Imágenes de página





In consequence of the universal sentiment that the Indians, from defect of intellect, are incapable of civilization, I fully determined to endeavour to procure a young deserted infant (if such could be found) whom I would have taken and educated with, and as one of my own. My speculations on this plan were, however, frustrated; as all who were intimate with the Indians, concurred in affirming that to obtain one of their children would be impossible. No emolument, or hope of advancement, would induce an Iudian to part with his child. What an exalted virtue is here established ! People who are esteemed most civilized, most refined, have very different feelings as to their offspring, which in many instances are cast off at their birth to be nursed by a hireling; alienated from their early home, and abandoned to the too often careless guardianship of an academy; consigned to a college, where if they learn something of Virgil and the mathematics, they also get initiated, before their manhood, into every species of dissipation; and finally sent to remote parts of the globe (no matter where) with little, if any, regard to a single consideration other than the acquirement of wealth. How few of the duties obligatory on parents are fulfilled by the majority of Christian fathers and mothers !

The tender solicitude of the Indian women, in respect to their children, I have had several opportunities of witnessing; but it was never more com

pletely developed than by the following incident which took place before my eyes.

A mother with an infant at her breast, and two other children, one about eleven and the other eight or nine years of age, were in a canoe near a mile from land, during a violent squall. The wind came in sudden gusts, and the waves dashed in rapid succession over the frail vessel. The poor woman, with a small oar in one hand and the other surrounding her babe, directed the two young ones, who each had a paddle, to get the head of the canoe to the wind while the squall lasted; which, with much labour on the part of these tender little mariners, aided by the mother, was at length effected; but during the effort it was very touching to see the strong emotions of maternal love, evidenced to the poor infant at her breast. She would clasp it tightly to her agitated bosom, then cast a momentary look at her other children, and with an anxious and steady gaze, watch the coming wave. In this scene were exhibited such high degrees of fortitude, dexterity, and parental affection, that I could have wished many of our civilized mothers, who look and think with contempt on the poor Indian, had beheld her.

This tenderness in the early nurture of their offspring, is followed by the most exact care in their subsequent education. “It may justly be a subject of wonder,” says Mr. Heckewelder, " how a nation, without a written code of laws or system of jurisprudence, without any form or constitution of government, and without even a single elective or hereditary magistrate, can subsist together in peace and harmony, and in the exercise of the moral virtues; how a people can be well and effectually governed, without any external authority, by the mere force of the ascendancy which men of superior minds have over those of a more ordinary stamp; by a tacit, yet universal submission to the aristocracy of experience, talents, and virtue! Such, nevertheless, is the spec

tacle which an Indian nation exhibits to the eye

of a stranger. I have been a witness to it for a long series of years, and after múch observation and reflection to discover the cause of this phenomenon, I think I have reason to be satisfied that it is in a great degree to be ascribed to the pains which the Indians take to instil at an early age honest and virtuous principles upon the minds of their children, and to the method which they pursue in educating them. This method I will not call a system, for systems are unknown to these sons of nature, who, by following alone her dictates, have at once discovered, and follow without effort, that plain obvious path which the philosophers of Europe have been so long in search


The manner of this education is described by our good missionary as follows:

“The first step that parents take towards the education of their children, is to prepare them for future happiness, by impressing upon their tender minds, that they are indebted for their existence to a great, good, and benevolent Spirit, who not only has given them life, but has ordained them for certain . great purposes. That he has given them a fertile extensive country, well stocked with game of every kind for their subsistence; and that by one of his inferior spirits he has also sent down to them from above, corn, pumpkins, squashes, beans and other vegetables for their nourishment; all which blessings their ancestors have enjoyed for a great number of ages. That this great Spirit looks down upon the Indians, to see whether they are grateful to him and make him a due return for the many benefits he has bestowed, and therefore that it is their duty to show their thankfulness by worshipping him, and doing that which is pleasing in his sight.

* Heckewelder's Historical Account, p: 98. VOL. I.


"This is in substance the first lesson taught, and from tiine to time repeated to the Indian children, which naturally leads them to reflect and gradually to understand that a Being which hath done such great things for them, and all to make them happy, must be good indeed, and that it is surely their duty to do something that will please him. They are then told that their ancestors, who received all this fro:n the hands of the Great Spirit, and lived in the enjoyment of it, must bave been informed of what would be most pleasing to this good Being, and of the manner in which his favour could be most surely obtained, and they are directed to look up for instruction to those who know all this, to learn from them, and revere them for their wisdom and the knowledge which they possess; this creates in the children a strong sentiment of respect for their elders, and a desire to follow their advice and example. Their young ambition is then excited by telling them that they were made the superiors of all other creatures, and are to have power over them; great pains are taken to make this feeling take an early root, and it becomes, in fact, their ruling passion through life; for no pains are spared to instil into them, that by following the advice of the most admired and extolled sunter, trapper, or warrior, they will at a future day acquire a degree of fame and reputation, equal 10 that which he possesses; that by submitting to the counsels of the aged, the chiefs, the men superior in wisdom, they may also rise to glory, and be called Wise men, an honourable title, to which no Indian is indifferent. They are finally told that if they respect the aged and infirm, and are kind and obliging to them, they will be treated in the same manner when their turn comes to feel the infirmities of old age.

- When this first and most important lesson is thought to be sufficiently impressed upon children's minds, the parents next proceed to make them sensible of the distinction between good and evil; they

tell them that there are good and bad actions, both equally open to them to do or commit; that good acts are pleasing to the good Spirit which gave them their existence, and that on the contrary, all that is bad proceeds from the bad spirit who has given them nothing, and who cannot give them any thing that is good, because he bas it not, and therefore he envies them that which they have received from the good Spirit, who is far superior to the bad one.

“This introductory lesson, if it may be so called, naturally makes them wish to know what is good and what is bad. This the parent teaches them in his own way; that is to say, in the way in which he was himself taught by his own parents. It is not the lesson of an hour nor of a day; it is rather a long course more of practical than of theoretical instruction; a lesson, which is not repeated at stated seasons or times, but which is shown, pointed out, and demonstrated to the child, not only by those under whose immediate guardianship he is, but by the whole community, who consider themselves alike interested in the direction to be given to the rising generation.

" When this instruction is given in the form of precepts, it inust not be supposed that it is done in an authoritative or forbidding tone, but, on the contrary, in the gentlest and most persuasive mauner : nor is the parent's authority ever supported by harsh or compulsive means; no whips, no punishments, no threats are ever used to enforce commands or compel obedience. The child's pride is the feeling to which an appeal is made, which proves successful in almost every instance. A father needs only to say in the presence of his children ‘I want such a thing done ; I want one of my children to go upon such an errand; let me see who is the good child that will do it! This word good operates, as it were, by magic, and the children immediately vie with each other to comply with the wishes of their parent. If a father

« AnteriorContinuar »