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needed to be a minister, teacher, social worker, and doctor all
rolled into one.
duties were to be four-fold. As missionary I was to conduct services
in the church, baptize, marry and bury members of the congregation
as the occasion demanded. Then I was to teach the Indian children
according to a program of studies issued by the Department of
Indian Affairs…. Next I had to hand out food rations to widows
and other destitute people on the reserve…. Lastly, I was expected
to tend to the minor medical needs of the people. Here I felt
entirely inadequate. I tended to minor aches and pains, but refused
to pull teeth. I realized that I should have gone to a sympathetic
dentist and gotten a few points on basic procedures.”
day toward the end of June we heard a knock on the door, the first
of many more to follow during the net year. I opened the door.
There stood two Indian fellows. They said they had come from Black
River to look after some things and to get some “medsin”, but
it seemed to me they had come or had been sent out to see and
size-up the new “Aneemawee Okeema” (praying boss). Anna and I
had a friendly chat with them and I think they went away with
reasonably favourable impressions.”
after that the fishing season ended and the residents returned to
that the people were back on the reserve again, we could begin
our church services, one in the morning and one in the afternoon….
Charlie Franklin was the official organist (we called him the
organ grinder), who was able to elicit the strangest chords and
harmonies from the instrument. What he lacked in talent and musicianship
he made up with open pride on his accomplishment. The hearty congregational
singing was bilingual: Cree for the ones who knew no English,
and English for those who knew no Cree…. What I had to say by
way of prayer, announcement or sermon was translated by an interpreter….
After the service Anna and I had to shake everyone's hand. We
came to love these people, who stoically accepted their many misfortunes
and still found time to laugh. The winter proved to be the saddest
and at times the most depressing in my experience. TB was rampant,
infant mortality was high. Of the 9 babies born that year 7 died,
as well as several adults – a large number for a band of about
120 people. Proper medical care was sadly lacking.
September I started to teach in the log schoolhouse. The school
program was designed to acquaint the Indian children with the
white man's culture, so that they might be assimilated into our
culture – an utterly hopeless and impossible prospect.”
performed a variety of tasks around the community. The happier occasions
included performing marriage ceremonies.
first couple I married were a widow and a widower. They were married
at a regular Sunday service. The bridegroom sat on the right side
of the aisle and the bride on the left. I called them to come
to the front of the church. The ceremony was conducted through
an interpreter. After each one had muttered “aha” in answer to
the questions of mutual commitment to each other, both went to
their former places in the congregation. Then we continued with
the church service.”
a time, Jacob and Anna decided that it was time for a change. They
liked working in northern Manitoba and so, when they were offered
a similar position to the one in Poplar River, they accepted.
piece of news came our way. The position of minister at the Berens
River mission had become vacant and Dr. Cormie on the suggestion
of Dad Neufeld asked us to take over the work at Berens River.
Since Miss Jean Reid was the teacher in the Indian Day School
there, I would just be in charge of the Mission. We readily agreed,
for we had come to enjoy the life and work far from the “madding
crowd”. There were several white families at Berens River....
Furthermore there was a R.C. [Roman Catholic] hospital there with
a competent, efficient nurse in charge who looked after the medical
needs of the people.”
soon fell into a routine at Berens River. He held two church services
on Sundays, visited homes, registered marriages, births, and deaths,
and made a bi-weekly trip to meet the SS Keenora collect mail. Jacob
and Anna enjoyed their work there.
termination of our work up north was determined by several factors.
The war had come to an end, and the United Church could now more
easily have its own members take over the Mission stations. After
a second stillbirth the doctor advised us to leave the north if
we wanted to have a family, and this we wanted.” [ASM,
back at his time in the north, Jacob writes that he came “under
its particular spell and felt quite a home there.”
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