Book launch on Alberta reserve highlights Indigenous clergyman’s legacy

(Saddlelake Cree Nation Chief Leonard Jackson, second from left, Melvin Steinhauer, centre, and Whitefish Lake Cree Nation Chief Brian Favel, second from right, at the book launch Aug. 14. The two Mounties are unidentified. Submitted photo.)

Brandi Morin
APTN National News
The legacy of Henry Bird Steinhauer lives on 120 years after his death.

Known as a clergyman, a teacher and role model, the story of this Ojibway man’s life and accomplishments is one long waiting to be told.

Steinhauer’s great-grandson, Melvin Steinhauer, 73, wrote Shawahnekizhek-Henry Bird Steinhauer: Child of Two Cultures over the last 13 years on a promise he made his dad.

A book launch was held on Aug. 14 at the Whitefish First Nation in northern Alberta where Henry Steinhauer eventually settled, raised a family and influenced the small community.

“I am very glad (Melvin) did this for everybody,” said Whitefish Lake First Nation Chief Brian Favel. “It’s important that this is done for us because we are the next generation. If we can share the history it is important for the people to understand that we are much more than what the movies say about Indians.”

The inspiration to write the book stemmed from a promise Melvin made to his father to document their family legacy, as well as a desire to share First Nation historical stories with the world.

“I wanted to share my knowledge of my great-grandfather with the rest of society,” said Melvin. “The lack of Indian history prompted me to take a very serious look at what I may have to offer in terms of the history of my inheritance and the inheritance of the most precious history of my home and native land of the Whitefish Lake Reserve #128.”

Steinhauer was born and raised near Lake Simcoe in northern Ontario and lived what Melvin described as an “adventurous life.”

He was a well-travelled and educated man, something that was not so common for Indigenous people in those days said Melvin. He went to seminary school in New York and once even travelled to London, England. He was the first Aboriginal missionary in Alberta and was the first to translate the Bible from English into Cree. Melvin said his great-grandfather blended the two cultures together and respected Native spirituality.

Steinhauer brought much more than just the word of God to the people of Whitefish and the nearby Saddlelake First Nation. Along with encouraging moral living he preached the virtues of hard work and brought modern education, as well as agriculture and gardening skills to the community said Melvin.

“The determination and commitment of Rev. Henry Bird Steinhauer proves that no matter what you are or who you are, you can succeed in your endeavors if you work hard for it, and never give up,” said Melvin.

The author also stressed the importance of First Nation people telling their stories in written format. And that First Nations are a people who contributed to the development of Canada and Alberta which is something that isn’t often acknowledged.

“I want the whole world to know that there are no savages, warriors with feathers and war bonnets – that people were misled by the Hollywood movies to believe the misconception of what Indians are. … First Nation peoples do want more history books about Indians so that the society of majority will understand what are Indians or who they are,” said Melvin.

The book is available for purchase at Whitefish Lake. For more information contact  [email protected].

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