Before people or animals existed, there was nothing but fog and mist and it was very dark. Somehow, out of this fog, formed the soul that is Kisemanito. That was the beginning.
Kisemanito then made day and then night. He then created the sun and the moon and the Mother Earth. He created the four seasons. Then he gave Mother Earth the task of raising the things – the plants and the animals – that would be created.
When Mother Earth heard that she had been called upon to do this job, she went to Kisemanito and asked him what to do. “I have given part of my life to make things live. What shall I do now?”
“Help me raise my children. That is what I ask of you,” replied Kisemanito, for he referred to the animals and plants as his children.
“My father, Kisemanito, you have given me hard work to do if I am to raise your children right. I will have to call upon the Thunderbirds that you have created and ask them for help.” And so she sent for the Thunderbirds.
“What do you want us to do, Mother Earth?” asked the Thunderbirds as soon as they had landed on the earth. “I want you to help me raise these children of Kisemanito. I want you to have the power to carry the water up in the air and to release it to help make the world grow and live.” And so the Thunderbirds took to their task.
Now that it has been arranged for all things to live, Kisemanito took a stick and drew a sketch of a man on the ground. He spoke to the drawing and told it to move and to live. It did. Then he did the same and created woman. After He had done this job, He spoke to the man and woman.
“My children” he said. “I am going far away. I am going up where nobody will ever see me. However, I am leaving you certain things – things that are very important. There will be four of them: Fire, Pipestone, Pipe stem, and sweetgrass. The tobacco is already in the pipe. If, in the future, you wish to make any connection with me, these are the things to be used. And the pipe must be offered in this order: First, upward, in memory of me; next, to the spirits of the four directions; and lastly, down to Mother Earth.”
“My children,” he continued. “I do not eat. Neither do I smoke, but when you remember me, you must do these things. My children be sure, regardless of any hardship, never let any of these things go. If you do, that is the time that I will have to change the world.”
“Try to be kind to each other. Do not fight. Do not Say bad things. Do not steal. If you do good things you will be happy. Those of you who follow my rules and live as I tell you will survive.”
“For those of you who will not listen or who do not want to listen, I will leave things as punishment – disasters, sickness, and sadness. These will happen to all men who do not listen to my teachings. But those of you who live up to my rules and my teachings will find everlasting happiness and the good life. Whenever you want anything, then, you must use the pipe. Then through smoking it I will smell the beautiful aroma and I will know that you are asking help from me. If I am able I will always help you”
A bloody land bought by blood
Before the coming of the white man, the Lake of the Woods and the northern part of Minnesota was the choice hunting ground of the Anishinaabe. The woods were full of game and the lakes were full of fish. It was also valuable to the people because it was within easy striking distance of the buffalo-covered plains of the Red River valley.
The Sioux had long-coveted this area and devised a strategy to seize the Lake of the Woods from the Anishinaabe, so that they could enjoy the bounty of the lake and the rich streams of the Rainy River.
The Anishinaabe caught wind that the Sioux were planning an invasion and decided to fight the impending battle on their own ground. They selected a position on a river that flowed into the southwest portion of the Lake—directly across from the trail which the Sioux must take. When the Sioux finally arrived, a battle took place for six days. When the smoke had cleared, the Sioux were defeated and 500 scalps were taken. After this battle, the Anishinaabe were left in peace as the undisputed owners of the lake and the lands around it. The trail along the river became known as the “war road”, which later became Warroad.
It is told that one of the old men of the Anishinaabe village at Warroad would make an annual pilgrimage to the battle ground. He would fast for six days, where he would dream about the great battle that he and his brothers fought and won against the Sioux.
The Battle of O'Brien's Coulee: 1848
During the summer of 1848, the Nakawiniuk Band of Ojibwe-Metis – consisting of over 1,000 Red River carts, 800 Metis men, 200 Ojibwe men, and their families – was hunting in the vicinity of what is now present-day Olga, North Dakota. The leaders of the hunting party were Chiefs Red Bear and Little Shell II, and Metis leader Jean Baptiste Wilkie.
The Nakawiniuk were camped near O’Brien’s coulee. To the west of the camp lay a narrow lake, about 100 yards wide. A hunter from the camp was near the shore of the lake when he heard the sound of a drum coming from across the lake. He was able to ascertain that the Sioux were holding a dance at their camp. The hunter quickly returned to camp and reported this to Red Bear, Little Shell, and Wilkie.
Later that night, the assembled Nakawiniuk warriors moved to the Sioux camp after the camp was mostly asleep. They took position in the night on the shore of the lake up the bank on a small hill. When morning came the warriors swarmed down to the shore and began to fire on the Sioux across the narrow space. The Sioux saw them at once and rushed out to fight. The battle was pitched; yells intermingled with shots; the guttural calls of the Sioux and the high pitched cries of the Ojibwe and the echoing report of the old flintlocks sounded. The Ojibwe guarded each end of the lake to keep the Sioux back. Many Sioux ponies were killed and some Sioux, who were mainly on horseback, were shot from their horses.
On the Nakawiniuk side, three were killed; the father of Flying Nice was one. A Sioux warrior was killed at the south end of the lake by an Ojibwe on horseback. The warrior had no gun and he couldn’t escape, so he resigned himself to death, folded his blanket around himself, and was shot through the chest. His body was scalped and left.
The Sioux sent a man on horseback west to a larger camp about ten miles away that had about 1,000 warriors as reinforcements. The reinforcements came up to the fight about dark and drove the Nakawiniuk from the end of the lake and back to their own camp, following a small creek two miles away. The Sioux did not dare go farther than the creek because it was very dark.
At first light, the Nakawiniuk were busy fortifying their camp against a Sioux attack. The women did most of the work with their turnip spades; digging trenches and foxholes for the warriors. The Red River carts were then placed in the ditch lengthwise with the hitch part of it facing out. This fortification enclosed the camp and horses. Then, the Nakawiniuk waited for the attack.
As they were waiting, the Nakawiniuk noticed a man hobbling across the prairie towards the camp. It was a Red Lake Ojibwe warrior named White Shell. White Shell was shot during the battle through both hips. He had hidden all night, and in the dawn he started to hobble toward the camp using his gun as a crutch. Soon, a party was sent out on horseback to save him just as the Sioux were approaching. A warrior named “Big Indian” (Kichi-anishnaabe) and two friends went out and met White Shell where he had stumbled and fallen about a mile from camp. A Metis man named Francois Corvin Gosselin was one of the party. He gave up his horse to the wounded man, but because Gosselin was a short, fat man, he soon lagged behind the men on their horses. Upon seeing this, Kitchi-anishinaabe jumped off his horse and gave it to Gosselin, while he ran along. The Sioux pursued them, but they were able to get back to their camp fortifications in time, and after realizing that they could not successfully attack the Nakawiniuk bastion, the Sioux retreated and by early in the afternoon they had all gone.
This battle took place near what is now present-day Olga, North Dakota.
For more information, read: Metis Battles: Battle at Olga (O’Brien’s Coulée) and the “Bataille “des la Rivière Outardes” (Goose River) by Lawrence Barkwell.
A case against colonial separation of Indigenous people
Reality shows that the idea of “tribal separation”, or the differentiation of Indian to Indian, or Indian to Metis, is a European construct that served historically to separate and divide indigenous people and to classify them to fit into a neat box that could more easily be controlled by colonial forces. Over the past century, white scholars have gone to great lengths to emphasize the differences between the indigenous peoples of the prairies of Canada and the northern United States – using borders, boundaries, and other factors to look for tensions between Metis and First Nations peoples and to divide them throughout history. However, reality was much different.
Instead of a competitive or adversarial relationship, the truth is that most of the relations between the indigenous peoples of the prairies were mutually beneficial and marked by vast intermarriage and the development of strong kinship ties that brought them together and which (in reality) clouded the accurate identification of people as distinctly Metis, Ojibwe, Cree, or Assiniboine.
The reality of the historical situation of the Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwa, Assiniboine, and Metis was that separating these groups into typical “tribal” models, where territories were separated, claimed, and defended by discrete ethnic groups was virtually impossible by the early 1800s. The kinship ties and cooperative hunting, warfare, and settlement patterns created a multicultural system that defied description in exclusive, monolithic ethnic or tribal terms. This is because ethnicity, in the generic and highly abstract sense of a “tribe", was (and still is) an inadequate marker of geopolitical boundaries or cultural/ethnic affiliation. Instead of defined “tribes”, what was most important in defining a person, or a group, were the social ties – based on ties of kinship, friendship, and mutual benefit that served as a glue and which allowed for a fluidity unheard of in history.
Because of this, “band” level affiliation was (and still is) the most appropriate political and social unit in the identification of the Plains Ojibwe, Plains Cree, and Metis. Bands were autonomous in nature and completely sovereign. However, individual affiliation within the band was loose, since it was relatively simple to form new bands, or for an individual to leave one and join another due to economic, social, or other needs or reasons. An individual might claim himself a member of the band in which his parents had lived at the time of his birth, but upon marriage he could either elect to remain in his own or else join the band of his wife's people. Later in life he might find that his purposes were better met with the band of a relative or friend – thus changing alliance again. This pattern made various bands related to one another, making the concept of tribe (or ethnic group) irrelevant.
For Further reading: Multicultural Bands on the Northern Plains and the Notion of "Tribal" Histories by Innes
The power on the Prairies
The Iron Confederacy – also called the Nehiyaw-Pwat – was a political and military alliance of Plains Indians of what is now western Canada and the northern United States. This confederacy included various individual bands that allied together against common enemies.
The alliance was comprised mainly of Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwe, Metis, and Assiniboine people who moved into dominance in the northern plains during the middle 1700s during the height of the North American fur trade when they operated as middlemen controlling the flow of European goods to other native nations, and the flow of furs to the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) and North West Company (NWC) trading posts.
The Iron Confederacy included the following bands: Pembina Band, Little Shell Band, Turtle Mountain Band, St. Francois Xavier Saulteaux/Metis, Nakawiniul (Wilkie’s) Band, Big Bear’s Band, Poundmaker’s Band, Crazy Bear Band, Canoe Band of Nakota, Four Claws (Gordon) Band, Nekaneet Band, Carry the Kettle Band, Rocky Boy’s Band, Montana Band, Muscowequan Band, Beardy’s Band, One Arrow’s Band, Carlton Stragglers Band, Petaquakey Band of Muskeg Lake, Dumont’s Band, Big Bear’s Band, Red Stone Band, Maski Pitonew Band, Piche (Bobtail) Band, Moose Mountain group of White Bear Band, Striped Blanket Band, Prison Drum Band, Crooked Lakes group of Cowessess Band, Ochapowace Band, Pasqua Band, Kahkewistahow Band, and Sakimay Band.
The people of the alliance played a major role in the bison hunting in the region and were powerful due to the pemmican trade. The decline of the fur trade and the collapse of the bison herds sapped the power of the Confederacy after the 1860s. Even as their power weakened, they heeded Gabriel Dumont’s call to participate in the 1885 rebellion and after the battle of Batoche, they scattered to various areas where they were placed on reserves or settled into other communities.
Millroy, John S. (1988). The Plains Cree: Trade, Diplomacy, And War, 1780 to 1870. Manitoba Studies in Native History Series. 4. University of Manitoba Press. ISBN 9780887556234.
Grant, Peter (1804) The Saulteux Indians about 1804. Les bourgeois de la Compagnie du Nord-Quest, edited by L. R. Masson
Everything being prepared, a level plain about half a mile long is chosen, with proper barriers or goals at each end. Having previously formed into two equal parties, they assemble in the very middle of the field, and the game begins by throwing up the ball perpendicularly in the air, when, instantly, both parties form a singular group of naked men, painted in different colors and in the most comical attitudes imaginable, gaping with their hurdles elevated in the air to catch the ball.
Whoever is so fortunate as to catch the ball in his hurdle, runs with it towards the barrier with all his might, supported by his party, while his opponents pursue him and endeavor to strike it out.
The “hurdle” is their favorite game; not only their young men, but men advanced in life sometimes engage in it. On this occasion they strip naked, save their breech clouts, head dress, a few silver ornaments on their arms and a belt around their waist; their faces and bodies are painted in the highest style. Each man is provided with a hurdle, an instrument made of a small stick of wood about three feet long, bended at the end to a small circle, in which a loose piece of network [webbed netting] is fixed, forming a cavity big enough to receive a leather ball, about the size of a man's fist.
He who succeeds in doing so, runs in the same manner towards the opposite barrier and is, of course, pursued in his turn. If in danger of being overtaken, he may throw it with his hurdle towards any of his associates who may happen to be nearer the barrier than himself. They have a particular knack of throwing it to a great distance in this manner, so that the best runners have not always the advantage, and, by a peculiar way of working their hands and arms while running, the ball never drops out of their hurdle.
The best of three heats wins the game, and, besides the honor acquired on such occasions, a considerable prize is adjudged to the victors. The vanquished, however, generally challenge their adversaries to renew the game the next day, which is seldom refused. The game then becomes more important, as the honor of the whole village is at stake, and it is carried on with redoubled impetuosity, every object which might impede them in their career is knocked down and trod under foot without mercy, and, before the game is decided, it is a common thing to see numbers sprawling on the ground with wounded legs and broken heads, yet this never creates any disputes or ill-will after the play is decided.
Minneapolis Tribune. March 25, 1897
A fight was reported to have broken out on March 24, 1897, between a Red Lake warrior and an Ojibwe man named Bakoe, who was with a group from Canada visiting the village. The fight resulted in Bakoe being stabbed in the heart by the warrior, George Washington. The fight was the result of jealousy.
Was a nuclear Bomb Dropped at Red Lake in the 1950s?
MINNEAPOLIS MORNING TRIBUNE, FEBRUARY 20, 1953
Have three "cup-size” atomic bombs been dropped in tests in northern Minnesota?
An International Falls. Minn, civil defense official is quoted as saying yes. Washington officials say no.
The Winnipeg Tribune quoted E. W. Downward, International Falls civil defense director, as stating the bombs were dropped within the last three months by a B36 bomber over the bombing range in the Red Lake, Minn, area.
Downward obtained his Information from top-level United States military sources, the newspaper quoted him as saying. The newspaper said Downward made his statements at a meeting of the Fort Frances, Ontario, civil defense group Wednesday night in the Rainy Lake hotel in Fort Frances, which is just across the Rainy river from International Falls. Downward yesterday admitted attending the meeting but denied he made the statements. In Washington, the air force said nothing but "no comment." The decision not to talk was made after considerable staff discussion of the matter yesterday, the air force said.
A spokesman for the atomic energy commission in Washington said it would be extraordinary procedure to conduct atom bomb tests within the continental United States without announcing it. However, he refused to comment on the Minnesota incident "We do not discuss the weapons program," he said. "The only place we've announced atomic weapons tests in the United States have been in Nevada."
It was indicated in Washington that if anybody had a "cup-size" atom bomb he wouldn't be carrying it around in a huge B36.
Downward, International Falls city engineer said he did mention at the meeting that the army drops bombs in testing in northern Minnesota during the summer.
"But I didn't say they were atomic," he said. "All everybody talks about nowadays is atomic bombs."
Downward yesterday said he has no knowledge of what kind of bombs are dropped at the Red Lake bombing range, about 70 miles southwest of International Falls.
Downward commented: "Of course, everybody knows that if Russia does come over here she won't be bringing anything but atom bombs."
He said no one from Washington or any other government official has talked to him since his talk at the meeting. Downward said he attended the Fort Frances meeting to "help them out" in setting up their civil defense program.
The newspaper story said the meeting was secret. Downward denied this. He said about 40 people attended the meeting, including J.T. Livingston, Fort Frances mayor and head of Fort Frances civil defense.
When asked about Downward's talk. Livingston said: "Oh, my goodness. You had better find out from him what he said. We talked about a lot of things you know."
Jack McLaren, a member of the Fort Frances civil defense group who was at the meeting, said, "Downward said it all right, but it was in confidence to our group."
McLaren said one member of the Fort Frances civil defense board is a reporter for the Winnipeg Tribune. The reporter was present at the meeting. McLaren said.
B36 bombers have been seen over Minnesota on numerous occasions during the last few months.
The big bombers often operate on a practice route which takes them" from their Carswell, Texas, base over Alaska and then southeastward over North Dakota or Minnesota and back to Texas.
Last Dec. 16 residents of several northern Minnesota communities in the International Falls and Red Lake region reported nocturnal "explosions" which caused their homes to rumble and shake.
At that time air force officers said "some detonation has occurred during the past several evenings" at the Red Lake bombing range.
The air force did not identify the bombing.
Col. E. B. Miller, Minnesota civil defense chief and Down-ward's superior, said: "What Downward is supposed to have said also has come from other people in the area. The military is conducting experiments of all kinds wherever they have the proper facilities.
"We shouldn't be surprised if some hush-hush experiment is going on anywhere. It's nothing extraordinary In view of what’s going on."
New York Times: Feb 25, 1889
In 1889, the New York Times reported about disturbances at Turtle Mountain resulting from the reluctance of the US Government to deal fairly with the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and their half-breed element. The following is a lengthy discussion about the treaty and the situation at hand.
DAKOTA INDIAN TROUBLES
The disturbances among the Chippewa half-breeds of Northern Dakota are due to an attempt by the Sheriff of Rolette County to collect taxes from those of them that live on land outside of the reservations.
The difficulty appears to arise from the fact that the half-breeds have claims against the Government which have not been adjusted, so that they object to being taxed, and, indeed, may have dim ideas respecting the difference between county and Federal authority. The trouble is aggravated by the small size of the reservation of the Pembina Band of Chippewa, which consists of only two townships set apart for them in 1884, and of the late years the Indians have been joined by several thousand half-breeds from Canada, some of whom want to share the Government rations.
The question as to the right of the Turtle Mountain Band of Pembina Chippewa to a great tract of land lying northwest of Devil's Lake is a somewhat complicated one. The tract which they claim consists of between 9,000,000 and 10,000,000 acres and must apparently include not only this very county of Rolette which is now taxing their half-breed associates for the privilege of living there, but a great part of the adjoining counties on the Canadian line. Twenty-six years ago, in 1863, the Red Lake and Pembina Chippewa made an important cession of millions of acres belonging to them in Northwestern Minnesota and Northeastern Dakota. The present question is whether they ceded at that time the lands lying north and west of Devil's Lake. Secretary Vilas holds that the half-breeds of the two bands, who were even then in a vast majority, were not parties to the treaty, except that under one of its articles those of them who were citizens and had adopted the habits of civilized life were permitted to take a homestead of 160 acres, or scrip therefor, in the ceded territory, in lieu of all claims for annuities. They received 464 pieces of scrip for 160 acres each, entitling them to 74,240 acres of land.
Eight years later, in 1871, a Board of Visitors found that the Pembina Band, after having given up millions of acres, now a flourishing; and well-settled region, had fallen into a deplorable condition. They were unfriendly to the Red Lake Band and would not live on the Red Lake Reservation, which consists of about 3,200,000 acres, but wanted a reserve in the Turtle Mountain country, their old hunting grounds, and northwest of Devil's Lake, which they still claimed. The Commissioners who negotiated the treaty of 1863 have left on record that this region was reserved by the Pembina Bands; and the Board of Visitors of 1871 also recognized the justice of their request to go there, but as a practical measure, they suggested that the full-blood Indians should be separated from the multitude of half-breeds who had no claims to Government annuities -- many indeed belonging to Manitoba -- and should be removed to the White Earth Reservation. The agent of the latter also urged soon after that the department should "recognize their right to all their territory on Turtle Mountain and give them the means to farm there or purchase a right on the White Earth Reservation and order them to remove." An appropriation was accordingly made for this purpose, and the Indians were directed to go to the new home to receive their annuities. But extreme poverty, the long distance to be traveled, and the influence of those who hoped to benefit by payment at Pembina broke up the plan. Now, as has been said, they live on a small reservation of two townships within ten miles of the Canadian boundary and are surrounded by half breeds living on the public domain.
It is clear that the claim of the Pembina Chippewa to the Turtle Mountain region north and west of Devil's Lake has not been fully disposed of, and only a little more than eight years ago the General Land Commissioner refused to allow surveys on it. In the first session of the Forty-seventh Congress measures wore ponding before both houses to extinguish this claim, under the opinion of the Indian Commissioner that it was entitled to consideration. It happens that a bill is pending in the present Congress for the cession of the Red Lake Reservation, and this might be supplemented by a provision for settling the title of the Turtle Mountain region. But according to Secretary Vilas, the half-breeds would not be entitled to the benefits of such a measure, and they are making the present trouble.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune: July 14, 1900
RED LAKE INDIANS RESTIVE
Holding a War Dance - Settlers are Arming for Trouble
The dangers or an outbreak by the Blanket Indians on Red Lake is increasing. The Indian police from the agency have gone over to the point where the Blanketers are holding their war dance, and it is expected trouble will ensue.
Bulletins In Chippewa have been posted, warning all friendly Indians and whites to remain away from the point or suffer the consequences.
Twenty mounted men have left Solway and will proceed to the agency and take instructions from Indian Agent Mercer.
The men are all well-armed, and carry each a thousand rounds of extra ammunition, which will be distributed among the settlers.
A petition will be sent to Gov. Lind tomorrow asking that a detachment of State troops be sent to Red Lake at once.
It is estimated that the entire force of Indians numbers over 300 at present. The squaws and papooses have been sent north, and only the young bucks remain at the point.
The white settlers at the point are preparing for an attack. The Indians at the agency have assured the whites of their full support, but it is thought that many of them are going over to the Blanketers. Nothing has been heard from Capt. Mercer since his departure for the lake, and fears are entertained for his safety.