In 1851, Charles Cavalier traveled west from Pembina towards the Turtle Mountains and Mouse River with Norman Kittson, Father George Belcourt, William Grady, James McKay, and a few others men. Cavalier and Kittson started out on the journey in the early morning in December. The party traveled using dog sled trains. After a day of travel, the party camped on the western edge of the Pembina Mountains in a deep ravine, surrounded by heavy timber and high hills.
The following morning, they started out across the plains. Not a tree could be seen, but deep snow spread all around them. After a little distance upon the open prairie, the party spotted (in Cavalier’s words) “Countless millions of buffalo, all feeding and going northwest!” They traveled the rest of the day in sight of a living sea of buffalo. As Cavelier did not have snow shoes, he was forced to remain in his sled for 16 hours until the party reached the Turtle Mountain about sundown. As the entered the hills, Cavelier noted: “As we looked back up the plain, [we] saw the moving mass of those noble fellows, it was the grandest sight I ever saw.”
They traveled into the Turtle Mountains until about 11 o'clock that night before they found a camp, which consisted of 15 or 20 lodges of half-breeds. Here they remained through the next day, enjoying the hospitalities of the hunters, while enjoying a hearty meal of buffalo. After a good night of rest, the party made an early departure to travel through the rest of the Turtle Mountains, with the hope of reaching the Mouse River later that day. As soon as the party turned down the south side of the Turtle Mountains, they saw a caravan of the half-breeds on a line headed west. Cavalier and his party joined with the procession and they journeyed on through the day, until they finally reached a winter settlement of about 40-50 half-breed families who were living in log cabins on the Mouse River (probably at Sawyer). Cavalier spent about 21 days and enjoyed his time with the half-breeds—even accompanying them on a hunt where they harvested over 400 buffalo in one hunt.
When Cavalier and his party made their homeward journey, they followed the same path east. The first day they left a bit late in the day and had to camp on Willow Creek, south of the Turtle Mountains. At their camp they enjoyed some tea and pemmican. Although it was cold, Cavelier stated that the group maintained comfort by sleeping in a group: “I kept comfortable and warm, sleeping between the two half-breed boys who were with me, with plenty of robes although the thermometer was 49° below zero at Pembina. But when we came out of our robes in the morning, with no fire, nothing to eat, and got into the [sleds], then came the tug of war.” The party traveled north and by that afternoon they had reached the half-breed camp at the Turtle Mountains again.
That evening, Cavalier and his crew were welcomed with a bush dance held in the largest of the log houses. They stayed through the following day then they started back east again, soon coming upon the same large herd of buffalo they had seen before. Just as they were reaching the Pembina hills, a blizzard swept in from the northwest, and they were forced to take refuge in a clump of poplars where they (surprisingly) found a voyageur of the Hudson Bay Company who was also seeking shelter in the woods. They spent the night in friendly conversation, eating meat and bread, and drinking hot tea. The next morning they renewed their journey, reaching Pembina safely.
Chamberlain-Holley, Frances. (1890) Once their Home: our Legacy from the Dakotahs, Historical, Biographical, and Incidental from far-off Days Down to the Present. Chicago: Donohue & Henneberry
In creating a path towards decolonization and the regeneration of Indigenous peoples and their communities, there are a few concrete steps that can be taken. These steps are significant in that they allow for greater self-determination and a return to a more focused and indigenous way of being, derived from the experience of countless people working for positive change across the world.
Only by taking our own present and future into our own hands can we create an authentic existence out of the mess created by colonial dispossession and disruption. Below are the essentials of decolonization:
Reclaiming The Land
Indigenous people must reconnect with the physical and cultural geography of their heritage and their history if they are to fully understand the teachings and values of their ancestors.
The connection to the land, and to how it shaped our cultures, is the foundation from which we draw our strength and our sustenance independent of colonial power.
It is only from the land where we can truly regenerate our nations and create an authentic, autonomous, Indigenous existence.
Reclaiming the Language
Indigenous people must recover our languages as the foundation for re-establishing Indigenous ways of knowing and relating to each other outside the mental and ideational framework of colonialism.
Language puts the world into perspective and allows an interpretation free of the limitations of colonialist words. Words matter!
Overcoming our Fears
Indigenous people must transcend the controlling power and the fear factors used by colonial powers to dominate and manipulate us into complacency and cooperation with its authorities.
Things like blood quantum, disenrollment, threatened loss of Indigenous status, and reduction in funding are all ways that colonialism seeks to control Indigenous people.
The only way to rise above this is to confront our fears head-on through a return to Indigenous ways of identifying who belongs to our community, greater self-determination and sovereignty, and self-reliance rather than dependence.
For far too long, Indigenous people have relied on the colonial powers to provide us with the means for our everyday lives.
Our people must regain the self-sufficient capacity to provide our own food, clothing, housing, and medicines. We can return to our traditional diets through food sovereignty programs; we can create culturally-appropriate clothing and fashion; we can build better homes for our people using indigenous knowledge; and we can heal ourselves with traditional medicines that our ancestors knew and used to stay healthy.
Stop the Hate - Collaborate!
Indigenous people must reconstitute the mentoring and learning relationships that existed in our communities, with the elders teaching the youth information that creates real learning and breaks the cycles of dependency that plagues our people.
Those who can lead with honor should step forward and we should not hold them back due to jealousy, nepotism, or hate, but instead should support them with solidarity and strength. The movement toward decolonization and revitalization will emanate from transformations achieved by people working together in a collaborative manner towards a set of common goals established by the community and ALL of its members.
Only in this way can we achieve a new future and a new path for our people!
Behind the bars of the jail of Ramsey County, ND, located at Devil's Lake, is imprisoned one of the leaders of the recent uprising among the Indians of Turtle Mountains – Red Thunder, saswain, or orator, of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewas.
Red Thunder is a type of the Simon-pure aborigine. He has never submitted with good grace to the encroachments made by the pale-faces upon the vast territories once held by the Indians in undisputed sway. Though orator of a tribe of Chippewas he is a Cree, a member of a race of Indians now nearly extinct. Born in the Pembina mountains in 1807, he has passed his life in the region lying between there and the Turtle mountains. Descended from a long line of chiefs' councilors, or petty chiefs, he is possessed of a proud and warlike spirit, and looks upon the white man as a trespasser whose only right is that of might.
The tribe in which Red Thunder is now an influential factor was once part of a large band of Indians, the majority of whom are now located on the Red Lake and White Earth reservations in this state [MN]. By the treaties under the terms of which the Red Lake and White Earth reservations were set aside for the Indians, the government intended to finally dispose of all claims of these Indians to any lands. The originators of the Turtle Mountain band as distinct branch of the tribe however refused to locate at White Earth after the treaty of 1863 was ratified, and went west to the Turtle mountains. They were few in numbers then, including only about 15 families, but since that time their band has grown through intermarriage with Canadian Indians and whites, until now they number nearly 2,000 souls, of whom only about 300 are full bloods.
When, in 1881, the interior department determined to open for settlement the large tract lying west of the Red River valley, Including the Devil's lake and Turtle mountain regions, ,these Indians set up a formal claim to the entire tract, amounting to about 9,000,000 acres. In treating with them at that time the Indian commissioners offered them a reservation, it is said, of 20 townships, including the present town sites of Rolla and St. John, lying along the Canadian boundary and taking in the eastern half of the Turtle mountains. Two years, later, however, this reservation was cut flown to two townships, its present size, and the claim now made by the band is for a restoration of their reserve to its original size and for the payment of a bounty of $1,000,000 in annual payments extending though 20 years, for the reimbursement of the larger tract. Though a party of three commissioners sent to make an Investigation three years ago reported favorably to the claims of these Indians, men who are well acquainted with the origin and history of, this particular band maintain that they have no valid claim. This view is held on the ground that had these Indians settled on the White Earth reservation when it was set aside for them, they would now be as well provided for and as prosperous as any of the White Earth Indians.
The Indians have been uphill in their position chiefly through John Bottineau, a half breed, who is their attorney, and who spends most of his time at Washington urging their claims before the interior department. His home is In Minneapolis. Whatever may be the merits of the claim he represents, it is certain that the Indians place great confidence in him, being guided by his advice in every move. White settlers in that region therefore accuse Bottineau of being responsible for the constant agitation of the trouble with the Indians and breeds, by which they are harassed and frequently driven from the claims upon which they have made tillings. The Indians themselves refuse to take out naturalization papers and make filings on the lands they inhabit, as they are advised by their lawyer that such action would jeopardize their claims pending before the Interior department, as it would be, radically an acknowledgment that the land belonged to the government and not to them. The white settlers now hope that the government, owing to the late troubles which were reported in the Tribune, will give attention to the matter and make final disposition of it.
But Irrespective of the merits of the case, the lot of Red Thunder is a sadly pathetic one. When the deputies finally negotiated the surrender of the belligerent band that was resisting the arrest of several of their number, Red Thunder alone refused to capitulate. After all the rest had been taken he left his tent, in which he had "sat sullenly apart," and stalking past the deputies indicated his intention of making his escape. When three deputies who followed him attempted to disarm him and put handcuffs on his wrists, his resistance was sufficient to tax their strength to the utmost. When finally overpowered and robbed of his long sheath knife, his only weapon, he lapsed into sullen and dispirited inaction, and allowed himself to be removed to the village. He was later taken by rail to Devils Lake, there to be confined In the Jail until the July session of the United States circuit court.
When seen at the Jail by the Tribune, the old orator was very willing to talk of the Incidents of his long and eventful career, and through the medium of an Interpreter he told an Interesting story. He said he had a wife 45 years old, just 43 years younger than himself, and five children: three daughters and two sons. Three times he has made Journeys to the home of the "Great Father," or president, at Washington, where he with others of his tribe negotiated the terms of various treaties. He exhibited scars received in many battles, both with Indians and whites, and stated that he was entitled to eight notches on the handle of his tomahawk, having killed seven Indians and one white man. His Main victims, four Sioux, two Gros Ventres and one Assiniboine were slain in inter-tribal wars in which possession of various choice hunting grounds was contested. The white man was shot by him near Ft. Chapel, and was one of a hand of horse thieves. The whites, so Red Thunder claimed, opened fire on him first, he being alone when he fell into their midst. With graphic gestures he related in the sign language, familiar to all the Indians of the plains, how he had retreated from cover to cover under a fire of bullets. Hoping to escape without being compelled to shoot in self-defense; how the shower of lead became too thick for comfort, and how the whites ceased firing as soon as he had dropped one of their number, showing them that he was armed and ready to defend himself.
The old man's eyes blazed as he told his story. He was once a man of magnificent proportions, standing nearly six feet tall, and of massive frame. He is now bent with years, scarred and wrinkled, and his head is crowned with the snows of his life's winter. He finds his confinement distasteful, and is suffering from pleurisy, complaining of pains in his chest. Physicians who have examined him fear that his trouble will develop into pleura-pneumonia, in which event his days would be short, and the officials have offered him the privilege of going out for air and exercise. This offer the old warrior disdainfully rejects and he will not leave the jail, though he longs for the freedom of the woods and plains. He misses most of all the kinnekinick, a smoking material made from the Inner bark of the red willow, and complains that the tobacco with which he is supplied is too strong and burns his throat.
Sheriff Barton finds him a model prisoner, as he accepts the regulations of the Jail submissively and makes no trouble, but it is feared that before he is wanted for trial In July he will have become a "good Indian," [aka a dead Indian] and have traveled the long trail which leads to the last "happy hunting grounds," where his proud spirit will find rest among the ghosts of his noble ancestors.
From: Minneapolis Star-Tribune, May 20, 1895
Weshcubb (or Wiscoup, or Le Sucre - “The Sugar”) was a mighty warrior known for his prowess as a warrior and his skill as a diplomat. He was the main leader who destroyed all of the villages of Cheyennes and drove them from the Red River valley in North Dakota. It is known that he maintained a village at Red Lake and also at Leech Lake. Weshcubb is also mentioned by explorer Zebulon Pike who met him at Leech Lake on February 11, 1806. Pike reported meeting the chief and other Ojibwe leaders, and learned that the Sioux had once occupied the region, but had been driven away generations previous. However, he was also known for his son Ozaawindib (Yellow Head), who was himself famous as a two-spirit.
The two main historical sources for information on Ozaawindib are Alexander Henry (the Younger) (1765-1814), a fur trader with the North West Company who traveled throughout the Northwest (northwestern Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba, and west to the Pacific Ocean) from 1799 to 1808, and John Tanner, who was kidnapped in Kentucky by Shawnee Indians at around age ten and lived most of his life among the Ottawa and Ojibwe. Tanner (ca. 1780-ca. 1846), whose Indian name was Shaw-Shaw-Wabe-Na-Se (The Falcon), was adopted by a female Ottawa chief named Net-no-kwa. He recounts his travels throughout much of the land between Michigan and North Dakota, where his path crossed both Ozaawindib’s and Henry’s.
Ozaawindib was listed as “La Berdash” (Sucre’s son) as porter #4 on Alexander Henry’s Red River brigade. He was noted to be a brave and strong man, albeit a two-spirit. John Tanner also wrote about Ozaawindib. He wrote: “Some time in the course of the winter, there came to our lodge one of the sons of the celebrated chief called Wesh-ko-bug (or Wiscoup, the Sweet [or Le Sucre])…this man was one of those who make themselves women and who are called woman by the Indians. There are several of this sort among most, if not all the Indian tribes; they are commonly called A-go-kwa. This [man] called Ozaw-wen-dib (the Yellow Head) was now near fifty years old and had lived with many husbands.”
Ozaawindib may have dressed and acted like a woman, but he was also a brave warrior. Henry relates an account of Ozaawindib’s heroism in his journal entry dated January 2, 1801:
“Berdash, a son of Sucrie [Sucre, Sweet, or Wiscoup], arrived from the Assiniboine, where he had been with a young man to carry tobacco concerning the war. This person is a curious compound between a man and a woman. He is a man both as to members and courage, but pretends to be womanish, and dresses as such. His walk and mode of sitting, his manners, occupations, and language are those of a woman. His father, who is a great chief amongst the Saulteurs [Ojibwe], cannot persuade him to act like a man…”
“He is very fleet, and a few years ago was reckoned the best runner among the Saulteurs. Both his speed and his courage were tested some years ago on the Schian [Sheyenne] river, when Monsieur Reaume attempted to make peace between the two nations, and Berdash accompanied a party of Saulteurs to the Sioux camp. They at first appeared reconciled to each other through the intercession of the whites, but on the return of the Saulteurs, the Sioux pursued them. Both parties were on foot, and the Sioux have the name of being extraordinarily swift. The Saulteurs imprudently dispersed in the plains, and several were killed; but the party with Berdash escaped without any accident, in the following manner: One of them had got from the Sioux a bow, but only a few arrows. On starting and finding themselves pursued, they ran a considerable distance, until they perceived the Sioux were gaining fast upon them, when Berdash took the bow and arrows from his comrades, and told them to run as fast as possible, without minding him, as he feared no danger. He then faced the enemy, and began to let fly his arrows. This checked their course, and they returned the compliment with interest, but it was so far off that only a chance arrow could have hurt him, as they had nearly spent their strength when they fell near him. His own arrows were soon expended, but he lost no time in gathering up those that fell near him, and thus he had a continual supply.”
“Seeing his friends some distance ahead, and the Sioux moving to surround him, he turned and ran full speed to join his comrades, the Sioux after him. When the latter approached too near, Berdash again stopped and faced them with his bow and arrows, and kept them at bay. Thus did he continue to maneuver until they reached a spot of strong wood which the Sioux dared not enter. Some of the Saulteurs who were present have often recounted the affair to me.”
Zebulon Montgomery Pike, The Expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, to Headwaters of the Mississippi River, through Louisiana Territory, and in New Spain, though the Years 1806-7-8, ed. Elliot Coues, vol. 1 (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1895 ), 156-57.
William W. Warren, History of the Ojibway People (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1984 ), 256.
Alexander Henry and David Thompson, New Light on the Early History of the Greater Northwest, vol. 1, ed. Elliott Coues (New York: Adamant Media Corporation, 2007 [facsimile of 1897 edition published by Francis P. Harper])
Tanner, A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner, 105-6.
Located in northern Minnesota near the US/Canadian border, Mickinock’s Village was one of the most prominent Ojibwe settlements in the vast swamplands of the region.
A minor ‘chief’, Mickinock was related to Ka‐Kay‐Geesick and the other Ojibwe who resided at the Warroad Villages, Red Lake, and Buffalo Point. He was considered friendly to traders and early settlers to the region, freely offering his assistance and goodwill to them despite their encroachment into his traditional hunting grounds.
One story tells of an incident that demonstrated his kindliness. It relates as follows:
In the fall of 1890 the Sioux in South Dakota, had become tired of reservation life and were planning open hostilities under the Ghost Dance. Although the Sioux “revolt” was put down, the incident caused widespread uneasiness among the settlers across the region. Rumors spread throughout northern Minnesota that a Sioux chief had visited the Ojibwe of Red Lake to incite them to revolt, and that the Ojibwe had purchased all the powder and lead available in Thief River Falls. Other terrifying stories also were told—including the possibility of the Ojibwe at Roseau Lake planning an attack.
It is believed that the rumor of an attack by the Roseau lake Ojibwe was precipitated by one (or more) ill-intentioned settlers who wanted to stir up trouble. Louis Enstrom and Ole Holm, two early settlers, testified that an individual named Mrs. Marshall played a large part in fomenting the rumors of an Indian attack. She was a mixed‐blood Ojibwe who resented the intrusion of white settlers and hoped to drive some away by spreading rumors of unrest. Her initial rumors led to more panic, which spread like wildfire—leading to even more panicked stories being spread from farm to farm. In one case, it was reported that “three hundred Indians in full war paint had passed Sprague's lumber camp, just across the line in Manitoba”. When the rumor mill caught wind of this, the number quickly grew to three thousand! Later investigation revealed that three Indians actually had passed the camp!
By January, 1891, fear of an impending massacre swept the region. The Ojibwe living at the Warroad village were said to be dancing the ghost dance with visitors from Red Lake and other places in the vicinity. The panic climaxed with a series of wild stories spread by two men who rode from farm to farm, claiming that “Indians in war paint were descending upon the area”. In confusion and panic, settlers loaded their household goods on carts and headed west. Those who were determined to stay prepared to defend themselves. Some of the locals who were on good terms with the Ojibwe held their ground, because they doubted the story of an uprising by their friends, so they sent scouts to Warroad to see what the Ojibwe were actually doing.
In the meantime, a general evacuation of the valley continued. One settler, Erick Holm, noted that he had met about sixty groups of refugees travelling on the sand ridge road going west. They were in a most miserable plight due to the harsh cold of January. The scouts who went to Warroad reported that the Ojibwe there were friendly and were only indulging in social dancing. Moreover, when Chief Maypuck and his band learned of the scare, they were almost as frightened as the settlers because they were worried that they would be attacked for something they were innocent of. Chief Maypuck and Ka‐Kay‐Geesick immediately journeyed to Roseau to learn more about the matter.
Ironically, the friendly aid of the Roseau Lake Ojibwe helped to prevent the settlers from losing everything they had. Mickinock, having also heard of the settler’s panic went looking to help quell the rumor. He found that all the whites had left their farms and that their livestock was almost perishing for lack of food and water. He joined with Ka‐Kay‐Geesick to water and feed all of the abandoned cattle on his way from his camp to town. He then told some of his people to send word to those who had fled to return, as he “…could not take care of their stock all winter”.
This story (or variations of it) is found in oral history and in several published articles. The most detailed account is found in The Early History of the Roseau Valley (Chapin 1943). Grace Landin (1972) also recorded this story during her discussions with the Warroad Ojibwe.
There was also a legend of a Windigo—a cannibalistic “monster”—associated with Mickinock’s Village. The Windigo was said to haunt the swampy areas around Roseau Lake and its appearance was supposed to foretell the death of someone at the village. One story, collected by WPA researchers, takes the account of white settler Jesse Nelson, who claimed to have seen the “ghost” Windigo several times. Nelson recounted:
“I was in the yard at the Mickinock house about mid‐afternoon, looking south I saw that apparition rise by the side of the muskeg and start walking westward; it stumbled and nearly fell; then it started to run and several times stumbled, but each time it recovered and ran on for about a quarter of a mile. Finally it went out of sight behind the east end of the grove on the small ridge on Bertilrud’s homestead. The apparition was about fifteen feet tall, dressed in some material that looked like white lace. Whatever it may have been it was not a hallucination of superstitious fears in the dark, for I saw it in broad daylight. Mrs. Mickinock died the following morning”.
Mickinock’s village was not inordinately populous, but it did serve a prominent place in the region due to its proximity to both the prairies to the west, Lake of the Woods to the east, and the rich forests to the south. In 1887, it was reported that about 19 individuals were living at the village. A photograph taken at the village shows Mickinock, Chief Cobenais (probably visiting from his nearby village) with two of his wives, Billy McGillis—a Pembina half‐breed who served as camp interpreter—and other men, women, children and babies posed for this photograph. A bark lodge and a canvas tipi are visible, as is a Red River cart.
Mickinock eventually sold his village area to an individual named Theodore Thompson before retiring to Red Lake.
Federal Writers’ Project. (1938). The WPA Guide to Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society.
Chapin, E.V. (1943). The Early History of the Roseau Valley: Minnesota Historical Society Notes. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society.
Landin, G. (1972). A Study of Three Chippewa Families at Warroad, Minnesota and Their Historical and Cultural Contributions (Thesis). Moorhead State College.
While the cultivation of corn was important to most bands of Ojibwe, the people of Red Lake were masters at growing beautiful fields of it along the southern shores of their vast lake. Reports from traders, Indian agents, and missionaries state that they were the most fore-handed of any band in the Ojibwe nation in terms of agriculture.
The Red Lake people cultivated corn extensively. The corn cultivated by the Red Lake people was a small, eight-rowed variety, about six inches in length. The color of the kernels was white and blue, in varying proportions in individual ears with the white and blue mixed in the ear. The ears would occasionally produce red kernels.
Cultivation was done using hoes bought from traders to break up the ground. Seeds were sprouted before planting by placing a layer of moss in a large, flat tray made of birch bark, then the seeds would be spread evenly upon the moss and covered with other layers of moss and both layers would be wet down with warm water. The trays containing the sprouting corn were kept in the wigwams during the evening, but were placed in the sun during the day. The advantage of sprouting corn was that there was no loss from imperfect germination and the corn would be advanced in growth by about a week or ten days, which was important with the short growing season of northern Minnesota.
When harvested, the corn was cured by braiding or tying in bunches and hanging it up on wood racks 10 feet high. Sometimes the corn was “smoked” when hanging on the racks. It was claimed that this would render the corn impervious to damage from moisture or insects. Once cured and shelled, the corn was put into sacks made of cedar bark, holding about a bushel each, and then stored in a hole in the ground for months without damage.
It is debatable as to the probable source of the Red Lake corn. Some suggest that it originally came from Canada (around Lake Winnipeg), but little corn was ever raised there during early times. Others suggest that it is a form of corn obtained from the Mandan, which seems likely as the Red Lake people had contact with them and were on mostly good terms.
Read more about corn in: Corn in Montana: History, Characteristics, Adaptation. By Alfred Atkinson (1915)
Soon after being routed from Mille Lacs, in 1768 the Dakota decided to strike revenge on the Ojibwe by a grand campaign of over 500 warriors.
The Sioux succeeded in reaching the upper Mississippi river by making a grand circuit by way of Gull, Leach, Cass and Winnibigosish lakes, and their campaign had good initial success. They captured thirty young women who were out picking berries, and were able to attack a number of isolated families who were unsuspecting of an attack by such a large party of warriors. The Sioux mounted an attack on a main Ojibwe village, but were driven back and they fled with their captives down the river with their war spoils. Their satisfaction, however, was of short duration.
A party of Ojibwe hunters had discovered the passage of the Sioux and, rightly guessing that it was their intention to return by way of the Mississippi, they arranged an ambush. Just below the mouth of Crow Wing River there is a sharp bend where the whole force of the channel is thrown against the east shore, which rises almost to a bank almost fifty feet in height. Canoes passing down the river at this point are drawn by the current immediately under this bank. With an eye to this fact, the Ojibwe selected the point for the ambush. They dug several holes along this bank large enough to accommodate eight or ten men each, from which they were invisible to passing enemies, while they completely commanded the view of the entire channel.
One morning after their ambush preparations were complete, one of the Ojibwe scouts who had been sent about a mile up the Mississippi to watch for the Sioux was drinking water from the river. While drinking he looked up river and saw a canoe suddenly turn a point of land above him. He threw himself flat upon the ground and gradually crawled back to a point where he could not be seen. When out of sight he looked back and saw the whole bosom of the river covered with Sioux war canoes. Seeing this, he rushed back to the ambush point and notified his comrades.
They watched the canoes approach, and were surprised to see them go to shore at a point opposite the main mouth of the Crow Wing and in plain view of their ambuscade. They watched the Sioux disembark and proceed to cook their morning meal. They saw the large group of female Ojibwe prisoners as they were roughly pushed ashore and made to build the fires and hang the kettles. Amongst them were many of their wives, daughters, and sisters. As their breakfast was cooking, the young Sioux warriors formed in a ring and danced, yelling and rejoicing over their earlier victories. The Ojibwe leader had much difficulty restraining his younger and more foolhardy warriors from rushing out and attacking their enemies immediately, but they finally did stay firm in their ambush spot.
The Sioux, having finished their morning meal and victory dance, started to return to their canoes. They floated down the current in a compact mass, holding on to the other canoes while filling and lighting their pipes and passing them from one boat to the next. After smoking they let out a great shout and some of them began to beat their hand drums and sing songs. Still moving in a compact flotilla, the river’s current soon brought them immediately under the Ojibwe ambush spot.
At the sound of their leader's war whistle the Ojibwe warriors let fly a flight of arrows directly into the closely packed canoes of the enemies, picking out for death the most prominent and fancily-dressed figures amongst them. The confusion amongst the Sioux at this sudden and unexpected attack was immense. The Ojibwe women captives, knowing that this attack was their men come to rescue them, overturned the canoes they were in and swam to shore. In other canoes, the dead and injured caused many of them to overturn as well, leaving many of the Sioux struggling in the deep current where some of them were drowned. Those who could not escape the range of the Ojibwe arrows suffered severely. Some of the Sioux dove and swam ashore on the opposite side of the river and ran down the bank and joined those of their fellows who still had their canoes. Here they regrouped.
Noticing that there was (by comparison) a relatively small number of Ojibwe, the Sioux determined to go back and fight the battle anew and revenge the death of their friends. They bravely rallied and made an attack on the Ojibwe location, but the Ojibwe were so strongly and securely entrenched that they sustained the Sioux offensive until night without losing any of their men. The Sioux, on the other hand, suffered many losses in their attack as they were forced to fight from open ground without shelter. The Sioux finally retreated.
The next morning the Sioux, still burning for vengeance, returned to the attack. Acting with greater caution and wariness, they approached the Ojibwe defenses by digging counter holes or making embankments of earth or logs before them to shield them from the Ojibwe arrows. Using these tactics, the Sioux were able to inflict some damage on the Ojibwe, including one thrown stone that found the face of noted Ojibwe chief, Le Sucre (Sweet) who received a stunning blow which broke his jaw. When possible, the Sioux rushed forward and fought hand-to-hand with clubs and knives, and the Ojibwe, lost one of their warriors this way. However, the Ojibwe fought so stubbornly that the Sioux finally retreated.
Following this battle and fearing retaliation, the M'dewakantons finally moved from the Rum River country, never again to occupy this beautiful and rich region of Minnesota.
From: A History of the Dakota or Sioux Indians. By Doan Robinson. South Dakota Historical Society, 1904.
Making Friends with the memegwesi
Once, a long time ago, a young man lived with his wife and children in a remote area near a large lake. He would go hunting every day and would return with all sorts of game.
During one of his hunting trips, he saw a fat squirrel and shot it with his arrow. As he was going to pick it up, he noticed a small man about two feet tall coming from around a tree. The small man – a memegwesi – said to the hunter, “Beshwaji! I was stalking that squirrel for my prey. You stole it from me, but I do not hold a grudge for that. Nonetheless, could you give it to me so that I might feed my family?” The young hunter agreed, and he and the memegwesi decided to camp together, and they both had a great time sharing stories and boasting about their hunting prowess.
After a successful time hunting, the young man asked the memegwesi if he would like to bring his family and live with him in his lodge. They could be brothers and always hunt together. The memegwesi agreed. The memegwesi had a wife and two young children: one was no bigger than six inches high, the other about one foot high. They came to the lodge of the young hunter and took up house in a corner of it.
Every day the young man and the memegwesi would go out hunting. The young man might kill a deer or a moose, and the memegwesi would kill squirrels and rabbits. They had good luck every day, and when they would go home the memegwesi’s wife would help him bring his squirrel or rabbit inside and would cook it up for him, and the young man’s wife would cook his deer. The memegwesi’s wife would scrape the hides of his small animals and made him wonderful clothing.
This little memegwesi had powers to do certain tricks, and he would entertain his family and the family of his young friend through the long winter nights and he would bring luck to his friend. They were all very happy in their friendship.
One day during a particularly warm spring, just after they had made maple sugar together, the memegwesi told his young friend, “We are leaving now. We have had a good time living with you and thank you for always being my friend. I wish you good luck every day and to be happy all your life.” The memegwesi family gathered up their things and disappeared. Until his dying day, the young hunter and his family always had good luck thanks to his memegwesi friend’s blessings.
Why we leave a fire for the dead
Once there was a man named Mitaawan, or Sandy. He was a great leader of the Ojibwe. He was a brave man and his war deeds were the thing of legend. He fought in so many battles that there were songs praising his acts of bravery. Every youth of the village wanted to grow up to be like him and he could always count on loyal men to follow him to war.
During one war party he was leading, his band was having a heated battle. As they fought, Sandy was turning the fight into a victory for the Ojibwe. He struck down many enemies and they were retreating. As the men gave their victory cries one of the fleeing enemies turned around and shot an arrow. While he was in the middle of giving the great shout of victory, the arrow found Sandy’s breast, and he fell dead.
He called out to his friends, but they neither saw him nor heard him. He was seemingly invisible. Astonishment, disappointment, and rage filled him. He did everything he could to make them notice him. He screamed; he waved his hand before their eyes; but he could not make himself heard, seen, or felt, so he just followed on their track. Wherever they went, he went; when they walked, he walked; when they ran, he ran; when they built their fires, and sat down, his sat down with them. As the men sat around the fire, he listened to them recount their valiant deeds. But he was unable to tell them how much his own deeds had exceeded theirs that day.
After a few days, the war party reached the village and the women and children came out to welcome their return. Sandy hoped that someone would notice him, but no one seemed conscious of his presence. He heard many people ask about him. He listened as his soldiers told about his great deeds and about how he was died on the battlefield. Sandy, feeling indignant about this yelled, “It is not true! I am here! I live and I move! Why can’t any of you see me?” But nobody knew of his presence; they simply mistook his loudest screams as the whisperings of the wind. In sadness, Sandy walked to his own lodge. He saw his wife tearing at her hair and crying for him. “Wife!” he screamed. But she didn’t seem to hear him. He then placed his mouth close to her ear and shouted, “Give me food.” To this his wife simply said, “I hear a fly buzzing.” This made Sandy angry and he struck her upon the forehead. She winced slightly and placed her hand to her head and said, “Ouch! I have been bitten by a mosquito.”
Defeated, Sandy sat there and thought of any way in which he could be seen or heard, but he could not find one. He then began to think about what he had heard the elders say about how a person’s spirit can sometimes leave the body and wander. He reflected that possibly his body had remained upon the field of battle, while only his spirit had returned home. He made the decision to return to where the battle took place.
It was a four days journey. He went on for three days and on the fourth day, as it was approaching night fall, he came to the outskirts of the battlefield. There, he saw a fire in the path. He walked to one side to avoid stepping into it, but the fire moved and was still in front of him. No matter what way he turned, the fire still burned in his path. At last Sandy yelled, “Evil Manitou…why do you keep me from the field of battle where my body lies? Know you not that I am a spirit also, and seek now to again enter that body? I am a chief and a warrior! I will not be turned back by you or anyone!”
At this, Sandy made a vigorous effort and passed through the flame. The next thing he realized he was sitting on the ground, with his back to a tree, and his bow leaning against his shoulder, the same as he had been left. Looking up, he saw a large Ginew, a war-eagle, sitting upon the tree above his head. The eagle was the spirit he had seen during his vision quest as a youth. He realized that it was the guardian spirit who had been watching over his body for days. He then struggled and got to his feet, but he was weak and his limbs numb. He noticed that the blood of his wound was dried. Nonetheless, he soon found some roots and made a poultice to treat his wound and dressed it with a bandage. In a short time he found himself recovered as he started his journey home.
Along the way home he killed some birds and roasted them on a fire. He traveled the remaining days home and eventually came to the village. Everyone was surprised to see him back again and living, as they were certain he had died. He then called all the people to his lodge, and told them all what had happened. He told them that forever after they must build a fire for the people who died. He told them that the fire must burn for four days so that the spirit of the person who died might have light and warmth. The fire must burn just in case the person who died might somehow return. The fire would guide them back to their body so they could return to the land of the living.
Just in case…
A Look at Pitikwahanapiwiyin (or Poundmaker)
All of the people of the Plains hunted the buffalo.
Buffalo hunting required great organization, with a large group of men riding swiftly on their horses under the direction of their skilled leaders to drive the buffalo certain ways to cut the best animals from the herd – riding around and bunching them up – shooting the finest bulls down one-by-one.
However, during the winter months when the prairies were covered with snow, a different method needed to be used: poundmaking!
Poundmaking is a way to hunt buffalo by impounding, or driving the herd into an enclosure. Early fur traders provided accounts of the Plains-Cree and Assiniboine using this method and they claimed that they were the best at driving buffalo into these “pounds” and quite possibly were the ones who showed the other Plains tribes how to do it. The reason behind this is that the woodland Cree from the east (around Hudson Bay) use a similar method for trapping deer. It seems likely that they brought the knowledge with them as they pushed west.
Born in about 1842 near Battleford in central Saskatchewan, Pitikwahanapiwiyin (or Poundmaker) was the son of Sikakwayan, a Stoney shaman, and his Métis wife. He gained his name for his special ability to attract buffalo into pounds. It was said that Pîhtokahanapiwiyin was gifted by spirit helpers to use a special song to lure in the buffalo to the pounds. As he sang, he used a drum. The song enticed the lead buffalo cow to bring her herd into the pound so the people could harvest them.
Poundmaker grew up with his Plains Cree relatives under the influence of his maternal uncle Mistawasis (Big Child), a leading figure in the Eagle Hill (Alberta) area. In 1873 Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfoot, following a Plains Indian custom, adopted Poundmaker to replace one of his own sons who had been killed in battle.
In August 1876, Poundmaker served as the headman of one of the River People bands and was influential enough to speak at the Treaty 6 negotiations at Fort Carlton. He emerged as one of the leaders of a group critical of the treaty because it did not include a 'famine clause'. He finally agreed to sign the treaty on August 23rd only because the majority of his band favored it.
Poundmaker was chief and accepted a reserve and settled with 182 followers on 30 square miles along the Battle River about 40 miles west of Battleford. However, in the autumn of 1879, frustrated by the government's failure to fulfill their treaty promises, Poundmaker became active in resistance against the policies of the settler government. In June 1884, a Thirst Dance was held on his reserve and the men gathered to discuss the worsening situation of the Indians. By the middle of the month over 2,000 people had gathered, but the Thirst Dance celebration was disrupted by the North-West Mounted Police.
Poundmaker and his band participated in the 1885 Metis rebellions and he was imprisoned for his part in the outbreak. While in prison, the government wanted to cut his hair, but the influence of some of the other native leaders saved him from suffering that indignity. He served only seven months in prison, but his stay there devastated his health and led to his death (from a lung hemorrhage) in 1886, at the age of 44. He was buried at Blackfoot Crossing near Gleichen, Alberta, but his remains were exhumed in 1967, and reburied on the Poundmaker Reservation in Saskatchewan.