began, and read without making a single mistake. Then I tried another and another, and found, to my great delight, that these Indians from that distant and lonely forest retreat were all able to read in their own tongue the holy word.
“Tell me,” I said, “how did you thus learn to read the good book?”
This was their story of how they had come into this great privilege. Would that I could describe the picturesque and dramatic way in which the spokesman of the party told it to me that day in my study! The substance is as follows:
“Missionary, you know hunters roam over a great extent of country looking for game. So, although our village is many nights away, yet in our winter huntings some of us come up a good many miles this way; and a few of your Indian fur-hunters go many days down toward our country, and so some of them hunt near our hunting-grounds. Well, as we all talk the same language and are at peace with each other, when we have made our little hunting wigwams and set our traps and got every thing ready for catching the wild animals, and then while waiting for them to come into the traps, we often have days when there is nothing to do. These days we would employ visiting other Indians, and among those we visited were some of your Christian Indians from this mission. They always received us very kindly, and we had some pleasant talks. We found that they had with them their Bibles, and, when not busy at their work, they spent a great deal of time in reading them. As we were very ignorant we thought they were very foolish in spending so much time in that way; and so we urged them to shut up their books and gamble with us, as we used to do. But they said: ‘Since we have become Christians we have flung all our dice and gambling stones into the fire. We find that we cannot be Christians and gamble; and since we have learned to read this book we find more pleasure in it than we ever did in our old foolish games.’ They would read to us out of the great book and we became very much interested, for they read about the creation, and Noah, and Joseph, and David, and Daniel, and Jesus, and many others, until we found ourselves going there every day we could spare from our huntings, even if some of us had many miles to walk on our snow-shoes through the great cold.
“Our hunting season, you know, lasts many months, and so we had time to make many visits. When your Christian people saw that we were so interested in what they read to us they said, ‘Would you not like to learn to read for yourselves and of course we said, ‘Yes.’ So they began teaching us. It seemed strange to us that we, who had thought it was all such foolishness a short time before, should be now seated in their wigwams and hard at work learning a, e, oo, ah; pa, pe, poo, pah; ta, te, too, tah, and all the rest of the characters which your Indians had marked out for us on pieces of birch-bark with a burnt stick. But we had got hungry to know for ourselves, and when we found that ‘ma’ and ‘ni’ and ‘to’ put together meant ‘Manito,’ ‘the Great Spirit,’ then indeed we were excited and studied hard to know more. So we worked away, and your good Christian people were kind and so patient with us, and so pleased that our stubbornness was gone, and we were willing to sit at their feet and learn. And very often did they pray with us and tell us of some of the wonderful things that were in the great book besides its stories of warriors and other great men that had at first excited our curiosity. Well, before the snow began to get soft and the time came for us to return to our village with our furs some of us had made such progress in our study that we could slowly read the great book. That spring, as soon as the snow and ice left the great rivers and lakes, a number of us decided to take our furs, as we had been very successful in our huntings, all the way down to York Factory, on the Hudson Bay, as the prices were better there. It took us many days to go, but there was plenty of game and fish, so we had a good trip down. We reached York Factory with our furs, and exchanged them for what we needed for ourselves and families. One day before we returned, the gentleman in charge of the Hudson Bay Company’s post said to us: ‘There have come out for Mr. Young, the missionary at Norway House, a lot of Indian Bibles from the British and Foreign Bible Society in London. Now, if you Indians could only read, and would try and get some good out of them, I am sure Mr. Young would be glad to have me give you some of these good books.’ When we heard this our hearts were glad, and we told him some of us had learned to read the great book and we would be so thankful to get them and would do the best we could with them. When he heard this he said he was pleased we had learned to read, and then he gave us a lot of the books, at which our hearts were made very glad. We carried them safely in our canoes up the great rivers and around the portages until we reached our homes and people. There was great excitement about them. Even some of our oldest people had never seen a Bible before. Some of the old conjurers and medicine-men were angry with us for bringing them, but most of the people were glad, for they had heard from some of our hunters who had not gone with us to York Factory of some of the wonderful stories which had been told them by the Christian Indians. At first we hardly knew what to do with the books. Then we decided that those who, during the winter, had learned to read should each have one, and that they should teach others; and as fast as any one could read, even if only a little, he should get his own book.
“So anxious were our people to learn, and so well did they get on, that the books are all distributed. We are very thankful for them, but we want somebody to teach us what we are reading. We love the book, but we want somebody to make it plain to us. We are like one who has found an instrument which makes music. We get a sweet sound here and another there, but we have never had any teaching, and so we cannot play it aright. So with this great book which we have learned to read and which we have in our midst, we are very ignorant about it, and so we have come all this way to ask you to come to our land and tell us what these things mean about which we are reading.”
With mingled feelings of surprise and delight I listened to this marvelous narrative. It was the story of the Ethiopian eunuch over again, but multiplied many fold. Like him they had the word and were interested in it; but how could they understand, never having had any one to guide them? And so they had sent this deputation hundreds of miles through the pathless forest to find out one who could begin at the same Scripture and “preach unto them Jesus.” My heart went out to them at once, and I felt that He who had sent the angel unto Philip with the message, “Arise and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert,” there to find one man longing after light upon the sacred volume, had surely sent these messengers for me to go on a similar blessed mission.
If these Indians, longing for instruction, had lived in a land of railroads or even ordinary highways, the matter of visiting them could have been easily arranged, but, unfortunately, it was just the reverse. No surveyor had as yet passed through that land. There is not a mile of road laid out in a region of many thousand square miles; and so only by a birch-bark canoe, manned by two Indians, could I visit them in the summer-time, and even then perhaps not be able to travel as rapidly as these experienced men whose lives had been spent in those wild regions.
I explained to them how my mission field was already over five hundred miles long and proportionately wide. In visiting the different Indian bands on it I had to travel either by canoe or dog-train several thousands of miles each year. I tried to visit each band twice a year, and if possible when present at the different places arranged the date of the next visit, which was generally six months ahead. Through the good providence of God I had been able to keep all of my many engagements, and the Indians, knowing this, often came hundreds of miles by canoe in summer or on their snow-shoes in winter from their distant hunting-grounds to meet me at the place appointed, that they might hear the word of God. Very many were the difficulties and hardships endured in faithfully filling these remote appointments, but many pleasing incidents occurred to compensate for a fixed resolve to be faithful, with divine help, to every promise made, even if we were in “perils oft “from raging floods in summer or the bitter cold in winter.
While I was anxious to go to this new and inviting field which seemed so ripe for the harvest, I dare not break faith with any bands whom I had arranged to visit. The result was I had to inform these Indians, who had come so far for me to go and help them understand what they were reading, that six months must pass away ere I could go and see them. They said they were very much pleased that I would come sometime, but pleaded for an earlier visit, for “who could tell what might happen in all that time?” However, when I explained my work to them they saw how it was and were satisfied. One of them, however, looking out of the study window and seeing the sun which was sinking toward the western horizon and casting toward us a line of golden light on the rippling waves, with the quick poetic Indian temperament said, “Come quickly, missionary, and see us, for your coming will be like that sunlit path upon the waters.” We had a long and earnest talk about the truths of the blessed book and God’s design in giving it to us that we might know the truth concerning him, and also about ourselves and what we had to do in order to obtain his forgiveness and become his children. Reverently they bowed with me in prayer as upon them we asked the divine blessing in the name of Jesus.
After exchanging some of their furs at the fort for necessary supplies they set off on their return journey to their distant wigwams, thankful that they had got the promise of a visit from a missionary to explain to them the meaning of the great book. In the month of February I began my trip to the land of those Indians who had sent the deputation so far for me to come and visit them. I made every preparation for a long and dangerous journey, and was not disappointed in any way. I took with me two of the best of men, both as regards their genuine piety and their endurance and cleverness as Indian travelers. So many were the peculiar difficulties of the route that all the patience and energy of us all were at times taxed to the utmost. Our trip led us first a hundred and fifty miles down the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg, and then many days’ journey into the wilderness directly east of that great lake. The traveling on Winnipeg was mere child’s play to what followed after we had plunged into the forest country. Our way led us over a number of little frozen lakes and streams and through several long, gloomy forest portages. The work of getting through the dense forests was very laborious and often very slow. A little clearing out of the fallen trees and the cutting down of some ere they stand too densely together would have saved both men and dogs a great deal of hardship and our sleds from a great deal of damage, but unfortunately no road-making has as yet been ever attempted in this wild country. Often we had to get down on our hands and knees and crawl under the partly fallen trees, and then all hands were engaged in getting our dogs and sleds over the accumulated fallen ones, that seemed determined to block up our way. Often our sleds would so violently strike against a tree that there was great danger of serious injury being inflicted on our dogs.
Thus on and on we went day after day. Some days we made fairly good progress. This was when we had some frozen lakes or river stretches along which we could travel rapidly. But on the whole, the trip was one of the most difficult I ever undertook. However, as we were in a forest country all the time, we could find good camping-places, and so we were able to rest fairly well after the fatigues and sufferings of the day, although our beds were made in the forest on some evergreen boughs in a hole dug in the snow, with no roof above us but the stars. At length we reached the Indians for whom we were looking. To say that they were delighted to see us seems very cold in comparison with the reality. They had abundance of venison, and so we and our dogs fared well. All that they had said to us about their people being able to read the blessed book, we found to be as they had told us. And so our work was to explain the truths they had for months been reading.
It being the hunting season, and this being their only means of livelihood, many whom we had hoped to meet were far away in their distant hunting-grounds. However, those whom we did meet gave the most earnest heed to our words and drank in the truth with great delight. We felt repaid a thousand-fold for coming to visit them and remained several days among them, during which time we tried to teach and preach unto them Jesus, and many of them were baptized.
Often since, have we thought of and rejoiced at the coming of this deputation to visit us and of the marvelous manner in which they had learned to read the word of God in their own language, without missionary or teacher, and then had imparted that knowledge to others; and then, best of all, there had come into their hearts the earnest desire to understand what they were reading. To satisfy in a measure that longing, it had been given to me to have the great honor of going as the first missionary to visit this interesting people and explain more fully some of the truths of the blessed book.
This was my rejoicing, that:
[T]he Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the Gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Ephesians 3:6-8)
(This is an excerpt from Stories From Indian Wigwams and Northern Campfires)