The Ozette Reservation

In 1855 the United States met with the Makah Nation in Washington to negotiate a treaty. At this time, the Makah were composed of five semiautonomous villages that shared language, kinship, and cultural traditions. As in other treaty councils, Governor Isaac Stevens told the Makah to select a single man to serve as their supreme chief. When they declined to do so, he simply appointed Tse-kow-wootl, from the village of Ozette, as supreme chief.

Under the terms of the treaty, dictated by Governor Isaac Stevens, the Makah reservation was to be centered at Neah Bay. Only one of the five main Makah villages was included within the new reservation. While the Makah had been successful fishing people for thousands of years, the United States wanted them to become farmers on land which was not suited for agriculture. All of the Makah land which was suitable for agriculture was outside of the new reservation.

With the formation of the Makah Reservation, the village of Ozette is six miles south of the reservation. While the United States government wanted all of the Makah to move to the Neah Bay area, the people of Ozette preferred to remain in their traditional village.

The United States Indian policy was based on the idea of civilizing Indian people through farming. Since the treaty excluded nearly all of the land which could be farmed, a Presidential Executive Order in 1873 expanded the Makah reservation to include some farmable land. However, the village of Ozette, which was still occupied by a number of Makah families, remained outside of the reservation. At this time there were about 200 families living in Ozette.

In the 1880s, the Indian agents on the Makah Reservation were encouraging the Makah families in Ozette to relocate to Neah Bay so that they could be near the schools for their children. With this, the population of Ozette began to decrease. By 1888 only 91 families remained in the village.

In 1893, the 719-acre Ozette Reservation was established by Presidential Executive Order. This action, however, would result in some confusion later on. While Ozette was one of the five traditional Makah villages, the creation of a distinct Ozette Reservation created for non-Indians the illusion that the Makah people on that reservation were somehow a distinct tribe (the Ozette).

The government continued to strongly encourage people to leave Ozette. The population dropped to 44 in 1901, to 35 by 1906, to 17 by 1914, and to only 8 by 1923. In 1911, Congress passed an act directing the Secretary of the Interior to allow members of the Ozette Tribe to receive allotments of land on the Quinault Reservation.

In 1937, only one person was officially living in the village. While the village was officially viewed by the U.S. government as “vacant” it continued to be an important Makah cultural and spiritual center. The people continued to visit the village regularly.

In 1952, with the passage of House Joint Resolution 698, the United States formally began the termination era in which the policy of the United States focused primarily on the termination of all federal responsibilities for Indian tribes and for the dissolution of Indian reservations.

In 1956, the Area Office of Indian Affairs notified the Makah that the Ozette Reservation was going to be terminated. Ozette was to be turned over to the National Park Service (it is adjacent to Olympic National Park), turned over to the General Services Administration, or declared open and unclaimed. The Makah Tribe was given 60 days to respond.

Noting that the Superintendent was opposed to Makah cultural expression and that he had discouraged people from returning to Ozette, and frustrated with the lack of help from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribe submitted a petition directly to the solicitor general in Washington, D.C. and made a personal plea to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Concluding that the Makah had no beneficial interest in Ozette, the Interior Deputy Solicitor recommended that Ozette be returned to public domain.

In 1970, PL-91-489 declared that the Ozette Reservation would be held in trust by the federal government for the Makah Tribe. At this time, Ozette was beginning to enter the national and international spotlight because it had become an important archaeological site.

The Marmes Rockshelter

Much of what we know about the people of the ancient world has come from archaeological findings in caves and rockshelters. A rockshelter, by the way, is wider than it is deep, while a cave is deeper than it is wide. Rockshelters and caves provided people with shelter, usually temporary, where they could camp while hunting game, gathering wild plants, fishing, or gathering materials for making tools.

More than 13,000 years ago, Indian people began using a rockshelter, 40 feet wide and 25 feet deep beneath a basalt ledge, in southeastern Washington which later became known as the Marmes Rockshelter Site. The site is located near the confluence of the Snake and Palouse Rivers. This was a time, just two millennia after the maximum advance of the glaciers, when the ice age glaciers were retreating into British Columbia. The climate at this time was cold. The ecosystem at this time was a mixed forest of pine and spruce, not the sagebrush prairie ecosystem found in the area today.

Cremation was a common way of dealing with dead bodies, and by 9700 BCE, the Marmes Rockshelter was being used for cremations. One corner was used repeatedly and had a hearth that was ten feet across. The cremations may have been spaced decades apart. With regard to the mortuary practices at Marmes Rockshelter, anthropologist James Chatters in his book Ancient Encounters: Kennewick Man and the First Americans writes:  “Marmes Rockshelter, it seems, had been an ancient crematorium.”

Prior to cremation, the bones of the dead were cleaned of their flesh. Within the hearth are the bones of at least six people: three adults (a young woman, a young man, and an adult of undetermined age and gender) and three children between the ages of 8 and 14. Ochre and large implements were used as offerings.

At this time—9700 BCE—the Indian people using the rockshelter were hunting rabbit, elk, deer, and antelope, as well as fishing. As with ancient Indians in other parts of North America, the people who were using the Marmes Rockshelter were using atlatls (a type of spear thrower) as a hunting weapon.

In a layer of the site dated to about 7,000 years ago, archaeologists found a fairly large quantity of Olivella shells which would have had to come from the Pacific coast some 200 miles away. The presence of the shells this far inland suggests that a trade network with the coastal tribes existed at this time. Most of the shells had holes drilled through so that they could be strung together as necklaces.

The archaeology at the Marmes Rockshelter site, ranked among the important North American archaeological sites by archaeologists, can be considered incomplete at best. Archaeologists—or rather archaeologist Richard Daugherty and a few of his students from Washington State University—began in 1952 to survey the area which would be flooded by the Lower Monumental Dam. It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, that any attention was paid to the Marmes Rockshelter. By 1968, it was apparent the Marmes Rockshelter was a significant site and the Army Corps of Engineers, the builders of the dam, funded a salvage archaeology effort. The Corps of Engineers also reluctantly agreed to postpone the closing of the dam’s gates for a year. Work on the site continued in 18-hour shifts through February 1969. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, write:  “By February 1969 only about a quarter of the floodplain deposits had been excavated and work in the rockshelter was incomplete, but time ran out.”

With time running out, the archaeologists decided to sacrifice precision for speed and used bulldozers to get to the deeper layers, an action which probably destroyed some of the archaeological evidence.

With an emergency appropriation from President Lyndon Johnson, the Army Corps of Engineers attempted to build a cofferdam to hold the rising waters away from the archaeological site, but the dam failed. The rising waters inundated the rockshelter and 83 other known archaeological sites in the area.

The archaeologists, racing against the rising waters of the reservoir, attempted to protect the site as much as possible with plastic sheeting and dump truck loads of sand. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty wrote:  “Someday the reservoir will silt in and archaeological excavation may resume. For the time being nothing more could be done. The site, with all its remaining evidence, lay drowned.”

Marmes Rockshelter today lies under 40 feet of water.

The Tututni Indians

The area along the Pacific Coast north of California and between the Cascade Mountains and the ocean, is the home to many Indian nations who traditionally based their economy on the use of sea coast and river ecological resources. This is an area which stretches from the Tlingit homelands in Alaska to the Tolowa homelands in northern California. Southwestern Oregon, a mountainous region with a straight coastline which is broken up with the mouths of many streams and rivers, is in the transition zone between the Northwest Coast cultures to the north and the California cultures to the south.

The languages spoken by the aboriginal inhabitants of the region belong to the larger Athabascan (also spelled Athabaskan, Athapascan and Athapaskan) language family. The Tututni language is most closely related to Upper Coquille and Chasta Costa. The linguistic evidence suggests that the coastal Athabascan-speakers—Umpqua, Tututni, Chetco, Tolowa—did not enter the area until about 700 to 1,000 years ago. The last fluent speaker of the Tututni language died in 1983.

The group which Europeans call Tututni takes its name from the large village of Tututin (“People of the Water Place”) which was located inland on the Rogue River. The northern edge of traditional Tututni county was the Sixes River and the southern edge was the Pistol River. Their territory went inland on the Rogue River for about 15 miles.


The two favorite foods of the Tututni were the salmon and the acorn. Chinook salmon, which could weigh up to 100 pounds, would begin their annual spawning run up the Rogue River in late March or early April. To help guide the salmon back to the Rogue River, the Tututni would paddle down the river to the Pacific Ocean. Here they would meet villagers from other Athapaskan-speaking villages and would build large driftwood bonfires. They would dance and sing late into the night, calling the salmon home.

In harvesting the salmon, the Tututni would build fixed V-shaped weirs with alder frames and a net made of hazel or spruce roots. They would also use dipnets and spears. The salmon would be butchered and slow-smoked on alder racks over low fires in smokehouses.

As with other non-agricultural people, the Tututni followed an annual cycle of food resource collection. In June, the women would gather root plants such as camas and wild carrots. To prepare the camas for eating and for storage, it would be cooked in large earth ovens. Once cooked, the camas would be eaten warm or stored for later consumption.

During June, the women would also gather berries, primarily strawberries, raspberries (black caps), huckleberries, and salmonberries. The strawberries and raspberries would be dried for storage, while the salmonberries were usually eaten fresh.

In July, the men would fish for trout and lamprey.

In the fall, the people would harvest the acorns from the California black oak and the Oregon white oak trees. These would be shelled, dried, and stored in baskets. In using the acorns, the women would grind them with a mortar and pestle and then leach the tannic acid out of them. The fine meal would then be boiled.

Deer and elk were also hunted and hunting areas were burned over about every five years to encourage fresh growth which would draw in more game.

Like the Galice and Upper Coquille, the older Tututni men would burn an area and then plant tobacco in it.


 As with other Indian nations along the Northwest Coast, the Tututni built plank winter houses. The houses were partially subterranean: they were dug down 3 to 4 feet. The sides were made by placing planks vertically and then larger planks were laid across to form the roof. The planks were made from western red cedar which had been split with wedges.

House size reflected the wealth and status of the family. A wealthy family might have a house with three inside fire hearths; the house itself could be 20 feet wide and 30 feet long. Smaller homes would be 10 feet wide and 15 feet long.

Each village would also have at least one sweathouse. The sweathouse, also made from cedar planks, would be excavated to a depth of about three feet. Entrance to the sweathouse was through a circular hole about three feet in diameter in one end of the structure. Within this structure there would be a central fire.

The men would sleep together in the sweathouse. In the morning, they would sweat and then swim in a nearby stream. Following this they would go to their own houses for breakfast.


 The Tututni made and used both river canoes and ocean-going canoes. It could take as long as a year to make an ocean-going canoe as the process involved selecting and cutting down a large red cedar tree, allowing it to dry, then hollowing it out and fixing seats within it. The ocean-going canoes could be up to 40 feet long and use 12 paddlers as well as a captain. They could haul tons of cargo and made trips as far north as British Columbia.


 Unlike most of the Indian nations in North America, individual wealth was seen as important to the Tututni and the other Northwest Coast Indians. Individual wealth included canoes, fishing spots, dance regalia, currency, and wives. Wealth also carried responsibility as the wealthy were expected to provide food for the needy and to share their canoes and fishing spots. The wealthy sponsored dances and supplied the dancers with proper regalia.


 Among the Tututni, marriage was exogamous with regard to the village. Men would marry women from a different village and the women would then move to the men’s village. The groom’s family would make a payment to the bride’s family as a way of compensating them for the loss of a significant worker.

Divorce was fairly easy and the reasons for divorce included jealousy, meanness, and barrenness. After a divorce, the older children would generally stay with the father and the younger children would go with the mother.


 Salmon were important to the Tututni and therefore a First Salmon Ceremony would be held in which the first salmon caught would be cooked over an alder fire. Thanks would be given to the salmon for returning home and all people would receive a small piece of this salmon. Seeing themselves as a part of nature, it was important to show appreciation to the salmon so that it would come back again.

The Ten Night Dance was held in the home of the chief to forget the dead. Men and women would dance alternately, with the women wearing all of their wealth. The dances imitated animals such as deer, woodpecker, and buzzard.

Sixteenth Century European Laws About Indians

The European invasion of the Americas really began in the sixteenth century with several European nations competing to divide up the new lands among themselves. In justifying their ability to take lands from Indians, to rule Indians, to make slaves of Indians, and to kill Indians, the European formulated a number of laws.

In 1512, the Spanish King Ferdinand promulgated the Laws of Burgos which spelled out how Indians were to be treated. The laws regulated Indian work and conversion.

The following year, King Ferdinand of Spain told Native Americans that God had declared that the Pope rules all people, regardless of their law, sect, or belief. This included Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, or any other sect. He asked that the Native Americans come forward of their own free will to convert to Catholicism or  “with the help of God we shall use force against you, declaring war upon you from all sides and with all possible means, and we shall bind you to the yoke of the Church and Their Highnesses; we shall enslave your persons, wives, and sons, sell you or dispose of you as the King sees fit; we shall seize your possessions and harm you as much as we can as disobedient and resisting vassals.”

Furthermore, the Natives who resisted were to be held guilty of all resulting deaths and injuries. In other words, the victims were to be blamed for their own deaths. Killing Indians who refused to convert to Christianity was seen as a part of a “just war.”

The idea of a “just war” was based upon the word of Saint Augustine. Under this concept, a just war was one that was waged to right an injustice or wrong by another nation. One of these wrongs, according to the Christian view, was not being Christian. Thus, if an Indian nation were to fail to let missionaries live and preach among them, then they were committing a “wrong” which would have to be set right through a “just war.”

In 1519, Catholic Bishop Juan de Quevedo declared that Indians were slaves by nature because some people were by nature inferior.

In 1525, Dominican official Tomas Ortiz reported that Indians eat human flesh, engage in sodomy, go naked, and have no respect for love, virginity, or the truth. He said:  “It may therefore affirm that God has never created a race more full of vice and composed without the least mixture of kindness or culture.”

In 1526, Spanish King Charles V issued orders concerning the fair treatment of Indians. He ordered that Indians be treated so that  “it may be accomplished with no offence to God, without death nor robbery of said Indians and without enslaving them, so that the desire to spread our faith among them be achieved without grieving our consciences.”  However, there was also a royal levy of one-half of all looted grave-goods.

In 1529, Pope Clement VI wrote to King Charles of Spain:  “We trust that, as long as you are on earth, you will compel and with all zeal cause the barbarian nations to come to the knowledge of God, the maker and founder of all things, not only by edicts of admonitions, but also by force and arms, if needful, in order that their souls may partake of the heavenly kingdom.”

In 1532, Spanish judge Francisco de Vitoria declared that non-Christians can own property and therefore Indians may have title to their land. He also wrote:  “The Spaniards have the right to go to the lands of the Indians, dwell there and carry on trade, so long as they do no harm, and they cannot be prevented by the Indians from doing so.”

In 1537, in a papal bull Sublimis Deus, Pope Paul III declared that Indians were not to be enslaved nor were they  “to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside of the faith of Jesus Christ.”  The Spanish King, however, disagreed with the bull and confiscated all copies of the bull before it could reach the Americas. He then prevailed upon the Pope to revoke the bull.

In 1573, the Spanish King issued “Laws Concerning Discoveries, Pacifications and Settlements Among the Indians” which was an extensive series of laws about exploration, settlement and the treatment of Indians. The new laws did not speak of “conquest,” but rather of the “pacification” of the Indians.

In 1578, Sir Humphrey Gilbert was granted a patent by England to discover and occupy North American lands not occupied by Spain. Under the legal fiction of the Discovery Doctrine, Christian nations could occupy any lands which were not under the rule of a Christian monarch. American Indians, of course, were not consulted and were not seen as having any legal rights.

In 1579, England formally declared that she would not acknowledge the 1493 papal demarcation which gave the Americas to Catholic Spain and Portugal. England, under the law of nations, saw itself free to have colonies in the Americas which were not already inhabited by Christians.

The English Queen Elizabeth I in 1580 claimed a right of discovery for North America based on the voyages of the Irish Saint Brendan in the sixth century and the mythical voyages of Prince Madoc of Wales in 1170.


The Makah, whose traditional homeland is on the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington, are the western-most Indian nation in the lower forty-eight states of the United States. The name “Makah,” given to this tribe by the neighboring S’Klallam, refers to the generosity of their feasts. The Makah name for themselves means “People Who Live by the Rocks and Seagulls.” Linguistically and culturally, the Makah are related to the Native peoples on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The Makah village of Ozette is located at the westernmost point of the Olympic Peninsula. The village was established about 50 CE at a prime location for intercepting migrating gray whales as well as fur seals and Steller sea lions. The Makah were a whaling people and the archaeological findings from Ozette show that 75% of the meat and oil came from whales. Northern fur seals were also important.

In 1700, an earthquake along the Pacific coast triggered a mudslide which covered Ozette. Five houses, one of which was unoccupied, were buried. Journalist Ruth Kirk and archaeologist Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, write:  “The Ozette houses were large—60-70 feet long and about 35 feet wide, dimensions typical of Northwest Coast houses and like them built of plants split from cedar logs and lashed to a framework of upright cedar posts.”

The cedar planks used in the walls were up to 2 1/2 feet wide. The wall planks were smoothed with an adze and some were incised with whale, thunderbird, and wolf motifs. Each house was occupied by six to ten individual families and visiting relatives. James Swan spent time with the Makah in 1859 and remarks of their houses:  “They are very comfortable dwellings, and contain several families each. Every family has its separate fire, the smoke of which serves not only to dry the fish and blubber suspended over it, but causes an intense smarting to the eyes of the visitors who are unaccustomed to its acrid fumes.”

Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty describe the Ozette houses this way:  “Each family had its own living area, readily detectable because of separate cooking hearths. Raised platforms ringed the living space, serving as beds and for storage.”

In 1970, a storm and tidal erosion began to uncover the remains of Ozette. As hikers from the nearby Olympic National Park were walking away with valuable artifacts, The Makah Tribe decided that the site had be to scientifically excavated and tribal chairman Ed Claplanhoo called archaeologist Richard Daugherty at Washington State University and asked him to reopen the archaeological investigation at the site.  For the next 11 years, archaeologists from Washington State University working with the Makah recovered more than 55,000 artifacts. Many people feel that this was one of the most important archaeological digs in North America, not only because of the artifacts uncovered, but also because of the involvement of the Makah people in the process. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty report:  “Makah students took part in the fieldwork and the preservation of artifacts; Makah elders visited the site and shared memories and information regarding various objects.”

With regard to the agreement between the Makah and the archaeologists, Patricia Erickson, in her book Voices of a Thousand People: The Makah Cultural & Research Center, reports:  “No artifacts would leave the physical jurisdiction of the tribe to be displayed, nor would any prehistoric loss of life associated with the Ozette mudslide be mentioned publicly, if any were discovered.”

The Makah site is what archaeologists call a “wet site” in which the mud which covered the village also served to protect organic material from decay by sealing out the air. As a result, the archaeologists were able to recover things like a piece of a dog-wool blanket and a braid of human hair.

Most prehistoric archaeological sites in North America are places which were abandoned by the Indian people who had lived there. As a result, archaeologists have to interpret daily life by the trash that people left behind. Ozette, however, is more like Pompeii in Italy in that the mudslide covered up a living village giving the archaeologists a glimpse of the daily lives of the people.

Once archaeologists have dug a site, the next task includes preserving the artifacts, interpreting what they mean, and then displaying them to the public. For most archaeological sites in the United States, this means transporting the artifacts to a distant museum or university where non-Indian people take over the tasks of interpreting meaning and displaying the artifacts to the public. In the nineteenth century the emphasis was on displaying artifacts, but this has changed: most museums over the past fifty years or so want to explain the artifacts to the public, to use them in telling a story. The story, however, is often a non-Indian view of the American Indian past. Patricia Erickson, in her book Voices of a Thousand People: The Makah Cultural & Research Center, writes:  “In the history of the United States, and of many European societies, the museum has been one of the places where particular versions of knowledge have been legitimated and others have been categorized as primitive folklore or myth.”

The Makah did not want their heritage sent to a distant facility: they wanted to retain it on their own reservation so that their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would be able to understand their own past and the teachings of the elders. In 1979 the tribe opened the Makah Cultural and Research Center to house the artifacts from the archaeological excavation at Ozette. The museum is more than a display of artifacts for tourists: it is intended to inform and educate the community about the ancestral Makah. It is about remembering ancestors, traditions, language, and values.

With regard to language, museum collections have been traditionally arranged and indexed with regard to material culture which would include categories such as containers, hunting gear, and so on. However, in the development of the Makah museum it was soon realized that these categories were English language cognitive categories. Thus the collection was organized on the basis of Makah cognitive categories instead of English categories. Patricia Erickson reports:  “Makah conceptual categories became used not only for organizing the collection but also for stimulating reflection on Makah worldviews codified in their language.”  Bilingual labels are used in the Museum’s displays.

Today, the Makah Cultural and Research Center is one of more than 100 tribal museums in the United States (there are also about 50 in Canada). About 20,000 non-Makah visitors per year get to see and experience the Makah heritage and the materials from Ozette.


Boulder Dam and the Navajo Reservation

In general the history of hydroelectric dams in the United States has involved the transfer of wealth from the nation’s poorest people, American Indians, to the nation’s wealthiest people, industrial capitalists. In the name of progress, industrialization, and manifest destiny American Indian nations have had their lands, water rights, fishing rights, and sacred sites taken from them. The case of Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam) on the Colorado River is different in that it did not directly impact the Navajo Reservation, but it indirectly led to the destruction of the traditional Navajo economy, and the creation of poverty and economic inequality among the Navajo.

In 1922, the seven Colorado River Basin states negotiated a compact which divided the water of the Colorado River water among themselves. Archaeologist Brian Fagan, in his book Elixer: A History of Water and Humankind, writes:  “The era of industrial water management was truly under way, for the benefit not of small farmers but of large agribusinesses.”

While the Indian tribes in the region had a legal right to this water, the tribes were not invited to the negotiations and any possible water rights which Indians might have were purposefully ignored. The negotiations were chaired by Herbert Hoover.  In 1928, Hoover, who was then Secretary of Commerce, secured from Congress the authorization for the Colorado River Project which included the construction of Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam). The dam was to protect and promote agribusiness ventures in California’s Imperial Valley and to provide water to Los Angeles.

A glance at the map suggests little connection between Boulder Dam and the Navajo, as the dam is located far to the west of the reservation. However, in 1929 the United States Geological Survey reported that the major contributors to Colorado River silt were located on the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo Reservation was therefore seen as a major threat to the Boulder Dam as silt from the reservation would pile up behind the dam and destroy its usefulness. American government officials at this time were firmly convinced that overgrazing caused gullying which resulted in silt. The solution in their minds was obvious: stop overgrazing by the Navajos on their reservation and save Boulder dam.

In the 1930s, the United States, in the midst of the Great Depression, elected a new President who then appointed John Collier as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Unlike most of his predecessors, Collier had worked on Indian reservations, understood Indian cultures, and felt that Indian people should have a say in their own destinies. He felt that forced assimilation was wrong and that previous Indian policies had resulted in the creation of Indian poverty. He told the Indians:  “We believe that your Indian heritage is just as practicable and good, and just as much needed by America as is the Anglo-Saxon heritage or the German heritage or the Scotch or Irish or Norwegian heritage.”

The situation with Boulder Dam and the Navajo would, however, provide Collier with his greatest challenge and his actions in dealing with this challenge would make a mockery of the many fine words he spoke about American Indians.

Part of the problem stemmed from an economic misunderstanding. Long before the European invasion of North America, the Navajo had been farmers and they acquired sheep, goats, and horses from the early Spanish settlements in New Mexico. By the twentieth century they had a basic subsistence economy in which their farming and livestock provided them with the basic necessities of life. Their primary participation in the larger cash economy was through traders where they could trade wool blankets and other items for cash or goods.

The American government, however, viewed agriculturalists, including the Navajo, as a part of a larger industrial agricultural system in which people raised products, such as sheep, which were then sold to provide them with the money with which they could buy basic food and supplies. From this viewpoint, only Navajo sheep had economic value and goats and horses were economically worthless as there was no market for them. What the Americans failed to understand was that the Navajo ate goats and horses and that these animals provided them with the food they need to survive to tough times.

In 1931, for example, a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held hearings on the Navajo Reservation. The Senators used the hearings as a forum to lecture the Navajo on market economics. While agency personal testified that the Navajo had few surplus horses and the Navajo testified about the fact that goats are essential to their subsistence, Senator Burton K. Wheeler admonished the Navajo to get rid of their horses and goats.

There were also political misunderstandings. The Navajo had never had a tribal council: each of the many small bands and outfits were felt to be autonomous. Historically, the American government has always preferred dealing with dictatorships rather than democracies and has therefore established governments which it could easily manipulate. The Navajo Tribal Council was not a Navajo institution, but had been established by the American government to agree with all American actions and to give these actions, primarily the transfer of wealth and  resources from the Navajo tribe to American businesses, the superficial appearance of having been done with Navajo approval. Many of those appointed to the Council by the American government were highly acculturated Navajo who tended to be wealthy, bilingual, and Christian.

In 1933, John Collier, in his role as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, met with the Navajo Tribal Council to discuss stock reduction. He told the Navajo that overgrazing was resulting in erosion and that there would have to be a reduction in stock. He told the Council:  “This reservation, along with the other Indian reservations along the Colorado River, is supplying much more than half of all the silt which goes down the Colorado River, which will in the course of a comparatively few years render the Boulder Dam useless and thereby injure the population of all Southern California and a good deal of Arizona also.”

He proposed a reduction of 200,000 sheep and 200,000 goats. While there was some opposition to the stock reduction proposal, the Council did what it was told and voted 8-4 to endorse Collier’s proposal. Many Navajo, however, particularly the women, did not support the Council’s action. In Navajo culture, women owned their own sheep and felt that no one had the right to tell them what to do with their own property.

The impact of stock reduction was first felt in 1934: 148,000 goats and 50,000 sheep were sold. The prices set by the government were exceptionally low.  Not all of the goats could be delivered to the railhead, therefore some were slaughtered and the dried meat given back to the Navajo. Other goats were simply shot and left to rot; some were shot and partially cremated by soaking them with gasoline and lighting it. From a Navajo viewpoint this was an appalling waste of valuable resources. It is generally estimated that the reduction in the number of goats increased the cost of living on the reservation by about 20%.

Government officials failed to understand Navajo concepts of ownership. They simply assumed that the flocks were family owned, that is, they were owned by the male head of household. Since Navajo women owned large herds this meant that women soon found that their flocks were being credited to their husbands.

The non-Navajo conservationists advocated the reduction in goats because the animals had little market value. They did not understand that in a subsistence economy, such as that of the Navajo, goats are important as a dependable source of food: by drinking goat milk, eating goat cheese, and eating goat meat, the sheep could be bred or traded.

In 1936, Navajo women rebelled against federal government pressure to reduce the size of their sheep herds. At Kayenta, 250 Navajo gathered. While most of those present were men, Denehotso Hattie, a woman almost blind from trachoma, was the leader. She pointed her finger at the new Indian superintendent for the reservation and denounced the government plan for range management. The government had disparaged Navajo knowledge of the lands they had traditionally occupied and disregarded the women.

The United States government wanted to create the illusion that a Navajo democracy supported the herd reduction program. In 1937, seventy-odd selected Navajo headmen met and, at the prodding of the Agency Superintendent, voted themselves as the new Navajo Tribal Council. The strategy of federal government was to create a new governing body which would enact and enforce legislation to require the Navajo people to conform to grazing regulations. The new council had 70 members with each member representing a new voting district. In opposition to the Council, J.C. Morgan organized the Navajo Progressive League which vowed to form a representative council.

John Collier met with the hand-picked Council and told them they had two choices: they could approve the new regulations for stock reduction or they would be placed under the General Grazing Regulations for Indian Lands. In other words, stock reduction was going to take place in spite of any Navajo opposition.

The following year, at the request of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and without the consent of the Navajo, a set of bylaws were issued creating a new tribal council. The positions of chairman, vice-chairman, and 74 delegates were to be filled by popular vote. Jacob C. Morgan, who was opposed to Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier and to stock reduction, was elected chairman.

Rumors spread through the reservation that the federal government intended to round up all Navajo horses and shoot them, just as they had done with the goats. Many people hid their horses from government officials and refused to have them branded and counted. In some areas, federal marshals were called in to enforce compliance and suits were filed against some of the Navajo for non-compliance with horse reduction. Twelve cases involving 30 defendants were filed in the United States District Court as a way of proving to the Navajo that the federal government had the power to reduce their horse herds. Collier insisted that these actions were not a policy of coercion. In 1939, the United States District Court in Phoenix ruled in favor of the government and ordered U.S. marshals to seize the horses if they were not removed in 30 days. By the end of the year, one-fourth of the Navajo horses had been sold for $2 to $4 per head.

By the 1940s, it was clear to most Navajo that the federal government intended for them to starve and to give up their reservation. While the federal government had ordered many scientific studies of the reservation—its peoples, its ecology—the government ignored the findings of these studies. While John Collier had promised a New Deal for the Indians and an end to the old paternalism, with regard to the Navajo, the old paternalism—the government knows what is best for you—continued with more vigor than in previous administrations.

Looking back at the Navajo stock reduction program in 1949, at a time when he was no longer the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Collier noted that one of the options was:  “Go with the facts to the hundreds of local communities of the Navajo people. Educate these communities through slow, patient conference and demonstration. Vest the responsibility for launching and guiding these huge, necessary adjustments, in the local headmen, in the healer-singers, the diviners, and ultimately the heads of families.”

Collier notes that in rejecting this option they may have erred profoundly. It is interesting to note that Collier does not talk about listening to the Navajo, and particularly Navajo women, and asking for their opinions about what should be done to their land.

In the end, stock reduction did not restore the lands on the Navajo Reservation. By the 1950s, scientists recognized that gullying and siltation were not necessarily caused by over grazing and that stock reduction had little impact. Boulder Dam provided no economic benefits to the Navajo Reservation, but it destroyed a traditional economy and greatly increased poverty.

Early French Encounters With Indians

The 16th century marked the beginning of the European invasion of North America. The Spanish had already firmly established themselves in the Caribbean islands and were attempting to move north into Florida. The Portuguese had explored the coast of what would become Canada. European interests in the Americas were fueled by stories of great wealth and by new maps showing the region: Juan de la Cosa’s 1500 map commissioned by the Spanish King and Martin Waldseemuller’s 1507 map using the term “America” to designate the new territories.

In 1508, Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian working for the French, sailed as a navigator on a fishing vessel which explored the area of Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence River in Canada.

In 1523, King Francis I of France asked Verrazano to explore the American coast from Florida to Terranova (Newfoundland) with the goal of finding a possible sea route to the Pacific Ocean. His exploration of the American coast began in 1524. Making landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina, the French ships then sailed northward to Maine making contact with Native American groups at several locations. In New York Bay, Verrazzano noted that the country was well inhabited.

The Verrazano party made contact with the Narragansett, Mahican, Wampanoag, Abnaki, Pokanoket, and Penobscot. Verrazano reported that he and his crew were treated well by the Natives they encountered. The Europeans and the Indians shared meals and the Indians often organized sporting games for their mutual entertainment.

In Narragansett Bay Indians came on board the ship. According to Verrazano:  “They exceed us in size, and they are of a very fair complexion, some incline more to a white and others to a tawny color; their faces are sharp, and their hair long and black, upon the adorning of which they bestow great pains; their eyes are black and sharp, their expressions mild and pleasant, greatly resembling the antique.”  In a letter to the King of France Verrazano wrote that the Narragansett  “are the most beautiful and have the most civil customs that we found on this voyage.”

Verrazano also observed that the Indians set their planting times according to their observations of the moon and the rising of the Pleiades. In other words, they understood some of the basics of astronomy.  While Verrazano did not speak any Indian languages, he concluded:  “We think they have neither religion nor laws.”

All European explorers, such as Verrazano, were guided by the Discovery Doctrine, a legal fiction which declared that Christian nations have a right, if not an obligation, to govern all non-Christian nations. If there were no evidence of Christianity, then most Europeans felt that the Indians did not have religion. Furthermore, if there was no controlling church-state hierarchy, then there were no laws.

As with other European explorers, Verrazano attempted to kidnap some natives to take back to Europe. At Cape Fear, North Carolina, he encountered an old woman, two infants, a child and a young woman. He later wrote:  “We took a child from the old woman to bring into France, and were about to take the young woman, who was very beautiful and of tall stature, but we could not for the great outcries that she made.”

In Maine, Verrazano found that the Indians were not friendly. It is likely that the Native people of this area had already had some unpleasant encounters with Europeans as the English from Bristol, the Portuguese, and the Basques had been fishing in this area for several years. Some of the fishing vessels had also been trading with the natives. In 1507, for example, Norman fishing vessels captured seven Beothuk in Newfoundland and brought them back to France and by 1519 European fishing boats were trading with the Micmac in Maine and the Maritime Provinces.

6,000 Years Ago

Six thousand years ago, American Indians had been living throughout North America for thousands of years. They followed a lifestyle based hunting, fishing, and gathering that was determined in part by the environment. In the coastal regions, for example, Indian people subsisted on a marine diet, while in other areas plant food were more important. In some areas, the people followed a seasonal nomadic round travelling to different areas to gather specific resources. In other areas, where resources were abundant, such as the coastal areas, there was relatively little nomadism.

At this time six thousand years ago there were probably several hundred distinct Indians groups with their own languages, religions, and cultural patterns. Archaeologists often refer to this time period as the Archaic. In an article in the Utah Historical Quarterly  Alan Schroedl writes: “The name Archaic is not meant to imply a backward or outmoded style of life; on the contrary, the Archaic lifeway was the most dynamic and flexible mode of adaptation that ever developed in the New World.”

During the Archaic, there was a great deal of regional specialization. However, the archaeological record for this time is a bit spotty with many geographic areas blank in terms of archaeological knowledge.

California and Oregon:

 In California, Indian people fashioned the Running Man geoglyph on the shore of Searles Lake. Geoglyphs are earthen images which were made by scraping away the stable dark desert pavement to reveal the lighter soil underneath (these are also called intaglios or engravings) or by placing boulders and/or large cobbles to form figures. The rock alignment which forms the figure is about 9 feet long.

In California, the culture which archaeologists call Martis expanded eastward across the Sierra Nevada where it became the cultural ancestor of the Washo Indians.

In California, Indian people were living near the present-day Hoopa Reservation. They were using wide-stemmed projectile points, scraping tools, and milling implements.

Indian people established a fowling and fishing station on Nightfire Island on Lower Klamath Lake in Oregon.

 Washington and Idaho:

In Washington, immigrants from the Great Basin moved into the Five Mile Rapids area bringing with them new kinds of projectile points and other objects.

In Idaho, Indian people began to live in the Island Park Reservoir area.

At an Indian graveyard near the Little Salmon River in Idaho, 22 people were buried.

The Southwest:

 The period which archaeologists call Black Rock began in Utah. According to archaeologists C. Melvin Aikens and David B. Madsen in an article in the Handbook of North American Indians:  “In conjunction with a dramatic increase in occupation sites during the early portion of this period, there was an apparent broadening of settlement patterns with a growing emphasis on the exploitation of upland zones.”

In Utah, Indian people were using Spotten Cave at the south end of Utah Valley. In an article in Utah Historical Quarterly, archaeologist Joel Janetski writes:  “Spotten Cave was likely used by Archaic peoples as a temporary stopover as they moved from the Goshen Valley bottoms to the uplands of Long Ridge or the Wasatch Front.”

In the Colorado River Plateau area of Utah and Arizona, Indian people were making representational petroglyphs which archaeologists refer to as the Glen Canyon Linear Style. The figures include shamanistic humans as well as animals and some abstract elements.

In Colorado, the period which archaeologists call the Castle Valley Phase began. This phase was characterized by a decrease in population as a result of people moving into Utah.

 The Northeast:

In Massachusetts, Indian people were using the Middleborough site as a ceremonial site. Among the artifacts which they left at the site were thousands of paint stones: soft rocks, primarily of hematite and graphite, that can be scratched or ground into powder and then mixed with fats to make paints. These paints were then applied to the skin and to clothing as decoration. In an article in American Archaeology Jennifer Weeks reports:  “Other ceremonial items included pebbles polished by wear, quartz crystals, and slabs of arkose, a type of local sandstone.”

While there were no burials at this site, burials in nearby Wapanucket have graves which are lined with the slabs of arkose.

In Maine, Indian people were using a weir to harvest fish from Sebasticook Lake.


 In the Southeast populations began to increase at about this time.

In Tennessee, Indian people created a pictograph deep in a cave where there is no light. The art depicts a human and a quadruped. In an article in American Archaeology, Melissa Montoya writes: “This pictograph is the oldest of hundreds of pieces of cave art and open-air rock art that make up a large scale composition in which prehistoric people altered their physical landscape in accordance with their spiritual beliefs.”

In Louisiana, Indian people constructed two mounds at Monte Sano Bayou. Mound A is a conical structure 6 meters high. It was built in a single construction episode. Both mounds were built to mark places where the cremation of select individuals had taken place.

Arctic and Alaska:

In the arctic region, Inuit prehistory began with the Arctic Small Tool Tradition. This was a technology which was characterized by hafted small chisel-like blades which were used for working wood, bone, and ivory. Steve Langdon, in his book The Native People of Alaska, writes:  “Because of its distribution, this tool tradition is considered characteristic of the earliest Eskimo population.”

In Alaska, the Ocean Bay Tradition began at the Larsen Bay site.

Illinois and Missouri:

In Illinois, the people who were living at Helton village the Koster site were harvesting fish in large numbers. They were smoking part of the fish harvest to preserve it for use in the winter months. Their village covered about six acres and had a population of 100 to 150 people. In addition to harvesting fish, the Helton village people also hunted mammals, such as deer, take waterfowl, and gathered plants and nuts. They wove grasses into mats and cloth and they tanned hides to make leather items.

In Missouri, Indian people built a village of 10 log homes. Each of the homes was about 15 by 17 feet in size. The population of the village was about 100. They were cooking food in an underground oven and they had underground storage pits for food.

 Yellowstone National Park:

In Wyoming, Indian people were using the Fishing Bridge Point site in present-day Yellowstone National Park. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes:  “The presence of Early Archaic sites on the Yellowstone Plateau shows that Early Archaic hunter-gatherers moved into the uplands, at least during the warmer months, to hunt animals and collect the plethora of plant resources available around the shores of Yellowstone Lake.”


During the 17th century, four European countries—France, England, Netherlands, and Spain–established permanent colonies in the Americas. As these colonies expanded, the conflicts with the Native Americans over land increased in frequency and intensity. While the American Indian nations had superior numbers, the Europeans had a technological advantage.

The Europeans were driven to conquer the “wilderness” of the Americas by the power of greed. They sought wealth in the form of gold and silver, fertile lands which could be used to grow crops which could then be exported to Europe, furs and hides for the European market, and finally slaves.

As contact with the Europeans intensified, so did the diseases which they brought with them. Along the Atlantic coast, disease killed up to 90% of the Indian inhabitants during this century.

Listed below are some of the events of 1614.


In 1613, the English had kidnapped Pocahontas, the favorite daughter of Powhattan, a powerful Indian leader. They had hoped to hold her for ransom, but the Indians refused to pay a ransom. In 1614, as a condition of her release from her English captors, Pocahontas agreed to marry John Rolfe and became known as Rebecca Rolfe. At the marriage ceremony, Pocahontas was given away by her uncle Opechancanough.

At the time of her marriage, Pocahontas was about 18 and had been married to a warrior named Kocoum. She was fairly slender and could pass for a boy, a feature which would later allow her to have an audience with King James.

The English colonists in Virginia concluded a formal, written treaty with the Chickahominy in which the Indians agreed to send an annual tribute payment of corn to Jamestown. The treaty between the English and the Chickahominy appears to have been masterminded by Opechancanough. Opechancanough wanted the English to think that the Chickahominy were their allies while drawing the Chickahominy closer to membership in the Powhattan empire.

 In Massachusetts, the English returned with Capawake sachem Epinow, who was to act as their guide and interpreter. Epinow, however, escaped from the ship by jumping into the water and swimming toward some Indian canoes. The Indians in the canoes fired a volley of arrows at the ship to aid his escape.

In Massachusetts, English Captain Thomas Hunt captured 26 Wampanoag, including a young man known as Squanto. The Indians were taken to Spain and sold as slaves. However, Squanto escaped and found his way to England where he learned to speak English.

John Smith, the former commander at Jamestown, led two ships in search of gold and whales along the coast of Maine. After some fishing, trading, and skirmishes with the natives, the English captured 27 Wampanoag and Nauset to sell into slavery. While mapping the New England coast, Smith noted at least nine coastal towns between Cape Ann and Cape Code, each of which was ruled by a sachem. In addition, he reported that he had heard that there were more than 20 towns inland from the coast.


The Compagnie de Canada won a monopoly on trade in the St. Lawrence for eleven years. The new company was to transport six families to begin a settlement in New France.

A formal trading alliance was formed between the French and the Huron Confederacy. As a result of this agreement, Huron society would undergo great changes.


The Dutch granted exclusive trading rights to the Hudson River area of New York to the New Netherlands Company which built a trading fort on Castle Island. The trader Jacob Elkens learned both the Mahican and Mohawk languages.


A series of three epidemics began to sweep through the Indian villages in Massachusetts. At least ten Wampanoag villages were abandoned because there were no survivors. Wampanoag population decreased from 12,000 to 5,000.


In New York, the Mohawk who were living at the Kilts site (NYSM 6297—this is the archaeological designation for the site) moved their town to the Wagner’s Hollow (NYSM 1202 and NYSM 1214) area on Caroga Creek.

The Channel Islands in the Terminal Pleistocene

There was a time in archaeology some fifty to sixty years ago, when the basic hypothesis regarding the peopling of the Americas suggested that towards the ends of the last major ice age, as the two major ice sheets covering North America separated to create a passage from the Yukon to the Northern Plains, that people began migrating across Beringia (the land bridge connecting Asia and North America) and then spread out through the Americas. It was a hypothesis that was simple, neat, appealing, and wrong. One of the alternative hypotheses that have been developed over the past half-century or so suggests that some of the early (and perhaps earliest) migrations into the Americas may have been by boat. Part of the data supporting the water craft hypothesis has come from archaeological findings from the Channel Islands which date to the Terminal Pleistocene (an era that dates from about 19,000 years ago until 10,500 years ago).

Channel Islands National Park in California is composed of five of the Channel Islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara. The first four are the northern islands and Santa Barbara is a part of the southern Channel Islands. This national park may be one of the most important archaeological areas in the Americas, particularly with regard to understanding the early human habitation of the continent. According to the Channel Islands National Park Archaeological Overview and Assessment: “Both prehistoric and historic archaeological resources within the Park have an unusually high level of significance in terms of criteria for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. In fact, they may be considered among the most valuable in North America, if not the world.”

During the Terminal Pleistocene, much of North America was covered with ice fields and the ocean levels were much lower. At this time, there was only one northern channel super-island, Santarosae. As the great ice sheets melted and sea levels rose, Santarosae became four islands.

During the Terminal Pleistocene, the fauna on the islands included a number of animals which would go extinct: a giant mouse (Peromyscus nesodytes), a flightless goose or scoter (Chendytes lawi), and a pygmy mammoth (Mammuth exiliis). All of these overlapped with human occupation. Human occupation on the Channel Islands has been dated to more than 13,000 years ago. According to Channel Islands National Park Archaeological Overview and Assessment:  “Significantly, there is more evidence of occupation on the northern Channel Islands during this period than in most other areas of comparable size elsewhere in California or North America as a whole.”

There are more than 50 archaeological sites on San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz islands that have been dated to between 13,000 years ago and 7,000 years ago. This is the largest cluster of early coastal sites currently known in the Americas. The earliest people on the Channel Islands are often called the Paleocoastal Peoples and their presence on the island at this time lends support to the hypothesis that the ancient people arrived in the Americas by boat. According to Channel Islands National Park Archaeological Overview and Assessment:  “The archaeological evidence for early maritime settlement of the Channel Islands also has had a significant effect on the growing recognition that a maritime migration may have contributed to the initial human colonization of the Americas.”

While one of the first archaeologists to work on Santa Rosa Island has proposed that mammoth-hunting humans first came to the islands over 40,000 years ago, very few archaeologists today accept this early date. The earliest verified evidence for human occupation in the Channel Islands comes from more than 13,000 years ago when a woman died at Arlington Springs on Santa Rosa Island. At the time she died, the sea level was 150 feet lower than it is today and the Northern Channel Islands were still connected as a single island.

In 1959, archaeological excavations under the direction of Phil Orr uncovered two femurs buried about 30 feet deep in the side wall of Arlington Canyon. The remains were initially identified as male and called the Arlington Springs Man. Orr estimated that the remains were about 10,000 years old. Thirty years later, Orr’s successor at the museum, Dr. John Johnson, re-analyzed the Arlington Springs remains using modern techniques of radiocarbon dating. At this same time, the original site was relocated and re-studied. The new studies determined that the remains were female rather than male and that they were about 13,000 years old. According to Dr. John Johnson, Curator of Anthropology, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History: “This woman’s presence on an island at this early date is significant, because it demonstrates that the earliest Paleo-Indians had watercraft necessary to cross the Santa Barbara Channel.”

Immediately above the layer of soil in which the remains of Arlington Woman (originally called Arlington Man) were found is a distinctive layer dated to about 12,900 years ago that is linked to the extraterrestrial event that caused an abrupt climate change resulting in the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna and the end of Clovis culture.

By about 12,000 years ago, people were occupying the Cardwell Bluffs sites near the east end of San Miguel Island. These sites appear to have been multipurpose quarry, workshop, and habitation sites. Among the stone artifacts are chipped stone crescents and small, stemmed Channel Island Barbed points. While shellfish remains show that the people had a marine diet, the crescents and stemmed points suggest that they were also hunting. Both the crescents and stemmed points have been linked to other coastal sites and support the idea of a coastal migration following the North Pacific Rim from Northeast Asia into the Americas.

Daisy Cave along a remote and rocky stretch of San Miguel Island shows evidence of human occupation dating back to 11,500 years ago. The site has a shell midden dominated by rocky shore shellfish including red abalone, black turban (Tegula funebralis), California mussel (Mytilus californianus), giant chiton (Cryptochiton stelleri), and crab. While this is one of the oldest shell middens in North America, it leaves a number of questions unanswered. According to Channel Islands National Park Archaeological Overview and Assessment: “…who were these early maritime people, where did they come from, what technologies did they employ, and what was the nature of their broader economies and lives?”

Humans and Pygmy Mammoths:

The first report of mammoth remains on Santa Rosa Island came in 1853 and by the 1920s these were classified as a new species. In the 1940s, Phil Orr, Curator of Anthropology at the Museum of Natural History in Santa Barbara, conducted archaeological field studies in which mammoth bones were found in conjunction with features which were interpreted as hearths. Orr concluded that humans had been hunting and consuming pygmy mammoths. However, recent studies have not substantiated this claim.

Humans and the pygmy mammoths co-existed on the island for at least 200 years. This raises a number of interesting questions regarding the extinction of the pygmy mammoths. Was this simply a coincidence or did human hunting contribute to the extinction? Archaeological data shows that humans on the mainland were hunting mammoths. Did the people on Santa Rosa Island have mammoth hunting skills and knowledge, or was their subsistence lifestyle marine oriented?

Some researchers feel that the extinction of the pygmy mammoths was caused by a cosmic impact which is supported by data from sediments at this time.

World War II Impacts Indian Reservations

In 1942, the United States was gearing up to fight in World War II and the military efforts on the homefront had an impact on several Indian reservations.

Administration of Indian Affairs:

The need for office space in Washington, D.C. to support the war effort resulted in moving the Indian Bureau to Chicago. The move reduced Indian Bureau influence with Congress and other federal agencies. The Indian budget was slashed and New Deal programs for Indians were dropped. This left many Indian programs in disorder.

A shortage of doctors and nurses on reservations developed as medical personnel joined the armed forces. Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier warned of the potential for a complete breakdown of medical services on the reservations.


 The government established concentration camps for Japanese Americans on two Indian reservations in Arizona: the Gila Indian Reservation and the Colorado River Indian Reservation (Mohave and Chemehuevi). The tribes were not consulted in this matter.

With regard to the Colorado River Indian Reservation, the government promises that the land would be returned to the tribes substantially improved for future agricultural use. The tribes opposed the concentration camp, but understood that if they refused the government’s demands they will lose the land. The tribe did not respond to the government. On the other hand, non-Indian business people in nearby Parker saw the concentration camp as a good thing:  “The project’s going to be good for the country. It will develop a lot of land, bring in irrigation, so white farmers can use it. White men can’t work out on the reservation now.”

Following the war, the federal government used the former camps to house Hopi and Navajo who were forcibly relocated from their homes as a part of a “colonization” program. Under the plan, up to 1,000 Navajo families were to be removed from their reservation as a means of alleviating overpopulation. The colonization program was a failure.


 In Alaska, the U.S. Army removed the Unangan people from the Aleutian Islands and placed them in makeshift camps on the mainland where they suffered from hunger, cold, and disease. Many of the elders died. Their abandoned villages were vandalized by the American military.

South Dakota:

In South Dakota, the U.S. Army Air Corps “borrowed” part of the Oglala Sioux’s Pine Ridge Reservation for a gunnery range with the understanding that it would be returned after World War II. The army notified 128 tribal members that they had to evacuate their homes within thirty days. Some Indians reported that they were told they would be shot if they did not cooperate.

In 1943, more than 250 Oglala Sioux families were given 10 days notice to leave their homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation so that the land could become a bombing range.

Twenty years later, instead of returning the land to the tribe, the federal government simply declared it to be surplus which would allow non-tribal interests to acquire it. In 1968, however, the land was finally returned to the tribe except that the National Park Service was given management authority over half of the land which was now included in the Badlands National Park. For about 25 years, the federal government had leased out 90,000 acres of this land. The profit that the government received from leasing the land exceeded the compensation which had been given to the Sioux at the time the land was taken from them.


 In Oklahoma, the army expanded Camp Gruber. No thought was given to the forced relocation of the Cherokee who were living on the land taken by the army. The Cherokee had already planted their gardens and would not have food for the winter if they were removed. None of the Cherokee who were to be relocated had transportation and the army told them that it did not have any available trucks to help them. The Cherokee hoped that their land would be returned to them at the end of the war.  It was not.


 In Washington, the Wanapum fishing villages near the White Bluffs on the Columbia River were closed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a part of a top secret war project called the Gable Project (later called Hanford Engineering Works). The Wanapum were allowed to move upriver to Priest Rapids. Here they were allowed to settle in three abandoned houses that had been built for the operators of the first hydroelectric plant on the Columbia River.

Among those moved was young David Sohappy who would later become one of the leaders for Indian fishing rights on the Columbia River. Sohappy was related to the nineteenth century prophet Smohalla and would also become a leader of the Feather Religion, which is an offshoot of Smohalla’s religion.

In 1943, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation closed access to an area sacred to the Yakama. Government officials either ignored or were unaware of the 1855 treaty which guaranteed Indians access to this area.

Following the war, fish studies found that fish were now showing radioactive concentrations averaging 100,000 times the normal amount as far as 20 miles downstream from the Hanford nuclear facility.


In 1943, the federal government under the War Powers Act condemned 2,100 acres of the Shoshone and Bannock’s Fort Hall Reservation to be used as an airport. While the land was worth $100 per acre, the government paid the tribes only $10 per acre.

Tribes Ask That Oil and Gas Leases be Cancelled

On Friday, Blackfeet tribal leaders in Montana sent letters to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking that all federal oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area be cancelled. According to the letter:  “We respectfully request that you and your staff meet directly with representatives of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council regarding the Badger-Two Medicine oil and gas leases, and long-term co-management strategies for permanent protection of this most sacred mountain land.”

The Badger-Two Medicine area is adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation and Glacier National Park and is administered by the National Forest Service. The Blackfoot Confederacy (a group of related Indian nations in the United States and Canada) and the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council also joined in this request. According to the tribes, oil and gas exploration threatens the sacred and cultural values of the region.

In 1896, the United States forced the Blackfeet Tribe to give up that portion of their reservation known as the Mineral Strip as the government feared that there might be potential mineral wealth in the area and did not want Indians to have possible wealth. This ceded area included portions of what would become Glacier National Park and the Badger-Two Medicine area. While this was a sacred area for the Blackfoot people—an area where ceremonies are conducted and sacred plants gathered—all American Indian religions were illegal at this time and so the elders had to remain quiet about the importance of the land to their spirituality and culture. The treaty, however, does include an agreement that the Blackfoot have a right to “go upon” the land, to hunt, to fish, and to cut timber.

Badger-Two Medicine is a part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest and is named for Badger Creek and the Two Medicine River which originate along the Continental Divide. It is an ecosystem that includes elk, gray wolves, bighorn sheep, moose, lynx, eagles, harlequin ducks, and wolverines. Under the provision of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Blackfeet Tribe and the Lewis and Clark National Forest have proposed that the region be designated as a Traditional Cultural District (TCD). According to the keeper of the National Register:  “The remote wilderness area is associated with the significant oral traditions and cultural practices of the Blackfoot people, who have used the lands for traditional purposes for generations and continue to value the area as important to maintaining their community’s continuing cultural identity.”

In 1997, the Forest Service placed a ten-year ban on oil drilling in the area. Since 2002, proposed drilling has centered on an area about two miles north of the TCD. In 2006, Blackfeet Community College completed a cultural resources inventory of the area and recommended that the TCD be expanded.

In 2009, the Lewis and Clark National Forest adopted a travel plan for the Badger-Two Medicine which emphasized traditional non-motorized uses. Motorized vehicles, such as all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes are now prohibited on the 200 miles of trail in the area.

Of the 47 oil and gas leases granted by the federal government in 1982, 18 are still active. One of these leases is held by Sidney Longwell of Solenex of Louisiana. Longwell is currently suing the federal government so that his firm can proceed with development. With regard to the Solenex well, a representative of the Montana Petroleum Association stated:  “I truly believe they can drill an exploratory well in a very environmentally friendly way, and that any assumptions about future development at this time are really unwarranted.”

Traditionalists, who see the area as sacred and as both culturally and historically important to the Blackfoot tribes, do not feel that oil exploration is compatible with the nature of the land.

Aztec Social Organization

When the Spanish invaded Mexico, they found that one of the dominant empires was that of the Aztecs. While many great civilizations and empires had developed and collapses in the region over the millennia, today we know more about the Aztec society than we do about the earlier societies thanks to the observations of the Spanish. In 1519, when the Spanish first encountered the Aztecs, the Aztec empire was a complex state ruled by an emperor from the city of Tenochtitlán which had a population of about 350,000.

The “big house” (calpolli; also  spelled calpulli) was the basic unit of Aztec social organization and of the Aztec empire. The “big house” was primarily a group of families who had been related by kinship or proximity over a fairly long period of time. This group was a land-holding corporation with ritual functions: in other words, the group owned its own land and worshipped its own gods. Like Aztec society, the “big house” was stratified with both elite members and commoners. The elite would provide the commoners with arable land or with non-agricultural occupations and the commoners pay tribute to the elite in various forms.

Within the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán there were 80 “big houses” which were arranged into the four great quarters of the city.

Each of the “big houses” was presided over by a single individual who functions as a principal chief and has the title calpollec. The principal chief was elected by the members of the “big house” and confirmed by the Aztec emperor. The principal chief ruled for life.

Aztec society was stratified into a number of classes. At the very top of Aztec society were the rulers (teteuhctin) of the cities and towns. Living in palaces and wearing distinctive clothing, the rulers ensured that tribute payments were made at all of the appropriate levels of the imperial administration.

Just below the rulers were the nobles (pipiltin) which was a hereditary class (i.e. people had to be born into it). All of the Aztec imperial ministers belonged to this class. There was also a noble class known as the eagle nobles (cuauhpipiltin) who had been born as commoners but had distinguished themselves in battle and had been rewarded with a noble title.

Most of the people in Aztec society were commoners (macehualtin) who worked the lands of the “big houses” and paid tribute to the upper classes. The Aztec state maintained control over the commoners and tribute was in the form of service: labor on public works and/or as soldiers in the army.

At the bottom of Aztec society were the serfs (mayeque) who worked on the noble estates. Serfs were menial laborers and, according to some reports, were not allowed to leave the lands to which they were attached. Some scholars have estimated that perhaps as many as 30% of the Aztecs were serfs. About one-third of the produce of the serfs went to the nobles.

Aztec society, like other societies throughout the world, included slaves. Slavery was partially debt slavery which was made up of people who could not pay their debts, particularly gambling debts. When deeply in debt individuals could pawn themselves, their spouses, or their children for a certain period of time or perpetuity. Under Aztec law, slaves could not be sold without their consent. In general, slaves seem to have been treated well. Slaves could choose their marriage partners and their children were not slaves.

In addition to debt slavery, the Aztecs also captured people from other nations who were sold in slavery. By the time of the Spanish invasion, the buying and selling of slaves was a big business. Archaeologist Brian Fagan, in his book The Aztecs, writes:  “The ever-increasing nobility required en more laborers to serve in their households. Slave merchants operated from as far away as the Tabasco region of the Gulf Coast and frequented human markets in Azcapotzalco and Itzocan.”

There is also one small, but very powerful, Aztec group which must be mentioned: the long-distance merchants (pochteca). They were treated like royalty and reported directly to the royal palace. These merchants travelled hundreds of miles into foreign territories and were able to obtain luxury goods such as quetzal feathers and amber for the emperor. Membership in this merchant class was hereditary. While the long-distance merchants could become very wealthy, there were restrictions on them flaunting their wealth.

Being a long-distance merchant was a dangerous job and many died while travelling. Disease, accidents, and being killed by unfriendly people were among the job hazards. To ensure their safety and wellbeing, the pochteca had their own gods, including Yacatecuhtili (“Nose Lord”) who is generally portrayed as having a very long nose and carrying a traveler’s staff in one hand and a woven fan in the other. If one of these merchants died when travelling then, like the soul of a fallen warrior, the soul would go directly to the paradise of the Sun God.

Closely associated with the pochteca was another specialized group known as the oztomeca who dressed in local clothing and spoke the local language. Their job, in addition to obtaining exotic goods, was to gather military intelligence. Archaeologists Michael Coe and Rex Koontz, in their book Mexico, write:  “Like the businessmen-spies of modern days, the oztomeca were often a vanguard for the Aztec takeover of another nation, acting sometimes as agents-provocateurs.”

In 1521, the Spanish and their Native American allies captured the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, killing about 280,000 of its residents. Aztec society was then forced to be assimilated in the Spanish empire.

Tobacco and the Indian Nations of the Great Lakes

The western portion of the Northeastern Woodlands of the U.S., an area designated as the Great Lakes-Riverine area by some anthropologists, was inhabited by Algonquian-speaking tribes such as the Anishinabe (Ojibwa or Chippewa), Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Menominee, Shawnee, Ottawa, and Sauk and by Siouan-speaking groups such as the Winnebago, Iowa, Oto, and Missouria. The Siouan-speaking groups probably emerged from the Oneota cultural tradition that began to flourish about 1000 AD in the upper Mississippi Valley.

The economy of the Indian nations of this region was mixed with the gathering of wild plants, hunting, and fishing being of primary importance and farming being of secondary importance. Farming—corn, beans, and squash—contributed about half of their calories. The reduced importance of agriculture was due largely to climatic conditions. Throughout much of the region, the 140-growing-day season made agriculture a risky endeavor. A later spring or an early fall meant that crop failures were a constant possibility.

Among the non-food plants raised in this area was tobacco, an important ceremonial and trade plant. For Indian people throughout North America, tobacco smoking is a symbolic way of enhancing the communication between individuals, between groups, and between the people and the supernatural. One of the reasons for its ceremonial importance is explained in the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) creation story.

According to the Ho-Chunk creation story, after the Earthmaker had created all other things, human beings were created. Human beings were the least of the Earthmaker’s creations. They were put in charge of nothing. While even the smallest of the insects could see four days ahead, human beings could not even see one day ahead. Then the Earthmaker created a weed with a pleasant odor and all of the spirits wanted it. The weed was called tobacco. Earthmaker then showed the people how to use it, how to crush it, and smoke it in a pipe. To all of the spirits Earthmaker said:  “Now, whatever human beings ask from me and for which they offer tobacco I will not be able to refuse it. I myself will not be in control of this weed. If they give me a pipefull of this and make a request I will not be able to refuse it.”

Earthmaker also told the spirits:  “The human beings are the only ones of my creation who are poor. I did not give them anything, so therefore this will be their foremost possession and from them we will have to obtain it. If a human being gives a pipefull and makes a request we will always grant it.”

Among all of the tribes of this culture area, tobacco is used for all important activities. This includes sprinkling of tobacco on the water as an offering to the underwater spirits just before getting into a canoe; offering a pinch of tobacco to the earth where other ceremonial plants are gathered; providing tobacco to someone when a special request is made.

The oldest form of tobacco which was cultivated and used in this culture area was Nicotaina rustica. This tobacco, often described as “strong-tasting”, was cultivated in small patches and was used in religious ceremonies.


Two hundred and fifty years ago, in 1764, many of the Indian nations of North America had not yet had direct contact with the European colonial powers who were claiming the “God-given” right to rule them. Indirectly, however, most of the Indian nations had already been impacted by European manufactured goods and by European diseases.

Colonial Indian Policies:

 The British reorganized and reformed the administration of Indian affairs. Private and colonial purchases of land from the Indians were no longer allowed, trading was to be confined to posts, and trading rum to the Indians was banned.

Pennsylvania offered a scalp bounty on Indians as well as a bounty on live captives. Since the difference between the bounty for a scalp and a live male captive was relatively small, few bounty hunters bothered taking males alive. However, the bounty for live women and children meant that many were taken alive so that they could be sold as slaves.

In the Southeast, John Stuart, the Indian Agent for the British Southern District, suggested a divide-and-conquer policy:  “It will undoubtedly be detrimental to His Majesties service, that too strict a friendship and union subsist between the different Indian nations within this department; it is therefore incumbent upon us by all means in our power to foment any jealousy or division that may subsist between them.”

In Florida, the British took over government of Florida from the Spanish and appointed agents to represent the government in Indian affairs at Mobile, Pensacola, and St. Augustine.  A meeting was held with Cowkeeper’s Creek Indian village. A second meeting was then held with Creek leaders from five other towns: Tallahassee (Tonaby’s Town), Mikasuki (Newtown), Chiskatalofa, Tamathli, and Ochlockonee. Gifts were given to the chiefs and Cowkeeper and Long Warrior expressed strong attachment to the British.

In Louisiana, a delegation of Choctaw who were in New Orleans to confirm their attachment to the French talked with the English superintendent of Indian Affairs who happened to be visiting the city. They complained to him that the English traders beat them, stole their horses, and had sex with their women.

Anti-Indian Violence:

In Pennsylvania, a mob of about 50 men attacked the Christian Susquehannock Indians in the village of Conestogoe. They killed everyone they found, scalped and mutilated the bodies, and then burned the houses. Governor John Penn condemned the action and proclaimed a reward for the murderers.

Many of the Indians who had escaped the mob violence at Conestogoe sought refuge in Lancaster where they were locked in the workhouse for their own safety. The mob, however, broke in the door and killed several Indians, both adults and children.

The mob, known as the Paxton Boys, grew to several hundred and began to march toward Philadelphia where 140 Indians had sought refuge. The mob was angered because Governor John Penn had condemned the murder of Indians at the village of Conestogoe.

The governor called upon Ben Franklin to stop the mob. Franklin confronted the Paxton Boys in Germantown. In speaking to the mob, he used the names of the Indians they had murdered in Conestogoe. By speaking the English names of the dead Indians, Franklin treated them as human beings rather than as wild animals in the woods. Franklin told the mob that killing children was inhuman, cowardly, and unmanly. Franklin told them that  “these Indians would have been safer among the ancient heathens, with whom the rites of hospitality were sacred, than they are among us Christians in Pennsylvania.”

Franklin was successful and the mob dispersed. Following this, Franklin wrote A Narrative of the Late Massacres … of a Number of Indians. It described the massacre of Indians by “Christian White Savages.”


In Pennsylvania, Presbyterian missionaries Samuel Kirkland and Joseph Woolley traveled to the Iroquois village of Oquaga. Woolley, a Delaware Indian who had graduated from the Wheellock Academy, established a school in the village. Woolley found life in the village to be difficult and died the following year.

In Rhode Island, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel sent a teacher to the Narragansett.

Peace and War:

In Ohio, the Ottawa war leader Pontiac sent the British a wampum belt for peace. The British simply chopped up the belt. In terms of Indian diplomacy, the British action was highly disrespectful, somewhat like urinating on a peace treaty. The Indians were shocked and angered by the British actions and Pontiac was convinced that he had nothing to gain by negotiating with the British

The Shawnee, Seneca, and Lenni Lenape joined together to send war belts to the Miami and to Pontiac’s Ottawa asking them to fight the British. These three nations were joined by the Munsee and the Wyandot to form the Five Nations of Scioto.

In Michigan, the Ojibwa debated about traveling to Detroit to join Pontiac. To settle the debate a shaking tent ceremony was held. The spirits were asked if the English were really preparing to attack the Indians. The oracle replied that there were many English soldiers preparing to make war. As an alternative, the oracle suggested that they travel to New York to meet with Sir William Johnson, who  “will fill your canoes with presents; with blankets, kettles, guns, gunpowder and shot; and large barrels of rum, such as the stoutest of the Indians will not be able to lift; and every man will return in safety to his family.”

Other Events:

In Massachusetts, the Stockbridge realized that they had failed to exclude from a government transaction 2,500 acres of land which they had sold to a farmer. They refunded the money and petitioned the General Court to allow the farmer to keep the land. The Court did not allow the farmer to keep the land, but did give him 300 acres elsewhere.

In Florida, two Creek towns – Lachua under the leadership of Cowkeeper and Old Town under the leadership of White King – had a ball game which lasted for two weeks. During this time the participants consumed 18 kegs of rum.

In Virginia, amateur archaeologist Thomas Jefferson had his African slaves dig up hundreds of Monacan skeletons so that he could learn more about their mortuary customs.

In Massachusetts, the Nantucket were decimated by smallpox. Only 136 survived. At the time of first contact with the English in 1659 they had had a population of about 3,000.

The Cheyenne Migrations

In 1851, the United States government met in treaty council with 8,000 to 12,000 Indians from several Plains tribes at Fort Laramie in present-day Wyoming. One of the tribes attending this council was the Cheyenne. While many Americans assumed that the Cheyenne had always been a Plains tribe, in fact, when Europeans first encountered them in the early 1600s they were living in the woodlands at the mouth of the Wisconsin River in what is now Minnesota. Like the other tribes in this area at this time, the Cheyenne lived in permanent or semi-permanent villages making their living by farming.

Prior to living in Minnesota, Cheyenne oral tradition says that the people lived far to the northeast in what is now Canada. They were not farmers at this time, but lived by fishing, hunting and gathering wild plant foods. According to tradition, they were living by a large body of water. There was, however, a time of great sickness and the people left their homeland and moved south. The Cheyenne call this the “ancient time” when the people were happy but were decimated by a terrible disease leaving the people as orphans.

They next settled in the marshy areas between Ontario and Minnesota and it was here that they learned farming from the other tribes in the area. The Cheyenne call this the “time of the dogs” when dogs were used as beasts of burden.

About 1635, the Cheyenne began their slow migration westward toward the Great Plains. Their migration may have been motivated or initiated in part by the westward expansion of tribes to the east including the Sioux, Iroquois and the Anishinaabe. The many villages that made up the Cheyenne did not move all at one time, but rather they moved piecemeal. Archaeological data suggests that it may have taken two centuries for all of the different groups to migrate west of the Mississippi River and into the Great Plains. By 1700 many of the bands were living in the Sheyenne River Valley in eastern North Dakota. Here they adopted the life-style of the farming tribes in that region which included living in villages made up of semi-subterranean earthlodges. They continued to farm corn, beans, and squash.

In the mid-1700s, the Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwa, and the Assiniboine pushed the Cheyenne farther west. The Cheyenne re-established themselves in the Black Hills area where they acquired the horse and became nomadic buffalo hunters. In the Black Hills, the Cheyenne encountered the Arapaho who had probably moved out of the Minnesota area ahead of them. While the Arapaho had moved into the Black Hills first, they did not view the Cheyenne as intruders, but welcomed them as friends. The two tribes intermarried and became confederated.

Pressure from the Teton Sioux toward the end of the eighteenth century pushed the Cheyenne even farther west. Once again, this migration was carried out piecemeal. By 1800, the Cheyenne still had some villages which were planting corn along the Missouri River. After 1825, the Cheyenne began to divide into a Northern tribe and a Southern tribe. The Southern Cheyenne continued their close association with the Arapaho while the Northern Cheyenne developed a close association with the Sioux.

At Fort Laramie in 1851, the Americans failed to distinguish between the Northern Cheyenne and the Southern Cheyenne. The Americans in their infinite wisdom assumed that there was only one Cheyenne tribe and “awarded” them a reservation in what would become Oklahoma.  The Southern Arapaho were also assigned to this reservation.

The Northern Cheyenne had no intention of moving to a reservation on the Southern Plains so they stayed in the north where they affiliated themselves with the Sioux. However, following the Battle of the Little Bighorn where the Sioux and Cheyenne defeated a surprise attack led by Lt. Colonel George Custer, the Northern Cheyenne were scattered as the Americans attempted to force them to move to the reservation. Finally, in 1882, the government moved the Northern Cheyenne under the leaders Two Moon and White Bull to a small reserve on Rosebud Creek and the Tongue River in Montana. This marked the beginning of the formation of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

Some Apache Ceremonies

While the movies and popular books (including some textbooks) speak of the Apaches as if they were a single American Indian nation, there are many different, distinct, and autonomous Apache groups. There are six major divisions of the Apache: the Western Apache, Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, and Kiowa-Apache. East of these is also divided into discrete groups.

The Western Apache include five groups: Cibecue, San Carlos, White Mountain, Northern Tonto, and Southern Tonto. While there was intermarriage between these groups, they considered themselves to be distinct from one another and had clearly defined territorial boundaries. The traditional territory of the Western Apache is in Arizona and ranges from as far north as Sedona to as far south as the San Pedro River Valley.

The Chiricahua Apache are south of the Western Apache in the mountains of southeastern Arizona. The term “Chiricahua” was coined by an anthropologist to refer to the autonomous tribes living in or near the Chiricahua Mountains. The word “Chiricahua” is actually of Ópata origin.

The Jicarilla Apache are divided into two bands: the Llaneros (the plains people) and the Olleros (the mountain-valley people). The Jicarilla borrowed culturally from the Plains tribes (especially the war and raiding complexes) and from the Pueblos (agricultural and ceremonial rituals).

The Eastern Apache include five groups: Gila, Mimbres, Coppermine, Warm Springs, and Mescalero.

Ceremonies are a part of the social and cultural glue that brings people together, allows them to pass on their heritage, and reinforces their sense of purpose. There are many different kinds of ceremonies including rites of passage—ceremonies which designate a change in social status such as the transition from child to adult—and healing ceremonies. A few Apache ceremonies are described below. There are no photographs, as photographs of spiritual events are often considered offensive to Native peoples.

Girls’ Puberty Ceremony:

Among the Western Apache the Girls’ Puberty Ceremony invests in young girls the qualities which are felt to be important for adulthood. The ceremony is known as Na’íí’ees which means “preparing her” or “getting her ready.” This is an elaborate ceremony which has consequences for the entire community. In the ceremony, the power of Changing Woman enters the girl’s body and lives there for the four days of the ceremony. The gift of Changing Woman is longevity and physical health. During the ceremony the people come together to reaffirm kinship ties and to benefit from the healing powers of the ceremony.

Among the Jicarilla Apache the ceremony is performed in a large tipi that faces east. During the four-day ceremony, the girl and her partner (an adolescent male of the same age) listen to sacred songs about tribal origins. The ceremony stresses the positive traits that people should imitate in their own lives.

Among the Chircahua Apache the Girls’ Puberty Ceremony is composed of a series of rituals which reinforce the basic values of Apache culture. During the ceremony, the girl is united spiritually and personally with the most revered of the Chiricahua’s ancestors, White Painted Woman. Chiricahua elder Elbys Naiche Huger notes:  “Here we say White Painted Woman, other Apaches might say Changing Woman or call this a Sunrise Ceremony.”

Cradle Ceremony:

 Among the Chiricahua Apache, the Cradle Ceremony is conducted four days after birth. The ceremony involves marking the child with pollen, presenting the cradleboard to the four directions, and then placing the child in the cradleboard. The ceremony is intended to ward off evil influences.

First Moccasin Ceremony:

 The Apache hold this ceremony to celebrate a child’s first steps. The ceremony is held at the new moon with the children wearing newly made outfits and their first moccasins. The purpose of the ceremony is to keep the children healthy and strong. The ceremony includes a feast and a gift give-away as well as songs, prayers, dances, and blessings with pollen.

Holiness Rite:

The Holiness Rite is an Apache long-life ceremony which is based on the story of Bear and Snake stealing two girls during the emergence of the People from the underworld. The girls were rescued and returned by the White and Black Gods. As a curing ceremony which relieves Bear and Snake sickness—that is illness which originate from Bear and Snake. The complex, four-day ceremony may treat up to 12 patients. During the ceremony, the patients are subject to treatments which are intended to frighten away the bear and the snake.

Among the Jicarilla, the Holiness Rite is also known as the Bear Dance and is usually performed for three days before and during the appearance of the full moon (for a total of four days). The ceremony cures bear, snake, and other sicknesses. The ceremony takes place in a large enclosure (about 80 feet in diameter) which has an opening to the east. Within the enclosure on the west side is a tipi which faces east. The patients are confined to the tipi during the ceremony.

Hoop Dance:

The Hoop Dance is a White Mountain Apache healing ceremony. During the ceremony, the sick person is seated on a blanket facing east. The dancers – one boy and one girl at each of the four cardinal directions – dance in toward the patient. The boys place their hoops over the patient’s head and the girls place the crosses which they carry over the patient’s head. This is repeated four times. Next, there are ceremonies involving the four directions in which the hoops are placed over the patient.

Lightning Ceremony:

The Lightning Ceremony is a White Mountain Apache ceremony which is done to protect the people from the danger of lightning. In addition, the ceremony brings the rain and insures good crops.

The Choctaw Indians

The Choctaw, at the time of European contact, were a loosely organized confederacy composed of three distinctly different divisions: Okla Falaya (Long People), Okla Tannap (People of the Opposite Side), and Okla Hannalia (Sixtown People). The people were living in more than 100 autonomous villages. While there is a stereotype that portrays Indians as “living by the hunt,” the Choctaw, like the other Indian nations in the Southeast, were farmers who had been cultivating corn for about 3,000 years. In addition to corn, they also raised beans, squash, sunflowers, and melons.

Choctaw agriculture was supplemented with some hunting and gathering of wild plants for food and fiber. While men generally hunted and women generally worked in the fields, this was not a rigid division of labor. There were times when the men helped with both the farming and the gathering of wild plants. It was not uncommon for girls to go with the men and boys on hunting expeditions. Older women usually stayed at home to tend the fields.


Choctaw oral tradition speaks of a time when they had lived to the northwest. However, their population increased and the game grew scarce which forced them to seek a new home. Their migration was led by Chahta (also spelled Chah-tah) who carried a magical staff. Each night when they camped, he would place the staff upright into the ground. In the morning, he would inspect it and then he would lead the people in the direction in which the staff leaned. At the ancient mound of Ninih Waiya (“Leaning Mountain”) near present-day Philadelphia, Mississippi, the staff remained upright in the morning. Thus it was here that the Choctaw settled. It was in this country that the Choctaw established their government.

According to one version of the story, a group of people led by Chikasa, Chahta’s brother, had camped on the other side of the creek. There was a heavy rain and flooding, following which the staff was still upright indicating that this is where the people were to stay. However, Chikasa’s party had proceeded on, not knowing that the promised land had been found. This is how the Choctaw and the Chickasaw became separate, though related, nations.

The Choctaw migration story tells that the people traveled for 43 years and that during this migration they carried the bones of the ancestors. The task of carrying the bones was a sacred duty and some were so overloaded that they would carry one load forward, deposit it, and then return for the remainder.

Another oral tradition says that the Indian peoples of the Southeast emerged from the underworld at the sacred hill at Ninih Waiya. The first to emerge were the Creek, who dried themselves in the sun and then went east. Next to emerge were the Cherokee who tried to follow the Creek but got lost and settled in the north. The third group to emerge was the Chickasaw who followed the Cherokee. The last group to emerge was the Choctaw who settled near the mound.

Another variation of the story tells that the Choctaw were the first to settle near Ninih Waiya following their migration. After a while, however, there were some internal disputes and some of the younger warriors and hunters abandoned the people to settle in distant regions. In this version, the other Southeastern nations—the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Shawnee, and Delaware—came from the main body of the Choctaw nation.

Material Culture:

The Choctaw lived in one-room houses built of either log or adobe and then covered with mud and bark. The houses, built by the men, were windowless and had dirt floors. The house had a central fireplace which provided heat and served as a cooking hearth.  Along the outer walls were raised beds.

The Choctaw made two basic kinds of pottery: a black polished ware and a less well-finished gray cooking ware. The black polished ware was sometimes decorated while the cooking ware was not polished or decorated. Decoration was done primarily by incising with a comb-like tool which produced three to six parallel lines.


 Like the other Indian nations of the Southeast, the Choctaw had matrilineal clans. That is, each person belonged to the clan—the named extended family unit—of the mother. While Europeans tend to be somewhat obsessed about paternity, seeing the father as the most important person in the family, most Indian nations did not have this obsession. This does not mean that paternity was not recognized, but that it was less important.

Government and towns

The local Choctaw towns—estimated at 40 to 50—were grouped into three districts: Upper Towns, Lower Towns, and Sixtowns. At the district level, chiefs were selected from the senior matrilineal clan in the district. While there was a mingo (leader) for each district, there was no single overall mingo. The position of mingo was not inherited.

The Choctaw national council meetings would be held in the village of a host mingo. All would assemble in the village square where the delegates would take their seats on two rows of wooden benches. After lighting a fire on top of the burial mound of the village, the host mingo would hold up the appropriate number of fingers to indicate the number of issues that the council was to consider. He would then take his seat.

During the discussions, unlimited speaking time was allowed each delegate. At the conclusion of the discussions, the host mingo would summarize the decisions. Speaking slowly and deliberately, he would pause at the end of each sentence. If what he said met with approval, the delegates would exclaim ma! (yes).

Choctaw women participated in the political system indirectly through their power in the matrilineal clans. It was generally recognized that if the women wanted a certain man to become chief, then that man was generally elected to the position.


Prophecy played an important role in the community of many Southeastern cultures. Prophets were recognized by the community and they served in a fashion similar to that of other spiritual leaders. Among the Choctaw, the prophets provided practical, political, social, moral, and spiritual guidance. Prophecy provided a symbolic link between today’s world and the future; between the people and the spirit world.


 Among the Choctaw, the dead body would be placed on a platform and covered with a bear skin. The poles would be painted red if the deceased were a person of some prominence. The platform would then be fenced and left for some time. Later, the body would be taken down and defleshed.


The Iroquois Peace, 1700 to 1713

Around the year 1451 five Iroquois nations—the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk—met to form the confederacy envisioned by the Huron prophet Deganawida. The five nations buried the instruments of war and planted a pine tree of peace. By 1700, the Iroquois Confederacy, commonly known as the League of Five Nations, was in between two rival European nations: the French and the English.

To the north of the Iroquois, the French sought to establish trading relations with the Indian nations, including the Iroquois. The French, who often spoke Indian languages, married Indian women, and dressed in Indian style, did not require their Indian business partners to change their cultures.

On the other hand the English, who occupied lands to the south and to the east of the Iroquois, felt that the extermination of the Indians, or at least of Indian cultures, was necessary to “tame the wilderness.” The English rarely spoke Indian languages, generally prohibited intermarriage with Indians, and viewed Indian religions as a form of “devil worship.”

The French and the English were traditional enemies, often fighting a religious war. The English, who were Protestants, strongly opposed French Catholicism which they viewed as an atheistic, evil religion.

In 1700, three French ambassadors traveled to Onondaga to speak to the Council of the League of Five Nations. They told the Iroquois that it was time for peace and that they wished to exchange prisoners and to place a Jesuit mission in Iroquoia. The sachems (a sachem is a chief in the Northeastern Indian nations) agreed to send a delegation to Canada to arrange for the peace and for the exchange of prisoners, but they would not agree to accept a Jesuit mission.

When the Iroquois attempted to release their French prisoners, however, many refused repatriation. They had been adopted into Iroquois families and refused to abandon their new lives. Only 13 French captives agreed to return.

Upon hearing about the French delegation to the Five Nations, the English governor of New York sent a representative to the Council to tell the Iroquois not to be deceived by the French. The Indians perceived the English message as one that challenged their sovereignty and implied that the English looked upon them as subjects.

The Iroquois felt that they could work the animosity between the French and English to their own advantage. In 1701, the Iroquois made two treaties: one with the British in Albany and one with the French in Montreal. These treaties began a policy of armed neutrality between the two contending European powers. In the treaty with the British, the sovereignty of the Five Nations over a vast tract of land along the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Huron was recognized. The King of England guaranteed Iroquois hunting in that area for their heirs and descendants forever. The Great Peace treaty with the French included 31 other Indian nations who were allied with the French. The two treaties marked the beginning of a period of material prosperity for the Iroquois. The Iroquois allowed trading posts only at the borders of their territories.

In 1702, war broke out between the French and the English in the form of Queen Anne’s War (War of Spanish Succession). Both the French and the English sought to keep the Iroquois neutral in this conflict so that the fur trade would not be interrupted. By remaining neutral, the Iroquois continued to trade with both and to maintain their dominant position in the fur trade.

In 1709, the British Governor met with four of the Five Nations (all except for the Seneca) to renew the Covenant Chain. The British told the Iroquois that they wanted them to take part in a military expedition against Canada. The Iroquois agreed to provide the British with 150 Mohawk, 105 Oneida, 100 Cayuga, and 88 Onondaga. However, the English war ships never arrived to supply the invasion and the war fizzled out before it began.

In 1710, Fort Hunter was built by the English in Mohawk territory. A wooden chapel was built within the fort and Queen Anne gave it a set of communion plates. The building of the chapel marked an intensification of Protestant missionary activity in the region. The following year, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts sent a missionary to Fort Hunter to convert the Mohawk.

 In 1712, the Iroquois Five Nations received wampum belts from the Tuscarora in the Carolinas. The Tuscarora asked for help in fighting the Catawba and the Virginia and Carolina colonists. When the governor of New York heard of the request, he warned the Iroquois not to get involved. The Iroquois promised to ask the Tuscarora to stop fighting if the governor asked the colonists to put down their arms. The French, however, convinced the Iroquois to send some warriors to aid the Tuscarora.

Queen Anne’s War between the French and English ended with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Under this treaty, the Iroquois were considered British subjects and trade was permitted with the western Indians by both the British and the French.

Traditional Native Concepts of Death

Many religious traditions, but not all, put forth an explanation about what happens after death. There are many religious traditions which claim there is an afterlife of some type, that death is not the end but is a transition. In some cultures the afterlife is seen as being similar to life, while in others there are several afterlife possibilities based on a person’s actions in this life.

It should be pointed out that in the several hundred distinct American Indian languages, there was no single world which could be translated as “religion.” This does not mean, as many Christian missionaries have assumed, that Indians did not have religion. Rather, it shows that religion was not a separate category of life but was closely integrated with the culture.

At the beginning of the European invasion, there was not a single Native American religion, but rather there were 500 religions. What this means is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to make broad generalizations about traditional American Indian beliefs about death.

One of the other problems or concerns in writing about Indian religions in general, and about traditional Indian concepts of death in particular, is that many of those who recorded these concepts did so through a Christian frame of reference. Many of the books written about Indian religions by non-Indians are really not about traditional religions, but are filtered through Christianity and Christian concepts. Concerning beliefs regarding an afterlife among Plains Indians, Sioux physician Charles Eastman writes:  “The idea of a ‘happy hunting-ground’ is modern and probably borrowed, or invented by the white man.”

For many American Indian cultures, the focus of religion, particularly the ceremonies, was on maintaining harmony with the world. The focus was on living in harmony today, not on death. For many Indians there was an awareness of death and a vague concept of something happening after death, but this was not dogmatic. They felt that they would find out when they die and in the meantime this is something they have no way of knowing anything about and therefore they should not waste time thinking about it.

While the Christian missionaries were fully convinced that all religions must have some concept of heaven and hell, some form of judgment after death, these were alien concepts to most American Indian cultures. The missionaries took this as additional evidence that Indians did not have religion. In their classic 1911 ethnography, The Omaha Tribe, Alice Fletcher and Francis LaFlesche report:  “There does not seem to have been any conception among the Omaha of supernatural rewards or punishments after death.”

Among many of the Indian nations in Massachusetts there was the idea that after death, the soul would go on a journey to the southwest. Eventually, the soul would arrive at a village where it would be welcomed by the ancestors. In a similar fashion, the Narragansett in Rhode Island viewed death as a transition between two worlds: at the time of death, the soul would leave the body and join the souls of relatives and friends in the world of the dead which lay somewhere to the southwest.

Among some of the tribes, such as the Beothuk and the Narragansett, it was felt that communication between the living and the dead was possible. Among the Narragansett, the souls of the dead were able to pass back and forth between the world of the dead and that of the living. The dead could carry messages and warnings to the living. Among the Caddo on the Southern Plains, the living could send messages to their deceased relatives by passing their hands over the body of someone recently deceased, from feet to head, and then over their own body. In this way messages could be sent via the deceased to other dead relatives.

One common theme found in many of the Indian cultures in North America is the idea of reincarnation. The idea that life and death are part of an ongoing cycle is found among many tribes. Sioux writer Charles Eastman reports:  “Many of the Indians believed that one may be born more than once, and there were some who claimed to have full knowledge of a former incarnation.”

In the Northwest Coast area, Gitxsan writer Shirley Muldon reports:  “We believe in reincarnation of people and animals. We believe that the dead can visit this world and that the living can enter the past. We believe that memory survives from generation to generation. Our elders remember the past because they have lived it.”

Among the Lenni Lenape, female elders would carefully examine babies, looking for signs of who the child had been in an earlier life. These signs included keeping the body relaxed and the hands unclenched and reacting favorably to places and things associated with the dead relative. Writing in 1817 about one Lenni Lenape man, Christian missionary John Heckewelder reported:  “He asserted very strange things, of his own supernatural knowledge, which he had obtained not only at the time of his initiation, but at other times, even before he was born. He said he knew that he had lived through two generations; that he had died twice and was born a third time, to live out the then present race, after which he was to die and never more to come to this country again.”

Reincarnation was often viewed as something that happened not just to humans, but to animals as well. Thus, a hunter would thank the animal that had just been harvested so that the soul of the animal would be reborn as an animal with good feelings toward the hunter and would therefore allow its physical form to be harvested again.

In many Indian cultures throughout North America, the names of the deceased were not, and in many cases are not, spoken. The deceased may be spoken about, but in an indirect way that does not use their name. Among the Navajo, the name of the deceased was traditionally not mentioned for one year following death. After this year, the name of the deceased was rarely mentioned.

The possibility of naming a place after a dead person was unthinkable and would have negative consequences for the soul of the deceased (see: Indians 101: Chief Sealth [Seattle]).