VISIT THE INDIANS (1906) | Surnames: Bruyais, Granger, Thanenrison, Twenitaneken, Walworth, Sicotte
Numismatic and Antiquarian Society Had Outing to Quanit Village, Caughnawaga.
MANY RELIGIOUS RELICS
Church Contains Gifts From Kings as Well as Commoners, and Is Full of Interest
Three hundred members and guests of the Montreal Numismatic and Antiquarian Society enjoyed an excursion to the quaint Iroquois village of Caughnawaga on Saturday afternoon. This Indian hamlet, which is situated on the banks of the St. Lawrence, but half an hour’s ride by train from Windsor Street Station, teems with unrecorded traditions, relics and customs that are closely connected with the early history of the country.
In 1668, when Canada was a French possession, five braves of the Iroquois tribe, lured by the spirt of adventure, crossed the American frontier and wandered as far as Laprairie, then a small French settlement. They were cordially received by Father Bruyais, the Jesuit priest in charge of the mission, who became the instrument of their conversion to the Catholic faith, and induced them to remain. Shortly afterwards other members of the tribe emigrated from their native land, at the instigation of the pioneers, and took up their abode at Laprairie, which was transformed into an Iroquois hamlet. For eight years they occupied this site, but upon the failure of the corn crop they moved further up the St. Lawrence Valley to Rivier du Portage, opposite the Lachine rapids, and later to Caughnawaga, where their descendants are now thriving.
Among the early Iroquois settlers who came to Canada from the regions of the Adirondacks, was the pious maid Tekhawita, for whose beatification efforts are now being made. At the cost of $1,000 a monument has been erected to her memory at Riviere du Portage, by Rev. Father Walworth, of Albany. The story goes that Tekhawita, born in 1656, of Christian parents of the Algonquin tribe, at a place now known as Funda, N.Y., became an orphan at an early age, and was brought up by her heathen uncle, who endeavored to win her back to the Indian faith. Despite pressure brought to bear upon her by her guardian, the girl remained attached to the religion of her parents and fled to the Rivier du Portage settlement, where she died at the age of twenty-four, “en oder le saintete.” Father Granger the parist priest of Caughnawaga, assured the visitors that many favors had been granted through the intercession of this pious virgin.
For a century and a half from the date of its foundation, the Iroquois settlement was in charge of members of the Jesuit Order. It then passed successively into the hands of the Oblate Fathers and secular priests, until three or four years ago, when the Jesuits again became the spiritual advisers of the parish.
After leaving their excursion train at Adirondack Junction, the visitors walked, or were driven, a mile over an exceedingly rough road into the villages, with its long tortuous thoroughfares and oddly constructed dwellings, Few of the natives made their appearance to the visitors, although streamers and bunting were displayed here and there as an indication they were not altogether unconcerned with the attention bestowed on their villages by the members of the society.
The church where the relics are kept was the first place visited. This modest stone structure, which stands near the ruins of an old French fort, contains an altar that is the gift of Louis XIV. It has been preserved in the same condition in which it was when sent over to the Iroquois mission by the French King. There is also a silver chalice given by Empress Eugenie; a monstrance donated by Claude Prevost, alderman of Paris in the latter part of the seventeenth century, and a large gong from George the Fourth. Among the articles used in the ritual is a small silver shield, bearing the image of a saint, which the communicant, according to ancient custom, kisses before receiving the host. A wampum, valued at several thousand dollars, attracted a good deal of attention. The relic, which was sent by the Hurons of Lorette as a token of good will to the Iroquois of Caughnawaga when their church was burned down in the early days of the settlement, consists of a wide band, about four feet in length, studded with stones from the coast of Virginia. The mosaic shows a cross surmounted by a steeple in the course of construction while the edges are ornamented with an irregular design, all of which was intended to convey that the Iroquois were to stand firm in the faith, rebuild their church and be on guard against two vices which were winding into their midst like serpents.
Several books written in the Iroquois tongue by former missionaries were also placed on exhibition. An Iroquois-French and French-Iroquois dictionary, compiled by Father Marcoux, one of the secular priests who had charge of the mission; a catechism, written by Father Bruyais, and various hymn books, awakened the most interest.
Among the works of art is a large painting of Tekhawita, by her confessor, Father Lambreville, Part of the maid’s skeleton is preserved in a small casket with a glass cover, that has been sealed by the Archbishop.
Father Granger gave an account of each relic, and explained a few peculiarities of the Iroquois language, which he speaks fluently. Every part of speech could be conjugated in fifteen persons; five for the singular, five for the dual, and five for the plural, so that it was impossible to fall into any ambiguity of expression. Certain words contained as many as twenty-two syllables and fifty-three letters, but this never bothered the children, who pronounced the words readily.
Father Granger’s assertion that the Iroquois had a marked taste for the plaintive chant that was rendered from the choir by three squaws and two male singers as the visitors left the church. The harmony achieved by these brawny Indians, who were merely guided by their ear, would have been accredit to singers with a technical knowledge.
The ruins of the French fort, the guard-house of which is still sufficiently reliable to serve as the village jail, was inspected, and just before departure Thanenrison, a worthy descendant of a former chief, gave an exhibition of the typical native dance, in war costume. When he appeared with his bow and quiver full of arrows slung over his shoulder, and feather headgear, he was closely surrounded by the curious crowd, and much difficulty was experienced in making room for the dance. Twenitaneken, another Indian of noble lineage, whose ancestors were decorated by George the Third, and who married a Dutch lady while touring in Amsterdam last year, played the accompaniment on a large tin tray, with the handle of a hammer. The dancer started in with a whoop, and after evoluting for about two minutes, he marched off before on of the numerous cameras present for a time exposure. His wife, who was also dressed in native garb, could not take part in the dance, owing to the rush, which kept the ring too small.
Another feature of the outing was the peculiar corn cakes that were offered with ordinary refreshments. The corn is first allowed to dry, and is then pounded into a mortar. From this course flour cakes are made, which the Indians use instead of bread. The corn having been treated with lye, gives this “staff of life” a flavor that is anything but pleasing to the palate of the gourmet.
The village of Caughnawaga numbers about two thousand inhabitants, most of whom speak English fluently. In fact English is the only language taught in the three schools of the reservation, besides the native tongue.
Before leaving, Judge Sicotte, the president of the Montreal Antiquarian and Numismatic Society, in a brief address delivered in the open air, thanked the members of the clergy in charge, as well as the natives, for their hospitality.
Source: The Montreal Gazette, Jul 2, 1906
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