Canadian Genealogy | Indians of Canada




Chief Skidegate

Was found, with about twenty of his people, catching and drying salmon at the mouth of a small stream flowing into Copper Bay, fifteen miles south of the village. He is a cousin of Nin-Ging-Wash, younger in appearance, though nearly as old. They quarreled bitterly over their rank for a long time, Nin-Ging-Wash, by means of his more liberal potlatches finally prevailing, but not until two of their adherents had been killed. Skidegate handed me a package of papers, chiefly letters of recommendation from ship masters, missionaries and others. It was evident that he was ignorant of their contents. One said the chief had been "bumming" around their vessel for some time demanding $100 for alleged claims upon certain coal lands, which the captain thought had better be allowed, as he was a powerful chieftain. Another was a fatherly letter from missionary Duncan. Skidegate it seemed, had attempted to shoot a young Indian for some personal offence who fled to Duncan for protection. The letter warned the chief never to be guilty of such an act again, assuring him that if the Indian had injured him, he should be proceeded against according to law. But Skidegate has now kept out of difficulty for several years, and like a good many white people, who sin as long as they are able to, before they reform, he has joined the church, and is trying to be a good Indian before he dies.

Doctor Modeets

My visit to the chief medicine man south of Massett was accidental. While making a trip of several days alone with my canoe, I sought shelter from a severe storm on a little islet in Skidegate Inlet, where I passed a sleepless night in the rain and wind. It was only a short distance to the Indian village of Gold Harbor, where, the following day, I landed and spread out my blankets to dry on the beach. Among the Indians squatting in front of their houses, I noticed one whose hair was tied up in a knot on the back of his head, the size of a large hornets' nest, of which it reminded me. Approaching nearer, his face was seen to be marked with small pox, a piece was missing from his nose, and altogether he presented a more remarkable than attractive appearance. I found him, however, quite talkative, and soon engaged him in conversation to the extent which my limited knowledge of the Chinook would permit.

He told me that he was a medicine Tyhee, and inviting me into his house, showed me the curious medicine dance, dresses, wands, rattles, charms etc., worn and used by him when practicing the healing heart. The charms were carved out of bone, and represented whales, bears, ravens, land otters, eagles, thunderbirds, etc., and various other animals and fish, each accredited with special virtues for the cure of certain diseases. Selecting several which I desired to purchase, I placed in his hand the pieces of silver I was willing to pay for them. He counted the money, and then the charms over and over again, dwelling at length upon the wonderful curative powers of the latter, but finally accepting my offer with the addition of a small potlatch. The occupation of the medicine man is now nearly gone, only a few old people having any faith in their practice. Modeets is the only doctor I have seen on the island who has kept the vow taken when entering upon the profession never to cut or comb his hair. His wife observing that it was an object of interest to me, unloosened the great bang, when the thick tangled ringlets spread over the old man's shoulders and reached down below his waist. To further gratify my curiosity, the chief put on a portion of his fantastic regalia, and executed a medicine dance. The doctor then dressed me in his wildest and most barbaric costume, when "by special request" I imitated his performance, in a manner which "brought down the house."

Official Report of the Exploration of the Queen Charlotte Islands for the Government Of British Columbia, 1884


Indians of Canada

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