New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Silas Rand on the Mi’kmaq People – Part 3 and Final: Will Not the Bright Sun and the Blue Heavens Testify Against Us?

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Silas Rand on the Mi’kmaq People – Part 3 and Final

Rand 3

Mi’kmaq Group, ca 1910

From the McCord Museum

This is the same introduction used for Parts 1 and 2.

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 third and final 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.

Will Not the Bright Sun and the Blue Heavens Testify Against Us?

And what can be meant, it may be asked, by the Literature of the Micmacs. We have been in the habit of looking upon them as miserable, ignorant, stupid looking beings. We have been aware that there have never been, to any extent, schools established among them, and that no effort, except on the smallest scale, has been made by the whites, to teach them. We have treated them almost as though “they had no rights, and as if it were somewhat doubtful whether they even have souls. And have they a Literature? By what effort of imagination can it be made out? And truly the term must be taken with some restriction in its meaning. They possess, however, some knowledge of the Arts and Sciences. They have a book which they read. Some of them can write both English and Micmac in a very fair hand. Some of them have a knowledge of arithmetic. An instance has occurred in Prince Edward Island, of an Indian who prided himself on being able to add up the longest and most complicated sums, as rapidly as the most expert accountant. They are in the constant habit of corresponding among themselves by letter. I have obtained a couple of letters, written by an Indian who has been several years at Quebec; one addressed to his father, and the other to the chief in Cape Breton, and the hand-writing would be no discredit to anybody. The method of writing and spelling is curious. The letters for the most part resemble the English, but are sounded like the French. Their book is in peculiar characters: They have nothing in Roman print. Most of them are acquainted with the contents of this book; but few, however, can read it correctly. Copies of it are multiplied indefinitely, by cribing. And it embraces important matter. It enters into some of the most elevated regions of knowledge and thought. I cannot approve of it as a whole. It states things which are false in fact, and ruinous in tendency; but it also states much that is truth, and truth of the most momentous import. It is their Prayer Book. It contains condensed extracts from the historical portions of the Bible: a Catechism of Religion; Psalms and Hymns, and Prayers. The contents are early instilled into their memories. The children are taught by their parents, and many a Protestant family might take a lesson from them in this respect.

But they are also versed in other subjects. They have studied Botany from Nature’s Volume. They know the names of all the trees and shrubs, and useful plants, and roots, in their country. They have studied their natures, habits, and uses. They have killed, dissected, and examined all the animals of North America, from the mestugepegagit to the gulwakchech, from the “buffalo” to the “mouse.” They have in like manner examined the birds and the fish. They are therefore somewhat acquainted with Natural History.

The Indian has studied Geography. Not, however, that of Europe, Asia, and Africa. But he knows all about America. And most especially does the Micmac know about Nova Scotia and the places adjacent. Shew him a map of these places, and explain to him that it is “a picture of the country,” and although it may be the first time he has ever seen a map, he can go round it, and point out the different places with the utmost care. He is acquainted with every spot. He is in the habit of making rude drawings of places for the direction of others. One party can thus inform another at what spot in the woods they are to be found. At the place where they turn off the main road, a piece of bark is left, with the contemplated route sketched upon it. The party following examine the luskun, as they term it, when they come up, and then follow on without any difficulty.

An Indian is a first rate hand to give you directions respecting your road. He marks it out for you on the ground, and you cannot have a better guide, especially through the woods. When roads were fewer and more difficult in Nova Scotia than they are now, the Indian’s aid was frequently called into requisition. And “here,” said the tawny guide, who was years ago directing a party in their travel from Nictaux to Liverpool in the winter, “here just half-way.” When the road was afterwards measured it was found that the Indian was correct. Arriving at another spot, he informed them that the preceding winter he had killed a moose at that place. Digging down through the deep snow, he immediately showed them the horns. Their services should always be obtained in searching for persons who are lost in the woods. Besides their accurate acquaintance with the face of the country, they are able to track you with all ease over the leaves in summer. They can discern the traces of your foot, where you can see nothing. You have bent the leaves and grass under your feet, and the impression remains. And your upper extremities have left an additional track behind you, on the trees, and on the moss, which, brushed along as you passed, was not wholly elastic; it remained in a measure as you left it. So that whether he looks up or looks down, he sees your track, and can follow you at full speed. Now where there are habits of such close observation, there must be mental improvement.

And they have some knowledge of Astronomy. They have watched the stars during their night excursions, or while laying wait for game. They know that the North star does not move, and they call it “okwotunuguwa kulokuwech” “the North star.” They have observed that the circumpolar stars never set. The call the Great Bear, “Muen,” the bear. And they have names for several other constellations. The morning star is ut’adabum, and the seven stars ejulkuch. And “what do you call that ?” said a venerable old lady a short time ago, who with her husband, the head chief of Cape Breton, was giving me a lecture on Astronomy, on nature’s celestial globe, through the apertures of the wigwam. She was pointing to the “milky way”. “Oh we call it the milky way—the milky road,” said I. To my surprise she gave it the same name in Micmac.

Besides these branches of knowledge, they have among them historical facts, as already intimated, and facts mingled with fable, and fables apparently without any mixture of facts, treasured up carefully in their memories, and handed down from generation to generation. These singular tales display some talent in their composition, and many of them, all things considered, are exceedingly interesting, as the genuine compositions of a primitive race, just as the wildest or most ridiculous tales of the nursery (some of which, by-the-bye, they very much resemble), such as Sinbad the Sailor, Beauty and the Beast, Jack the Giant-killer, or Cinderella and the glass slipper, would be, could we but be certified that they were the genuine compositions of the ancient Britons, in the days preceding the Roman conquest, when our forefathers were barbarians. And viewed in a similar light why should not the traditionary romances of the Micmacs be worthy of attention? They are, no doubt, genuine. They must have been composed by Indians, and many of them by Indians of a former generation. Some of them are composed with great regularity. One event occurs out of another, and the story goes on with a wildness of imagination about magicians and giants, and transformations, and love, and war, and murder, that might almost rival the metamorphosis of Ovid, or the tales of the ancient Scandinavians. Children exposed, or lost, by their parents, are miraculously preserved. They grow up suddenly to manhood, and are endowed with superhuman powers. They become the avengers of the guilty, and the protectors of the good. They drive up the moose and the “carriboo” to their “camps” and slaughter them at their leisure. The elements are under their control. They can raise the wind; conjure up storms or disperse them; make it cold or hot, wet or dry, as they please. They can multiply the smallest amount of food indefinitely; evade the subtlety and rage of their enemies; kill them miraculously, and raise their slaughtered friends to life. Huge serpents are occasionally introduced “as big as mountains.” A monstrous bird called the kulloo, the same possibly as the fabled condor, often makes its appearance. With a dozen slaughtered fat buffaloes on its back, and several men, it goes off through the air as though it bore no burden. A whole quarter of beef serves it for a mouthful. It has human properties; can speak; and is endowed with prophetic powers. It is a powerful friend or terrible enemy to the Indians. When the former, it saves them from all sorts of troubles, and furnishes them with every good. When the latter, their condition is sad indeed. In a tale which lies before me, a kulloo is described as having depopulated a whole village; having carried the inhabitants all off alive, to his own territory. He occupies a central wigwam; his prisoners are all around him in a circle. One whole family furnishes him with a meal, and he takes them in rotation, each family knowing when their turn will come. The same tale relates the destruction of the old tyrant. A child, picked up in the woods by an old squaw, has been reared by her, and after a long series of marvellous events, he arrives just as his parents are in expectation of being devoured on the morrow. But he proves their deliverer. The old kulloo falls by his hand, together with all the brood, except the younger one, who by great persuasion and rich promises, obtains permission to live. Henceforth this bird attaches himself to the young hero, and faithfully does he reward him for sparing his life. Such are their tales, and they seem to have scores of them. Five of them from the mouth of an Indian, I have written down, each being the length of a tolerable sermon, and I have heard many more. I prize them chiefly as furnishing me with the means of studying the language.

Now all these facts relate to the question of the intellectual capacity of the Indians; the degree of knowledge existing among them; and the possibility of elevating them in the scale of humanity. If such be their degree of mental improvement, with all their disadvantages, what might they not become, were the proper opportunity afforded? Shame on us! We have seized upon the lands which the Creator gave to them. We have deceived, defrauded, and neglected them. We have taken no pains to aid them; or our efforts have been feeble and ill-directed. We have practically pronounced them incapable of improvement, or unworthy of the trouble; and have coolly doomed the whole race to destruction. But dare we treat them thus, made as they are in the image of God like ourselves? Dare we neglect them any longer? Will not the bright sun and the blue heavens testify, against us? and will not this earth which we have wrested away from them, lift up its voice to accuse us? And when they shall have passed away, and their very name is forgotten by our children, will not the voice of our brother’s blood cry unto God from the ground? and in the Day of Judgment when all past actions will be brought to light, and the despised Indian will stand on a level with his now more powerful neighbour, then as poor and as helpless as himself; when the Searcher of Hearts shall demand of us, “Where is thy brother?” how shall we answer this question, if we make not now one last effort to save them! We will make such an effort. We are doing so, and God is with us. He will crown our labours with success. We will implore forgiveness for the past, and wisdom and grace for the future.


Written by johnwood1946

December 30, 2015 at 8:45 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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