Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Birth on a York boat in 1862

York boats with tent coverings on Lake Winnipeg by Peter Rindisbacher in 1821

“On June 28 we camped on the shore of Lake of the Woods. It was a beautiful site that the rain did not let us admire very much. We passed the night in the boats, turned into sleeping quarters with the aid of coverings.

The next day, the rain had stopped, but it was still cool and uncomfortable so I put my winter jacket over my shoulders. When the tent coverings that had sheltered us were removed the first person that I saw on the wet rock was the big Marie, wife of the Chippewa Francois Wabisten. She was bareheaded, barefoot and smoking her pipe. As soon as she saw me she smiled showing me a long package that she carried in her arms. She unwrapped an old shawl that once was red and extended with pride a scarlet coloured baby, big and ugly like a caterpillar, that started crying as soon as he felt the cold air.
-Here, Father, she said, in broken French, the first I heard from her since our departure, baptize my boy, he was born last night…, in the boat.
This was said with many stops, and cuts, in the chanting tones of the Chippewa language.
-This night! in the boat! You’re kidding me? I exclaimed while giving Wabisten a questioning look.
-Oh! no, Father, it’s true. My wife gave birth last night. Did you not hear anything near you?
I couldn’t believe it. The brave woman had delivered her baby by herself, without any help, without even waking her husband, who was exhausted from his work.
Should I say it? What surprised the Metis more than this event, which to my readers might appear incredible, was my own astonishment.
-What, Father, he told me, are the French women of the old country less capable than our women? Here, ours do as such. It doesn’t hurt them more than our women to give birth. (page 253-254)