The Huron Rare Book Collection contains an assortment of indigenous language texts for the Anishinabeg, Cree, Haida and Eskimo peoples, most of which are religious in nature (i.e. song and hymn books, prayer books, missionary works, etc.) and written in the 19th century. When plotting the locations of publishers for the Anishinaabemowin and Anishinaabemowin/English books in this collection on a virtual map, it quickly became evident that most publishers resided in major settlements near some type of body of water. Whether it was simply because the most obvious sites for settlement were found near lakes or rivers, or because waterways were known networks that could link different groups of Ojibwe peoples, this is the most striking visual pattern on the map of publisher locations. It is my opinion that while it is true that these happened to be sites for large-scale settlement (and thus would have attracted publishers and publishing houses), the access to bodies of water like Lake Ontario (in the case of Hamilton and Toronto), the St. Lawrence River (Montreal), the Hudson River (New York), the Detroit River (Detroit), the St. Claire River (Sarnia) and Red River (Winnipeg), would have allowed publishers to quickly disseminate their written works across a pre-existing trade network.
Interestingly, though written for use by Anishinaabemowin speaking peoples, most of the texts in Huron’s Rare Book Collection use English or French names for the locations of publication (even if these settlements were originally inhabited by Ojibwe peoples who had their own names for these sites in their own languages). Only one book by Frederic Baraga, Katolik enamiad o nanagatawendamowinan, gives the Anishinaabemowin name, Wawiiatanong (Detroit), for the place of publication. It should be noted that after 1850, none of the books in Huron’s collection list the Anishinaabemowin names for the places of publication. This fact suggests that while peaceful interactions between the Ojibwe and settlers indeed took place, colonial endeavours saw the inevitable encroachment of European settlers into ancestral Ojibwe land. This not only took the form of displacement, but also saw the very names of these lands changed for something deemed more traditionally “European”.
To conclude, it is necessary to state that most of the publications were commissioned by religious organizations such as the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, The American Bible Society, The Church of England and the International Evangelical and Colportage Mission of Algoma and the North West. This indicates that missionary/religious education in Upper Canada circa the 19th century merited widespread circulation of religious literature. This is further evident when one examines the book, Shahguhnahshe ahnuhmeahwine muzzeneegun: Ojibwag anwawaud azheuhnekenootahbeegahdag, three copies of which are found in the Huron collection; one published in London, England (n.d.), one in Toronto (1853), and one in Winnipeg (1889). The subsequent and expanding range of publication of this text suggests that such works, when given credence, were used as valuable literacy/learning tools among both Anishinaabemowin speaking indigenous peoples, and European missionaries seeking to connect with them.
- Bunge, Nancy. “Redeeming the Missionary: Leonard Wheeler and the Ojibwe.” American Transcendental Quarterly 14, no. 4 (12, 2000): 265-275.
- Leavelle, Tracy Neal. “Geographies of Encounter: Religion and Contested Spaces in Colonial North America”. American Quarterly 56.4 (2004): 913–943.
- Stirrup, D. “To the Indian Names are Subjoined a Mark and Seal’: Tracing the Terrain of Ojibwe Literature.” Literature Compass, 7: 370–386.
The Mohawk-language texts held by the archives of Western University and Huron College are of a dominantly religious nature, with the only example outside of the religious sphere being a text, Radical Words of the Mohawk Language, specifically designed to educate the reader in the language of the Mohawk. Given this overwhelmingly religious body of work, and the missionary purpose to which these texts were intended to be applied, it is worth considering how the structure of the missionary society producing these texts may be related to the geographical facts of their production.
There are two extremely visible trends in these texts’ production. For one, it is immediately visible that the texts in question are all printed in the centers of the colonizing European society; a majority are printed in New York – not surprising, given that the city was quite developed by the early nineteenth century, and an important urban centre in America – with others originating in such places as York (Upper Canada), Hamilton, and Philadelphia, and a small handful originating in London, England. The second pertinent observation is that many of these texts were also the products of Bible Societies of various types; The New York District, American, York, American Baptist, British and Foreign, and Young Men’s Bible Society of New York all appearing as publishers of these Mohawk religious texts. These things make it abundantly clear that these texts are the products of the European colonial society of North America, and sometimes its parent society overseas, produced at the behest of European religious bodies for dissemination by the same. There is little in the way of ‘native discourse’ at work here; the attempts to render the Mohawk language into a written form are being used as a tool by the Europeans, primarily by the European missionaries, to spread their culture – in this case, their religion specifically – to the Native populace.
This is, it must be admitted, a complicated process, and not (at least not entirely) one of assimilation. There are Native intermediaries involved in this process, spreading the teachings of their faith along with these texts; the presence of a religious text written by a Mohawk, titled Address to All Who Love the Truth, makes this obvious, as well as the fact that a number of prominent translators of works in this collection, including Henry Aaron Hill and Joseph Brant, were Mohawks themselves. Native populations are recorded as, at times, having openly asked for a greater Christian presence in their communities, suggesting that some groups desired to adopt at least this element of European culture. The idea – suggested by studies of broader colonial trends than simply those present in the Eastern Woodlands – that the Natives in colonies to some degree may be interested in the idea of learning elements of European culture and society in order to advance their own interests, both personally and as a people, is an interesting thought, worth considering in this context. However, comparing the ‘further reading’ articles listed below, which suggest these at least partially-relevant ideas, to the obvious conclusions of the mapping assignment, it becomes clear that while the propagation of Christian faith is not entirely (or at least not simply) a European imposition on the Natives, the control of the production of the written texts central to the missionary movement’s educational function was firmly in European hands throughout the early nineteenth century.
Klingberg, Frank J. “Sir William Johnson and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 8, No. 1 (1939): 4-37.
Mackenzie, Clayton G. “Demythologising the Missionaries: A Reassessment of the Functions and Relationships of Christian Missionary Education under Colonialism.” Comparative Education 29, No. 1 (1993):45-66.
McCarthy, Keely. “Conversion, Identity and the Indian Missionary.” Early American Literature 36, No. 3 (2001): 353-369.