History of the Ojibway Nation/Chapter 3
ORIGIN OF THE OJIBWAYS.
I am fully aware that many learned and able writers have given to the world their opinions respecting the origin of the aboriginal inhabitants of the American Continent, and the manner in which they first obtained a footing and populated this important section of the earth, which, for so many thousand years, remained unknown to the major portion of mankind inhabiting the Old World.
It is, however, still a matter of doubt and perplexity; it is a book sealed to the eyes of man, for the time has not yet come when the Great Ruler of all things, in His wisdom, shall make answer through his inscrutable ways to the question which has puzzled, and still puzzles the minds of the learned civilized world. How came America to be first inhabited by man? What branch of the great human family are its aboriginal people descended from?
Ever having lived in the wilderness, even beyond what is known as the western frontiers of white immigration, where books are scarce and difficult to be procured, I have never had the coveted opportunity and advantage of reading the opinions of the various eminent authors who have written on this subject, to compare with them the crude impressions which have gradually, and I may say naturally, obtained possession in my own mind, during my whole life, which I have passed in a close connection of residence and blood with different sections of the Ojibway tribe.
The impressions and the principal causes which have led to their formation, I now give to the public to be taken for what they are considered worth. Clashing with the received opinions of more learned writers, whose words are taken as standard authority, they may be totally rejected, in which case the satisfaction will still be left me, that before the great problem had been fully solved, I, a person in language, thoughts, beliefs, and blood, partly an Indian, had made known my crude and humble opinion.
Respecting their own origin the Ojibways are even more totally ignorant than their white brethren, for they have no Bible to tell them that God originally made Adam, from whom the whole human race is sprung. They have their beliefs and oral traditions, but so obscure and unnatural, that nothing approximating to certainty can be drawn from them. They fully believe, and it forms part of their religion, that the world has once been covered by a deluge, and that we are now living on what they term the "new earth." This idea is fully accounted tor by their vague traditions; and in their Me-da-we-win or Religion, hieroglyphics are used to denote this second earth.
They fully believe that the Red man mortally angered the Great Spirit which caused the deluge, and at the commencement of the new earth it was only through the medium and intercession of a powerful being, whom they denominate Man-ab-o-sho, that they were allowed to exist, and means were given them whereby to subsist and support life; and a code of religion was more lately bestowed on them, whereby they could commune with the offended Great Spirit, and ward off the approach and ravages of death. This they term Me-da-we-win.
Respecting their belief of their own first existence, I can give nothing more appropriate than a minute analysis of the name which they have given to their race—An-ish-in-aub-ag. This expressive word is derived from An-ish-aw, meaning without cause, or "spontaneous," and in-aub-a-we-se, meaning the "human body." The word An-ish-in-aub-ag, therefore, literally translated, signifies "spontaneous man."
Henry R. Schoolcraft (who has apparently studied this language, and has written respecting this people more than any other writer, and whose works as a whole, deserve the standard authority which is given to them by the literary world), has made the unaccountable mistake of giving as the meaning of this important name, "Common people." We can account for this only in his having studied the language through the medium of imperfect interpreters. In no respect can An-ish-in-aub-ag be twisted so as to include any portion of a word meaning "common."
Had he given the meaning of "original people," which he says is the interpretation of "Lenni Lenape," the name which the ancient Delawares and eastern sections of the Algic tribes call themselves, he would have hit nearer the mark. "Spontaneous man" is, however, the true literal translation, and I am of the impression that were the two apparently different names of Lenni Lenape and An-ish-in-aub-ag fully analyzed, and correctly pronounced by a person understanding fully the language of both sections of the same family, who call themselves respectively by these names, not only the meaning would be found exactly to coincide, but also the words, differing only slightly in pronunciation.
The belief of the Algics is, as their name denotes, that they are a spontaneous people. They do not pretend, as a people, to give any reliable account of their first creation. It is a subject which to them is buried in darkness and mystery, and of which they entertain but vague and uncertain notions; notions which are fully embodied in the word An-ish-in-aub-ag.
Since the white race have appeared amongst them, and since the persevering and hard-working Jesuit missionaries during the era of the French domination, carried the cross and their teachings into the heart of the remotest wilderness, and breathed a new belief and new tales into the ears of the wild sons of the forest, their ideas on this subject have become confused, and in many instances they have pretended to imbibe the beliefs thus early promulgated amongst them, connecting them with their own more crude and mythological ideas. It is difficult on this account, to procure from them what may have been their pure and original belief, apart from what is perpetuated by the name which we have analyzed. It requires a most intimate acquaintance with them as a people, and individually with their old story tellers, also with their language, beliefs, and customs, to procure their real beliefs and to analyze the tales they seldom refuse to tell, and separate the Indian or original from those portions which they have borrowed or imbibed from the whites. Their innate courtesy and politeness often carry them so far that they seldom, if ever, refuse to tell a story when asked by a white man, respecting their ideas of the creation and the origin of mankind.
These tales, though made up for the occasion by the Indian sage, are taken by his white hearers as their bona fide belief, and, as such, many have been made public, and accepted by the civilized world. Some of their sages have been heard to say, that the "Great Spirit" from the earth originally made three different races of men—the white, the black, and red race. To the first he gave a book, denoting wisdom; to the second a hoe, denoting servitude and labor; to the third, or red race, he gave the bow and arrow, denoting the hunter state. To his red children the "Great Spirit" gave the great island on which the whites have found them; but because of having committed some great wickedness and angered their Maker, they are doomed to disappear before the rapid tread and advance of the wiser and more favored pale face. This, abbreviated and condensed into a few words, is the story, with variations, with which, as a general thing, the Indian has amused the curiosity of his inquisitive white brother.
It is, however, plainly to be seen that these are not their original ideas, for they knew not, till they came amongst them, of the existence of a white and black race, nor of their characteristic symbols of the book and the hoe.
Were we to entertain the new belief which is being advocated by able and learned men, who have closely studied the Biblical with the physical history of man, that the theory taught us in the Sacred Book, making mankind the descendants of one man—Adam—is false, and that the human family are derived originally from a multiplicity of progenitors, definitely marked by physical differences, it would be no difficult matter to arrive at once to certain conclusions respecting the manner in which America became populated. But a believing mind is loth to accept the assertions, arguments, and opinions of a set of men who would cast down at one fell swoop the widely-received beliefs inculcated in the minds of enlightened mankind by the sacred book of God. Men will not fall blindly into such a belief, not even with the most convincing arguments.
Throw down the testimony of the Bible, annul in your mind its sacred truths, and we are at once thrown into a perfect chaos of confusion and ignorance. Destroy the belief which has been entertained for ages by the enlightened portion of mankind, and we are thrown at once on a level with the ignorant son of the forest respecting our own origin. In his natural state he would even have the advantage of his more enlightened brother, for he deduces his beliefs from what he sees of nature and nature's work, and possessing no certain proof or knowledge of the manner of his creation, he simply but forcibly styles himself "spontaneous man." On the other hand, the white man, divested of Bible truths and history, yet possessing wisdom and learning, and a knowledge of the conflicting testimony of ages past, descended to him in manuscript and ancient monuments, possessing also a knowledge of the physical formation of all races of men and the geological formation of the earth, would still be at a loss to arrive at certain conclusions; and the deeper he bit into the apple of knowledge, the more confused would be his mind in attempting without the aid of God's word to solve the deep mysteries of Nature—to solve the mystery of the creation of a universe in which our earth is apparently but as a grain of sand, and to solve the problem of his own mysterious existence.
We pause, therefore, before we take advantage of any apparent discrepancy or contradiction in the Bible which may be artfully shown to us by unbelieving writers, and to make use of it to more easily prove any favorite theory which we may imbibe respecting the manner in which America first became peopled.
Assume the ground that the human species does not come of one common head, and the existence of the red race is a problem no longer; but believe the word of the Holy Bible, and it will remain a mystery till God wills otherwise. In the mean time, we can but conjecture and surmise; each person has a right to form his own opinion. Some deduce from the writings of others, and others from personal observation, and by making known the causes which have led to the formation of his opinion, he will add to the general mass of information which has been and is gradually collecting, from which eventually more certain deductions will be arrived at.
Taking the ground that the theory respecting the origin of the human race taught us in the Holy Scriptures is true, I will proceed to express my humble opinion respecting the branch of the human race from which originates that particular type of the aboriginal race of America comprised by the term Algic or Algonquin, of which grand family the Ojibway tribe, of whom I shall more particularly treat, forms a numerous and important section.
During my long residence among the Ojibways, after numberless inquiries of their old men, I have never been able to learn, by tradition or otherwise, that they entertain the belief that all the tribes of the red race inhabiting America have ever been, at any time since the occupancy of this continent, one and the same people, speaking the same language, and practising the same beliefs and customs. The traditions of this tribe extend no further into the past than the once concentration or coalition under one head, of the different and now scattered tribes belonging to the Algic stock.
We have every reason to believe that America has not been peopled from one nation or tribe of the human family, for there are differences amongst its inhabitants and contrarieties as marked and fully developed as are to be found between European and Asiatic nations—wide differences in language, beliefs, and customs.
A close study of the dissimilarities existing between the Ojibways and Dakotas, who have more immediately come under my observation, has led me fully to believe that they are not descended from the same people of the Old World, nor have they ever in America formed one and the same nation or tribe. It is true that they assimilate in color and in their physical formation, which can be accounted for by their residence in the same climate, and sustaining life through the same means. Many of their customs are also alike, but these have been naturally similarized and entailed on them by living in the same wild hunter state, and many they have derived from one another during their short fitful terms of peace and intercourse. Here all similitude between the two tribes ends. They cannot differ more widely than they do in language; and the totemic system, which is an important and leading characteristic among the Ojibways, is not known to the Dakotas. They differ also widely in their religious beliefs, and as far back as their oral traditions descend with any certainty, they tell of even having been mortal enemies, waging against each other a bloody and exterminating warfare.
Assuming the ground which has been proved both probable and practicable by different eminent authors, that the American continent has been populated from the eastern and northeastern shores of Asia, it is easy to believe that not only one, but portions of different Asiatic tribes found their way thither, which will account for the radical differences to be found in the languages of the several stocks of the American aborigines.
Taking these grounds, the writer is disposed to entertain the belief that, while the original ancestors of the Dakota race might have formed a tribe or portion of a tribe of the roving sons of Tartary, whom they resemble in many essential respects, the Algics, on the other hand, may be descended from a portion of the ten lost tribes of Israel, whom they also resemble in many important particulars.
Of this latter stock only can I speak with any certainty. I am fully aware that the surmise which is here advanced is not new, but is one which has already elicited much discussion; and although later writers have presented it as an exploded idea, yet I cannot refrain from presenting the ideas on this subject which have gradually inducted themselves into my mind.
Boudinot and other learned writers, having at their command the books and observations on the Indian tribes which have been published from time to time since their first discovery, and possessing an intimate knowledge of Biblical history, have fallen into the same belief, and from a mass of book information they have been enabled to offer many able arguments to prove the Red Race of America descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. I have never had the advantage of seeing or reading these books, and only know of their existence from hearsay, and the casual remarks or references of the few authors I have been enabled to consult. The belief which I have now expressed has grown on me imperceptibly from my youth, ever since I could first read the Bible, and compare with it the lodge stories and legends of my Indian grandfathers, around whose lodge fires I have passed many a winter evening, listening with parted lips and open ears to their interesting and most forcibly told tales.
After reaching the age of maturity, I pursued my inquiries with more system, and the more information I have obtained from them—the more I have become acquainted with their anomalous and difficult to be understood characters—the more insight I have gained into their religious and secret rites and faith, the more strongly has it been impressed on my mind that they bear a close affinity or analogy to the chosen people of God, and they are either descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, or they have had, in some former era, a close contact and intercourse with the Hebrews, imbibing from them their beliefs and customs and the traditions of their patriarchs.
To enter into a detailed account of all the numerous and trivial causes which have induced me to entertain this idea, would take up much space, and as the subject has been so much dwelt upon, by those who, from having made the subject the study of their lives, and who by their researches have gathered much of the requisite information to arrive at more just conclusions than the humble writer, I will confine myself to stating a few general facts, some of which may have missed the attention of my predecessors on this road of inquiry, and which none but those intimately acquainted with the Indians, and possessing their fullest confidence, are able to obtain.
It is a general fact that most people who have been discovered living in a savage and unenlightened state, and even whole nations living in partial civilization, have been found to be idolaters—having no just conception of a great first Cause or Creator, invisible to human eyes, and pervading all space. With the Ojibways it is not so; the fact of their firm belief and great veneration, in an overruling Creator and Master of Life, has been noticed by all who have had close intercourse with them since their earliest discovery. It is true that they believe in a multiplicity of spirits which pervade all nature, yet all these are subordinate to the one Great Spirit of good.
This belief is as natural (if not more so), as the belief of the Catholics in their interceding saints, which in some respects it resembles, for in the same light as intercessors between him and the Great Spirit, does the more simple Red Man regard the spirits which in his imagination pervade all creation. The never-failing rigid fasts of first manhood, when they seek in dreams for a guardian spirit, illustrates this belief most forcibly.
Ke-che-mun-e-do (Great Spirit) is the name used by the Ojibways for the being equivalent to our God. They have another term which can hardly be surpassed by any one word in the English language, for force, condensity, and expression, namely: Ke-zha-mune-do, which means pitying, charitable, overruling, guardian and merciful Spirit; in fact, it expresses all the great attributes of the God of Israel. It is derived from Ke-zha-wand-e-se-roin, meaning charity, kindness—Ke-zha-wus-so expressing the guardian feeling, and solicitude of a parent toward its offspring, watching it with jealous vigilance from harm; and Shah-wau-je-gay, to take pity, merciful, with Mun-e-do (spirit). There is nothing to equal the veneration with which the Indian regards this unseen being. They seldom even ever mention his name unless in their Me-da-we and other religious rites, and in their sacrificial feasts; and then an address to him, however trivial, is always accompanied with a sacrifice of tobacco or some other article deemed precious by the Indian. They never use his name in vain, and there is no word in their language expressive of a profane oath, or equivalent to the many words used in profane swearing by their more enlightened white brethren.
Instances are told of persons while enduring almost superhuman fasts, obtaining a vision of him in their dreams; in such instances the Great Spirit invariably appears to the dreamer in the shape of a beautifully and strongly-formed man. And it is a confirmed belief amongst them, that he or she who has once been blessed with this vision, is fated to live to a good old age and in enjoyment of ease and plenty.
All other minor or guardian spirits whom they court in their first dream of fasting appear to them in the shape of quadrupeds, birds, or some inanimate object in nature, as the moon, the stars, or the imaginary thunderers; and even this dream-spirit is never mentioned without sacrifice. The dream itself which has appeared to the faster, guides in a great measure his future course in life, and he never relates it without offering a sacrificial feast to the spirit of the dream. The bones of the animal which he offers are carefully gathered, unbroken, tied together, and either hung on a tree, thrown into deep water, or carefully burnt. Their beliefs and rites, connected with their rites and dreams, are of great importance to themselves, more so than has been generally understood by writers who have treated of the Algics.
These facts are mentioned here to show an analogy with the ancient and primitive customs of the Hebrews—their faith in dreams, their knowledge and veneration of the unseen God, and the customs of fasting and sacrifice. Minor customs, equally similar with the usages of the Hebrews as we read in the Bible, might be enumerated; for instance, the never-failing separation of the female daring the first period of menstruation, their war customs, etc. But it is not the intention of the writer to enter with prolixity on this field of inquiry which has been so often trod by able writers.
The grand rite of Me-da-we-win (or, as we have learned to term it, "Grand Medicine) and the beliefs incorporated therein, are not yet fully understood by the whites. This important custom is still shrouded in mystery, even to my own eyes, though I have taken much pains to inquire, and made use of every advantage, possessed by speaking their language perfectly, being related to them, possessing their friendship and intimate confidence, has given me, and yet I frankly acknowledge that I stand as yet, as it were, on the threshold of the Me-da-we lodge. I believe, however, that I have obtained full as much and more general and true information on this matter than any other person who has written on the subject, not excepting a great and standard author, who, to the surprise of many who know the Ojibways well, has boldly asserted in one of his works that he has been regularly initiated into the mysteries of this rite, and is a member of the Me-da-we Society. This is certainly an assertion hard to believe in the Indian country; and when the old initiators or Indian priests are told of it, they shake their heads in incredulity that a white man should ever have been allowed in truth to become a member of their Me-da-we lodge.
An entrance into the lodge itself, while the ceremonies are being enacted, has sometimes been granted through courtesy; but this does not initiate a person into the mysteries of the creed, nor does it make him a member of the society.
Amongst the Ojibways, the secrets of this grand rite are as sacredly kept as the secrets of the Masonic Lodge among the whites. Fear of threatened and certain death, either by poison or violence, seals the lips of the Me-da-we initiate, and this is the potent reason why it is still a secret to the white man, and why it is not more generally understood.
Missionaries, travellers, and transient sojourners amongst the Ojibways, who have witnessed the performance of the grand Me-da-we ceremonies, have represented and published that it is composed of foolish and unmeaning ceremonies. The writer begs leave to say that these superficial observers labor under a great mistake. The Indian has equal right, and may with equal truth (but in his utter ignorance is more excusable), to say, on viewing the rites of the Catholic and other churches, that they consist of unmeaning and nonsensical ceremonies. There is much yet to be learned from the wild and apparently simple son of the forest, and the most which remains to be learned is to be derived from their religious beliefs.
In the Me-da-we rite is incorporated most that is ancient amongst them—songs and traditions that have descended, not orally, but in hieroglyphics, for at least a long line of generations. In this rite is also perpetuated the purest and most ancient idioms of their language, which differs somewhat from that of the common every-day use. And if comparisons are to be made between the language of the Ojibways and the other languages, it must be with their religious idiom.
The writer has learned enough of the religion of the Ojibways to strengthen his belief of the analogy with the Hebrews. They assert that the Me-da-we rite was granted them by the Great Spirit in a time of trouble and death, through the intercession of Man-ab-osho, the universal uncle of the An-ish-in-aub-ag. Certain rules to guide their course in life were given them at the same time, and are represented in hieroglyphics. These great rules of life, which the writer has often heard inculcated by the Me-da-we initiators in their secret teachings to their novices, bear a strong likeness to the ten commandments revealed by the Almighty to the children of Israel, amidst the awful lightning and thunder of Mount Sinai.
They have a tradition telling of a great pestilence, which suddenly cut off many while encamped in one great village. They were saved by one of their number, to whom a spirit in the shape of a serpent discovered a certain root, which to this day they name the Ke-na-big-wushk or snakeroot. The songs and rites of this medicine are incorporated in the Me-da-we. The above circumstance is told to have happened when the "earth was new," and taking into consideration the lapse of ages, and their being greatly addicted to figurative modes of expression, this tradition bears some resemblance to the plague of the children of Israel in the wilderness, which was stopped by means of the brazen serpent of Moses.
The Ojibway pin-jig-o-saun, or as we term it, "medicine bag," contains all which he holds most sacred; it is preserved with great care, and seldom ever allowed a place in the common wigwam, but is generally left hanging in the open air on a tree, where even an ignorant child dare not touch it. The contents are never displayed without much ceremony. This too, however distant, still bears some analogy to the receptacle of the Holy of Holies of the Hebrews.
I have learned from people who have been resident amongst them, that the tribe known as the Blackfeet, living above the sources of the Missouri, practise a custom which bears a still stronger likeness to the sacred ark and priesthood, as used of old in Israel. The Blackfeet, by comparing portions of their language which has been published by the persevering Father de Smet, and portions that I have learned verbally from others, with the language of the Ojibways, has convinced me that they belong to the same family of tribes, and may be denominated Algics. Any portion, therefore, of their customs which may have fallen under our observation, may be appropriately mentioned here, to strengthen the grounds we have taken respecting their common origin.
A man is appointed by the elders and chiefs of the Blackfeet every four years to take charge of the sacred pipe, pipestem, mat, and other emblems of their religious beliefs. A lodge is allotted for his especial use, to contain these emblems and articles pertaining to his office. Four horses are given him to pack these things from place to place, following the erratic movements of the camp. This functionary is obliged to practise seven fasts, and to live during the term of his priesthood in entire celibacy. Even if he possesses a family, on his appointment as "Great Medicine" he must separate from them during his term, and the public supports them. All religious councils are held in his lodge, and disputes are generally adjusted by him as judge. His presence and voice are sufficient to quell all domestic disturbance, and altogether he holds more actual power and influence than even the civil and war chiefs. His face is always painted black, and he wears his hair tied in a large knot over his forehead, and through this knot is passed a sharp stick with which he scratches his body, should he have occasion, for he is not to use his finger nails for this purpose. None but he can or dare handle the sacred pipe and emblems. At the end of his term the tribe presents him with a new lodge, horses, and so forth, wherewith to commence life anew.
It cannot but strike the attention of an observer, that this custom, this peculiar personage with his lodge and sacred emblems, among the roving sons of the prairies, resembles forcibly the ark and high priesthood of the wandering Israelites of old. I wish again to remark that the fact of this custom being in use among the Blackfeet, has not been obtained under my own personal observation, and therefore I cannot vouch fully for its truth. Having learned it, however, of persons of undoubted veracity, I have deemed it worthy of insertion here. It was corroborated to me during the summer of 1849, by Paul Kane, Esq., a Canadian gentleman, while stopping at my house at Crow Wing on the Mississippi, with Sir Edward Poor and others, en route for Selkirk's Settlement, Oregon and California. He appeared a learned and much travelled man, and having been during the course of former travels, and during a long connection with the Hudson Bay Company, a sojourner more or less among the Blackfeet, he had learned of the existence of the above peculiar custom.
Another peculiar trait among the Algics is that which has already been fully dwelt upon under the head of their Totemic division. There is nothing to which I can compare the purity and rigid conformity with which this division into families has been kept for centuries and probably ages, amongst the Ojibways, as the division of the Hebrews into tribes, originating from the twelve sons of Jacob. Another peculiarity which has most forcibly struck my mind as one worthy of notice, and which in fact first drew my attention to this subject, is the similitude which exists between the oral traditions and lodge stories of the Ojibways with the tales of the Hebrew patriarchs in the Old Testament.
They tell one set of traditions which treat of the adventures of eight, ten, and sometimes twelve brothers. The youngest of these brothers is represented in the many traditions which mention them, as the wisest and most beloved of their father, and lying under the special guardianship of the Great Spirit. In one tradition under the name of Wa-jeeg-e-wa-kon-ay (Fisher skin coat) he delivers his brethren from divers difficulties entailed on them from their own folly and disobedience. In another tradition he is made to supply his brethren with corn. The name of the father is sometimes given as Ge-tub-e. The similarity between these and other traditions, with the Bible stories of Jacob and his twelve sons, cannot fail to attract the attention of any person who is acquainted with both versions.
The tradition of the deluge, and traditions of wars between the different Totemic clans, all bear an analogy with tales of the Bible.
To satisfy my own curiosity I have sometimes interpreted to their old men, portions of Bible history, and their expression is invariably: "The book must be true, for our ancestors have told us similar stories, generation after generation, since the earth was new." It is a bold assertion, but it is nevertheless a true one, that were the traditions of the Ojibways written in order, and published in a book, it would as a whole bear a striking resemblance to the Old Testament, and would contain no greater improbabilities than may be accounted for by the loose manner in which these traditions have been perpetuated; naturally losing force and truth in descending orally through each succeeding generation. Discard, then, altogether the idea of any connection existing or having existed between the Ojibways and the Hebrews, and it will be found difficult to account for all the similarities existing between many of their rites, customs, and beliefs. Notwithstanding all that has been and may be advanced to prove the Ojibways descended from the lost tribes of Israel, or at least, their once having had close communion with them, yet I am aware that there are many stubborn facts and arguments against it, the principal of which is probably their total variance in language. Never having studied the Hebrew language, I have not had the advantage of comparing with it the Ojibway, and on this point I cannot express any opinion.
It is not supposable, however, that the ten lost tribes of Israel emigrated from the land of their captivity in one body, and proceeding direct to the eastern shores of Asia, crossed over to America (by some means which, through changes and convulsions in nature, have become extinct and unknown to the present age) there to resume the rites of their religion, practise the Mosaic laws, and isolated from the rest of mankind, perpetuated in their primitive purity their language and beliefs.
On the contrary, if the Algics are really descendants of these tribes, it must be only from a portion of them, as remnants of the lost tribes have been discovered in the Nestorians of Asia. To arrive in America, these portions must have passed through strange and hostile tribes of people, and in the course of their long wanderings and sojourns amongst them, they might have adopted portions of their languages and usages, losing thereby the purity of their own. It is natural to surmise that they were driven and followed into America by hostile tribes of Asia, and that they have been thus driven and followed till checked by the waves of the broad Atlantic. This would account for the antagonistical position in which they and the Dakotas were first discovered, and which, as the Algics are now being pressed back by the white race, on the track of their old emigration, has again been renewed more deadly than ever. Truly are they a wandering and accursed race! They now occupy a position wedged in as it were, between the onward resistless tide of European emigration, and the still powerful tribes of the Naud-o-wa-se-wug ("Like unto the Adders"), their inveterate and hereditary enemies. As a distinct people their final extinction appears inevitable, though their blood may still course on as long as mankind exists.
I cannot close these remarks on this subject (though they have already been lengthened further than was at first intended), without offering a few words respecting the belief of the Ojibways in a future state. Something can be deducted from this respecting their condition in former ages, and the direction from which they originally emigrated.
When an Ojibway dies, his body is placed in a grave, generally in a sitting posture, facing the west. With the body are buried all the articles needed in life for a journey. If a man, his gun, blanket, kettle, fire steel, flint and moccasins; if a woman, her moccasins, axe, portage collar, blanket and kettle. The soul is supposed to stand immediately after the death of the body on a deep beaten path, which leads westward; the first object he comes to in following this path, is the great Oda-e-min (Heart berry), or strawberry, which stands on the roadside like a huge rock, and from which he takes a handful and eats on his way. He travels on till he reaches a deep, rapid stream of water, over which lies the much dreaded Ko-go-gaup-o-gun or rolling and sinking bridge; once safely over this as the traveller looks back it assumes the shape of a huge serpent swimming, twisting and untwisting its folds across the stream. After camping out four nights, and travelling each day through a prairie country, the soul arrives in the land of spirits, where he finds his relatives accumulated since mankind was first created; all is rejoicing, singing and dancing; they live in a beautiful country interspersed with clear lakes and streams, forests and prairies, and abounding in fruit and game to repletion—in a word, abounding in all that the red man most covets in this life, and which conduces most to his happiness. It is that kind of a paradise which he only by his manner of life on this earth, is fitted to enjoy. Without dwelling further on this belief, which if carried out in all its details would occupy under the head of this chapter much unnecessary space, I will now state the conclusions which may possibly be educed from it.
The Ojibway believes his home after death to lie westward. In their religious phraseology, the road of souls is sometimes called Ke-wa-kun-ah, "Homeward road." It is, however, oftener named Che-ba-kun-ah (road of souls). In the ceremony of addressing their dead before depositing them in the grave, I have often heard the old men use the word Ke-go-way-se-kah (you are going homeward). This road is represented as passing mostly through a prairie country.
Is it not probable from these beliefs that ages ago the Ojibways resided westward, and occupied a country "flowing in milk and honey"—a country abounding in all that tends to their enjoyment and happiness, and to which they look back as the tired traveller on a burning desert looks back to a beautiful oasis which he has once passed, or as the lonely wanderer looks back to the once happy home of his childhood? May they not forcibly have been driven from this former country by more powerful nations—have been pressed east and still further eastward from Asia in to America, and over its whole extent, arrested by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean? And, like a receding wave, they have turned their faces westward towards their former country, within the past four centuries forced back by European discovery and immigration.
With their mode of transmitting traditions from father to son orally, it is natural to suppose that their present belief in the westward destination of the soul has originated from the above-surmised era in their ancient history. And the tradition of a once happy home and country, being imperfectly transmitted to our times through long lines of generations, has at last merged into the simple and natural belief of a future state, which thoroughly pervades the Indian mind, and guides, in a measure, his actions in life, and enables him to smile at the approach of death.
They have traditions connected with this belief which forcibly illustrate the surmises we have advanced.
In conclusion, I will again remark that though I am fully aware that the subject, and much-disputed point, of the origin of the American Indian is far beyond my depth of understanding and limited knowledge, yet I have deemed it a duty to thus make known the facts embodied in this chapter, and ideas, however crude and conflicting with the received opinions of more learned authors. I offer them for what they may be worth, and if they be ever used towards elucidating this mystery by wise men who may make it an object of study and research, the end of making them public will be satisfactorily fulfilled.
The analogies which have been noticed as existing between the Hebrew and Algic tribes have not struck my attention individually; others whom I have consulted, living as isolated among the Ojibways as I have been, holding daily communion with them, speaking their language, hearing their legends and lodge stories, and, withal, readers of the Bible, have fallen into the same belief, and this simple fact is itself full worthy of notice.
- Paul Kane was an artist of Toronto. In the Parliament Library of the Dominion of Canada, at Ottawa, are twelve of his oil paintings representing Indian life toward the Rocky Mountains. In 1859 a book from his pen was published in London, with the title Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America from Canada to Van Couver's Island and Oregon—E.D.N.