If You Do Not Help Us, We Will Die in Our Poverty. Flat Mouth (II), Little Rock (Asinewub), and White Cloud, 1877
Each summer from 1873 through 1877, a disastrous cloud of locusts invaded the Minnesota farm country, devouring almost everything green in sight. By the winter of 1876-77 the situation was drastically affecting the Ojibwe reservations in northern Minnesota. Various chiefs began to write to their foremost influential friend, Bishop Henry Whipple, for assistance. Flat Mouth II wrote from Leech Lake on January 13, 1877:
My people are starving and freezing, and no work is being done for us. We received at our annual payment a very few goods, and our children are consequently suffering. Within the last two or three years the administration of our affairs have been such as to show no improvement, and we appear in a worse condition than formerly. We desire you to write to Washington to explain our situation and to control our affairs.
A month later Whipple received a letter from Little Rock on the Red Lake reserve:
Our friend, we met in council today--[and] thought of you in our necessities. You are our friend and you are one whom we know would help us. You know very well our poverty. We have never had any help since we went to see our Great Father at Washington and we would like very much to go and see him once more before our annuities expire, and thought only of you who would help us to go on, and we wish to borrow money from you out of monies due us from the government next fall, or sooner, if we get help from our Great Father.... We wish to bear our own expenses. If you can help us in this matter, it will show us that you are our friend.... if you do not help us, we will die in our poverty. You know we cannot follow any religion naked. We must have help from our Great Father.
Then, in May 1877, Whipple heard from White Cloud at the White Earth reserve:
When you were here last summer, you saw the grasshoppers, and now their children are among us, threatening to destroy everything again this year as they did last. The last time I saw you, you said you would come here soon and see us again. I looked and watched for you, but you came not. I afterwards heard that the Great Father had sent you to see the Sioux and heard of the success of your work among them. I would like to have you write and advise me in my new mode of life. Maybe you may not think me worthy, but I shall deem it my duty to advise my people.
Sources: Flat Mouth to Whipple, Jan. 13, 1877, Red Lake chiefs to Whipple, Feb. 13, 1877, and White Cloud to Whipple, May 18, 1877, Whipple Papers. One result of the complaints was that the White Earth agent, Lewis Stowe was replaced by the old trader and mail route operator, Charles A. Ruffee. White Cloud's activities in getting Stowe replaced caused missionary J. A. Gilfillan to give him a poor historical reputation. See Frederick W. Hodge, ed. Handbook of American Indians, Part 2 (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1979), 885.
In 1948, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribal council traveled to Washington, D.C. to express the dire conditions of the reservation and the problems facing the people there. Before the Congressional hearing, Representative William Frederick Lemke (August 13, 1878 – May 30, 1950), of North Dakota, took a moment to speak on behalf of the tribe...
Going back to my early childhood when these Chippewa Indians used to have these two-wheel carts and the pony hitched to them and they went out and collected buffalo bones. They used to pass over the only usable bridge over the creek near our home and they used to have trains 2 miles long all loaded with buffalo bones headed for Devil's Lake.
Later on as we developed they used to come and help us harvest the crops. They brought their whole families, their children and everything to the farm. They lived in tents even when there was snow on the ground. We used to run the threshing machines late into the year.
And then one winter I remember, somebody came into our home at night. It was 40 degrees below zero outside. The next morning, we found Indians in our home. One of them was none other than Little Shell, your former chief. Some of the pullman cars are named after him now on the Great Northern. When we got up they were cooking their food, their bacon, and they told us that they were on their way to see the Great White Father on foot as they had to walk to Devils Lake where they took the train to Washington, D.C.
My father asked Chief Little Shell what he wanted to see the Great White Father about, and he replied, "Get paid for the land he took away from us."
My father then asked, "Where is this land he took away from you?” “Well,” he said, “the land you are living on used to belong to us, and the Great White Father took it away, and we want to be paid for it.”
I do not believe he was ever paid for it. Now, these Indians are here now because they are in a desperate situation. The Red Cross has been taking care of them. Think of it. Government wards are being taken care of by the Red Cross while we are sending millions and billions of dollars abroad. It seems to be inconsistent. These Indians are here this morning to give us their viewpoint as to what should be done. I think the Chippewa Indians are in the worse condition of any of them because they have just about 40 acres of ground to an individual, or family, I forget which.
Mar. 16, 1948, House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs; Committee on Public Lands. House.
The story has it that fifty Ojibwe men from one of the bands in Wisconsin went to the first World War, and forty-nine returned home afterward. So happy were the people at the return of these forty-nine that they created a dance in their honor and called it the Forty-nine. The dance is thus strictly a modem one, the most recent of all Anishinaabe dances.
The following is a rich and vivid description of the clothing and bearing of a Metis man encountered on the Plains of North Dakota in 1864.
The [man] who took our mail this morning was of middle age, and of excellent quiet manners. He spoke good French, and was most animated and even eloquent in his description of the scenery of the Coteau du Missouri. He wore a felt hat; a dark blue coat, with a hood; drab leggings fringed with scarlet and black cloth, with beadwork and gilt buttons on the outside; and moccasins embroidered with stained porcupine quills. To this, add a crimson sash around his waist; cross-belts (for his shot-pouch and powder-horn) covered with beautiful work in colored beads; a knife sheath and shot-pouch similarly ornamented; a powder-horn with bright colored tassels and brass nails; and a hunting knife and rifle. He rode a well-trained hunting Rob Roy pony, and had a buckskin saddle, or pad, with elegant designs in colored beads; also, a blue broadcloth saddle cover with red fringes, and decorated in the same way as the saddle.
They [the Metis] are dashing buffalo hunters…much feared from their courage and skill with the rifle, and as horsemen. They have a great deal the same appearance and character of the Indian. They live mainly by the chase, and in the intervals amuse themselves by horse-racing, playing on the violin, dancing, singing, etc. They are a gay, light-hearted race, and are generally reliable, hard-working, enduring, and faithful employees.
Expedition of Captain Fisk to the Rocky Mountains. Letter from the secretary of war, in answer to a resolution of the House of February 26, by Fisk, James L. [from old catalog]; United States. War Dept; United States. 38th Cong., 1st sess., 1863-1864. House.
In the camp, prior to the hunt, the sole occupation of the day is the pursuit of pleasure. From every tent and shelter comes the sound of laughter; every camp-fire furnishes its quota of jest and song. Here a small but excited circle, gathered under the shade of a cart, are deeply engaged in gambling by what is known as the moccasin game. In an empty moccasin are placed sundry buttons and bullets, which, being shaken up involve the guessing of the number in the shoe. The ground before the players is covered with guns, capotes, and shirts, the men often stripping the clothing from their backs to satisfy his passion for play, or staking their last horse and cart. Elsewhere, another like-minded party might be gambling with cards, the stakes being a medley of everything owned by the players.
In many tents visiting would be happening and you could hear the clinking of cups, boisterous laughter and songs, with people loudly telling stories of escaping the direst enemies of the hunters. In another quarter feasting is the order of the day, and the small stock of provisions, designed to supply the family until the buffalo were reached, was being devoured. The hosts knew that until they found the buffalo they could go hungry, but until then he holds his feast and its consequent famine because he is expected to be a great host.
About the many campfires stand, or crouch, the wives of the hunters, busily engaged in cooking and gossiping with neighbors, while their numerous children play about in the dust and dirt with wolfish-looking dogs. The babies lay bundled and fastened to boards, leaned against cart-wheels, doubtless dreaming questions pertinent to babyhood. Elsewhere the aged leaders of the hunt might be seen congregated, with a young man sitting upon the wheel of a cart playing melodies from a fractured violin to a crowd of listeners applauding each performance and suggesting their favorite tunes. Every now and then, they would engage in improvised dancing to the sweet sounds.
Throughout the camp you can hear many tongues speaking many languages, the neighing of horses, the lowing of oxen, the barking of hundreds of dogs, and the shouts and yells of fresh arrivals to camp as they pour hourly in to swell the numbers of the already vast encampment.
In the afternoon, if the weather was favorable, most of the people in the camp would gather on some level stretch of prairie outside, where footraces might happen. A course would be set out, and well-known leaders of the hunt would be stationed at either end as judges. The racers would run their fastest, and people would bet on their favorite. Later, the horse racing would begin. Betting for these races would run high, and the wagers were generally horse against horse or for the carts and oxen. As the racers lunged across the course, people would break forth in cheers of encouragement. All points of disagreement were quickly settled by the dictum of the umpires, and the loser of the race would console himself for the loss in copious draughts of rum. Toward night the huge camp became resonant again with a more intense babel of sounds. The lucky winner of the races would parades their winnings in front of the camp, and everyone would cheer.
As the night advanced, the camp would grow even more boisterous. The women would gather the children and disappear from the campfires, taking themselves and the young ones out of harm's way. The men would take to sitting about the fires, drinking and talking amongst themselves. The campfires lit up the camp with strange shadows and lurid glares. The entertainment would continue late into the night, and, when the fires began to flicker and die out, there would be men stretched about the firesides, sleeping off their night of revelry and dreaming of the upcoming hunt.
Haworth, P.A. (1921). Trailmakers of the Northwest. New York: Harcourt, Brace and company.
In 1870, James McKay, a well-known Red River half-breed trader and hunter, reported that during the 1850s he had traveled for twenty days through a continuous herd of buffalo. The herd was so large that for as far as he could see on all sides was the landscape, black with the animals. However, by 1870, the construction of the railroads and the pressure of white hunters had decimated the buffalo on the plains.
It was said by many if the buffalo were left unmolested, and the Indians and half-breeds were allowed to hunt them the way that they had always done, the buffalo would have lasted forever and the natives would have stayed strong. But the building of the railroad was the death knell for the buffalo and for the Indigenous people who relied on them.
While it is certain that the Red River half-breeds hunted them in immense numbers, they were not to blame for the destruction of the buffalo on the plains. The true cause of the destruction of the buffalo was committed over a short period of time by the American “pot-and-hide hunters”. These men, in order to gratify the cravings of wealthy citizens for tongues and hides, were formed into large parties, with lavish outfits supplied by eastern firms who used the railroads to transport countless white hunters, under who the work of extermination speedily began.
The white hunters and their financiers saw profit, and then the havoc became truly stupendous. The hunters' were given the best weapons, and their methods were so systematic, that the very skinning of the buffalo they slaughtered was done by horse-power. The dead buffalo were fastened to a stake and an incision was made, after which a span of horses was hitched to the hide, and off it came. The hides were then shipped to the nearest railway points in wagons, and the carcasses were left to rot upon the ground. In this way it is estimated that in three years nearly six million animals were destroyed.
This destruction went on all over the plains from Manitoba to Texas. It was reported that during one winter, there were so many carcasses of slaughtered buffalo that a man could go along the banks of the Frenchman Creek for fifty miles by simply jumping from one carcass to another.
Once the buffalo were almost gone, it was a simple task for the government agents and land speculators to force the Indians and half-breeds into taking scrip, signing treaties, and moving onto reservations, because the only other choice was starvation. It was an act of genocide and a great evil of colonialism in North America.
Mair, C. (1891). The American Bison: Its Habits, Method of Capture and Economic Use in the North-west. (From) the Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, volume VIII, section II, 1890.
During winter, when the snow was too deep to pursue them on horseback, the Red River Ojibwe and Metis hunters would often approach a group of buffalo by crawling to them on the snow, often disguised with a dun-colored cap furnished with upright ears to give the appearance of a wolf (which the buffalo did not generally fear). This disguise allowed the hunter to get close enough to take an animal at close range.
Towards spring, when the deep snow was covered with a hard crust which supported a hunter walking or crawling, it was even easier to ambush a buffalo. When the time came to strike, the buffalo would struggle to escape the hard snow crust and it was possible to easily run the helpless animals down and dispatch them – even by using a knife to do the deed if necessary.
During other times of the year, a person could ‘still hunt’ if a small amount of meat was needed. This method was something that only a skilled hunter could do. A skilled man could sneak up on a herd using stealth and cover, to approach to within gunshot range. The chief precaution necessary when hunting this way was to keep to the wind blowing your scent away from the herd. Buffalo didn’t have the best eyesight, but had a keen sense of smell and the scent of a man was enough to cause a stampede.
On an open plain with short grass it was almost impossible to get within 1,000 yards of a herd, but with tall grass and shrubs a good hunter could get within a hundred yards. If there were ravines and tress, a skilled man could creep to within twenty or thirty paces. When a good shot could be taken the animal would be killed. The others would run away and the hunter could process his animal.
Some hunters claimed that hunting buffalo like this was actually easier than hunting deer or pronghorns, as these animals feared a solitary man while the buffalo generally did not.
American Bison (1865). Illustrated catalogue of the Museum of Comparative Zoölogy, at Harvard College / published by order of the Legislature of Massachusetts.
In describing the Ojibwe groups west of Lake Superior around 1800, there were reported to be five distinct bands operating in the area surrounding Red River settlement (modern-day Winnipeg, Manitoba).
One of these bands was reported to reside in the area surrounding Rainy Lake in what is now northern Minnesota and southern Ontario, Two others: the Red Lake/Lake of the Woods Band, and the Ojibwe at Leech Lake were located where the current Red Lake and Leech Lake Bands can be found today, in north central Minnesota. The two remaining bands known were the Ojibwe residing on Red River (i.e the Pembina Band), and the Saulteaux of Portage la Prairie, who resided to the west of Red River settlement and on the edge of the buffalo plains.
It was said that the Portage la Prairie Band originated from the east, near Sault Ste Mariee and around the Lake of the Woods. They were said to have moved to the region specifically to participate in the fur trade.
The Red River group (Pembinas) was a group that coalesced from various areas, including the Mississippi, Sandy Lake (Mille Lacs), and further east near the Sault. Many came west and joined up with resident Ojibwe to exploit the fur trade. They were not disposed to farming, but subsisted entirely on hunting and were known to be quite friendly with white traders.
The groups at Rainy Lake, Red Lake/Lake of the Woods, and Leech Lake were residents to the region and quite well-settled in their homes. Agriculture was very important to their lifestyles and they were less mobile than the other bands.
In addition to the Ojibwe bands were a large community of half-breeds in the surrounding region. They were concentrated in various settlements, or were attached to the above mentioned bands of Ojibwe – although it was reported by Father G.A. Belcourt that the half-breeds were almost exclusively descended from thirteen different bands of Indians, and were mostly of Cree or Ojibwe extraction originally. The primal band origins of the half-breeds didn’t matter that much after a few decades of intermarriage with each other and with full-blooded Crees and Ojibwe which blurred such lines quite quickly.
At Pembina, it was noted that, in 1823, the half-breeds (Metis) numbered at least three hundred and fifty permanent residents. They lived in tipis or in log cabins. Few were farmers; most participated in the annual hunts with the Ojibwe instead. Other half-breed communities were located at Red River, Devils Lake, and to the west of Red River.
Stout, D.B. (1962). Ethnological report for Docket 113, et al., before the Indian Claims Commission, Treaties and Agreements of October 2, 1863, April 12, 1864, and October 22, 1892. Washington, DC: Indian Court of Claims
At the time of the 1863 treaty the majority of the members of the Pembina Band were living and hunting in the area ceded in the Red River Valley, and a portion of the members were living further west on lands around the Turtle Mountains and Mouse River. It has been argued that at the time of the 1863 Treaty, the Pembina Band comprised two groups: one group under Chief Red Bear, and a second group under Chief Little Shell II. Both chiefs signed the Treaty as a 'Pembina Chief', and both had followers in attendance with them, so it can be argued that both groups were parties to the treaty. This observation seems validated by Governor Ramsey, who negotiated the 1863 treaty for the United States, referring to the 'Pembina Bands' as retaining a tract of country to the west of the ceded area. Over time, the two Pembina groups merged into one, under the leadership of Little Shell III.
After the treaty, a significant number of Pembina people continued to live in the Red River Valley but, in 1873, the United States purchased a township on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota as a home for Pembina Indians with the hope of relocating them there. While most resisted the move to White Earth, some members of the Pembina Band were removed to White Earth, and others were placed on the Red Lake Reservation. However, the majority remained in North Dakota, relocating to the Turtle Mountain area. The Pembina Indians who remained were often interchangeably referred to as Pembina Chippewa; Turtle Mountain Band of Pembina Chippewa; Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa; Little Shell's Band, and other variations of these names. In 1882, the President by Executive Order established a reservation at Turtle Mountain, with a diminishment occurring in 1884. At that time, the name Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa was firmly established and the use of the ‘Pembina’ designation was dropped.
Little Shell III’s identity as a Turtle Mountain chief is demonstrated by a memorial of the Chippewa Indians of Turtle Mountain, Dakota Territory, filed with the Senate on February 23, 1876, which was ratified by congress and acknowledged the territory claimed by his father in 1851, when the Red Lake Band and Pembina Band divided their territories along a line described by Red Lake Chief Little Rock. Little Shell claimed his territory as extended west from there to Devil's Lake, to the Missouri Coteau, and to Mouse River. Specifically, this area was described as being from the Red River to Salt River, thence up the main channel of Salt River to its head. Thence in a direct line to the place of stumps (Lake Chicot/Stump Lake) thence in a direct line to Poplar Grove (Graham’s Island), thence in a direct line to the Sheyenne River to a vague point, then to Dogden Butte, then north to the Mouse River and along Mouse River to the US/Canadian boundary, thence to the place of beginning. Little Shell reserved all this country as a hunting ground.
Source: Source: Indian Claims Commission Docket No. 18-A
For starters, Charles is a Navajo citizen who prefers to refer to himself as the son of a Navajo man and an American-Dutch woman. Never half-Navajo or half-Dutch. (That just brings up the history of blood quantum in Native America. Keep reading for his perspective on this.)
“I fully identify with and embrace both of my parents and both communities,” Charles said. He resides in Washington, D.C., with his family.
Second, he is a Navajo man with a Christian faith who criticizes the Doctrine of Discovery. However, he wants to share one message about this part of his identity.
“I’m being very clear with you. I am a candidate who is Christian. My goal is, I’m going to work very hard to not become the Christian candidate who’s going to make our nation Christian again,” he said. “No, that’s not the goal.”
“I believe there needs to be a separation of church and state,” he said.
Third, his idea for even running to be the 46th president of the United States began when he lived in a Hogan on the Navajo Nation, six miles from the nearest paved road with no running water or electricity. The outhouse was 50 feet away from the Hogan. The Hogan was located on a sheep camp. He and his family lived here for three years.
“That experience motivates me the most and inspires me the most to do what I’m doing today,” he said.