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Stefansson describes the Christianization of the Indians around the river on the way to the Arctic Ocean, describing the differences between the Roman Catholic church and the Church of England.

June 15, 1908

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My Life with the Eskimos - Chapter 2

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Biblical Fundamentalism
Christianization
Religion

From Slave Lake north to the Arctic Ocean there are no interrup tions to navigation and our travel proceeded smoothly and without adventure. Here and there we passed Indian lodges on the shore and Indian cabins, and on an average every two hundred miles a Hudson's Bay post, where a mission is also located. 


The two churches that have workers in the field are the Roman Catholic and the Church of England, both of them doing considerable useful work. The Church of Rome has a much stronger hold upon the people, partly, no doubt, because of its earlier introduction into the country, and because also of its greater resources it is doing more work. After many years of observation of the labors of missionaries I am inclined to the view that with the other churches the excellence of the results depends primarily upon the individual at any particular place, but that the Church of Rome has a system which produces results to some degree independent of the personality of the man. One weakness of other missionaries in general is that they come from cities and other places with crystallized notions of exactly what must be done and exactly how every one must live and act under no matter what conditions. The fundamental precepts of Christianity apparently seem to many of them to be linked with certain purely local customs of the city from which they happen to come, and they emphasize both equally. The three commandments, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” “Thou shalt keep the Sabbath holy,” and “Thou shalt eat thy potatoes with thy fork,” impress themselves with equal vividness upon the aborigines and are likely to be considered by them to be means of grace of coordinate value. But the missionaries of the Church of Rome seem less concerned about these inessentials. They are no less concerned than the missionaries of other churches about getting the Indian to change his religious views, but they seem less inclined to waste their strength in trying to persuade him to change the color of his coat. The net result of this difference is shown to be entirely in favor of the Roman Church. These natives have, through the evolution of centuries, been ground into such perfect adjustment to their environment that the more you disturb this adjustment the more disastrous the result will be to the physical welfare of the native. 


Both the English Church and the Roman have schools in the Mackenzie district the English at Hay River and the Roman at Fort Providence. At both places are men and women doing conscientious and self-sacrificing work, and at both places numbers of Indians are learning to read and write, but nevertheless it seems to most observers that the labor and expenditure of money are scarcely justified by the results. You have everywhere the Indians of the old type, who are ignorant of book learning but who still retain some of the integrity and self-respect of their ancestors. These men on the whole seem to be more self-confident and self-reliant than the educated ones, and are more likely to be making not only a living but also an honest living. Somehow it seems that one of the first things an Indian learns in school is contempt for the ways of his ancestors; but after all, the ways of his ancestors are the only ways that can prevail in that country. Hunting and fishing are the necessary occupations of every man, and the sewing of clothes and the preparation of food are equally the inevitable work of the women. When a man who has no occupation other than that of hunter open to him gets to feel that he is above that occupation, the community has lost much and no one has gained anything.