by Dorthea Calverley
Some Indians, at least, have different ideas about their origin. Mr. J.S. Gowland, formerly an Alberta Forest Ranger, became friendly with a full-blood Indian chief, who had had a University education, but returned to his people. Speaking on the subject of the origins of the Indian people he said “Our history extends deep into the past and a body of legend has been handed down by word of mouth over thousands of years.”
He had asked his grandfather about their origins and he said that he received this reply, “We were put here by the Great Spirit to wait and learn how to live until we go to the other life,”
The chief dealt with several of the theories advanced by different groups:
1) Fishermen might have been blown to America, but they would have perished without issue unless they brought women. What would women be doing in European or African fishing boats?
2) If it were true that America and Africa were joined at one time, that must have been long before man appeared at all.
3) Although the Indians differ in many respects, the main body of the race has aquiline features, and in most cases their shin has a reddish tint. The only red men in the world are found in the Americas. That, according to the Indian chief, seems to indicate that they sprung from no other race. They (Indians) are many nations, yet all have much in common in customs, religion and dress.
The chief admitted that some movement might have taken place across the Bering Strait. This would account for Mongoloid characteristics (such as slant eyes and the “Mongolian spot” that appears on some Eskimo and Indian babies). Oriental fishing folk, men, women, and children lived on their boats, and could therefore have founded a new race. But he doubted that other nations could have done the same.
“I am inclined to think that the red man originated right here in North America.” Such prehistoric creatures as the diplidocus and triceratops did, so why shouldn’t the Indians have done the same?”
A missionary, who has lived for forty years with the Athapaskan-speakers at a place up the Mackenzie Highway, told this writer (October/1973) a very curious thing. Father Mariman had known Father Grouard, who had also spent many years studying the Beaver language. At the same time a father Petitot had also become fluent in the language. Both men were keen students of the Beaver culture. Father Mariman mentioned the incident thus:
On one occasion, Father Grouard and Father Petitot had undertaken a long journey by canoe during which they discussed these things.
Father Petitot speculated on some curious coincidences in the similarities of the Athapaskan Indians with the ancient Hebrews, also a nomadic race dwelling in tents.
1) They believed in one God or “Great Spirit.”
2) Incense was a part of their ritual. Among the Indians it was the smoke from a pipe which they held up to the four corners of the earth and to the heavens.
3) Both sacrificed the flesh of animals, especially the fat. Before a ceremony the Indians of Wabisca and Hay River do this ritually by selecting the best part of an animal they have killed for the feast, and throwing it on the campfire in the center of the circle.
4) Until two hundred years ago they had practiced the rite of circumcision, thought by many people to be a uniquely Hebrew custom.
There has been a persistent legend that some of the “Lost Ten Tribes of Israel” migrated to this continent. One church, at least, holds this belief as one of its traditions.
We leave the matter without further comment.
In a television production The Ascent of Man, Dr. Bronowski also mentioned a curious fact:
Among Indian there were two blood types, A and O. There is not, as in the white race, any type B blood. This he attributed to two waves of infiltration from Asia, preceding the development of Type B individuals. This might vindicate a strongly held belief among some Indians that theirs is the oldest race on earth, and that, until the coming of the white men, and resulting Metis, they had maintained their racial purity.
These speculations are introduced into this study only to make the point that theories about the origin of the Indians are still speculation. It is entirely possible that evidence may yet come to light to prove (or disprove) once and for all that the Indian was right in believing himself a unique human being, inhabiting his original ancestral home.
After all, the horse originated in America, archeologists tell us, then became extinct here, to be brought back ages later in the modern animal.
Thor Heyerdahl’s “Kontiki” postulates that the Indian may have spread from American to people the Polynesian Islands.
In summary, as “advanced” as the white race are, we are still very uncertain of the origins of the Indian and must be prepared to have our ideas changed in that field in the next few decades, as the atomic theory has been in the last fifty years. In brief, all we know is that we don’t know!