Chippewa / Ojibwe Bahais
Melba Whetung Loft declared as a Baha'i August 5, 1938. Her husband James Loft was a Mohawk Baha'i.
The following is from Baha'i World 1983-1986 - In Memoriam:
MELBA WHETUNG LOFT
GRIEVED PASSING MELBA LOFT SHINING EMBLEM NATIVE PEOPLES NORHT AMERICA. HER LONG TEACHING SERVICE MARKED HARDSHIPS ILLNESS ULTIMATELY EARNING RESPECT RECOGNITION HER BELOVED FAITH AND ENRICHING ANNALS CAUSE FOSTERING CLOSE TIES BETWEEN INDIGENOUS AND OTHER BELIEVERS CANADA. KINDLY CONVEY FAMILY FRIENDS ASSURANCE PRAYERS SHRINES PROGRESS HER NOBLE SPIRIT ABHA KINGDOM.Universal House of Justice
25 November 1985
Sarah Melba Whetung was born on the Curve Lake Indian Reserve, near Peterborough, Ontario, Canada on 24 December 1912. Curve Lake is an Ojibwa Reserve. Melba was the eldest daughter of Arthur Whetung, a trapper, and his wife, Bella.
Melba finished grade school at twelve years of age and, with her mother’s help and encouragement completed her high school education in Peterborough. At seventeen years of age she met Alfred James (Jim) Loft, a Mohawk. They married several years later and lived in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. where Jim worked a the Chrysler automobile plant. Their two sons, James Gordon (Sam) and Arthur Edwin were born in Detroit. In 1936, Jim was transferred to the plant in Marysville, Michigan where he bought a home. In 1938, a daughter, Evelyn, was born to Jim and Melba. It was shortly after this that Melba became restless and searching. She missed the Indian way of life. She became close friends with her neighbor, Emma Lenk. Returning from church service one day Melba said, ‘There’s got to be something besides this!’ Shortly, after that Melba and Emma learned of the Baha’i Faith and embraced it.
Melba described herself as having been, in the years before Jim became a believer, ‘an armchair Baha’i’. She read and studied, attended meetings, and sent the children to the Louhelen Baha’i School at Davisom, Michigan. Jim became a Baha’i in 1948 and was at once moved to write to Shoghi Effendi asking for guidance in the service he might perform. The Guardian’s reply, written by his secretary on his behalf, said, ‘He would greatly welcome your returning to your own tribe, and giving them this great message you and your dear wife have accepted.”
A postscript in the Guardian’s own hand stated, ‘Your most welcome letter rejoiced my heart, and I hasten to assure you of a most hearty welcome into the Baha’i fold, as well as of my loving and fervent prayers for any and every effort you may exert for the promotion of the Faith and the conversion of your fellow Indians and their acceptance of its verities. May the Beloved bless, protect and sustain you always and aid you to realize your hearts cherished desire.’
Winter was setting in but arrangements were made immediately to move to the Tyendinaga Reserve in Ontario where the family endured great physical hardships. Their house had no heat or electricity; animals had been living in it when they moved in; and it had only three rooms. Jim and Melba were unable to find any work, and in 1950, at a time when they did not now where the next meal was coming from, Jim wrote another letter to Shoghi Effendi. The reply said that the Guardian ‘does not feel it is right for you and your family to impoverish your selves further in order to remain on the Reservation; on the other hand your being there and living amongst the people is undoubtedly the best way to teach them.’
The guardian’s letter, which included, in his own hand ‘assurance of my abiding and deepest appreciation of your services to our beloved Faith, of my heartfelt admiration for the spirit that animates you and of my ardent prayers for the success of every effort you exert for its promotion ad consolidation’, and which was signed ‘You true and grateful brother, Shoghi’, marked yet another turning point in their lives. Jim was able to set up an auto body shop on the Reserve as a means of livelihood, though they still had no running water or indoor plumbing, and almost all of Melba’s good furniture had to be sold to buy equipment for the garage. The Lofts had visits from many Baha’is in those early years, many of them o their way to pioneering posts all over the world. The first people Melba and Jim brought into the Faith were Bert and Elizabeth Curtis, in 1950; and the next year the first Indian believers in Tyendinaga were May and Russell Hill. The Lofts supported the teaching work in the nearby towns of Kingston and Belleville by offering encouragement and attending meetings. Peggy Ross, who was called by Melba ‘me spiritual mother’, spent much time on the reserve an was like one of the family.
Jim died suddenly on 22 May 1973. (see ‘In Memoriam’, The Baha’i World, vol XVI, p. 514.) Melba continued to live alone for the next eight years.An occasion for rejoicing occurred in November 1976 when Indian Baha’is from Ontario to the Maritimes gathered at Tyendinaga Reserve for the first Canadian Native Council. Although the Indian Band Council had been generally unsympathetic towards the Faith over the years, not permitting public meetings to be held and denying the Baha’is access to the village meeting hall, a victory came in February 1977.
Just prior to attending the Baha’i International Conference in Merida, Melba approached the Chief and the Council to ask whether they wished to send a message through her to the Mayan Indians of Mexico and, to her deep joy, the Chief responded by writing a letter. Not only did this message reach the Mayans but it reverberated all through the Caribbean, for Melba was invited, along with other Canadian Indian participants at the conference, to be interviewed on television and she responded by reading the Chief’s letter, thus enabling the greeting to span the continents. The patience with which she had for so long endured rejection and suspicion won, in the end. At Naw-Ruz 134 (21 March 1977) permission was granted by the authorities for the holding on the Tyendiaga Reserve of a public New Year observance which was attended by one hundred and fifty guests.
The remaining years of Melba’s life were highlighted by her participation in many historic Baha’i events, such as ‘the Gathering’; native councils; a teaching trip in 1978 to Denmark, England Ireland, Austria and Switzerland, which she viewed as one of the crowning events of her life; the formation in 1979 of the first Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Tyendinaga, the reward for her long years of steadfastness; and the invitation to be a special guest at the 1981 ‘Vision Quest - Baha’u’llah, National Native Council, near Rawdon, Quebec. To that gathering she sent a touching message in which she wrote, ‘One just pray every day...for we must remember, all we are going to take with us to the Abha Kingdom is our spiritual knowledge of God through Baha’u’llah...we must go forward put on our spiritual armour for Baha’u’llah, as He never leaves us alone. I know never feel alone; I am happy to be living in this Day to see how our Faith has grown over the years and to have the prayers and guidance and I know I have been fully blessed and I am thankful.’
The news of the formation of the first Spiritual Assembly of the Tyendinaga in 1979 brought the Universal House of Justice great happiness, A letter written on behalf of the House of Justice to Evelyn Loft states: ‘The steadfastness of your parents in remaining at their post is indeed exemplary and fully demonstrates the spirit of true pioneering.”
Melba also had a non-speaking role in the music video film ‘Mona with the Children’ honouring the young martyr Muna Mahmudnizhad.
Melba’s outstanding contributions as a Baha’i were given special recognition when the hall of the Yukon Baha’i House in Whitehorse was named after her. Knaaj-Kwe - the Indian name meaning ‘good, kind and gracious lady’ bestowed ypon her when she was littel by her father.
In September 1985, a native council was held but Melba could not attend due to poor health. Two pine trees were planted beside the driveway leading to the Baha’i Centre next to Emily General’s home on the Six Nations Reserve The first pine tree was plated for Emily General, and was dedicated ‘To one who devoted all her life to the cultural development of her people.’ On the other side Evelyn Loft planted a tree dedicated to ’To Melba Whetung Loft, the first native Baha’i of Canada- our spiritual mother,’
Melba and Jim are buried side by side on the Tyendinaga Reserve. The beautiful marker over their grave contains the symbol of the nine-pointed star and the native symbol of the Thunderbird, and read:
‘Alfred Jim Loft
and Melba Whetung Loft
The Guardian’s Obedient Servants’
(Adapted from an article in Baha’i Cabada, Vol. 8 No 2, April 1986)
Larry Mitchell - Minnesota Chippewa - White Earth Nation Baha'i
Larry grew up in the Midewiwin tradition. Larry wanted to cooperate in researching traditional songs and stories and help to clarify misunderstanding contained in the Smithsonian Archive of Mide Songs and also add to their resources in order to help preserve the old Ways. He died before this could be accomplished.