A Canadian Family

First Nations, French Canadians & Acadians

The Conversion of the Oka Indians (1877) | Kanenrakenhiate, Morrison, Mercier, Dougall, de Laronde, Matthewson, Rivet

Index: Newspaper Clippings & Other Extracts Related To Kahnawà:ke

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Chief Louis’ Narrative of the way the Indians turned Protestant – No white Protestants had any part in their conversion.

Chief Louis Kanenrakenhiate, second chief of the Protestant Oka Indians, has given us, by word of mouth, the following interesting history of the causes which led to the conversion of the Indians, and the manner in which their conversion came about, which ought to be sufficient to set aside all fallacious speculations bout the Methodists having gone among them to sow the seed of discontent and discord between the Seminary and their wards. Chief Louis’ own version of the affair, from the beginning, is as follows :-

“Previous to our leaving the Church of Rome, I had for a long time been convinced of the errors of its doctrines and teaching. This conviction was formed by reading a copy of the Bible which I had bought of a colporteur (of what denomination of Christians I do not know) at a shanty. Before declaring myself at variance with the Roman Catholic Church, I was for some time a Protestant in heart, although I went with the Catholics, waiting for companions to make the demission with me. Having been refused by the Seminary the privilege of cutting wood, and being reduced to starvation, we (Indians) held a meeting in July, 1867, and decided to go to the Seminary and ask for liberty to cut wood and use and sell it for our own profit. Mr. Mercier, the cure, positively refused our demand, when the chiefs, speaking fo the Indians, said “If you will not give us this privilege we will leave you.” Mr. Mercier replied mockingly, “I will help you.”

We then decided to petition the Government at Ottawa for our rights, and the Government was approached on our behalf, but without success. On the 26th February, 1868, we again waiting upon the priests, and told them we would have nothing more to do with them. This exasperated the latter, who, eight days after, had a number of us arrested and confined in jail at Ste. Scholastique and after sixteen days’ imprisonment we were released on bail.

Soon after I went to Mr. de Laronde, notary, of St. Andrews, to obtain his official advice in the matter. I told him that I and Chiefs Joseph and  John, had become Protestants, and although not a Methodist himself, he advised us to to to Mr. J. A. Matthewson in Montreal and to join ourselves to the Methodists. We three chiefs came to Montreal and saw Mr. Mathewson, who took us to Mr. Dougall, in the WITNESS office, St. James street. Mr. Mathewson counselled us to go up to Caughnawaga, where a Mr. Morrison was laboring. We went up and spent the Sabbath there, returning again to Montreal, and thence back home to Oka.

The three chiefs, in the names of some fifty-eight families of the Indians, then sent to the cure a written demission from the Church of Rome. No Protestant had interfered to induce us to become Protestants, but we had decided before coming to Montreal to leave the Roman Catholic Church. After having been refused by the Seminary the liberty to cut wood on our land, we said to Father Mercier that we would apply to Government for the right, and added that if we had to look out for ourselves for our physical welfare, we would also do the same or our spiritual welfare, we would adopt a religion of our own. Mr. Mercier replied, “well, my children, you shall have your religion, and also try to reclaim your property.”

There were among us some who were more disposed to join the Church of England, and some the Presbyterian Church. However, I came down again to Montreal, telling our people, at a council held at Oka, that I was going to engage the first minister I could find to come and be our missionary. Mr. Matthewson introduced me in Montreal to a young minister named Xavier Rivet, and he consenting to go with me, Mr. Matthewson said he was just the man for us.

This was on a Wednesday or Thursday, the last week in May, 1868. On the Saturday following, Mr. Rivet went up to Oka with me, and on Sunday he held services with us; we had a good meeting, and larger that I expected. During the same summer. Mr. Mathewson introduced us three chiefs and our missionary Mr. Rivet to Mr. Bellingham, member of the Provincial Parliament for Argenteuil County, to whom we presented our condition, and asked him to interpose on our behalf.

At or about the same date, Mr. Mathewson also took us to the gentlemen of the Seminary in Montreal, whom we asked for assistance, but they positively refused us any, saying that they would give us “not  a sou nor work, nor anything else.” From that time, friends in Montreal interested themselves in our behalf and helped us, which they have continued to do until now. Mr. Rivet remained with us a year; Mr. Parent, our present missionary then came and stopped with us a year, and was succeed by Rev. Mr. Sichle, who was our missionary for two years. After him, Mr. Parent was again sent back to us and has been with us ever since.

Chief Louis, whose narrative is given above, moved from Oka to Caughnawaga eight months since, as he could not obtain a living for his family at the former place. Chief Joseph has a mission at Caughnawaga, and holds services there about once a fortnight. There are a number of Protestant Indian families int he place, and Chief Louis says all the Indians there sympathize with their Oka brethren.

Source: The Montreal Daily Witness, June 29, 1877

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