This is a poem about a handsome, courageous and compassionate young Iroquois chief Ogemah who fell in love with a beautiful daughter of a Huron chief Manita. Sometimes her name is Manita, sometimes Manito, depending on if you are reading the poem's original publication or the reprinted version.
The original poem was written by William McDonnell of Lindsay in the 19th century and was printed in a souvenir booklet in 1884 along with some information about the Town of Lindsay. This poem would be considered an example of cultural appropriation of Indigenous Peoples as it is the use and adaptation of a piece of Indigenous culture without their consent or input. Early forms of appropriation, according to some Indigenous peoples, included depictions of “Indians” in 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th century novels, advertisements and other literature.
Find more information about the cultural appropriation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada in The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Displayed below is the beginning of the reprinted version of the poem by Gus Rideout.
I walked the quiet valley of the deer and porcupine
'Til I heard the gentle lapping of the lake
That separates our tribal hunting ground
From the Hurons to the West, and to the South,
And to the North, until the rivers mouth
Swings west again and beyond that point, unknown
To the Algonquins.
There in a quiet cove I cleared away,
Built my wigwam, made my fire ere close of day.
I sat beside the fireside to watch the sun sink, lower, lower;
Sinking in fire between the pale red clouds
And the deep, blood red water.
Than, suddenly, I saw against the pale red setting sun,
A birch bark canoe, coming swiftly in my view.
The ripple from the prow like a hungry water snake,
Seemed to roll and turn, blaze and burn, all along the wake.
The paddler, against the setting sun, sat tall and dark and young.
I saw it was a maiden from her form.
Surely a chieftains daughter, proud and silent, strong of arm,
Sent to welcome me or warn me of some harm.
These forebodings filled my mind as, my right arm raised in peace,
I stood to welcome her, the stranger from the West;
Her final paddle stroke drove the birch-bark on the beach
And she 'rose and stepped so light on the sand.
I saw her eyes, so deep and dark; she wore her raven hair
In neat wide braids on either side, her face was oh so fair,
Her back was straight and she was tall, as a princess ought to be.
There eyes were black, her bearing proud
As she closely looked at me.
No beauty here that could compare to Shaunahea by the water;
Her face, her eyes, would make the sunset plain.
Even the most beautiful things could gain
More beauty, when Shaunahea came...
Her eyes were sunshine over midnight,
So bright, so deep, so all-encircling strong.
"I come in peace!" Her teeth flashed white,
May I share your wigwam for tonight?
The sun has set, the lake is wide,
My tribe, the Hurons to the West,
Are along the other side
Where hunting is the best.
And when I saw your wigwam shine
As the sun sank in the sky,
I took this small birch bark canoe of mine
And gifts of beaver meat and fish.
I bring our tribal welcome wish,
'May all your hunting dreams come true'."
Continue reading the reprinted version.
Start reading the original poem.