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It sounds and looks like the story of a daring exploit, and it is-but the founding of a Christian mission among the still-savage Northwest Coast Indians in the 1860's is history, and this chronicle is not what most youngsters think of as fiction; neither is a missionary universally acceptable as a hero. Reservations aside, there is much to commend the book. Upon his arrival at Fort Simpson, William Duncan had a great deal to learn about the Tsimshians beside their unwritten language; the ritual of potlatch, the techniques (and tricks) of medicine men, the excitement of the Oolakan (candlefish) run; also the disruptive influence of liquor, the adaptability of old beliefs and ceremonies to Christian purposes. Duncan, however, didn't compromise, and when his new converts seemed unsteady he led them off to found the separate village of Motlakatla. The population multiplied, and, through Duncan's enterprise and audacity (in facing down the Hudson's Bay Company), the economy thrived. Which made Metlakatla important, which brought a bishop, which started controversy, which occasioned government intervention, which went against Duncan and the Indians, which caused them to leave Canada for Alaska. . . where, in the new Metlakatla, the Indians are self-sustaining Christians to this day. You needn't be as earnest as Duncan to share his interest in the Indians and their future but you do need a certain commitment to get past the first few chapters.

Pub Date: May 9th, 1968
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin