TREATY DAY WITH OJIBWAYS 1911, part 2
Paying Canada’s Rent
By James Henry Pedley
The Globe Toronto March 9, 1912 page 2, continued…
During the evening interest centres at the “store”. Seated on packing box or hard-tack barrel, we talk. The hoarse jabber of the Ojibway speech mingles with the smoother accents of the English tongue as the story of the fire at porcupine is told again. Then the little church bell rings and we hear no longer the Indian voices for our Interpreter on the treaty party is the Anglican Bishop of the diocese, who is calling his flock together for service. Only once in a long year does a missionary visit this Christian settlement; it behooves him to use well the time at his disposal for pastoral work. As we chat, we hear through the wide-open door the strains of “Sun of My Soul,” done into the Ojibway language; and following at long intervals the deep-voiced “Amen” at the end of the prayers. When the pipes are out we seek our tents and sleep.
The morrow’s sun dawns upon the long-expected pay-day; an hour before the pay valise has been produced the open space fronting the store is dotted with the squatting figures of the old men and women of the tribe. In the middle distance the young buck have gathered, amusing themselves with good-natured horseplay until they shall be called forward to receive the money due them. The majority of the squaws, young and old alike, carry papooses, chubby infants and silent, who lie strapped into their many-hued “kinogins” and never cry. There are youngsters aplenty, too, rolling in the dirt or playing noisily, getting in everyone’s way, and drawing down upon themselves anathemas from the old men. Of these last, two are blind and infirm almost to the verge of total helplessness. One of them has been paddled across by his squaw from his tent across the lake, a long journey for him now; it is pathetic to see him grope for the hand of the other ancient, and to watch them chuckle as they exchange “ B’ jou’s” with gleaming, toothless gums. This accomplished, the visitor fumbles for his pipe – last solace of lonely old age – and, having lighted it dexterously with the first match, turns his useless eyes toward the table, now becomes the centre of interest.
For Mr. West – representing the Canadian people – has taken his seat, flanked on his left by his clerk, who jealously guards a package containing one hundred one-dollar bills, and on his right by his Interpreter, the Bishop, just come from holding an early morning baptismal service. At the shoulder of the latter stands the Chief of the band, a keen-looking young Indian, who will aid in clearing up tangles and settling disputes which may arise; for the Indian is by nature uncommunicative, and especially so in his dealings with the white man. The presence of his Chief is as a key to his gates of speech, which would otherwise remain unopened.
A hush, then at a word from the Bishop, a young man detaches himself from one of the groups and saunters forward, tugging at his knot in a bandana handkerchief he carries. This, opened and unwound, he hands to Mr. West a small blue ticket, which will be found to bear the printed words “The James Bay Treaty,” and in manuscript the number which is his on the official books, and his name, John Wolf. The books show that last year he was paid twenty dollars, his offspring numbering three. To find what changes, if any, have taken place during the last twelve months is the task of the Interpreter. A short colloquy in Ojibway, then the Bishop turns to announce that although one of the children died – tuberculosis – in the spring, the family still shelters five members, and points in explanation to a papoose which its mother is rocking to sleep nearby. The birth and death duly recorded, the clerk with ostentation counts out twenty dollars into the father’s hand and sees them folded up along with the blue ticket in the big red handkerchief. The full-bred Indian, whether from trustful courtesy or ignorance, or both, seldom counts the money we pay him. Honest himself (and no one is more so than he), he has perhaps not learned, though he has had many an opportunity, that all men are not as conscientious as he is. Another summons, and another paterfamilias lounges forward, his halting feet and impassive countenance giving one the impression of extreme boredness, but that is the way of his race and must be so interpreted. The former process is repeated, except that this time it is an elderly man who stands before us and his family has grown up. One of his daughters, moreover, has found a husband since last pay-day with whom she will henceforth be paid. This worth advances next to receive a ticket (heretofore he has been paid under his father’s name) and to have himself set down as the head of a family. Pride – the one emotion which the redskin does not blush to reveal –shines from his countenance, and it is with great show of dignity that he takes his eight dollars and bears the sum off to his “woman.”
After the family men have all been paid come the widows and the orphans and the lone old men of the tribe. Here is a woman who last year received twenty-four dollars. But in early fall, as the family journeyed toward the hunting grounds, her eldest son, the provider, was drowned. None of the others was as yet old enough to hunt successfully. The tubercule germ breeds fast in a stuffy wigwam, and it delights to prey on ill-nourished bodies. With spring the mother returned from the bush – alone; her hand shook as she took four dollars given her, and hobbled back to sit silent among the jabboring squaws. Many are the bashful youngsters dragged forward by stern guardians, and made to deliver up the tickets which they hold crushed in tight-clenched hands. The bush is a cruel dwelling –place, even to the men whom it has reared, and many a father meets his death before his children have learned to know him.
Thus passes the afternoon. There is no hurry, no crowding, no standing in line. Sunset finds the gathering still intact; apparently no one has anything else to do, and the day’s warmth is still to be felt.
The clerk calls for another package of bills – the fifth – and is supplied. A few disputes have arisen from time to time, for no one must be paid twice, and illegitimate children ( of whom there is no dearth ) must not be paid at all. But there is little or no attempt at deceit, so great is the respect for truth which obtains among these “uncivilized” peoples of the north. Finally when all have been paid, the Factor, who has watched the proceedings from the doorway of his store, presents the tickets of such absentees as have left them in his hands, and receives the money called for. Payment for 1911 is complete. Any who have failed to appear will receive double amounts next summer.
This story of the 1911 treaty-pay came to us from the ephemera collection of C.W. Jeffreys.