The Impact of Christion Missions on Ojibwas People
Pre-Confederation Canada included many historical stories of lost religions and tribes. The Ojibwa peoples fell victim as one of the biggest communities in Upper-Canada. Ojibwa peoples existed as a cluster of closely related communities. Each possessing very similar languages and ways of life. They were not a nation but respected each other whilst being independent from each other. They often would share stories, tips and arrange marriages between tribes to benefit each other. This was known to be their way of life, one that they loved and cherished. In the early 17thcentury, the Ojibwas had their first contact with Europeans, who brought with them a new way of life. The Europeans did not cause any threats towards the Ojibwas and in fact offered them new trading opportunities. Because of this, the earliest missionaries were not seen as enemies. As time continued, they realized their religion and society would be impacted severely by these missions and be unable to return to their original roots. The missions sent out by the Christian’s in Pre-Confederation ruined the Ojibwa people.
In the beginning Ojibwa people paid very little attention to the missions being established, once priests began to implode and partake in their lives, they very quickly realized that they did not want them there. The priests were seen as useless, they did not pull their weight, they complained and were opposed to the Ojibwas traditions and methods. The Christian’s were trying to integrate into their lives as best and fast as they could. The Ojibwa people began to try to separate themselves from them, abandoning them, sabotaging their efforts, quarrelling, and ridiculing them. This caused these Christians to only want more power, Father Louis Hennepin said
“…so long as Christians are not absolutely their masters we shall see little success…”
(Hennepin 1880: 338).
The Ojibwa people’s response to the missionaries shifted perceptibly from indifference to opposition. The Christian mission grew rapidly in number and in power. The goal of the missions was to ensure that the Ojibwa people could understand and follow a system that could be controlled. Being that the Christians and Ojibwas would become one and integrate their communities. These Christians agendas as settlers was to guarantee that the Ojibwas could function inheritable as their heritage dictated. The church however had different plans to change and eliminate the Ojibwa’s religion. They intended this to happen by forcing them to attend church, school, and eventually get baptised. Within the missions, Christians began by “helping” the Ojibwas, giving them new clothes, food, resources for shelter and protection. Encouraging but not forcing church and school, however this did not last long. They often shared their religious stories in hope that they would start doubting their own.
“In 1854 when Lutherans in Michigan encouraged the Ojibwas, the Indians responded with, The Bible was ruinous to Indians, that the preachers were liars, and that Christians wanted to enslave them” (Luckhard 1952: 30-37).
In the opinion of the missionaries, changing the beliefs was not working and they noticed that they were still not attending school. They had integrated this system slowly, but the Ojibwas were still resentful, causing the mission to become more forceful. For example, acquiring a model T-Ford in order to capture Ojibwa runaways from the school. Through all this effort, the Ojibwas were not cooperative, this led the mission to start forcing them to get baptised, going against basic human rights.
The loss of Ojibwa religion came from these missions and their constant force of Christianity. The Ojibwa people’s traditional religion is based off the unit of family. With everything they did in their lives, their immediate family came first. They would do anything to help and protect them. Their second goal would be to help their community and nearby tribes. With each other they would share their aboriginal Manito’s. These oral traditional ancient stories are told through warriors, lovers, thieves, and spirits, filled with the insight and wisdom of an ancient tribe. When the Christian mission took control of the Ojibwa land, they stopped the sharing of stories. They soon lost their trust in their aboriginal Manito’s and themselves. They have stopped telling their myths and have changed many religious rituals. Nearing the termination of the missions it was shown that,
“their religion no longer exists” (198).
Even without having their religion, culture and heritage impacting their beliefs, the Ojibwas did not accept or believe, in the Bible. They were extremely confused with the doctrines of sin, hell and heaven. To their understanding, they had not committed the sins that these Christians were pointing at. Why should they be punished or rewarded for these actions that were warned about in the bible that they hadn’t committed? They did not understand the theology that believed that people lived forever in another place. Their entire existence had consisted of an entirely different theology of beliefs and they could not and did not want to conform to these new beliefs. The Ojibwas began to become disoriented, having found no suitable intermediary between the faiths. Another example of an Ojibwa losing their faith, heritage and tradition was Elizabeth Jones. Elizabeth was a young girl who eventually ended up living with a Christian mission settler. She died at a young age but before her death she became obsessed with God and what would happen to her. She no longer had any of her aboriginal Minto’s to help guide her in her beliefs. She was scared that she wouldn’t be good enough for God and died very uncertain of her fate. This shows how much everyone, even the youngest, were impacted by the loss of the Ojibwa religion. Without their religion, the Ojibwa people didn’t know who they were or what to do with themselves.
Besides impacting religion, faith and traditions, the missions impacted many other factors of the Ojibwa society. They were no longer able to live as they pleased, and felt their rights were constantly being taken away. Their rights as people, as a culture and as a community were abolished. The system that the Christian’s were attempting to enforce was not of benefit to the Ojibwa community, it was meant to annihilate their ways. They began to flee to escape the new missionary attempts, leaving everything behind because they were afraid of what could happen if they stayed. Whilst this was happening, these Christian’s were reporting that they were making great progress, that the Ojibwas were receiving their faith and efforts to reform them. That they were indeed coming to terms with this new way of life. Finally, when the government found out about the forced baptisms, and the other misuse of their power, the missions were shut down. The Ojibwas had been partially brainwashed and were scared from the mission’s agenda. They were left confused and unsure how to go about their day, no longer remembering their heritage and rituals. Their community had fallen apart, and they no longer had each other to help one another, and the cultural traditions of the family unit had been disturbed. The idea of family and family memories being broken and cut out further diminished the self-assurance of what later the Ojibwa communities based their entire foundations off of. Not knowing how to pull back from the new upbringings and how to capture back the roots that had been eradicated was detrimental. The constant pressure and enforcement of what the Church had originally stepped in to enforce conformation caused the past to erase from them, ruining any chance for them to return to how things were before the missions.
Today there are almost no known Ojibwa communities. Their Manito’s are not well known, their ways of life and tips for future tribes have been lost. The Christian missions in upper-Canada had a huge impact on the Ojibwa community and peoples. They lost most of who they were and have had to deal with the impact of loss falling on their religion, heritage, culture and society, because of the attempts of conforming and implementing the goals of these initial missions. The Christian’s that were sent out in upper-Canada destroyed the Ojibwa people.
Angel, Michael. Preserving the Sacred : Historical Perspectives on the Ojibwa Midewiwin. Manitoba Studies in Native History: 13. Winnipeg : University of Manitoba Press, 2002., 2002. https://ezproxy.tru.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03106a&AN=tru.a196851&site=eds-live.
Frederick J. Heuser. “Battle for the Soul: Métis Children Encounter Evangelical Protestants at Mackinaw Mission, 1823—1837 Keith R. Widder.” The Journal of Presbyterian History (1997-), no. 2 (1999): 132. https://ezproxy.tru.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.23335412&site=eds-live.
Johnston, Basil. The Manitous : The Spiritual World of the Ojibway. New York : HarperCollins Publishers, c1995., 1995. https://ezproxy.tru.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03106a&AN=tru.a88649&site=eds-live.
McNab, David, and Ute Lischke. Walking a Tightrope : Aboriginal People and Their Representations. Aboriginal Studies Series. Waterloo, Ont: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005. https://ezproxy.tru.ca/login?url=https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.tru.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=130295&site=eds-live
Memoir of Elizabeth Jones. [Electronic Resource] : A Little Indian Girl Who Lived at the River-Credit Mission, Upper Canada. 1999. CIHM/ICMH Digital Series = CIHM/ICMH Collection Numérisée: No. 41379. London : J. Mason, 1838.
ROUSSEAU, Louis. “Le Travail Obscur De La Mémoire Identitaire Dans Les Débats Nés D’une Nouvelle Diversité Religieuse Au Québec.” Recherches Sociographiques 57, no. 2/3 (September 2016): 289–310. https://ezproxy.tru.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ahl&AN=121839771&site=ehost-live.
Vecsey, Christopher. Traditional Ojibwa Religion and Its Historical Changes. Memoirs Series: V. 152. Philadelphia : American Philosophical Society, 1983., 1983. https://ezproxy.tru.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03106a&AN=tru.a93826&site=eds-live.