Emily Leavens to Alice Ravenhill (Jun.12, 1941)


Emily Leavens to Alice Ravenhill (Jun.12, 1941)


Emily Leavens writing to Alice Ravenhill to commiserate on the difficulties both have encountered in trying to forward Aboriginal rights in a hostile cultural environment. The former makes reference to - and expands upon - a poem (not available) that she sent to Alice that the latter found obscure.


Emily Leavens


Royal BC Museum, BC Archives (F/I/R19)


June 12, 1941


Cultus Lake, B.C.
June twelfth 1 9 4 1

Dear Miss Ravenhill,
I am writing to you promptly, but please do not let that worry or vex you at all. There will be no need for any urgent answer or response to anything I say.

I am very sorry anyone should withhold support on the plea that attempts to enlighten the public are misleading. I am afraid I do think teachers are hard to teach -- they have had so much of their common sense, the sense of humanity, twirled out of them before they are permitted contact with life and the living.

I doubt very much if one can say or write on sentence about the Indians without stirring up a hornet's nest of dissension. It seems to me that every 'nice' person, every 'educated' person, every person in office, would promptly agree with that 'Let drink and disease exterminate them as soon as possible' that you quote. (I must admit I saw 'red' when my eyes alighted on it!)

If I sound despondent about my Indian neighbours it is only a pale reflection of my hopelessness as regards the 'white people'.

Anyone who is to help, really widely and broadly help the Indians, must be no relation to a church mouse, either in means, standing, or skin!

That barrack school system for Indians! Could any thing be more blindly stupid?

And so you found my bit of verse obscure! I am glad you straightly said so. I find it still a little surprising, for you go right on to tell of the tribal religious beliefs and customs, and speak of the lost opportunity of the missionaries to build onto their existent and important spiritual life.

But so things go -- we think we have expressed one thing clearly, and find it remains foggy.

That young Indian woman was a Coqualeetza graduate. She had died in hospital. A civilized death -- and a civilized funeral; two ministers, flowers, funeral director. The people were Indians, but every detail was civilized and conventional. So much for the 'book at a noontide's height'. (The internment was at noon).

That night, as we drove home from Chilliwack, (we had had an appointment with dentist, which was delayed because of the unexpected (to us) funeral) we passed the house where she had lived. Firelight only, and the moonlight, illuminated it, -- but that drumming and moaning, and beating of feet, and striking of the chest with the hands was the most awe-inspiring thing I ever heard. None of us will ever forget it. I understand now the war-drums, -- how the beating affects the braves -- I never did before. We have nothing in our music to compare with that rhythmic beating. I know now why the ancients and primitives say the stomach is the seat of the soul!

I know, too, why Indians can be so placid at a fxxx funeral, if they regularly have a service of their own like this one.

We were not supposed to know of it. We are the only white people who cross the reserve, -- (because we are the only people so primitive as to still use horse and democrat, not auto!"

The year was 1935. They are supposed to be wholly converted [sic]. But WHO KNOWS THE INDIANS? NOT, VERY DEFINITELY NOT, ANY MINISTER I HAVE MET.

So, that family service at her home with moonlight streaming in at uncovered windows and open door is what I mean by the expression 'A message borne on a moonbeam'. The ministers provided the 'book at a noontide's height'; -- and I still wonder which entered the future life, a pagan girl puzzled by the impact of the white men and the white men's ways on her life, or a Coqualeetza convert.

Any local person who has read or heard this bit of verse has said something to the effect that the Indians 'used to' do these things, but they are Christians now. When I say that this was recent, not ancient history, they invariably say, 'Oh, no! They don't do things like that NOW.' If you ask them, 'What do you know about the Indian?', just xx see how quickly they respond, 'I DON'T WANT to know anything about them'

Remark that the Indian is always the under-dog in any deal with white people, and how fast the reply comes, 'And so he should be!'

And such people talk of 'converting' the Indians to Christianity!

I have found it utterly impossible for Christian white people to comprehend the Indian's gift-giving, -- simply because the white people/brain is trained too utterly in materialism. They can see no symbolism in any Indian act.

If you are more fortunate in your associates, I am glad. I would gladly do anything at any time to strengthen your hands -- and as gladly be silent and let you be listened to!

I hope and pray that some one with power, and wealth, and all txx that white people mean when they speak of 'standing', will yet come to the aid of the Indian. As in the case of the Negro, no man seems to xxx have any revulsion where the Indian woman's body is concerned. Both races will ultimately become absorbed, -- but that sort of progress is poor progress.

Indian art is such an evident thing that it should be easy to arouse enthusiasm for it, -- but then, take a look at the freak stuff the museums and galleries are showing these years and one wonders if sanity has left us! But don't let your courage be dimmed, the very fact that popular papers are picturing, side-by-side, the monstrosities of the moment and the beauties that are being moved aside to make room for them, is evidence enough that plenty of sensible people are still equal to protesting if they know they have company. And there you shine, for I have seen your name several times in several papers, -- and if I saw it be xxx sure others, too, have done!

I am very glad you have organised. I shall be glad to see reports of your doings, and though not at present able to find any real fee I shall be glad to send your committee a little help with necessary postage. There! three 'glads' in one short paragraph; I'm not all despondency!

With warmest good wishes,
Your sincerely, Emily Leavens




Emily Leavens, “Emily Leavens to Alice Ravenhill (Jun.12, 1941),” The Story is More than Itself, accessed September 23, 2018, https://thestoryismorethanitself.omeka.net/items/show/4.