Au Pays de L’Ours Noir: Part 21

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

En Route to the Sekani

With no more delay we would like to see for ourselves what the Sekani are like today. Horses, which they call ‘licho’ or big dogs, are not yet acclimatized there, so we cannot expect to see them come to fetch us. This has one advantage; we are free to leave whenever we like. However, we cannot put it off too long for we have given the Babines a rendezvous for the next month. We then leave for Trout Lake accompanied by three natives from the mission.

On the first day’s march nothing extraordinary happens. We first cross little meadows east of Stuart Lake, walk along the shores of Carrier Lake, plunge into some thickets of small pines which come close to  making the trail completely invisible, and as evening approaches we find ourselves on the bank of a stream which the maps call ‘Salmon river’ but which is known to our natives as Beaver River (Tsa-la-koh).

Exhausted by the swamps and the gymnastic exercises we had made them do, our horses stop willingly and we camp. But instead of taking the repose which they have so well earned, they are assailed by clouds of mosquitoes. The horses are beside themselves. Naturally these insects have no preference for animals. Human blood has just the same allure, so we cannot shut an eye all night…

The next day after we had passed successively the White River and the Muskeg River, where a false step would have got out horses into morasses where they would surely have stayed, we gained the height of land which divides the Pacific from that of the Arctic sea. From there on all the flowing water finds its way to the sea of ice. So the rivulet at my feet her must go not less than 200 leagues before it rests under the ice sheet of the Eskimos. To end there the total fall of all the streams that it will flow through is only 2,740 feet, that is to say only 500 feet more than the slope which the water of Stuart Lake has to flow down to go hurtling into the sea after running a distance of no more than 20 leagues! This comparison will give you an idea of the rivers of British Columbia, in particular the Fraser…

Towards midday a lake of many bays and verdant islets strikes our gaze. It is Carp Lake. The path brings us to a narrow strait which is between the lake itself which we cross by raft.

Useless the describe the pitiful state of the trails. A single detail will tell more about them than any description; rather than stick to the trail, we prefer to splash through the lakes in the water as long as possible. Then we cross the river flowing out which is celebrated for the excellent trout that it breeds. We have taken care to bring hooks with us. In a quarter of an hour we have caught a dozen fine fish which we will enjoy eating in camp in the evening…

Further on we cross the Iroquois river, a little stream which goes on to flow into the river of Long Lake.

Decidedly these adventurous Iroquois did nit have success in these parts, so what did they come to find so far from their country? Skins, the money of the Aboriginals.

Yes, but they were in Dene territory and the Dene do not trifle when they see strangers depriving them of the heritage which their ancestors have left them. Two Iroquois had then had the audacity to come trapping in the country where we are now and were congratulating themselves no doubt on the success of their enterprise when death came to take them unexpectedly in the middle of their golden dreams. Death’s instrument was one called ‘Tlih’ who killed them and took for himself their pile of furs. Some natives still repeat in our day the ‘song of victory’ which Tlih improvised after his exploit and which, like all song of its kind among our natives, is made up of the last words uttered by his victims.

These Aboriginals saw nothing shameful in such killings; for him it is quite simply ‘war’. Also our Natives who are now Christians cannot understand how the whites who are baptized can without compunction resign themselves to killing their like; and when you tell them that priests go with the soldiers to the service of their country, their astonishment is at its height. For them war and murder are synonymous; for their ancestors they were rightful deeds.

On the morning of the third day the monotony of the trail is pleasantly broken by a vista showing the Rocky Mountains which rise majestically before us. From the heights that we stand on, we can see trout Lake and the valley into which it flows. We then follow down the length of a deep ravine and an hour later we hear the rifle shots in reply to our signal.  (The shots) come from the other side of that hedge of spruce alongside the Long Lake river which we cross as we arrive.

We are home with the Sekani.

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