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.