Missionary in Canada and Alaska
by Mary Van Nattan
10:14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how
shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear
without a preacher?
the middle of the nineteenth century an English sea captain put out a plea for
help with an Indian tribe along the northwest coast of Canada. The Tsimpshian
Indians were a warring, hostile tribe and the captain knew what kind of help was
Church Missionary Society of the Anglican Church in England advertised for a missionary
to go to the people. The call was answered by a young Englishman by the
name of William Duncan. He was a dry goods clerk at the time with no formal
training, but a deep zeal for God. Duncan volunteered to return with the
captain when he took his next north Pacific voyage. He arrived at Fort Simpson,
British Columbia (near present-day Prince Rupert) in 1857.
first contact with the Tsimpshian was through Philip Clah, an Indian who helped
greatly in early mission work in Alaska. Duncan learned the Tsimpshian language
from Clah and also was helped by him in starting a school at Fort Simpson.
Over time Duncan
was blessed to see many Tsimpshian come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. A
church was established and he and his Indian friends built the village of old
Metlakatla (meaning "water passage"). It offered the Indians a church building,
a school, a place to learn trades, a council house, a jail, and job opportunities.
The houses were all built alike to avoid pride and jealousy and each family
owned one. There were flowers in the front yards, a vegetable gardens on
the sides and a smoke houses in the back for cooking and/or smoking fish. The
bell in the white meeting house in the center of town was rung in the morning
to waken them and at night to send them to bed. There was a native police
force to enforce the local laws rigidly. No white man was allowed to camp
within four miles of the town. The town flourished for thirty years growing
to include a thousand Indians. This was all the results of the gospel of
Jesus Christ in the lives of this formerly warring people.
the Laodicean church officials of the C.M.S. could not leave a thing like this
alone. They had to mess with it. They began to insist upon more formalities
in the worship of the Indian church. Added to this the government of Canada
began to make serious rumbling about restricting all their Indians to reservations.
Duncan was, of course, grieved at all of this interference with the lives
of his brothers and sisters in Christ.
his friends, Dr. Henry Ward Beecher, a U.S. Congregationalist minister; and Bishop
Phillips Brooks of Massachusetts, an Epsicopal; Duncan was able to get a hearing
with President Grover Cleveland, then president of the U.S., and some U.S. congressional
leaders. Through his efforts and the hand of God, the Metlakatla Indians
were granted official refuge on any American island close their Canadian home.
After scouting the near by Alaskan islands, the Tsimpshian settled on Annette
Island as the site for their new town. This island offered them a good harbor,
trees for houses and fuel, lakes for water supply, and gooding fishing for both
food and industry.
eight hundred people crossed the border from Canada into the United States in
1887, thus leaving the threats of spiritual and national interference behind.
This is a biblical method -- to leave rather than to rebel - and a testimony
to of the power of God in the lives of these formerly vicious people.
They had no support from
any one mission, but were helped by many friends. Duncan's leadership both
spiritually and in matters of living helped to establish a new Metlakatla which
grew to be an even stronger community than the old. A new church building
was erected along with two schools - one for boys and one for girls. Salmon
canning and boat building were started to bring income to the village.
These once hostile Indians
are still living under law and order. In 1969 they were earning and spending
about $100,000 a year. They were at that time keeping up their town and
schools, making improvements and caring for their own sick.
Duncan went to be with his Lord in 1918 having spent sixty fruitful years among
the Tsimpshian Indians. His sacrifice of leaving his warmer and pleasant
home in England for the cold and wet of southeast Alaska was to the great advantage
of the people whom he lead to Jesus Christ. There will be many in the day
of Christ who will have cause to thank this "unlearned" man for his determination
and zeal to serve God among them. Though his numbers were small compared
to some men's, he was faithful in little and we can look forward to seeing him
given much by our righteous God.
19:16 Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17
And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful
in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.
for this article was obtained in part from Only In Alaska
by Tay Thomas.
Photo cropped from photo in the Alaska State Library; PCA 20-8.
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