A tradition of Bravery
Women have often achieved great fame as warriors (ogichidaa).
Sometimes, when a man went to war, his wife would insist on accompanying him, and sometimes she was lucky enough to succeed in obtaining a war honor by killing an enemy or another act of valor, in which case she received a customary feather for her efforts. In most cases the ogichidaa woman didn’t wear her feather, but instead designating one of her male relatives, usually a son or grandson, to wear it for her. Nonetheless, she was thereafter called by the title ogichidaakwe.
An ogichidaakwe was entitled to go to the ogichidaag lodge at any time when the warriors were dancing, and to join them. When the warriors reenacted their valorous deeds, and counted their coups, she was entitled to do the same, and her narration was received with the same respect as any other ogichidaa.
One ogichidaakwe from Long Plain obtained her title by joining with the warriors when they went to battle. On one occasion when a Sioux was shot from his horse, she ran to count coup upon him, finally she killed the Dakota with her turnip digging-stick. The men in the war party then scalped the Dakota, and she painted her face with his blood.
Another renowned ogichidaakwe was out on the plains digging turnips when the group she was with were attacked by Sioux. The women hastily dug a rifle pit to conceal the party. As the battle was waged, one brave woman ventured forth and dragged the men who were wounded to safety. The Sioux were firing at her each time that she did this, but under fire she rescued each of the wounded men. In this manner she became an ogichidaakwe.
This tradition of women soldiers has continued until today.
Fourteen Native American women served as members of the Army Nurse Corps during World War I, two of them overseas. Nearly 800 Native American women served in the military during World War II. Countless Native women served in Vietnam, and increasing numbers of Native American women entered the military in the 1970s and 1980s. Even during the past decades, Native women have shown bravery as soldiers.
Private Lori Ann Piestewa, was not only the first woman in the U.S. military to lose her life in the Iraq War, she was also the first Native American woman to die in combat with the United States Armed Forces. Piestewa was a Native American of Hopi descent with Mexican-American heritage. Her native name was White Bear Girl.
Mille Lacs Ojibwe Oral History
The following is a description of the yearly life of an Ojibwe family living in the woodlands of Minnesota. The narrator is Nodinens, a member of the Mille Lac Band of Ojibwe, who was 74 years old when giving this information. The narrative is given practically in the words of the interpreter:
When I was young everything was very systematic. We worked day and night and made the best use of the material we had. My father kept count of the days on a stick. He had a stick long enough to last a year and he always began a new stick in the fall. He cut a big notch for the first day of a new moon and a small notch for each of the other days. I will begin my story at the time when he began a new counting stick. After my mother had put away the wild rice, maple sugar, and other food that we would need during the winter she made some new mats for the sides of the wigwam. These were made of bulrushes which she had gathered and dried. She selected a nice smooth piece of ground and spread them out.
I, as the oldest daughter, boiled basswood bark, and made cord, and grandmother made the bone needles that we would use in weaving the mats. When the rushes were ready, we laid a cord on the ground and measured the right length for the mats. My mother knew just how long they should be to go around the wigwam, and we made five long ones, four of middle size, and two small ones. The long ones were two double-arms' lengths, and the middle-sized ones were about one and a half double-arms' lengths. We laid the rushes two layers deep on the ground with the ends resting on the cord, and then fastened the ends of the rushes to the cord, after which we fastened the cord to the pole that was the upper, horizontal part of the weaving frame. My grandmother directed everything, and she had a large quantity of the thorns from the thorn-apple tree in a leather bag. She had been gathering these all summer, but she made sure she had plenty. We all three worked hard getting ready for winter. When my mother had finished the bulrush mats she made more mats for the floor, using either fresh reeds or some that she had gathered during the summer, and she made more of the woven-yarn bags in which we kept our belongings.
My home was at Mille Lac, and when the ice froze on the lake we started for the game field. I carried half of the bulrush mats and my mother carried the other half. We rolled the blankets inside the mats; and if there was a little baby, my mother put it inside the roll, cradle board and all. It was a warm place and safe for the baby. I carried a kettle beside my roll of mats. We took only food that was light in weight, such as rice and dried berries, and we always took a bag of dried pumpkin flowers, as they were so nice to thicken the meat gravy during the winter. There were six families in our party, and when we found a nice place in the deep woods we made our winter camp. The men shoveled away the snow in a big space, and the six wigwams were put in a circle and banked with evergreen boughs and snow. Of course, the snow was all shoveled away in the inside of the wigwam, and plenty of cedar boughs were spread on the ground and covered with blankets for our beds, the bright yarn bags being set along the wall for use as pillows. In the center was a place for a fire, and between it and the floor mats there was a strip of hard, dry ground that was kept clean by sweeping it with a broom made of cedar boughs. The wigwam looked nice with the yellow birch-bark top and the bright-colored things inside. Outside the door there was a little shed made of cedar bark in which we kept the split wood for the fire, so it would not get wet and so we could get it easily in the night. Sometimes there were many of these sheds around the door of a wigwam. The men brought the logs and the women chopped the wood, and put it in the sheds ready for use.
There was a big fire in the middle of the camp, and all the families did their cooking around this fire if the weather was not too cold, but we always had a fire in the wigwam in the evening, so it would be warm for us to sleep. We always slept barefoot, with our feet toward the fire, and we loosened our other clothing. I wore a dress of coarse broadcloth, with separate pieces of the cloth to cover my arms, and I had broadcloth leggings that came to my knees, but I wore no other clothing except my moccasins and blanket. The big rack for drying meat was over the fire in the middle of the circle. During the day the women kept this fire burning low and evenly to dry the meat. When the men came home at night the rack was taken off the fire, for the men put in lots of light wood to dry their clothing. They sat around it, smoking and talking. If a snowstorm came on we spread sheets of birch bark over the meat. We did not dry it entirely—only enough so that it would keep—and the drying was finished in the sun when we reached our summer camp. The fire blazed brightly until bedtime, and then the men put on dry wood so it would smolder all night. The women were busy during the day preparing the meat, attending to their household tasks, and keeping the clothing of the men in order. Each man had two or three leather suits which required considerable mending, as they had such hard wear. We snared rabbits and partridges for food and cleaned and froze all that we did not need at the time.
My father was a good hunter and sometimes killed two deer in a day. Some hunters took a sled to bring back the game, but more frequently they brought back only part of the animal, and the women went next day and packed the rest of the meat on their backs. It was the custom for a man to give a feast with the first deer or other game that he killed. The deer was cut up, boiled, and seasoned nicely, and all the other families were invited to the feast. Each family gave such a feast when the man killed his first game. The men were good hunters, and we had plenty of meat, but every bit of the deer that was not eaten was dried for carrying away, the extra meat, the liver and heart, and even the hoofs. I remember that once a hunter heard an owl following him. When he returned to camp he said: “You must preserve every bit of deer. This is a bad sign, and we will not get any more game for a long time.” The hunters went out every day, but could find nothing. We stayed there until we had eaten almost all that we intended to carry away. We were so hungry that we had to dig roots and boil them. My father was a Mide, and one day, when the provisions were almost gone, a young man entered our wigwam with a kettle of rice, some dried berries, and some tobacco. He placed this before my father, saying: “Our friend, we are in danger of starving; help us.” This man was the ockabewis who managed and directed things in the camp, and his arms were painted with vermilion.
My father called his Mide friends together and they sang almost all night. The men sang Mide songs and shook their rattles. No woman was allowed to go in that direction. The children were put to bed early and told that they must not even look up. My mother sat up and kept the fire burning. My father came in late and sang a Mide song, and a voice was heard outside the wigwam joining in the song. It was a woman's voice, and my mother heard it plainly. This was considered a good omen. The next morning my father directed that a fire be made at some distance from the camp. The ockabewis made the fire, and the Mide went there and sang. They put sweet grass and medicine on the fire, and let the smoke cover their bodies, their clothing, and their guns. When this was finished, my father covered his hand with red paint and applied it to the shoulders of the men. They took their guns and started to hunt, feeling sure they would succeed. No woman was allowed to pass in front of the hunters when they were starting. The ockabewis killed a bear that day and every man got some game. They killed plenty of deer and bear, and each person boiled the breast of the animals in a separate kettle from the rest of the meat. There was a feast, and they brought these kettles to my father's lodge, and the old men ate there, sitting by themselves and eating from these kettles. After that whenever we were short of game they brought a kettle of rice to my father and he sang and the luck would return. He was so successful that we had plenty of food all that winter.
The hides were tanned with the hair on and were spread on the cedar boughs along the edge of the wigwam. Father gathered us children around him in the evening and instructed us as we sat on these soft hides. He instructed us to be kind to the poor and aged and to help those who were helpless. This made a deep impression on me, and I have always helped the old people, going into the woods and getting sticks and scraping their kinnikinnick. This is a common expression and refers to tobacco and red willow. Kinikinige means “he mixes together things of different kinds.”
During the winter my grandmother made lots of fish nets of nettle-stalk fiber. Everyone was busy. Some of the men started on long hunting trips in the middle of the winter, and did not get back until after the spring work was done; then they rested a while and started off on their fall hunting and trapping.
Toward the last of the winter my father would say, “one month after another month has gone by. Spring is near and we must get back to our other work.” So the women wrapped the dried meat tightly in tanned deerskins and the men packed their furs on sleds or toboggans. Once there was a fearful snowstorm when we were starting to go back and my father quickly made snowshoes from the branches for all the older people. Grandmother had a supply of thorn-apple thorns and she got these out and pinned up the children's coats so they would be warm and we started off in the snowstorm and went to the sugar bush.
When we got to the sugar bush we took the birch-bark dishes out of the storage and the women began tapping the trees. We had queer-shaped axes made of iron. Our sugar camp was always near Mille Lac, and the men cut holes in the ice, put something over their heads, and fished through the ice. There were plenty of big fish in those days, and the men speared them. My father had some wire, and he made fishhooks and tied them on basswood cord, and he got lots of pickerel that way. A food cache was always near the sugar camp. We opened that and had all kinds of nice food that we had stored in the fall. There were cedar-bark bags of rice and there were cranberries sewed in birch-bark makuks and long strings of dried potatoes and apples. Grandmother had charge of all this, and made the young girls do the work. As soon as the little creeks opened, the boys caught lots of small fish, and my sister and I carried them to the camp and dried them on a frame. My mother had two or three big brass kettles that she had bought from an English trader and a few tin pails from the American trader. She used these in making the sugar.
We had plenty of birch-bark dishes, but the children ate mostly from the large shells that we got along the lake shore. We had sauce from the dried cranberries and blueberries sweetened with the new maple sugar. The women gathered the inside bark of the cedar. This can only be gotten in the spring, and we got plenty of it for making mats and bags.
Toward the end of the sugar season there was a great deal of thick syrup called the “last run of sap,” and we had lots of fish that we had dried. This provided us with food during the time we were making our gardens.
The six families went together, and the distance was not long. Each family had a large bark house with a platform along each side, like the lodge in which the maple sap was boiled. We renewed the bark if necessary, and this was our summer home. The camps extended along the lake shore, and each family had its own garden. We added to our garden every year, my father and brothers breaking the ground with old axes, bones, or anything that would cut and break up the ground. My father had wooden hoes that he made, and sometimes we used the shoulder blade of a large deer or a moose, holding it in the hand. We planted potatoes, corn, and pumpkins. These were the principal crops. After the garden was planted the Mide gathered together, made a feast, and asked the Mide manido to bless the garden. They had a kind of ceremony and sang Mide songs. Old women could attend this feast, but no young people were allowed. Children were afraid when their parents told them to keep away from such a place. The gardens were never watered. A scarecrow made of straw was always put in a garden.
In the spring we had pigeons to eat. They came in flocks and the men put up long fish nets on poles, just the same as in the water, and caught the pigeons in that way. We boiled them with potatoes and with meat. We went to get wild potatoes in the spring and a little later the blueberries, gooseberries, and June berries were ripe along the lake shore. The previous fall the women had tied green rice in long bundles and at this time they took it out, parched and pounded it, and we had that for food. There was scarcely an idle person around the place. The women made cedar-bark mats and bags for summer use. By that time the reeds for making floor mats were ready for use. They grew in a certain place and the girls carried them to the camp. We gathered plenty of the basswood bark and birch bark, using our canoes along the lake and the streams. We dried berries and put them in bags for winter use. During the summer we frequently slept in the open.
Next came the rice season. The rice fields were quite a distance away and we went there and camped while we gathered rice. Then we returned to our summer camp and harvested our potatoes, corn, pumpkins, and squash, putting them in caches which were not far from the gardens.
By this time the men had gone away for the fall trapping. When the harvest was over and colder weather came, the women began their fall fishing, often working at this until after the snow came. When the men returned from the fall trapping we started for the winter camp.
Densmore, Frances. 1929. “Chippewa Customs.” Bulletin. Washington: U.S. Govt. print. off.
A healing dance that is at the heart of the Ojibwe Nation
The Jingle Dress (ziibaaska'iganagooday) originated among the Ojibwe people long ago.
According to one legend, there was a powerful medicine man who had a beautiful and cherished granddaughter. One day she became sick. The grandfather was very concerned and he prayed to his manitou to help him heal his granddaughter. That night the manitou appeared to him in a dream. They showed him several women wearing beautiful dresses which made a powerful sound when they danced. The manitou taught him how to make the dress and what dance steps were to be performed. The manitou also played and sang to him the sort of songs that would make the dance work for healing his granddaughter and for healing the hearts of the Ojibwe people.
In the morning, the grandfather and his wife started to make the dress together according to the directions given to him by the manitou. When the dress was finished, the grandfather and his wife took the dress to their granddaughter. She wore it into the center of the camp. A man took the drum and proceeded to sing a song as directed by the grandfather. Then, because the granddaughter was so weak, the grandfather and grandmother helped support the girl as she tried to dance around in a circle. On the second time around, she could walk a little more with their help, and on the third time she was dancing slowly on her own. During her fourth time around, she was dancing the Jingle Dress Dance and was healed of her sickness.
Ever since, the Jingle Dress Dance has been regarded as powerful medicine and is considered by the Ojibwe to be the most beautiful of all dances at the pow wow.
Here are some essential terms to learn this year, and to teach your family, when planting your garden.
A sacred power that must be renewed each month
The Ojibwe believed that every woman possessed a power that was unknown and unavailable to men. This power was always within them and was so powerful that no man could endure it: the power to create life. This special power is so formidable that it needs to be renewed each month, and because of this women are aligned to the power of the grandmother moon. Just as she renews her power at the end of each month, women (her granddaughters) must renew theirs as well. This power starts when a girl is young and lasts until she becomes a grandmother and an elder herself.
When a girl first reaches adolescence, Grandmother Moon looks down at her while she sleeps and says to her “Follow me, for you are now a woman”. This starts the power. When this happens, her mother, grandmother, and aunts instruct her that for some days each month, she has to take time to remain (as much as possible) by herself; to redden her cheeks; and to protect others from her power so that she does not harm them by handling food or important sacred items that could be harmed by her gift.
At these times, some girls might separate themselves from the rest of the people. They can spend time doing work or praying. At these times, some women will receive gifts of wisdom, the ability to heal, or other sacred knowledge that can greatly benefit the entire tribe.
This is why we men must respect women, for their power is something that comes from the manitous and which only they can ever know.
A woman becomes a warrior
Oral tradition and primary sources provide evidence that some women became honored warriors in Ojibwa society.
Accounts speak of Aanakwad Agoodekwe (Hanging Cloud Woman), of the Lac Courte Oreilles band in Wisconsin, who became a warrior and something of a legend among her people.
Hanging Cloud Woman was apparently a favorite daughter of her father. As a young woman, she accompanied him and her brother on a hunting expedition where they were attacked by a war party of Dakota. Contemporary accounts suggests that after her father was killed she pretended to be dead long enough to satisfy enemy suspicions. Then she grasped her father's gun and pursued the fleeing Dakota to exact revenge on them.
In the months that followed her successful warrior exploits, she was honored in many Ojibwa lodges throughout the surrounding territory.
Hanging Cloud Woman eventually married, and at one point in her life found herself with two husbands. Apparently she assumed that a first husband had been killed in war and married another man, only to find out later that her first husband was alive. Hanging Cloud Woman ended her very long career as a housekeeper for a local lumber baron and died in 1919.
Reference: Buffalohead, Priscilla K. 1983. “Farmers, Warriors, Traders: A Fresh Look At Ojibway Women.” Minnesota History 48 (6). Saint Paul: 236–44.
A remembrance by Sandra Houle
Our people ate mostly wild game and berries that grow in the local area. They grew gardens; they ate ducks, geese, grouse, partridge, muskrats, beaver, gray squirrels, porcupines, raccoon, deer, rabbits, and etcetera.
In the summer ducks were the main meat that was served, because they were eaten fresh. There were ducks in the lakes and sloughs, people would go and shoot ducks cook them up. They were either boiled with salt pork, or you could make soup with them. The soup was usually “rababoo”, which is an oatmeal soup, but sometimes they used rice or macaroni. The ducks were also roasted and sometimes stuffed. They also fried, the duck after it was boiled.
Partridge, goose, grouse, muskrats, beaver, raccoon, porcupine, squirrels were usually roasted. Deer was roasted or fried in bacon grease. Deer meat was also canned in quart jars and saved for hard-times, or for summer time when fresh meat was not available. It the winter there were ice boxes to keep meat. Also in the winter, rabbits could be snared and deer could also be hunted.
Summer was kind of a bad time for fresh meat because it spoiled without electricity and a fridge. Also, you really couldn’t hunt in the summertime except for ducks. In the spring, fish were caught when they were spawning and the fish was smoked. In the summer people also caught fish to eat. The heads of the northern were boiled and used to make rice soup. Also in the spring, “poul do” (mud hen) eggs were gathered and eaten.
Morel mushrooms were gathered in the spring of the year. They were dried for later use if they were plentiful. People made gardens and canned the vegetables, and they picked berries and made sauce with them. The berries were also dried to cook later. Juneberry pie is one of our traditional foods.
Berry sauces were sometimes eaten with cream, and you dipped your bread in the sauce. Some of the sauces, such as Juneberry sauce were used for pies. The berries were boiled and canned in quart jars so when it was time for pie you just opened a jar of berries, put them in a dipper on the stove, and heated them to a boil. You could thicken the berries with either corn starch or flour, then make the pie.
Meat pies were also made. If there was left over meat from a meal, which wasn’t that often, you could always stretch it and use what was leftover for a pie. Store bread was a treat for our people if you had money. Since we didn’t usually, everyone had homemade bread, gullet, biscuits, loaf bread, bangs, “gullet di vaen”—which was gullet made from yeast bread—and buns. Canned meats such as hams, potted meat, corned beef, corned beef hash, and canned chicken were sometimes eaten if you could buy it. Since we didn’t have electricity, we couldn’t store meat, so canned was easier if fresh wasn’t available.
Buying fresh meat from town didn’t happen often except in the summertime. Hamburger we probably got once a month. Ham wasn’t so for the summer if you could afford it, because a person could buy a ham and keep it a couple of days if it was kept cool.
A lot of our foods were boiled. My grandpa use to make boiling beef and potatoes. They would also boil ham and potatoes. Some people also raised chickens and butchered them when they needed to.
Another source of meat was tripe—great for soup. There was a slaughter house about 1½ to 2 miles south of Rolla and our people use to get tripe from there. They also got ox tails and made ox tail soup. If a pig was butchered, they would hang the pig and take all the blood to make blood sausage.
Boullets, bangs, and pie—mostly juneberry pie—and “la puchin” (boiled pudding) were the traditional New Years foods.
When you went to visit somewhere, you were always fed. It didn’t matter where you went to visit, you were given hot coffee or tea, and a lunch. Sometimes lunch was just sauce and cream with bread, bread and jelly, or pie.
People sometimes went out to the prairie to look for “le na voo” which was wild turnips, which are great in soup.
Another thing that was (and still is) a snack with our people is what some called “round-and-round” which is peanut butter and syrup mixed. Most people used Karo syrup. It was bought in gallon pails.
Armour lard was used to fry bangs. Sometimes, if we couldn’t afford to buy it, we used rendered lard made from pork fat that was melted. The fat that wouldn’t melt was used to make gwar-toons (cracklings). Almost everyone made jams and jellies from fruit and berries that were picked locally. You could also make syrup from the berries.
Homemade michif ice cream was made from snow during the winter—a real treat. A person used snow, evaporated milk, sugar, and vanilla to make the ice cream. It was not really ice cream, but was rather a nice mix that kind of had the texture of ice cream. The good thing was that if you put too much liquid in the snow, or if the snow got too runny, you could add more snow to thicken it up.
The efforts of women were vital to life
Early fur trade journals often fail to mention Native women, except as side notes or as they pertain to the men that they dealt with. However, given the general division of labor in aboriginal society, it is clear that women made crucial contributions to their families' comfort and to the overall economy.
Wild rice and maple sugar were both largely the products of female labor and were highly valued as both subsistence items and trade goods. Rolls of birchbark and other plant materials were also important trade items and necessary items to the conduct of life. These were also the product of the efforts of women. Women were also vital to hunting as they processed buffalo and beaver hides for sale to traders, made pemmican and dried meat, and other by-products. During fishing season they turned the catch into fish pemmican, sturgeon oil, and smoked the fish to ensure that there would be ample stores prior to summer hunting season. Any surplus quantities created by the efforts of women were in constant demand by traders. Yet despite this, the efforts of women were often assigned a lower social value than big game brought in by men.
In practical terms, however, the wide range of subsistence resources that women produced were vital in compensating for the effects of environmental fluctuations. “Women's foods” — rice, maple sugar, salt, roots and berries, and the small game that they snared — were essential to a balanced and productive seasonal round, and often were the only things keeping the people from starving to death. In some cases, women might reject a husband entirely — living alone and supporting themselves. In such cases they would necessarily undertake all activities, such as trapping, canoe-making, even hunting.
A time for Dibaajimowin (storytelling)
When living in a wiigiwaam or tipi the mother’s place was usually to the immediate left or right of the entrance, with the daughters next her. The father would usually be on the opposite side of the door from the mother. The elders of the family (grandpa/grandma) would be positioned at the rear of the lodge where it would be most warm. The sons would be located near the father.
The bedding consisted of blankets and hides tanned with the hair on them. Some people might have pillows and thin feather beds made of hide or cloth and filled with feathers if they were able to make them. If not, cedar boughs were spread on the ground and covered with rush mats, the bedding being placed on these mats at night. During the day bedding was rolled up and used as seats or placed along the walls of the lodge.
During the summer little time was spent inside of the wiigiwaam/tipi. But during the winter, evenings were a time for socialization. With the fire burning brightly, food would be cooked and talking would be intensely animated. A favorite pastime was the making of artistic pieces of birch-bark, or the making of fishing nets that could be used in the springtime. The young men often spent their time reclined with a drum conveniently near them for spontaneous songs when the mood hit them.
The winter was also the time for story-telling (dibaajimowin) and the time for stories about Nanabozho. Elder women were often the best storytellers, acting out the stories and walking around the fire while telling them.
Adapted from Densmore, Frances. 1929. “Chippewa Customs.” Bulletin. Washington: U.S. Govt. print. off.
Hillary (Davis) Kempenich: Turtle MOuntain Ojibwe
Award winning artist Hillary Kempenich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, is an established studio artist and advocate for the arts, education, social justice, and Native issues. She has immersed herself working with youth as an Artist in the Classroom in the Grand Forks Public Schools, as well as volunteering throughout her community. Raised on the Turtle Mountain reservation, Hillary continues to advocate for better educational and cultural standards for our Native Indigenous people, and for all people, through her artwork in urban communities.
Hillary is fluent in many mediums with a collaborative style influenced by her independent spirit as a creative woman and her deep connection to her heritage of Ojibwe, Cree, Assiniboine and French Canadian ancestral roots. She comes from a family of strong artist abilities, of which are strong influences within her work. While holding on to the ties to the Turtle Mountains, She works on developing her trades & exploring new mediums with her own personal style.
She has been part of the 2011 IPPY Outstanding Books of the Year, Storytelling Time: Native North American Art, with a growing list of group and solo shows as well as receiving recognition throughout the Midwest. The year of 2015 proved to be successful for her career, marked by awards from the National Indian Child Welfare Association, Native Arts Gathering and the First Peoples Fund. Recently, she received the First Peoples Fund 2016 Artist in Business Grant and Fellowship Award. Her work continues to be featured in galleries throughout the Midwest.
Find out more at http://www.hillarykempenich.com