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Mission Life in Cree-Ojibwe Country

Athabasca University Press | Our Lives: Diary, Memoir, and Letters


In May of 1868, Elizabeth Bingham Young and her new husband, Egerton Ryerson Young, began a long journey from Hamilton, Ontario, to the Methodist mission of Rossville. For the next eight years, Elizabeth supported her husband’s work at two mission houses, Norway House and then Berens River. Unprepared for the difficult conditions and the “eight months long” winter, and unimpressed with “eating fish twenty-one times a week,” the young Upper Canada wife rose to the challenge. In these remote outposts, she gave birth to three children, acted as a nurse and doctor, and applied both perseverance and determination to learning Cree, while also coping with poverty and short supplies within her community. Her account of mission life, as seen through the eyes of a woman, is the first of its kind to be archived and now to appear in print.

Accompanying Elizabeth’s memoir, and offering a counterpoint to it, are the reminiscences of her eldest son, “Eddie.” Born at Norway House in 1869 and nursed by a Cree woman from infancy, Eddie was immersed in local Cree and Ojibwe life, culture, and language, in many ways exemplifying the process of reverse acculturation often in evidence among the children of missionaries. Like those of his mother, Eddie’s memories capture the sensory and emotional texture of mission life, providing a portrait that is startling in its immediacy.

Skillfully woven together and meticulously annotated by Jennifer Brown, these two remarkable recollections of mission life are an invaluable addition to the fields of religious, missionary, and Aboriginal history. In their power to resurrect experience, they are also a fascination to read.

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"Her memoirs offer an exceedingly rare portrait of mission life as seen through the eyes of a woman."

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“Brown’s editing and her insightful contextualization of first-hand 19th century historical material serve the reader well and add immeasurably to the joy of reading about these lively and endearing people. The grace with which this has been effected somewhat shields us from the difficulty of the task.”

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Missionary wife of Egerton Ryerson Young.

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Son of Egerton Ryerson Young and Elizabeth Bingham Young.

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Jennifer S. H. Brown is professor emeritus of history at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to her many publications as author, she has edited a number of books, including Memories, Myths, and Dreams of an Ojibwe Leader (2009).

 
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An Ethnohistorian in Rupert’s Land

Athabasca University Press


In 1670, the ancient homeland of the Cree and Ojibwe people of Hudson Bay became known to the English entrepreneurs of the Hudson’s Bay Company as Rupert’s Land, after the founder and absentee landlord, Prince Rupert. For four decades, Jennifer S. H. Brown has examined the complex relationships that developed among the newcomers and the Algonquian communities—who hosted and tolerated the fur traders—and later, the missionaries, anthropologists, and others who found their way into Indigenous lives and territories. The eighteen essays gathered in this book explore Brown’s investigations into the surprising range of interactions among Indigenous people and newcomers as they met or observed one another from a distance, and as they competed, compromised, and rejected or adapted to change.

While diverse in their subject matter, the essays have thematic unity in their focus on the old HBC territory and its peoples from the 1600s to the present. More than an anthology, the chapters of An Ethnohistorian in Rupert’s Land provide examples of Brown’s exceptional skill in the close study of texts, including oral documents, images, artifacts, and other cultural expressions. The volume as a whole represents the scholarly evolution of one of the leading ethnohistorians in Canada and the United States.

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"A welcome and compelling selection of articles (some previously published, some unpublished) that focus on the stories of Cree, Ojibwe and Métis peoples, Hudson’s Bay and Northwest Company fur traders, Methodist and Anglican missionaries,and twentieth-century anthropologists. [...] The varied thematic foci of An Ethnohistorian in Rupert’s Land allow readers to delve into topics and issues related to language, family, marriage, women, and Indigenous stories and memories. Each chapter is of interest in its own right, but gathered here each becomes part of a larger narrative of a lifetime of scholarship and contributions by one of the most important practitioners in her field."

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"Brown's clear narrative writing style makes this collection accessible to both academic and public audiences. Historians will appreciate her close and thorough reading of primary sources. Anthropologists will recognize Brown's attention to language and her reading of the historical record through an ethnographic lens that can focus on both the micro-scales of domestic life and the macro-scales of the fur trade's political economy."

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"Brown's ability to read between the lines of texts of all kinds is without parallel in Canadian ethnohistory. The articles are a pleasure to read, full of insight and analysis, and written with the agreeable style of a born communicator and teacher. [...] Brown's work continues to impress and influence."

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Jennifer S. H. Brown taught history at the University of Winnipeg for twenty-eight years and held a Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal history from 2004 to 2011. She served as director of the Centre for Rupert’s Land Studies, which focuses on Aboriginal peoples and the fur trade of the Hudson Bay watershed, from 1996 to 2010. She is the editor of the Rupert’s Land Record Society documentary series (McGill-Queen’s University Press), which publishes original materials on Aboriginal and fur trade history. She now resides in Denver, Colorado, where she continues her scholarly work.

 
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