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January 1, 1860

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Buliard outlines the differences between Catholic and Anglican missionaries in the Arctic and how the Eskimo tends to pick the easier Anglican religion to believe in.






Roger Buliard


Important Text:

Naturally, the Decalogue makes weary progress against the established Eskimo morality, supported as that is by the shamans and the whole system of tabus and fetishes. Since 1860, when Father Grollier made the first attempt to preach the Gospel in the Arctic, the road of the Christian missionary has been a hard one, strewn with the rocks of prejudice and ignorance. 

In the forefront of Christan missionary work in the North stands the Catholic Church. Among the Copper Eskimos alone we have three missions and. six missionary priests, as against a single Anglican missionary at Coppermine. Unlike the others, we live with the Eskimos, speak their language, and travel constantly from camp to camp. Yet the number of our converts is small, for we are a minority in the country, and the Anglican Church represents those with political power, the majority. We are the minority, and to be a minority among a primitive people puts one at a severe disadvantage, for the primite respects power and influence as he respects nothing else. To be a Catholic here in the Arctic often means to be alone, and nothing is more disturbing to the communally minded Eskimo than the prospect of being alone, being individally responsible. He is a tribe-minded man, and to go angainst the tribe, even when he believes he is right, is not in his nature. 

Also, with the Eskimos, religion is often as superficial as a coat of varnish, as is civilization. Even among Eskimos who have been long in contact with the wihte man's civilization, who have borrowed many of the white man's ways, the true Inuk is just beneath the surface and breaks through the gloss under slight provocation.

Then, too, theirs is a natural tendency to regard Christianity as just another, perhaps more powerful, medicine, a better magic than the shaman offers. Young Jimmy has just been confirmed, and to celebrate the event he rounds up the boys for a little poker game and takes his cronies to the cleaners. "Eh, eh!" the others will say, mindful of the recent sacrament, "Sakuiksingortok!"..."That's it. He has been made strong!"

To create in the Eskimo heart the radical change that religion should produce is not an assembly-line procedure, but a task that wants slow, patient work and the ability to smile in the face of apostasy and failure. Our hopes really rest with the chlidren, though of course we do our best for the souls of the present adult generation.

In some ways the Protestant religion seems to sit more comfortably with the Eskimo character. Luther would have been the Inuk's man, when he said: "Pecca fortiter, crede fortius"..."Sin strongly, but believe more strongly." Faith unaccompanied by works. That is the kind of deal that appeals to the Eskimo imagination, and despite its absurdity the Eskimos, used to the wandering arguments of the shamans, do not find it hard to believe. 

The Eskimo looks at the two religions. Both advertise the same God and promise the same reward in heaven. Which one asks the least? The Eskimo closes his left eye cunningly. Naturally, he is going to select the easier way.

Another stumbling block is the sacrament of confession. To unveil one's secrets, even in the sanctity of the Church, goes again[sic] the Eskimo's grain, for he has learned to guard them carefully. It is part of his code to keep things to himself. And the idea of penance doesn't appeal to him either. To be forgiven, after confession, the thief is told explicitly that he must restore the stolen goods, the bigamist give up his extra wife, the murderer make amednds to his victim's family. "No, no!" decides Inuk. The other religion will be quite sufficient, the one that can be outguessed.

Another advantage Anglicianism offers, from the Eskimo point of view, is the fact that the minister generally does not know the language well, but makes do with the kind of pidgin the British employ with natives in every part of the world. This makes it much easier to fool him, and even to mock him to his face, the kind of thing that kindles the Eskimo temperament. Alos, since the Anglican missionary resides at a faraway station, he visits his people once annually at most, and they figure that if they pray good and hard for a couple of days before he gets there that that will be enough. For the rest of the year they can forget it. 

Mind you, I don't for an istant suggest that the Anglican missionary condones this laxness, or is even aware of it in many cases. Certainly he would not knowingly leave as deputy preoachers in Eskimo camps fellows famous for theivery, blasphemy, and adultery.

Unpleasant though the subject is, one must mention too the sometimes rather uncharitable methods the Protestant missionaries have used in their Christian competition with us. For a long time they showed no inclination to bring the Word or the sacraments, even baptism, to the North. Then, when we began our efforts, they rushed into Burnside and baptized everyone, men, women, and children, right and left, without ten minutes' instruction or preparation. Page Henry Ford and the good old Detroit assembly line!

Sometimes they have unsed prejudice and hatred to strengthen their cause. It is difficult to believe that an archdeacon thought he was advancing the cause of Christ when he addressed the following appeal to one of our converts: 

October 1, 1929: 

To Billlie Kimeksina(Tracher)

I hear news not good. I hear Akorturoat[The Long Robes] steal Billie Tracher. No, I think Billie knows God's word. He savvy Roman Catholic not right. What he give you? Little cross? Little God with string to tie on your neck? Suppose lose him, God lost! Some men no master for himself, other men piga. [In good English, "some men are not their own masters, but somebody else's property, like dogs."] That way all Catholic Indians. Priest want to make Esmiko like that. He want make him. slave. You see make Eskimo like that. He want make him slave. You see Catholic Indiians: poor, igonarrnt, all time afarid. Long time I know priest. All time teach his people lies...

No go to priest prayer. He make trap for you, just like trap for foxes. If you go in his trap, he make you slave, make trap for you wife. LOOK OUT.

It is difficult to respect the sincerity of the author of this statement, is it not? And does it not betray a certain arragance, born of power?

The Anglicans have power in the North, because the first traders certainly retained something of what they had learned at their mothers' knees. They were Protestant, to a man, the early H.B.C. post managers, the Police, and others. The Anglicans have influence with established authority, and of course the Eskimos haven't failed to notice it.

But the faults of a few will never make us forget the virtues of the many. Thoes old-timers, gentlemen all, are dear to us, and they were never men to permit prejudice or bigotry to color their dealings with men. There are many now living, some now dead, and I salute them all. These were men who knew how to share the Arctic comradeship with a smile--men of the North--and meeeting them, any one of them, on some remote northern station, or out on the barren ice, was like catching a glimpse of the sun. 

Like the rising of the new sun, too, are the firm conversions we often see here. To watch an Eskimo pass endless hours struggling to learn the fundamental truths, to observe him trying to make the sign of the Cross, naturally inspires us, especially since we know that often he risks what he dreads--isolation--in order to enter the Church of Christ. 

I remember old Napaok--a good, leathery Eskimo of the old school, hunter and pagan of Minto. During my first visit to Victoria I met him out on the sea ice and introduced myself. 

"I am a missionary," I explained. "The Falla."

His old eyes studied the poetic sea horizon. "I have never seen a missinary until now," he said at last. "But from other Eskimos I have heard about the new God."

"Well, it is from Him I come," said I. "Would you like me to reach you?"

Napayok's answer came quickly, but I think it had been a long time in the making; all of Napaok's life, in fact. "Certainly," he said. "How should I call you? And what do I do?"

During the dark months that winter when the sun was in hiding, I passed hours in the clotted air of the snowhouse with Napayok, trying to teach him the words of God, trying to be as patient with hmi as. Iwould have been with a somewhat backward child in France.

"Our Falla..." he would begin, doggedly repeating the words after me, his ancient face wrinkled with effort, his old sea-paled eyes filled with aspiration. He learned the "Our Father" all right, but he never mastered the "I believe ini God..." It was tjust too long for him, I'm afarid. ANd I know that he went to his death still making the sign of the Cross starting on the right-hand side. It may have been because the Good Thief was crucified to the right ouf Our Lord. At any rate, Napayok could never remember that by tradition the left sohuld be first. There were many things he could not remember, but his heart was pure gold. After a longish lession on the sonwhouse he would sigh deeyl and say, leaning back, "Falla, I cannot learn anything, you see. Perhaps I am too old. Perhaps too stupid, too wooden in the head. But I believe what you believe. Is it not enough? I do not know very much, but I feel it is true. Now, could I smoke?"

When he died I was away on a trip, and I returned to find him sewn in his skins, weaiting for his Falla. I carride him back to the mission on my sled and buride him in the little cemetery there. He died a Christian, filled with faith, even though he stumbed over simply prayers and made the sign of the Cross backward.

Topics: (click image to open)

Christianization is the conversion of individuals to Christianity or the conversion of entire groups at once. Various strategies and techniques were employed in Christianization campaigns from Late Antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages.
The Inuit lived for as long as 10,000 years in the far north of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland and likely come from Mongolian Bering-Strait travelers. They ate an all-meat diet of seal, whale, caribou, musk ox, fish, birds, and eggs. Their nutritional transition to civilized plant foods spelled their health demise.
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