Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chief Pontiac's Education


Chief Pontiac's father was a war chief. But it did not follow that therefore Pontiac would be a war chief. He
 would have to prove himself strong and brave, a good hunter and a good warrior, or his tribe would choose some more able leader.
Chief Pontiac, like most small boys, took his father for his pattern. His ambition was to be like him. But he was told early, "Be a good Indian. Be a good Ottawan. Be true to your tribe. Be a strong man and help your people. But don't think about being chief. The greatest brave must be chief of the Ottawas."
Yet, Indians love glory and perhaps in the bottom of their hearts Chief Pontiac's father and mother hoped that he would one day be a chieftain. At any rate they did all they could to train him to be a worthy Indian.
They were sometimes very severe with him. If he was rude to strangers or to old people; if he lost his temper and threw ashes at his comrades; if he told a falsehood, he was beaten. He had broken the laws of the Great Spirit, and the Great Spirit had commanded that parents should beat their children with rods when they did wrong. The boy understood this and he tried to take his punishment bravely that he might regain the[ good will of the Great Spirit. He stood quite still and endured heavy blows without whimpering or flinching.
He learned, too, to endure hunger and great fatigue without complaint. He raced, and swam, and played ball, and wrestled with other boys till his body was strong and straight and supple. He played at hunting and war in the forest, until his eyes became so sharp that no sign of man or beast escaped them.
But he did not depend altogether on his eyes for information. He could find his way through a forest in the dark, where the dense foliage hid the stars. Perhaps the wind told him the direction by the odors it brought. He could tell what kind of trees grew about him by the feel of their bark, by their odor, by the sound of the wind in the branches. He did not have to think much about his course when on a journey. His feet seemed to know the way home, or to the spring, or to the enemy's camp. And if he had traveled through a wilderness once he knew the way the next time as well as any boy knows his way to school.
While ChiefPontiac was training his body, his parents took care that he should not grow up in ignorance of the religion and the history of his people. He heard much about the Great Spirit who could see all he did and was angry when he said or did anything dishonest or cowardly.
The laws of the Great Spirit were fixed in the boy's mind, for his mother was always repeating them to him. She would say as he left the wigwam: "Honor the gray-headed person," or "Thou shalt not mimic the thunder;" "Thou shalt always feed the hungry and the stranger," or "Thou shalt immerse thyself in the river at least ten times in succession in the early part of the spring, so that thy body may be strong and thy feet swift to chase the game and to follow the warpath."[1]
[1]Translated from the Ottawa language by A. Blackbird.
In the evenings the older members of the family and some visiting Indians sat around the fire and told stones about the Great Spirit and many other strange beings, some good and some evil. They told, too, wonderful tales about omens and charms. The same story was told over and over again, so that in time little Pontiac knew by heart the legends of the Ottawas. He remembered and firmly believed all his life stories that as a child he listened to with awe, in his father's wigwam.
In the same way he heard about the great deeds of the warriors of his tribe; and he came to think there were no people in the world quite equal to the Ottawas. He heard of other tribes that were their foes and he was eager to go to war against them.
As he grew older he heard a good deal about men, not only of another tribe but of another race, the palefaces, who were trying to get the lands of the Indians. Then he thought less about being an Ottawa and conquering other Indians; while every day he felt more and more that he was an Indian and must conquer the white man. He wished he could unite the tribes in friendship and lead them against these strangers who were so many and so[ strong, and who had come to drive the Indians from their homes and hunting grounds.
Such thoughts made Chief Pontiac very serious. Obeying the commands of the Great Spirit, the young Indian often blackened his face with a mixture of charcoal and fish-oil, and went into the depths of the forest, where he remained for days without food, praying and thinking earnestly about the future.
He formed his own plans, but he hid them in his heart. He practised keeping his feelings and thoughts to himself, and spoke only when he was very sure he was right. This habit soon gained him a reputation for gravity and wisdom.