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Silas Rand on the Mi’kmaq People – Part 1: All Men From One Blood

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Silas Rand on the Mi’kmaq People – Part 1

Rand 1

Mi’kmaq Group in Nova Scotia, ca 1912

New Brunswick Museum, via the McCord Museum

Silas Rand, 1810-1889, was a Baptist who devoted much of his life to missionary work among the Mi’kmaq people of the Maritime Provinces. He is less remembered for this missionary work, however, than for having preserved a record of 19th century Mi’kmaq culture. He mastered the Mi’kmaq language well enough to compile a dictionary, and used this knowledge to advantage.

His evangelical leanings reveal feelings of pity, as he saw it, for the reduced state of the native people and by a strong conviction that they should adopt Protestantism. Today, and for me at least, he is remembered for his cultural work; for his missionary style of writing in English; for his collection of Mi’kmaq legends; and for his views which were remarkably progressive for their time.

Progressive or not, Rand was a man of the 19th Century. Some of the words that he chose are not the ones that we would use today. I have read several period descriptions of native people at that time, and many of them cannot be repeated for their inherent bias and racism. It is shocking to hear Rand refer to some of those attitudes, but it is also inspiring to witness the energy with which he refuted them. Still, his solutions were of-the-time, and were not correct by modern standards. There was an over-reliance upon ‘uplifting’ the Mi’kmaq and too little attention to supporting them along their own paths.

Other readers may find Rand’s work melodramatic. The choice is yours, but, in either case, here is the first excerpt from his Short statement of facts relating to the history, manners, customs, language, and literature of the Micmac tribe of Indians, Halifax, 1850. The title of the excerpt is mine.

All Men From One Blood

The earlier history of the Aborigines of America, is involved in total darkness. From what part of the world they migrated, and at what period, is unknown. There are various and conflicting theories on the subject, but nothing satisfactory. Some have concluded that they came from Asia, and some, from other portions of the globe. Some have conducted them, by a northern journey, across Behring’s Straits; and others have found means of accommodating them with a more direct and easier transit. But it is now generally admitted that of their earlier history, as inhabitants of this western world, we know just nothing. But we can go back beyond this. Their earliest history we can trace with certainty. An authentic record traces it for some hundreds of years. Their ancestors were born, and grew up and labored, and suffered, and died, along with our ancestors. At that period the progenitor of the degraded inhabitant of the most wretched wigwam, dwelt in the same hut, ate from the same dish, gathered pebbles from the same brook, and slept on the same strand, with the progenitor of Britain’s Queen. Their genealogical line runs side by side for ages. Aye, and the ancestors of the Indians, and our ancestors, and those of all the nations of the earth, were once crowded together, with beasts and reptiles, and living things that had breath, of every kind, in one vessel, and floated over the billows, and were preserved together from the common destruction, when the flood of waters “covered all the high hills which were under heaven, and every living substance which was upon the face of the ground, was destroyed from the earth, and Noah only remained alive and those that were with him in the ark.” The Micmac can therefore boast of ancestry as ancient and as noble as the proudest of Adam’s race. He is indeed our brother; for the Bible teaches us that “God hath made of one blood all the nations of men to dwell upon the face of the earth, and hath fixed the bounds of their habitations.” And it is instructive to know that as deep a mystery hangs over the earlier portion of the history of Great Britain, as that which rests upon America, and that the ancient inhabitants of England very much resembled the Indians of the western world. They lived in miserable cabins, in the midst of gloomy forests; they engaged in ferocious wars; they painted their bodies, and dressed in skins. Their chiefs attached the horns of cattle to their heads, as the Indian chief of the far west does to this day, the horns of the buffalo to his; they worshipped hideous idols, and offered human sacrifices. The well-known advice of Cicero’s friend, not to purchase his slaves from among the British captives, as they were too stupid to learn anything, occurs immediately to one’s thoughts while reflecting on the possibility of elevating the Indian from his present degradation, to the rank of a man.

But there is not only solid ground beyond the region of uncertainty, upon which the historian may plant his foot, there is also as firm standing on this side of that region. We can easily trace the history of the Micmacs, as well as those of other tribes, for the last two hundred years. And during this period, strange and affecting events have been crowded into their history. We should look upon it as they relate it themselves. Strangers landed on their coast, and were received in a friendly manner. They retired and returned in larger numbers. They took possession of the lands; treated the Indians as though they had no rights; employed them in their wars, and rewarded them for their deeds of cruelty. It is instructive to reflect how their history and that of the nation to which it is our boast to belong, is woven together during this period. The two cannot possibly be separated. The white man dealt treacherously with the Indian, and he dealt treacherously with the white man. They boast that in their collisions with the English they killed many more of us than we did of them; and they cannot attach blame to their forefathers for their deeds of valor. True they applied the brand to the lonely habitation, they often shot down the husband and the father; dashed out the brains of the infant, and dragged the mother and elder children into captivity. But wherefore? Because they delighted in blood? By no means. Their nature was no more cruel than those of other men; but they felt themselves bound to redress the wrongs they had sustained, and they were also rewarded for these deeds. The Indian now shudders as he relates the barbarities of former times; but he says, “Wenuchk teladakdijik ak Aglaseauk,”—“The French and English must bear the blame.” “They hired the Indians to butcher the whites. They gave them a fixed price for the death of every foe; and the scalp was torn off—the Indian will go on to explain—not because his grandfather was a cruel man, but because it served as evidence, stuga wegadigunchcja, “like a written document.”

During the period now under consideration, they have been paying more attention to our history, than we have to theirs. We have recorded but a small portion of their words and deeds; but the whole volume of our actions is preserved among them. They have only occasionally interested us. We have always interested them. The white man may pass from one end of Nova Scotia to the other, and travel all over the adjacent Islands, and see but little which reminds him, with any force, of those who once owned and occupied the soil; but the Indian can travel nowhere, and pitch his tent nowhere, without seeing that which forcibly reminds him of those who now have it in possession. Our towns, our villages, our highways, and every farmhouse and bye-path, are to him striking and affecting mementoes. Sit down in his wigwam and gain his confidence, and he will tell you your history, and that of your fathers, he will refer to those happy days when his fathers held undisputed possession of all these regions, as the gift of the Great Spirit. Then they were at peace among themselves; drunkenness with its fearful effects was unheard of; the forests abounded with game; the rivers with fish; and poverty and want were unknown. They could then muster by thousands. The various diseases which have of late years swept them away had not reached them. Sheltered in the forests from the cold; experiencing comparatively few changes in their diet and modes of living, and bountifully supplied with covering, they lived on through a long period of years. They could spread down the skins of the bear and moose, said an old Indian to me a short time since, and cover themselves over with others, and in the severest weather they would be warm and comfortable anywhere. “But,” he continued with emotion, “it is not so now. Our lands have been taken away; the forests have been cut down and the moose and the bear nearly exterminated. We have no skins now with which to wrap ourselves up in the winter. Government, it is true, gives us a bit of a blanket, and we spread it over the children. One awakes crying with the cold, and gives it a pull; and then another awakes crying, and he gives it a pull; and (suiting the action to the word), “by-and-bye they pull ’em all to pieces.”

They have a tradition respecting the first visit of the whites. An Indian on Cape Breton, discovered a strange track on the beach. He followed it. It was not a man’s track, he concluded, as neither the impression of the naked foot, nor of the moccasin was made. Still it was the length of his own foot, and the steps corresponded in distance to his. What could it be? Was it some kind of man? As he advanced he discovered indications which confirmed this supposition. A ship at anchor soon burst upon his view. He then returned and told his companions. The strangers landed, and visited the wigwams. They could not understand their language, and conversed by signs—“speaking with their hands,” as they expressed it. The noise of the guns astonished them. The strangers gave them some biscuit, and other things; and gained their confidence. They say that soon a young Indian was conveyed away to France, and finally came back, and could then speak French. Their language at present bears the impress of the nation that first took up a lodgement among them. Those European animals and things which have some resemblance to those with which they were previously acquainted, still bear the Indian name, with the appellation French prefixed, Wenuch is their word for a Frenchman. This in composition is shortened into Wenj. Te-am is a moose, wenjuteam, an ox or cow. Wigwam, a hut—wenjegwom, a house, or a French hut. Soon, a cranberry. Wenjusoon, an apple, or a French cranberry. And so for some forty or fifty words. For such objects as nothing with which they were acquainted resembled, they adopted, and have preserved the French name.

In the records of the history of Nova Scotia, are preserved accounts of several battles with the Indians, and other matters relating to them; with the treaty of peace finally concluded. They have also themselves preserved the history of these events; especially the latter, deeply engraved in their memories. They say that for a long time it was matundimk, matundimk, “war, war,”—that finally they made peace. The English Governor met with them in Council; he and the Indian chief smoked the pipe of peace together; they then dug a hole in the earth, and buried their weapons. They remark with emphasis, that the Tomahawk, or Tomegun, as is the Micmac name, was buried lowest. This implied that the Indian would not pull up his weapon, until the English should have pulled up his. He would not be the first to violate the treaty. And they say they have always strictly adhered to it; but that the English have not; a charge, alas! too well founded.

The Micmacs boast that they are the bravest and best of the Indian nations. They look down upon the others and speak of them with contempt. Each of the other tribes, it is probable, have the same conceit of themselves. And what nation on the face of the earth, thinks otherwise respecting their own superiority? The Micmacs say they once almost annihilated the “Mountaineers.” They boast, too, that in their differences with the English, they destroyed far more than they lost. And they will not allow that they were worsted even by the Mohawks. This latter statement, I am aware, is not the usual impression among the whites; but it is what has been told me by Indians in different places. With the Mohawks they had a long and fearful war. One event of this period I wrote down, in Micmac, from the mouth of an Indian, since dead, who resided near Charlottetown, named Jacob Michell. He learned it from an old man, who died some years ago. It is without doubt true in the general statements, though interspersed with idle fables, respecting the supernatural powers of their chiefs. It well illustrates the Indian character. It exhibits him in domestic life, and in war. The marvellous portions of it show what high pretensions were formerly made by their leading men; and also what is still most firmly believed among them. The whole tale is too long for insertion. The substance of it is here given:

 “There was once a large Indian settlement near the mouth of a river. One autumn a party of the men went up the river, according to custom, on a hunting expedition. Two of their braves left the rest, and took up their abode in one wigwam, about half way from the main settlement, to the place where the rest went. There they engaged in hunting, and taking care of their venison and fur, during the whole winter. The name of the principal man was Ababejit. He had a wife who had three children by a former husband, two boys and one girl. His comrade was married, but had no children. The whole party consisted of seven. All they had collected during the winter was, in the spring, brought down to the river, and they were waiting for the ice to break up, that they might convey it home in their canoes. A war party of Mohawks discovered the wigwam, and planned an attack upon it the ensuing night. Of this attack Ababejit was admonished in a dream, while resting from his morning’s hunting excursion. He dreamed that a flock of pigeons alighted upon the wigwam, and completely covered the top of it. Such a dream invariably portended war. Annoyed with his comrade, who was also a brave, because he would not believe that any revelation had been made, seeing he had received no intimation of it himself, from the Great Spirit, Ababejit would not disclose the coming event to any of them. They lay down as usual, and were soon asleep; but he kept watch, gun in hand, seated in the hinder part of the wigwam, during the live-long night. The war party was very large. Some delay in their operations was occasioned by the breaking up of the ice, which made it difficult for them to cross the river. They crossed, however, and drew up around the wigwam, just as the day was breaking. Ababejit knew all their movements, and just as several guns were raised in the doorway, he struck his comrade with the breech of his gun, and said to him, kwedabekie nuga nuuchase, ‘we are all killed, now get up.’ At that instant the Mohawks fired. The girl was just in the act of springing up, and was shot dead. Ababejit, being wide awake, was not hurt. The bullets could not penetrate his body; but rattled and fell to the ground. Had his companion been awake his body would also have been impervious. But, alas! for his unbelief, and envious ambition! He was but half awake, and therefore one of his legs was shot away. Had he been asleep he would have been killed; had he been fully awake he would have sustained no injury at all. The Mohawks having discharged their pieces, rushed upon the ‘camp.’ Three of their braves attempted to force an entrance, and in their eagerness wedged up the door. Ababejit sent a bullet through the heart of one—for, be it observed, a brave can kill a brave, though no one else can. The surviving two sprung upon him, seized him, and attempted to bind him, that they might lead him home as a captive, and enjoy the luxury of torturing and burning him. But the Micmac had no notion of gratifying them in this way. A desperate struggle ensued—a struggle for life and death. The report of the guns had not awakened the two boys; but the scuffle aroused and alarmed them. ‘Who is this attacking my stepfather?’ cried the eldest. ‘We are all killed,’ exclaimed the old man. The boy drew his knife and sprang to the rescue. The two Mohawks were instantly dispatched, and the old man was free.

“But the other Micmac chief was not idle. He had lost one leg, but he had another left; and the perfect use of his arms. His courage and strength being superhuman, remained in all their force. He had seized the tomahawk, and taken his station by the door, where he made quick dispatch of all who attempted to enter; and singing the death-song as he smote them down, he tossed their lifeless bodies to the back part of the ‘camp’? Ababejit had left his lance, the day before, sticking in a tree, at some distance. He bolts out of the ‘camp’, rushes through the midst of his enemies, and makes for this weapon. Three men see him, and nearly overpower him; but uniting artifice with strength, he disengages himself, and again darts forward towards the tree where his lance is. Once more he is seized; and once more he is free. The weapon is now in his hands; and he turns upon his foes. He fought like a tiger maddened with rage. Terrible was the slaughter that ensued. Samson with his jaw-bone, levelling the Philistines, heaps upon heaps; an Achilles or a Hector, dealing death among their foes; or the sword of Michael ‘felling squadrons at once’, would scarcely gain by the comparison, were a Homer or a Milton to tell the tale. But fresh combatants closed in upon him, as those in front gave way. He at length grew weary in the work of death. He announced himself at the door of the camp, and was permitted to enter. He sat down and took breath. His comrade still continued his song, killing every man who attempted to enter. Ababejit now directs the two boys to keep quiet until he should have gone out and engaged the enemy again. Then they were to creep out carefully at the back part of the wigwam, and make all haste down to their settlement, at the mouth of the river, and give the alarm; that the warriors of their tribe might hasten to the rescue. They obeyed; but were discovered and pursued. Ababejit gave chase to the pursuers; but they were younger and swifter upon the foot than he. But he calls in the aid of magic. The terrible war yell arrests them. As he utters it they are deprived of all power; they cannot move a limb. He kills them; but he has scarcely turned his face again towards the warriors who surround the ‘camp,’ when he espies another man running towards the boys. ‘Ula aleyu,’ he cries, ‘come this way.’ ‘Ula chenum,’ ‘here’s a man for you. Let those children alone.’ This poor fellow shares of course the fate of the others.

“But now the boys are frightened, and dare not leave the old man. They beg of him to go on with them to the settlement, and not return to the camp. But they hear the two women shrieking for help. Their mother is crying out, ‘Where is Ababajit? He promised me he would stand by me and defend me to the last.’ ‘Must I leave your mother,’ he says to the boys, ‘to be killed by the Mohawks?’ But the cries of the mother, and the remonstrances of the father, are vain. Self-preservation animates them, and he concludes to protect the future warriors, rather than the women. ‘Lay it up for them,’ says the boys, ‘and avenge it at a future day.’ They go away home together, leaving the wounded brave, and the women, to their fate. A general onset is now made by the Mohawks upon the wigwam, which is torn to pieces, and scattered in every direction. Ababajit’s wife and the man with one leg are dispatched and scalped; and a tomahawk is raised over the head of the other woman, when a chief cries out, ‘Neen n’tabitem,’ ‘she shall be my wife.’ This decides her lot and she is spared.

“The Mohawks now carefully collect all their slain, and hide them under the shelving bank of the river. They then carry off all the plunder and secret it in the woods on the top of a mountain. Ababejit soon returns at the head of a party of warriors. There the dead of their own party, scalped of course, and everything valuable has been carried off. They search long and anxiously for the Mohawks; but in vain. The latter kindle no fires in the daytime, lest the smoke should betray them. But before they dare venture forth their provision is all spent, and they have grown so thin in flesh, that their rows of teeth can be distinctly seen through their lantern cheeks. The Micmacs have now given up the search and returned home. The snow is gone, the river is clear of ice, and the Mohawks having first built a sufficient number of canoes, have started for home. But just at this time the hunting party of Micmacs, who had gone up the River the previous autumn, and who had been engaged in hunting all winter, were also returning home in their canoes, laden with the product of their labors. They met on a large lake, just as each party was rounding a point. They were thus in close quarters before either party could be discovered by the other. The Micmacs recognised the captive woman in the chief’s canoe, and readily divined what had happened. No hostile demonstration was, however, made by either party. They met and saluted each other on apparently the most friendly terms. The Micmac chief proposed to his brother Mohawk, that as they might never see each other again they should land and spend the night together. He consented. But no one slept during the night. Each party, and each individual, very naturally mistrusted that under this display of friendship, there lurked a design of mischief. The sagacious Mohawk took care that his worthy brothers should have no conversation with the captive at his side. But they out-generalled him. Busily preparing for the night’s lodging, they were moving in all directions, when, just in passing, someone whispered in her ear, ‘Ukchenumumok?’ ‘Where is your husband?’ ‘Chelantok,’ is as hastily replied,—‘he is slain.’ This was sufficient. Vengeance is resolved on.

 “Unluckily for the Mohawks their chief had left his kettle some distance down the river, the previous day. The sun had scarcely risen, when he, with his stolen wife, (it is thus she is designated in the tale,) launches his canoe, and goes back in quest of this important article of wigwam furniture. Now then is the Micmac’s opportunity. ‘Prepare the fattest and choicest pieces,’ says he to his boys, ‘and give your brothers their breakfast.’ With appetites sharpened by long fasting, they eat enormously. The expected result ensues. They are soon stretched on the ground asleep. ‘Now prepare your guns’, is the order given by the wily chief. No sooner said than done. Each warrior selects his victim. The deadly weapon is raised; deliberate aim is taken; and one volley lays every Mohawk dead. But the work yet is only half accomplished. The Mohawk chief who is a brave, and possessed of superhuman powers, still lives, and is more to be dreaded than hundreds of the ordinary grade. It is well known that there is but one among the Micmacs who can kill him; but one that he would dread to meet; but one that he would even deign to fight in single encounter. This is the chief himself; and should he be killed, woe be to the rest of them. Now then for a specimen of Indian tactics in warfare. Half of the living Micmacs exchanged dresses with the dead Mohawks; then launched their canoes, and commenced sporting upon the smooth waters of the lake; while the dead men were placed on the bank, and carefully adjusted so as to give them the appearance of being alive, looking at the others. The party on shore, and the party on the lake, would seem by their dress to be made up of each tribe. The Mohawk chief had found his kettle, and was leisurely impelling his canoe back against the stream, when he was startled by the discharge of firearms. ‘Matundimk!’ he exclaimed,—‘there is fighting!’ and onward darted his canoe. But when he came in sight he perceived his own men, as he supposed, mingled with the others, moving about in the greatest harmony, occasionally discharging their guns, and following each discharge with shouts and roars of laughter; while another party were reclining leisurely upon the bank, looking on. ‘Mogua matundenuk; paboltijik’ said he to the woman. ‘They are not fighting; they are only at play.’ But as he approached the shore, he observed that those on the bank never stirred, nor even moved their heads. He suspected all was not right. He had, however, but little time for reflection. The Micmac chief had secreted himself near the landing place. Several of his men had run down to the water, as if to meet them. ‘Turn the canoe, side to the land,’ they cried to the woman. She did so. The Micmac fired; but missed his man. The canoe was capsized; the woman thrown into the water; and away went the Mohawk, swimming below the surface until he was far out in the middle of the lake. The story gravely asserts, and I shall not take upon me either to change or modify it, that it was two hours before he came to the top! that he then came up in the shape of a loon, gave two or three screams after the manner of that bird, to let them know, I suppose, where he was; and then dived again, continuing as long below the water as before. ‘Quick! launch the canoes;’ shouted the Micmac chief; and away they went to the search. No one could see him but the chief, but he was soon moving about among the canoes, searching for his equal, and scorning to lay hands on those of ordinary rank. His proximity was indicated by the occasional capsizing of a canoe; but no one was hurt. At length the Micmac chief discovered him, and aimed a deadly blow at him with his spear. But he missed him. And now there are no more canoes upset. Again he approaches the chief’s canoe, swimming under water, and invisible to all eyes save to those of the chief.—Again he is struck at, and again missed. ‘Now,’ says the chief, stepping forward into the bow of the canoe, ‘I have but one more chance, for it seems the third time is the trying time’ with them, as well as with more civilized nations This ‘third and last time’ soon comes; and now he is successful. ‘He is running off with the line, spear and all,’ exclaims the triumphant chief. The men begin to search for him, supposing him to be dead somewhere near. ‘He’ll not die in the water,’’ says the chief. ‘He will take to the shore as fast as possible. Let us follow him.’ They obey; and, sure enough, there he is, wounded but not killed. The young warriors are for rushing upon him at once; but the chief restrains them. ‘Should he kill one of you,’ says he, ‘he would be just as well as ever.’ No one must approach him but the chief, and he soon dispatches him.

“And now occurs another fearful act in the tragedy. ‘Come, bury your husband,’ they say to the rescued woman, alluding to the one who had been killed by the Mohawks. So they convey the dead Mohawk chief a little distance from the shore. The woman takes a knife and plunges it into his breast. She then takes the scalp of her murdered husband, which the Mohawk had been carrying off, and buries it deep in his breast.

“I must sum up the remainder of the tale in a few words. The woman is carried home; marries again; accompanies her husband and his two brothers on a hunting excursion. She remains alone during the day, watching the camp, and taking care of the venison, while the men are hunting. One day she is startled by the barking of her little dog. She looks up and sees the alders all in motion, for some distance. They are still as soon as the dog gives the alarm. She thinks it a war party. The men, on returning at evening, will not believe her. She takes her child, and withdraws sum distance from the camp, where she remain for the night. When she awakes, after daylight, she has lost her scalp; her child is killed: and the three men are dead and scalped, just where they had lain down to sleep. She binds up her head; returns to the settlement, and gives the alarm. When they see the state of her head, they give credit to her story. The warriors muster, and go in quest of the enemy. But mogua kesimlawadigul, ‘they cannot track the enemy.’”

Poor Jacob would not consent to my publishing this tale, with his name appended, lest the paper might find its way into Canada, and the Mohawks get hold of it and be displeased. Poor fellow! He need not have been alarmed, and now he is where it can give him no uneasiness.


Written by johnwood1946

December 16, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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