budd was born in 1812 in the British Northwest, in what is now northern Manitoba. The Cree had lived there for time out of mind, but Europeans – first
French, later British – had travelled there since the 1600s
in search of that precious commodity, furs.
His parents were of mixed Cree-European ancestry, and
Budd grew up in a world that was neither wholly aboriginal
nor wholly European. When he was eight, his mother sent
him to live at the Red River colony to attend a school run
by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) – a decision that
would profoundly shape his future.
The CMS school, run by evangelical
Anglicans, taught Budd how to read, write
and farm, and introduced him to Christianity. In 1822 he was baptized. As a symbol of
his new identity in Christ, Sakachuwescum
was given his new “Christian” name, borrowed from one of the missionary’s friends.
After finishing his schooling Budd spent
a brief stint working as a labourer for the Hudson’s Bay Com-
pany, but then returned to Red River where he settled down
and married. Sometime during this period his faith deep-
ened, and as a result so did his concern for his fellow Cree
who had not embraced the gospel. As he later explained, “I
felt willing to do anything or even endure any trial, if I may
but win my poor countrymen to the knowledge of Christ
and his great Salvation.”
Having won the confidence of the CMS as a “steady and
pious” young man, in 1840 Budd was sent to work as a
schoolteacher at a mission post on the Saskatchewan River
called The Pas [made famous to generations of Canadian
children through Farley Mowat’s novel Lost in the Barrens
(Little, Brown and Co., 1956)].
Ten years later Budd became the only ordained Cree minister in all of North America. This allowed him to continue
mission work with greater independence. He spent most
of the rest of his life working to build up a Christian village
around the church at The Pas. Having poured out his life in
the service of his God and his people, he died there in 1875.
he was born with the Cree name
Sakachuwescum. he died with the
English name henry Budd. Between
those two names is a story.
Budd was not alone in his experience as an indigenous missionary (that is, a missionary of non-European
ethnicity). In his book Prophetic Identities: Indigenous Missionaries on British Colonial Frontiers, 1850-75 (UBC Press,
2012), Tolly Bradford places Budd’s life alongside that of
his contemporary, the Xhosa missionary Tiyo Soga (1829-
71) of South Africa. The comparison reveals both men
faced common challenges.
By the mid-19th century, British missionary societies
like the CMS recognized the benefits of ordaining indigenous Christians as missionaries and pastors. But British
church leaders sometimes found it hard to treat indigenous leaders as equals. When a British missionary came to
The Pas in 1844, for example, he took Budd away from
schoolteaching and put him to work felling trees. Thus, for
most of the 1840s Budd’s talents as a teacher and evangelist
went largely unused.
On top of this, Budd, Soga and men like them often
faced opposition or rejection from their own people. Budd
endured opposition from fellow Cree who distrusted him,
his faith and his settled, agricultural way of life. Indigenous
missionaries at the time could live lonely
lives, fully accepted by neither Europeans
nor their own people.
Because they carried out their work
under the shadow and protection of
Navigating their new identities was not easy. What was
Christian faith and what was European culture? Should
a new Christian adopt a new (European) name, as Sakachuwescum did? What about European clothing? How important was it to take up farming? Budd lived in a world that
sometimes got it right and sometimes got it wrong –much
like our world, in fact.
Despite human mistakes, however, God’s work continues. As Budd himself observed to someone who opposed
his ministry, “whatever men may do to prevent and oppose
the Gospel of God, it will still grow.” FT
KeVIN FLATT is assistant professor of history at
Redeemer University College in hamilton, Ont., and author
of After Evangelicalism: The Sixties and the United Church
of Canada (McGill-Queens University press, 2013).
HistoryLesson n BY KEVIN FLATT
Budd became the
Cree minister in all
of North America.