Converting the Ojibwe was difficult due to fear
During the early attempts to force Christianity upon the Ojibwe, priests found it difficult to convert many people because of the conflicting beliefs regarding the afterworld between the Ojibwe and Christian views. Many of the early priests mentioned that the main problem had to do with the Ojibwe was fear of the “White Heaven”.
For instance, during the 1600s, Father Louis Hennepin reported that when an Ojibwe woman was at the point of death she refused baptism because she believed that Indians who died Christian would be burned in the afterworld by the French. Hennepin reported that others believed that the reason that the French priests wanted to baptize the Indians was so that the French could have them as slaves in the afterworld. This belief was reported by missionaries amongst the Ojibwe at Lake of the Woods and Red Lake during the 1800s. The Red Lakers believed that those Indians who convert to Christianity would have to work for the whites in the white heaven and will not get to see their Indian friends and relatives who live in the Indian heaven.
In his captivity narrative, John Tanner reported that he had heard an anecdote among the Ojibwe in Michigan about a missionary beseeched the Indians to renounce their own religion in favor of Christianity. One man who did claimed that when he died, the whites would not allow him into their heaven because he was an Indian. So he tried to go to the Indian heaven, but when he got there they would not allow him to come in because he had renounced his traditional way of life. So he returned to his dead body. This story frightened the Ojibwe and they refused to convert. The same story was told among the Red River Ojibwe and Cree in the early nineteenth century. This was related by Father George Belcourt.
Another story about the fear of White Heaven was reported at Manitoulin Island, where the Ojibwe insisted to the local priest in 1840 that they did not wish to enter the Christian heaven because it was different from the Indian one. They feared that if they went to the White Heaven they would never be reunited with their dead relatives and would have to spend eternity with white men.
One legend that was told pertained to an Indian boy who received a Christian education and became a teacher and Christian preacher. Then he became sick, the white doctors could not help him and he died. He followed the white man's road to heaven and came to a house. He knocked and was told through a crack that he did not belong on that road. He took another road and came to another house where the same message was given to him. He eventually returned to life and immediately gave up Christianity and returned to his traditional Ojibwe ways.
Adapted from Vecsey, Christopher. 1983. “Traditional Ojibwa Religion And Its Historical Changes.” Memoirs. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities