The Mission Field and “Chinhook” (Part 6 of 6)

The last installment in this mini-series about British Columbia’s Protestant missionaries in the frontier period…


Image credit: Tseshaht First Nation


Volume 14, 1869, pages 49-50, show us JX Willemar and Harry Guillod among the c̓išaaʔatḥ (Tseshaht Nuuchahnulth / “Sheeshak”) people:

I suspect the editors here have misunderstood these fellas’ mention of a potlatch — they say it was given by “an inferior chief”, as if it were someone of low character, but almost certainly it refers to a chief having the traditional second rank.

Chinuk Wawa was in use for teaching the community members, as Nuučaan’uɬ was among the many tribal languages that Settlers found extremely difficult to learn.

sheeshak 2

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[BRITISH] COLUMBIA. — A Mission has been opened at [Port] Alberni by the Rev. J.X. WILLEMAR, assisted by Mr. H[arry]. GUILLOD, his catechist. In letters dates Sep. 30, 1868, Mr. Willemar and Mr. Guillod give an account of the commencement of their work. They had then spent eleven weeks at their new Mission. During the first month, as most of the Indians were absent, they got their Mission-houses into order, and built with their own hands a wooden shed, in which to teach their native pupils carpentry. As the natives returned, many visited them, thinking they were traders, and, though at first disappointed at hearing they were only Missionaries, these visits gave an opportunity of imparting instruction, and led some of the people to value the Missionaries’ teaching. After the first four weeks, preaching to the heathen was commenced. Forty persons attended the first service; the numbers increased to fifty. These were all men; the women could not be induced to attend. The Indians were much pleased with an harmonium presented to the Mission by the Bishop. The school was not opened for a week after the church, as an inferior native chief then gave a feast, and distributed blankets; but when the excitement thus caused had subsided, school was commenced with an attendance of fourteen boys; the number increased considerably, but was again reduced to fourteen by Indian visitors from another tribe, who persuaded some of the boys that, if their names continued on the school books, it would cause their death. Both in church and school instruction is given in the Chinook language, and is translated by an interpreter into Sheeshak. The chief of the Sheeshak tribe has come regularly to be instructed by the Missionaries, and has encouraged his people to follow his example. At the end of September most of the pupils went up the river for the salmon fishery season. The Missionaries, however, continue the Church services, work at the Mission-house, and tend the sick.

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