The most basic level of indigenous governance and subsistence was the family hunting group.
This is a kinship-based group constituted of people united by blood and marriage ties. The family hunting group maintained the right to hunt, trap, fish, and harvest or collect in certain ‘inherited’ areas (i.e. hunting grounds, ricing lake, etc.) which were delimited by geographic features like rivers, lakes, or other natural landmarks. These territories often held specific names known to the family hunting group and to other family groups who utilized surrounding areas. Each family hunting group would pass their knowledge of their territories, and the right to harvest these areas, from generation to generation. The boundaries of these territories were known and recognized by others.
The family hunting group held their territory in the utmost value, because it was the economic and subsistence focus of their entire lives. Because of this, deep traditional ecological knowledge was developed over time. Family members learned about the patterns of game animals in the territory; they knew where to find certain plants at certain times of the year; and they knew how much they could harvest so as not to damage the abundance or the source of supply of resources. This knowledge was passed down to generations and valorised: from fathers and mothers; grandfathers and grandmothers.
Permission was needed before another family could encroach upon a family hunting group’s territory. Hunting or harvesting in the territory of another family could be grounds for violence. However, permission was often given – especially in times when game and other resources might be scarce. In some cases, two nearby family hunting groups might intermarry and combine their hunting efforts in a larger, more expansive joint territory that would eventually develop due to expanded kinship ties, resulting in the establishment of a small “hunting band”. These bands would work in concert with other kinship related bands (i.e. “tribes”) in efforts such as warfare, where large numbers of participants would be needed.
While this family-level system worked well in the woodlands regions of what is now Ontario and Minnesota, and in the Interlake regional of Manitoba, this system did not transfer as well as the focus of subsistence moved west. Once the focus of many of the Cree and Ojibwe groups turned to the prairies and Great Plains, resources were found to be much more scattered and mobile, thus the small-level hunting family group system became less sustainable as a system for subsistence. It took greater numbers of hunters to take down herds of buffalo. However, the basics of the kinship systems that developed in the forests served as the foundation, with related family groups and bands working in concert – often numbering hundreds of people – to hunt the buffalo across hundreds of miles. Even so, hunting territories on the Plains were designated in much the same way, with kinship-related groups venturing forth from places like Pembina, Wood Mountain, White Horse Plain, and other gathering sites to hunt in their respective territories.
Kinship was the key to all of it.
While the overall effects of European colonization were detrimental to indigenous people, the fur trade offered highly attractive economic benefits to groups such as the Ojibwe and Cree throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Trade allowed indigenous people to offset their usual intake by trading the pelts of the many animals they hunted for dry goods and other resources—especially items such as kettles, knives, awls, and axes, which could replace or supplement bark and pottery containers and stone tools. Other items, such as cloth, trade beads, tobacco and “exotic” trade goods soon became important to survival and prosperity, and economic trapping came to be a central part of life. In terms of cultural changes brought on by the fur trade, incorporating economic trapping into the culture fostered specialization and resulted in new roles for both men and women. The upsurge of the fur trade also encouraged increased production of maple sugar and wild rice, a growth in agriculture, and even in how annual fishing was conducted.
Trade with Europeans in Minnesota began as early as the late 1600s when French and English traders started to make contact with the many Ojibwe and Cree bands living around Lake Superior—with some movements towards the interior areas near the Mississippi. However, these trading expeditions tended to be short lived and sporadic ventures until the resolution of the hostilities of the French and Indian Wars. During this early period, several notable regional posts were established included: Fort St. Pierre, built by La Vérendrye in 1732 at the outlet of Rainy Lake, and Fort St. Charles, established in 1732 at the northern-most point of the Northwest Angle by La Vérendrye. Once the Europeans settled their scores, the English began to make overtures to tribes in the region at Fond du Lac (1763) and at Grand Portage (1767) which allowed them to make stronger connection to the Ojibwe in the interior. This allowed them to establish posts further inland where rich beaver grounds could be found.
From 1767 to 1800, the Hudson Bay Company and Northwest Company established several posts—mostly in Canada—which were an economic draw to the regional tribes. The Hudson Bay Company established Fort Frances near the location of La Vérendrye’s previous Fort St. Pierre venture. The Hudson Bay Company effort was matched by the X Y Company who also situated a post nearby. Other posts were established at Thief River (1794), upper Red Lake (1784 and 1790), lower Red Lake (1794), and the Red Lake River (1798).
After 1800, the Americans jumped in the fur trade, establishing posts near Pembina and Park River, North Dakota, in 1800, Turtle River (North Dakota) in 1802, and a small post was also established at Warroad in 1820. The Americans also established a post at Lake of the Woods (near the outlet of Rainy River) in 1820. This post was matched by the British at Rainy Lake in 1823.
During the 1840s, posts were established at Roseau Lake (in Roseau County, Minnesota) by both the British and American traders due to the proximity to both Canadian and Minnesota markets and the existence of several well-established Ojibwe villages in the area. The Americans started their post under the authority of Norman Kittson, while the Hudson Bay Company led the British effort. Both posts were abandoned by 1851.
One of the last posts operated in the area was Hungry Hall, a Hudson Bay post situated at the north side of the mouth of the Rainy River. This small post persisted until 1872.
Indigenous trail systems were developed over centuries and were created to ensure easy dispersal and movement of the population across vast territories to the many villages, camps, and procurement areas with the goal of maximizing subsistence and minimizing competition over the resources. Trails were selected and created to ensure efficient transportation from habitable locations to places where game, plant foods, medicines, and other resources could be procured. Trails were developed to provide appropriate seasonal movement and to link habitation and village sites to other such sites for essential communication and interaction with extended family and band members in a particular region.
Trails through forested landscapes were frequently marked by “blazing”, whereby certain trees were slashed (or chopped) at various places and in various ways by those who made used the trails as they passed along. In such blazing, the white inner wood of the trees would be exposed to serve as a marker to future persons following the same trail. Blazing was also used to indicate where a trail turned off, or where some other information might need to be conveyed. After many years, blaze marks could appear high up in a tree due to tree growth, or could eventually appear as a natural defect in the tree bark. In addition to directional marking, blazing might include more intricate forms of information. Often, a person passing along a trail might carve a representation of their clan doodem to indicate their passing. Other blazes could be employed to demarcate trapping areas or sugaring areas, whereby someone who discovered a good, unclaimed sugar maple stand might blaze a series of trees with an ax, leaving a distinctive ownership mark to declare their extended family's ownership rights to the grove. No one would think of violating these rights – especially when they noticed the blaze marks.
When possible, trails followed watercourses, with trails running parallel to rivers and tributaries. When water courses could not be followed, or when there was a desire to reach other resource areas, paths would follow the general landscape—seeking the path of least resistance or easiest route. In an area predominate with bogs and permanent wetlands, this meant following glacial beach ridges and moraine features that were usually higher (and perpetually drier) that the surrounding lowland bogs.
While summer movement could include both water and overland travel, winter allowed for different forms of mobility. Movement on winter trails could be covered by men on snowshoes to reach some of the more remote regions by using frozen stream beds and bog lands where large game such as deer or moose “yarded” in an effort to find adequate cover and food. However, the amount of such winter trekking and harvesting an extended family or band could accomplish was limited by the need to not stay too long, as boggy areas were difficult to escape from once spring thaw occurred.
It is reasonably plausible that some of the earliest western Ojibwe groups were inhabiting areas within the interior regions of what is now Ontario—and even parts of Minnesota and Manitoba—during the late Woodlands period (A.D. 1100-1600) prior to first contact with Europeans. While no written records exist for this time period, the cultural similarity between the Ojibwe and Cree, coupled with the Ojibwe oral tradition about their migration from the east, lends credence to the concept that the Ojibwe were inhabiting portions of this area by at least the late 1500s. Even so it isn’t until the 1640s, when Europeans start involving themselves in the region through early trading efforts and attempts to convert the local Indian populations, that we start seeing written records with details involving Ojibwa expansion and settlement.
By the late seventeenth century the fur trade in the Upper Great Lakes region was expanding and following the Iroquois wars, more and more Ojibwe were reported to be moving westward — often acting as middlemen for the Europeans during the 1640s and 1650s. During this time, the Ojibwe were rapidly expanding around both the northern and southern shores of Lake Superior and were starting to displace the Cree and Assiniboine in many places where they had previously co-existed. Much of this expansion happened because the eastern bands that were moving into the region west of Lake Superior had access to trade goods and guns which they were able to trade to their fellow Ojibwe already present in the region. This provided the Ojibwe momentum to stretch their power even more and created a system that saw the absorption of some of the Cree groups into their network by the early 1700s, and by the 1730s, the main portion of the Cree population was moving westward while the Ojibwe were infilling into former Cree territories around places like Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods, Red Lake, Lake Winnipeg, and other large lakes in the region.
By the middle to late 1700s, Ojibwe groups were firmly established in what is now Manitoba, Minnesota, northern and eastern North Dakota, and beyond. European traders felt safe enough to begin their own westward expansion with new posts established in the Red River and other western locations starting in the late 1700s. In addition to the expansion of the Europeans into the region, the rise of the Metis Nation — resulting from the long association of the Ojibwe, Cree, and Assiniboine with the European traders — saw a rapid expansion in population as well, helping the Ojibwe expand even further west as many of these Metis descendants remained close with their maternal Indian communities, hunting and warring alongside them.
Starting around 1850, Ojibwe communities began to diverge due to increased pressure from European settlers intent on occupying their lands in Manitoba, Ontario, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Some groups moved north to escape this pressure, becoming aligned with the Cree and continuing a subsistence hunting lifestyle. Communities in Ontario signed treaties and were fast relegated to reserves. In Minnesota, much of the Ojibwe lands were swindled and the bands were forced to accept reservations and rely on government issued annuities for survival. In North Dakota and Manitoba the Ojibwe were able to remain more independent for a time — hunting west into what is now Montana and Saskatchewan with their Metis relatives before finally being forced to cede their lands and move to reservations during the late 1800s.
Read and learn more...
Bishop, Charles A. 1974. “Northern Ojibwa and the Fur Trade: An Historical and Ecological Study.” Cultures and Communities, a Series of Monographs : Native Peoples. Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada.
Benton-Banai, Edward. 1979. “Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway.” [St. Paul, Minn.: Indian Country Press].
Hickerson, Harold. 1974. “Ethnohistory of Chippewa of Lake Superior.” American Indian Ethnohistory : North Central and Northeastern Indians. New York: Garland Pub. Inc.
Hickerson, Harold. 1988. “Chippewa and Their Neighbors: A Study in Ethnohistory.” Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press.
At the turn of the 18th century, the western-most Ojibwe bands were increasingly developing strong kinship ties with Métis, Plains Cree, and even Assiniboine bands in the region surrounding the Turtle Mountains. Between 1800-1820, the growth of the Métis population and their success at hunting saw the Ojibwe more and more frequently participating in large-scale buffalo hunts and continually camping with Métis and Cree, resulting in deeply-knit ties among the three peoples, so that nearly all the western Ojibwe had close relatives who were descended from the Red River Métis, or who were Cree in parentage. Extended families and clans became mixed, and many hunting groups were comprised so that the Ojibwe were usually a minority in numbers, but despite this they maintained hereditary leadership roles in these groups. The multi-ethnic nature of these bands help shift the traditional Woodlands culture of the Ojibwe into that of a truly Plains people. They adopted many of the traits of the Cree, Métis, and Assiniboine, such as a more “plains” style of beadwork, dress, ceremonies (e.g. sun dance), and adopted the horse as a central measure of wealth and independence.
By about 1820, there were Ojibwe/mixed-ethnic groups hunting and trading between Lake Winnipeg, Pembina, and the Turtle Mountains. These groups maintained ties to, and would often visit, their original bands at Red Lake, Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake, and other areas in Minnesota and Ontario, but their cultural orientation was almost entirely Plains in focus.
During this part of the century, the Ojibwe/mixed-ethnic group (such as those at Turtle Mountain) would participate in the regional inter-tribal feuds of the Cree and Métis. This joint military activity helped expand the hunting and trading territory of the Plains Ojibwe well into Montana and Saskatchewan during the 1820s. By the mid-1830s, the Ojibwe-Cree-Métis bands rarely ventured east back to the Woodlands and spent almost all of their efforts hunting buffalo.
They had become the Plains Ojibwe!
Peers, Laura L. (Laura Lynn). 1994. “Ojibwa Of Western Canada, 1780 To 1870.” Manitoba Studies In Native History. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.
Hickerson, Harold. 1988. “Chippewa And Their Neighbors: A Study In Ethnohistory.” Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press.
After filtering into the Red River region during the middle to late 1700s, the Ojibwe quickly adapted to life on the fringes of the prairies — hunting, trapping and expanding their territories westward, while enjoying new trade goods and relative wealth for their people. Unfortunately, due to several issues outside of their control, these good times didn’t last.
During the early 1800s a marked reduction in the beaver population occurred due to disease. This, coupled with the changes to the European demand for beaver, saw the regional fur trade — one of the main factors in their movement towards the plains — decline significantly. Thus, the first quarter of the 19th century saw a general decline in the fortunes of the Ojibwe. This decline in trade saw the XY Company fold in 1805, and North West Company was forced to merge with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821, as the traders sought to adjust to supply deficiencies. Having grown accustomed to many of the luxuries they could obtain from the traders, the Ojibwe first tried to forestall their discomfort by moving further into Dakota Territory and west of Lake Winnipeg, where better furs could be obtained. However, beaver populations continued to decline due to an epidemic disease that reduced the number of beaver even further. In response the Ojibwe turned to other fur-bearing animals, but these were not as profitable and brought less during trade.
At the same time they were dealing with the general decline in the small game fur trade, the rapidly growing Métis population was beginning to expand its influence in the region. The Métis — related by blood to many of the Ojibwe people — had their beginning before 1800, but their numbers were relatively small and their population was scattered, mostly near fur posts and other European outposts. However, the chaos of the early decades saw many fur company men left to their own devices. A good number of these Europeans chose to remain in the west. Many took native (or mixed-blood) wives and remained active in hunting, trapping, and other independent activities. This led to a remarkable increase in the mixed-blood population. Not completely part of their mothers’ Indian communities and existing far from civilized society, these Métis ‘children’ soon formed their own separate society that seemed to flourish after the Red River settlement was established and the regional economy shifted to buffalo instead of beaver. As the Metis were rising, the Ojibwe also started to feel pressure from scattered groups of Cree moving into the region. These Cree groups operated in a manner quite similar to the Ojibwe and competed for many of the same resources. Some of the Cree groups relied on previous ties to traders and relatedness to some of the Métis to gain a decent foothold in the local trade economy. These new people created a drastic economic competition to the Ojibwe, with the Métis often getting better prices for their furs due to closer relations with the traders, and the Cree digging in their heels in places that were formerly Ojibwe hunting areas.
By around 1815-1820, the Métis were dominating the regional buffalo hunts. Their strategy of using large, tightly organized parties could bring in much more meat and hides than a small band of Ojibwe ever could. In response, the Ojibwe coped by shifting their focus to areas that still had good supplies of game, such as the Turtle Mountains and Souris River valley. Many bands began hunting and living with living with plains Cree and Métis families, sharing the special skills and advantages of those groups. With their new alliances developing, the Ojibwe began to make moves to secure the area as well. In a period between 1804 and 1821, the Ojibwe and their allies sent war parties against the Sioux with the aim of driving the Sioux from region and gaining control of resources. With the area now safer, seasonal hunting and trapping was expanded and places like the Turtle Mountains became the base-camp location of many Ojibwe people. From there, buffalo could be hunted on either the Red, Sheyenne, or Missouri Rivers, beaver could be harvested in the local streams or on the Souris River, and other subsistence items could be easily procured. In addition, the growing interrelation with the Métis allowed the Ojibwe to begin demanding higher prices for their furs, and they became an equal partner in the pemmican trade as well. The population at Turtle Mountain was increasingly ‘mixed’ with many Assiniboine and Cree joining and marrying into the band as well.
The formation of this mixed-group at Turtle Mountain was unique, and it created a complex kinship system that allowed for much broader hunting efforts that could extend into areas dominated by Ojibwe, Métis, and Assiniboine-Cree groups to whom they were related — reducing conflict and warfare over resources, as happened with the Sioux decades earlier. This was unprecedented among indigenous communities on the Great Plains.
Read More about this at
Peers, Laura L. (1994) The Ojibwa of Western Canada, 1780 to 1870. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.
Though the Plains Ojibwe often hunted with and intermarried with the Métis, their relations with the Métis were by no means always friendly or free of tension. Some of the Ojibwe leaders mistrusted the Métis, who often assumed leadership of joint efforts in opposition to traditional Ojibwe leadership systems, and others were disturbed by the often over-hunting efforts of the Métis, who had a deeper economic stake in the buffalo hunts and would kill many more animals than might be necessary at the time
One of the Ojibwe leaders, Green Setting Feather, who was a sub-chief at Turtle Mountain, made an impassioned speech regarding the Métis in 1852. He admonished the Métis for overhunting and for hunting outside of the allotted hunting territory by the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe within their territory—the area about Devils Lake and the Sheyenne River—as the Métis were starting to encroach on the Ojibwe hunting grounds near Turtle Mountain. Green Setting Feather further expressed that the Ojibwe desired to be granted a treaty and given protection by the ‘Great Father’, asking that the government take action against the Métis because they were not using all of the buffalo they killed, instead just killing them (in some cases) for their tongues and robes.
His speech, given on September 14, 1852, demonstrates the complicated relationship that was developing as resources started to become increasingly scarce in the Red River region:
“In time past, whenever I looked over my hunting-grounds, I ever found a plenty with what to fill my dish, and plenty to give my children; but of late it is not so. I find that my provision bag is fast emptying—my dish is now often empty; and what is the cause of this? Why was it not so in former times, when there were more Indians on the plains than there are now? The reason I find is this: it is none other but the children I once raised [the Métis], that first proceeded from my own loins, that were once fed from my own hands.”
“The manner of his hunt is such as not only to kill, but also to drive away the few he leaves, and waste even those he kills. I also find that same child, in the stead of being a help to me, his parent, is the very one to pillage from me the very dish out of which I fed and raised him when a little child; and now having gained strength and grown to manhood, has become master of my own dish, and leaves me with the wolves and little animals to follow his trail and pick off the bones of his leaving; and if I wish to help myself out of my own foodbag, his hand and whip is raised on me, his parent. When I look at all this, my heart is pained within me. I now see my provisions all wasted. I am led to think that it is my Creator that puts it in my heart no more to allow this waste of the animals he has given me; therefore look to him as my Father to help me to remove those that are eating up and pillaging my food from me.”
“I have no bad feeling, and do not wish to use my strength. Why should I make use of my strength? It is my food I am looking at; I only wish to be master, and do as I please with what is my own. I now say, I hold back, and love all of the Turtle Mountain. From [there] the half-breeds must keep, and stop on the place their father gave them at the Pembina. We now look at our lands and what our Great Father said to us—Keep, my children, the lands of your hunt for your own selves, and let not your half-breeds take them. Keep them for your own selves—let them dwell among the timber of the Pembina.”
“Now whatever half-breed goes against this, our law, shall pay as a fine, a horse; and a half-breed having an Indian mother full-blooded, wishing to spend the winter with us, may come; but he shall be allowed to hunt only where we shall tell him, and not to kill more animals than we shall tell him; and shall no more be master of my hunting-grounds. Also for our traders, we do not keep back those who may come; but they also must obey our law, not to kill animals or hunt furs, only as we shall tell them. The hunting-road which was first pointed out for the half-breeds was from this place straight to Devil lake and southward, and we reserved and do still reserve all north of this line for our own use; but they have of late made another road for hunting towards the Turtle Mountain without our consent, which we cannot any longer allow.”
“We now close by saying we wish it to be as our Father told us—for the half- breeds to go to get meat from the plains only once a summer, and for them to stay at Pembina to take care of the preacher, and we will take care of our own selves; for as for me, I do not ever intend to give my hand to the swine, let me see him where I will.”
“From us, your friends, the Chippewas of Turtle Mountain and elsewhere, to all the half-breeds of Pembina.”
The sentiment of Green Setting Feather was also echoes by the Assinaboine, who similarly complained about Métis encroachment into their preferred hunting lands. In speaking with some of the fur traders at Pembina that same year, the Assiniboine noted that the Métis hunters were leaving Pembina each year and ranging west to the Mouse River in extremely large hunting parties. Their huge harvests were severely harming the Assiniboine and Sioux subsistence efforts. The traders’ observations echoed this sentiment, as they noted that year that one of the Métis hunting excursions consisted of a train of 824 carts, 1,200 animals, and about 1,300 men, women and children.
Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1854) United States. Office of Indian Affairs, Washington, DC
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