Among the outstanding Oblates whose names must be remembered as missionaries to the Amerindians of British Columbia, we must mention Fathers Paul Durieu, Jean-Marie Le Jacq, Georges Blanchet, Léon Fouquet and Casimir Chirouse. Father Claude Bellot OMI who spent thirty-six of his life in these missions, is less known, but remains just as praiseworthy. He was born in France (Haute Loire) in 1847, and arrived on Victoria Island in 1901. He enriched most of the missions of that region, only too happy to bring knowledge of God to these “enfants des bois” (children of the woodlands). His lively pen has left us charming stories of his encounters with the Amerindians. For instance, we are told of an old man’s quandary when the fellow was seeking to marry.
Nessait visits Babine Lake
When Nessait, a man of fifty-five years, heard that Bishop Augustin Dotenwill OMI, Bishop of New Westminster, was visiting Babine Lake, he traveled 250 Kilometers through the forest, to see the “grand priant” (the great man of prayer). It was this unbeliever’s first visit to a Catholic mission. His astonishment was at its peak when he entered the church for community prayer. Everything was so clean, compared to his own home, and the songs were so beautiful! But when he heard speaking about a loving God, about “la terre d’en haut” (The land up above) and about his Mother in heaven, this was a revelation for a man who up to now had been used to converse only about beaver skins, guns, and hunting. So, that very night his name was entered in the register of catechumens. In less than a week he had mastered the catechism, or at least enough to receive Baptism.
Nessait wants to marry
Two days before our departure, wrote Father Bellot, Nessait came to see me. His appearance was baffling. After a moment of silence, he pointed to his somewhat worn moccasins. At last he said: “Father, see how pitiful I look. I am old… I want to marry, because I need a woman to make me a pair of moccasins.” I encouraged him as well as I could, and I advised him to make a choice from among the “pearls” of this place. He pointed out one, unattractive to the point of fright, shriveled like an old apple. He may be making the right choice, I thought to myself, if she can provide him with moccasins. Following my advice, Nessait went on to find out more about the intentions of his possible better half. That same night, alas, he returned with a downcast look. Following a long silence, he shared that his heart’s choice was willing to marry him so she could have tea, ground meal, and deer meat, but she could not make moccasins because of her failing eyesight, having become almost blind! Naturally, I encouraged the man to seek elsewhere.
He found at last
The next day, he returned beaming. “He will have his moccasins” thought I. In fact, he had found a lady to make those longed-for moccasins. Who was it? The same elderly lady who had claimed to be more or less blind the day before. Today she could see a little better, a tiny bit better, just enough to make one pair of moccasins. The only condition she placed on the marriage was that Nessait make these moccasins last the longest time possible, because she didn’t want to work for too long… She was willing to die, but only of old age, not of overwork. Nessait promised everything, without holding back, and obtained his ageing partner.
Moral of this story
Father Bellot concludes: “Formerly, I had read somewhere that four things should be asked of a woman before marriage: that virtue remain in her heart; that modesty shine on her forehead; that softness flow from her lips; and that her hands remain occupied in work. Nessait, however, taught me that one thing only is necessary for the woman: to know how to make moccasins.”
André DORVAL, OMI