Materials required: graph paper, logbook
Membertou was the first Mi’kmaw to receive solemn baptism in New France. When Frenchmen Pierre De Monts and Samuel de Champlain came to Port-Royal (now known as Annapolis Royal) in Nova Scotia in 1605, they brought several Jesuit priests. After their arrival, the Europeans tried to find the Mi’kmaq, who were fishing nearby, because they had helped them out when they lived on St Croix Island the year before. The French established good relations with the Mi’kmaq, whose leader Membertou became particularly friendly with them. When the French left in 1607, he looked after their buildings in their absence and protected them from being ransacked. The French returned three years later, and on 24 June 1610, Membertou and twenty other members of his family were ceremoniously baptized. Membertou, the Saqamaw or chief, received the name of the French king, Henri; his wife was called Marie, like the queen; his eldest son was given the name of the dauphin, Louis, who by this date had already become Louis XIII (the news had yet to make it across the Atlantic). However, these baptisms, for which there had been no preparation, did not bring about any changes in how the Mi’kmaq led their lives. This was not well received by the Jesuits.
For his part, however, Henri Membertou gave up his role as a shaman, and started to carry out duties expected of a Christian, to the extent that he could understand them. Nevertheless, he grieved for his own spirituality. Earnestly desiring to be catechized and thereafter share his faith with his people, he urged the missionaries to learn the Mi’kmaw language. Just over a year after his baptism, Membertou, a victim of dysentery, came to Port-Royal, where Father Massé received him into his hut during Father Biard’s absence. Father Massé left when he found out that Membertou wanted to be buried next to his (non-Christian) father. He left to show his disapproval — but later he returned to give Membertou the last rites. However, he made his disapproval clear. Two days later Membertou changed his mind and asked to be buried with the French in their graveyard. When he died, he was given a solemn Catholic funeral.
More details about Membertou, and a discussion of why he might have chosen to be baptized, can be found at http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/membertou_1E.html.
For the students, summarize the last six years of Membertou’s life. Point out that he was a well-known and very respected chief or Saqamaw who was said to be a hundred years old when he was baptized. It must have been very surprising to the other Mi’kmaq that he became a Christian so quickly.
For the next activity use an Inside-Outside circle. Here students stand in two concentric circles, with the inside facing out and the outside facing in. As the story is read, have the partners comment on each element of Membertou’s last days. Then have the two circles rotate a given number of places so that each student is facing a new partner; have them share new information and ideas about Membertou’s last days. Then as a class, have students complete a chart which shows 1) the decisions that were made, 2) who was involved, 3) who made the decision and 4) who felt the most impact from the decision.
- By renaming Membertou and his family, what were the Jesuit missionaries trying to do?
- If the Mi’kmaq had made the decisions rather than a priest, how would it have been different? Was there any way of satisfying both the French priests and the Mi’kmaq?
- Finally, search to see if the name Membertou can be found anywhere else today. How has Membertou been honoured?
Why do you think that Membertou’s image is on a stamp?
Does this image show that Membertou has become a Christian?
Why do you say that?