Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

follows the first rude efforts to procure a bare subsistence, and which is terminated by the operation of those causes, that eventually lead to everything desirable in civilised life. Nor is it easy to assign the true reason for these changes, and we may seek it in vain, either in fabulous or authentic history. The first impulse may be given by accidental circumstances, by a Hercules or a Manco Capac, whose labors tradition has distorted, while it has perpetuated them. This wide interval of stationary existence is occupied by many tribes, in very different stages of improvement, from the Bosjesman and the Eskimaux, antipodes in residence, but exhibiting equally the lowest state of human degradation, to the comparatively polished hordes, who live now as they have always lived, among the earliest monuments of history and tradition. There the Arab has remained, as unchanged as his cloudless sky and sandy desert, and the Scythian Nomades yet roam through the Asiatic wastes, as they did in the days of Herodotus.

Efforts, however, have not been wanting, to reclaim the Indians from their forlorn condition; but with what hopeless results, we have only to cast our eyes upon them to ascertain. Wheiher the cause of this failure must be sought in the principles of these efforts, or in their application, has not yet been satisfactorily determined; but the important experiments, which are now making, will, probably, ere long put the question at rest. During more than a century, great zeal was displayed by the French Court, and by many of the dignified French ecclesiastics, for the conversion of the American aborigines in Canada ; and learned, and pious, and zealous men devoted themselves with noble ardor, and intrepidity, to this generous work. At what immense personal sacrifices we can never fully estimate. And it is melancholy to contrast their privations and sufferings, living and dying, with the fleeting memorials of their labors. A few external ceremonies, affecting neither the head nor the heart, and which are retained like idle legends among some of the aged Indians, are all that remain to preserve the recollection of their spiritual fathers; and we have stood upon the ruivs of St Ignace, on the shores of Lake Huron, their principal missionary establishment, indulging those melancholy reflections, which must always press upon the mind, amid the fallen monuments of human piety.

The great error of the Catholic fathers was in the importance, which they attached to speculative creeds, and unmeaning ceremonies; and in their neglect to teach their Neophytes any arts, which could be useful to them.

Frivolous questions assumed a very false importance; and among other instances of this folly, it was gravely referred to the Doctors of the Sorbonne, to decide whether beavers' tails might be eaten in Canada in lent. The consequence of all this was, that no valuable nor permanent impression was made upon the Indians, and the separation of the shepherd and the flock soon scattered the latter among the forests, unsettled in their opinions, and unfitted by habit for the only pursuit before them.

The efforts, which benevolent individuals and associations are now making through the United States, in cooperation with the government, are founded upon more practical principles, and promise more stable and useful results. We cousider any attempt utterly hopeless, to change the habits or opinions i of those lodians, who have arrived at years of maturity, and all we can do for them is to add to the comforts of their physical existence. Our hopes must rest upon the rising generation. And, certainly, many of our missionary schools exhibit striking examples of the docility and capacity of their Indian pupils, and offer cheering prospects for the philanthropist. The union of mental and physical discipline, which is enforced at these establishments, is best adapted to the situation of the Indians, and evinces a sound kuowledge of those principles of human nature, which must be here

1 called into active exertion. A few years will setile this important question; and we have no doubt, that on small reservations, and among reduced bands, where a spirit of improvement has already commenced, its effects will be salutary and permanent.

But we confess that, under other circumstances, our fears are stronger than our hopes. Where the tribes are in their original state, with land enough to roam over, and game enough to pursue, they not only do not feel the value of our institutions, but are utterly opposed to them. Young men, sent from the missionary establishments among such tribes, may be Indians in blood and color, but they will be whites in habits, feelings, and opinions. They cannot be hunters, for

time and experience can alone qualify them for these pursuits, which will be found incompatible with the whole course of their education. Nor can they, without such pecuniary means as few will be able to command, become successful farmers. They will be strangers in their native land, exciting jealousy and suspicion, and seeking in vain one kindred feeling. And if they should receive or acquire any property, their Indian relations, in conformity with invariable custom, would live with them in entire indolence, until it was exhausted. What hopes or employment are left for them under these circumstances? We apprehend, that in too many instances they would seek refuge in excessive ebriety; and this has been remarked upon the frontiers, as the fate of almost every Indian, who has been educated in our settlements. But we have too much respect for the pious men, engaged in this mighty effort, and feel too deep an interest in the result, to wish to discourage their labors by any untimely forebodings. The final issue must be left to the unerring test of experience.

A different plan has been suggested by the Executive Department of the government, and recommended to Congress. This plan contemplates certain conventional arrangements with the various tribes, east of the Mississippi, by which they may be induced to abandon their present places of residence, and remove to the country west of that river. The able and excellent statesmen, with whom it had its origin, have probably, in surveying the condition of the Indians, derived no hope for the future, from a retrospect of the past; and they felt, that the situation of this hapless people pressed upon the responsibility of the government, and the character of the country. But we are seriously apprehensive, that in this gigantic plan of public charity, the magnitude of the outline has withdrawn our attention from the necessary details, and that, if it be adopted to the extent proposed, it will exasperate the evils that we are all anxious to allay.

Migratory, as our Indians are, they all have, with few exceptions, certain districts which they have occupied for ages; to which they are attached by all the ties which bind men, white or red, to their country; and where their particular habits, and modes of life, have become accommodated to the nature of the animals, which furnish their subsistence. The larger quadrupeds, whose flesh is used for food, the buffalo,

and very

the moose, the elk, the deer, the bear, the caribou, and the musk ox, are not found in any single quarter of country,

different modes of taking and killing them are used, founded on their various habits, and acquired by long experience. This is also the case with the fur bearing animals, the muskrat, the raccoon, the otter, and the beaver. And so with respect to other articles of food, the various kinds of fish, wild rice, roots, and berries.

Providence, which tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, has distributed these productions through the country with an impartial hand, and the Indians have availed themselves of the food thus spontaneously offered to them, and have learned the mode of taking, preparing, and preserving it. A removal through eight degrees of latitude, and fifteen degrees of longitude, will bring many of them to a country, of whose animal and vegetable productions they are ignorant, and will require them to make great changes in their habits, to accommodate themselves to the new circumstances, in which they may be placed ;* changes, which we, flexible as we are, should make with difficulty, and with great sacrifices of health and life. It is no slight task for a whole people, from helpless infancy to the decrepitude of age, to abandon their native land, and seek in a distant, and perhaps barren region, new means of support. The public papers inform us, that an attempt was made this season in Ohio, by the authorised agents of the government, to induce the Shawnese to remove to the west, and that liberal offers were made of money, provisions, and land. But it seems they declined, alleging that they were happy and contented in their present situation, and expressing their dissatisfaction with the nature of the country offered to them.

But this is not all. Many of the tribes, as we have already seen, east and west of the Mississippi, are in a state of active warfare, which has existed for ages. The Chippewas are hereditary enemies of the Sioux, and the Sacs and Foxes have recently joined the former in the war; and most of the Algonquin tribes, the Delawares, Shawnese, Kickapoos, Miamies, and others, are in the same relation to the Osages. How are these tribes to exist together? As well might the deer associate with the wolf, and expect to escape with impunity. The weak would fall before the strong. Parcel out the country as we may among them, they will not be restrained in their movements by imaginary lines, but will roam where their inclination may dictate. There is a strong tendency to war, in the whole system of Indian education and institutions. How is the young man to boast of his exploits, at the great war dance and feast of his band, as his father has done before him, unless he can find an enemy to encounter? How can he wear on his head the envied feathers of the war Eagle,* and one for each adventure ; or paint upon his body a vermilion mark for each wound, if he must pursue game only, and never travel the war path ? A cordon of troops, which should encircle each tribe, might keep them all in peace together. But without such a display of an overwhelming military force, we should soon hear, that the war dance was performed, the war song raised, and that the young men had departed in pursuit of fame, scalps, and death. And this scene would be inore tremendous, as the Indians were more compressed. They could then neither conceal themselves from the pursuit of their enemies, nor flee from their vengeance. But it may well be asked, how are we to afford the Indians

* These observations do not apply to the removal of the Creeks. Many of their own people, and still more of their kindred tribes, have removed west of the Mississippi. And the country offered to them there, is in its climate simi. lar to their own.

How are we to preserve them from decline and extinction ? And we must confess, that these questions are not easily to be answered. Some will remove beyond the

any aid !

* The feathers of this bird, the Falco fulvus of Wilson, are highly esteemed by the Indians. No person is permitted to wear them, who has not been engaged with an enemy; and as one is worn for each adventure, they are risible chronicles of the deeds of the warriors. He who has arrived at years of maturity, and is destitute of these evidences of daring, is little better than a squaw. They are tied to the hair, and are admirably adapted to give effect to the whole Indian costume.

The bird itself is called the Calumet Eagle, and is among the American birds, what the lion is among quadrupeds. These eagles dy rapidly, and their descent is attended with a sound, which is heard at a considerable distance, and which is a signal to all other birds to disappear.

Their evident superiority has led to the veneration in which they are held. They are rare, and killed with difficulty. A hole is sometimes dug and slightly covered, and here a hunter will watch day after day, with a bird in his hand to entice and take the eagle. At other times a deer is killed, and a covert made near it, where equal patience is displayed, till a successful shot secures the prize. A horse is sometimes given for a feather.

« PředchozíPokračovat »