Historical Events

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The real world effects of believing in the Sabbath are described by Stefansson who was appalled at the immoral behavior exhibited by faithful Christianized Eskimo.

January 1, 1909

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My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 27

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Biblical Fundamentalism
Christianization
Religion
Eskimo
Carnivore Diet

We settled down to live with these Colville people, and commenced making preparations for the winter. The only thing to do was to catch fish. Now it seems that in Kotzebue Sound, where the Chris tian doctrines of the Colville people had originated, fishing is by nets only. As fishing is no doubt practically the only work done there, or was so before the development of mining, the missionary had probably said to them, “ Do not put out your fish-nets on Sunday," meaning thereby, “ Do not work on Sunday" — there being no other work. However that may be, the prohibition came to our community in the form : “ God has said you must not use fish-nets on Sunday. ” Accordingly the entire community pulled their fish-nets out of the river Saturday night, fished with hooks all day Sunday, and put the nets back into the water Monday morning.


The winter of 1908–09, while I was staying at the village of Cape Smythe, there arrived one Saturday about noon a man and his wife with a well- fed team of dogs and sled - load consisting partly of fresh caribou skins and caribou sinew, which latter has a high value on the north coast of Alaska as sewing- thread. Although this couple did not actually appear at the whaling station where I was staying, I learned about their coming immediately, for the news spread like wild - fire through the village that people had come who had caribou skins to sell. The couple said that they had spent the fall on the upper Colville River, had made a successful caribou hunt there, had stayed until all the meat was eaten up except what they could haul with them on their sled, and had then set out across country, heading northwest for Cape Smythe. This was the substance of what they told about their journeyings, until toward midnight, when they added the further detail that the man's sister and her husband had been with them on the upper Colville, that they had not succeeded so well in the caribou hunt, and that when they started, each family with its own sled, from the Colville, the sled of this second couple had been empty of meat. The family who had plenty had with great generosity fed the family which had none, but had refused to give any meat to their dogs, with the result that the poor animals became nothing but skin and bones. Then a severe blizzard struck them, and all the hungry dogs froze to death, while of course nothing happened to the well- fed dog team. When the one couple had no dogs with which to haul their sled, the other could no longer wait for them and had abandoned them about forty miles southeast from Cape Smythe. 


The people who had been abandoned had some relatives in the Cape Smythe village, and even apart from them there were many who were ready to go to the rescue. The relief party was about to set out when someone pointed out that Saturday was just merging into Sunday and that no work must be done on the Sabbath. 


Strangely enough, none of the white men at Cape Smythe heard anything of the abandoned couple, although we learned later that their case had been a topic of continuous conversation all day Sunday. The first any white man knew of it was after Dr. Marsh had conducted the regular evening services in the church, when he found, very much to his surprise, that the people after the service did not leave the church as usual and go to their homes. When he asked them why this was, they replied that they were waiting for Sunday to be over so that they could start out to the rescue of a starving couple that had been abandoned inland. When Dr. Marsh knew about the case he of course did all he could to hurry things up, but it was already midnight when the searchers got started. The weather had been fine on Saturday, and there would that day have been no trouble in following the trail of the couple who had arrived, but by Sunday night the wind had been blowing and the drifting snow had covered up the trail. The search party was out two days, but returned to Cape Smythe without finding any one. 


A day or two after this, Thomas Gordon, who was living about three miles northeast of Cape Smythe, heard a faint noise outside his front door. He thought nothing of it at first, but a little later someone accidentally went out and found an Eskimo who had collapsed and fainted on the front-door step. When this man had been revived in the warmth of the house, it turned out that he was the man of the couple abandoned. Mr. Gordon sent a sled on the man's trail, and they soon found his wife encamped in a fireless hut, with her hands and feet slightly but not seriously frozen. Half a dozen hours later she would no doubt have been maimed for life. 


While I was in the Cape Smythe village, I never saw the man who had abandoned his sister and her husband to starve and freeze, but it happened a month or two later that my party was storm-bound on the southeast corner of Smith Bay, at the house of an old acquaintance of ours named Kunagrak, who was related to all the people concerned. The man who had done the abandoning happened to be staying with Kunagrak. I noticed that when we sat down to meals it was he who said grace; in spiritual matters he seemed to be an authority and the leading light of the place. As a matter of curiosity I asked him if he had been long a Christian, and he replied, “ About ten years. ” He further volunteered the information that during all that time he had never eaten a meal without saying grace, and had never worked on Sunday, and had kept all the commandments of the Lord. I asked him if he had never heard that to abandon people to starve was against the commandments of the Lord. He had never heard that particular commandment, he said; but that might be because his Christianity had come entirely from some Kotzebue Sound Eskimo. He had never had the advantage of the direct instruction of a white missionary, and no doubt he might not have heard all the commandments of which those might have knowledge who had been better instructed than he. Just as a man who sits down to a meal of mountain sheep will adopt quickly a food taboo of which he is informed by any one who happens to be present, so this man seemed glad to learn that abandoning people to starve was against the desire of the Lord, and he would make a point of seeing that it did not happen again.