From the Missionary Herald.
CHARACTER ' MODE OF LIFE OF THE OJIBWAS
On our arrival in this country, we found ourselves surrounded by a nation of barbarians who knew nothing of the Christian religion, or of civilization.- They live in the rudest state of savage life. They subsist principally on the natural productions of the country which they inhabit, such as fish, wild meat, wild rice, and maple sugar. Many of the numerous lakes with which the country abounds afford considerable quantities of fish. The deer which is the principal dependence of a considerable portion of Indians for a part of the year, is found chiefly in the southern part of the Ojibwa country and on the borders of the Mississippi. Wild rice is found mostly in the interior; little grown near the shores of the lake.- Most of the bands cultivate some small garden during the summer, which is done entirely with the hoe. The hoe and the axe are the only farming tools they possess. The ground they select for cultivating is usually some sandy or alluvial spot which they can dig most easily, and which often repays but poorly for their labor. Some of the bands between this place and Red River, are said to raise considerable quantities of corn. Most of them put but little dependence upon this article for subsistence.
They are an extremely improvident people, seldom providing for future need. Consequently they often suffer extremely from want. Instances of starvation are of no infrequent occurrence in some parts of the country. They have no idea of the value of property, scarcely one possesses anything more than the scanty dress which covers him, and a few rude cooking and hunting utensils. Nor have they ambition to possess anything more. Their highest aim is simply the means of feasting and barely clothes enough to cover themselves. Their food is of the coarsest kind. Their clothes are chiefly obtained of their traders in exchange for furs. They consist of coarse woolen blankets and other coarse cloths, which are wrought into garments in the rudest manner possible. They are extremely indolent, especially the men and seldom engage in any kind of labor except when driven to it by necessity. The business of the men is chiefly hunting and fishing. Almost all other kinds of labor are performed by the women, such as cultivating their gardens, building lodges, making sugar, cutting and collecting fuel, which is all carried on the back, and all other kinds of drudgery. To personal cleanliness they are perfect strangers, and from experience at least, they have no idea of its comforts. Filth is the very element in which they must live and breathe.
They build no permanent houses, but live in small temporary lodges, which are simply a covering of bark tied to poles set in the ground. A hole is left in the center at the top for the smoke to pass out. These lodges are small and dirty. When they remove from one place to another they usually carry the covering of these lodges with them; and they not infrequently perform long journeys, taking along with them their lodges and other effects. The business of carrying the lodges belongs to the women. You may frequently see them with a roll of that and other movables on the back, considerably exceeding in size a large barrel. When they arrive at the place where they wish to encamp, a house is erected in a very short time.
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Each band has its own chiefs and is independent of every other. Their government seems to partake more of republicanism than monarchy. It is properly neither. The head man acts more like an adviser than as a king. If he is a man of energy and independence, he often acquires considerable influence. But if he is not, or if for any reason he is unpopular wit his band, they do not much regard him.- A man who can acquire a name for bravery is sure to gain an influence; but a coward they look upon with contempt. The most powerful chiefs attain to rank and power, by some act of bravery in war. In any matter which shall effect the whole band, the chief will never act or give his opinion, till a council has been held with his men.- When they have been consulted, the chief replies for the whole, and you may understand that the whole are bound by his reply as much as if each one had spoken for himself. Their orators, when they speak for the whole, always use the singular number, as if only one was concerned. When any one band wants another to joint them in a war expedition against their enemies, the war pipe is sent. This is the invitation. If it is accepted, the party is pledged to join in the expedition. The different bands seldom or never make war on each other. They are less savage and ferocious than many of our tribes which have been found on our frontiers. They have seldom been known to commit outrageous act of barbarity except when provoked to it. They seek revenge for murder by shedding blood.
The number of Ojibwas is unknown. Their manners and condition are much less affected by intercourse with white people, than those of any other frontier tribes. The country which they inhabit above the Sault Ste. Marie, is an unbroken wilderness, which has never been traversed by the foot of civilized man, except to obtain the Indian's furs or to explore its rivers and lakes. Much of this extensive tract of country is poor and barren. Some parts of it possess a rich and fertile soil. At present it offers but few inducements to settlers. It will be long before the tide of population, which is so rapidly rolling towards the west, will reach these northern regions. This circumstance is favorable to Christian effort in this country.
The trade with the Ojibwas who reside in the country claimed by the United States above the Sault Ste. Marie, is chiefly under the American Fur Company; that of those who reside within the British territories is carried on chiefly by the Hudson's Bay Company. The United States government exercise a control over the Ojibwa country claimed by them, so far as it relates to the residence of white people on it. No trader or any other person has a right to reside in the country, or to have intercourse with the Indians, without permission from a government agent. The restrictions of government in respect to the trade have a very salutary effect upon the character and condition of the Indians. The laws prohibit the introduction of distilled spirits into the Indian country. Very little is now brought in, and the principal part of that is smuggled in. If there be no restrictions placed upon this article, no doubt large quantities would annually enter the country in consequence of which the Indians would suffer greatly.
The trade on the south and west side of Lake Superior, so far as it is under the American Fur Company, is conducted by four principal traders who have in their employ numerous clerks. There is no doubt that the trade carried on with these Indians is an advantage to them. Indeed they could not exist without it, in their present mode of life, and the scanty resources which the country at present affords. It is a precarious business to those who engage in it, and is attended with many perplexities and difficulties.
The Indian trade has been the occasion of introducing a large number of Canadian Frenchmen into the country. They are but a little removed, in point of intellectual or moral culture, or in their habits of life, from the Indians themselves. Almost all of them are nominally Roman Catholics, but are extremely ignorant on religious subjects, as well as every other. Their habits of life and their tastes present no obstacles to their mixing with the Indians, and they seldom remain long in the country without cohabiting with a native. The habit has become so common, that at present, a considerable share of the Indian population in some part of the country is of mixed blood. It should not be inferred from this language, that there are not many foreigners in the country united to natives in lawful marriage.- There is not more than one or two traders, or clerks, or common men so far as our knowledge extends, who has not a family of mixed blood, if he has any. The character and condition of the mixed population, with some exceptions, are such as to call for Christian benevolence and missionary effort no less than those of the Indian. With the exception of the trader's families, and a few others, this portion of the population are enjoying few more advantages for moral and intellectual culture, or for improvement of any kind, than the Indians.- Some of them live in habits like the Indians, and pursue the same wandering savage life. Those who live in habits more resembling those of civilized life, are too poor in many instances, to send their children out of the country for education, or even to support them in it, without assistance, even were schools provided. The greater part of the mixed population who are elevated in name above the lowest heathen, call themselves Catholics. But most of them do not know the difference between the Catholic and Protestant religions, and would make no objection to a school taught by Protestants. Some of them would gladly avail themselves of the advantage of such a school, if there were no other. If we could gain their confidence enough to secure their children to be taught, many would undoubtedly be induced to listen to the gospel.