This unique village existed until the early 1900s under chiefs Cobenais and Mickinock who maintained several camps along the Roseau River in northern Minnesota. The main village was located on the shores of Roseau Lake, which has since been drained for agriculture in the early 20th century.
Mickinock was famous for quelling a settler panic during the Ghost Dance phenomenon, when local white settlers heard a rumor that there would be an Indian uprising. The settlers fled their homes, leaving their livestock. Mickinock, Cobenais, and others fed and watered the livestock of several farms until word could be sent that there was no uprising. This saved the livestock from starvation.
There was also a legend of a windigo that supposedly lived in the muskeg around the lake. One day, it was reported that the windigo could be seen walking near the village and the next day Mickinock's wife died.
This photo, taken in 1887, shows Cobenais (wearing a green blanket around his waist) and Mickinock (holding a rifle), their wives and other relatives. The man standing with the little girl is a Metis man named Billy McGillis. He was originally from Red River settlement, but was forced to flee when he was accused of a murder. He wound up south of the Medicine Line at Mickinock's village and stayed - becoming their interpreter as he knew English.
Today, there is a stone monument designating where the village once stood.
Photo Enhanced & Colorized by Dibaajimowin (07/19/2020)
Told by James James (Man-standing-still-on-the-sky)
A party of Mandans, who were out on a war expedition in what is now north east North Dakota, arrived at the Pembina River. Having built a raft and deposited all their extra clothing and provisions upon it, they thus effected a crossing over the river. Leaving all their supplies on the bank of the stream they proceeded north towards the Ojibwe camp.
Some children were playing and digging wild carrots along a slough some distance south of the camp. As the Mandan crept cautiously along, they came in sight of the children playing along the slough. Among these children was a little girl, a daughter of Misko Makwa, or Chief Red Bear. Immediately the Mandans dashed forward to capture the children, but as the children were fleet and did not have far to go they all escaped except the daughter of Red Bear. She was very young and could not run fast enough, and so was taken captive. After being captured she was immediately scalped on each side of her head and let go.
Meanwhile, in the Ojibwe camp, a certain medicine man or 'jessikad' of the tribe, Mishequt, who was also chief, by his magic art had divined that something unusual was about to happen and had called together a council of the warriors. While this council was in progress, one of the children, a little boy who was the first to reach camp, burst in upon them with the cry, “The Sioux! The Sioux!,” mistaking the Mandans for their dreaded enemy the Sioux. Immediately all was commotion, the Ogichidaag rushed to their wigwams for their arms and started after the enemy.
On the way to the slough they met the little girl staggering toward the camp, her scalp gone and her head covered with blood. The foremost among the warriors were two sons of Red Bear, older brothers of the little girl, and thus were the first to meet her. Stopping for a moment to kiss their little sister, they sped on in pursuit of the enemy, leaving the rest to follow. As they reached the north bank of the Pembina River they were just in time to see the last of the Mandans disappearing over the bank to escape from defeat in battle.
Source: Hesketh, John. 1923. “History Of The Turtle Mountain Chippewa.” Collections Of The State Historical Society - , O. G. Libby, Editor. Grand Forks, North Dakota
A recent mapping project by Dibaajimowin has led to a comprehensive map showing historical Metis communities and settlements across most of the Metis Nation homeland. Presented in ArcGIS format, this mapping application can be accessed by Computer desktop or on a mobile device. The application is available HERE.
The ‘Medicine Line’ is what the indigenous people called the colonial-enforced US/Canadian Border.
Prior to the establishment of the border, Indigenous people moved freely across their territories. Their boundaries were the various rivers, mountains, and streams which they used to note where they had unquestioned tenure and rights to use the lands and resources.
However, once the US and Canada established their border, it was made clear to the Indigenous groups that the border now existed and that they were to choose which side they were to live and stay on. While this was some cause for concern and was viewed as an impediment, many native people wisely saw this as an opportunity. When conflicts arose between some natives and the government, the Medicine Line served as a “magical” reprieve. If pursued by soldiers, all that was needed was to flee north (or south) into British/Canadian territory (or US territory) because soldiers and police were forced to stop at that point of the border.
During the late 1800s, the border famously allowed Sitting Bull to escape to Canada following the battle at the Little Big Horn, and it also allowed for a rising growth of illegal trade in whiskey and guns to develop, with the half-breed Metis serving as successful smugglers of both forms of contraband.
During the spring of 1871, it was noted by US authorities that many of the Metis from Saskatchewan and Alberta were carrying on illegal trade of liquor. It was noted by military authorities attacked a half-breed encampment at Fort Peck. The officer in charge wrote:
“Last winter it was found necessary to have the aid of the military to suppress the illegal traffic carried on between the Red River half-breeds of the North and the Indians under charge of the United States. An attack was made on the half-breed camp, and all their liquor and contraband goods destroyed. About one hundred barrels of whisky and large quantities of other liquors were destroyed at Fort Peck, on the Missouri River, being destined for the Indian trade; and the Department is to be congratulated that the vigorous means adopted have accomplished such desirable results, and that the convictions obtained in the spring of 1871, and the prompt pursuit of parties starting out into the Indian country with liquor, and the destruction of their stores and equipment, have resulted in so much benefit.”
While the smuggling of liquor was problematic, after the incident at Little Big Horn and in the time leading up to the Metis rebellion in 1885, gun running became an even more serious concern. Authorities noted that large numbers of Metis half-breeds were freely crossing the border, and they were travelling quite frequently with some of the renegades who had fled to Canada under Sitting Bull. Complaints were made that the Metis from Canada were trading with the potential hostiles in the US and furnishing them with ammunition. US Colonel Miles was sent from Fort Keogh, Montana, with a strong force to break up their camps and force them to return north of the boundary. It was noted:
“On July 31, Colonel Miles reported that the main hostile camp [of Sitting Bulls followers] had retreated north, across the boundary, to Wood Mountain; the column followed and halted on the main trail at the British line, whence it returned to Milk River. Attention was then turned to the camps of the half-breeds which had formed a cordon of outposts around the main hostile camp, furnishing the Indians with guns and ammunition. On August 4, Captain Ovenshine, Fifth Infantry, with a portion of Colonel Miles' command, arrested a band of half-breeds on Porcupine Creek, capturing one hundred and forty-three carts and one hundred and ninety-three horses. On August 5, four camps of half-breeds were arrested, numbering three-hundred and eight carts. On August 8, Colonel Miles reported the total number of half-breeds arrested by various detachments eight hundred and twenty nine, with six hundred and sixty-five carts.”
This problem was also noted by Canadian authorities who worried about the Metis being armed from the US side of the border by Metis in Montana who could access guns more freely. Authorities noted that during in early 1885, the Metis in Saskatchewan were actively being provided the latest and best make of American rifles by smugglers from the south. In October, forty rifles were received in one lot alone by Gabriel Dumont, who kept a small general store at his ferry. When questioned about the guns by the police, Dumont told them that the rifles belonged to a party of white gentlemen who were going north to hunt moose, and that he was “holding them for them”. In addition to arms, large quantities of ammunition were also being smuggled across the border from the United States, and sent north to Batoche. All the while, Louis Riel continued to carry on a correspondence with his friends in Montana, requesting more assistance and aid from Montana, and elsewhere in the United States.
This early documentary film takes the form of a story; and aims to show the life of a family of Algonquians (Ojibwa) through different activities of everyday life, such as hunting, picking berries, and the manufacture of baskets, skins, and clothes.
Part 1: Presentation of the family: Cheenama and his wife Penni, their son Oka and Blue Jay their youngest child. We see the fauna and the surrounding flora, scenes of everyday life: picking of berries, soaking of skins, manufacturing of buckets and moccasins, hunting, and fishing.
Part 2: In a continuation of the first part, we see the family of Cheenama cooking by their tent. Cheenama and his wife are smoking, discussing when to move camp. Construction of a new canoe with birch bark.
Part 3: Continuation of the construction of the new canoe. After hunting and fishing, they dry the meat and the fish. The camp is dismantled, they leave and settle in a new place. Cheenama made a fire. We see fields, lake. Oka is hunting ducks.
Part 4: During the period of the harvest we see Cheenama and his wife Penni in a canoe in the fields of wild rice. Cheenama beating rice. Once the harvest is ended, Penni places birch bark to hold the rice to dry in the sun, then on the fire. Cheenama digs a hole to trample the rice there. Finally Penni gets the black rice in birch back baskets and covers it with skins for transport.
By an Act of Congress on March 3, 1873, a township of land was purchased on what is now the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota for the expressed purpose of resettlement of the Pembina Band of Chippewa, including the Turtle Mountain Band, so that the United States would have the ability to abolish the claims of the Pembina/Turtle Mountain people to over 9-million acres of lands in northern North Dakota.
In 1874, the government successfully relocated about 543 people to White Earth by withholding treaty annuities unless persons took the step to self-relocate to the Agency at White Earth where they would be issued their annuities. This practice of withholding annuities created a severe hardship for the Chippewa in North Dakota, and in many cases those who did relocate to White Earth were not content with their decision. Missing home, many left the reservation and returned to Pembina and the Turtle Mountains.
Even more so, the great leader Little Shell and his headmen steadfastly refused the order to relocate, worrying that any such self-removal would be seen as the abandonment of the land they claimed in North Dakota, and that if they did relocate – even temporarily to receive annuities at White Earth – it would be a legal relinquishment of their title to their homeland. Thus, in 1874, Little Shell and his sub-chiefs traveled to Washington, DC, and pressed their claim to title and expressed their refusal to relocate.
Undeterred and turning a deaf ear to the Chippewa leadership, the government continued to withhold annuities from the Pembinas who remained at Turtle Mountain, creating significant hardships and near starvation conditions each winter. In 1880, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs noted that: “[the] portion of the Pembina band, numbering 250 persons, still [refuse to relocate to the White Earth] reservation, and are roaming over the Territory north and west, as destitute vagabonds. No better illustration of the improved condition of the Indians upon reservations over those who endeavor to subsist elsewhere could be had than the thrift, industry, and comfort, of the one, and the filth, idleness, and pitiful poverty of the other.” Congress continued to debate ways in which to force or coerce the remainder of the Pembinas to leave the Turtle Mountains, but Little Shell and his leadership would not budge.
In response, President Chester A. Arthur issued three successive executive orders creating and then diminishing the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. The first executive order was issued on December 21, 1882, identifying 20 townships as the boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. However, two years later, President Arthur issued a second order reducing the size of the reservation from 22 to 2 townships on March 29, 1884. The rationale for reduction of the reservation was based on questionable census data and quandaries over blood quantum. The third order was issued on June 3, 1884 to remedy an oversight by the federal government regarding the location of a township adjacent to the US/Canadian international border.
Even after the creation of the reservation, the government continued to punish the Turtle Mountain people by short-changing them on annual annuities, withholding annuities, and allowing corrupt agents and others to punitively issue annuities to some people and not to others. This led to a terrible incident over the winter of 1887-1888, when 151 persons died of starvation in the Turtle Mountains. As noted by Father Genin, the Priest in charge of the Turtle Mountain Mission: “[in that year, the] United States government was made to believe so many bushels of wheat, corn and potatoes had been distributed… [however] so many things never reached the unfortunate; or, if any at all was obtained, it was only by a few favorites, while the others were rebuked and sent to do for themselves.” Genin also noted that some of the worst victims of this starvation effort were the Indians and Metis (mixed-bloods) who were part of the band, but who were seen as originating in Canada. They were provided no assistance at all and were the hardest hit. In an effort to raise money to help buy their own provisions, the Turtle Mountain people began to cut wood so they could sell it. However, in response the government sent local law enforcement to arrest the men for cutting their own wood without permission of the local agent. This event almost led to an armed conflict between the Chippewa and the police officers, and the elderly sub-chief Red Thunder was arrested and held in jail following this confrontation.
The punishment of the tribe finally ended with the negotiation of the 1892 McCumber Agreement, which settled the tribal claims to the title to their land, allowed for enrollment, and provided for the honest issuance of annuities to the Turtle Mountain Band at the expense of having to cede interest in millions of acres of land to the United States.
Ferris, Kade M (2012). Starvation in the Turtle Mountains. Turtle Mountain Heritage Center Blog.
Lafountain, L, Richard, O, et al (2007). Who I Am: A Guide To Your Turtle Mountain Home. Turtle Mountain Community College, North Dakota: Belcourt.
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Red Lake Delegation