Tuesday, 27 March 2012

"White Indians" of James Bay Aid Belief in Early Norsemen

Nipigon Historical Museum Archives
The Fenwick "papers"
The News - Chronicle , Friday September 9, 1938
The Lakehead Cities - Port Arthur, Fort William , Westfort - Schreiber, Nipigon

page 12

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ontario, Sept 9 -

If the "white" Indians of James Bay were dressed in the clothing of the palefaces, they would be no different in appearance from white people, J.W. Curran, editor of the Sault Daily Star, says in the second article devoted to the origin of these men and the theory that Europeans were seen in James Bay before the French came, probably adventurous Norsemen.

After summarizing the contention of the first article, Mr. Curran starts out his second series with this statement: "All doubt of the existence of "white" Indians on James Bay is set at rest by the statement of several residents of the Garden River Ojibway Reserve beside Sault Ste. Marie, who have been to James Bay believe they are 'real' Indians. Put white clothes on them and they would look like whites - not Indians - they say.


"These 'white' Indians are pretty much bunched on the shore of James Bay at the north of the ALbany River. They are peaceable people, who keep to themselves. They are fine physical specimens and good workers. This is the testimony."

"Before the railways were built many of our Algoma Indians worked on the Lake Superior - James Bay portage route via Michipicoten River , Dog Lake, Missinabi and Moose Rivers to land at Moose Factory. These young fellows of today, the elders say, know nothing about the old days. They have never been anywhere. But the old fellows are full of yarns of the Bay up to , say twenty years ago."

"The finding of Norse relics in North America - if any - has little bearing on the fact that it was the Crees of James Bay who invented the first American names for the white strangers from the sea. Champlain first recorded the word in 1610, and apparently it was the St. Lawrence River tribe he called the Montagnais (French for mountain people) who gave it to him. These spoke a language allied to the Algonquin and Ojibway."

"But the Moose Cree claim that there are "white" Indians living on the west shore of James Bay - possible descendants of wrecked Norse sailors - maybe a tangible link in the chain of evidence which may establish Norse priority in America."

"Patiently pursuing this lead, some very interesting stories , current in the Lake Superior region, have been collected from several sources."

"Put Soo clothes on those "white" Indians on James Bay and you would think they were white people. Many have red hair or very fair hair with very light eyes - some blue. They only talk Cree," said Dan Jones of the Garden River Reserve, who has made three trips to Moose Factory, on one of which he went up the west shore of James Bay to the Albany River. At the Hudson's Bay Company post in July at the mouth of the river there were about 200 Crees living in wigwams and small houses. That was on his last trip twenty years ago. He estimated that of these, about fifty were "white" Indians - well-built strong men, and none of them small."


"There were some white Crees at Moose Factory and a score more were met on the Moose River."

"I don't believe they are real Indians," said Mr. Jones. "They look like white people. They talk Muskego (a Cree dialect), and some talk a very little English. But most I ran across couldn't even say 'yes' or 'no'. Some of the women wore narrow cloth bands to tie back their hair, which is not like our Indian women. But I understood that the women would not wear dresses or clothes like white women. Those I knew wouldn't even sit on a chair."

"It must not be assumed that all 'white' Crees are of one nation. There are some with English and Scotch names. These may have had ancestors who were employees of the Hudson's Bay Company, which had regular ships, annually or oftener, calling at James Bay. They would thus not have to give up hope of returning to civilization. But Norsemen wrecked before the Hudson's Bay Company began business in 1670 faced an altogether different situation. They had little or no chance of leaving the coast they were wrecked on."

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