Au Pays de l’Ours Noir Part 10

Excerpt from Au Pays de l’Ours Noir, 

Dispatches of a Missionary,1897, by Father

Adrien Gabriel Morice

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Translated by Neil Wylie and Garry Girvan

 Among the Carriers and Babines

 The mission area of Stuart Lake adjoins the Williams Lake mission which is to the south. In fact it extends from 53 degrees 30 minutes to 60 degreeslatitude north. From east to west it goes from the top of the Rocky Mountains to the top of the Cascade Mountains.

The territory within these limits is at least as  big as France. But I ought to say that the extreme north beyond 57 degrees has not yet been visited.

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Carrier Canoe

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This part of British Columbia is magnificently full of lakes. In parts where there are no forests you are almost sure to have lakes or rivers. The principal lakes are: Stuart, Babine, Trembleur, Takla, Fraser, Trout, Bear, Sainte Marie, Morice, Dawson etc…

Stuart Lake is a splendid stretch of water 42 miles long….Where it is widest, six and a half miles wide, Stuart Lake is free of all obstacles, except near the shores. From Pinchi downwards it is scattered with picturesque islands and bare rocks which gulls and ducks have chosen for their homes.

The Headquarters of the Hudson Bay Company in this region is near the outflow of the lake and has the name of Fort St. James. Three quarters of a mile above, at 54 degrees 20 minutes are the Mission of Our Lady of Good Hope and the native village.The village includes 160 souls. About a hundred natives are distributed between two other villages and a camp without a headman, all on the north shore of the Lake.

Babine Lake is estimated to be not less than 110 miles long. Its two organised villages comprise 300 inhabitants.

The principal rivers of the district beside the Fraser are the one which joins Takla Lake  to Trembleur Lake, the one which pours its water of the latter lake into Stuart Lake and into the Stuart River itself. and then into the Nechako, a fine, deep stream which deserves the name of river. Other streams are numerous but less important.

We should mention also that the discharge from Trout Lake which flows into the Parsnip (or river of wild parsnips) which after its junction with the Finlay forms the Peace River and after cutting through the Rocky Mountains and watering immense plains to the east, goes on under the name of the MacKenzie River to flow into the Arctic Sea.

Most of these lakes and rivers support excellent fish and are covered, spring and autumn, with myriads of water fowl.

An English traveler has christened British Columbia “an ocean of mountains”. This name which fits the province in general very well applies even more to our district…

The altitude above sea level (and) the presence of so many mountains covered with perpetual snow as well as the latitude of this area, makes its climate a rigorous one. For at least five months of the year the ground is covered with a bed of snow three to seven feet deep and it is not rare to see the thermometer go down to 47 degrees below zero centigrade. No need to add that such a climate does not permit the growing of any grain.

Three distinct tribes share our immense territory: They are the Carrier, the Babine and the Sekani to whom we could add the Nahanni of the extreme north. The total population is about 1,800 souls. It is satisfying to be able to say that the Carrier at least increase rather than diminish the number. This chapter will be more especially devoted to the Carrier, but what will be said of their habits and dress can be applied to the Babines and up to a certain point (to) the Sekani.

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Dress of the Carrier Indian

The Carrier are generally tall, in which they differ from the neighbouring tribes. They have big, dark eyes, the chin more pronounced and the forehead less tapering than most aboriginals. More gentle and more religious than the Chilcotins, they are also less brave….

Fear is blind and can take away all sense of reason. I was busy one evening at my studies and it was already late when two women entered  in a state of distraction and told me that a fellow named “Hol”, a Babine who had just lost a nephew in an accident and was much attached to him, was wandering behind the village and intended to have vengeance on them for the death of he child.

“Impossible!” I said to them, “Hol at this moment is 160 miles from here.”

“He is in the village,” they said in chorus. ” He is there, we have heard him… so and so saw him, he almost knocked down so and so’s door!”

Just try reasoning with fear! Not to be troubled any more with these two women who dared not return home (their husbands were away), I went out and asked them where the supposed asassin had been seen or heard.

“Up there, not far,” they told me.

“Come with me and see that you are mistaken,” I said.

A small group had formed around us. We searched everywhere without finding anything.

“Now I hope you will not come and disturb me with your stories,” I said to them.

“But he is there! Sure he is,” they both said.

Then one of the women, turning her back on us, began with all her energy to harangue our imaginary visitor who was at that time more than 50 leagues away.

“We are sorry, why do you wish to harm us? We have never done anything to you. Don’t hide yourself, Come here instead. Tell us what you want and we will give it to you,” she said in a beseeching tone.

Disgusted, I went back into the house and left them talking to the air.

“Women,” perhaps you will say, yes women, but their husbands would have done the same.

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