Excerpt from Au Pays de l’Ours Noir,
Dispatches of a Missionary 1897, by Father
Adrien Gabriel Morice
Translated by Neil Wylie and Garry Girvan
Return to the Babines: Potlach Prohibition
Three weeks before my return among them comes from New Westminster (residence of the Apostolic Vicar) the order to abolish completely and forever the remainder of the old feasts and ceremonial banquets that had been left to them ad duritiam cordis.
This blow produced an indescribable emotion. One has to know the Babines to get and idea of the uproar that they are capable of making when they put their heart into it. Imagine two hundred or more people speaking at the top of their voice, gesticulating as if possessed, each one wishing to be heard above his neighbour; voices of men and women all shouting louder than one another. Such is the concert which greeted me on leaving the church after I had announced the decision of Monseigneur. The din was such that the dogs, terrified, joined in and struck up such plaintive howls which were taken up by the whole host of canines, four or five hundred dogs! until some individual more sensible than the others, realizinbg the burlesque nature of the scene, let flu a burst of laughter which found an echo among the young people and slowly calmed, a bit the effervescence of the crowd which slowly dispersed…
It must be said that all this din about a measure judged necessary by the administration of the diocese was a fairly bad augury for the future. Therefore I was not very surprised to learn during my visit which followed that they had clandestinely prepared at great cost a banquet in which everyone was to take part as soon as I had left.
Wishing to put them to the test and assuring myself if they were more Christians than pagans, I declared to them from the first day that since several among them had not yet arrived, I was going to visit the Babines of Rocher-Déboulé and that on my return I would give the usual exercises of the retreat.
“Only,” I added, “you know the will of Monseigneur on the subject of banquets, great and small. He is for us the representative of God on earth and we must obey him even if his orders are not to out taste. If only one of you were rash enough to contradict his decision in my absence, be aware that my duty is to declare that he will not be admitted to the sacrament of penitence.” And I left for Rocher-Déboulé…
Even before my return to Babine Lake, I learned that the natives had taken no account of the Bishop’s prohibition and that all had participated in the feast.