The Life History and Travels of Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh, 1847
Of late, the General Councils of the Christianized Ojebwas have been convened, and conducted, in the same manner as public and other business meetings are conducted among the whites. The last General Council, which consisted of Ojebwas and Ottawas, was held at Saugeeng. The chiefs came from Lakes St. Clair, Huron, Ontario, and Simcoe, and from Rice and Mud Lakes. The object of this convention was to devise plans by which the tract of land now owned by the Saugeeng Indians, could be held for the sole benefit of the Ojebwa Nation; to petition the Government for aid in establishing a Manual Labor School; lo ascertain the views and feelings of the chiefs in relation to forming one large settlement among themselves at Owen’s Sound, there to live in future; and to attend to other things of minor importance. There were forty-eight chiefs present, from Canada West alone. Chief Sawyer took the chair, and the writer had the honor of being Vice President. Chief John Jones, of Owen Sound, was selected to deliver the opening address, in which he was to give an outline of the subjects to be discussed. The meeting was now called to order; and after singing, and an appropriate prayer by Chief John Sunday, Chief Jones arose; all was silent, and every eye was turned towards him. After rolling his small but piercing black eye over the vast assembly, he spoke as follows:—
“Brothers! You have been called from all parts of Canada, and even from the north of Georgian Bay. You are from your homes, your wives, and your children. We might regret this, were it not for the circumstances that require you here.
“Fellow Chiefs and Brothers, I have pondered with deep solicitude, our present condition; and the future welfare of our children, as well as of ourselves. I have studied deeply and anxiously, in order to arrive at a true knowledge of the proper course to be pursued to secure to us and to our descendants, and even to others around us, the greatest amount of peace, health, happiness, and usefulness. The interests of the Ojebwas and the Ottawas are near and dear to my heart; for them, I have passed many sleepless nights, and have often suffered from an agitated mind. These nations, I am proud to say, are my brothers; many of them, are bone of my bone, and for them, if needs be, I could willingly, nay, cheerfully, sacrifice any thing. Brothers, you see my heart. [Here the speaker held out a piece of white paper, emblematical of a pure heart.]
“Fellow Chiefs and Warriors! I have looked over your wigwams throughout Canada, and have arrived at the conclusion, that you are in a warm place; your neighbors, the whites, are kindling fires all around you [that is, clearing the lands.] One purpose for which you have been called together, is to devise some plan by which we can live together, and become a happy people, so that our dying fires may not go out (our nation may not become extinct,] but may be kindled in one place, which will prove a blessing to our children.
“Brothers! Some of you are living on small parcels of land, and others on Islands. We now offer you any portion of the land which we own m this region; that we may, the rest of our days, smoke the pipe of friendship; live and die together; and see our children play, and be reared on one spot. We ask no money of you. We love you; and because we love you, and feel for your children, we propose this.
“Brothers! There are many other subjects which we think ought to come under your consideration besides those already stated. But the most important are :
“1. Whether it would not be better for the whole Ojebwa Nation to reside on this, our territory.
“2. Would it not be well to devise ways and means to establish Manual Labor Schools for the benefit of the nation.
“3. Ought not a petition to be drawn up and presented to our Great Father [the Governor General,] for the purpose of fixing upon a definite time for the distribution of the annual “presents,” and the small annuities of each tribe,
“4. Is it not desirable to petition the Governor General, to appoint a resident Indian interpreter, to assist the agent in Toronto.
“5. As we [the Christian part of our nation] have abandoned our former customs and ceremonies, ought we not to make our own laws, in order to give character and stability to our chiefs, as well as to empower them to treat with the Government under which we live, that they may, from time to time, present all our grievances and other matters to the General Government.
“My Chiefs, Brothers, Warriors! This morning, (the speaker now pointed his finger towards heaven) look up, and see the blue sky; there are no clouds; the sun is bright and clear. Our fathers taught us, that at such assemblies when the sky was without clouds, the Great Spirit was smiling upon them. May he now preside over us, that we may make a long, smooth, and straight path for our children. It is true, I seldom see you all; but this morning, I shake hands with you all in my heart.
“Brothers! This is all I have to say.”
On taking his seat eighty-four chiefs responded “Hah!” an exclamation of great applause.
Several chiefs spoke, and highly approved of what had been proposed; and expressed their gratitude for the kind offer of the lands. It was proposed to petition his Excellency the Governor, to grant and secure to the Indians, the whole of this territory.
The following was drawn up by John Jones, Jacob Tackson, and David Wa-wa-nosh.
The Petition of the Ojebwa Chiefs, in General Council, respecting the unceded lands north of Saugeeng and Owen’s Sound, June 5th, 1845.
To our Great Father Lord Metcalf, Governor General of British North America, and Captain General of the same, &c., &c.
The Ojebwa Chiefs in General Council assembled, HUMBLY SHEWETH:
FATHER—Your Petitioners having ceded a great portion of their once extensive territory about Saugeeng and Owen’s Sound, and a portion of it having been restored to them since the treaty of 1836, by your Excellency’s gracious commands;
FATHER—Your Petitioners are very anxious that the reserve (now still known as the Indian Territory) be a perpetual reserve,as a future refuge for a general colonization of the Ojebwa Nation, comprising the scattered Tribes in Canada West;
FATHER—And that these lands may now and forever be opened to all the Tribes; that whenever any tribe is disposed to move, that they may have nothing to fear, but have access to any of the good lands to settle upon;
FATHER—You have settled your white children on those lands that once were our fathers; we ask now to let us have the only remaining land we have, to ourselves, unmolested;
FATHER—This is the prayer of your red children; and feeling confident that you will give it every important consideration which it requires, your red children will listen to hear the answer of their Great Father. And they, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Forty-seven names, besides that of the President, were attached to this petition.
Never was I more delighted than with the appearance of this body. As I sat and looked at them, I contrasted their former (degraded) with their present (elevated) condition. The Gospel, I thought, had done all this. If any one had told me twenty years ago, that such would be their condition, I should have ridiculed the idea, and set the narrator down for a fool or a maniac. This assembly was not convened for the purpose of devising schemes of murder; plans by which they could kill their enemies; but to adopt measures by which peace, harmony, and love, might be secured, and a “smooth and straight path” made for their children. I see nothing at present, to hinder them from increasing in knowledge, happiness, and usefulness, except the conduct of the Government Agents, many of whom are inimical to our nation, and often prove a curse to her.
Several other papers were drawn up, and signed by the President, by order of the General Council. One of these I must be allowed to give, although it concerns myself.
TO ALL TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN. In the General Council of the Ojebwa nation of Indians. We, the Chiefs, of the various Tribes of the Ojebwa Indians, do hereby appoint and authorize our beloved brother, the Rev. George Copway, as our agent for the Manual Labor School, to procure subscriptions for the same, believing that this will be one of the greatest means, if established, of raising our young men, to become like our white brothers; to learn industry, economy, and to gain knowledge, that we may become a happy and a prosperous people.
Signed by order of the General Council.
JOSEPH SAWYER, [L. S.]
President of the General Council of the Ojebwa Nation. Saugeeng, July 4, 1845.
I will also give an extract of my letter to the Rev. Mr. Wilkinson, who was then President of the Canada Conference, immediately after the close of the General Council.
[Extract from Letter Book, Page 151.]
July 14, 1845.
To the President of the Conference, Rev. MR. WILKINSON.
The late General Council, have appointed me their agent for the Manual Labor School. I shall be happy to receive any instructions you may think proper to give, on my way down (to Montreal] for I am anxious to see this going on.
I remain yours, &c.,
Missionary at Saugeeng.
I give these, for the benefit and instruction of those, who have been so kind as to insinuate, or assert, that I was not an authorized agent to forward the interests of may poor people. Those who have been the loudest and most active in this slander, have done the least, in rendering the Indians any essential service. Let them go on, with their gossippings, while I go on my way rejoicing in doing all I can for my poor people, independently of the Canada Conference. Neither have I any disposition to court the favor of this Conference. Indeed, my heart has often sickened at the divisions and subdivisions of the Canada Methodists.
The speeches of Jones, Sunday, Taunchey, McCue, D. Sawyer, J. Youngs, W. Herkermer, were excellent. That of John Sunday, particularly, was uncommonly eloquent. His keen black eyes, flashing fire; and his large brawny arms extended, gave great effect to his speech. As a matter of course, there were often differences of opinion, as well as warm discussions, upon various subjects; some would even feel that their views were not fairly treated; still, there were no unkind remarks, no calling of hard names, no abuse, no ridicule, no insults, no threats, no intrigues, no blows, and no challenges to meet on the field of HONOR(?). The individual who had the floor, was never interrupted; profound attention was given, and a death-like silence was observed. Occasionally, it is true, there was perpetrated a pleasant, and innocent jeu d’esprit; an example of which, I will give.
During a protracted debate, in which Chief Jobn Jones took a very active part, some facts were elicited, and some views were presented, which induced him to change some of his former opinions, and vote on the other side. One of the speakers at the close of his remarks, referred to this fact, and observed, very good humoredly “If he wishes to be like a fish worm without a head—capable of moving forwards or backwards, let him alone.”
I have often been asked the question, “What is the reason that the Indians are diminishing in numbers in the midst of their white neighbors?” To state all that might be said in replying to this question, would require almost a separate volumè. But the following are a few of the principal reasons:
1. The introduction of King Alcohol among them.
2. The introduction of new diseases, produced by their intercourse with the whites; and by adopting their intemperate habits.
3. Their inability to pursue that course of living, after abandoning their wigwams, which tends to health and old age.
4. Their spirits are broken down in consequence of seeing that their race are becoming homeless, friendless, moneyless, and trodden down by the whites.
5. Their future prospects are gloomy and cheerless—enough to break down the noblest spirits.
There are many other reasons which could be assigned for their diminution. But are not these sufficient of themselves to crush and exterminate even any white race, if not protected and defended by friends and wholesome laws? Our people have been driven from their homes, and have been cajoled out of the few sacred spots where the bones of their ancestors and children lie; and where they themselves expected to tie, when released from the trials and troubles of life. Were it possible to reverse the order of things, by placing the whites in the same condition, how long would it be endured? There is not a white man, who deserves the name of man, that would not rather die than be deprived of his home, and driven from the graves of his relatives. “Oh shame, where is thy blush!”
With all the wholesome and enlightened laws; with all the advantages and privileges of the glorious Gospel, that shines so richly and brightly all around the white man; the poor ignorant Indians are compelled, at the point of the bayonet, to forsake the sepulchres of those most dear to them, and to retire to a strange land, where there is no inhabitant to welcome them!!! May the day soon dawn, when Justice will take her seat upon the throne.
If I did not think that there were some who are alive to the interests of my people, and often shed a tear for them; if I did not think that I could discover a gleam of light and hope in the future, “I should of all men be most miserable.” “Surely the bitterness of death” would be “past.” I look then to the Gospel and to education as my only hope.
I will now state, in a very brief manner, what I think ought to be done, by those whose benevolent feelings lead them to commiserate the condition of the Aborigines of America.
1. They should establish missions and high schools wherever the whites have frequent intercourse with them.
2. They should use their influence, as soon as the Indians are well educated, and understand the laws of the land, to have them placed on the same footing as the whites.
3. They should try to procure for them a territorial or district government, so that they may represent their own nation.
4. They should obtain for them, deeds of their own lands; and, if qualified, according to law, urge their right to vote.
The Indians will be sure to waste and squander whatever they may receive from the American or British Government, unless some, at least, of the above suggestions, shall have been put into practice.
The Council was now dissolved. The President, Chief Sawyer, proceeded to His Excellency, the Governor General, and presented the petitions, in the name of the General Council. These petitions, as we learned afterwards, were received with a simple nod! of the head. O mercy! is this forever to be our destiny? Common humanity, at least, might have induced his Lordship to speak a few consolatory words, if nothing else. Our reception was both discouraging and chilling. When we have a press of our own, we shall, perhaps, be able to plead our own cause. Give us but the Bible, and the influence of a Press, and we ask no more.
The General Council appointed me to go to Walpole, to present their address to the Walpole Island Indians, entreating them to embrace Christianity. I visited them in July.