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In Their Own Voices

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When George McDougall first entered the West in 1872, he wrote of his impressions to Reverend Enoch Wood, General Superintendent of Wesleyan Missions for the Canadian Conference. In his letter, the perceptions and values of the time are revealed:

We are now in the country of the dreaded Blackfeet, and in the center of the great prairie. All around us is strange. One seems to be carried back to some remote, long past age. Never before have I felt so forcibly a consciousness of my own insignificance. Hourly expecting an attack from a war party, living upon the providence of Heaven, our covering the vaulted sky, our only refuge God-and blessed by his holy name, we are witness of His watchful providence over the wants of helpless man.

Our approach to the great camp was very exciting. On the hillocks that surrounded the little hamlet sat the wild sentinels, each with a loaded gun. Many scores of horses graced on the adjacent plain. The vast circle of tents, all made of the dressed skins of the buffalo, and many beautifully ornamented, presented a fine appearance. Once inside the enclosure, and we caught a gleam of the savage life under one of its happiest aspects. The day's hunt has been successful.

Many fat animals had been captured, and stages in every direction were covered with the richest meat. Woman, the slave in all heathen lands, was hard at work, while her lord, robed and painted, sat smoking. An old conjurer fearing his craft was in danger, drummed and sang most lustily. We were received with the greatest kindness. Maskapetoon, the head chief, set before us a kettle full of the choicest flesh. Onahtahmenahoos, his second, placed his tent at our service. The feast over, the pipe of peace was passed round, and arrangements were made for evening service. How solemn, how burdened with the interest of eternity appears the hour when the Indian herald announced to his tribe the commencement of this first camp-meeting.

For ages these virgin plains had echoed to the hideous cry of the warrior and the dismal dirge of the conjurer, but now they resounded to the praise of the most High God. The appearance of the congregation was deeply interesting. The native Christians collected around the missionary. In the background sat the heathen, their fierce restless eyes and blood-stained faces proclaimed their allegiance to the Prince of Darkness. Yet for these degraded and benighted ones there is hope. The earnestness they manifested while listening to the Word cannot be described. Seventeen times we pointed them to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world; and our last service was not only the best attended, but, we trust, the most effective. Oh, God of mercy, have mercy upon this perishing people; their cry, though unheard in Christian lands, is heard by Thee!  By many a camp-fire, and in many a smoky lodge, our faithful missionaries have taught these natives the message of salvation, and who can estimate the fruit of their labor? Many of the pagans understand the syllabic characters, and have procured parts of the Book of God; and in this way in many hearts the heavenly leaven is spreading. The head chief, a fine old man, received a New Testament from Mr. Woolsey last winter. Every day he reads two chapters. He was reading the eight of Romans when I visited his tent.

In 1869, animosity between the Cree and Blackfoot erupted into violence. The Cree chief Maskepetoon was killed and by 1870 there was open warfare between the tribes. This was exacerbated by Blackfoot resentment of incursions into their territory by American traders and settlers migrating north. This led to a mistrust of traders and settlers by the Blackfoot and increasing resentment of the Cree and Stoney, who had closer ties to the trading and settlement community. In this excerpt from a letter dated January 9, 1870, George McDougall expresses his belief that there must be meeting with the Native Councils.  In turn, land provisions must be made in order to ally them with government and bring peace:

With all the ardour of a Canadian who loves his country, and who desires for its honor that justice might be done to these remnants of a once numerous people, I would advise that no time be lost in meeting them at their councils, treating with them or their lands, and by patient explanation allay the present excitement. And let it not be forgotten that in the Upper Saskatchewan there are, ten thousand natives, who, by a wise and just policy, can be made firm friends of the government. Let this once be accomplished, and the country will be speedily settled.


Citation Sources
McDougall, John. George Millward McDougall: The Pioneer Patriot and Missionary. Toronto : Briggs, 1902.

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