Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Indians
by [?]

When I was in the East, I got to know a man who had spent many years of his life living among the Indians. He showed me his photographs. He explained one, of an old woman. He said, “They told me there was an old woman in the camp called Laughing Earth. When I heard the name, I just said, ‘Take me to her!’ She wouldn’t be photographed. She kept turning her back to me. I just picked up a clod and plugged it at her, and said, ‘Turn round, Laughing Earth!’ She turned half round, and grinned. She was a game old bird! I joshed all the boys here Laughing Earth was my girl–till they saw her photo!”

There stands Laughing Earth, in brightly-coloured petticoat and blouse, her grey hair blowing about her. Her back is towards you, but her face is turned, and scarcely hidden by a hand that is raised with all the coyness of seventy years. Laughter shines from the infinitely lined, round, brown cheeks, and from the mouth, and from the dancing eyes, and floods and spills over from each of the innumerable wrinkles. Laughing Earth–there is endless vitality in that laughter. The hand and face and the old body laugh. No skinny, intellectual mirth, affecting but the lips! It was the merriment of an apple bobbing on the bough, or a brown stream running over rocks, or any other gay creature of earth. And with all was a great dignity, invulnerable to clods, and a kindly and noble beauty. By the light of that laughter much becomes clear–the right place of man upon earth, the entire suitability in life of very brightly-coloured petticoats, and the fact that old age is only a different kind of a merriment from youth, and a wiser.

And by that light the fragments of this pathetic race become more comprehensible, and, perhaps, less pathetic. The wanderer in Canada sees them from time to time, the more the further west he goes, irrelevant and inscrutable figures. In the east, French and Scotch half-breeds frequent the borders of civilisation. In any western town you may chance on a brave and his wife and a baby, resplendent in gay blankets and trappings, sliding gravely through the hideousness of the new order that has supplanted them. And there will be a few half-breeds loitering at the corners of the streets. These people of mixed race generally seem unfortunate in the first generation. A few of the older ones, the ‘old- timers’, have ‘made good,’ and hold positions in the society for which they pioneered. But most appear to inherit the weaknesses of both sides. Drink does its work. And the nobler ones, like the tragic figure of that poetess who died recently, Pauline Johnson, seem fated to be at odds with the world. The happiest, whether Indian or half-breed, are those who live beyond the ever-advancing edges of cultivation and order, and force a livelihood from nature by hunting and fishing. Go anywhere into the wild, and you will find in little clearings, by lake or river, a dilapidated hut with a family of these solitaries, friendly with the pioneers or trappers around, ready to act as guide on hunt or trail. The Government, extraordinarily painstaking and well-intentioned, has established Indian schools, and trains some of them to take their places in the civilisation we have built. Not the best Indians these, say lovers of the race. I have met them, as clerks or stenographers, only distinguishable from their neighbours by a darker skin and a sweeter voice and manner. And in a generation or two, I suppose, the strain mingles and is lost. So we finish with kindness what our fathers began with war.

The Government, and others, have scientifically studied the history and characteristics of the Indians, and written them down in books, lest it be forgotten that human beings could be so extraordinary. They were a wandering race, it appears, of many tribes and, even, languages. Not apt to arts or crafts, they had, and have, an unrefined delight in bright colours. They enjoyed a ‘Nature-Worship,’ believed rather dimly in a presiding Power, and very definitely in certain ethical and moral rules. One of their incomprehensible customs was that at certain intervals the tribe divided itself into two factitious divisions, each headed by various chiefs, and gambled furiously for many days, one party against the other. They were pugnacious, and in their uncivilised way fought frequent wars. They were remarkably loyal to each other, and treacherous to the foe; brave, and very stoical. “Monogamy was very prevalent.” It is remarked that husbands and wives were very fond of each other, and the great body of scientific opinion favours the theory that mothers were much attached to their children. Most tribes were very healthy, and some fine-looking. Such were the remarkable people who hunted, fought, feasted, and lived here until the light came, and all was changed. Other qualities they had even more remarkable to a European, such as utter honesty, and complete devotion to the truth among themselves. Civilisation, disease, alcohol, and vice have reduced them to a few scattered communities and some stragglers, and a legend, the admiration of boyhood. Boys they were, pugnacious, hunters, loyal, and cruel, older than the merrier children of the South Seas, younger and simpler than the weedy, furtive, acquisitive youth who may figure our age and type. “We must be a Morally Higher race than the Indians,” said an earnest American businessman to me in Saskatoon, “because we have Survived them. The Great Darwin has proved it.” I visited, later, a community of our Moral Inferiors, an Indian ‘reservation’ under the shade of the Rockies. The Government has put aside various tracts of land where the Indians may conduct their lives in something of their old way, and stationed in each an agent to protect their interests. For every white man, as an agent told me, “thinks an Indian legitimate prey for all forms of cheating and robbery.”