A Canadian Family

First Nations, French Canadians & Acadians

Chief Poking Fire, Gathering Words (+ Up In The Skies, Redpath Finder, Little Carrying Name) (1958)

Index: Newspaper Clippings & Other Extracts Related To Kahnawà:kenewspapers in a stack b


When the Indians on the Caughnawaga Reserve, 10 miles from here, are faced with difficult problems they frequently go for guidance to their hereditary leader, Chief Poking Fire, and his wife.

Just now the 3,000 residents of the reserve have many problems because the St. Lawrence seaway project is encroaching on their land and, many of them believe, taking away their Indian rights.

On the shoulders of the Chief’s wife, whose Indian name means Gathering Words, falls much of the negotiation on behalf of the reservation. Her English is more fluent than that of her husband’s and for many years now, she has assumed responsibility for all those in the village – the sick, the poor, the needy – who needed her help.

Changing Times

Thirty years ago, her task was to provide for the aged and poor, by organizing sewing circles and selling Indian handicrafts to provide them with food and clothing.

Now that pensions and allowances provide for these people, Gathering Words deals mainly with other kinds of problems. The 56-year old woman with bright brown eyes and hair worn in long braids is known in the Indian language as head of the matrons.

In her patient, careful English, she explains that under the 85-year-old Indian Act, her people felt they were being well protected. Now they find that their trees are being cut down, their land taken away and they don’t know quite how it’s all going to end.

Seventy-five families will have to move from a point of land which the Seaway will carve out. “Where they are going to we just don’t know, because there isn’t much land left with 600 families living here.

“We are very concerned because most of our waterside will be taken from us by a gain dike, and this may stop our men form fishing. We don’t know yet if we shall even be left with a place to swim from.”

Gathering Words has one of the last families in the reservation to stick to Indian customs. In summer they and 24 other families leave their winter homes and live in wigwams inside a stockade on the side of the nearby highway. They sell wood carvings and bead-embroidered leather goods.

All summer they wear Indian costumes and live a life as near as possible in this modern age to that of their ancestors.

As well as being chief, Poking Fire is also the reservation medicine man. He uses recipes handed down by this grandmother and all the older Indian families come to him for cures. He also has orders from other Iroquois Indians in New York State.

Gathering Woods is unhappy because the younger generation refuse to speak Indian – the language her family uses to each other all the time – and try to ape the white man’s ways.

One custom most of the village follow is that of making corn loaves from home-grown maize. They eat the Indian loaves, flavoured with kidney beans on Sundays.

The Indians enjoy occasional deer meat, bought from the store, because few take advantage of the hunting area reserved for them near St. Jerome, 35 miles away. “My husband used to hunt, and we’d take the wigwam to live in while we were up there,” says Gathering Words.

Work in Winter

During the winter months, she and the other Indian women in the village make woven blankets and rugs, dress dolls in leather Indian costumes and decorate them with bead designs.

In her wood-panelled home, decorated with woodcarvings, tomahawks and feather head-dresses, Gathering Words sewed Indian costumes for the children of her only son, Up In The Skies.Each has an Indian name – Poking Fire after his grandfather, Redpath Finder and Little Carrying Name, who spent last summer being pulled around on a papoose board, dressed in a white doeskin costume.

“Most comfortable and convenient way to take a baby around,” says Gathering Words.

Ottawa Citizen – April 7, 1956



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November 19, 2018 - Posted by | . | ,

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