Standing Rock / Photo by No Spiritual Surrender
What are the lessons to be learned from Nathan Phillips? Do they teach us to respond with violent intent when confronted with racial arrogance? Some seem to think so. Among the many opinions that I’ve read, there are those who would prefer to physically strike the face of the enemy. To some extent, such a response is understandable. After all, we live in a time when racism is abroad and permeates the very fabric of our lives. This is nothing new. Racism has been a part of our lives ever since the oppressors first stepped foot on the indigenous lands of the Americas 526 years ago. Our tribal collective consciousness has been imprinted with the traumas of genocide, ecocide, linguicide, enforced assimilation, and the theft of our homelands. Striking out in anger and hate seems like a reasonable response.
However, this isn’t what Nathan Phillips teaches us. He teaches us as an elder teaches us because he is, after all, an elder. One who has experienced the ravages of war and who stood on the front lines at Standing Rock. One who has experienced racism and prejudice. On that day memorable day in Washington, Nathan Phillips was, to me, the embodiment of the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabeg, teachings that have guided our soul-spirits through the countless ages.
Zoogide’iwin (Courage): Zoogide’iwin is to face the foe with integrity. We face life with the courage to use our personal strengths to face difficulties, stand tall through adversity, and make positive choices. We must stand up for our convictions and have courage in our thinking and speaking. All of these actions together will lead to ceaseless bravery.
Gwayakwaadiziwin (Honesty): Gwayakwaadiziwin is to be honest in every action we take. Honesty in facing a situation is to be brave. Always be honest in word and action. Be honest first with yourself, and you will more easily be able to be honest with others.
Debasendizowin (Humility): Debasendizowin is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation. We must always consider ourselves equal to one another. We should never think of ourselves as being better or worse than anyone else. Humility comes in many forms. This includes compassion, calmness, meekness, gentleness, and patience. We must reflect on how we want to present ourselves to those around us. We must be aware of the balance and equality with all of life, including humans, plants, and animals.
Manaaji'idiwin (Respect): To honor all of the Creation is to have Manaaji'idiwin. All of creation should be treated with respect. We must give respect if we wish to be respected. There should be no part of creation that should be excluded from the honor that we are to give. We demonstrate respect by realizing the value of all people and things, and by showing courteous consideration and appreciation. Respect is not just an action, but a heart-grown feeling.
Zaagi'idiwin (Love): To know Zaagi'idiwin is to know peace. To know peace is to know Love. Love must be unconditional. For one to love and accept themselves is to live at peace with the Creator and in harmony with all of creation. Love knows no bounds. We must accept it sincerely and give it freely.
Nibwaakaawin (Wisdom): To cherish knowledge is to know Nibwaakaawin. Wisdom is given by the Creator to be used for the good of the people. We must remember to listen and use the wisdom that has been provided by our elders and our spiritual leaders.
Debwewin (Truth): Debwewin is to know all of these things. Speak the truth. Do not deceive yourself or others. Truth is having the knowledge of our cultural teachings. It gives us the ability to act without regret. We must understand, speak, and feel the truth, while also honoring its power.
All those teachings were in full view on that day before the Lincoln Memorial. They were like a tribal collective vision, one that reminded us of who we are and where we came from. Unlike the Trump MAGA Youth that surrounded him, Phillips didn’t teach us hate and intolerance of another race. In those confrontational moments, the young white men also provided a teaching, a teaching of what a life is like that is lived in absence of the Seven Teachings. Lives lived without courage, honesty, humility, respect, love, wisdom, and truth.
An inconvenient truth is a warrior does not respond like to like. Rather, a warrior responds with zhawenim (compassion) and in doing so understands the nature of his enemy. This is what Phillips, and the Seven Teachings, teach us. We are warriors of prayer, not violence and hate. If we overlook the Seven Teachings, then we become like them and the Creation becomes meaningless.
Before the taunting leer of Trump’s racist America, Nathan Phillips stood strongly and resiliently, not as one but for all of us. His medicine song was our song, one that has been sung since the Earth was new. His drumbeat was our heartbeat, one that has beat from the time Original Man walked upon Mother Earth. Our ancestral heartbeat has never stopped beating and we have never stopped walking. Nathan Philips reminds of this.
© 2019, Robert DesJarlait
© Photo, No Spiritual Surrender
By Robert DesJarlait
Métissage is the racial ideology that forms the basis of the identity of the Métis in regard to the notion of race. In other words, the ideology forms the basis of the belief that the Métis are a race. This notion of race can be found in publications published by various Métis writers, organizations and associations in Canada.
For example, Adrian Hope, a founding member and former president of the Métis Association of Alberta, wrote: “The Métis...are the best of two peoples. The early explorers and fur traders were the strongest, bravest and most adventuresome of the European Male, as the weaklings did not last long in this world. The ones that remained selected the strongest and most beautiful of the Indian woman as their mates, and we are the children of these unions.”(1)
To reinforce his racial thesis, Hope noted that, “until recently, ranchers are of the belief that the raising of purebred livestock was the only route to go, but lately have found out that cross-breeding results in a much better offspring. That is what we Métis are, better.”(2)
The ideological nucleus for contemporary Métis thought -- i.e., Métis as race -- is found in the words of Louis Riel, who sought to establish a separate Métis nation in what is now Manitoba. Riel’s writings have given impetus to the nationalistic fervor that marks Métissage today. Although Métissage is usually associated with Canada, it has developed adherents in the United States.
There is also the notion that the Métis consider themselves as an indigenous people. This notion is based on virtue of the fact that the Métis are a mixed heritage people; that is, a people whose heritages are a mixture of European and Native American heritages. In the United States, this has been given a broader definition -- i.e., any person with a mixture of European, Asian, or black and Native American heritage is Métis.
This essay concerns itself with the question of -- who are the Métis? More specifically, who are the Métis in terms of race, ethnicity, and culture? Are the Métis an indigenous entity? And, most importantly, do the Métis have a rightful claim to sovereignty?
Much of this paper deals with labels. These labels are used by social scientists and anthropologists to define and conceptualize the social realities and diversities of human beings. The definitions that these labels provide are not absolutes. What one terms and defines as, for example, race, culture, or ethnicity may be termed and defined differently by another. Thus, the methodology is arranged in a manner that the writer feels best fits the definitions of race, culture, and ethnicity in relation to the topic.
The foremost question is - are the Métis a race? Contemporary terminology would identify the Métis as biracial. Yet this label poses several problems. In particular, biracial assumes that race is a biological fact. More specifically, biracial implies that an individual is the result of two races. However, there is no biological basis to race -- i.e., there is no scientific evidence that race exists.
Contemporary notions of race were first established by Swedish botanist and taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus in 1758. According to the Linnaean system, human beings are all members of the kingdom Animalia, the phylum Chordata, the class Mammalia, the order Primates, the family Homididae, the genus Homo, and the species Homo sapiens.(3)
Linnaeus then divided the species Homo sapiens into four basic varieties - Americanus (American), Europaeus (European), Asiaticus (Asian), and Afer (African).(4) He applied the four humors that reflected the medieval theory that a person’s temperament arises from a balance of four fluids. For the American, he wrote: rufus, cholericus, rectus (red, choleric, upright); the European, albus, sanquineus, torosus (white, sanguine, muscular); the Asian, luridus, melancholicus, rigidus (pale yellow, melancholy, stiff); and the African, niger, phlegmaticus, laxus (black, phlegmatic, relaxed).(5)
Linnaeus further divided the four varieties into behaviors -- American was regitur consuetudine (ruled by habit); European was regitur ritibus (ruled by custom); Asian was regitur opinionibus (ruled by belief); and, African was regitur arbitrio (ruled by caprice).(6)
Essentially, what Linnaeus had done was to create the four races of man, each with attributes that were specific to the race and each with its own color -- red for the American, white for the European, yellow for the Asian, and black for the African.
In 1775, his student, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, refined the Linnaean system by adding a fifth “race,” and, most importantly, “singled out a particular group as closest to the created ideal and then characterized all other groups by relative degrees of departure from this archetypal standard”(7) Blumenbach chose to name this ideal group, Caucasian.
Thus, the notion of race was not based on biological fact. Eighty years later, Darwinism strengthened the notion of “race.” It was not Darwin himself who developed a racial ideology of the “survival of the fittest,”; rather, it was his adherents, i.e., the social Dawinists, who took the Darwin’s ideas of natural selection and, combined with Blumenbach’s ideal archetype and Judeo-Christian ethics, developed a racial scheme that solidified and institutionalized the idealism of race.
Thus, race as we know it, is a social construct derived mainly from perceptions conditioned by the events of recorded history, and it has no basic biological validity.(8) It is nothing more than a social, cultural, and political invention.(9) There are no pure “races,” and no other groups are physically, intellectually, or morally superior to others.(10)
However, as the case of the Métis attests, race nevertheless forms the basis of identity for both the individual and the group. If race is not a biological reality, then why is race a factor in social reality?
Race as a social and political construct allows for the dominance of one group over another. In the dominant group, racial distinctions become a tool of domination. “Putting simple, neat racial labels on dominated peoples -- and creating negative myths about the moral qualities of those peoples -- makes it easier for the dominators to ignore the individual humanity of their victims. It eases the guilt of oppression.”(11)
We need to look no further than North America to witness the social construct of race as a tool of oppression. The colonization of the American Indian speaks volumes of race, used as a social and political construct, for the dominance of one group over another. Europeans and Euro-Americans alike sought domination over an indigenous population that was labeled as “pagan,” “savages,” “uncivilized,” “unclean,” and “immoral.” Even those who sought to have a biological connection to the American Indian expressed the sentiments of the colonialist.
In the words of Louis Riel, the “father” of Métissage: “The Metis, because of their superiority over the Indian tribes, dominated them. With God’s help, they were always victorious over the tribes who attacked them. The Metis are the men who, with arms, tamed the Indian nations and then pacified them, maintaining good relations with them in favour of peace. It is they [the Metis] who, at the price of their blood, brought tranquillity to the North-West.”(12)
Riel’s statements contains all the terminology of the dominator. The Métis dominated them; the Métis tamed them; the Métis pacified them.
A racial ideology was important factor in establishing Métis identity. Riel firmly stated this ideology of Métis as race when he wrote: “The French word Metis is derived from the Latin participle of mixtus which means ‘mixed.’ The word expresses the idea of this mixture in as satisfactory a way as possible and becomes, by that fact, a suitable name for our race.” (italics mine.)(13)
Certainly Riel was correct in adopting Métis as a group label. These people were, after all, a people of mixed heritage that shared commonalties. In particular, they were the descendants of French fathers and Ojibwe or Cree mothers. Métis was one of several labels that were used for these people of mixed heritage; other labels included half-breed and Bois Brules. But the union of two heritages did not equate equality of those heritages. Rather, one dominated the other. This notion of superiority of one over the other was made clear by Riel: “I remembered that half-breed meant white and Indian and...I remembered that the greatest part of my heart and blood was white”(14)
In her brilliant essay, End of the Failed Metaphor, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn writes:
I read quite by accident “The New World Man,” an essay by the gifted, Spanish-speaking novelist Rudolfo Anaya...Anaya says that the people of the Southwest are the “fruit of the Spanish Father and the Indian Mother.” He alternately labels them Hispanic and Chicano. He glorifies Malinche, who was the first Indian woman of Mexico to bear children fathered by a Spaniard. Without talking much about the fact that she was a captive of men and had little free choice in the matter of who was to father her children, Anaya says “in our mothers is embodied the archetype of the indigenous Indian Mother of the Americas”
He describes his duality in this way: “The Spanish character is the aggressive, conquest-oriented part of our identity; the Native American nature is the more harmonious, earth-oriented side.” He calls for the assimilation of those two natures. The fragility of this resolution lies in Anaya’s willful dismissal of indigenous myth. Yet he must know that there are no versions of origin, no discussions of wisdom, goodness, kindness, hospitality, nor any of the other virtues of indigenous, tribal society without the seed, and spirit, and power of the indigenous fathers.
To accept the indigenous woman’s role as the willing and cooperating recipient of the colonist’s seed and as the lone repositor of culture is to legitimize the destruction of ancient religions, the murder of entire peoples, the rape of the land, not to mention the out-and-out theft of vast native homelands. To do so dismisses the centuries of our modern American Indian histories when our fathers fought and died and made treaties in order to save us from total annihilation.(15)
The New World Man that Anaya spoke of -- who, in the language of the colonizer was called Mestizo -- was not found only in the Southwest. He was also found in the woodlands of Canada. Like his Spanish brother to the south, he spread his seed amongst the indigenous women of the north. Even the label by which these two mixed heritage New World Men applied to their myth of race was similar - Mestizo and Métis.
However, unlike his Mestizo brothers, the Métis did not have a Malinche. There was no one indigenous woman who served as the archetype. Indeed, the archetype was hidden beneath a cloak of humor. Among the voyageurs was a centuries old joke. “How long after the first Frenchman stepped ashore was the first half-breed born?” The answer -- “Nine months.”
In reality, intermarriages in the colonies and eastern settlements were few and far between. The 1686 census of New France/Acadia lists two intermarriages out of a population of 1,677.(16) The Dictionnarie Genealogique des Familles Canadiennes, a 1700 census of the Province of Quebec, lists a population of over 26,000; only 94 intermarriages are listed.(17)
It was in the hinderlands, far away from community and family, that the men of the colonies found the nameless Indian Mother. This nameless archetype was not found in one Indian Mother; it was, rather, found in the women of one particular tribe. “The Crees were especially favored because the white men found their women more attractive, more dependable morally...and more intelligent than those of other tribes”(18)
Through marriage, the French progenitor male established economic ties with tribes in the interior. These marriages were according to “the custom of the country.” In 1800, voyageur Daniel Harmon wrote in his journal: “This evening, Mons. Mayotte took a woman of this country for a wife, or rather a concubine. All the ceremonies attending such an event, are the following. When a person is desirous of taking one of the daughters of the Natives, as a companion, he makes a present to the parents of the damsel, of such articles as he supposes will be most acceptable...should the parents accept the articles offered, the girl remains at the fort of her suitor, and is clothed in the Canadian fashion.”(19)
Half-breed girls were especially desirable. Through the seed of the progenitor male, the proportion of Indian blood in the offspring gradually declined and the term “half-breed” became inaccurate. It was at this point, in the 1850s, that the term Métis was applied to describe the New World Man of the North, a term that reflected the diminishing indigenous bond with the Indian Mother.
Culture and Ethnicity
Mixed-heritage individuals are those whose ancestry is derived from more than one social group. Heritage, as used here, implies culture and/or ethnicity that is passed on to a succeeding generation.
The term culture itself has a myriad of meanings and definitions. As a anthropological concept in regard to indigenous culture, culture can be defined as: The...“complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by [humans] as a member of [a] society”(20) Further, it is the biosphere that the indigenous society arises that influences and is reflected in the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, morals, customs of the indigenous society.
Indigenous is defined as: communities, peoples, and nations...which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them.
Together, indigenous and culture mean the original cultures of a specific land area before colonization or conquest.
Ethnicity, on the other hand, can be regarded as a group identity that is formed by cultures that have, through the historical process, coalesced into a homogenous grouping of peoples located within a specific geographical area. These groups “belong to a relatively distinctive sociological type. This is a group the members which have, both with respect to their own sentiments and those of non-members, a distinctive identity which is rooted in some kind of a distinctive sense of its history. An ethnic group is...always a group consisting of members of all ages and both sexes and ethnicity is always shared by forebears at some level. It is thus a transgenerational type of group.”(21)
Ethnicity is not in itself an absolute. Ethnicity can remerge into a newer synthesis of ethnic pluralism and identity. For example, both the United States and Canada exemplify a reemergence of immigrant ethnic groups into contemporary ethnic entities.
Ethnicity can dissolve and reemerge into new groups and identities. An example is Ojibwé-Anishinaabé. Many non-Ojibwe people, Indian and white alike, assume that Ojibwé and Anishinaabé mean one and the same. To some extent, this is true. However, Ojibwé and Anishinaabé are distinct terms. Ojibwé people are Anishinaabé people -- but then so are fifty-one other indigenous culture groups. A partial listing of these groups includes the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Gros Ventre, Cree, Fox and Sauk, Potawatomi, Menominee, Shawnee, Kickapoo, Ottawa, Abnaki, Algonkin, Micmac, Pequot, Mahican, Powhatan, and Wampanoag.
These indigenous groups at one time formed one group called the Anishinaabé, meaning human being. The Anishinaabé inhabited the area that now forms present-day New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Maine. In approximately 900 AD, many Anishinaabé subgroups began to migrate eastward. Although anthropologists would label these groups as separate indigenous cultures, they were essentially subgroups who, in their new biospheres, developed into autonomous tribal cultures.
Whereas they developed group identities that reflected their environments, their reemerging cultural modes of existence reflected customs, traditions, ceremonies, and language associated with an Anishinaabé group identity. In essence, these reemerging cultures represented an Anishinaabé ethnicity. They were the progeny of a nation -- i.e., a community based on common descent, territory, history, language, religion, and a way of life.(*) In this context, Ojibwé -- an Anishinaabé word meaning Keepers of the Scrolls -- would be considered the cultural label, and Anishinaabé the ethnic label.
It is largely the Anishinaabé peoples that the Métis claimed descent from. And, it was through the intermarriages of European nationalities with indigenous cultures that the mixed offspring of these unions have claimed themselves an indigenous group of people, i.e., indigenous in the same sense as Indian peoples. Does the historical process support and validate this claim to an indigenous identity?
Colonialism is the formal establishment and maintenance of domination by a foreign sovereign power over an indigenous population, to exploit them economically, through the establishment colonies and the suppression of human rights.
The age of modern colonialism in the Western Hemisphere began in 1492. By the fictive doctrines of discovery, conquest, and settlement, the emerging nation-states of Portugal, Spain, France, and England imposed European institutions and culture on indigenous peoples and lands. In 1534, under the fictive doctrines of discovery, Jacques Cartier lay claim to the St. Lawrence River, and its shores, for the French Crown.
In 1604 and 1608, Samuel de Champlain established the first French colonies in New France - Acadia and Quebec. In 1627, the French government initiated its colonial policy through the Company of New France. Mercantilism was the main policy of colonial control.
“Mercantilism was characterized by state control over the economy to protect the interests of the country that implemented the policy. It operated on the basic premise that there was a finite amount of wealth in the world and that each nations had to compete for its share...The colonies, acting as extensions of a given country, helped them achieve self-sufficiency by providing that could not only be sold back to the colonies as finished goods and also to other countries. At its heart, mercantilism equated money and power, making the prime objective of any country the acquisition of as much wealth as possible.”(22)
Fur was the main resource that formed the basis of the mercantilism system in New France. The initial European colonialism model that was established in New France was the boreal riverine empire. Colonies were established along river systems; the larger and longer the river, the more valuable the empire. In the boreal riverine model, a main colonial port -- for the export of furs -- was established, e.g., Quebec. Outlying trading posts were connected to the main port through interconnected river systems.(23)
In 1663, New France became a royal province. The boreal riverine empire model evolved into the European colonialism model called the settler empire. Under this model colonial ports became colonial cities whose export-oriented economies depended economically, administratively, and militarily on their respective colonial powers.(24)
In New France, “grants of land, called seigneuries, with frontages on the St. Lawrence, were apportioned to proprietors, who then allotted holdings to small farmers, or habitants. [As] more land came under cultivation...the white population grew.”(25)
Both the bovine riverine empire and the settler empire modes of colonialism co-existed. As the eastern colonies transformed into the settler empires, the bovine riverine empires reestablished themselves on the peripherals of colonial empire.
At the heart of the bovine riverine empire were the fur traders. “The term voyageur, a French word meaning “traveler,” was applied originally...to all explorers, fur-traders, and travelers.”(26) More specifically, the voyageurs were the men who manned the canoes. “Voyageurs formed a class as distinct in dress, customs, and traditions as sailors or lumberjacks.”(27) They came from the settlements in New France and served as subtraders in trading expeditions. Typically, these expeditions ranged from three months to three years.
The voyageurs adapted the birch bark canoe as their mode of transportation on the riverways. Cultural borrowings from American Indian tribes included pemmican -- a dried foodstuff composed of venison and berries. Pemmican later became exploited as a commodity in the lucrative fur-trade economy.
The voyageur was one of the founding factors in the development of Canada. To the voyageur is given credit for the naming of the lake and rivers in the Northwest. The woodlands through which their canoes roamed were seen as largely devoid of human habitation. “Obviously, civilized man found it incredible that such a bounteous empire as the northern mid-continent basin should have been uninhabited save by “savages...’”(28)
In the Euro-centric paradigm of “discovery,” indigenous lands were considered Terra Nullius. In this paradigm, rivers, lakes, land formations did not have names. There were no people, save for a few “savages.” Hence, it was land for the taking. This paradigm served as an effective tool of the colonialzing invader. Despite the historical fact that the lakes, rivers, streams, mountains, and land formations had names in indigenous tongues, and despite human presence for thousands of years by indigenous peoples, the renaming of the land in the colonizer’s tongue, and the reduction of indigenous inhabitants to a few “savages,” made is easier for domination and oppression to occur. By renaming the land, the land, in essence, became the land of the colonizer.
This subversion of indigenous people went much deeper. It also included the sexual exploitation and sexual oppression of the life-givers of the original peoples - the women. The idea that the voyageurs sexually exploited indigenous women is never considered in the literature of the voyageurs. Rather, the literature focuses on adventuresome and daring nature of the voyageurs.
The typical voyageur was married with children and left his family behind in Montréal. Indeed, between 1708 to 1717, nearly one quarter of the entire male population of Montréal annually made the trip to the fur regions of the Northwest. The seigneuries of other regions show various figures of men engaged in the expeditions, figures that range from 55% to 20 %.(29) Sex was a strong lure for men in the vast woodlands. One writer states: “Voyageurs, traders...and explorers all felt the call of nature in their loins and so, took wives...one can almost be positive a wife was to be had and children raised if a man remained in the [fur] service for several years.”(30) As one voyageur boasted...”I have been forty-two years in this country. I have had twelve wives...There is no life so happy as a Voyageur’s; none so independent, no place where a man enjoys so much variety and freedom as in the Indian country.”(31)
However, the sexual exploitation of indigenous women could only be hidden under the veneer of wilderness romanticism for so long. Jackie Lynne writes:
Several powerful aspects of colonialization imposed upon First Nations women which changed our lives were capitalism (mercantilism), the church, the state, and the military. All these forces systematically created women’s subservience to men. For example, European colonizers intended to accumulate capital through the production and circulation of commodities. Fur was the main attraction to Canada, and First Nations women were especially essential to the fur traders. The Europeans used the presence and influence of First Nations women to penetrate new territories and secure new markets. Thus, First Nations women were integral to the creation of commodity production. However, their position in that new society was one of slave. For example, in 1714, a Hudson’s Bay Company officer, as part of an expansionist strategy, “obtained” a Chipewyan woman whom he referred to as “slave woman.” He kept her with him for two years so that she might learn their system of commodity exchange and the value of British goods and private property. She was then sent into the interior to recruit Chipewyan people to come to York Factory and begin trade. Her confinement to the fort was a form of hostage-taking where she was forced to accept the Western values of capital and private property.
As First Nations society became transformed through a policy of capitalism, First Nations women were also sexually commodified. Women were purchased through a system of exchange. For example, women were bought by alcohol, and other European goods.
In the first century of the Hudson’s Bay Company, European women were not allowed to travel or to live in Canada known as Rupert’s Land at that time. Neither were mixed family formations allowed in or around the fur trade posts. This further encouraged relations of dominion as European males used First Nations women for sex.
....Some took First Nations women as their “country wives,” lived with them and had children. While on the surface, this seems like a respectable practice, all too often these women and their children were abandoned by the white men at a later date. The phenomenon of the “country wife” was a form of sexual exploitation which was used by the officer class, and was a more subtle form of sexual exploitation. In these relationships, First Nations women were concubines -- secondary wives without legal sanctions. These relationships, particularly when First Nations women became dependent on white men, created serious differences between First Nations women, and their culture. “Country wives” and their children were not deemed legitimate property of men by English common law. Therefore, these families were abandoned.(32)
Anaya’s mythical paradigm of the Indian Mother had been, in the North, reduced to a captive of men who had not only violated her, but turned her into a object of scorn among her own people. And it was the children of these unions that Louis Riel reached out to and, through whom, he ignited the flame of ethnicity.
Development of an Ethnicity
As a result of the French and Indian War of 1754-63, France lost its colonizing control in Canada. England annexed New France and began to develop its dominion of Canada; in 1867, the English passed the British North American Act and the Confederation of Canada was established. The Dominion of Canada united Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.
Rupert’s Land, a vast territory located in northern and western Canada, remained in control of Hudson’s Bay Company. The territory had been chartered, in 1670, to Hudson’s Bay Company by King Charles II of England. In 1811-12, a colony was founded in the Red and Assiniboine river valleys. The official name of the colony was Assiniboia.
According to Métis historians, the Métis, as an ethnicity, began with the Seven Oaks Battle on June 19, 1816. The Seven Oaks Battle resulted from a conflict between Métis employees of the North West Company and a militia of Hudson’s Bay Company employees. Of the 25 militia soldiers, twenty were killed. The Métis victory “freed trade from the restraints which governments and private monopoly sought to impose on it”(33) In essence, the victory gave the Métis free rein to exploit the resources in the Red River valley region and to sell those commodities in the free trade market. Joseph Kinsey Howard writes: “...their conception, slowly developed after Seven Oaks, of their race as unique and dynamic. This was the basic determinant of their destiny...”(34)
By the 1830s, the Métis formed a distinct group identity based on Euro-American and Indian cultural characteristics. Indian cultural characteristics and borrowings included beaded floral art forms influenced by Ojibwe and Cree art. The renown Métis woven yarn sash was an adaptation of Ojibwe sashes that, before Euro-American contact, were woven from plant fibers. Their language, called Michif, was formed by a pidgin vocabulary of French, Ojibwe and Cree words. Known for their expertise in the fur trade, the Métis additionally established a trade based on pemmican, a dried foodstuff used for thousands of years by North American tribes. With the decline of the fur market, the Métis began exploiting the buffalo herds. In their annual hunts, the Métis slaughtered buffalo by the hundreds and established a thriving trade in buffalo hides.
In 1836, Hudson’s Bay Company bought back the colony and created the District of Assiniboia. After the creation of the Dominion of Canada, England began to initiate policies that would annex the northwest, including the District of Assiniboia.
The District of Assiniboia was composed of Métis, French, English, and Scots. The Red River colony itself was composed largely of Métis. The Métis formed over one half of the population in Assiniboia. The Métis opened trade routes to St. Paul, Minnesota. By 1856, trains of two to three hundred ox carts freighted goods to and from St. Paul and the Red River settlements. These ox trains carried furs, pemmican, dried buffalo meat, moccasins and skin garments. On their return, they brought foods, tobacco, dry goods, ammunition and farm implements.
In 1868, the English passed the Rupert’s Land Act. The act called for the surrender of lands, rights, privileges, liberties, franchises, powers and authorities within Rupert’s Land and for the admission of Rupert’s Land into the Dominion of Canada.
Led by Louis Riel, the Red River colony responded by setting up a provisional government that would represent the District of Assiniboia. Under the Declaration of the People of Rupert’s Land and the North West of 1869, the colony sought to establish a governmental entity that would be recognized when united with Canada.
In addition, Riel and his council issued a Bill of Rights. Article 11 reads: Treaties to be concluded and ratified between the Government and several Indian tribes of Indians of this Territory, calculated to insure peace in the future.(35)
According to one Métis historian, these acts were “promulgated in the name of the ‘New Nation’. The Bill of Rights gave the Métis ‘moral justification,’ and the declaration provided a legal basis for the movement. These documents claimed sovereignty for the Métis people, who then elected Riel as the president of the new nation.”(36)
Although the acts are often cited as clear evidence of the establishment of a Métis “Nation,” nowhere in the documents does the name Métis appear. If it had been the intention of Riel to establish a separate, sovereign Métis nation, as Métis historians contend, then why wasn’t the bill of rights titled the Métis Bill of Rights?; or why wasn’t the Declaration of People Act titled the Declaration of the Métis of Rupert’s Land and the North West?
The answer is that Assiniboia was not exclusively populated by Métis people. Certainly, the provisional government council would be tabled by a strong representation of Métis people, and the president would be Métis. Yet, Riel knew that all privileges, customs, and usage within the territory had to be respected. This included not only the Métis but the other Euro-Canadians who represented just under half of the population of Assiniboia. To guarantee their support, the Bill of Rights provided for a free homestead pre-emption law.
Indigenous peoples were not accorded equal rights under the Bill of Rights. As stated, treaties would continue to be negotiated in the same manner used by the colonializing powers. However, treaties were nothing more than fictive legal documents that appropriated tribal lands with the “surplus” lands opening for settlement by settlers. Presumably, Riel’s strategy would mirror the methods of colonialism as a means of attaining title to indigenous lands.
In the end, Riel failed to establish a separate province for the peoples of Assiniboia. Following the annexation of the Rupert’s Land by Canada in 1870, and establishing Manitoba, in place of Assiniboia, as a province, the political economy of the Metis was destroyed. The Canadian government then extinguished Métis claims to title through individual land and grants scrip.
In 1871, Riel went into exile in the United States for his execution of Thomas Scott during the Rebellion. Nine years later, Riel returned to Canada at the request of Métis in Saskatchewan. His return led to the failed 1885 Rebellion.
It was during this second rebellion that Riel solidified the ideology of the Métis as race. However, in the interim period, Riel had spent time in two mental institutions and he had undergone a spiritual experience that left him with Messianic delusions. Riel described this experience:
“...The same spirit who showed himself to Moses in the midst of fire and cloud appeared to me in the same manner. I was stupefied; I was confused. He said to me, ‘Rise up, Louis David Riel. You have a mission to fulfill.’ Stretching out my arms and bending my head, I received this heavenly messenger.”(37)
Indeed, at the Métis community of Batoche, the priests, who had refused to cede to Riel’s demands, were held captive and Riel, in their place, performed mass. Riel used the pulpit to harangue his followers. During one such service, Riel said:
“Look! Look at those devils murdering your whole nation, see your wives and daughters ravished before your streaming eyes, your children tortured, dishonored, disemboweled by the savage soldiers paid to destroy the half-breed nation! To arms! Or will you crouch and submit? God tells you to follow me; the Holy Ghost is with me in my person. Courage; we will conquer!”(38)
Unlike the Red River Rebellion that was largely a resistance without violence, the Second Rebellion involved armed conflict with Canadian troops and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The rebellion failed and Riel and other leaders were charged with treason. Riel was captured, tried for high treason and, on November 16, 1885, he was hanged in Regina. His execution was widely opposed in Quebec and had lasting political ramifications that continue to this day.
Race as a social and political construct is not necessarily negative. Although race as a construct serves as an effective tool to dominate groups of people, race, as such, can, and does, create a powerful group identity for those whom the construct oppresses. “From the point of view of subordinate peoples, race can be a positive tool, a source of belonging, mutual help, and self-esteem. Racial categories identify a set of people with whom to share a sense of identity and common experience...It is to share a sense of peoplehood that helps locate individuals psychologically, and also provides the basis for common political action”(39)
However, race as a social construct is based on biological notions of race. Within the socio-political construct, the “subordinate” individual identifies with being a member of a distinct race in the biological sense. This is clear in the ideology of Riel -- that two races, i.e., white and Indian, formed to create a new race, i.e., the Métis.
Contemporary Métis thinkers continue to advance the idea of Métis as race and as the founders of North America. The most prominent are Martin Dunn, Claude Aubin, Duke Redbird, and Jean Morisset. The following excerpts provide insight into the modern ideas of Métissage.
It is a historical fact that Métis/mixed bloods and were...identified as being a distinct indigenous race.
As European Crowns battled for control of the “new world” a new race was born in the trenches, fusing the Native heritage of the Indian with the dreams of the European immigrants in a new land.(40)
(With Claude Aubin): In spiritual terms, it can be said that the Métis are at the centre of a medicine wheel of the four principal races of man. This medicine wheel incorporates the four colours of the red, black, yellow, and white races. The Métis are the spiritual link between the spirituality of all the races and that of the Aboriginal people....it would be more accurate to describe Métis as “living treaties” between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal races...like other races of people, we too have our destiny and our prophecies.(41)
The fact is that all of the races and ethnic groups in Canada are being integrated into the psychological and geo-physical reality that is North America and that THE METIS ARE THE ONLY ETHNIC GROUP INDIGENOUS TO THE CONTINENT. All other races, including Indian and Inuit, came from elsewhere at some other time.
Contrary to the implications and assumptions of most writing on the Metis, the Metis see themselves through their oral traditions and myths as:
(1) A race apart from both white and Indians and the only race indigenous
(2) Having established a viable -- if conceptually invisible to white
perception -- civilization at least a century before confederation;
(3) A founding nation equal to the French and the English in the development
and growth of Confederation.(42)
But what exactly is it all about, this multiculturalism, before the term was ever invented, that came to constitute, by the mere power of things, all inter-native, trans-tribal or “cross-frenche” metissage?...this geographic hybridization touched streams, mountains and rivers and affected the entire country at every ford, every bivouac and every sacred spot...If you need at least a few drops of savage blood in order to be Metis, then what could the flood of place names such as the following ones reveal:
riviere au lait: milky river
riviere boucanee: smoked river
riviere enragee: enraged river
riviere tannee: tanned river
riviere qu’appelle: calling river
riviere oualla-mette: walla-walla river
reviere sauvageuse: making-you-wild-river
without forgetting, of course, the lac beau-lake, Montana, Dakota, Minnesota, Ouisconsin, Assiniboine, etc. Metis. Metchif. Metchiff. La langue metive. Geographie Metisse! Metis geography!
But who are the Mohawks?
Who are the Iroquois?
They are the Montours, Delisles, Pel[le]tiers of Franco-savage origin having passed into English in this American of the “melting pot” like...tens of thousands of Franco-Francos.(43)
Dunn clearly considers the Métis a race -- in the biological sense. With Aubin, Dunn reinforces the Linnaean system of the four races of man. In the Dunn-Aubin paradigm, the Métis are placed at the center of the four races -- not only as a physical entity but a spiritual entity as well.
Redbird confuses race and ethnicity; he vacillates between the two terms. Beyond his confusion, there are the deeper implications of his perceptions -- that the Métis are a founding nation and are the only indigenous peoples of North America.
Morisset establishes Métis identity within a geographical/geophysical sphere. To Morisset, the naming of the continent has brought it into existence. Furthermore, the seed of the progenitor French colonizers created the tribes that exist today.
Since race is not a biological fact and is, instead, a socio-political construct, does Métissage lend itself to the notions of race within that construct? The literature of Métis thinkers certainly expresses that notion. Indeed, these writers have gone over and beyond the socio-political construct of race and consider race as a biological fact. Redbird comes the closest to seeing beyond the socio-political construct, i.e., Métissage as representing an ethnic entity. But he fails to go the entire distance and falls back on the idealism of Métissage as race.
Race and ethnicity. Although interrelated, they are two different terms. Race is a pseudoscientific notion based on the physiognomic differences in human groups. “An “ethnic group” is a reference group invoked by people who share a common historical style, based on overt features and values, and who, through the process of interaction with others, identify themselves as sharing that style. “Ethnic identity” is the sum total of feelings on the part of group members about those values, symbols, and common histories that identify them as a distinct group. “Ethnicity” is simply ethnic-based action.”(44)
What is clear is that the idea of a Métis ethnicity began to coalesce under the guidance of Louis Riel. Initially, Riel’s influence was largely limited to the Red River Settlement. Fifteen years later, when the Métis settlements in Saskatchewan sought the aid of Riel, the Métis had not, at that point, developed into a strong ethnic entity. It was only after Riel answered the call and went to Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Métis were galvanized, as an ethnic entity, into armed resistance. Elsewhere in Canada, a majority of Métis had little concern for the events unfolding in Saskatchewan. Had there been a stronger ethnic element among the overall Métis populace, then there would have been at least voiced opposition to the Canadian government’s efforts to crush the resistance.
However, “the large Michigan group [that accounted for nearly half of the entire Metis population], descendants of the first of their race, had lost their Métis identity though they had retained some of their French tradition; they had never heard of Riel’s ‘New Nation.’ Nor had 1,450 in Wisconsin, several thousand in Missouri and Illinois, and two dozen who had unaccountably strayed into Iowa.”(45)
The genesis of a mixed heritage ethnicity began two years before the resistance at Red River. “The first Indian Act was enacted in 1868 (S.C. 1868, c.42) Section 15 of that Act embodied the following statement concerning those whom the Act applied:”(46)
15: For the purpose of determining what persons are entitled to hold, use or enjoy the lands and other immovable property belonging to or appropriated to the use of the various tribes, bands, or bodies of Indians in Canada, the following persons and classes of persons, and none other shall be considered as Indians belonging to the tribe, band or body of Indians interested in any such land or immovable property.
Firstly: All persons of Indian blood, reputed to belong to the particular tribe, band or body of Indians interested in such lands or immovable property, and their descendants;
Secondly: All persons residing among such Indians, whose parents were or are, or either was or is, descended on either side from Indians or an Indian reputed to belong to a particular tribe, band or body of Indians interested in such land or immovable property, and the descendants of all such persons; and
Thirdly; All women lawfully married to any such persons included in the several classes herein designated; the children of such marriages, and their descendants.
The last statement strongly affected Indian identity. Essentially, the statement stressed the sexist notion that if Indian women were married to Indian men who belonged to recognized tribes, bands, or bodies of Indians, the children were recognized as Indians. However, if an Indian woman was married to a non-Indian, her children would not be recognized as Indians. This was despite the fact that the Indian woman was, for example, a full blood member of a recognized tribe.
This led to a special status for Indian women who had married outside their tribes. They and their children became non-status Indians. In the Kafkaesque universe of Canadian Indian affairs, these women and their children were Indian yet they had no status as Indians. With the policy of “involuntary enfranchisement,” many of the Indian children of succeeding generations eventually lost knowledge of the tribes they were descended from.
Essentially, two groups of mixed heritage peoples evolved. One was the non-status Indians; the other were those people descended from historical Métis communities.
Alberta initiated the impetus for modern Métis identity. “From 1885 to the 1930s the Métis lived, essentially, as refugees. They had...no land base...eight colonies of Métis...gained legal status and grants from Alberta in the 1930s.”(47) In 1932, the first official Métis association was established -- the Halfbreed Association of Alberta & NWT. This organization served as a model for Métis identity throughout Canada.(48) In 1938, the organization was renamed the Métis Association of Alberta. The Saskatchewan Métis followed by establishing their own association in the late 1930s.
For the most part, these organizations lacked political power and, most importantly, a strong base of constituents. If a Métis ethnicity existed, it failed to respond as a political entity in terms of numbers. The real growth of political awareness developed in the early 1970s. In 1969, non-status Indians established the B.C. (British Columbia) Association of Non-Status Indians. This led to Métis and non-status Indian political coalitions in several provinces -- the Ontario Métis and Non-Status Indian Association (1971), the Quebec Métis and Non-Status Indian Association (1972), the NWT (Northwest Territories) Métis and Non-Status Indian Association.
These groups, called the Native Council of Canada, were founded as the Congress of Aboriginal People (CAP) in 1971. CAP was formed to serve the interests of both non-Status Indians and the Métis.
In 1982, Canada passed the Constitution Act, 1982. This reads:
s. 35(1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.
(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.
In 1983, the Métis National Council (MNC) was established in response to the Constitution Act, 1982. This was a coalition of several Métis associations -- the Métis Nation of Ontario, the Manitoba Métis Federation, the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, the Métis Nation of Alberta, and the Métis Provincial Council of British Columbia.
Both MNC and CAP have emerged as powerful nationalistic organizations. They claim representation of, according to 1996 Canadian Census figures, 302,970 people. Of this total figure, 210,190 are Métis and 92,780 are non-status Indians. Alberta has the highest Métis population, 50,745, followed by Manitoba (46,195), Saskatchewan (36,535), British Columbia (26,750), Ontario (22,790), Quebec (16,075), Newfoundland (4,685), Northwest Territories (3,895), New Brunswick (975), Nova Scotia (860), Yukon Territory (565), and Prince Edward Island (120).(49)
Although both the MNC and CAP work toward the common goals of establishing Métis and non-status Indian rights, they also reflect the factionalism and splintering that exists among provincial Métis groups -- for example, each claims to be the sole representative voice of Métis people. CAP, for example, represents provincial Métis organizations that are not associated with MNC. These include the Métis Association of the Northwest Territories, Métis Association of Alberta, Métis Association of British Columbia, and the Labrador Métis Nation.
One of the main differences between the two groups is defining “Métis.” CAP, for example, supports the notion that aboriginal is an all-inclusive definition in which “Métis are included within the meaning of the term ‘Indians and lands reserved for the Indians.’”(50) In addition, “the inclusion of Métis is not a new inclusion but rather an elaboration of the people the current term ‘Indian’ was intended to include [in Section 91 (24) of the Indian Act of 1985 in defining Indian].”(51) This is despite the fact that in R. v Blais , the court rejected the claim that Métis are Indians as defined under the Indian Act.
In response to the court’s decision, CAP filed a lawsuit in 1999 for recognition as defined under Section 91 (24); the lawsuit claims that the Métis are entitled to the same rights and benefits as Indians registered under the Indian Act of 1985.
As part of the lawsuit, CAP claims that as a distinct community, “those Métis who inhabited the territory administered by the Hudson’s Bay Company between 1670 and 1870 collectively constituted the ‘Métis Nation.’”
The claim of the Métis constituting a “nation” in the years cited, ca. 1670-1870, is subject to analysis. The Cambridge Dictionary of American English defines: “nation noun a country, esp. when thought of as a large group of people living in one area with their own government, language, and traditions.” In addition, “A nation is also an American Indian group, esp. one that is a member of an American Indian federation.” Federation is defined as “a group of organizations, states, etc., that have united to form a larger organization or government.”
Although the definitions of nation in the European concept and North American Indian concept differ, one of the equalizing factors between the definitions is that a nation is comprised a body of people with their own form of government.
The historical records strongly indicate that the Métis did not exist as a nation under the definitions given. This is especially true in the years 1670 to 1870. Indeed, the term Métis did not come into common usage until the 1830s-40s. There are those advocates of a Métis nation who cite Riel’s establishment of a provincial government as marking the point in time when the Métis nation was created. However, Riel’s Declaration of the People of Rupert’s Land and the Bill of Rights made no mention of a Métis nation. Indeed, the word Métis or half-breed did not appear in the documents. That Riel sought to establish a nation is clear; however, the nation that Riel sought to establish was composed of other Euro-Canadians in addition to the Métis.
The Métis National Council (MNC) has veered away from an all-inclusive definition that includes both Métis and non-status Indians. Under MNC guidelines, Métis is defined as:
A. Provincial Members as Accepting Group
1.1 “Metis” means a person who self-identifies as Metis, is accepted by the Metis Nation through the Acceptance Process and:
(a) is a descendant of a Metis person who resided in or used and occupied the Historic Metis Nation Homeland on or before December 8th 1869; or
(b) is of Canadian Aboriginal ancestry, can demonstrate sufficient connection to the Metis Nation and is resident in the Metis Homeland at the date of enrollment; or
(c) was adopted as a child, under the laws of any jurisdiction or under any Metis custom, by a Metis within the meaning of (a) or (b) or a descendant of any such adoptee.
B. Core Group Only
1.1 “Metis” means a person who self-identifies as Metis, is of Historic Metis Nation ancestry, and is accepted by the Metis Nation through the Acceptance Process.
C. Core Group Accepting Others
1.1 “Metis” means a person who self-identifies as Metis, is accepted by the Metis Nation through the Metis Nation Acceptance Process and;
(a) is of Historic Metis Nation ancestry; or
(b) is of Canadian Aboriginal ancestry other than the ancestry in 1.1 (a)(52)
MNC guidelines further the definition of “Métis nation”:
1.3 “Historic Metis Nation” means the Aboriginal people then known as the Metis or half-breeds who resided in the Historic Metis Nation Homeland on or before December 8th 1869.
1.4 “Historic Metis Nation Homeland” means the area of land in west central North America used and occupied as the traditional territory of the Metis, or half-breeds as they were then known, on or before December 8th 1969.
1.7 “Metis Nation” means one of the “aboriginal peoples of Canada” within the meaning of s.35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and which is comprised of all Metis Nation Citizens.(53)
The MNC’s agenda focuses on hunting rights, land rights, and self-governing rights. Basically, the MNC seeks a sovereign land base in which Métis settlements would become akin to First Nations reserves or reservations; and like reservations, Métis settlements would maintain a degree of self-governance and self-determination. In the MNC’s perspective, the Métis, defined as an “aboriginal people,” have an inherent aboriginal right to sovereignty. That is, because the Métis, like Indian people, are considered aboriginal, they have the same rights as Indian people.
MNC’s claim to sovereignty is based on the Royal Proclamation of 1763. MNC states:
This unilateral extinguishment of Métis rights [through the Manitoba Act] violated the principals of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which set the standard by which governments were to deal with Aboriginal peoples. The Royal Proclamation provided that the land of Aboriginal peoples was not to be dismembered piecemeal by encroaching settlers. The Crown assumed responsibility for protecting the rights of Aboriginal peoples.(54)
Under the Royal Proclamation, “the lands west of the Appalachian height of land were ‘reserved’ to the Indians as their Hunting Grounds...Indian Nations governed the Proclamation Territory under their own laws.”(55) In the wording of the Royal Proclamation, there is no mention of Métis, half-breed, or aboriginal. It is also clear that it is specifically the Indian people that the Royal Proclamation is directed toward under the Indian Provisions:
And whereas it is just and reasonable, and essential to our Interest, and the Security of our Colonies, that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians with whom we are connected, and who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us, are reserved to them, or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds...(56)
Historical records indicate that mixed-heritage people did not live in exclusive settlements. Rather, they lived in small settlements located in and around trading posts. The typical fur-trade family of the Proclamation period consisted of a Euro-Canadian male, who was a voyageur, an Indian wife, and their mixed-heritage child(ren). “[A] large proportion of them in the later period of the fur-trade era became settlers on the frontier...First the voyageurs lived at the trading posts of these regions; a little later they took up land, on which they resided during the portion of the year when they were not employed in paddling traders’ canoes or absent on trading expeditions to the Indians.”(57)
Under the Grants for Settlement provision of the Proclamation, the voyageurs and their families were provided with certain rights for settlement. Most importantly, under the Proclamation, sovereign rights were assigned specifically to Indian Nations and the Crown. Sovereignty was not an individual right; rather, it was right of governments -- tribal and European. Voyageur settlements per se did not have sovereign rights. Although a portion of the populace of the settlements was composed of Indian females and their mixed-heritage children, tribal sovereign rights did not extend to the settlements. Essentially, they lived outside the perimeters of their respective tribal nations and, hence, tribal sovereignty in terms of the land base was not applicable.
The MNC’s argument is largely based on the assumption that the land was Terra Nullius and that the land was essentially free for the taking. They claim the right to land because they consider themselves as the third founding nation of Canada. There is, however, a contradiction in their argument. On one hand, they claim to be an indigenous people of North America; on the other, they claim to be a founding nation. One is either one or the other; one cannot be both.
Métissage in the United States
Métissage is not limited to Canada. The ideology of Métissage has adherents in the United States. Today, there are several organizations that claim an affinity to the ethnic dimensions that define Métissage. These include Blue Mountain Métis Community, Association of Southern Métis, Inc., U.S. Metis Alliance, Métis Nation of the South, the Métis Nation of New England, the United American Metis Society, the Métis Nation of the United States, and the National American Métis Association (NAMA). In general, American Métis identify themselves as Southern Métis to make a distinction from the Canadian Métis.
NAMA claims to be the “official” voice of Métis in the United States. Founded in 1978, NAMA, due to disputes over leadership positions, has gone under and reemerged several times. At present, it has 200 members. According to NAMA’s policy statement:
We Breed people continue to be born and to learn a new language to describe ourselves, celebrating our place here in Life with out Mother Earth. We cannot understand boundaries and borders.
We are a Native stock and Mixed Heritage and we are responsible for expressing our Fact. Soon, all the Reservations will be Metis and certainly most of our inner cities are now Metis.(58)
All of these organizations have fast and loose rules for membership. Although family tree information is requested, a prospective member who does not have that information can merely state that he/she is of mixed-blood ancestry to qualify for membership. For example, the requirements for the Métis Nation of the South states:
Part II: Statement of Oral Tradition
(If you do not have legal documents that prove to have First Nations and non-First Nations ancestry, you are required to complete Part II. If you do have such legal documents, you may skip this section, and send a photocopy of the records at your option, or you may choose to complete part II anyway.)
I hereby affirm under penalty of perjury, that according to the oral traditions of my family, that I am of First Nations Ancestry, of the
________________________________________ Tribes(s) or First Nation(s), and of non-First Nation(s) Ancestry of the
________________________________________ Tribe(s) or First Nation(s).
Part III Statement of Oath of Citizenship
“I,____________________________, pledge oath to the Metis Nation of the South. I promise to uphold the constitution of the Nation and to honor the traditions of my ancestors.”
By pressing the submit button, you certify under penalty, according to the laws and traditions of the Nation that the above facts are true and complete. Intentional falsification of facts on this form is a crime.(59)
All of these groups have established a presence on Internet sites. Interaction between Southern Métis can be found at MetisCulture@yahoogroups.com. MetisCulture was founded in 1999 to allow for interactive dialogue between Southern Métis people. It currently has 71 members. Essentially, MetisCulture is a message board that allows member to post comments, opinions, and concerns.
The undercurrent of dialogue reveals the idea that Southern Métis are a people who are dispossessed of land and identity. In general, Southern Métis have little knowledge of their own specific Indian heritage. As such, the Southern Métis incorporate a homogenous blend of tribal philosophies, traditions, and customs. There is, however, a dark underside to this appropriation of tribal spiritual and cultural knowledge. This is the sentiment that Southern Métis have a right to that knowledge because tribal nations are perceived through the lens of misconceptions.
For example, Indian peoples and cultures are viewed through the stereotypical notions of the vanishing race. And because, according to the Southern Métis view, tribal nations are vanishing, it then becomes the responsibility of the Southern Métis, by virtue of their “native” blood, to uphold and practice those traditions and customs. Recently, one MetisCulture member posted the following:
Yea -- I'm sick to death of the doom-sayers, the nay-sayers, and the absurd hypocrisy I have witnessed--for too many years-- in the American Indian Circles-- and the sacrilregous, sanctomonious, crap I have witnessed in the behavoir of young, full-blood, Dancers at Pow-wow, and Indian Youth in general at Public events. Either their Elders taught them nothing at all, or they themselves chose not to listen, thereby showing little to no Respect for either the Elders of the Nation or themselves. Sorry, but this IS the Truth. On the other hand--- it seems the Métis kids and the purely White Dancers know how to Respect the Circle, the Dance, and all of the spiritual overtones of Pow-wow --- funny, isnt it ?? (I’m not exactly laughing) Of course, then there are the "Elders"-----members of the boards of directors of Urban Centers--who tend to fall out Drunk at their own, Public, Events. Some showing --huh ?? Yea, Folks, and I've seen the same from Tribal Officials on Reservations. Believe it.(60)
Although this particular posting was extreme in its assessment of indigenous North American peoples, it nevertheless forms the thread of Southern Métis thought that can be found in the writings of other Southern Métis people.
Another aspect of identity is the Southern Métis claim to a supposed ethnic identity based on the assumption that the historic Métis had a strong presence in the United States. Although the historic Métis did in fact have a presence in the United States -- in particular, in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, and Montana -- it is a misconception that all mixed-heritage individuals identified themselves as ethnic Métis.
Intermarriages had occurred in many tribes in the United States as a result of contact with fur traders, voyageurs, and trappers. These unions resulted in a mixed-heritage population. However, these individuals did not form an ethnicity in the same sense as the mixed-heritage individuals in Canada. In U.S. treaties, mixed heritage people were referred to as half-breeds, half-bloods or mixed bloods.
Fourteen treaties, out of 377, contained specific provisions for half-breeds. The half-breed populace maintained close ties to the tribes that they were related to. The Treaty with the Osage (1825) and the Treaty with the Kansa (1826) are the earliest treaties that cite a half-breed populace. Both of the treaties provided several half-breed individuals with “reservations.” These were not reservations in the legal sense of the term, i.e., they were not sovereign tracts of land. Rather, they were portions of land given to certain half-breeds. The Osage treaty provided tracts of one hundred and forty acres, and the Kansa treaty provided tracts of one square mile.
In 1830, a collective treaty with several tribal groups, including the Sioux, Omahas, Ioways, and Ottoes, contained provisions for tracts of land for their half-breed populace.
Treaties with the Ottawa and Chippewa (1836), the Sauk and Foxes (1836), and the Chippewa of Lake Superior and Mississippi (1842) contained cash provisions for their half-breeds.
In 1847, the treaty with the Lake Superior and Mississippi bands was renegotiated. The terms of the new treaty stipulated that “the half or mixed bloods of the Chippewa residing with them shall be considered Chippewa Indians, and shall, as such, be allowed to participate in all annuities which shall be hereafter be paid to the Chippewas of the Mississippi and Lake Superior, due them by this treaty, and the treaties heretofore made and ratified.”(61)
Basically, the treaties with mixed blood provisions provided the half-breed populace with 1) tracts of land located in territory ceded by the band; 2) cash payments in lieu of land; 3) absorption into the band itself and provided with the benefits stipulated in the treaties.
The majority of mixed bloods chose to marry into the tribes that they were descended from. In other words, they were absorbed back into their tribes of origin. Their offspring established strong blood ties to the tribe. Those mixed bloods who chose to adopt “white ways,” received land tracts and/or cash payments.
The crucial difference between the mixed blood experience in Canada and the U.S. is that a majority of mixed bloods in the U.S. became a part of the tribe. In Canada, mixed bloods chose to remain aloof from the tribes. As the Canadian mixed bloods coalesced into their own communities, half-blood men married half-blood women. These intermarriages diminished the blood line to the extent that the term “half-breed” was no longer applicable. Hence, the term Métis, meaning mixed. Indeed, Louis Riel, who is often referred to as the half-breed leader of the Métis, was only one-eighth Indian.
Certainly Canadian mixed-bloods had choices to make. Had they wanted, they could have become part of the tribes of their origins. “Traditionally, individuals could become members of an indigenous society by kinship, intermarriage, adoption, or naturalization, which included ‘mixed blood identities,’ no matter what their ‘racial’ or cultural background. Later, Euro-Americans as ‘whites’ could be adopted or naturalized by Indians through intermarriage and emphasis on exogamy.”(62)
The fact that tribes were nations in the sense of peoplehood is often overlooked. The book, Miskwaagamiiwizaa’iganing, points this out:
The traditional custom of adoption is common among Indian tribes. This custom was also common on the Red Lake reservation and a necessary part of the Ojibwe society since the well-being for all people was a tribal virtue. The Ojibwe society also adopted Indians from other tribes, other Ojibwe tribes, and non-Indians.
In the past, birth on the reservation was sufficient evidence for tribal enrollment...in terms of cultural and tribal identity, the dodem clan membership, kinship system, and adoption are some of the tribal identity criteria. The tribal custom does not have an “official” membership criteria.(63)
The treaty-making process ended traditional concepts of native peoplehood. The limiting factors of Indian sovereignty, as established in the U.S. Supreme Court decisions rendered by Chief Justice John Marshall in the 1820s-30s, imposed a domestic, dependent nation sovereignty that denied tribes the right to determine traditional membership within their own nations.
Another factor that has led to the myth of a Métis ethnic presence in tribes in the U.S. are surnames. For example, many Ojibwé-Anishinaabé families have French, Scot, and English surnames. The assumption is made that European surnames indicate a Métis intermarriage somewhere in the Indian family lineage. Although mixed blood marriages did occur, and European surnames were adopted, in most cases the surname was assigned to Indian families in which there was no intermarriage.
The European concept of first names and surnames were introduced to the American Indian by the federal government. Therefore, the government implemented a system for issuing a surname to a family head. The procedure was either an attempt to translate the father’s Indian given name or to randomly select a common name drawn from a hat. This procedure was sometimes done in random fashion that members of a family had different surnames.
Since the French and Norwegian folk were common in the Midwest, which also includes the Red Lake area, French and Norwegian surnames were commonly assigned names. The surnames of the Red Lake people reflect this random assignment for surnames. After the federal government assigned surnames for the people of Red Lake, the tribal rolls for the Red Lake Band was established. (64)
Indeed, Indian people who choose to research their family tree to trace their Métis surname find a gap in connecting their surname to historical Métis surnames. They can trace the surname to a grandparent or great-grandparent, but they find a space, or a break, in which the name cannot go beyond that and be connected to an interconnecting, intermarrying relative who has historic Métis roots. This gap represents the fact that a connection does not exist. Rather, it is a surname that had been literally drawn out of a hat and assigned to a generation twice or three times removed.
The quest to establish a Métis ethnicity in the United States is based on the false assumption that a large Métis ethnicity existed in the historic past. Certainly there were Métis people who settled in the U.S. They were, however, a minority among the general mixed heritage populace. Indeed, the majority of mixed bloods did not subscribe to Louis Riel’s ideology of a mixed blood ethnicity.
There is also a fallacy that the Southern Metis could somehow receive “recognition” through the BIA. With such a minute constituency -- one that numbers perhaps 1000 nationwide -- the Southern Metis are hardly in the position to exert any political leverage whatsoever for recognition. The federal recognition process recognizes only tribal entities that can, through an exhaustive process, prove their historical tribalness. Without any real indigenous roots, the Southern Metis, at best, can claim to be a homogeneous group -- one composed of a mixture of enigmatic tribal beliefs, traditions, and customs. But a true tribal people, they are not.
Like the Métis in Canada, the Southern Métis have revised history to fit the conception of a people dispossessed of land and stripped of identity. Whereas the Métis are an ethnicity formed and shaped by the Canadian socio-political environment, American Métis have very little foundation on which to establish an ethnic identity.
“Racial categories (and ethnic categories, for they function in the same way) identify a set of people with whom to share a sense of identity and common experience...It is to share a sense of peoplehood that helps locate individuals psychologically, and also provides the basis for common political action.”(65)
Certainly the Métis, as an ethnicity, share a sense of peoplehood that has resulted through the need for common political action. Indeed, the very history of the Métis strongly indicates that Métis group identity was largely shaped and formed in reaction to political pressures of the Canadian government’s efforts to annex Rupert’s Land in the late 1860s. However, the ethnic dimensions of group identity were limited. It wasn’t until the 1970s that a strong ethnic infrastructure emerged in reaction to the socio-political oppression of mixed-heritage peoples. This was, of course, a period when group power movements representing people of color -- Black power, Red power, Chicano power -- emerged in the political consciousness of North America.
The turmoil of the 70s led to concessions by governments in the United States and Canada. In the case of the Métis, the concession of aboriginal recognition was granted in the Constitution Act, 1982. However, aboriginal recognition did not, nor does it, imply sovereign rights. S31(1) clearly states that existing aboriginal rights...are hereby recognized and affirmed. For the Métis, this means their hunting and gathering rights as an aboriginal people, and these rights have been recognized and affirmed in recent court decisions.
The other part of s31(1) -- The existing treaty rights...are hereby recognized and affirmed -- is clearly intended for those who have sovereign rights, i.e., the indigenous First Nations and Inuit peoples of Canada.
The definition of sovereignty is implicit in its meaning in regard to tribal/First Nations. David Wilkins writes: “[T]he description of tribes as ‘governments’ stems from their status as the original sovereigns of America with whom various European states and, later, the United States, engaged in binding treaties and agreements. Clearly the tribes’ sovereign status continued through the colonial period and under the Articles of Confederation, the Northwest Ordinance, and the earliest draft of the U.S. Constitution”(66)
Although Wilkins is writing about tribal nations in the U.S., the principals of sovereignty are essentially the same in both the United States and Canada. Wilkins further writes:
To define [sovereign] status, it is important to identify certain characteristics of tribal nations. First, and most obvious, tribal nations are indigenous to the United States, while all other individuals and groups are immigrants. Second, “tribalism” or “tribal status” is a unique concept emphasizing collective or group rights and affirming the sovereign status of the group.
From an indigenous perspective...tribal sovereignty has several manifestations. First, from both an internal and intergovernmental perspective, it entails a political/legal dimension -- including, but not limiting to, the power to adopt its own form of government; to define the conditions of citizenship/membership in the nation; to regulate the domestic relations of the nation’s citizens/members; to prescribe rules of inheritance with respect to all personal property and all interests in real property; to levy dues, fees, or taxes upon citizen/members and noncitizens/nonmembers; to remove or to exclude nonmembers of the tribe; to administer justice; and to prescribe and regulate the conduct of federal employees.
Second, and more broadly, tribal sovereignty entails a cultural/spiritual dimension. Sovereignty ‘can be said to consist more of continues cultural integrity than of political powers and to the degree that a nation loses its sense of cultural identity, to that degree it suffers a loss of sovereignty.’”(67)
The factors that Wilkins lists applies to tribal groups. As such, tribalism or tribal status is reserved for those indigenous groups that inhabited North American before the coming of European immigrants. It is clear that the Métis do not fit the definition of tribalism or tribal status since they did not, nor could not, exist before the coming of Europeans. With a mixed-heritage of European and Indian ethnicity, they could not possibly have any claim to sovereign rights.
The Métis drift toward sovereignty is keyed to recent Canadian Supreme Court decisions that have upheld Métis hunting rights, e.g., R. v. Powley. Yet, despite several decisions that have favored Métis hunting rights, sovereign rights have eluded them.
One of the most important decisions that clearly affirmed indigenous sovereign rights as opposed to Métis efforts to gain sovereign rights occurred on July 20, 2000. The Supreme Court denied an appeal by Ontario Métis groups and organizations who claimed a right to share in the profits of Casino Rama, operated by the Mnjikaning Ojibwe First Nation. The Mnjikaning Ojibwe receive 35 percent of the profits and the rest goes to 133 status First Nation reserves in Ontario.
Under a 1996 agreement with the Ontario government, the casino profits are used to strengthen tribal economic, cultural and social development. The proceeds are distributed only to Ontario First Nations communities who have sovereign status as recognized under the Indian Act. The Court rejected the Ontario Métis appeal on the grounds that the Métis are not a tribe and do not have sovereign rights.
The issue of land and sovereignty to land permeates the Métis perspective in both Canada and the United States. There is, in Métis thought, a sense of Lebensraum. This is the German Nazi ideological concept of a tribally rooted people dispossessed of their land, and a people who have been oppressed by the dominion of stronger nations.
The Metis sense of Lebensraum is based on the writings of one man -- a man diagnosed as a megalomaniac, a man who saw himself as a Messiah leading his Chosen People. In the shadows of the gallow and noose, Louis Riel wrote:
What did the Government do? It laid hands on the land of the Metis as if it were its own...not only did it take the land from under their feet, it even took away their right to use it.
To take away their country was to weaken the strength of their character.
I address this question to all those enlightened by the ideals of truth and simple justice. Does justice allow a stronger people to snatch away the homeland of a weaker people? Humanity answers no. Human conscience condemns such an act as criminal and its grievous consequences are many and difficult to measure...One’s native land is the most important of all things on earth. Above all it is made holy through the ancestors who pass it on. To take it away from the people it gave birth to, is as abominable as to tear a mother from her little children at the time they need her most. But the fatherland is called the fatherland because it is the Gift of God, our Father; a priceless heritage -- I should say a divine heritage! A people who unjustly take away the native land of another, commits the greatest sacrilege, because all other sacrileges seem to me are only parts of it.
The Metis had their hay lands; the Government took them.
They had commons and pasture land for their horses and cattle; it took them too.
They had woodlots; the Government seized them.
The lands that they owned and which belonged to once, by the Indian title, twice for having defended them with their blood, and thrice for having built and lived on them, cultivated, fenced, and worked them, were returned to them for a consideration of two dollars an acre.(68)
Louis Riel’s “enlightened” sense of injustice was ludicrous at best. He was correct in questioning the human conscience for the unjustly appropriation of native land. However, Riel overlooked one minor detail -- what of the unjustness of the taking of native land by a mixed heritage element who renamed the land and who settled the land without Indian title?
The most revealing aspect of Riel’s concept of Lebensraum is his use of the term fatherland. In native thought, the land is always the mother. However, in Riel’s convoluted matter of thinking, the land became anchored in the Euro-centric notion of the Judeo-Christian ethos of man as the master of all life upon the earth. In the mind of The New World Man, the land becomes rooted in the European mind set of the dominant male; and in the sexist concepts of male dominance, the land becomes the fatherland. The idea of the land as fatherland gives way to the aggressive, conquest-oriented part of European -- and, hence, Metis -- identity.
In sum, the Metis are not a distinct race but rather an ethnicity that has evolved in response to a post-colonial environment. Historically, they played an active role in colonialism by exploiting the resources of indigenous peoples through the auspices of the fur trade companies. With the diminishment of the fur trade, they evolved into a colonizing group of settlers of mixed heritage who, in mind and manner, were European, and they sought to establish a European style of sovereignty on lands that they had settled. They may be considered aboriginal by virtue of the fact that they have indigenous roots. But indigenous they clearly are not.
Most importantly, the Metis are the legacy of colonialism. Their roles in the establishment of colonial power was essentially that of indentured laborers. Betrayed by the ideals of a “civilizing mission,” they were marginalized as a people without a history. Like their mestizaje kin of Central and South America, they are the genetic and cultural hybrid of the colonizer and the colonized. Unlike their mestizaje kin, who “overcame the last formal vestiges of political dependency on imperial Spain and established their own nation-states in the image of the motherland [Spain]”(69), the Metis have failed to overcome those “last formal vestiges” because the colonizer remains in power. But, perhaps more crucial, those the Metis have sought to replace have not vanished nor have they relinquished their obligations and responsiblities to Mother Earth. We are still here.
1 Metis Nation of Alberta: History of the Alberta Metis, INTERNET: http://www.
2 ibid., 1.
3 Kromkowski, John A., ed., Race and Ethnic Relations 98 / 99, Stephen Jay Gould, The Geometer of Race, Guilford: Dushkin/McGraw-Hill, 1998, 235.
4 ibid., 235.
5 ibid., 235.
6 ibid., 235.
7 ibid., 237.
8 Handout, Race, Culture, and Ethnicity, Prof. Rose Brewer, Fall Term, 1998.
11 Root, Maria P. P., ed., Racially Mixed People in America, Paul R. Spickard, The Illogic of American Racial Categories, Newbury Park/London/New Delhi: Sage Publications, International Educational and Professional Publisher, 1992, 19.
12 The Metis: Louis Riel’s Last Memoir, Before Confederation, INTERNET: http://
13 The Metis - Louis Riel’’s Last Memoir, The Metis of the North West, INTERNET: http://members.tripod.com/~Metis/rielmemoir1.html, 1.
14 Louis Riel Trial Statement, INTERNET: http://www.hpl.hamilton.on.ca/History/
15 Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth, Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner and Other Essays, End of the Failed Metaphor, Madison: The Unuversity of Wisconsin Press, 1997, 147.
16 ACADIAN-CAJUN Genealogy: 1686 Acadian Census, INTERNET:
http://www.genweb.net/acadian-cajun/1663 cens.htm and 1686 cens.htm, January, 2001.
17 Tanguay, L'Abbe Cyprien, Dictionnarie Genealogique des Familles Canadiennes,
Quebec: Eusébe Senécal, Imprimeur-Éditeur, 1700.
18 Howard, Joseph Kinsey, Strange Empire: A Narrative of the Northwest, St. Paul:
Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1994, 39.
19 Nute, Grace Lee, The Voyageur, St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1987, 87- 88.
20 Bodley, John H., Cultural Antropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System,
London/Toronto: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1997, 8.
21 Glazer, Nathan and Daniel P. Moynihan, eds., Ethnicity: Theory and Experience,
Talcott Parsons, _Some Theoretical Considerations on the Nature and Trends of Change of Ethnicity, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975, 57.
22 Imperial, Political, and Economic Relationships, INTERNET: http://www.
23 Volger, Ingolf, European Colonialism Models: Boreal Riverine Empire,
24 Vogeler, Ingolf, European Colonialism Models: Settler Empire, INTERNET:
25 Encyclopedia Brittanica, Colonialism, INTERNET: http://search.eb.com/
26 Nute, op. cit., 3.
27 ibid., 7.
28 Howard., op. cit., 30.
29 MVNF: The Fur Trade in New France: The Coureurs des bois, Voyageurs, and
Hired Men: Residents of Montreal and Trois-Rivieres, INTERNET: http://www.
30 LesMetis...Voyageurs and Grandparents: The Northern Rivermen, INTERNET:
http://www.jkcc.com/evje/voyageurs.html, 3, 5.
31 ibid., 1.
32 Lynne, Jackie, Colonialism and the Sexual Exploitation of Canada’s First
Nations Women, paper presented at the American Psychological Association
106th Annual Convention, San Francisco, CA, August 17, 1998, 2.
33 Howard, op. cit., 56.
34 ibid., 44.
35 1869 Metis Bill of Rights, INTERNET: http://www.nelson.com/nelson/school/
36 Howard., op. cit., 159.
37 ibid., 317.
38 ibid., 437.
39 Root., op. cit., 19.
40 Dunn, Martin, Metis 101: Understanding Metis in Canada Today, INTERNET:
41 Dunn, Martin, and Claude Aubin, Confederacy Concept, INTERNET: http://
42 Redbird, Duke, We Are Metis, INTERNET: http://www.othermetis.net/index.
43 Morisset, Jean, The Native Path and its Trance-Cultural Connection,
INTERNET: http://www.cyberus.ca/~mfdunn/metis/Papers/trance.html, 7.
44 Royce, Anya Peterson, Ethnic Identity: Strategies of Diversity, Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 18.
45 Howard, op. cit., 337-338.
46 CAP Sues Feds for 91(24) Recognition of Metis and Non-Status Indians,
47 Howard., op. cit., xxi-xxii.
48 ibid., xxii.
49 1996 Census: Aboriginal Data, INTERNET: http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/
50 CAP, op. cit.
52 MNC Definition of “Metis,” INTERNET: http://www.televar.com/~gmorin/
53 ibid., 2.
54 The Metis National Council, What is the Legal Basis of Metis Land Title?
INTERNET: http://www.metisnation.ca/mnc/mncLAND_INTRO.html, 2.
55 Virtual Law Office: Royal Proclamation of 1763, INTERNET: http://www.
57 Nute, op. cit., 177.
58 National American Metis Association, http://www.americanmetis.org/test/
59 The Metis Nation of the South, http://www.newcastle.nu/metis.
60 MetisCulture@yahoogroups.com, posted by Owlsbro@aol.com, April 16, 2001.
61 Kappler, Charles, Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Volume II, Treaties, Treaty with the Lake Superior and Mississippi Chippewa, 1847.
62 Gregory, Steven and Roger Sanjek, eds., Race, M. Annette Jaimes, American Racism: The Impact on American-Indian Identity and Survival, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994.
63 Ojibwe Studies, 1981-1982, Red Lake Title IV Program, Miskwaagamiiwizaaga’iganiing: An Introductory Course about the Red Lake Indian Reservation, 20.
64 ibid., 19.
65 Root, op. cit., 19.
66 Wilkins, David, American Indian Sovereignty and the U.S. Supreme Court: The
Masking of Justice, Austin: Unviersity of Texas Press, 1997, 22-23.
67 ibid., 20.
68 The Metis: Louis Riel’s Last Memoir, The Coming of Authority, http://www.
69 Prakash, Gyan, ed., After Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Postcolonial
Displacements, J. Jorge Klor De Alva, The Postcolonialization of the Latin American Experience: A Reconsideration of “”Colonialism,” “Postcolonialism, and “Mestizaje,” Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.
© 2001, Capstone, All Rights Reserved, Robert DesJarlait
© 2018, All Rights Reserved, Robert DesJarlait
The Powwow Colon Cancer Initiative was a special project sponsored by the American Indian Cancer Foundation with a grant from the Minnesota Department of Health. I was asked to be the spokesperson for the project. From April to June 2018, we attended six powwows - the Osseo Indian Education Powwow, Augsburg Powwow, University of Minnesota Powwow, Leech Lake Memorial Day Powwow, White Earth Annual Powwow, and the Lake Vermilion Powwow.
The powwows gave me the opportunity to talk about my survivor story and to provide information on colon cancer. The most important message was, and is, that colon cancer is preventable.
Cancer is a word that is a stigma for some people – Native and non-Native alike. Some people feel that it shouldn’t be spoken. By not saying it, the thinking goes that you won’t get it. But by not talking about it, we deny its existence. Denial can be deadly because denial can prevent a person to seek screening. Denial allows for cancer cells to grow and multiply and advance from a treatable Stage I cancer to a deadly Stage IV cancer.
In my initial contraction of colon cancer in 2013, a tumor was found and my ascending colon was removed. It was classified as Stage I because the cancer hadn’t broken through the walls of my colon. Survival rates for Stage I are great. However, in 2016, a cancerous lesion was found on the left lobe of my liver. The lobe was removed and I went through 16 rounds of chemotherapy. I have remained cancer-free for two years. Because of my recurrence, I am considered as a Stage IV survivor.
In hindsight, all of this could have been avoided had I gone to my doctor for colon cancer screening at the recommended age. But because I didn’t, a pre-cancerous polyp developed into a adenocarcinoma (cancerous) polyp with mutated cells that multiplied into large tumor. It takes 7-10 years for a pre-cancerous polyp to develop into cancer.
Had I gone in for screening, I wouldn’t be writing this nor appear in a video. Had I gone in for screening, I wouldn’t be dealing with post-chemo after-effects, effects that can potentially linger for many years.
The Powwow Initiative video marks an important place on my cancer journey. Since 2013, I’ve served in the role of a cancer advocate in the Native American community. The video is a visual representation of the message that I carry. It’s a simple message but one that can save lives.
Please share my message with others. Together, we can help prevent this second cause of cancer death among Native people.
Miigwech to videographer Tiana LaPointe, Kristine Sorensen and In Progress, the American Indian Cancer Foundation, and the Minnesota Department of Health.
Red Lake Warrior Death Song, Watercolor, 11" x 14," 1985
I’ve never considered myself a great Native artist. In Native American art history, my art might warrant, at most, a footnote. When I began doing my art in 1984, I was two years into my sobriety and I was learning things about my Ojibwe culture. And the things that I was learning were reflected in the imagery of my art. It wasn't great art but it got the vision across.
I was 38 years old when I began my art career. However, I wasn’t by any means a stranger to art. As a boy, I drew constantly. I was encouraged, helped, and taught by my father, Patrick Robert DesJarlait, who is considered the first Native American modernist in Native fine arts. He was also a well-known commercial artist whose best known work was the creation of the Hamm’s Beer Bear.
I was expected to be an artist but I fell into a life of alcohol and drug abuse. And during that time, my interest wasn’t art but rather writing. I read the works of great writers and studied the art of fiction. I had the desire to write but alcohol and drugs affected my motivation to do so.
In 1982, I got married and quit using alcohol and drugs. It was a new life but I had no direction in what I wanted to do. I was working as a janitor at Control Data with excellent pay and benefits. But I couldn’t see myself working as a janitor for the rest of my life. I wanted something more than just cleaning offices.
Our elders teach that our personal lives move in a circle. We always come back to a point that we’ve left behind. We may bypass the point and move on. Or we may stop at the point and find something that provides a deeper meaning and direction on our path. In 1984, I reached such a point.
At that time, my wife, Nan, who was a lay-midwife, belonged to a group of midwives – the Woman’s Dance Health Project. Each year, they produced a calendar with one of the members serving as illustrator. In 1984, they were without an illustrator. Nan turned to me and asked me to do it. At first, I refused. I hadn’t drawn anything for years and didn’t think I could even draw a straight line. But Nan kept encouraging me and I finally agreed.
The calendar was distributed throughout the Twin Cities including two Native art galleries – Avanyu Gallery and Raven Gallery. John Boler, the owner of Avanyu, offered to exhibit the calendar drawings. To my surprise, all the work sold.
So I had circled back to a point that I had bypassed many times. It was a crowded point because writing was also at that point. I decided to pursue art and circle back to writing at a later point in my life.
In 1986, I did my first solo exhibition at Avanyu Gallery. Although writing wasn’t my main focus, I did nevertheless write. For my exhibition I put together a five-page booklet on my art. Interestingly, at the time that I was developing as an artist with an Ojibwe mindset, I was also developing as a writer writing from an Ojibwe perspective. Both my art and my writing were closely linked together. I knew little about the language at that time. I’m not sure of what language sources I was using. But despite the errors, my limited language knowledge allowed me to give cultural expression to my aesthetics.
Although it's tempting to correct errors and bring my writing, from that period, up to par with the double-vowel system we use today, I've decided to leave it as it is. It reflects a time in my life when I was struggling to learn about my history, language, and worldview of my people.
An Exhibition of Southwestern Ojibway Art
June 13-July 10
Born Mukwa Odem (Bear Clan), Anishinabe/Ojibway (Southwestern), 18 November 1946, Miskwagami-sagaigan (Red Lake Chippewa Reservation, Red Lake, Minnesota). My Red Lake ancestor is Pus-se-nous (Bus-i-noss), a great Red Lake ogitchida (warrior), ogima (chief), and nata-gigitod (orator). His daughter, Mish-ah-kee-be-nais-ikwe, is my anike-ninookomis (great grandmother).
My father is Patrick Robert DesJarlait (Na-gaw-bo) (1921-72), a self-taught, fine artist who received national recognition for his paintings of the Red Lake people.
As an artist, I paint and draw what gives meaning to me as an individual. And what gives meaning are those things Ojibway. I look at my art from a tribal (i.e., Ojibway) perspective. Through my art, I visualize a particular facet of Ojibway experience. Thus, I am a Ojibway artist (masinitchigeinini).
My drawings and paintings are personal visions of a tribal reality. These stylized, figurative images compose a micro/macro-scopic Ojibway Universe. Interwoven in this Universe are creation stories, origins of traditions, legends, and warrior-heroes, and, my central theme, Manidoo-wiwin Ojibway – the tribal spirit of the Southwestern Ojibway.
I approach my art from the traditional concept of Masinitchibiigewin – the act of, or the art, of painting and drawing. This old Ojibway term was used in relation to birch bark drawings (masinitchigan), and the sacred rock paintings (masinibii-assin). These tribal pictographs included delineations of Anishinabe man, the animal-beings, and the bird nations; Mide symbols represented the sky, earth, and her plant-beings, as well as sounds and spirit power. A simpler symbolism was used in dream symbols, clan marks, messages, and casual records.
In relation to this, my art focuses on a central image (masinitchigan) which projects a quality, or character, of traditional or contemporary tribal spirit. The white of the paper signifies the bark of the birch. My anatomical stylization of Ojibway people is influenced by father’s interpretation; this is particularly apparent in the facial structure. In function, my images represent pictographs. And, as in pictographs, in my images the teachings, beliefs, and (past and present) history of the Southwestern Ojibway is presented.
One particular figurative image that I favor is the Ojibway Warrior (Ogitchida). This is an area that hasn’t been explored by a contemporary, tribal artist. The Ogitchida were one of five forms, or aspects, of tribal duty. The basic duty of the Ogitchida was to defend and protect. Among the Southwestern Ojibway, the Ogitchida were especially strong – and essential. It was the Ogitchida that spearheaded the Great Migration (Kitchi Chi-bi-moo-day-win) into the ricing lands of Minnesota – thus fulfilling the Seven Fires Prophecy (Neesh-wa-swi-ish-ko-day-kawn) of the Third Fire: “The Anishinaabe will find the path to their chosen ground, a land in the west to which they must move their families. This will be where food grows on water.” Contrary to anthropological interpretation, the favored weapon of the Ojibway warrior was not a gun, but rather the warclub (pagamagan) which ranged from single-handed versions to elaborately carved two-handed weapons. The Ogitchida were men of heart – battles were a testing of spiritual strength and personal skill. With the establishment of reservation systems, the traditions of the Ogitchida faded.
My Ogitchida images are not historical depictions of Ojibway warriors (as in Remington, Bodmer, or Catlin). Nor are they fanciful revisionist images of a nostalgic past. These warriors are portrayed in my stylization of my people. The war regalia, though historically accurate, is also presented in stylized forms. The overall importance of the Ogitchida masinichigan (Warrior image) is the quality, or character of the tribal spirit that it represents – to protect and to defend. This tribal spirit is not lost or forgotten – it lives on in the contemporary existence of Anishinabe man.
Currently, a strong Ojibway art is emerging in Minnesota; this art is often mislabeled Minnesota Ojibway art. In defining this art, I use the term Southwestern Ojibway art; this loose, generic term defines a tribal geographical area which is producing a strong, visual art. This term is based on the four major Ojibway bands: Southeastern Ojibway (Michigan and Wisconsin), Northern Ojibway (Ontario), Plains Ojibway (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Montana, and North Dakota), and the Southwestern Ojibway (Minnesota). This tribal art – Southwestern Ojibway art – is not a tribal style (for example, Morrisseau inspired Legend art); rather, Southwestern Ojibway art is a vibrant diversity of personal visions; it is a tribal idiosyncrasy of individual aesthetics.
This present exhibition of Manidoo-wiwin Ojibway is composed of 17 watercolor paintings, 14 graphite drawings, and one collage. Manidoo-wiwin Ojibway is a generic term that I apply to my work – to the totality and concept of my art; and, to the present, on-going phases of my art. Each piece represents an aspect (i.e., quality and/or character of Ojibway tribal spirit. These aspects are grouped under general headings: Ogitchida Masinitchigan, Ikwenimiidiwin Masinitchigan, Adisokan Masinitchigan, and Oshki Anishinabe Masinitchigan.
Categorization of Manidoo-wiwin Ojibway:
Ogitchida Masinichigan (Warrior Images):
Red Lake Warrior Pipe; Ma-en-gun Odem (Wolf Clan Warrior); Mukwa Odem Ogitchida (Bear Clan Warrior); Kitchi-Gami Anishinabe Migizi Ogitchida (Lake Ojibway Eagle Warrior); Sandy Lake War Canoe; Red Lake Scalp Dancer; Red Lake Warrior Death Song, Pisiw Ogitchida (Lynx Warrior); Kikiweon Nagamon (Flag Song).
Ikwenimiidiwin Masinichigan (Woman’s Dance Images):
Mother and Daughter; Father and Son; Mish-ah-kee-be-nais-ikwe; Earth Woman’s Vision; Ningotode Babamodiswin (Family Voyage); Ninga Adjik (Mother with Daughter); LittleWolf and BearHeart; Wana-Ikwe (Tail Feather Woman.
Adisokan Masinichigan (Legends and Mythos Images):
Last War Dance of Big Ojibway; Death Song of the Moose Clan; Onwe Bahmondoong; Odjbaa and the Red Swan; Niwin Kashkadinap (Four Hills); Mikan (The Path); Ma-en-gun Manidoowiwin (Spirit of the Wolf – Medicine Man’s Robe); Anishinaba; Anishinabe Migizi Opwagun (Ojibway Eagle and Pipe).
Oshki Anishinabe Masinichigan (Contemporary Ojibway Images):
Vision of the Assimilated Man; Fog Woman’s Vision; May 19th; Broken Circle; Ojibwa Medicine Man (Jim Jackson), Akoongiss (Self-Portrait).
The show sold out. Unfortunately, I didn't take photographs of my art, so I don't have a visual record of what was in the show. I also didn't keep a record of who bought what. The only work that remains from the exhibition is Red Lake Warrior Death Song. I gave that to my wife. It's part of a private collection she has of my work.
In looking back at my art, I don’t feel that my concept of Manidoowiwin Ojibway was overly stated. Although I felt that I had certain limitations as an artist, I nevertheless was able to artistically convey my aesthetic through my imagery. That is, after all, all an artist can do.
It’s not my intention to cover my career of art here. I will say that I was fairly successful as an artist – not in terms of fortune but in recognition as an artist - from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s. During that period, my art was featured in juried art shows, invitational art exhibits, and several solo and general art exhibitions. I taught Native art in schools and tribal colleges. I received numerous commissions from Minnesota Native organizations to illustrate posters and curricula. I also became a community artist with murals in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota.
In 1998, I decided to go to college. In 2001, at age 51, I received my BA in Ethnic Studies. I became a professional in the Native community and, for seven years, worked as the program coordinator for the Indian Child Welfare Act program at Ain Dah Yung (Our Home) Center.
In 2012, I took early retirement, under Social Security, at age 62. During those intervening years, I continued to do art albeit sporadically. My creative focus shifted to writing.
And that’s where I am today. As a writer, I am still an artist, only I mainly use words instead of paint. But visual art is never too far from my mind. As I sit here writing this, I can look over and see a pad of Canson 1557 Classic Drawing Paper, 18” x 24,” 90 lb., 24 sheets, that I bought over the weekend. On the other side of me is the book I’m writing. The book is my winter project. And it’s not winter yet. Like I said, visual art is never too far from my mind.
© 2018, Robert DesJarlait
The need for writing tribal histories is great, for among many tribes tribal history, language and culture are rapidly disappearing…as the tribal elders die, it appears that much of the tribal past will also disappear ~ Duane Kendall Hale, Researching and Writing Tribal Histories
Writing about dance history is not an easy task. One cannot presume that one is writing “the” history but rather “a” history. This is the approach that I take when writing about dances associated with the powwow. The difficulty of writing about Native American dances is that they have a history. They did not simply begin with the advent of the powwow. Exactly when and where they began is the task of the tribal historian to interpret through research and resources. The importance of tribal historical narrative is emphasized by Dr. Duane Kendall Hale:
Four distinct reasons for writing tribal histories are: 1) books have been written about Native Americans and not by them, so the Indians point of view is lacking in historical works; 2) historians have romanticized the so-called “Indian wars” of the nineteenth century; 3) historians have failed to write about Indians in the twentieth century [and twenty-first century] – ninety years of twentieth century [and twenty-first century] Indian history is waiting to be written; 4) a large number of books written about Indians have concentrated upon the larger well-known tribes and have ignored the smaller tribes which are rapidly disappearing.
Dr. Hale also writes: In the years leading up to 1989, tribes borrowed ideas, songs, dances, and other traditions from each other to such a great extent that it is often difficult to determine what is unique to that particular tribe.
Men's Woodland Dance is such a dance. Overall, Woodland dance itself is found among Northeastern tribes and Southeastern tribes and has been a part of the dance history and culture in those tribes for many years. To avoid confusion, the term "Men's Woodland" as used here refers to Woodland Dance among the Ojibwe in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Among the Ojibwe, the history of Woodland Dance is difficult to determine. Some see it as a “new” dance that began in the early 2000s. Its popularity among Great Lakes tribes has led to a new category at powwows – Men’s Woodland. It is a unique and specific style of dance with its own type of regalia and songs.
However, Men's Woodland is anything but new. Its history far predates its modern counterpart. Indeed, its history predates the advent of the origin of the powwow itself.
I don’t pretend to know the history of Men's Woodland. Under Dr. Hale’s criteria, it’s a dance that deserves to be written about. However, my knowledge is limited to an Ojibwe perspective and even in that regard, my knowledge is limited to dancers and elders that I’ve talked to and research that I’ve done. I’m sure that others will add to this history in the years ahead. There will be those who will disagree with the words I’ve put down in presenting this history. But then, that’s what history is about – a way of finding our way back to our roots as seen from our own cultural perspectives rather than colonial perspectives.
My own interest with Men's Woodland is not without a personal connection. I began dancing in about 1986. My style was Northern Men’s Traditional. My anishinaabe-agwiwinanregalia (regalia) reflected my Ojibwe cultural connections – floral beadwork and floral motifs. As time passed, I learned that Northern Men's Traditional wasn’t a dance that had deep historical ties to the Ojibwe. It was a dance given to us by the Dakota in the mid-1800s. The point of dispersion is usually attributed at Red Lake in about 1860. It was originally referred to as Bwaani-niimi`idiwin (the Sioux Dance) because of its dispersal by the Dakota. In turn, the Lakota/Dakota referred to the dance as the Omaha Dance because the dance had been passed to them by Omaha and Ponca dance societies.
Nine years ago, my wife decided to make me new anishinaabe-agwiwinan (regalia). She wanted to do agogwaajigan (appliqué) on black wool. Her method combines agogwaajigan with mazinita`ige (embroidery). Agogwaajigan and mazinita'ige were not uncommon among the Ojibwe. Long before the Invasion and advent of colonialism, Ojibwe women embroidered with gaagobiiwayan (porcupine quills). With the infusion of European trade goods, European fabrics led to agogwaajigan that was used on clothing featuring various floral and geometric motifs. The introduction of manidoominag (beads) overshadowed agogwaajigan and mazinita'ige, and by the late 1800s dominated Ojibwe aesthetics.
I found a photo of a man from Lac du Flambeau wearing a Woodland outfit in an old book, “The Book of Indian-Crafts and Costumes.” The photo, from 1946, served as an inspiration of making an outfit completely covered with floral motifs – vest, leggings, and apron. I created the design patterns using floral motifs from Carrie Lyford’s book, “Ojibwa Crafts.” My wife then did her agogwaajigan and mazinita'ige using my designs. I also decided to make an otter turban as I felt that a turban would be befitting and appropriate for my new regalia. I continued to wear my bimoonjigan (bustle), although my bimoonjigan had always been different. Before I began dancing in 1986, I had a dream about a bimoonjigan. I made the bimoonjigan in accordance with my dream – a flat back panel covered with eagle feathers with two spike feathers. I would later, surprisingly, learn that these types of bimoonjiganan were worn by four belt men in the Big Drum ceremony.
Six years ago, I saw my first Woodland Dance. The Bad River powwow committee was featuring a Woodland Special. I had no idea what that was. When I asked, I was told it was basically a men’s traditional style dance but dancing without a bimoonjigan. I noticed that a couple of dancers wore regalia like mine – beaded floral regalia with turbans – and without bimoonjiganan. I also noticed their manner of dance was different. They weren’t dancing the typical Men’s Northern style of dance. And then there were the songs – songs that I recognized as older war dance songs with a faster beat and tempo.
For me, it was easy enough for me to transition to Men's Woodland by simply eliminating my bimoonjigan. At age 71, it is an demanding and exhausting dance. But for me, it’s not about competing. It’s about dancing with, not against, my Woodland contemporaries.
As a writer, Men's Woodland piques my interest. What is this dance and where did it come from? How does this dance connect the present to the past?
Pre-Colonial War Dance
Above, "Chippewa War Dance" below, "Chippewa Scalp Dance," both by Peter Rindisbacher, ca. mid-1820s-1830s. Rindisbacher was an artist whose paintings and drawings depicted several tribes, including the Ojibwe who he visited. His works are notable for the changes he illustrated in tribal material culture. "Chippewa War Dance" shows a minimal impact of European trade fabrics on clothing. "Chippewa Scalp Dance" shows the strong influence of European fabrics on Ojibwe clothing. Equally important were the activities that engaged Ojibwe villages. Rindisbacher's work featuring the War/Scalp Dances underlines the continuity of the War Dance complex amid changing times.
Men’s Woodland Dance has a circular history. Although some attribute it as a modern powwow dance, its beginnings stretch far beyond establishment of the modern powwow dance complex. It is a direct descendant of the War Dance complex.
War dancing was widespread among many tribes across Turtle Island, and there were similarities in war dancing. The Scalp/Victory Dance were part of the dance complex generally referred to as the War Dance. The origin and point of diffusion is unknown. Among the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe ogichidaag (warriors), this old form of war dance was called Nandobaniishimowin. The name is derived from the term Nandobaniiwin, meaning warfare.
Although the Ojibwe did not have warrior societies that paralleled the highly structured Plains warrior societies, there was nevertheless a structure for activities related to warfare. “The Anishinaabe did not perceive war as a constant or even a long-term state, and as a result, permanent war leaders [Mayosewininiwag] were unnecessary…A mayosewinini had only limited authority, and his power was determined largely by the number of warriors who followed him for the duration of the crisis…Mayosewininiwag who consistently demonstrated combined military and spiritual power by winning battles and honors while incurring few or no casualties gained in influence.” Ojibwe “warrior societies had their own identifiable leaders, ceremonies, and prescribed rights for the group that cut across kin and village lines.” It was “restricted to the men who had won war honors.”
The Ojibwe War Dance complex consisted of several interconnected dances. Departure dances were held during the period when the war party was assembled and organized. Once on the war path, dances were held nightly until the area for engagement was reached. If the engagement was successful, the warriors composed songs of their deeds and valor they had achieved during the engagement. They would sing these songs and reenact their deeds through dance at the Victory/Scalp Dance that was held in their home village. Dancing by warriors was held regularly throughout the spring and summer as a part of village gatherings. The Striking-the-Pole Dance was a common feature at communal dances in which warriors struck a center pole and then sang and danced of their deeds in war.
In "Chippewa Music," Odjib’we provided information on Ogichidaag customs, regalia, songs, and dances. Regarding the Victory Dance, Odjib’we said: “On returning, a victorious war party sent runners in advance to carry news of their approach, and preparations for a suitable reception were begun at once. Meantime, the warriors made their last camp before reaching home; here they rehearsed the songs concerning the victory and arrayed themselves in their finest apparel. As they approached the village…the women came out to meet them. One woman led the party, to whom were given the scalps taken by the warriors. Then the women led the procession, the scalp bearers in advance, waving the scalps and singing. After the party reached the village preparations for the victory dance were begun. The [scalp] poles were stuck in the ground beside the pile of food, and the feast was called ‘feasting the Sioux.’ In response this song [the Gift Song] the warriors rose and danced, singing of what they had done on the warpath. Gifts were distributed to all the people by members of the warrior’s clan. The next event was the victory dance, which often continued until daylight, by the light of torches and bonfires. At the conclusion of these dances, the scalps were carefully wrapped until the next dance. [T]hey were sent to another village, where similar dances were held.”
Both the war dance and the scalp dance were non-secular dances – they weren’t social dances. However, changes began in the late 1840s and early 1850s that would bring the non-secular dances into the social dance. Both the war dance and the scalp dance were performed for visiting government dignitaries and missionaries.
William Warren described a nandobaniishimo in held in the early 1700s: “On occasions of this nature, the warriors work themselves by hard dancing, yelling, and various contortions of the body…” Actions and deeds on the battlefield were “boasted of in their triumphal dances and warlike festivities.” Ogichidaag gathered in the spring and summer “to engage in festivities and dances, during which the events and exploits of past years are sung and recited; and while they derive fresh courage and stimulus to renewed exertion, the young, who are listeners, learn to emulate their fathers and take their earliest lessons in the art of war.”
Regarding the customs of the Ogichidaag, Warren wrote: “This customary procedure on the eve of the an attack or battle, being performed, the warriors grasped their medicine bags, and hurriedly adorned their faces and naked bodies with war paint, those that earned them planted the eagle plumes on their headdress, which denoted enemies they had slain or scalps taken and…charms of supposed invulnerability were attached to different portions of their headdress, armlets, or belts.”
In preparation for a visit by Washington officials, Johann Georg Kohl wrote: “According to traditional custom, the pipe of peace passed from tent to tent…among the warriors. When each had smoked, the procession started, and marched with drums beating, fluttering feather flags…through the village, to the open space before the old fort of North-West Company. Here they put up a wooden post, and close to it their war-flag, after which the dances, speeches, and songs began. A circle was formed of brown-skinned dancers, with the musicians and singers in the middle. To the music, the warriors hopped around in a circle, shaking the otter, fox, and beaver tails attached to their arms and heads. At times the singing and dancing was interrupted: with flying hair and skins a warrior walked into the circle, raised his tomahawk, and struck the post a smart blow, as a signal that he was going to describe his warrior deeds.”
Henry Schoolcraft wrote: “This ceremony, together with what is called striking the post, was performed during our stay. The warriors, arrayed for war, danced in a circle to the music of their drum and rattles. After making a fixed number of revolutions, they stopped simultaneously and uttered a sharp war yell. A man then stepped out, and raising his club and striking a pole at the center, related a personal exploit in war. The dance was then resumed, and terminated in like manner by yells, when another warrior related his exploits. This was repeated as long as there were exploits to tell…”
By the late 1880s, the Nandobaniishimowin was overshadowed by the emergence of the Bwaani-niimi'idiwin (Sioux Dance). The adaption of the Bwaani-niimi'idiwin was a cross-over of the war dance. The dance and songs of this newly emerging men’s dance developed from the warrior societies of the Omaha and Ponca. The secular version incorporated items that were carried and clothing worn by warriors. Perhaps the most significant piece was the dance bustle, a piece not previously worn by northern tribes that had adapted the dance.
For the Ojibwe, the Bwaani-niimi’idiwin was an extension of the old war dance. War dance was a widely used term among northern tribes in connection with this dance. Originally, dancers who danced the new dance were called Grass Dancers in reference to the braided hoops of sweetgrass they wore. In the non-secular version of the dance among the Omaha and Ponca, warriors wore scalps. The secular version switched to braided sweetgrass. By the late 1800s, the dance broke into two differing dances – the grass dance, i.e., dancers who danced without bustles, and the war dance, i.e., dancers who wore bustles. In the Ojibwe language, bwaanzhii-niimi translated as “dance war dance.” The root word, “Bwaan (Dakota/Sioux),” connected the dancer to the new dance - Bwaani-niimi’idiwin. Overall, these dancers were called “war dancers” until the dance was more formalized as the Northern Men’s Traditional dance category in the 1960s.
At the time of the development of the modern war dance, i.e. the Sioux Dance, colonialism radically reduced tribal land bases and restricted tribal life to reservations. Enforced assimilation through missionaries destroyed the language and disrupted the clan system and traditional practices. Government policies replaced traditional council governance with Indian Reorganization Act governments.
Through the Bwaani-niimi’idiwin, the Sioux Dance, the Ojibwe maintained a connection to their old war dance, the Nandobaniishimowin. The non-secular elements disappeared largely because the way of the war path had ended. Ogichidaaag no longer went on the war path to achieve honor, and the villages no longer engaged in the dances associated with the War Dance complex. Everything was changing because of the impact of Euro-American colonialism. The Bwaani-niimi’idiwin allowed for the continuation of the war dance albeit under a newer and emerging dance complex – the powwow.
Traditionlists still tried to maintain ties to the old. Photographs from 1910-1920, show men at powwows dressed in full Woodland regalia. Other photos show the war and scalp dance performed at Ponemah and White Earth.
War Dance at Obaashing (Ponemah), 1910. Photo by Francis Densmore from Chippewa Music. Densmore attended the Fourth of July Celebration at Obaashing in 1910 and recorded over 40 songs that were dream songs. She wrote: "It is probable that most of the songs were used in war. This is not difficult to understand. The young man who had a dream in his fasting vigil was usually an individual of character and strength of purpose. War was the principal career which offered itself in the old days and the man of the dream had the qualifications which made for success. After he had sung his dream song on the warpath he sang it at the dances preparatory to war, and in time it became the common property of the tribe." Several of the songs that Densmore recorded were related to the War Dance complex. Some songs were preparatory war songs and others "used in the victory dances which followed a successful war expedition..."
Scalp Dance at White Earth, ca. 1910
Interconnections with Baaga'adowewin (Lacrosse)
Red Cliff vs. Bad River, 1937, Painting- Artist Unknown
The game of Lacrosse originated in the Northeastern Woodlands among the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), and dispersed among the tribes living in the St. Lawrence Valley system including the people that the Haudenosaunee called Dwăkănĕņ" - the Ojibwe. The Ojibwe called the game Baaga'adowewin, which is usually translated as “they bump hips.”
Games were played intertribally between communities. They sometimes served to settle supratribal conflicts, for healing practices involving communities or individuals, and to appease the Creator.
Although each tribe integrated their own tribally specific traditions and spiritual beliefs, the general theme of war and the War Dance complex were interwoven throughout the structure of the game.
In general, on the night before a game, players donned their warrior regalia and performed a dance similar to the Departure Dance in which war exploits were recounted through dance. At the conclusion of the game, the winning team would don their regalia and perform a Victory Dance.
Medicine men played a central role and conducted purification ceremonies on the night preceding the game, blessed players and playing sticks, and painted the players. During play, they often positioned themselves with the singers and drums that sang on the sidelines.
On the playing field, like the warpath, the players wore bare essentials – loincloths and moccasins. Like warriors, they wore talismans that would provide protection, strength and abilities on the playing field. Their playing sticks weren’t unlike ball-headed clubs carried into battle. Their faces and bodies were painted and their war cries echoed throughout the game. From the Pre-Reservation Period to the early Reservation Period, Baaga'adowewin provided a means for young men to develop physical abilities and to connect to their traditions as warriors.
Baaga’adowewin is deeply embedded in Ojibwe culture. Origin stories underline its longevity and importance among Ojibwe people. As the game spread among tribes located in the St. Lawrence Valley system, including the Ojibwe, tribes integrated their own mindsets, beliefs, and ceremonies into the game. Origin stories of how the game began evolved among the tribes that adapted the game. The origin stories invariably connected the game to the thunder-beings. Thunder-beings were associated with war and, hence, connected Baaga'adowewin to the way of ogichidaag.
“One Ojibwe belief is that the way of playing the game once came to a boy in a dream. In his dream, the boy saw a large open valley and a crowd of Indians approaching him. A younger member of the group invited him to join them at a feast. He entered a wigwam where a medicine man was preparing medicine for a great game. The lacrosse sticks were held over the smoking medicine to doctor them and ensure success in the game. After the players formed into two teams and erected goal posts, the medicine man gave the signal to start, and the ball was tossed into the air amid much shouting and beating of drums. In his dream, the boy scored a goal. When he awakened, he related his experiences to his elders, who interpreted it as a dictate from the Thunderbirds. This is how the game of lacrosse began.”
Interestingly, Baaga’adowewin isn’t attributed to Nenabozho, the Ojibwe culture hero. Nenabozho, our great uncle, provided us with the lessons of life and survival at the time when the Earth was new. Following the cycle of Nenabozho stories, a second corpus of origin stories emerged. These stories focused on the dawn of the Ojibwe world, when the awesiinhyag (animals) dominated the Earth and humans played a much lesser role in the Creation. These were ancient stories that explained how things came to be – why certain awesiinhyag had certain colors or behaviors or why the seasons changed. The following two stories indicate that Baaga’adowewin wasn’t a game that was just played among humans; it was also a game played by the awesiinhyag. The importance of the stories provides a timeline of Baaga’adowewin among the Ojibwe. In this regard, Baaga’adowewin wasn’t a new game that developed after the Ojibwe settled the Great Lakes region. Rather, the game existed long before that at a time when the Ojibwe lived in the St. Lawrence Valley. By the time the Ojibwe reached the Great Lakes, Baaga’adowewin was already well established and deeply ingrained in Ojibwe culture.
In “Why Birds Go South in Winter,” there was only one season – summer. Awesiinhyag (animals) play among each other. They play games including Baaga’adowewin. Maang (Loon) is especially fond of Baaga’adowewin and constantly encourages the other bineshiiyag (birds) to play matches with him. One day, Maang challenges Gekek (Hawk) to a match between the bineshiiyag.
Gekek’s team has gaagaagi (raven), gookooko’oo (owl), gijigijigaanshinh (chickadee), bineshiin (thrush), misko-bineshiinh (cardinal), meme (woodpecker), aagask (grouse), jaashaawanibiisi (junco), mayaagibine (pheasant), bine (partridge), apishi-gaagaagi (magpie), and mashkiigobine (spruce grouse). Maang’s team includes nikaa (Canada goose), wiindigoo-bineshiinh (kingbird), opichi (robin), gwaagwaashkwanjiins (sparrow), ozhaawasshko-bineshiinh (bluebird), waabanoong bineshii (oriole), miskwegini-binesi (scarlet tanager), jiichiishkwenh (plover), apagaade-ikwewinini (thrasher), zhaashaawanibiisii (swallow), gaazhigensiwi-bineshiinh (catbird), and ogashkimansi (kingfisher).
As always, a wager is made. In this case, the winner will announce the wager at the game’s conclusion.
It is a ferocious match with injuries on both sides. Gaagaagi (Raven), who has been injured, scores the winning goal. As a result of the victory, Gekek dictates that the east wind would bring clouds, rain, and thunderstorms, during which Baaga’adowewin can’t be played.
Maang, who feels that Gekek’s team has cheated, challenges Gekek to another game. Once again, Maang’s team loses the match.
This time, Gekek issues a sterner penalty for losing the game. As a result of the loss, the north wind will bring cold and snow, and Maang and his friends will have to leave the land and go south. Thus, certain birds fly south for the winter.
In “Thunderbirds and Fireflies,” the young thunderbirds are troublesome birds that were always causing great, destructive storms in their rambunctious play. Their fathers decided to teach them to play lacrosse.
Instead of baaga'adowaan (lacrosse sticks), the young thunderbirds use their wings to wield the ball that had been made from lightning. However, their furious play and flapping of winds causes a great storm and the ball falls to earth. The ball hits the earth and the impact creates Hudson Bay. The smaller pieces of the ball create the smaller lakes in Ontario. Stars fall from the sky and break into thousands of pieces that blink off and on. The falling stars change into fireflies.
As noted, the importance of these two stories emphasizes the early connection of Baaga’adowewin among the Ojibwe. The bird story points out the rough physical nature of the game and gambling as a central point in the game. The thunderbird story reemphasizes gambling and connects the game to war because of the thunderbirds association to war.
Another Baaga’adowewin story that focuses on the warlike attributes of the game is “Wakayabide is Killed Playing Lacrosse and Later Takes Revenge.” Wakayabide is a long story that comprises two, interlinked, central parts. In the first part, Wakayabide is introduced as a manidoo. He mysteriously appears in a village, naked with his intestines hanging out. The young ogimaa (leader) of the village, Madjikiwis, has three sisters. Madjikiwis is a powerful warrior whose bikwaakwado-bagamaagan (ball-headed war club) emits thunder and lightning. Through Madjikiwis’ intervention, Wakayabide marries the littlest of sisters.
The three sisters have been having affairs with other powerful men. Three of them challenge Wakayabide to disprove that he is a manidoo. The first two men are shape-shifters. The first one is gichi-makwa (grizzly bear) and the second one is waabi-makwa (polar bear). The third one has power over water and can make the rivers rise.
Wakayabide easily wins each challenge and he is accepted as a powerful manidoo.
The following day, a Baaga’adowewin match is announced. Gichi-makwa gives Wakayabide a baaga'adowaan (stick) to play with.
Although Wakayabide has brought his bow and arrows with, he leaves his belt at his lodge. The belt contains his spirit helper, ma’iingan (wolf), and ma’iingan had told him to always wear his belt for protection. Gichi-makwa attacks Wakayabide and kills him. He is eaten by the people in the village and his bones are tossed aside.
Inside his lodge, his wife hears the howl of a ma’iingan. She realized it is coming from Wakayabide’s belt. She opens a small pouch on the belt and a small ma’iingang appears. The ma’iingan sets out to find Wakayabide’s bones. Once the bones are found and brought back, they are placed in a pile. The ma’iingan howls four times. With the first howl, the bones reassemble into the shape of a man. With the second howl, flesh appears on the bones. With the third howl, Wakayabide’s eyes open up. On the fourth howl, Wakayabide begins to breathe again.
The next day, another Baaga’adowewin match is announced. In this match, Wakayabide wears his belt and brings his arrows. During the match, Wakayabide attacks gichi-makwa and kills him. Afterward, the bear is cut up, cooked, and shared through the village. The village plays Baaga’adowewin for live people. That is how they get their meat. They eat each other. The bear itself comes back to life the next day because he is a powerful manidoo.
The story of Wakayabide contains many elements that thread through many Ojibwe hero stories. Obviously, this story isn’t about humans playing Baaga’adowewin. It’s about Manidoog (Spirits) playing the game. The connection to the thunderbirds is maintained through Madjikiwis and his war club that flashes thunder and lightning. Indeed, Wakayabide’s association with the binesiwag (thunder beings) is emphasized through his marriage to Madjikiwis’ sister. Wakayabide’s belt is like other personal items that have preternatural qualities found in many hero stories. In this case, his belt protects him and holds his spiritual protector – the ma’iingan. The game that is played is violent and ends in death, although both Wakayabide and the grizzly bear are reanimated back into life. The game is undoubtedly a game between ogichidaag (warriors) in which the players display their skills as ogichidaag. Wakayabide obviously has the favor of the thunderbirds through his association with Madjikiwis. However, in the first game, he is over-matched because he lacks the proper protection (i.e., his belt); in the second game, he enters the field in full array and easily defeats his foe. A darker element of the story ties into the Wiidigoog, beings who were once humans that grew in size and bulk as a result of their consummation of human flesh.
The most famous and deadliest game of Baaga’adowewin happened at Fort Michilimackinac on June 4, 1763. In resistance of newly imposed British trade policies, the Ojibwe, with Sauk allies, attacked the fort as a part of Pontiac’s War. In “History of the Ojibway Nation”, William Warren provides an account of the attack:
During the whole night the Ojibways were silently busy in making preparations for the morrows work. They sharpened their knives and tomahawks, and filed short off their guns, In the morning these weapons were entrusted to the care of their women, who, hiding them under the folds of their blankets, were ordered to stand as near as possible to the gate of the fort, as if to witness the game which the men were about to play. Over a hundred on each side of the Ojibways and Osaugees [Sauk], all chosen men, now sallied forth from their wigwams, painted and ornamented for the occasion…
This game of Baug-ah-ud-o-way is played with a bat and ball. The bat is about four feet long, terminating at one end into a circular curve, which is netted with leather strings…
On the morning of the 4th of June, after the cannon of the fort had been discharged in commemoration of the king’s natal day, the ominous ball was up a short distance in front of the gate…and the exciting game commenced. The two hundred players, their painted persons streaming with feathers, ribbons, fox and wolf tails, swayed to and fro as the ball was carried backwards and forwards by either party, who for the moment had possession of it…
The game, played as it was, by the young men of two different tribes, became exciting, and the commandant of the fort even took his stand outside his open gates, to view its progress. His soldiers stood carelessly unarmed, here and there, intermingling with the Indian women, who gradually huddled near the gateway…
In the struggle for its possession, the ball at last was gradually carried toward the open gates, and all at once, after having reached a proper distance, an athletic arm caught it up in his bat, and as if by accident threw it within the precincts of the fort. With one deafening yell and impulse, the players rushed forward in a body, as if to regain it, but as they reached their women and entered the gateway, they threw down their wooden bats and grasping the shortened guns, tomahawks, and knives, the massacre commenced, and the bodies of the unsuspecting British soldiers soon lay strewn about, lifeless, horribly mangled, and scalpless.
According to Alexander Henry, a well-known trader who witnessed the attack, “of ninety troops, about seventy were killed; the rest were kept in safety by the Ottawas and then freely restored, or ransomed at Montreal.” The French who lived within the confines of the fort were left unharmed. The fort wasn’t held because the main focus of Pontiac’s Rebellion was to attack British forts and encampments, withdraw, and shift the attack elsewhere to drive the British from the hunting, fishing, and gathering grounds of the Great Lakes region. Warren notes that the Lake Superior Ojibwe weren’t part of the attack on Fort Michilimackinac.
Warren states: “The above is the account, much briefened, which I have learned verbally from the old French traders and half-breeds, who learned it from the lips of those who were present and witnessed the bloody transaction.”
From another perspective, Warren’s informants provide a descriptive look at the game itself. The game was played on a large playing field with goalposts at each end. Teams were composed of multiple numbers. The players wore paint, feathers, ribbons, and fox and wolf tails. Their game attire wasn’t unusual. The British were familiar with the game and had observed it many times. As such, they were familiar with the type of attire worn by the players. The fox and wolf tails may have distinguished each team, i.e., perhaps fox tails for the Sauk and wolf tails for the Ojibwe. However, wearing parts of animals and birds were common among Baaga’adowe players. The spiritual essence and character of the animals and birds were absorbed by Baaga’adowe players and provided swiftness and agility on the playing field. Of course, the wearing of animals and birds wasn’t merely for adornment. Like the wolf in Wakayabide’s belt, they provided players with strength and protection. The wearing of such items was the mainstay of ogichidaag who wore these items, for the same reason, on the field of battle. The wearing of paint was also an ogichidaag mainstay whose war paint had significant meaning to the wearer.
Such attire didn’t raise the alarm to the unsuspecting British. They had seen it before. It was part of the game. However, at Fort Michilimackinac, the symbolic battle field of Baaga’adowewin became a real battle field once the attack commenced.
Although the attack was strategically planned and executed under the guise of Baaga’adowewin, it would follow that everything associated with the game would be effectuated – purification ceremonies for the players, the pre-game Departure Dance, and the Victory/Scalp Dance to celebrate the taking of the fort.
Baaga’adowewin was well established among the Minnesota and Wisconsin Ojibwe in the Pre-Reservation period and early Reservation Period, i.e. mid-1800s-early 1900s. In Minnesota, Ojibwe bands engaged in inter-tribal play at Baaga’adowaaning located on the Gaazagaskwaajimekaag Ishkonigan (Leech Lake Reservation). Baaga'adowaaning is translated as “Lacrosse stick” or “The place where you play Lacrosse” and, in its English translation, provides the name of the town of Ball Club. Bois Forte played regularly against the Rainy Lake Ojibwe. Quite often, their games were played on ice. Some games were played at International Falls between U.S. bands and Canadian bands.
In Wisconsin, Baaga’adowewin was played regularly at Madeline Island during the mid-1800s. Bad River and Red Cliff of the Lake Superior Ojibwe hosted teams that played against each other and in tournaments with Ojibwe teams from outside the region. However, the history of Baaga’adowewin stretches back hundreds of years to the Pre-Contact Period when Madeline Island was called Mooningwanekaaning-minis (Home of the Golden-Breasted Flicker) and was the homeland for many Ojibwe before their migration into western and southern Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The historical record of Baaga’adowewin is sparse in regard to the various traditions that were incorporated into the game. Government officials and explorers witnessed games and wrote about them largely from the view as spectators. Anthropologists overlooked the importance of Baaga’adowewin and its rich history and traditions. To them, it was just a game, albeit a widely played game, and one among many games played by Native Americans. But photographs from Wisconsin provide intriguing clues as to the traditions that were incorporated into the game.
A photograph from 1918 shows the Bad River Ba-ga-dwa-in (Lacrosse) team on the playing field at Odanah, Wisconsin. Behind the team are four individuals holding hand-drums. These individuals would have provided songs that were sung during the game. Next to them is an elder holding a lacrosse stick. This would be the medicine man who conducted pre-game ceremonies for the players and who served in his capacity as the team’s spiritual coach on the sidelines. At the center of the group of players, an individual wears a playing uniform typical of the era. The stars on the uniform indicate that this man was the team’s captain. The players are dressed in post-game apparel – Woodland attire that includes leggings, aprons, floral shirts, fur or cloth turbans, and beaded belts. A celebratory dance, i.e., Victory Dance, and feast would follow.
Bad River players in post-game Woodland attire, 1913
The photos of Bad River Baaga’adowewin players depict a substantial link between the old Nandobaniishimowin, i.e. War Dance complex, and a more secular version that had emerged within the structure of the game. However, this secular game version itself has long historical roots, one that reached back to the Pre-Colonial period when tribes who lived in the St. Lawrence Valley system played the game and engaged in conflict with one another. In other words, the two – warfare and the game - existed side by side and both complimented the other.
By the Reservation Period, the secularized war dance, a direct descendant of Nandobaniishimowin, was a part of Ojibwe dance gatherings. Photos from the early 1900s attest that this type of dance, which could be properly termed as Woodland dance, was danced by traditionalists while the dance structure was undergoing changes with the emerging Bwaani-niimi'idiwin (Sioux Dance).
Red Lake, Woodland dancers, ca. early 1900s.
Deer River, Bois Forte Ojibwe, Woodland dancers, ca. early 1900s.
Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe, Woodland dancers, early 1900s.
.In 2007, the Hunting Moon Powwow, hosted by the Forest County Potawatomi, held the first Woodland Special in Milwaukee. According to D.J. Smith, one of the organizers: “This was something that was getting lost. My brother and I sat on the original pow wow committee and we always talked about that dance and you never see it. That’s why it started out as a special. We remember this from our younger years in ceremonies and later on the pow wow circuit.”
The dance field for the Woodland Special was largely composed of Menominee, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe dancers. The Woodland Special wasn’t a reinvention of Northeastern Woodland within a Great Lakes context like some observers thought. It wasn’t a new dance. Rather it was the reemergence of Great Lakes Woodland that had a long history among Menominee, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe. For the dancers, Great Lakes Woodland connected them with past dance traditions that had diminished greatly under the contemporary powwow.
The regalia reflected ties to the ancestral past – feathered turbans, bandolier bags, floral leggings, vests/yokes, and aprons, and ball-headed war clubs or baaga’adowaan (lacrosse sticks). Baaga’adowaanag further emphasized connections to Baaga’adowewin and its interconnections to Victory/Scalp Dance.
Following the introduction of the Woodland Special at Hunting Moon, other powwow committees in Wisconsin, most notably Bad River, began to sponsor Woodland Specials. From Wisconsin, the Woodland Special spread into Minnesota, reaching Leech Lake and White Earth.
Today, the Woodland Special is no longer a special dance featured at Ojibwe powwows. It has become a regular category dance – Men’s Woodland. It has kindled a renaissance among Ojibwe dancers, one that embodies the traditions of ogichidaag.
This article has focused primarily on Ojibwe historical roots to Men’s Woodland. There are, of course, many other tribes – Menominee, Potawatomie, Oneida, Ho-chunk among others - who have reconnected to the dance and have their own histories. In this regard, Men’s Woodland is not a homogeneous dance; rather it is a supratribal dance engaged by many. Like the War Dance of olden times, each dancer brings his own version of the war dance into the dance circle and, through his dance, tells the story of exploits on a war path connected to the tribal past. For the veterans who dance Woodland, the war dance is real-time expression of their experiences; for non-veteran dancers, the dance expresses the essence of one’s soul-spirit.
Men’s Woodland adds a rich hue to the tapestry of the powwow. But it is more than just dance. In our Seven Fires Prophesy, it is said that in the time of the Seventh Fire we will retrace our steps to find what was left by the trail. In Woodland dance, we have found something that was left by the trail. Through Woodland dance, what was left is strongly remembered, and one that will be passed on to the Seventh Generation. And in this, we help to fulfill a prophesy given to our ancestors when the Earth was new. Mii sa go.
Seventh Generation Woodland dancers / Photos by Ron Hamm.
© All Rights Reserved, Robert DesJarlait, 2018
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Note: This is my 2001 Capstone for my Bachelor's Degree in Ethnic Studies at Metropolitan State University. Although it is lengthy at 40 pages, it was extensively researched and included field trips to Oklahoma. The paper presents a history of the Southern Arapaho, but the primary focus is tribal language.
This paper focuses on language and ethnicity. More specifically, the focus is the effects of a dominate language on indigenous cultures. The five top ranking languages in the world are 1) Chinese; 2) Spanish; 3) English; 4) Bengali; 5) Hindi. However, within these dominant language groups, numerous indigenous languages have been absorbed, lost or, if they still exist, are endangered.
In the Western Hemisphere, the establishment of dominant languages was not a natural process. Dominant languages were established through the European quest for dominion in the Western Hemisphere. This included various assimilative methods in which many indigenous languages were replaced by the dominant language base.
Because of the scope and depth of this subject, I have chosen to focus on one specific indigenous group -- the Arapaho. The effects of colonialism on the Arapaho and their language represents a commonality that affected, and affects, all indigenous languages in North, Central, and South America today -- indeed, it affects indigenous languages worldwide. Part One of this paper focuses on the historical processes between dominant languages -- i.e., Spanish and English -- and indigenous languages. Part Two focuses on the development of the Northern Arapaho language immersion program and the problems in revitalizing language among the Southern Arapaho.
In 1492, Queen Isabella of Spain was presented with a copy of Gramatica. Written by Antonio de Nebrija, the Gramatica was “the first-ever grammar of any modern European language.”(1) Upon receiving the document, Queen Isabella asked Nebrija what it was for. Nebrija replied, “Language is the perfect instrument of empire.”(2)
At the time of the arrival of the Spanish over seven hundred indigenous languages were spoken in the Central and South America hemisphere. However, the languages of the Indios were not viewed as a proper languages, at least in the sense of civilized language; rather, the languages of the Indios were considered mere utterances of tongues of people who were, to the Spanish, inferior and uncivilized. In his journal of the First Voyage, Columbus noted: “I believe that they would easily be made Christians...I will carry off six of them at my departure to Your Highness, in order that they may learn to speak.”(3)
The language barrier was beneficial Columbus. In making landfall on the islands of culturally divergent peoples, Columbus could lay claim to those islands because he spoke in a language that was just as alien to the inhabitants as the language of the inhabitants was to him. As noted in European Voyages of Exploration:
If we examine [an] excerpt from the ship’s journal, it was clear that the first thing Columbus did after arriving on shore was to take possession of this new land in the name of the Spanish throne, imposing a European bureaucratic order and intellectual structure over a region that did not practice these particular customs. Care was taken to mention that a royal standard had been brought ashore and that the ceremony had been performed ‘in presence of all,’ including presumably members of the indigenous population who had been sighted before Columbus had even made his way ashore. Witnesses are formally noted in a parchment to verify that Columbus did claim the land in the name of the Spanish throne so that, if need be, they could testify at a later date that no one objected to the ceremony of its ultimate purpose. Perhaps it was with an eye towards eventual protests that he took advantage of the indigenous population by performing a strange ceremony in an equally strange language that Columbus takes time to mention later in the passage that “I observed that they quickly took in what was said to them.”(4)
To the Spanish, the languages of the Indios was, at best, rudimentary. Amerigo Vespucci wrote: “[I]n their conversation they appear simple...they speak little and in a low tone: they use the same articulations as we, since they form their utterances either with the palate, or with the teeth, or on the lips: except that they give different names to things. Many are the varieties of tongues: for in every 100 leagues we found a change of language, so that they are not understandable to each other”(5)
The overall perspective of the Spanish was that the Indios lived “like proper beasts”(6) and they committed “bestial obscenities.”(7) The humanist Juan Gines de Sepulveda wrote:
Compare then those blessings enjoyed by the Spaniards of prudence, genius, magnanimity, temperance, humanity, and religion with those of the little men (hombrecillos, the Indians) in whom you will scarcely find even the vestiges of humanity, who not only possess no science but who also lack letters and preserve no monument of their history except vague and obscure reminiscences of some things on certain paintings.(8)
What was clear to Spanish explorers and thinkers was that the Indios lacked a true language. The Indios had no written words or recorded history; however, they had the ability to make sounds and, therefore, could be taught to learn to speak a civilized language.
The advantage by which the Spanish made use of the language barrier was epitomized by the Requirimiento. The Requirimeinto was a document that informed the Indios of their rights as an oppressed people. In essence, “it informed the Indians in the simplest terms that they could either accept Christian missionaries and Spanish hegemony or be annihilated.”(9) The Requirimiento was a legal fiction that established a charter of conquest over the indigenous populations of Central and South America. “This elaborate dictum...was to be recited in the presence of the Indians although none of them understood a word of Spanish.”(10)
In all the journals, documents, and theological discussions of the Spanish, there was only one attempt to understand and categorize the languages of the Indios. In Chapter 40 of the Reacion, Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish explorer who journeyed into North America in 1542, wrote:
I should like to catalog the natives and their languages all the way from the island of Doom to the farthest Cuhendados. Two languages are found on the island: those spoken by the Capoques and Han. On the mainland over against the island are the Charruco, who take their name from the forests where they live. Advancing along the coast, we come to the Deguenes and, opposite them, the Mendica. Farther down the coast are the Quevenes and, behind them inland, the Mariames. Continuing along the coast: the Guaycones and, behind them inland, the Yeguaces. After these come the Atayos, in their rear the Decubadaos, and beyond them many other in the same direction. By the coast live the Quitoles and, just behind them inland, the Chavavares and, adjoining them in order: the Maliacones, Cultalchulches, Susolas, and Comos. By the coast farther on are the Camolas and, on the same coast beyond them, those we call the “Fig People.” They all differ in their habitations, villages and tongues.(11)
Vaca was describing the native peoples of northern Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. However, Vaca’s Reacion went unnoticed because to recognize that the Indios possessed distinct languages was to put a human face on peoples whom the Spanish regarded as little more than wild savage peoples.
Most important, the Spanish order of conquest focused not only on the subjugation of the lands and the peoples but also of the destruction of languages. While the conquistadors used military tactics to separate and divide the tribes and, hence, establish provincial colonies, missionaries sought the assimilate the survivors of the holocaust through the suppression of language and conversion to Christianity. The Spanish formula for conquest of language was simple enough. By suppressing the language and imposing the dominant language, cultural identity was lost and Christian conversion completed the process of assimilation.
In 1861, after the Fort Wise Treaty was signed, Little Raven, principal chief of the Southern Arapaho, said: “[A.G.] Boone came out and got (the chiefs) to sign a paper, but (they) did not know what it meant. The Cheyennes signed it first; then I; but we did not know what it was.”(12)
In negotiating treaties with the U.S. government, the experience of the Southern Arapaho was not unique. In 1779, John Killbuck, a Delaware signatory, wrote to Colonel George Morgan that “he had been deceived because of the interpreter.”(13) Morgan’s response was “[t]here was never a Conference with the Indians so improperly or villainously conducted as the last one at Pittsburgh...”(14)
Treaties were the means by which the colonizing European nations obtained Native land in North America. Unlike the Spanish, the French and the British chose a diplomatic process to establish colonizing land bases, trade, and peace with tribal nations. Initially, treaty-making was a conference in which the two sides met and discussed the issues at hand. Francis Jennings writes:
As in European diplomacy speeches were translated after having been delivered in the speaker’s own language. The interpreter often became a very influential person, for his skill and intentions might make or break a treaty. Few Europeans spoke Indian languages...[b]y the end of a successful treaty conference the parties had made a contract that existed in two forms, wampum belts and treaty minutes. Sometimes the English asked the Indian chiefs to subscribe their marks on an especially important contract to validate it indisputably...[t]he question is always asked, Did the Indians know what they were signing? The answer varies. Procedure usually called for the English to read the document aloud to the Indians before the signing, and they did not always read what was on the paper. The Indians signed for what they had heard. The English held them to what was written.(15)
The obstacle of language was resolved through the role of an intermediary, i.e., the interpreter, who translated the issues between the parties. However, most interpreters were white and their allegiance was to their own nations or, more often, for their own personal gain. With the establishment of the United States, the treaty-making process continued. The focus of U.S. treaties was the expansion of its national boundaries. There was also a change in the treaty process itself. Whereas former treaties with European powers were recorded as minutes, U.S. treaties were drawn up first in Washington and then negotiated with tribal nations. And the language abuses continued. Vine Deloria notes:
Although a “treaty” seems to imply an equal bargaining position, the Indians were often at a clear disadvantage when negotiating such arrangements. The actual document was always written in English and was generally interpreted by people who had a stake in a successful outcome of the proceedings, so the Indians were not always told the truth during these sessions.(16)
After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the United States began to initiate treaty-making methods in the West that had been successful in subjugating tribal land in the East. The experience of the Southern Arapaho epitomized the experience of nearly all tribal nations in dealing the U.S. government’s colonial policies via treaties of establishing U.S. land ownership, establishing tribal boundaries, creating a presence within tribal land and, through successive treaties, instituting assimilation through mission schools and boarding schools.
Most important, the language barrier played a pivotal role in the treaty-making process. In time, the United States would seek to resolve the language barrier by attempting to destroy tribal languages through specific treaty stipulations.
It is the language of the Arapaho that reveals their history as a people. In their early history, the Arapaho were one of many bands that comprised the Anishinaabe nation. The ancestral home of the Anishinaabe people was located in present-day New Brunswick, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. At an early point, Anishinaabe bands began to migrate westward. These bands were, in essence, proto-tribes, i.e., they would develop into tribes in their own right; however, they would preserve their connections as Anishinaabe people through language and customs.
At that time, the Arapaho were called the Kana-nav-ish, the Path People in the language of the Anishinaabe. Their migratory path took them across Canada, into present-day Ontario, and then south into Minnesota. They were most likely located in northern Minnesota, near the source of the Mississippi River, at the time that Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1492. Sometime in the late 1500s or early 1600s, the Kana-nav-ish began to, once again, migrate to the west, across the Red River and into North Dakota. As they moved into a new biome of flora and fauna, their language underwent extensive modifications of its sound structure in a relatively short period of time.(17) In their own developing daughter-language, they called themselves the Hinana-aeina. In the mid-1700s, the Kana-nav-ish broke into two groups and separated at the upper Missouri River. The group that migrated into present-day Montana were called the Atsina (Gros Ventre), and the group that crossed the upper Missouri River into present-day Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas retained the name of Hinana-aeina (Our People).
Concerning the Arapahoan language, Zdenek Salzmann writes:
Arapaho has certain characteristic grammatical features, among them a highly inflected verb and complex derivational morphology; a formal distinction between animate and inanimate genders -- the former referring to most living things as well as to some others classified by the Arapaho as living (for example, rock, tepee pole, rope); the distinction in the first person plural of verbs and possessed nouns between exclusive and inclusive forms, the former being employed when the addressee is not among the persons referred to, as when a woman in the presence of her husband talks to a visitor about “our children,” who clearly are not the visitor’s children (by contrast, inclusive forms subsume the addressee, or hearer, among the person’s referred to); the obviative, marking a form or construction, whether in singular or plural, that relates to the subordinate of two animate third person referents in a given context (as in “her horse” or “the chief’s son,” where “horse” and “son” would appear in the obviative form); and dependency (obligatory possession) of certain nouns, especially body parts and kinship terms -- that is, their occurrence exclusively in possessed forms (someone’s heart, my heart, my father, your mother, and so on) rather than also in absolute forms (dog, rope, and so on)(18)
After their move onto the Plains, the Arapaho were joined by the Cheyenne. The Cheyenne were also an Anishinaabe band that had migrated to the west. On the Plains, the ceremonies of the Arapaho underwent changes. One of the most important was the Offerings Lodge (i.e., the Sun Dance). Certain elements of the Offerings Lodge retained ties to the Mide Lodge (Medicine Lodge) of the Anishinaabe. These changes in ceremonies, and the habitation in Plains biome, led to a further development in the Arapahoan language through which the Arapaho established their ethnicity as a Plains tribal nation.
On September 17, 1851, the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Assinaboine, Gros-Ventre, Mandan, and Arrickara signed the treaty of Fort Laramie. Although several of the other tribal nations had previously signed treaties, it was the first treaty the Arapaho had signed with the U.S. government. The Treaty of Fort Laramie recognized and guaranteed the Plains homelands of the Arapaho - i.e., present-day Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas - and the homelands of the other tribes as well. Essentially, the treaty established borders between the tribal nations and established borders between those tribal nations and the United States. Because the Cheyenne were allies of the Arapaho and lived within the Arapaho land base, they were included as part of the homeland of the Arapaho.
One of the treaty’s stipulations is that it provided the right of the United States to build forts in tribal lands. On the surface this may have seemed reasonable since the Plains nations retained their homelands. However, by obtaining the right to build forts within tribal lands, the United States was able to build a network of forts throughout Plains sovereign territories and, hence, establish a military presence within those lands.
By this time, the Arapaho and their Cheyenne allies had divided into two divisions -- the Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne, and the Northern Arapaho and the Northern Cheyenne. The division among the Arapaho did not cause a division of their ethnicity as Arapaho people. Through their language and ceremonies, the Arapaho remained a single ethnic group.
In 1858, gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains. By 1859, 100,000 goldminers invaded the winter camp sites, i.e., present-day Denver and Boulder, of the Southern Arapaho. The goldminers, through the Kansas Territorial Legislature, established towns in the sovereign land of the Arapaho and Cheyenne. Although the influx of whites and the townsites were in clear violation of the Fort Laramie treaty, the U.S. government choose to do nothing about it. Rather, the pattern of invading tribal sovereign land was the same that had happened to the eastern tribes. With the expansion of the status quo, i.e., the white population, the original treaties were renegotiated and the tribal land base was drastically reduced or the tribal land title was extinguished altogether and the tribe was removed elsewhere.
True to the colonializing pattern of the United States, the government sought to renegotiate the Fort Laramie treaty with the Arapaho and the Cheyenne. In 1861, a treaty council was held at Fort Wise, Kansas Territory. The government’s negotiator was A.G. Boone, the grandson of Daniel Boone. Boone hastily called for the treaty meeting in the absence of Left Hand. Left Hand was a Southern Arapaho chief was spoke Arapaho, Cheyenne, and English. He was instrumental in interpreting treaty stipulations to his people and to the Cheyenne. In addition, the treaty was made in the absence of the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne chiefs.
One of the treaty articles introduced assimilative stipulations. Article Four provided for the building of homes and for the aid necessary for agricultural pursuits. Without a clear understanding of the meaningless words on paper, the Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne chiefs signed the treaty. Interestingly, a special provision provided land for the two mixed blood interpreters, Robert Bent and John Smith.
Three years after the signing of the treaty, the U.S. failed to live up to its obligations as promised in the treaty. The homes were not built and the agricultural aid was not provided. By this time, the Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne had been reduced to a state of destitution and starvation. The bison herds were scattered and armed resistance by the northern groups led to anti-Indian hysteria by the white population. The southern tribes were ordered to establish a village within their boundaries. The site chosen was located on Big Sandy Creek.
On the morning of November 29, 1864, the friendly camp of Arapaho and Cheyenne was attacked by Col. John Chivington. The men were away on a hunting foray. In the ensuing massacre, sixty Southern Arapaho and one hundred Southern Cheyenne, mainly women, children and elders, were murdered and their bodies mutilated by Chivington’s troops.
Although the southern groups had been attacked without provocation, had been within the parameters of the treaty land base, and had not violated any of the treaty terms, the government, in a purely Kafkaesque move, negotiated a treaty in 1865 that took the southern groups out of Colorado and placed them in Kansas. This treaty, the Treaty of the Little Arkansas, did not stipulate any assimilation provisions. Rather, it was clearly intended as a means to remove the Arapaho and Cheyenne from their Plains land base.
However, Kansas did not want an Arapaho and Cheyenne reservation located in their state. This led to the Treaty of the Council Camp on Medicine Lodge Creek on October 28, 1867. The treaty not only removed the Arapaho and Cheyenne to Indian Territory, i.e., present-day Oklahoma, but it was also a precise instrument of assimilative colonialization.
The treaty provisions included the placing of an Indian agent on the Arapaho-Cheyenne reservation and several buildings to house the agent, a physician, blacksmith, farmer, carpenter, miller, and engineer. The assimilative measures included the building of a school-house or mission-building for the purposes of providing an English education. Article 7 states:
In order to insure the civilization of the tribes entering into this treaty, the necessity of education is admitted, especially by such of them as are or may be settled on said agricultural reservation, and they therefore pledge themselves to compel their children, male and female, between the ages of six and sixteen years, to attend school; and it is hereby made the duty of the agent for said Indians to see that this stipulation is strictly complied with; and the United States agrees that for every thirty children between said ages, who can be induced or compelled to attend school, a house shall be provided, and a teacher competent to teach the elementary branches of an English education shall be furnished, who will reside among said Indians, and faithfully discharge his or her duties as a teacher...(19)
To complete the assimilative process, the Arapaho and Cheyenne were required to adopt Euro-American clothing in exchange for traditional clothing. The Medicine Lodge Creek treaty was an explicit document of assimilation. At the core of the treaty was the reformist ideal of assimilation through the eradication of tribal language. Twenty years later, this Protestant reformist ideal was best expressed by J.D.C. Atkins, Commissioner of Indian Affairs. “In his 1887 report, the commissioner of Indian Affairs expressed his commitment to monolingualism and stressed the ‘importance of teaching Indians the English language.’ He further elaborated upon the language issue by stating that ‘this language, which is good enough for a white man and a black man, ought to be good enough for the red man.’ Thus, the Indians’ expressions of culture were relegated to nothingness...”(20)
Six months after the signing of the Medicine Lodge Creek treaty, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 was signed by the Brule, Oglala, Miniconjou, Yankton, Hunkpapa, Blackfeet, Cuthead, Two Kettle, Sans Arcs, and Santee bands of Sioux and Arapaho. The Arapaho named here was the northern division who had allied with the Sioux and had taken up armed resistance after the Sand Creek Massacre. The Fort Laramie treaty was a mirror document of the Medicine Creek Lodge treaty. The Fort Laramie treaty included the same assimilation stipulations as the Medicine Lodge Creek treaty.
The land base provided for in the Fort Laramie treaty covered a broad area and, under the terms of the treaty, would include all the Indian nations named in the treaty. Because the treaty land base was centered in Sioux territory, the government had to renegotiate separate treaties with each of the tribes. On May, 10th, 1868, the Treaty of Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho was signed. In this treaty, the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne agreed to the terms of the Medicine Lodge Creek treaty and that they would relocate to the reservation in Indian Territory provided for under the Medicine Lodge Creek treaty.
However, the Northern Arapaho did not want to leave their northern ranges. In September-October, 1876, a council was held and an agreement made with the Sioux, Northern Arapaho, and Northern Cheyenne. The agreement reiterated the assimilation stipulations set forth in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Through this agreement, the Northern Arapaho were able to remain in their northern ranges; however, they were without a reservation. In October, 1877, the Shoshone consented to give up a southeastern portion of the Wind River reservation in Wyoming to the Northern Arapaho.
In 1869, the Southern Arapaho began moving into Indian Territory. The location of the reservation that had been provided through the Medicine Lodge Creek treaty was vague. In August of that year, President Grant issued a proclamation that provided a reservation for the Arapaho and Cheyenne that was located in the west central part of Indian Territory. The agency was located at Darlington, named after the agent who was in charge of the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation. Brinton Darlington, a devout Quaker, was representative of President Grant’s peace policy of staffing Indian reservations with Quakers. It was the Quakers who could strongly implement the government’s three-point program of educating, civilizing, and Christianizing the Native populations on Indian reservations.
Beginning in 1871, “several different [government] schools were located on the Cheyenne and Arapaho land base. The first of these was the Arapaho Manual Labor and Boarding School at Darlington, followed by the Cheyenne Manual Labor and Boarding School at Caddo Springs [present-day Concho]. Seger Indian Industrial School at Colony was later instituted, followed by Red Moon School near Hammon and Cantonment School near Canton...”(21)
John H. Seger was instrumental in establishing and maintaining government schools on the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation. After becoming the superintendent of the Arapaho Manual Labor and Boarding School, Seger noted in his annual report that ‘one of the major problems he encountered with students was their reluctance to converse in the English language,’ although they spoke it in the classroom. He therefore mandated use of the English language in every aspect of the school experience; those exhibiting the most fluency were extended certain privileges...”(22)
In 1880, the first Mennonite mission school opened at Darlington, followed by the Mennonite Mission School at Cantonment, and Mennonite Mission at Seger Colony. The missionaries and Indian agents were not only active in suppressing Southern Arapaho and Cheyenne ceremonies like the Offerings Lodge; “they were quite intolerant of tribal languages as well.”(23) The commissioner [of Indian Affairs] implemented his language policy on December 14, 1886, by directing Indian agents that ‘in all schools conducted by missionary organizations it is required that instructions shall be given in the English language.’ This was followed by another directive...ordering that ‘no school will be permitted on the reservation in which English is not exclusively taught.’”(24)
Although the Arapaho and Cheyenne were well aware of the Medicine Lodge Creek treaty stipulation concerning education, they refused to send their children to the agency school at Darlington. In 1880, Agent Charles F. Ashley reacted by instituting a policy of compulsory education. Under this policy, food rations would be withheld against families who refused to send their children to school. Arapaho and Cheyenne parents had no choice but to admit their children to school to learn the white man’s ways. Thus, in essence, Arapaho and Cheyenne children were held as hostages.
Henrietta Mann, a Southern Cheyenne, writes of her grandmother’s experiences at Cantonment:
The sadness, pain, alienation, and bad memories associated with deliberate destruction of a people’s verbal expression of their culture are indescribable. Prohibition, denigration of culture, harsh punishment, and forced acculturation are implied in the simple statement, “Oh! We were punished for speaking Cheyenne.” My grandparents’ facial expressions became masklike as they remembered the attempts to destroy their language.(25)
In 1890, the Jerome Commission initiated the allotment process with the Southern Arapaho and Cheyenne. On April 19, 1892, the 4,300,000 acre Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation was reduced to 530,000 acres of allotted trust land.
One year later, “...the tribes numbered 3,086 (1,042 Arapahoes and 2,044 Cheyennes). Of them 600 could read, 750 could speak English, and 500 had adopted white dress.”(26) Five years later, Superintendent John Whitwell issued his first annual report. He noted that “instead of a ‘grunt’ the English language was used ‘in the schoolroom and playgrounds, in the workshops and on the farm...Whitwell concluded by stating: ‘The dark cloud of nonprogression which has cast a gloom over this district for so many years is slowly but surely being dispelled by the sun of civilization.’”(27)
On February 14, 1929, Public Law 760 was passed and it enforced “compulsory school attendance of Indian pupils, as provided by the law of the State.”(28) Mann writes:
Federal appropriations for the public school education of American Indian students had increased annually, but the goals of such an education, like the types preceding it, were still to “civilize” and homogenize. The public schools were no different in their attempts to transform American Indian children into marginal, dark-skinned white people, completely disregarding differences in orientation and world view that the tribal people had evolved since the beginning of time.(29)
The effects of acculturation on the Southern Arapaho culture were devastating. After the allotment act, the traditional chieftainship lost its political power. The younger generation that had attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial Training School and the Haskell Institute returned and, after the passing of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act in 1936, became the political leaders of the tribe. No longer versed in the language or customs of their culture, these younger leaders, whom the elders caustically referred to as the scholars, instituted a colonial styled tribal government as dictated by the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act.
By the 1930s, the Offerings Lodge became virtually non-existent among the Southern Arapaho. With the passing of the elders into the Spirit World, there were no longer younger people who could carry on the ceremony because they could not speak their language. It was for this reason that the Southern Arapaho turned to their northern kin at Wind River for the maintenance of the Offerings Lodge.
The Southern Arapaho maintained their own obligations as the Keepers of the Sacred Wheel; yet, it was the Saeicha, the Sacred Flat Pipe, that held, and continues to hold, the Arapaho together as a nation. “While it belongs to the entire tribe and serves as the symbol of its existence and as guarantor of its safety, the Pipe is in the custody of a designated keeper from the Northern Arapaho.”(30)
The Northern Arapaho underwent the same pressures of acculturation as the southern division. The government boarding school was located at Fort Washakie; a Catholic mission, St. Stephen’s, was established in 1884 and, in 1913, St. Michael’s Episcopal Mission was established. All three espoused the government’s three-point program of educating, civilizing, and Christianizing on the Wind River reservation.
The Offerings Lodge (Sun Dance) was at the center of the government’s efforts to repress culture. “The [Northern] Arapahoes were strongly committed to the Offerings Lodge, and although some agents tried to enforce the Indian Office’s ban on the ceremony...the ritual continued to be held almost annually...the Arapahoes apparently convinced the Indian agents and military authorities at Fort Washakie that the Offerings Lodge would not interfere with the civilization effort.”(31) By 1923, the Offerings Lodge became an annual event that continues to the present day.
Like the Southern Arapaho, Northern Arapaho society was structured on an age-grade hierarchy. There were seven age-grades that began with youthhood and ascended to elderhood. The last age-grade, the Hinenniinoowu (Old Men’s Lodge), was the most sacred and the most powerful. The Hinenniinoowu provided direction for the tribe and it was through their approval that one could become a chief. “But ritual authorities faced serious difficulties that threatened to undermine their influence and minimize their role in reservation life. As priests died and agents took repressive measures to curtail the Indian ‘dances,’ the ceremonial elders found it increasingly difficult to pass their knowledge of tribal ceremonies on to younger men. Christianity was potentially competitive with the native religion and the government offered incentives and imposed sanctions to pressure the Arapahoes toward conversion.”(32)
With change, the Arapaho elders found a way for the continuity of their traditions. “Some aspects of the tribal rituals were altered or reinterpreted to accommodate the abilities of the men available to direct them. The elders emphasized flexibility in revising specific procedures and criteria for ritual leadership in order to perpetuate native religion in general. And so the rituals survived the crisis of leadership brought about by the deaths of priests and repressive government policies.”(33)
The Northern Arapaho overcame the problem by lowering the ages of the grades. Lowering the age requirements allowed younger men to gain status in Arapaho society. Most important, through the participation in ceremonies, the language was maintained. Loretta Fowler writes:
One of the puzzling facts about the Arapahoes has been that intermediaries frequently and convincingly maintained to whites that the Arapahoes wanted to “be like the white man,” yet they did not renounce their religion, cease speaking their native language, or replace native with white patterns of social interaction...[o]bservers often erroneously predicted the demise of traditional culture...[f]or example, in 1947 Feliks Gross found that Arapahoes gradually were losing their “traditional” cultural values. He based his conclusions on observations of behavioral innovations; young people, for example, spoke English more often and ‘better’ than they spoke Arapahoe. Contrary to Gross’s predictions, the elderly Arapahoe of today (the youths referred to in Gross’s study) speak Arapahoe often and, in the opinion of Arapahoes, expertly. Gross failed to inquire into the meaning of the use of Arapahoe as opposed to English in particular social contexts; in the Arapahoe view, Arapahoe was becoming culturally appropriate only in particular social contexts and most appropriate for speakers of particular age categories.(34)
Although Gross’s study was made in 1947 and Fowler’s remarks were published in 1982, it provides a key as to how the Northern Arapaho were able to maintain their language well into the 1950s.
Yet, the government’s efforts to eradicate the Northern Arapaho language was no less intense than the efforts that occurred on the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation in Oklahoma. The young children who attended the government boarding school and mission schools were subjected the Protestant ideal of language and citizenship. This ideal was reflected in the policies and programs initiated by Indian Affairs commissioners in the late 1800s. David Wallace Adams writes:
Education for citizenship focused on language instruction and political socialization. The connection between language and citizenship stemmed from the belief that, along with all citizens, the Indian child should be compelled to read, write, and speak the English language. As Commissioner of Indian Affairs J.D.C Atkins argued in 1887: “If we expect to infuse into the rising generation the leaven of American citizenship, we must remove the stumbling blocks of hereditary customs and manners, and of these language is one of the most important elements.” According to Atkins, “no unity or community of feeling can be established among different people unless they are brought to speak the same language and thus be imbued with the like ideas of duty.”...[T]he bottom line was that Indians, as a colonialized people, could be expected to take on the tongue of their conquerors.(35)
In 1891, Congress authorized the Indian Bureau to deny rations and clothing to parents who withheld their children from boarding or mission schools. Interestingly, this official policy of compulsory education was the same policy that the Southern Arapaho had been subjected to eleven years before.
The Arapaho were one people, separated by northern and southern designations, who shared the same customs and ceremonies. And, they spoke the same language. Both were subjected to strenuous government policies that sought to destroy their language. Though greatly diminished, the language survived, more so among the Northern Arapaho than Southern Arapaho. However, it survived only to become one of many tribal languages that today have become endangered languages. Salzmann writes:
The Arapaho vocabulary is very rich and nuanced and is capable and ready to generate terms for new concepts that have entered the Arapaho cultural universe from the outside (words for automobile, radio, and the like). Whereas before World War II most adult Arapaho, at least in Wyoming, either spoke Arapaho actively or understood when it was spoken to them, the number of Arapaho speakers has declined dramatically to such an extent that the younger generations are for all practical purposes monolingual in English. Moreover, English has even come to influence the speech of those individuals who have managed to retain command of their native language. In short, Arapaho is no longer a flourishing or enduring language; rather, it is a rapidly declining language that has reached the initial stages of obsolesence. The only individuals among the Northern Arapaho who have full command of their language, even if they no longer use it habitually, are members of the oldest generation, which means that parents do not teach Arapaho to their children in the home. As a result, the numbers of active speakers and of those who have some passive knowledge of Arapaho are declining very rapidly; English is preferred in essentially all situations, including even some traditional ceremonial contexts, and the language is losing its communicative viability -- its capacity to adapt successfully to new situations -- not because of some inherent deficiency but as a result of disuse. Unless a prompt and massive revitalization and restoration program is undertaken, the rich and vibrant language of the Arapaho will cease to be spoken altogether within a generation or so.(36)
According to the 1990 Census, there were 1,038 speakers of Arapaho; this includes the Arapaho populations of the Wind River Northern Arapaho and the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. The total Arapaho population for both areas combined, in 1990, is approximately 12,000. Because both groups speak the same language, this means that approximately 10% of the Arapaho population spoke their own language.
If the Arapaho population is separated by their designated divisions, i.e., Southern Arapaho and Northern Arapaho, the numbers become even more alarming. Out of the original number of speakers, i.e., 1,038, approximately 200 hundred were Southern Arapaho -- out of a population of 7,000 -- and the remaining number of 838 were Northern Arapaho -- out of a population of 5,000. Thus, in 1990, less than 1% of the Southern Arapaho were fluent in their tribal language and 9% of the Northern Arapaho spoke their language.
However, even these figures are misleading because they are based on the assumption of 1,038 speakers. “[T]his is probably a conservative estimate of the threat, since the Census has no way of knowing whether these are fluent speakers. It [the Census] simply asks the rather vague and ambiguous question: ‘Does this person speak a language other than English at home?’ But not ‘How well?’ ‘How often?’ or ‘Under what circumstances?’”(37) In other words, an Arapaho person with rudamentary knowledge of Arapaho language could, and most likely did, respond affirmatively to the Census question of language.
In 1991, Joshua Fishman, in his book Reversing Language Shift, postulated a continuum of eight stages of language loss with stage eight being the closest to total extinction and stage one being the closest to dynamic survival. Fishman’s study was based on minority languages worldwide.(38)
Current Status of Language
Stage 8: Only a few elders speak the language.
Stage 7: Only adults beyond child bearing age speak the language.
Stage 6: Some intergenerational use of language.
Stage 5: Language is still very much alive in the community.
Stage 4: Language is required in elementary schools.
Stage 3: Language is used in places of business and by employees in less specialized work areas.
Stage 2: Language is used by local government and in the mass media in the minority community.
Stage 1: Some language use by higher levels of government and in higher education.(39)
Thus, under Fishburn’s stages, in 1990, Southern Arapaho were at Stage 8 and Northern Arapaho hovered between Stage 7 and Stage 8. The Arapaho language is one of 175 tribal languages spoken in the United States; 155 of these - 89% - are moribund, i.e., they are spoken only by adults who no longer teach them to the next generation.(40)
Michael Krauss, who has postulated a category system for endangered languages, writes:
Out of over three hundred languages [U.S. and Canada], two hundred and ten are left, but for how much longer? We need to assess the viability of those languages in terms of what I consider the most crucial factor: namely, are children learning these languages in the traditional way, the best way, that has worked since time immemorial for uncountable generations. I would categorize in viability Category A those languages that are still being learned by children in the traditional way.
Category A is unfortunately now the smallest category in North America. About 175 of the 210 languages are spoken in the United States; the other 35 are only in Canada. Out of those 175 languages in the United States, only about 20, or eleven percent, are still being learned by children from their parents and elders in the traditional way. Things are somewhat better in Canada, where about 30 percent of the indigenous languages are still spoken by children. This improves the North American total, but Category A remains the smallest.
The second category is Category B, with about thirty languages, seventeen percent, in both the United States and Canada. These are languages still spoken by the parental generation, which could theoretically turn around and start speaking their native language instead of English to their children but generally they do not. Category B is the second smallest category.
The largest categories by far, unfortunately, are Categories C and D. Category C consists of languages spoken by the middle-aged or grandparental generation and up only. Note that I am not citing the number of speakers, since it does not really make that much difference if such a language has a million speakers or only a hundred. If a language of a million people is not spoken by anyone under fifty, then it is not going to last much longer than such a language spoken by a hundred people. A large number of speakers in itself does not assure survival. Category C languages are found in about the same percentage in the United States and Canada.
Category D languages are those spoken only by a few of the very oldest people. These elders often do not have the chance to talk much to each other. The language may be completely out of use, or it may be only remembered, so not quite extinct. California is the state that has by far the largest number of indigenous languages in North America. Approximately forty of these languages are still remembered by at least one or two people in their eighties.Category C includes about 70, or 40 percent, of our languages in the United States, and Category D about a third. Whereas the United States has a very small number of Category A languages still spoken by children, Canada has a much smaller number of Category D (nearly extinct) languages.(41)
In the late 1970s, an Arapaho language immersion class had been initiated in the Wind River reservation public school system. “By 1984, Arapaho was being taught from kindergarten to grade 12. Language instruction was conducted for 15 minutes a day each day of the school week.”(42) In 1992, Northern Arapaho elders became concerned that the Arapaho language was not being taught properly to the children. What was being taught was limited to basic vocabulary words - names of animals, numbers, colors - and several simple phrases.
In 1993, Stephen Greymorning, who is Northern Arapaho and a University of Montana assistant professor of anthropology and Native American studies, and a language specialist, was brought in by the Northern Plains Educational Foundation to develop a more comprehensive language and culture program in the reservation public schools. Greymorning began by hiring six instructors who were fluent speakers of Arapaho. These individuals had to pass a review of elders who were fluent speakers and who composed the Arapaho language commission.
One of the main problems that Greymorning discovered was the lack of time allowed for language immersion. He found that fifteen minutes multiplied by the one-hundred eighty day school year equaled forty-five hours of language instruction per year. Greymorning was able to implement an 18 week pilot study in which a kindergarten class received an hour of language instruction each day.(43)
The language class was composed of 15 children who were divided into three groups of five. Each group rotated through three language stations that offered fifteen minutes of instruction. Each station focused on a specific area of language proficiency, e.g., vocabulary, asking questions, responding to questions. For the remaining fifteen minutes, the children were brought together as one class. This last station emphasized whole language learning. After twelve weeks, the acquired a command of 163 words and phrases(44)
Based on this success, Greymorning was able to expand the class time for pre-schoolers twice in 1994. In 1995, Greymorning was able to implement a weekly full day immersion pre-school class; a year later, a second pre-school immersion class was added. These two pre-school classes became the basis of the Hinono’etiit Hoowu’ -- the Arapaho Language Lodge. This is a non-profit organization that maintains a language environment that will generate new Arapaho speakers.(45)
Although the immersion programs have been successful in widening the vocabulary of the children, full fluency remains elusive. Greymorning writes:
The strong start of the class led me to hope that the elusive goal of fluency among the immersion class children would be realized. Unfortunately, as in previous years, while the children of both immersion classes were speaking far more Arapaho than children had mastered the year before, they were still only using the language within the confines of what they had been exposed to, and that, when compared to the fullness of the entire Arapaho language, was very limited. Again, the key that seemed to be lacking was an understanding of that facet of language acquisition that allows children to begin to independently use and manipulate language on their own. Thus, it is not enough simply to teach children language phases. If the objective is for the children to acquire our native languages, then children must be exposed to every facet of whatever native language they are meant to acquire...[t]he only way to get children to speak in such a full manner is to systematically expose them to speech forms in a way that requires them to not only hear the usage of such forms but also requires them to verbally respond to such speech acts by using a full array of speech forms...[f]or those who would wonder why anyone should have to worry about whether someone should actually be able to say such things, the response is that it is because of the fact that a speaker possesses the ability to go beyond saying isolated words and phrases to say such things, and much more, that they are recognized as fluent. Furthermore, if we cannot pass on to our developing speakers this ability our languages will be lost. Therefore, if we are to maintain any hope of keeping our languages viable and alive, it remains absolutely essential that we shift our focus from teaching our children words and phrases to passing on to them the ability to think and effectively communicate in our native languages.(46)
In 1994, the Walt Disney Co. and Greymorning worked together to translate the Disney animated classic, Bambi, into Arapaho. Thirty Arapaho members, including 18 children, were chosen for the speaking roles. Bambi is part of Greymorning’s multifaceted approach to language immersion: “This means that efforts should be taken to have the language seen and heard in as many places as possible, like on street signs, the radio, computers, and books. Some of those early efforts produced audio cassettes of children’s songs and stories that children could sing to or read along with, also animated computerized children stories, and a prototype for a talking dictionary with word phrases that linked to animated recreations of what was being said.”(47) Currently, Greymorning is working on Arapaho translations of the animated films, The Little Fox and Willie The Sparrow, as a continuing part of this multifaceted effort.
Despite the success of his efforts, Greymorning encountered a problem that often plagues native immersion programs. He writes:
It is interesting how some of our strongest efforts can at times bring about opposition from our own people. As our language efforts intensified so did the criticism. I frequently heard comments about the sacredness of the language and that it should not be used in a cartoon, in books, or on a computer. Comments like these made me wonder what benefit could come by keeping language locked away as though it was in a closet...[w]e have been given something sacred, and we recognize its sacredness, but instead of blessing our children with this Sacred gift, a vast majority of speakers seemed to have buried their language out of reach from our children and out of reach from our future.(48)
Among the Southern Arapaho, language has reached the extreme end of Category 8. To date (June 2000), there are among an Arapaho population of approximately 9,000, five fully fluent speakers of the Arapaho language. Unfortunately, there has been no concerted effort to establish an Arapaho language immersion program.
In 1995, efforts to create an immersion program was started by the staff of the Head Start program at Canton, Oklahoma. Initially the Canton staff attempted to access elders in their community. They discovered that several were in nursing homes and that the few who lived in their own homes in the community could not work with young children. The staff did locate one Arapaho elder who lived in Oklahoma City but limited Head Start funds prohibited transportation costs. The staff then hired a teacher’s aid who, though not a fluent speaker of the language, taught basic vocabulary words that consisted of numbers, days/weeks/months, birds, and animals (singular and plural). Although the children successfully learned to speak the words, funding limited class time to one short session a week.
Unfortunately, due to internal political problems, the Canton Head Start program, housed in the historic Cantonment building, has been shut down and the Canton staff is no longer employed. The other two Cheyenne-Arapaho Head Start centers in Watonga and Concho have never integrated language programs. Thus, there are presently no language immersion programs existing among the Southern Arapaho in Oklahoma.
The Southern Arapaho are in an unusual position. Although the language will become extinct among the Southern Arapaho, their language will in fact still exist. This is because the Southern Arapaho and Northern Arapaho share the same language and, as noted in the foregoing, the Northern Arapaho have revitalized their language through language immersion programs. Yet, there is the question of dialectal differences. What of Southern Arapaho vernacular, cant, and jargon? Are there terms, phases, and words that are specific to the language of the Southern Arapaho? What of flora and fauna? Are there specific plants -- in particular, medicinal plants -- that were used by Southern Arapaho healers? It is these nuances that will be lost forever once the language becomes extinct among the Southern Arapaho.
As mentioned previously, the main connection between the Southern and Northern Arapaho is culture. In their culture they are one nation. In July, the annual Arapaho nation Offerings Lodge (i.e., Sun Dance) is held at Wind River. The Offerings Lodge brings Southern and Northern together. The Offerings Lodge provides the opportunity for Southern and Northern families to reunite, and for reinforcing tribal solidarity.(49) Another important cultural link is the Saeicha, the Sacred Flat Pipe. The Saeicha, which has been among the Arapaho for thousands of years, continues to bind the Arapaho together as a people.
However, without language, the Southern Arapaho cannot become a living part of their own culture. And without language, what will be the effect on the unborn generations of Southern Arapaho? As Steven Graymorning has said: “...if we lose our language we won’t be able to think in the Arapaho way. If we lose our language we will lose our ceremonies and ourselves because our life is our language, and it is our language that makes us strong.”(50) Jon Reyner writes:
...[E]ach language carries with it an unspoken network of cultural values. Although these values generally operate on a subliminal level, they are, nonetheless, a major force in the shaping of each person’s self-awareness, identity, and interpersonal relationships. These values are psychological imperatives that help generate and maintain an individual’s level of comfort and self-assurance, and, consequently, success in life. In the normal course of events these values are absorbed along with one’s mother tongue in the first years of life. For that reason, cultural values and mother tongue are so closely intertwined in public consciousness that they are often, but mistakenly, seen as inseparable. For the majority of young Natives today, culture and language have, in fact, been separated. As a result, most of these young people are trying ‘to walk in two worlds’ with only one language. This is a far more complex and stressful undertaking than the ‘two worlds’ metaphor would suggest.(51)
Greymorning and Reyner suggest that without language, an individual cannot exist culturally. If one cannot think in the Arapaho way and there is not an unspoken network via language of cultural values, then how much longer can the Southern Arapaho exist as a culture? Certainly, the Southern Arapaho still have access to their language through the Northern Arapaho. Yet, how can the connection to that access become viable enough to revitalize language among the Southern Arapaho?
One of the obstacles to the revitalization of language is the political structure of the Southern Arapaho. Although the Southern and Northern Arapaho share the same ethnicity, their political structures differ. This is due to historical circumstance. The Northern Arapaho were able to maintain strong ties to their age-grade system whereas the Southern Arapaho were not. Through the Allotment Act and the subsequent loss of their land base, the Southern Arapaho were literally separated and divided on trust land. They faced strenuous efforts to assimilate and, once Public Law 760 was passed, they entered a blatantly racist public school system. The later generations that went through the school system are the leaders of today and they have little or, more often, no connection to their culture or, at best, their connection is tenuous. Indeed, most do not attend the annual Offerings Lodge. Unfortunately, these political leaders have totally overlooked the importance of language immersion programs.
Within the historical process, the Southern Arapaho chieftainship lost its power base. As the elders of the Southern Arapaho age-grade societies passed away in the early 1900s, so did the language. Without the language, ceremonial life diminished. Because the age-grade socieites provided direction and guidance to the chieftainship, the Southern Arapaho chieftainship - individuals who themselves were descended from the age-grade societies - lost their own power base. Although the chieftainship still exists, they have become mere cultural figureheads who have no political power nor cultural power. There are eight-ten Southern Arapaho chiefs, yet they are not fluent speakers in their language. Basically, these individuals serve in nominal, honorary positions as chiefs. Their lack of cultural power prevents an influence that could help lead to a revitalization of language.
The largest obstacle is the State of Oklahoma public school system. Whereas the Northern Arapaho were successful in breaking the racial barriers by establishing Arapaho language programs in the State of Wyoming public school system, the Southern Arapaho face a state school system that is seemingly intolerant of providing a sense of identity to its Native American population. And although public schools systems nationwide have historically opposed the integration of Native American curricula and language, there is a growing sentiment to incorporate culturally specific education. For example, in 1993, the State of Washington passed legislation that allowed Native students in public schools to take tribal language classes as part of their language requirements.
In a state with the highest Native American population -- 252,000 (1990 Census) representing twenty nine major tribes, and thirty eight small tribes that are not recognized separately -- it would seem that an educational initiative between the major tribes could seek to establish state educational legislation that would revitalize tribal language programs in public schools. With 23 of the twenty nine major tribes’ languages on the verge of extinction, the common goal should be tribal language classes that fulfill language requirements.
Certainly, the Southern Arapaho have access to the means of language revitalization. The Northern Arapaho language immersion programs are essentially a pilot programs that offers a way of revitalizing tribal language in the Southern Arapaho community. Yet, the Southern Arapaho needs to take the initiative to integrate language immersion into their community. Because without language, the Southern Arapaho may be doomed to become only a shadow of ethnicity. As Joshua Fishman writes:
The most important relationship between language and culture that gets to the heart of what is lost when you lose a language is that most of the culture is in the language and is expressed in the language. Take it away from the culture, and you take away its greetings, its curses, its praises, its laws, its literature, its songs, its riddles, its proverbs, its cures, its wisdom, its prayers. The culture could not be expressed and handed on in any other way. What would be left? When you are talking about the language, most of what you are talking about is the culture. That is, you are losing all those things that essentially are the way of life, the way of thought, the way of valuing, and the human reality that you are talking about.(52)
Recently I was at a niimiwin (powwow) and, as I stood in the dance circle after Grand Entry, I listened to the invocation offered by an Ojibwe-Anishinaabe elder. Throughout the years I have listened to this man speak. And I have listened like a man half deaf. My knowledge of my own language is limited to key words and several simple phrases. I knew that this elder was asking Kichi Manidoo (the Great Spirit) for blessings for all the dancers, the singers, the drums, the spectators, the young, the old, the infirm. And I knew that he was reciting the creation story of the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe -- from the point of our creation as Anishinaabe (Human Beings) to that particular point in time where we were gathered at that particular niimiiwin. I heard him but didn’t hear him. I heard him fully with my heart, but my mind only partially understood his beautiful words.
When he was finished, I looked up and I could see how much he had aged in those long years on the powwow trail. He was already an elder when I first heard his prayers sixteen years ago. I thought about something someone had said, that when we lose an elder we lose a library. And when I looked at this elder, I knew that when he passed homeward to the Spirit World, we would lose one more voice whose words connected us to our past.
I am a legacy of the perfect instrument of empire. Nind Na’wunena beshwaji (My Southern Arapaho close friends) are legacies. And there are many like us -- one people of many nations who live in the shadow of stolen and lost languages.
In 1990, Congress passed Public Law 101-477, October 30, 1990, Title 1 - Native American Languages Act. Ironically, the very government that sought to destroy, to rub out, tribal languages through its federal policies in the 1800s and 1900s, now seeks to save face by passing a law that has no teeth to it. Basically, Public Law 101-477 is like throwing an untied rope to a man clingling to a cliff.
As Greymorning pointed out, one must be able to think in the language for one to be fluent. To some extent, many of the tribal languages that are near extinction may never truly become extinct since many of the key words have been recorded and are taught in one-dimensional immersion programs. Rather, fluency will become extinct but the words will continue to be spoken. In this sense, then, our languages will become like the individuals who are descended from the peoples who spoke the languages. They will exist in a world in which the languages will be hybrid counterparts composed of red words and white.
As the example of the Southern and Northern Arapaho has shown, the path back to our languages is a difficult one. And, although many of our languages may never be restored to full fluency, we need to continue to teach what we know to the younger generations and to the unborn generations. In this way, the continuity and change of our languages will provide for the maintenance of our race, ethnicity, and cultures.
1 Williams, Robert A., Jr., The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest, New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992, 74.
2 Ibid., 74.
3 Sale, Kirkpatrick, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, New York: The Penguin Group, 1991, 97.
4 European Voyages of Exploration: Christopher Columbus, Internet, http://www.
acs.ucalgary.ca/HIST/tutor/eurvoya/columbus.html, March, 2000, 4.
5 Modern History Sourcebook: Amerigo Vespucci (1452-1512): Account of His First Voyage, Internet, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/vespucci- america. html, March, 2000, 4.
6 Kirkpatrick, op.cit., 202
7 Ibid., 202.
8 Ibid., 202.
9 Williams, op.cit., 91.
10 Polzer, Charles W., The Problem of Conquest: Revisted, Internet, http://www.
English.swt.edu/CSS/CWPolzerCDV.HTML, March, 2000, 4.
11 Cabeza de Vaca’s Adventures in the Unknown Interior of Amerca (1542), Internet, March, 2000.
12 Coel, Margaret, Chief Left Hand: Southern Arapaho, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981, 121.
13 Prucha, Francis Paul, American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly, Berkely/Los Angeles/London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997, 33.
14 Ibid., 34.
15 Jennings, Francis, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest, New York/London: W.W. Norton Company, 1976, 122-123.
16 Deloria, Vine, Jr., American Indians, American Justice, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997, 5.
17 Picard, Marc, Principals and Methods in Historical Phonology: From Proto-Algonkian to Arapaho, Montreal/Kingston/London/Buffalo: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994, 39.
18 Salzmann, Zdenek, The Arapaho Indians: A Research Guide and Bibliography, New York/Westport/London: Greenwood Press, 1988, 11.
19 Kappler, Charles J., Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Volume Two - Treaties, Internet, Oklahoma State University/TechBooks, http://www.library.okstate.edu /kappler.html, April, 2000.
20 Adams, David Wallace, Fundamental Considerations: The Deep Meaning of Native American Schooling, 1880-1900, Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 58, No. 1, February 1988, 9.
21 Mann, Heniretta, Cheyenne-Arapaho Education, 1871-1982, Niwot: University of Colorado Press, 1997, 111.
22 Ibid., 88.
23 Ibid., 77.
24 Ibid., 78.
25 Ibid., 139.
26 Ibid., 98.
27 Ibid., 95.
28 Ibid., 106.
29 Ibid., 120.
30 Salzmann, op.cit., 8.
31 Fowler, Loretta, Arapahoe Politics: Symbols in Crisis of Authority, Lincoln/London: University of Nebraska Press, 1982, 114.
32 Ibid., 118.
33 Ibid., 120.
34 Ibid., 5.
35 Adams, op.cit., 8-9.
36 Salzmann, op.cit., 11.
37 Crawford, James, Endangered Native American Languages: What Is to Be Done, and Why? Internet, http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/ JRCRAWFORD/brj.html, April, 2000, 2.
38 Reyhner, Jon, “Some Basics of Indigenous Language Revitalization,” Jon Reyhner, Gina Cantoni, Robert N. St. Clair, Evangeline Parsons Yazzie, ed, Revitalizing Indigenous Languages, Flagstaff: Northern Arizona University Press, 1999, 2.
39 Ibid., 2-3.
40 Crawford, op.cit., 1.
41 Krauss, Michael, “Status of Native American Language Endangerment,” Gina Cantoni, ed., Stabilizing Indigenous Languages, Flagstaff: Northern Arizona University Press, 1996, 1-2.
42 Greymorning, Stephen, “Running the Gauntlet of an Indigenous Language Program,” Cantoni, op.cit.
43 Greymorning, Stephen, “Going Beyond Words: The Arapaho Immersion Program,” Teaching Indigenous Languages, Jon Reyhner, ed., Flagstaff: Northern Arizona University, 1997.
44 Greymorning, “Running the Gauntlet of an Indigenous Language Program,” op.cit.
46 Greymorning, “Going Beyond Words: The Arapaho Immersion Program,” op.cit.
47 Greymorning, “Running the Gauntlet of an Indigenous Language Program,” op.cit.
49 Salzmann, op.cit., 8.
50 Greymorning, “Going Beyond Words: The Arapaho Immersion Program,” op.cit.
51 Reyhner, Jon, “Rationalizing and Needs for Stabilizing Indigenous Languages,” Cantoni, op.cit.
52 Fishman, Joshua, “What Do You Lose When You Lose Your Language?” Cantoni, op.cit.
© All Rights Reserved, Robert DesJarlait, 2018
When the Earth was new, Anishinaaba (Original Man) was created and placed on Ashkaakamigokwe (Mother Earth). Anishinaaba stood naked and cold, slumped over, head hung down, his face hidden under his long tangled black hair.
This first human being was an arrogant and brash fellow who, because he was the first human, thought himself better than all.
Yet, he did not know how to walk, crawl or jump.
"How is it that someone as superior as I cannot walk, crawl of jump," thought Anishinaaba.
Angrily, Anishinaaba lurched forward, lifting his leg high and bringing his foot down harshly on the ground. The jarring blow of his step was cushioned by the soft green hair of Ashkaakamigokwe.
Surprised by the gentle touch of the grass, Anishinaaba swept the hair from his face and looked around him, and he was startled and overwhelmed by the beauty that surrounded him.
What he saw was sacred - mitigoog, zibiwan miinawaa agamiin, ozaagakiig, miinawaa manijooshag (the trees, rivers and lakes, the plant-beings, and the insects).
Closing his eyes, Anishinaaba heard a calm, soft drum beat wavering upon the wind. Anishinaaba then gently lifted the same foot and took a second step softly.
Keeping his eyes closed, he repeated his two steps with his other foot - one/two left foot, one/two right foot, back and forth from right foot to left foot, again and again, in rhythm with the drum beat upon the breeze.
And it was that on the first day of his creation, the first human being, who knew not how to walk, crawl or jump, danced in rhythm to the heartbeat of Ashkaakamigokwe.
Anishinaaba's two steps became the the traditional dance steps that have been passed down through hundreds of generations to present-day Anishinaabe dancers.
Note - This is based on a traditional story I was told many moons ago at a campfire at a powwow.
© All Rights Reserved, Robert DesJarlait, 2017
Original text and illustration from Niimiwin: An Ojibway Dance Coloring Book, Northern Winds Press, 1995
Dedicated to Windy Downwind who told a version of this story 20 years ago at a winter camp at White Earth.
On a cold winter night at Gaa-waabaabiganikaag (White Earth), a child asked the storyteller: “Why are you called Windy?”
Windy smiled and said to the children gathered around him, “Have any of you ever heard of the Wiindigoo?”
The children shook their heads no.
“A long time ago, there were these bad people called Wiindigoog,” the storyteller began.
“They were mean and ferocious. And the Ojibwe feared them because they ate people.”
“On cold winter nights, they would sneak into wiigiwaaman, steal people, and take them back to their village where they were cooked in a pot and then eaten.”
“People would sit up all night around their lodge fires, huddling and shivering together…not because they were cold but because they were afraid of the Wiindigoog.”
One day when the women were checking their rabbit snares and the men checking their trap lines, they heard the children screaming and yelling. They ran back to see what the commotion was about.
They stood on a hill and looked down. There on a log sat a huge man with children all around him.
“It’s a Wiindigoo!” the parents hollered as they ran down the hillside, picking up sticks and branches to beat the Wiindigoo with.
But when they got close, they noticed that the children weren't screaming and yelling because they were about to be eaten. The children were screaming and yelling in laughter, some laughing so hard that they were rolling in the snow. They were laughing at a Nenabozho story that the Wiindigoo was telling…a story about Nenabozho getting his butt burned in a fire and his butt fell off and got so mad that it chased Nenabozho all around his camp.
The Wiindigoo looked over at the parents and smiled: “Oh, you don’t have to worry. I’m not here to eat the children. Their laughter and smiles is what feeds me.”
Thereafter, Windy - as the children called him - came back at night and told his Nenabozho stories. When he went home, Windy was happy and filled with the laughter and smiles of the children within him. And in the lodges, the dreamcatchers of the children were filled with good thoughts and bright dreams.
“So you see,” the storyteller said, “I’m the Wiindigoo in the story but everyone just calls me Windy. And whenever you hear the name Wiindigoo, you’ll remember me because I am the best known and kindest Wiindigoo on Mother Earth.”
Then he grabbed the child who asked him about his name and tickled her. Amid the crackles of the wood burning stove, the storyteller, the child, and the other children smiled and laughed on that cold winter night at Gaa-waabaabiganikaag.
Illustration, Robert DesJarlait, from The Creator's Game: A Story of Lacrosse/Bagaa'adowe, Art Coulson, 2013, Minnesota Historical Society Press
Note: The following are excerpts from an article I am currently working on.
There’s a saying in lacrosse – Grow The Game. When I illustrated “The Creator’s Game: A Story of Bagaa-adowe / Lacrosse” by Art Coulson in 2013, little did I know that I would grow the game on a personal level. The game would draw me deeper in, much deeper than I ever expected.
I began to personally grow the game when I first touched pen to paper for the drawings for the book. At that time, I had a basic knowledge of lacrosse. But to do the drawings, I had to research the topic. Once the book was completed and published, I thought I would continue on my way. But then something about lacrosse pulled me in. It grew within me.
Certainly, it was part of my inquisitiveness as a tribal historian. Here was a game that was deeply embedded in my culture. It wasn’t merely a game of competiveness. Rather, there were spiritual and medicine connotations to the game. So far back does the game go that we have our own origin story about lacrosse and the game has played a significant role in several traditional stories. It was a game that reflected ogichidaag traditions. The war dance and victory dance were incorporated as part of the game. Writers like William Warren, Francis Densmore and Johann Kohl offered little insight into lacrosse and the game became a historical footnote not just to chroniclers of Ojibwe culture but also to the Ojibwe themselves. The tournaments that were played between different reservation communities were largely forgotten. Colonialism and assimilationist policies undermined its demise on Ojibwe reservations. We not only lost a part of our history but also the spiritual legacy that imbued the game.
The story of lacrosse among Native peoples is wrought with racism and cultural appropriation. Lacrosse is a microcosm of the macrocosm. We need to look no further than lacrosse to understand the prejudice and bias directed toward us as indigenous peoples.
When George William Beers, the so-called father of modern lacrosse, wrote “Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada,” he encapsulated the Native version as a game played by uncivilized redskins. Revisionists point out that Beers was using the language of his time. However, Beers’ view continues to permeate the game today.
For our part, we need to Grow The Game. Although there is a resurgence of the game among our youth, we need to more strongly emphasize the game’s history and traditions. The ceremonial protocols that were once part of the game are lost in the mists of time. But we can reassert the traditions we have. We can smudge the sticks and players, have a medicine man offer prayers before and after the game, have a drum at a game with singers singing war songs, and celebrate with a feast and victory dance when the game has ended. Games can be played for competition and games can be played for medicine. In medicine games, games can be played for people who are stricken with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or other ills that affect our people.
Lacrosse is like our language. It gives us identity and direction as Ojibwe people. This is the game that the Creator gave us. Let us honor that and Grow The Game.
© All Rights Reserved, Robert DesJarlait
As a tribal historian who is also an artist, I’ve always been interested in tribal material arts from other regions. Because I live in close proximity to North and South Dakota, the tribal arts of the Plains has always held my interest. Southwestern tribal arts have also been an area of interest. I have a sister who is from Laguna Pueblo. I’ve visited her on several occasions and she introduced me to the art of that area. Through her, I have a small art collection – pottery from Acoma and several Kachinas.
Recently I traveled to Niagara Falls, New York for a cancer conference. Niagara Falls, Buffalo and the surrounding area is the homeland of the Seneca. In their own language, the Seneca are called the Onöndowága - the Keepers of the Western Door. They are part of the Haudenosaunee – the Iroquois Confederacy. Of the Six Nations, the Seneca live furthest to the west. They are also known as the People of the Green Hill.
Although I’m familiar with the Haudenosaunee in relation to politics , I’ve never looked at their material arts. I find this odd since the Iroquoian language tribes and Anishinaabe language tribes resided in the same region. Despite tribal conflicts and warfare between the two groups, the cross-cultural transmission of values and arts would have occurred in times of peace through gatherings and trade.
I never really looked at Iroquoian art per se until recently. Not too long ago, I did a survey of Iroquoian moccasins on a Facebook page. The commonality between the Iroquois and Ojibwe moccasins was the use of floral motifs which is expected regarding Woodland peoples. However, the method of application differed. The Iroquoian peoples used a raised beadwork technique; the Ojibwe used a flat beaded method. In addition, older Iroquoian moccasins used porcupine and bird quills, and shell beads before the advent of European beads via the trade network. It can be assumed that the Ojibwe also used similar materials although we don't have examples of such moccasin work from that time period.
My personal introduction to Haudenosaunee art was a visit to Ganondagan located near Victor, New York. The area was the focus of the war against the Seneca and the atrocious French Expedition of 1687. Although the expedition failed, it left Seneca villages in ruins with longhouses, gardens, and corn bins in flames under the scorched earth policy of Marquis de Denonville.
In 1966, the site of Ganondagan was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Ganondagan Longhouse was built at the site of the village and dedicated in 1998. The Longhouse is “furnished as closely as possible to an original 1670 longhouse, complete with replicas of European and colonial trade goods and items created and crafted by the Seneca. Also in the longhouse are crops, herbs, and medicines grown, harvested, and preserved by the Seneca who lived atop the hill at Ganondagan.”
In 2015, the Seneca Art and Culture Center at Ganondagan opened. The Center features interactive, multimedia exhibits and galleries, and an orientation theater featuring the Iroquois Creation film.
My host and guide for my trip to New York was Joy Rivera. I was a co-presenter with Joy for a breakout session by the American Indian Cancer Foundation. Joy is Seneca and from the Cattaraugus Reservation. I couldn’t ask for a better guide.
The conference ended early Sunday and Joy gave me a list of things to do. One of the items on the list was Ganondagan and that immediately piqued my interest. I wanted to know more about the people whose homeland I was visiting.
We made the two hour trip to Ganondagan and arrived at 3:30. Before touring the Ganondagan site, you are at first led to the orientation theater. We watched a film on the Iroquois creation story featuring Skywoman, Turtle Island, and her twins. It was a beautiful film, extremely well-produced, with live action combined with animation and CGI. We have a similar story in my culture (Ojibwe) but the Iroquois story differs in certain details. Of course, there is a shared commonality in the origin story of Skywoman. Famed writer Basil Johnston collected several origin stories that featured cross-connections between the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe.
When the film was over, the staff recommended we visit the Longhouse because it closed at 4:00. When we returned, we had about a half-hour to tour the interactive gallery.
One of my disappointments was the gift shop was closed when we got there (it closed at 3:00). I was interested in looking at books for sale. But there were two books available at the information desk – “Art From Ganondagan” and “War Against The Seneca: The French Expedition of 1687.” I purchased both.
Art From Ganondagan was/is especially interesting to me. When I was teaching Native Art history in tribal schools and tribal colleges, I always emphasized that early traditional tribal art formed a common language. Indeed, early art worldwide was a common indigenous language. Pictographs were thoughts and ideas expressed through visual images. Because there were no written languages, there were barriers to understanding one another supratribally. However, there was a commonality in the earliest traditional art forms that are depicted in rock art, i.e., pictographic art. Such art later was incorporated into the motifs and designs in the material arts. Tribes maintained their own styles, yet the imagery was interconnected and understood with other tribes, particularly between tribes whose homelands overlapped. The Iroquois and Anishinaabe were/are Woodland peoples. Both incorporated floral designs, first in geometric/abstracted quillwork and then representational beadwork, that reflected the shared environment they lived in.
When I read the essay, Art From Ganondagan, I was struck by the similarities between Anishinaabe art and Iroquois art. Certainly there were differences because they represented two different tribal belief systems, yet they spoke a common language.
As noted by Richard Hill in his essay, Art From Ganondagan:
“Tribal art provides evidence for the social order, spiritual values and the history of a people. Art is essential to the daily life of traditional societies. Native American art reflects fundamental truths about relationships between people, and the interdependence of their society with the natural environment…Art transcends generations. Traditional images suggest what previous Seneca felt and thought…Seneca art of the seventeenth century is characterized by cultural metaphors and personal emblems that make a strong statement about the community’s ability to endure…The oral history and material culture of the Seneca are intimately related. Natural materials are modified by hand to convey individual messages through an accepted community aesthetic. Art connects the people to their society, to nature, and to the forces of the universe.”
“Seneca belief impacted directly on the art of Ganondagan. Seneca narratives are full of images that help keep the tradition alive. Plants, animals, celestial bodies, and spirits are personified. Everything has animate energy.”
“In general, the art of Ganondagan can be grouped into three design categories. The first is geometric. Common motifs are repeating patterns of triangles, parallel lines, zig-zags, crosses, circles, arches and dots. The second is semi-realistic three-dimensional figures on clay pipes, antler figures, wood carvings, and pottery rims. The third is two dimensional images on antler and wood combs.”
Art from Gannagaro
The last section of the book features photos of the art of Gannagaro (the European name for Ganondagan). The forward to the book - A Theft From The Dead: An Iroquois Perspective – notes:
“We do not doubt the artistic merit of these works, but are troubled by the important ethical question of how the works were acquired. Most of the objects illustrated in this catalogue were taken from the graves of Seneca men, women, and children. ..We mourn the loss. We are opposed to any disturbance of the remains of our ancestors.
“It is no surprise that the best examples of Seneca art are found in graves. It is a testament to the significance of the burial ritual. It is a demonstration of the humanity of the people who produced the art and wanted their deceased relatives to carry these objects to the spirit world. We continue to believe in that journey; it is part of our spiritual identity. The proper care of these objects is part of our moral obligation to the past, the present, and the future.
“Our survey of museum collections has only affirmed that most of the archaeological objects have come from graves. We ask that you consider this as you look at the works of art in this publication.”
Richard Hill notes: “When viewing the art in this catalogue, it is evident that the works are not static. These three hundred year old objects move the modern viewer. Even though the Seneca have no word for it, art was an everyday activity in Seneca society. The visual arts have become a special expression of many Seneca. The illustrations that follow remind us that art in the Seneca community has a long history of manifesting personal identity and providing a Seneca perspective to a changing world.”
The following features some of the items in the catalogue with their accompanying notes.
Shell Gorget: Worn as a necklace, clan shell discs were often engraved with geometric designs. The triangles on the gorget could represent the Iroquois nations.
Shell Gorget: The circle is a common Indian symbol of unity and is repeated on this fragmented gorget.
Shell Disc Necklace: Discoidal shell beads appear to have been very popular and fashionable among the old Iroquois and thousands of beads have been found at Seneca sites.
Shell Bird Effigy: The beauty in the simplicity of this rendering of a bird makes this small pendant exceptional. The line around the neck suggests that this piece represents a loon. There are two holes on each shoulder that could have been used to attach a pair of wings.
Shell Beads: Long tubular beads were fashioned from the thick center section of large conch shells.
Pottery Marking Tool.
Hair combs were made from wide sections of elk or moose...Animal effigies are the most popular motifs on Seneca hair combs, often reflecting the clan or medicine animal of the wearer. Hair combs provide examples of the bilateral symmetry that is characteristic of much Iroquoian art. Such designs evoke a feeling of harmony and balance.
Spirit Lines: These figures have special lines engraved in their surfaces that go from heart to mouth. These lines can be called spirit lines, since they represent the life and power of the animal spirit. The bear is associated with great medicine.
Clay from Mother Earth provided one of the most versatile media for the Seneca artist. Although the use of native ceramics began to decline in the 17th century, examples of Iroquoian pottery remained in Seneca households.
Smoking Pipes: The Seneca took their smoking seriously, producing a great number of clay pipes...Clay pipes illustrate the diversity and creativity of Seneca design. Handmade pipes were popular with both men and women. An effigy figure usually faces the smoker.
Stone Otter Effigy.
To me, the art of the Seneca, and the art of the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, equates the ancient art of Africa, China, Egypt, or any other world art. Art represents the human experience. The white world holds its ancient art aloft as a form of racial superiority. For them, it is a pillar of civilization. However, all art represents civilization. Art is the innate human ability to express to historical-cultural experiences artistically. The aesthetics used do not imply primitiveness or superiority. They are all equal regardless of aesthetics. They inform us of the past, the present, and the future. When we teach our children about art, the focus needs to be one's cultural art and the art of the indigenous peoples with whom we live and whose history we share. Because the art of Turtle Island is us. Through tribal arts we know who we are and where we came from. We are the beauty of this land and that beauty is expressed through our arts. It can be nothing less.
© All Rights Reserved, 2017, Robert DesJarlait