A Micmac Responds to the French ca.  1677

 

The speech below was given by a Micmac elder to a group of French settlers in what is now Quebec about 1677.  It was translated by a Chrestien LeClerq, a Recollet missionary, who composed a dictionary of the Indian language for future missionaries to the area.

 


I am greatly astonished that the French have so little cleverness, as they seem to exhibit in the matter of which thou hast just told me on their behalf, in the effort to persuade us to convert our poles, our barks, and our wigwams into those houses of stone and of wood which are tall and lofty, according to their account, as these trees.  Very well!  But why now,…do men of five to six feet in height need houses which are sixty to eighty?  For, in fact, as thou knowest very well thyself, Patriarch—do we not find in our own all the conveniences and the advantages that you have with yours, such as reposing, drinking, sleeping, eating, and amusing ourselves with our friends when we wish?  This is not all,…my brother, hast thou as much ingenuity and cleverness as the Indians, who carry their houses and their wigwams with them so that they may lodge wheresoever they may please, independently of any seignior whatsoever?  Thou art not as bold nor as stout as we, because when thou goest on a voyage thou canst not carry upon thy shoulders thy buildings and thy edifices.  Therefore it is necessary that thou preparest as many lodgings as thou makest changes of residence, or else though lodgest in a hired house which does not belong to thee.  As for us, we find ourselves secure from all these inconveniences, and we can always say, more truly than thou, that we are at home everywhere, because we set up our wigwams with ease wheresoever we go, and without asking permission of anybody.  Thou reproachest us, very inappropriately, that our country is a little hell in contrast with France, which thou comparest to a terrestrial paradise, inasmuch as it yields thee, so thou sayest, every kind of provision in abundance.  Thou sayest of us also that we are the most miserable and most unhappy of all men, living without religion, without manners, without honour, without social order, and, in a word without any rules, like the beasts in our woods and our forests, lacking bread, wine, and a thousand other comforts which thou hast in superfluity in Europe.  Well, my brother, if thou dost not yet know the real feelings which our Indians have towards thy country and towards all thy nation, it is proper that I inform thee at once.  I beg thee now to believe that, all miserable as we seem in thine eyes, we consider ourselves nevertheless much happier than thou in this, that we are very content with the little that we have; and believe also once for all, I pray, that though deceivest thyself greatly if thou thinkest to persuade us that thy country is better than ours.  For if France, as thou sayest, is a little terrestrial paradise, art thou sensible to leave it?  And why abandon wives, children, relatives, and friends?  Why risk thy life and thy property every year, and why venture thyself with such risk, in any season whatsoever, to the storms and tempests of the sea in order to come to a strange and barbarous country which thou considerest the poorest and least fortunate of the world?  Besides, since we are wholly convinced of the contrary, we scarcely take the trouble to go to France, because we fear, with good reason, lest we find little satisfaction there, seeing, in our own experience, that those who are natives thereof leave it every year in order to enrich themselves on our shores.  We believe, further, that you are also incomparably poorer than we…seeing that you glory in our old rags and in our miserable suits of beaver which can no longer be of use to us and that you find among us, in the fishery for cod which you make in these parts, the wherewithal to comfort your misery and the poverty which oppresses you.  As to us, we find all our riches and all our conveniences among ourselves, without trouble and without exposing our lives to the dangers in which you find yourselves constantly through your long voyages…

 

Learn now, my brother, once for all, because I must open to thee my heart; there is no Indian who does not consider himself infinitely more happy and more powerful than the French.

 

·        List five advantages of Micmac culture (as compared to French) outlined by the speaker.

·        Why does he consider the French unhappy & “poor”?

·        How reliable is this source to learn about French/Indian relations?