The History of the Ojebway Indians, with especial reference to their conversion to Christianity

The 19th century bore witness to a massive attempt by Christian-European settlers to assimilate the indigenous people of Upper Canada. During a period in which countless acres of land were being cleared for agricultural purposes, the once vast expanse of Canadian wilderness was shrinking and indigenous groups and European settlers were brought into ever closer contact. Though these groups had been interacting for two centuries prior to this era, the expansive cultural divide had led to a very complex relationship between the two by the early 1800s.[1]  One such indigenous group that was subject to colonial Missionary endeavours to assimilate Canada’s original inhabitants, was the Anishinaabeg or Ojibwe people (the latter term will be used for the purpose of this analysis) from the Lake Ontario region. The History of the Ojebway Indians, with especial reference to their conversion to Christianity (1861), by Peter Jones (Kahkewāquonāby in Ojibwe), is one volume from Huron’s Rare Book Collection that adequately depicts European attempts to convert the Ojibwe, as well as the degree to which they were successful at assimilating this indigenous group. This primary source review will demonstrate the effectiveness of Jones’, A History of Ojebway Indians, with respect to three major fields of research: the life of Methodist-Ojibwe missionary Peter Jones, the successful conversion and assimilation practiced by Methodist missionaries with respect to the Ojibwe people, as well as a detailed description of the Ojibwe people in general. Taken as a whole, the book accurately conveys the effectiveness of colonial missionary work on the Ojibwe from the perspective of one who has wholly accepted the teachings of European Judeo-Christianity, Peter Jones.

The preface of A History of the Ojebway Indians and subsequent “Memoir of the Writer” (written by Methodist Reverend G Osborn), will provide a researcher with a detailed biographical sketch of the Reverend Peter Jones. The son of a Welsh loyalist and Mississauga Ojibwe woman, Jones became a Methodist early in life, and used his bilingual skills (Ojibwe and English) to effectively preach Christianity to his country-men. His successes led to a relationship with the British Indian Department, and allowed Jones to establish the Credit River Mission in 1826.[2]  He rose to prominence in North America and Europe, being both a devout Methodist preacher and Ojibwe chief, and spent much of his life helping fellow Ojibwe assimilate into settler culture. For these reasons, Jones is often viewed as a crucial element in bridging the Ojibwe of Southern Ontario with the European Methodist culture that was steadily encroaching on their borders. Though a key component in the assimilation of the Ojibwe, Jones does so with his people’s best interests at heart, and laments at the decreasing indigenous populations of Upper Canada. In the introductory remarks of A History of the Ojebway Indians, Jones writes,

But oh, how has the scene changed since the white man discovered our country! Where are the aborigines who once thronged the shores of the lakes and rivers on which the white man has now reared his dwelling and amassed his wealth? What has been the causes of the rapid decrease in numbers of my countrymen?[3]

Further reading will demonstrate that Jones believes his people are in decline due to the European introduction of “ardent spirits” (alcohol) to indigenous cultures. To emphasize this, Chapter 14 of a History of the Ojebway Indians is entirely devoted to “Connection with the Whites, and Evils Introduced,” and the following Chapter 15 is titled, “Whiskey and the Indians”. Jones further stresses that only Christianity can save the Ojibwe and that, “thus they (Ojibwe) will continue to fall until the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ shines into their hearts.”[4] From this statement, one realizes the extent of Jones’ acceptance of Methodist settler culture. Though he is himself half Ojibwe, Jones refers to the group as “they” throughout the book. For this reason, his writings clearly indicate a degree of separation between Jones and his country-men. When reading the book, it is evident that this separation comes from Jones’ devout Methodist faith, and that he longs for his fellow Ojibwe to join him in conversion. In this respect, although a History of the Ojebway Indians is written by an Ojibwe (Jones), it still portrays Methodist successes amongst the Ojibwe, albeit from the unique perspective of Peter Jones.

In addition to information regarding Peter Jones, the extent of Christian missionary work among the Ojibwe is also evident when one examines the publication details of A History of the Ojebway Indians. The book was initially published in 1861 by A.W. Bennett of London[5], demonstrating just how far word of Jones successes had spread. As aforementioned, Jones’ accomplishments as a Methodist missionary led to cooperation with the British Indian Department (as is evident in the establishment of the Credit River Mission), so it makes sense that this volume was published in London.[6]  Though sometimes lamented by Jones, the cooperation with the British Indian Department proved to be beneficial in his eyes. In working with the department, Jones was able to secure more resources for his missionary work among the Ojibwe and, due to his sincere Christian beliefs, truly believed this was to the benefit of the Ojibwe in Upper Canada. This mentality is evident in a response Jones gave to a question asked by an agent from an Indian Affairs inquiry regarding missionary progress;

Previous to the year 1823…the Chippeway and indeed all the tribes were in a most degraded state; they were pagans, idolaters, superstitious, drunken, filthy and indolent…Since their conversion, paganism, idolatry, and superstition, have been removed, and the true God acknowledged and worshipped. The Christians are sober, and comparatively clean and industrious; they have formed themselves into settlements, where they have places of worship and schools, and cultivate the earth.[7]

Interestingly, the copy of A History of the Ojebway Indians in the Huron Rare Book Collection includes an inscription on the front page highlighting the extent of Christian missionary work in Upper Canada. The inscription reads, “The Revd. Andrew Jamieson, Walpole Island, 12th July 1863,”[8] indicating that this book was being used by missionaries only two years after its first publication. Though not a Methodist but rather Anglican missionary, Jamieson’s ownership of this book demonstrates that successful conversion often depended on a detailed understanding of the people in question (regardless as to which branch of Christianity was preached), and that missionary work was quickly moving westward across Ontario.[9] Although there is no indication in A History of the Ojebway if the two men were acquainted, it would be interesting for future research to be conducted as to the interactions between competing Christian missionary factions in Upper Canada circa the 1800s.

To conclude, perhaps one of the most effective ways in which A History of the Ojebway Indians can be used for research purposes, is with respect to its abundant information pertaining to the Ojibwe culture (albeit from a devoutly Christian perspective). The simplicity of the cover page conveys this message, that the book is in its essence a history of the Ojibwe people. Indeed missionaries like Jamieson used Jones’ work for the same reason many academics today will; to gain a more thorough understanding of the indigenous peoples from present day Southern Ontario. The index lists Chapter titles such as, “Ideas of their Origin, General Character, Mode of Life, War, and Amusement,” as well as numerous other chapters focusing on the Ojibwe language, names, anecdotes and key phrases.[10] Furthermore, the book includes numerous depictions/drawings of Ojibwe lifestyle (i.e. weapons, tools, settlements, etc.), adding a useful visual element to Ojibwe research. This content forces one to consider the complex dilemmas faced by the Ojibwe of Upper Canada during the assimilation process. Though it is important that one retains a secular mindset when reading through text (which can be exceedingly spiritual at times) and takes into account the inherent Christian bias, A History of the Ojebway Indians effectively describes the culture of the Ojibwe of Upper Canada and also puts European missionary work in context. The relationship between the Ojibwe and European settlers was complex to say the least, and this book provides some context as to the interactions between these two groups in the 19th century.

Bibliography/Further Reading

Jones, Peter Edmund. A History of the Ojebway Indians; with especial reference to their conversion to Christianity (Second Edition). Toronto: Canadiana House, 1973.

A second edition volume of Jones’ A History of the Ojibway Indians is available at Weldon Library. Though lacking any inscriptions of ownership, the second edition copy contains all of the original images depicted in the book. Interestingly, the volume in Huron’s Rare Book Collection is missing a number of these illustrations, though it is not clear as to whether or not these images were removed by the owner (Jamieson) or lost over time. It may prove to be helpful to view the first and second editions side by side to see what is lacking in the original. The second volume was published in 1973, indicating just how valuable a resource Jones’ book was with respect to an understanding of the Ojibwe people.

McNally, Michael D. “The Practice of Native American Christianity.” Church History 69, no. 4 (12, 2000): 834-859. http://search.proquest.com/docview/217504985?accountid=15115.

This article from Church History, describes how aspects of indigenous religions were used and altered to support arguments for the conversion to Christianity. Often certain indigenous feasts, rituals, and oral traditions could be reconciled with Christianity. In this respect, rather than being forcibly converted, many indigenous slowly adapted more and more elements of Christianity until what existed was a very unique interpretation of Christianity albeit one that resonates and was familiar with Canada’s indigenous groups.

Peace, Thomas. (2015) A Brief History of Colonialism in Southwestern Upper Canada, HIS4202 Confronting Colonialism, Huron University College, September 21, 2015.

Schmalz, Peter S. The Ojibwa of Southern Ontario. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.

This monograph seeks to do the same thing Jones’ book does but from a secular, contemporary perspective. Though not as focused on the intricate details of Ojibwe cultures (i.e. Customs, religions, tools, warfare, etc.), this work provides a detailed history of the Ojibwe interactions with Europeans spanning from the mid-late 1600s to the second half of the 20th century. In this sense, the book somewhat adheres to the traditional Eurocentric bias (as it starts with “first contact”), but also provides a detailed description of the history of Euro-Ojibwe interaction. Topics range from first contact, conquest, the Beaver Wars, Treaties, the early reservations, and even a prediction (at the time) as to what key issues will come to the forefront in the 1990s (with respect to indigenous rights).

Sherwin, Allan. Bridging Two Peoples: Chief Peter E. Jones, 1843-1909. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier Press, 2012.

Allan Sherwin’s Bridging Two Peoples, gives a detailed account of the life and missionary work of the Reverend Peter Jones, the son of the Methodist Missionary from which he gets his namesake. Though focusing heavily on the son, this book also allows one to understand the unique position Jones (the father) was in, being fluent in both the Ojibwe language and English. The book also highlights the rise of Jones’ popularity, and how this duel heritage was effectively utilized by Jones and the British to attempt to assimilate the Ojibwe people into Methodist, settler culture. This literature contains many details with respect to Jones’ early life among the Ojibwe, conversion to Methodism at 21, and relationship with the British Indian Department that would lead to the establishment of the Credit River Mission.

Wyatt, Kyle Carsten. “‘Rejoicing in this unpronounceable name’: Peter Jones’s authorial identity.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 47.2 (2009): 153+. Academic OneFile. Fri. 9 Oct. 2015.

This article analyzes Jones’ credibility as an author and emphasizes the role of prominence he had among Europeans and other missionaries. Furthermore, the article is used to explain how Jones was able to foster a relationship with the British Indian Department (promoting their ideologies in return for preferential treatment towards the Ojibwe as well as resources for missionary work), which would lead to the establishment of the Credit River Mission. The article also demonstrates how Jones’ actions in Upper Canada gained him an audience with kings and queens of England. In this respect, the article seeks to articulate why Peter Jones was such an influential man to both Methodist missionary work, as well as in helping his people establish themselves within a majority European-settler society.

Endnotes:

[1] Thomas Peace, (2015) A Brief History of Colonialism in Southwestern Upper Canada, HIS4202 Confronting Colonialism, Huron University College, September 21, 2015.

[2] Allan Sherwin. Bridging Two Peoples: Chief Peter E. Jones, 1843-1909 (Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier Press, 2012), 103.

[3] Peter Edmund Jones. A History of the Ojebway Indians; with especial reference to their conversion to Christianity (London: A.W. Bennett, 1861), 26.

[4] Ibid

[5] Jones. A History of the Ojebway Indians, Cover Page.

[6] Wyatt, Kyle Carsten. “‘Rejoicing in this unpronounceable name’: Peter Jones’s authorial identity.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 47.2 (2009).

[7] Jones. A History of the Ojebway Indians, 236.

[8] Ibid

[9] Peter S. Schmalz, The Ojibwa of Southern Ontario (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 180.

[10] Jones. A History of the Ojebway Indians, Index.

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