The Sioux Return

In 1876 the United States declared war on the Sioux in order to obtain the Black Hills in what is now South Dakota. Subsequently, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer led the 7th Cavalry in an attack on a Lakota and Cheyenne  camp at the Little Bighorn River and was soundly de¬feated. Following this defeat, the U.S. military launched a major campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne.

In 1877, Sioux leader Sitting Bull brought 135 lodges of his people north from the United States to find refuge in Canada. They settled in the White Mud River area of Saskatchewan. Here the Sioux found the buffalo in greater numbers than in the United States. To the Sioux, this appeared to be the promised land where they could continue their traditional lifestyle.  

Major James Walsh of the Northwest Mounted Police met with Sitting Bull and told him that the Sioux would now have to obey the queen’s laws and in return they would receive the queen’s protection. He warned the Sioux that they were not to return to the United States to hunt or to steal. The Mounted Police had a reputation for being fair in their judgments. Some of the Mounted Police, including Walsh, felt that the Sioux had been badly treated in the United States. Walsh had a genuine concern for the well-being of Sitting Bull and his people.

The following year, an additional 240 Sioux lodges sought asylum in Canada. The bands were under the leadership of Little Hawk and Fools Heart. The arrival of more Sioux in Saskatchewan was of great concern to the Canadian tribes, such as the Cree, Blackfeet, Piegan, and Blood, who had been enemies of the Sioux. It was the task of the Mounted Police to maintain the peace.

In 1880, Major James Walsh, the Northwest Mounted Police officer who had been dealing with Sitting Bull’s Sioux was reassigned. N.F. Cozier replaced him and began to pressure the Sioux to return to the United States. He persuaded the young Sans Arc Sioux leader White Eagle of the futility of staying in Canada.

The Sioux leader Gall was the first to lead his people back to the United States. In 1880, Gall led his people south into Montana to the Poplar River Agency (now the Fort Peck Reservation). They camped in a wooded site across from the agency. Gall’s band was soon joined by a Sans Arc band under the leadership of Spotted Eagle. This increased their camp from 38 lodges to 73 lodges. In response to the gathering of these “hostile” Sioux bands, the army sent a force of 400 soldiers from Fort Keogh under the command of Major Ilges.

It is interesting to note that when the Sioux entered Canada, they were met by a single police officer who was successful in maintaining the peace. In the U.S., the Sioux were met with a show of overpowering military force.

Gall took the initiative and asked for a council with the major. In this council, Gall indicated that he was reluctant to give up his old way of life. While the major lacked specific instructions on dealing with Gall, he insisted that Gall and his people were going to move to Fort Buford in three days. Gall explained that he could not surrender because to do so would be to face certain starvation. While surrendering to the army might have provided the Sioux with rations, Gall did not trust the army and would rather risk starvation as a free man. He was aware that the Sioux and Assiniboine at the Fort Peck Agency were destitute and that starving Indians refused to live there.

Following the council with Gall, the Sioux warrior Crow then requested a council with the major. Crow and his warriors made it clear to the major that Sitting Bull was their chief and that they were going to wait to see what Sitting Bull was going to do.

In 1881, Army troops with three-inch Rodman guns prepared to attack the Sioux camps of Gall and Crow King near the Poplar River Agency. The soldiers crossed the frozen Missouri River and found one camp with 32 lodges that was almost deserted. A short time later they reached Gall’s camp of 40 lodges and found it deserted. In what was later called the “Battle of Poplar River,” the Army bombarded the Sioux villages with artillery fire. Soon, the Sioux began to trickle out of the thickets to surrender. The term “battle” is perhaps a misnomer for this encounter.

In spite of deep snow and bitter cold, the Army marched the three hundred captives-men, women, and children-to Fort Buford in North Dakota. The walk took four days.

Sioux leader Low Dog and 20 lodges of his people surrendered at Fort Buford. They were shipped by steamboat to Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota.

A few months later, Sitting Bull and 187 members of his Lakota Sioux band returned south and surrendered to United States authorities at Fort Buford. When they boarded the steamer at Fort Buford, they believed they were going to be taken to Fort Yates near the Standing Rock Reservation so that they could be reunited with their families. At Fort Yates, however, they were told that they were to be transported to Fort Randall where they were to be confined as prisoners. The army was afraid that Sitting Bull would stir up trouble among the Indians at the agency. They spent 20 months at Fort Randall and were then allowed to return to the Standing Rock Agency.

Sitting Bull 1

Thus in 1881, most of the Sioux refugees had returned to the United States and surrendered to the American army. The old hunting way of life was now over and the Sioux would have to settle down to life on the reservation.

Sitting Bull 2

Ancient America: The Mayan Ball Game

The Mesoamerican ball game was played throughout Mesoameria-Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras. In addition, a version of the game was played by the Hohokam in Arizona and there is evidence of the games (stone yokes) found in the Caribbean islands. For the Maya, the ball game was culturally and ritually important. Most major Maya centers have a ball court.

Chichen Itza

The ball court at Chichén Itzá is shown above.

The earliest Mayan ball courts are in the lowlands-in Belize at Cerros and Colha. These ball courts were constructed after 400 BCE. By 200 CE, the ball game occupied a central place among the Maya elite. This was often a political game with religious overtones. Masonry ball courts are always located close to the central core of the monumental architecture of the lowland Maya sites.

The ball game was a team event played on a special court with a solid rubber ball. The size and weight of the ball varied from site to site and through time. Some archaeologists have suggested that the size of the ball was determined by the size of the hole in the stone scoring ring mounted on the side of the ball court. The ball could be up to eight inches in diameter (about the size of the modern volleyball) and could weigh nine pounds or more.

The clothing of the players-primarily determined from the art work of the time period-included a thick girdle or yoke worn around the waist. This provided some protection from the ball and was probably also used for striking the ball with more force. Some images show the players with chest protectors which had been inserted in the yoke and stood upright in front of the chest. Some of the players also wore kneepads, and some are shown with the pad only on the right knee.



The players also wore helmets: the images of helmeted players have been misinterpreted by popular pseudoarchaeologists as aliens from other planets.

For the Maya, the ball game was more than a sporting event. Sometimes it was a substitute for warfare. At times, human sacrifice was associated with it. This may have been the sacrifice of the losing team.

Ball Game Sacrifice

The carving above shows human sacrifice at a ball game.

The rules of the game seem to have varied from place to place. The ball players could use only their head, shoulders, and hips to hit the ball. The two teams of players faced each other lined up parallel to the long axis of the playing field.

The courts are generally between 49 and 115 feet in length, 10 to 39 feet in width. They are demarcated by two parallel platforms. Sometimes the platforms are banked as if to accommodate seating; at other times they are bounded with sharply vertical walls. Usually a stone ring is anchored to the side wall about 6.5 to 10 feet off the ground. The interior diameter of the ring is between 8 and 16 inches. Shooting the ball through the ring gives an instant win.

Cross Section

The size of the ball court does not seem to be related to the relative importance of the Maya city: the powerful Maya city-state of Tikal has a relatively small ball court. On the other hand, one of the largest ball courts is at Chichén Itzá in Yucatan. Here the court is 551 feet in length and 229 feet wide.

The Mayan site of El Tajín has over a dozen ball courts (more than 17) which have been uncovered by archaeologists.


The ball court at Uaxactun is shown above.

modern ball player

A modern ball player is shown above.

The Lake Mohonk Conference

Wealthy people often feel that they know what is best for poor people. From 1883 through 1916, a small group of wealthy philanthropists, who referred to themselves as Friends of the Indian, met annually to discuss American Indian policies. As wealthy men, they had access to Congress, to the President, and to high ranking members of the government. This meant that their recommendations carried more weight than that of the Indian leaders.

The idea of having an annual meeting to discuss Indian affairs and then make recommendations to the government was initially the idea of Albert K. Smiley, a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners and a part owner of the Lake Mohonk Lodge. The annual meeting took the name of its meeting place and was called the Lake Mohonk Conference.  

In general, the conferences envisioned the transformation of Indians from savages to citizens by three means: (1) breaking up the reservations, (2) making Indians citizens and subject to the laws of the states, and (3) education of the young to make them self-reliant.

The men who gathered each year tended to be well educated, financially secure (most were considered wealthy) and had been born into the upper classes of eastern U.S. society. They often viewed their participation in the conference as a part of their larger Christian obligation to bestow the blessings of Christianity upon all of the under-developed people of the world. While these reformers were genuinely concerned about justice for Native Americans, they were unremittingly ethnocentric. To them, the Indian cultures-the tribal languages, values, religion, social models, communal ownership of the land, the aboriginal lifestyle-was an anathema to modern civilization.

The eastern philanthropists who met at Lake Mohonk had rather mystical faith in the value of private ownership. They felt that private ownership of property had the power to transform the Indians into people more like themselves.  Believing in the sanctity of the private ownership of land, they had little understanding of Indian culture and little concern for the actual living conditions of Indians.

In their 1884 meeting, the Lake Mohonk Conference recom¬mended that Indian education must teach the English language; that it must provide practical industrial training; and that it must be a Christian education.

The following year, Lyman Abbot, a well-known Congregational clergyman, called for the end to the reservation system. He told the Lake Mohonk Conference:

“It is sometimes said that the Indians occupied this country and that we took it away from them; that the country belonged to them. This is not true. The Indians did not occupy this land. A people do not occupy a country simply because they roam over it.”

Like most Americans at this time, he was apparently unaware that Indians had been farmers and had developed their land long before the arrival of the Europeans.

Speaking at the Lake Mohonk Conference in 1886, Philip C. Garret, a member of the executive committee of the Indian Rights Association, called for the destruction of the distinctions between Indians and non-Indians. This destruction is stopped by treaties and he asked that the treaties be set aside:

“If an act of emancipation will buy them life, manhood, civilization, and Christianity, at the sacrifice of a few chieftain’s feathers, a few worthless bits of parchment, the cohesion of the tribal relation, and the traditions of their races; then, in the name of all that is really worth having, let us shed the few tears necessary to embalm these relics of the past, and have done with them; and, with fraternal cordiality, let us welcome to the bosom of the nation this brother whom we have wronged long enough.”

In 1890, a group of Indian policemen had gone to arrest the Sioux Sitting Bull because of rumors that he had intended to attend the Ghost Dance at the Pine Ridge Reservation. After a short skirmish, Sitting Bull was killed by Little Eagle. At the next Lake Mohonk Conference it was reported that all of the policemen were Christian and Sitting Bull was pagan. According to the Conference:

It was the supreme struggle of Paganism against Christianity, and Paganism went down.  That is the second reason why there is this wonderful progress in this religious movement.

The 1896 Lake Mohonk Conference called for the abolition of the tribal system and for Indians to become citizens. At this time, many Indians were not citizens and the only way that they could become citizens was to accept an allotment of land and to be eventually deemed “competent” by the Indian agent.

Occasionally, the Friends of the Indians did more than just talk about Indian issues. In 1902, the Mohonk Lodge was opened in Oklahoma to stimulate the art of the women in the surrounding tribes – primarily Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache. The store, first proposed by Christian missionaries at the Lake Mohonk Conference, provided the women with hides, beads, paints, and other materials at cost. When the items were completed, they were sold back to the store to provide the women with cash. In addition to new art items, some family heirlooms, such as cradles, were also sold to the Mohonk Lodge.

At their 1903 conference at Lake Mohonk in New York, they discussed: (1) the abolition of the Indian Bureau and all Indian agencies; (2) the extinction of all Indian tribal governments; and (3) the division of communal tribal land holdings among individual Indians.

While the philanthropists who met at Lake Mohonk strongly believed in the breaking up of the reservations through the allotment of the tribal lands to individual Indians, most Indians actively opposed allotment. In 1906, for example, the White River Ute expressed their displeasure with allotment by attempting to leave the reservation. The army made a strong show of force and “persuaded” them to return to the reservation under military escort. Speaking about the Ute situation at the Lake Mohonk Conference, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs recommended not feeding them:

“It was not the government’s fault that they took the course they did in order to get into a place where they could live in idleness and eat the bread of charity. If they persist in that course they will be made to understand what the word ‘must’ means.”

His words were met with a round of applause

Toward the end of its existence, the Lake Mohonk Conference began to turn its attention to the Indian situation in Oklahoma. With allotment and statehood, the tribal governments were now powerless and the utopia envisioned as coming about through privatization had not materialized. Instead, the non-Indians’ greed had no limits. In 1914, Indian reformer Kate Barnard spoke to the group. As a result both the Lake Mohonk Conference and the Board of Indian Commissioners began to work for increased federal protection for the Oklahoma tribes.

At the same time, the Lake Mohonk Conference embarked upon an anti-peyote campaign.  They suggested that the federal prohibition of intoxicating liquors be expanded to include peyote. In this way more sanctions could be brought against the new Indian religious movement without the appearance of suppressing religion.

The last annual meeting of the Lake Mohonk Conference of the Friends of the Indian was held in 1916. The conference organizer and resort owner, Albert Smiley, had died in 1912.


Prelude to War, 1855

In 1855, Washington Territorial governor Isaac Stevens set out to prepare the territory for an influx of American settlers. In order to make way for these settlers, the American government had to obtain title to the land from the Indian Nations who owned it and to move the tribes out of the way of the settlers and the railroad that would open up the territory.  

The American negotiators met with tribal leaders near present-day Walla Walla. Governor Stevens brought with him the plans to establish two reservations: one reservation was to be located in Nez Perce country for the Nez Perce, Cayuse, Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Spokan; the other reservation was to be in Yakama country for the Yakama, Palouse, Klikatat, Wenatchee, Okanagan, and Colville. The rest of the area could then be purchased by the government and a railroad built through the area. The lands which Stevens had selected for the reservations were those which the American settlers would not want, lands which offered little agricultural potential, and which were out of the way of the railroad.

Stevens quickly found out that most of the tribal leaders disliked his proposal, so he then proposed a scheme with three reservations. The third reservation was to be in Umatilla country for Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla.

Upon arriving at the treaty council, the Nez Perce put on a show of horsemanship and dancing. Governor Stevens and the other Americans failed to recognize the significance of the Nez Perce entrance. According to the Nez Perce Tribe:

“Our Nez Perce ancestors were not only honoring him as an important person: they were also demonstrating that the Nez Perce are a strong and important people who expect to be treated as equals.”

Stevens told the Indian leaders that there were some “bad” Americans who made trouble for the Indians, but east of the mountains the Great Father had taken measures to help his “Indian children” by moving them across a great river where they were away from the “bad” Americans. He carefully omitted any mention of the coercion, starvation, death, and misery that accompanied the Indian removal which the Cherokee called the Trail of Tears. The Americans were apparently unaware that the Indians of the Plateau had been told the story of the Trail of Tears for years by the Iroquois, the Delaware, and the Plains Indians. Delaware Jim, for example, had lived with the Nez Perce for many years and gave them a different account of the removal of the eastern Indians.

Stevens told that Indians:

“We want you and ourselves to agree upon tracts of land where you will live; in those tracts of land we want each man who will work to have his own land, his own horses, his own cattle, and his own home for himself and his children.”

The Indian leaders were not in agreement about the American proposals. They are angered by the arrogant and haughty manner in which the proposals were presented. Peopeo Moxmox, one of the Walla Walla leaders, told the Americans:

“You have spoken in a manner partly tending to evil. Speak plain to us.”

Cayuse chief Howlish Wompoon told the Americans:

“Your words since you came here have been crooked.”

The Nez Perce leader Lawyer told his people that the agreement with the Americans would protect their villages from the Americans and that without it, the Americans would simply take their lands.

Joseph pleaded for the inclusion of his peoples’ Wallowa valley in the Nez Perce reservation. Joseph, leader of the Wallamwatkin band, did not sign the treaty, saying that no one owned the earth and that one could not sell what one did not own. The American government, on the other hand, proceeded with the convenient legal fiction that the Nez Perce band, because they all spoke the same language,  must be a single political entity with tribal leaders recognized by the United States who could represent the tribe as a whole. Writing in 1878, Duncan McDonald put it this way:

“Not being able to gain to his aim the consent of any of the real chiefs, Governor Stevens, a man of much ability and few scruples, cut the Gordian knot for the government by providing a chief freshly manufactured for the occasion.”

The man chosen by the United States to be the supreme chief of the Nez Perce was Lawyer, who was regarded by the Nez Perce as a tobacco cutter (a sort of undersecretary for Looking Glass, Eagle of the Light, Joseph, and Red Owl). Duncan McDonald, who was Eagle of the Light’s nephew, put it this way:

“In other words, for certain considerations he was prevailed upon to sign away the rights of his brethren-rights over which he had not the slightest authority-and although he was a man of no influence with his tribe, the government, as if duty bound on account of his great services, conferred upon him the title and granted him the emoluments of head chief of the Nez Perces.”

Many of the Nez Perce, particularly those who were not Christian, strongly felt that Lawyer did not have the right, or the ability, to speak on their behalf, let alone sign an agreement which would bind them to anything.  

One of the interpreters for the treaty conference later reported that Governor Stevens ran out of patience with the negotiations and tells the Indians:

“If you do not accept the terms offered and sign this paper (holding up the paper) you will walk in blood knee deep.”

Stevens made many grand promises to the Indians during the treaty negotiations, most of which were not included in the actual treaties. For example, Stevens promised the Indians that they would not have to move onto the reservations until one year after the treaty was ratified by the Senate. However, the treaty contained a clause that guaranteed

“the right to all citizens of the United States to enter upon and occupy as settlers any lands not actually occupied and cultivated by said Indians at this time, and not included in the reservation.”

As soon as the treaties were signed, however, Stevens informed the newspapers that the lands were now open for immediate settlement.

The Americans had come to the treaty conference with a prepared treaty which they had intended to impose upon the Indian nations. The treaty commissioners displayed remarkable ignorance or disregard of tribal political structures. They arrogantly lumped fourteen distinct tribes into one nation under the name ‘Yakama’ and declared Kamiakin as its head chief. The treaty declared that the Yakama, Palouse, Pisquouse, Wenatshapam, Klikitat, Klinquit, Kow-was-say-ee, Li-ay-was, Skin-pah, Wash-ham, Shyiks, Ochechotes, Kah-milt-pah, and Se-ap-cat were to be considered as one nation. Many of the Columbia River tribes had not been present at the council. While Stevens claimed that Kamiakin had signed the treaty on behalf of the fourteen tribes, Kamiakin claimed that he only made a mark of friendship for himself.

While the Palouse knew that the treaty council was being held at Walla Walla, they made a conscious choice not to attend. From an Indian viewpoint, if they do not attend the council and participate in the discussions, they would not be bound by any decisions that are made. Unfortunately, the American government did not hold the same view.

Three Palouse chiefs-Kahlotus, Slyotze, and Tilcoax-attended the council in an unofficial capacity and played no role in the official meetings. They observed and spoke with leaders from other tribes.

Twelve days after the treaties were signed at Walla Walla, the newspapers in Washington and Oregon announced that the land east of the Cascade Mountains was now open for American settlement. The announcement, made with the approval of Governor Stevens, ignored the fact that the treaties had to be ratified by the Senate and proclaimed by the President before they could be legally binding and that the Indians had been promised that there would be no American settlement for two or three years. This set the stage for the wars which would sweep across eastern Washington for the next few years.

American Indian Biography: Sarah Winnemucca

In 1879, Sarah Winnemucca, a Paiute from Nevada and the daughter of Chief Winnemucca, gave a series of lectures in San Francisco and Sacramento on the treatment of Indians by the Indian Service. Five years later her autobiography, Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, was published. Winnemucca then traveled throughout the country giving lectures on the conditions in Indian country, often charging the government with mismanagement of Indian affairs. Sara Winnemucca became the most recognized Indian woman of the late nineteenth century.

Sarah Winnemucca

With regard to Paiute women, Sarah Winnemucca wrote:

“The women know as much as the men do, and their advice is often asked. We have a republic as well as you. The council-tent is our Congress, and anybody can speak who has anything to say, women and all.”

She also described women warriors who fought alongside their husbands.

Sarah Winnemucca was born about 1844 in western Nevada. Her father was Winnemucca, sometimes called Old Winnemucca by historians. Her Paiute name was Tocmectone (Shell Flower). When she was about 10, she went with her mother and siblings to live with her grandfather, Truckee, on a ranch near San Jose, California. In 1860, she attended St. Mary’s Convent School in San Jose for a short time. After a month in the school, she was discharged because the non-Indian parents objected to having Indians in the school.

In 1866 some of the Paiute bands in the Snake River region under the leadership of Paulina and Weawea rebelled against the United States. The U.S. military asked Sarah and her brother Naches to come to Fort McDermitt, Nevada to discuss the relationships between the Paiute and the government. She was also asked to help persuade her father to bring his people to the Pyramid Lake Reservation. With her knowledge of both English and Paiute, she was hired by the army as their official interpreter to the Shoshone and Paiute.

In 1870, she travelled to San Francisco where she met with General John Schofeld. She then went to Gold Hill, Nevada where she met with Senator John Jones. In both meetings she complained about the mistreatment of the Paiutes by the Indian agents. Both General Schofeld and Senator Jones, however, claimed that this problem was not under their jurisdiction.

After the Paiute were forced to move to the Malheur Reservation in Oregon, Sarah became friends with the Indian agent, Samuel Parrish. She felt that his agricultural program was beneficial to the Indians. She acted as his interpreter and also taught in the local school.

Four years later, the new Indian agent fired Sarah because she had complained that the teacher and other employees were cheating the Indians at cards. The new agent also told the tribes that the reservation did not belong to the Indians but to the government. Under the new regulations, the Indians had to work for $1 per day and with this money they were to buy their food and clothing from the government store. If the Indians did not like the new policies, they could leave.

During the 1878 Bannock War, Sarah was hired by General O.O. Howard as an interpreter. She also helped the army track the Bannock from southwestern Idaho into eastern Oregon. She persuaded her father and about 75 of his people to escape from the Bannock camp and to the safety of an army post. In spite of her aid to the army, the peaceful Paiute were relocated to the Yakama Reservation in Washington.

When she arrived in San Francisco to deliver her public lectures, the newspapers headlined her as “Princess Sarah.” The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

“Sarah has undergone hardships and dared dangers that few men would be willing to face, but she has not lost her womanly qualities, and succeeded during her visit in coaxing into her lap two little timid ‘pale-faced’ children, usually shy of strangers, who soon lost their fear of her dark skin, won by her warm and genial ways. She speaks with force and decision, and talks eloquently of her people. Her mission, undertaken at the request of Chief Winnemucca, is to have her tribe gathered together again at their old home in Nevada, where they can follow peaceful pursuits and improve themselves.”

One columnist wrote:

“The lecture was unlike anything ever before heard in the civilized world-eloquent, pathetic, tragical at times; at others her quaint anecdotes, sarcasms and wonderful mimicry surprised the audience again and again into bursts of laughter and rounds of applause.”

In her public lectures in San Francisco and Sacramento, Sarah argued that the peaceful Paiute had a right to return to the Malheur Reservation. When federal officials got word of her negative criticism of the Indian Service, they brought Sarah, her father, and other Paiutes to Washington, D.C. Here she talked with federal officials and again made the case for mismanagement. She argued for the rights of her people to return to the Malheur Reservation and manage their own affairs. While the Secretary of the Interior agreed that the Paiute have the right to return to the Malheur Reservation, the necessary funding for the return was not provided.

While in Washington, the Indian Office did its best to keep newspaper reporters away from Sarah. After one reporter managed to get an interview, she was called into the office of the Secretary of the Interior and told:

“I don’t think it will be right for you to lecture here after the government has sent for you, and your father and brother, and paid your way here. The government is going to do right by your people now. Don’t lecture now; go home and get your people back on the reservation; get them located properly; and then if you want to come back, … we will pay your way here, and back again.”

To counteract the negative publicity generated by Sarah Winnemucca, countercharges about her good character were soon circulated. The Indian agent from the Malheur Reservation claimed that Sarah Winnemucca was a notorious, untruthful, drunken prostitute. Her military friends, including General Howard, however, defended her.

In 1881 a Paiute delegation, which included Sarah Winnemucca, met with President Rutherford B. Hayes. President Hayes came into the room and pontificated about Indian assimilation. The entire meeting lasted for about five minutes.

In 1881, General Howard gave Sarah a job teaching Indian children at the army post in Vancouver, Washington.

From 1883 to 1884, she toured eastern cities giving about 300 lectures on Indian rights. Her lectures included “The Indian Agencies” and “The Indian Question as Viewed from an Indian Standpoint.” During this time she met a number of notables, including Mary Tyler Mann (the widow of Horace Mann), Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (Mary Tyler Mann’s sister), Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Senator Henry Dawes. Her book, Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, would be edited by Mrs. Mann.

She returned to Nevada and in 1885 opened a school for the Paiute in Lovelock. The school had financial support from a group of non-Indian women in the east as well as the government. Among those who supported the school was Miss Elizabeth Palmer Peabody in Boston, who raised money in Sarah’s behalf by various public appeals. The school was often called the Peabody Indian School in honor of its benefactor. She operated the school for three years.

The Indian Rights Association inspected the school and reported that Sarah Winnemucca had no claim to Paiute leadership. The Association accused her of a variety of “immoralities and vices.”

Sarah Winnemucca died in 1891 at her sister’s home in Henry’s Lake, Idaho. The New York Times printed her death notice and a review of her life. Colonel Frank Parker wrote:

“She was the only Indian on this coast who ever took any prominent part in settling the Indian question, and as such her memory should be respected.”

General O.O. Howard wrote:

“She did our government great service, and if I could tell you but a tenth part of all she willingly did to help the white settles and her own people to live peaceably together I am sure you would think, as I do, that the name of Toc-me-to-ne [or Shell-flower] should have a place beside the name of Pocahontas in the history of our country.”  

Statue of Winnemucca

The Kyi-Yo Powwow (Photo Diary)

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Powwows, a celebration of American Indian identity and culture, are held throughout North America. Powwows are held on reservations as well as off-reservation. A number of powwows are held at universities, often put on by the Native American students. What follows are simply some photographs of the 2011 Kyi-yo powwow held at the University of Montana.

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American Indian Books: Helen Hunt Jackson

In 1879, a Ponca chief, Standing Bear, captured the popular imagination when he left the reservation in Oklahoma in order to bury the bones of his son in traditional Ponca land. Standing Bear and his people were arrested, and in a trial, Standing Bear versus Crook, was released. Following the Standing Bear versus Crook decision, newspaper editor Henry Tibbles arranged a six-month lecture tour of eastern cities for Standing Bear. In the lecture tour, Henry Tibbles would speak first, and tell what had induced him to take up the cause of the Ponca and Omaha. He would then introduce Standing Bear whose words would be translated by Bright Eyes. Standing Bear would tell a simple story of the inhumane treatment suffered by his peaceful tribe. Finally, Bright Eyes would address the audience. In Boston, Standing Bear’s lecture was attended by Helen Hunt Jackson, Senator Henry Dawes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and other notables.  

Helen Hunt Jackson

For Helen Hunt Jackson, the wife of a wealthy banker and railroad executive, Standing Bear’s speech was a pivotal point in her life. From this time until her death in 1885 she devoted her life to writing about Indians and advocating for their rights.  

As an outgrowth of public sentiment about the forced removal of the Ponca from their homelands, the Boston Indian Citizenship Association was formed by Massachusetts Governor John D. Long, Helen Hunt Jackson, and Senator Henry L. Dawes. The new association sought long term solutions based upon the recognition of treaty rights and citizenship.

In 1881, Helen Hunt Jackson wrote A Century of Dishonor. The book detailed the plight of the Indian people and criticized government treatment of the Indians. The book provided a legal brief on Indian land rights, followed by seven tribal histories and a chapter on the massacre of Indians. She wrote:

“The history of the United States Government’s repeated violations of faith with the Indians thus convicts us, as a nation, not only of having outraged the principles of justice, which are the basis of international law; and of having laid ourselves open to the accusations of both cruelty and perfidy; but of having made ourselves liable to all punishments which follow upon such sins-to arbitrary punishment at the hands of any civilized nation who might see fit to call us to account, and to that more certain natural punishment which, sooner or later, as surely comes from evil-doing as harvests come from sown seed.”

The tribal histories include The Delawares, The Cheyennes, The Nez Percés, The Sioux, The Poncas, The Winnebagoes, and The Cherokees.

In her conclusion, she wrote:

“It makes little difference, however, where one opens the record of the history of the Indians; every page and every year has its dark stain. The story of one tribe is the story of all, varied only by differences and time and place; but neither time nor place makes any difference in the main fact.”

A copy of the book was sent to every Congressman. Her hope was to awaken the conscience of Congress and the American people with the story of the government’s mistreatment of the Indians. While the book gained some readership, both Congress and the general public were less than enthusiastic about it.

For her next project, Helen Hunt Jackson went to southern California where she did an in-depth study of the plight of the Mission Indians. Her 56-page report was completed in 1883 and submitted to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The report recommended that existing reservations be resurveyed and properly marked and that non-Indian squatters be removed. The report also recommended that a law firm be hired to serve as special attorneys in cases involving the Mission Indians. While a bill embodying her recommendations passed the Senate, it died in the House.

In order to reach a wider audience, Helen Hunt Jackson decided to write a novel. Working in a New York hotel room, she completed the work in about three months. Her historical novel Ramona was published in 1884. The book was intended to do for California Indians what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for the slavery issue. The book reached a wide audience-15,000 copies were sold in the first ten months-and gained some critical acclaim. The novel has had more than 300 printings and has been made into four movies.

Encouraged by the success of Ramona, she planned to write a children’s story about Indian issues. However, she died in 1885 before she could complete it.

Helen Hunt Jackson 2

Indians 101: The Powwow

Eagle Staff

It begins with the drums. This is the signal for the dancers to enter into the dance arbor, usually led by dancers carrying the eagle feather staff. This marks the Grand Entry which starts each powwow session. This is a powwow: the most common form of Indian celebration.

The powwow itself is not a religious or spiritual ceremony; nor, in its current form, is it a particularly “ancient” celebration. The powwow is a public celebration and demonstration of community pride in Indian culture and a way of honoring Native American heritage.

Eagle Staff 2

Following the eagle staffs, carried by Fancy Dancers in the powwow shown above, are the flags-American, Canadian, tribal, MIA, state (this varies from powwow to powwow). At many powwows, following the flags are the “royalty” and other dignitaries.


The dancers continue to file in-it is not uncommon for a grand entry to take a half an hour-until all dancers have entered the arbor.

Powwow 2009 1

On the other hand, for many people – dancers, drummers, and spectators – the powwow is also a spiritual experience and a spiritual ceremony. Many begin their participation in powwow by smudging: cleansing and spiritually purifying themselves, their dance regalia, and their drums with the smoke from sage or sweetgrass.


During the Dark Ages of American Indian Religious Freedom (1880 to 1934), the Indian Office (the current Bureau of Indian Affairs) and the local Indian agents discouraged all types of Indian dancing as barriers to civilization. Christian missionaries to the reservations often complained that Indian dances “inflamed animal passions and the immoral and uncivilized people.” Indian agents were told by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to prohibit Indian dancing as such activities were deemed to be injurious to the moral welfare of the Indians.

The Baptist field matron for the Kiowa-Commanche Reservation in Oklahoma condemned powwow dancing in 1915:

“These dances are one of the breeding places of illegitimate children, which is becoming the shame of the tribe.”

The new superintendent for the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana addressed his concerns over Indian dances in 1917 by stating:

“I recommend the policy of repression and at the same time instruction to show the uselessness of these practices.”

On the other hand, non-Indian tourists had an interest in seeing the Indians dance. While Indian dancing was discouraged on the reservation, non-Indian groups often invited Indians to put on dances in off-reservation venues as a part of celebrations intended to attract tourists.

In 1911, for example, Colorado Springs, Colorado invited a group of Ute to be a part of an exhibition at an 8-day carnival. The Indians performed dances and other ceremonies that were discouraged at their reservation. The events, while not favored by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, were popular with those attending the event.

In spite of attempts to eradicate Indian dances, the dances continued. In the off-reservation venues, the dancers would often be from different tribes and thus a kind of pan-Indianism developed in which the powwowsa were not a celebration of one particular Indian culture, but of Indianness in general.

FVCC 2009

Contemporary Powwows:

At the present time, there are powwows held in all fifty states and in most of the Canadian provinces. Some are held on reservations and reserves, while others are held in places such as universities and colleges. Some powwows are held in conjunction with tribal casinos.

People dance at powwows for many reasons. Some dance because they are Indian and this is a way of celebrating their heritage. Powwows are a time for renewing friendships, for seeing family and friends, for coming home.

Some dance because they earn money in the contests. Many large powwows run dance contests and some dancers travel a powwow circuit, dancing at different powwows each weekend, and earning enough money through their winnings to stay on the road.

Some dance because of their personal spiritual beliefs and vision. It is not uncommon for Indians in the process of recovery from alcoholism and/or drug addiction to dance as a way of spiritually reinforcing their sobriety.

FVCC 2009 2

Grand Entry

Trad Dancer 1

The Nez Perce in Exile

The 1877 Nez Perce War ended with the Battle of the Bear Paw in Montana. After a five-day siege the five non-treaty bands of Nez Perce surrendered with the understanding that they were to be sent to the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. A total of 418 Nez Perce surrendered: 87 men, 184 women, and 147 children. Among those who surrendered was Halahtookit (Daytime Smoke), the son of Captain William Clark, and his daughter and granddaughter.

Following their surrender, the Nez Perce were taken to Kansas as prisoners of war. Here they asked the army to take them to Idaho. They pointed out that General Miles had promised them that they could return home. General Sherman, however, denied their request saying:

“These Indians are prisoners and their wishes should not be consulted.”

In 1878, Congress appropriated money for the permanent resettlement of the non-treaty Nez Perce bands to Oklahoma. The Nez Perce, who were considered to be prisoners of war, were transported from Leavenworth by train and then by wagon to lands purchased from the Peoria and Miami tribes. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs assured Congress that the climate of Oklahoma was similar to that of the Nez Perce homelands in Idaho and Oregon.

On the first day of their journey, the Nez Perce were herded into an open field near a railroad siding. In temperatures hovering near one hundred degrees they waited in the open for the train. When it didn’t arrive, they spent the night in the open.

The following year, the government encouraged three young Nez Perce Presbyterians-James Reuben, Mark Williams, and Archie Lawyer-to travel from their Idaho reservation to Oklahoma so that they could preach to the exiled Nez Perce who were being held there as prisoners of war. The bands which had been at war with the United States were pagan, and many were followers of the Wanapan prophet Smohalla. If the Nez Perce prisoners were to move to the Nez Perce Reservation they would have to give up their pagan ways.

In 1879, Nez Perce leaders Chief Joseph and Yellow Bull and their interpreter traveled to St. Louis and then to Washington, D.C. In Washington, Chief Joseph addressed a packed house at the Lincoln Hall auditorium. For an hour and twenty minutes he told the audience about the history of his people, about the many broken promises, and about the problems they were having in Oklahoma. Chief Joseph and Yellow Bull spoke to a large group of cabinet members, congressmen, and diplomats. Joseph’s account of the causes of the war and their difficulties in Oklahoma were eloquent and moving. An interview with Joseph was also published in the North American Review. With this publicity, Joseph became the popular symbol among non-Indians for Nez Perce heroism.

Chief Joseph

While they were in Washington, the Nez Perce were also granted a meeting with President Rutherford B. Hayes. They returned home hopeful that the government would fulfill some of its promises to them.

Chief Joseph 1880

Shown above is Chief Joseph and family in 1880.

In 1880, Nez Perce Presbyterian leader Archie Lawyer organized a church among the exiled Nez Perce. At the same time, James Rueben opened a day school which had an average attendance of 80 students.

In 1883, a few of the Nez Perce prisoners of war-two elderly men and the rest women and orphans – were allowed to return to the reservation in Idaho.  The government refused to appropriate any money for the move so the Nez Perce raised the money themselves by selling gloves, moccasins, and foodstuffs.  

Finally, in 1884, the Nez Perce who had been exiled to Oklahoma for their 1877 war were allowed to return to the northwest. They were given a choice of going to the Nez Perce reservation in Lapwai, Idaho where they would have to become Christians or going to the Colville Reservation in Washington. Nez Perce warrior Yellow Wolf reported that they were asked:

“Where you want to go? Lapwai and be Christian, or Colville and just be yourself?”

According to Yellow Wolf:

“Because we respected our religion, we were not allowed to go on the Nez Perce Reservation.”

Chief Joseph and the members of his band were not allowed to choose and were required to go to the Colville Reservation.

The Lapwai Reservation in Idaho was a Presbyterian-administered reservation, and as such it was not an environment conducive to the practice of the old ways and beliefs. Those who wished to live as Christians would be welcomed, but those who wished to practice any of the old ways faced some danger. Among the Nez Perce captives, 118 chose to go to Lapwai.  

On the Colville Reservation, those who wished to practice the old religion would be welcome. On the Colville Reservation the Nez Perce would be free from the oversight of the churches and Indian agents committed to their Christianizing and civilizing. Here they would be able to retain their traditional ways.

On the trip home, the train stopped in Pocatello where it was to be divided: taking some Nez Perce to Lapwai and some to Colville. As the train was stopped in Pocatello, U.S. Marshals attempted to arrest Chief Joseph for murder. Instead of dividing at Pocatello, the train continued through to Wallula Junction.

On the Colville Reservation, the Nez Perce settled in Nespelem territory. There was some friction as the Nespelem resented that the Nez Perce were settled on their land without their consent.

The non-Indian response to the return of the non-treaty Nez Perce to the Nez Perce Reservation raised a demand to re-garrison Fort Lapwai. One editor wrote:

“Isolated as we are and surrounded as we are by the most powerful tribe of Indians in the Northwest, the people of north Idaho have a right to demand from the government protection for their lives.”

After being settled on the Colville Reservation, Chief Joseph continued being a popular icon among non-Indians. In 1897, Chief Joseph was taken to New York City to participate in a parade for the dedication of Grant’s Tomb. He was invited to Madison Square Garden to watch Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. When Buffalo Bill realized that he was in the audience, he rode over and paid his respects.

In 1900, Chief Joseph, who was still a prisoner of war, was allowed by the government to visit the Wallowa Valley. He visited the grave sites of his parents and wept openly. The Americans who were now living in the valley, however, jeered him. They denigrated his spiritual connection to the land and they viewed his claims as antiquated and delusional.

In 1901, Pendleton Wool Company in Oregon produced its first catalog entitled The Story of the Wild Indian’s Overcoat which featured a picture of Chief Joseph arrayed in a Pendleton robe on the cover. In its catalog and its advertising, the company made an effort to describe native customs and traditions.

In 1903, Chief Joseph met with President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington, D.C.. At a buffalo dinner, Chief Joseph explained the situation of his people. He was promised by the President that someone would come to investigate the matter. It was another empty promise.

In 1903, railroad magnate James J. Hill invited Chief Joseph to give a speech in the Seattle Theater. Chief Joseph told the packed audience:

“The government at Washington has always given me many flattering promises but up to the present time has utterly failed to fulfill any of its promises.”

Chief Joseph died of a heart attack on the Colville Reservation in 1904. Some people say that he died of a broken heart.

Ancient America: 1,500 Years Ago

A thousand years before the Spanish invasion of the Americas began, American Indians were living throughout North America. Furthermore, they had lived on this continent for many thousands of years before this.

There was no single, unified American Indian culture: people adapted to the many different environments of North America in many different ways. One of the technological innovations that began to spread into many parts of North America at this time was the bow and arrow, which was often used alongside the atlatl. Here are some of the events and developments happening circa 500 CE. The names of the archaeological sites mentioned are not the names which Indian people 1,500 year ago used: they are contemporary names given to them by archaeologists and others.  

Northwest Coast:

By this time the villages along the Northwest Coast were producing huge food surpluses which allowed for a cultural emphasis on wealth and social stratification.  Among these villages was the Makah village of Wa’atch.

On the San Juan Islands in Washington, the era which archaeologists call the San Juan Phase began. This was characterized by a decrease in the number of chipped stone tools. Archaeologists note that the people were not making as many stone tools and that they may have shifted to an even greater dependence on objects made of wood.

At this time, Indian people occupied the English Camp site on the San Juan Islands. Their discarded shells began to form a large midden. The people at this site were building square houses with ridges of shells piled around three of the walls.

Indian people living near the shore on the San Juan Islands were dumping material into the intertidal zone. This dumping was purposeful. It created additional landscape on which to build more houses.

Indian people also occupied the Fossil Bay site on Sucia Island.


Warfare among the Chumash in California seems to have increased. This happened at a time when the bow and arrow were becoming more widely accepted. Some archaeologists have suggested that the bow and arrow may have triggered major changes in the way people interacted with one another. The shift from spears to arrows is very apparent in victims who died after this time.

In California, the Washo began to replace the atlatl and dart with the bow and arrow. They began to use bark slab houses instead of pit houses. Intensive seed gathering and the hunting of small mammals, such as rabbits, became more important than big game hunting.

Also in California, the Costanoan moved into the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas from the San Joaquin and Sacramento River areas. Linguistic evidence indicates that the Costanoan people were then in contact with speakers of a Hokan language that shared some vocabulary with ancestral Pomoan and Esselen.

In northeastern California Indian people began painting rocks with polychrome designs. The paintings included insects, triangles, zigzags, sun disks, human figures, and some animal figures.

In the Great Basin area of eastern California large village types were developed which appear to have been influenced by the Pueblos in Arizona and New Mexico.

Great Plains:

In the northern Plains area of Alberta and Saskatchewan (Canada), Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas, hunting technology changed with the adaptation of the bow and arrow which replaced the atlatl.

On the northern Plains, two major Athapaskan migrations occurred about this time. One group went eastward to Hudson Bay (the ancestors of the Sarcee) and the other began a southern migration (the ancestors of the Navajo and Apache.)

In Wyoming, the Indian people at the Wardell Site near present-day Big Piney began using pottery. They were using plainware jars with pointed bottoms.

In Missouri, Indian people at the Zebree site were using primarily wild plant foods. They were, however, raising some sunflowers. In other parts of Missouri, however, Indian people were cultivating a variety of indigenous plants, including maygrass, little barley, sumpweed, and erect knotweed. During this time period, the Native peoples in riverine southeastern Missouri were engaged in a mixed farming economy that included all of the indigenous crop plants but not corn. Wild plant resources remained important food sources.


The Plateau culture area is the region between the Cascade and Rocky Mountains in eastern Washington, northern Idaho, western Montana, southern British Columbia, and northern Oregon.

In southeastern British Columbia and northwestern Montana, the period which archaeologists call the Warex Phase begam. There were two varieties of projectile points (i.e. spear points) which were similar to Plains Avonlea points.

In the southern Plateau area of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, people began building long houses. These long houses were erected over an excavated area which could be up to one meter deep. The superstructure was a pole frame which was covered with bark and woven reed mats.

In British Columbia, Indian people in the Fraser-Thompson River area were making small carvings in various media. They were making small anthropomorphic and zoomorphic steatite figurines, carved steatite pipes and pendants, small anthropomorphic antler figurines and carved antler hafts.


In the southwest, the Basketmaker people acquired the bow and arrow. This did not replace the atlatl, but was used in addition to it. They also began growing the common brown bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) and cotton. The cotton seeds were used as food. They were also raising domesticated turkeys.

In Arizona, Basketmaker people were now living in the Grand Canyon area.

In Colorado, Indian people began making and using pottery. The pottery tradition seems to have been introduced from the Eastern Woodlands, as it appears first on the eastern prairies and is similar, both stylistically and technically, to Eastern Woodlands pottery.

In Arizona, the Hopi Bear Clan established the village of Shungopavi. Other clans, such as Bluebird and Strap, soon joined the Bear Clan in the village.

In Arizona, the increasing importance of maize agriculture among the Hohokam is seen in the construction of above-ground storerooms, improved pottery, better stone grinding tools, and the increase in the use of irrigation.

In Arizona, the era which archaeologists call the Estrella phase of the Hohokam begins. The phase was marked by red-on-gray pottery which has a thick red line on a gray background. Some of the bowls were decorated by artificially enhancing the grooves between the pottery coils on the outside.

In Arizona, the Hohokam established a small pithouse village in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains at the site of Romero Ruin near present-day Tucson.

In Utah, people from Mesa Verde began to settle in the Hovenweep area.

In New Mexico, Indian farmers in the Upper San Juan area were now making small pottery vessels, effigies, and pipes. While archaeologists consider these people to be Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan), there may have been some influence from the Mogollon culture. Mogollon culture, however, was 150 miles away.

In New Mexico, a Mogollon pithouse village was established at La Gila Encantada near the present-day city of Silver City. The people were doing some farming as well as hunting big game and gathering piñon nuts.


In Georgia, Indian people built a figure of piled stones near present-day Eatonton. The Rock Eagle Effigy Mound has a wingspread of 120 feet.

In the Upper Apalachicola area of Florida, Indian people were raising corn and squash, but were still relying on gathering wild plants and hunting for most of their subsistence.

Great Lakes Area:  

In Western Michigan, the period which archaeologists call the Spring Creek tradition began at the Zemaitis site. At this time the ceramics were fairly thick, cordmarked, and had little decoration.

New England:

In Rhode Island, Indian people constructed a feature on a promontory overlooking an oceanic bay. The feature was a large rectangular enclosure which had a ditch adjacent to a bank of stone and earth. While non-Indian people later named this feature Ninigret’s fort, there is no evidence that any battles were fought here or that it was in fact a defensive structure.

In Vermont, the underground chamber in present-day Putney was in use.  

Gold and the Nez Perce

It is often said that the European invasion of the Americas was driven by three things: Gold, Glory, and God. Gold-fever often resulted in genocide or displacement of Indian nations. Concepts of law, of morality, of respect for others usually disappeared when gold was discovered on Indian land. One example of this can be seen on the Nez Perce land in Idaho in the 1860s.  

The Nez Perce reservation in Idaho was created at the 1855 Walla Walla treaty council. The treaty with the Nez Perce clearly indicated that no American was to be allowed on the reservation without the consent of tribal leaders and the Indian agent.

In 1860, a group of ten American miners invaded the Nez Perce Reservation without the permission of the Indian agent or the Nez Perce chiefs. They made a rich gold discovery on Canal Gulch and then they claimed that the gold was found east of the Nez Perce Reservation, a claim they knew was false.

The following year, more than a thousand gold seekers invaded Nez Perce land in direct violation of the 1855 treaty. The superintendent of Indian affairs met with the Indian agent for the Nez Perce Reservation who recommended that the Nez Perce treaty be modified to allow the gold miners to stay. The Americans then met with Nez Perce chief Lawyer and his followers who agreed to sell the land around Pierce and Oro Fino. The area was opened to occupation in common with non-Indians and was for mining purposes only. The new treaty clearly indicated that the traditional root grounds and agricultural areas were to be for the exclusive use and benefit of the Indians.

In signing the new treaty, Nez Perce leader Lawyer reminded the Americans that the Nez Perce had not yet received any of the funds promised them in the 1855 treaty. The Americans promised to look into the matter and speed up payment.

The treaty was sent to Washington and was  eventually ratified. Congress eventually appropriated only forty thousand dollars to pay for the land and there is no record that this money ever reached the Nez Perce. In the 1862 Senate debate regarding appropriations for the Nez Perce in Idaho, Senator J.W. Nesmith said:

“Treaties are written out conveying away millions of acres, not one word of  which the Indians understand; and complicated articles involving the most abstruse legal provisions, furnishing subjects for interminable litigation, are fully explained and elucidated by some ignorant half-breed interpreter, who does not know one letter from another, but who acts under the direction of some politician, who desires to win his way to public favor by perpetrating a huge swindle upon those who have neither power or intelligence adequate to their own protection.”

Less than a month after the signing of the treaty, Lewiston, Idaho was founded in flagrant violation of the treaty. After some unsuccessful attempts to get the squatters to leave, Lawyer agreed to the building of a wharf and warehouse provided that no other permanent structures were built at the site. The Nez Perce had farms in the bottom area and wanted to retain this land. A few months later, however, the Americans laid out a permanent townsite.

Near the present-day town of Stites, Koolkool Snehee (Red Owl) encountered a group of miners and informed them that they were in violation of the treaty. After a long discussion, some of the prospectors returned to Oro Fino, but others snuck around the Indians and into the mountains. They later returned to announce their new gold strike and within a couple of months more than 2,000 miners had illegally invaded the area.

In 1861, the non-treaty Nez Perce under the leadership of Eagle-From-the-Light returned from visiting the Shoshone in the Weiser area and found that mining camps had been established in direct violation with earlier agreements. Eagle-From-the-Light quickly found that the American authorities refused to act in the matter, so he called a council in  which he proposed an alliance with the Shoshone to drive the miners out. Red Owl and other Nez Perce leaders refused to go along with this idea. Eagle-From-the-Light gathered his people, vowed not to be a slave to the Americans like the other Nez Perce bands, and departed for Shoshone country in the south.

In 1862, the U.S. military held a grand council with the Nez Perce to propose stationing troops on the Clearwater River to protect the Indians from the lawless miners who were invading their territory. The Nez Perce chiefs attending the council included Lawyer, Joseph, and Big Thunder. As a result of the talks, a new military post, Fort Lapwai, was established near the village of Thunder Eyes. However, rather than being used to force the illegal squatters off Nez Perce land, the military tended to support the American squatters and create anxiety among the Nez Perce.

In 1862, an estimated $7-10 million in gold was taken from Nez Perce lands by non-Indian miners. It was estimated that there were about 15,000 miners on Nez Perce land in open defiance of their treaty. Some of the miners called upon the American government to move the Nez Perce to some other location.

With regard to the Nez Perce treaty, General Benjamin Alvord reported in 1862:

“Even now, at the end of seven years, I can find but few evidences of the fulfillment of the treaty. Lawyer has never received but six months of his salary as head chief, and the house with which he was to be provided has but just been commenced. Few of their annuities have ever reached them.”

In 1862, the Nez Perce received the first of the annuities promised them in the 1855 treaty. The payment was only $6,396 and Lawyer realized that he and his people were being cheated. He complained to the Americans, who simply ignored him.

With the passage of the Idaho Territorial Organic Act in 1863 Congress created Idaho Territory. With the creation of this new territory came increased pressure against the Nez Perce: the miners had their own politicians who could force federal actions against the Indians on behalf of the miners.

In 1863, the Americans met once again with the Nez Perce to negotiate a new treaty with them which would reduce their reservation. According to the American negotiators, this would “protect” the Nez Perce from illegal settlement. During the treaty council Nez Perce chief Lawyer talked to the Americans about breaking the treaty. He said:

You have broken the treaty, not we. When you broke through the treaty, it did not make my heart sad or sore, I only wondered why you did it. Now, I am called on to look upon this proposition of yours after the Americans have broken the treaty so often.”

The American Indian agent addressed the council:

“We come as your friends, to advise with you, and to arrange for the preserving of your rights. As your friends we propose to you to relinquish to the United States a part of your present Reservation, and to take a new Reservation, smaller than the one you now hold. We also propose that on this new Reservation, each man or family shall have a piece of land in their own right [severalty], in their own name, just as the Americans do.”

He also said:

“We intend to act with perfect justice towards you, in the sight of God.”

In the treaty, the Nez Perce gave up nearly 7 million acres and retained only 785,000 acres for themselves. Fifty-one Nez Perce men signed the treaty. No leaders from outside the reservation area signed. None of these signing the treaty lost any land. One of the American participants in the council, Captain George B. Curry, reported:

“Although the treaty goes out to the world as the concurrent agreement of all the tribe, it is in reality nothing more than the agreement of Lawyer and his band, number in the aggregate not a third part of the Nez Perce tribe.”

The army commander at Fort Lapwai on the Nez Perce reservation was sent the following order:

“you are directed to protect-with a strong hand, and in the most-prompt-and vigorous manner, the Indians from all encroachments and aggressions.”

The army commander is also ordered to prevent the sale of liquor to the Indians.

In 1863, prior to the ratification of the treaty by the U.S. Senate, the lands ceded by the Nez Perce treaty were opened for American settlement.

Like many other Indian nations, the Nez Perce found that the discovery of gold on their lands was a curse rather than a blessing. Rather than benefitting from its riches, gold meant a loss of land and demonstrated to them to them the meaning of greed, a cultural value that was alien to Nez Perce traditions.

In 1881, the Secretary of the Interior wrote:

“There is nothing more dangerous to an Indian reservation than a rich mine.”

Ancient America: Rock Art

For thousands of years Indian people left evidence of their presence on the land with rock art: pictographs and petroglyphs. Pictographs are created by painting on rock surfaces with natural pigments while petroglyphs are pecked, carved, or abraded into the surface of the rock.

Rock Art

Pictographs 1

Pictographs are usually found under protective ledges or in caves where they have been protected from the weather. In producing pictographs, Indians used natural pigments such as iron oxides (hematite or limonite), white or yellow clays and soft rock, charcoal, and copper minerals. These natural pigments were mixed to produce a palette of yellow, white, red, green, black, and. In mixing the powdered mineral pigments into paint, organic binders were used. This included a combination of fluids such as plant juices, eggs, animal fat, saliva, blood, urine, and water. This pigment, when freshly applied, actually stains the rock surface.  As natural weathering evaporates the water or organic binder with which the pigment was mixed, it actually seeps into microscopic pores of the rock by capillary action. Thus the pigment becomes part of the rock. The pigments were generally applied by finger painting.

Cave site

Shown above is Pictograph Cave near Billings, Montana.


Petroglyphs are usually found on sandstone or basalt. These stones have a dark surface or patina which has formed slowly as a result of weathering and microbial/chemical alterations. By pecking or carving the stone, this patina is removed and the lighter-colored unweathered stone is exposed. This creates a visual contrast.


In the Pacific Northwest, pecking was the most common method of creating petroglyphs: the rock surface was repeatedly struck with a sharp piece of harder stone to produce a shallow pit that was then gradually enlarged to form the design. Hammer and chisel stones would be used to gain greater control.

Over time, petroglyphs will darken, or repatinate, as the weathering process continues on the rock surface. However it can take hundreds to thousands of years for the process to completely repatinate the petroglyphs, depending on microclimatic factors at specific sites.

One of the problems with regard to rock art is attempting to determine what these symbols mean. Symbols are an important part of culture and when they are taken out of the context of the culture in which they were created, it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand what they meant to the people who created them.


Some rock art sites appear to have been associated with the vision quest. Following a vision quest, the supplicants would paint a pictograph to commemorate the experience. Sites used to commemorate the vision quest experience are usually in relatively inaccessible, isolated areas like those chosen for vision quests. The symbolism at these sites often shows humans, animals, sun symbols, dots, crosses, and geometric abstracts.

Some rock art sites may have been associated with hunting magic and ceremonies. Among most of the North American tribes, it was felt that animals had spirits controlling their behavior. Therefore, certain rituals would be carried out prior to the hunt in which the animal spirits would be asked to allow that some animals be taken for the good of the human group.

Bear Power

It is not always possible to determine the age of rock art. However, archaeologists are able to assign rough time periods to many sites. In some instances this can be done stylistically: for example, in what is now the U.S., the portrayal of horses on a rock art panel means that it was made after the Indians acquired horses.

Horse Pictograph


Indians 101: Grey Lock’s War

While King Philip’s War is probably the best-known Indian war of colonial Massachusetts, there were a number of other Indian wars during the colonial period. One of these was the war against the Abenaki which started in 1722. This was not just an “Indian” War, more importantly it was a religious war: it was a war fought by the Protestant English colonists against the hated, “evil,” and “atheistic” Catholics.

The colonial Puritans were staunchly anti-Catholic and were particularly opposed to the activities of the Jesuit missionaries among the Indians. They were particularly upset that Father Sebastian Rasles (also spelled Rale), a French Jesuit priest, was strongly encouraging the Abenaki to defend both their lands and their culture against the English colonists. Thus, in 1722, Massachusetts governor Samuel Shuttle declared war on the Abenaki. This war is called Drummer’s War, Grey Lock’s War, Lovewell’s War, or Father Rasles’ War.  

The Abenaki:

The Abenaki – a corruption of the Innu (a neighboring tribe) word which refers to “the people of the dawn land” – are a group of loosely related Algonquian-speaking people who have lived in the New England area for thousands of years. The Abenaki include the Sokoki on the middle and upper Connecticut River, the Cowasuck farther upriver, the Missisquoi on Lake Champlain, the Pennacook in New Hampshire’s Merrimack Valley, the Pigwacket in the White Mountains, the Androscoggin of western Maine, the Penobscot, Wawenock, and Kennebec of Maine. The Abenaki Confederacy – or WAbenaki Confederacy, as it is sometimes called – also includes the Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Micmac. WAbenaki is sometimes used as a collective term for the eastern Algonquian language communities of Abenaki, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot.

At the time of the first European contact, there were an estimated 30,000 Abenaki people living in northern New England and the Maritime Provinces.

The War:

Massachusetts forces (the New England Rangers) set out to find and kill the infamous Father Rasles in 1722. They attacked the village of Norridgewock, plundering the Catholic church and ransacking Father Rasles’ cabin. While the Jesuit priest eluded the English, the raiders claimed that they found letters in his strongbox which proved that he was an agent of the French government and was supplying arms and ammunition to the Indians.

In 1723, Grey Lock (also recorded as Gray Lock and Greylock), a Woronoco living in the village of Missisquoi, led some Abenaki raids against the English settlements in Northfield and Rutland, Massachusetts. Colonial cavalry and scouts were unable to find the raiders.

Massachusetts built Fort Drummer in 1724 in response to Grey Lock’s raids. In spite of the Fort, Grey Lock struck again. The raid was successful even though the colonists had advance notice that the Indians were coming. Massachusetts sent out a force of Rangers to find Grey Lock, but he eluded them and continued raiding deep into Massachusetts.

As a result of his successful raids, Grey Lock was given the name Wawanolet (also spelled Wawanolewat and Wawanotewat) which means “he who fools others” or “he who puts someone off the track.”

The Massachusetts colonial army attacked the Norridgewock (an Eastern Abenaki group). Father Rasles was killed and his corpse was mutilated.

Death of Rasles

A depiction of the raid on Norridgewock and the death of Father Rasles is shown above.

In 1724, an English force of 87 men under the leadership of John Lovewell attacked a small Indian camp, killing ten people. The English scalped the dead and then returned home to collect the bounties.

Encouraged by his success and the easy money from the bounties, Lovewell immediately embarked on a summer campaign accompanied by forty-seven volunteers.  This time, however, the English were ambushed and Lovewell killed.

In retaliation for Grey Lock’s raids, Captain Benjamin, considered an “experienced’ Indian fighter, raised a force of 59 men and set out in 1725 to attack Grey Lock’s home town of Missisquoi. The force returned after a month without encountering any Indians, only to find that Grey Lock had followed them. Grey Lock spent the summer raiding Massachusetts settlements.

Finally, in 1726, the Abenaki signed a peace treaty ending the war. Grey Lock returned to the village of Missisquoi, but never signed the treaty. Grey Lock died about 1750 at about 80 years of age.  

Books About Indians: The 17th & 18th Centuries

During the 1600’s and 1700’s, the European invasion of North America intensified. With the growing interest in the continent and its aboriginal inhabitants, numerous books were published describing the Native peoples, their customs, histories, religions, and languages. Some of these books were based on personal observations, while some were simply speculation. Some of these books were intended to justify the European sense of superiority over the American Indians and to provide motivation to continue their conquest of the continent. A few of these books are described below.  

Indian Descriptions:

Indians, from a European perspective, were seen as exotic people, often described as being without religion and government, and sometimes being described as being in league with Satan. Books describing Indian life and customs often reflected a sense of European superiority.

Garcilaso de la Vega chronicled the De Soto expedition using the accounts of three men who were on the expedition. The book, published in 1605, described the Indians of Florida building the houses of chiefs on mounds which stand 28-42 feet high and which are capable of holding 10-20 dwellings.

Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan; or New Canaan, Containing an Abstract of New England, published between 1632 and 1637, contained three parts: (1) “The Origins of the Natives; their Manners and Customs,” (2) “A Description of the Beauty of the Country,” and (3) “A Description of the People.” In the book he mentioned the various powers of the Indian medicine men and the ways in which they had to prove their powers.

In 1643, a young Dutchman, Adriaen van der Donck, set out to observe the New York countryside and the Indian people. When he returned to the Netherlands in 1652, he put together his careful observations into a book manuscript, A Description of New Netherland. While he obtained a license to publish it, publication was delayed as the government did not want to draw attention to the colony, fearing that the English might invade.

New Netherland Cover

Van der Donck arranged his observations thematically with sections devoted to the natural environment (waters, woodlands, plants, minerals, winds, and seasons) and the Indians. With regard to the plants raised by the Indians, he was fascinated with the watermelon and wrote:

“When really ripe and sound, it melts away to a juice as soon as it enters the mouth, and nothing remains to spit out but the pips … they are so refreshing and often served as a beverage.”

New Netherland inside

Van der Donck had learned some of the Indian languages spoken in New York and classified the languages of the region as falling into four different language groups.

Van der Donck observed the Native medicine men and marvelled at their abilities. He reported:

“they can treat gonorrhea and other venereal diseases so easily as to put many an Italian physician to shame.”

While van der Donck’s book is a fairly accurate description of seventeenth century New York and the Indians which inhabited the area, it has been generally ignored by most American historians as it was written in Dutch rather than English.

New Netherrland Map

Shown above is the map of New Netherlands which van der Donck published.

New-Englands Rarities Discovered, written by John Josselyn, was published in 1672. The book is based on Josselyn’s observations of the Eastern Abenaki in Maine. The work tended to be critical of the Puritan hegemony at Massachusetts Bay and therefore John Josselyn’s writings were criticized by his contemporaries. The book is criticized by modern scholars for his occasional credulity.

In New York, Dr. Caldwallader Colden published his A History of the Iroquois Nations in 1727. He wrote:

“The Five Nations are a poor Barbarous People, under the darkest Ignorance, and yet a bright and noble Genius shines thro’ these black clouds.”

Indian Histories:

Where did the Indians come from? This was a question often asked by the Europeans. Ignoring, or perhaps unaware of, the Indian accounts of their origins, the Europeans attempted to fit Indian histories into their own mythologies of the Garden of Eden, the Jewish Diaspora, and other stories. For example, in a 1642 book entitled On the Origins of the Native Races of America, Hugo Grotius concluded that the Indians are the descendants of Germans and Chinese.

One of the common beliefs among Europeans was that the Indians were descendants of a Jewish tribe.   In Jewes in America, or probabilities that the Americans are of that race, published in 1650, Thomas Thorowgood made a comparison of Jewish and Indian cultures in an attempt to prove that Indians were really Jewish. He suggested that Indians were descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel. He cited the similarity between Indian and Jewish rites, knowledge of the flood, dancing, and circumcision. Two years later, in Americans no Jews, or improbabilities that the Americans are of that race Sir Marmon l’Estrange pointed out that the features mentioned by Thomas Thorowgood were general human customs and not evidence that Indians were Jews.

French naturalist Georges de Buffon began publication of a multi-volume work entitled Histoire Naturelle in 1749. In this work American Indians are described as being degraded and Indian men subject to impotence. He sees Indians as lacking families which, in turn, renders them incapable of establishing a true society.

In the book History of the American Indians (published in 1775), James Adair, an Indian trader, claimed that Indians were descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Like many others of this time period, he felt that Indians had to have originated in the Garden of Eden and the best way to fit them into Christian history was to make them descendants of groups mentioned in the Bible.

Adair had lived with the Chickasaw for seven years and much of his book appears to have been written while he was living with them. The book provides minute descriptions of Indian life that could only be supplied by one who had spent considerable time observing the Indians. While the title of the book suggests a broad overview of Indians, it was actually an account of only those tribes with which he had had a personal experience. He felt that the Chickasaw were a typical American Indian tribe and seemed to be unaware of the great variety of Indian cultures. Like many other colonists, he had a stereotype that all Indians are the same.

James Adair

In 1797, Benjamin Smith Barton’s New Views of the Origins of the Tribes and Nations of America was published in Pennsylvania. According to Barton, Indians had once been a part of an ancient civilization which had declined over a long period of time. Therefore, it was impossible for them to advance toward civilization (defined as Euro-American society) without substantial help from the European-based civilizations.

Religious Books:

Some of the early books looked at American Indian religions, usually from a viewpoint that these religions were inferior and that the Indians needed to embrace Christianity and European cultural traits in order to become civilized. Another theme that runs through some of the works is the conflict between the Protestants and Catholics.

In Christenings Make Not Christians, Roger Williams, in 1645, provided an argument against converting Indians to Christianity. He felt that the majority of Christians were unconverted and were as heathen as Indians. He argued that Protestants should abstain from Indian missionary work until they succeed among their own people.

In 1702, Magnalia Christi Americana written by Cotton Mather presented the origin story of the Puritans in New England. Contrasting the English Protestant approach to Indian land with that of the Spanish Catholics, Mather wrote that the English

“would not own so much as one foot of land in the country, without a fair purchase and consent from the natives that laid claim unto it.”

Mather fails to mention the several thousand New England Indians who were annihilated by disease before the arrival of English colonists.

Captive Stories:

While it was common for the Europeans to capture Indians and take them back to Europe as either curiosities to be displayed like zoo animals or as slaves, Europeans found it shocking that Indians also took European captives. However, it was not uncommon for the European captives to refuse repatriation after living with the Indians. In 1700, for example, the Seneca agreed to give their French war captives back, but many of the prisoners had been adopted into Seneca families and refused to abandon their new lives. Only 13 French captives agreed to return to Canada.

In 1609, an English translation of the account of Juan Ortiz’s dramatic rescue from death by Ulalah, the daughter of Hirrigua Chief Ucita was published. This account seems to have inspired John Smith to write a similar story about his rescue by Pocahontas in Virginia.

In 1682, Mary Rowlandson published her account of her captivity by the Nipmuc. The book is entitled Soveraignty and Goodness of God. Over time this book has become considered a foundational work in American literature and sections of it are often included in literature anthologies. It is one of the most widely read accounts of King Philip’s War.

Rowlandson Cover


Louis Hennepin published his account of his travels and of being captured by the Sioux in 1697. While the work was widely read, Hennepin’s extravagant claims are not fully reliable.

John Williams published his book The Redeemed Captive in 1707. This is an account of his capture at Deerfield in 1704. His story of salvation from heathenism (Indian) and Catholicism (French) made the book a bestseller.  


In 1632, Roger Williams wrote a small treatise which questions the English colonists’ rights to appropriate Indian land under the authority of a royal patent. Colonial officials demanded a retraction. William’s work has been described as a “large book in Quatro” and no copies of it have survived. The circumstances surrounding its disappearance are considered a mystery. This small treatise apparently provided sufficient justification for the English colonists to have it destroyed.

Indians were portrayed as “children of the devil” in the 1677 book The Present State of New-England, Being a Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians written by William Hubbard. The map which accompanied the book reduced the Indian presence in the area by assigning non-Indian names to the features shown. The book and its map were a litany of the various acts for which Indians are deemed responsible-burned barns, slaughtered stock, and human massacre. The book was basically a propaganda piece justifying the eradication of the Indians from New England.

In his 1787 Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States, John Adams recommended that political leaders pay attention to the governmental structures of Indian nations, particularly the separation of political powers and their democratic legislative structure.

The Ancient Past:

When the first Europeans began to arrive in the Americas, they did not come to a New World, but an ancient one. Native Americans had lived here for thousands of years. All around them, the newcomers saw evidence of this antiquity and many made attempts at explaining it. Some of these explanations were based on the authors’ fantasies of European superiority and Christian accounts of creation. There were, however, some which were based on scientific observations.  

With regard to scientific observations, there are some people today who feel that Thomas Jefferson should be considered as the Father of American Archaeology for his excavation and observation of Indian mounds. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson published his Notes on the State of Virginia which examined the origins of native people in the area. The book includes a description of his excavations of an Indian mound near his home. Jefferson felt that American Indians had arrived at this continent from Asia, that they had arrived speaking only one language, and that, once here, their language had divided into a thousand different languages. He also postulated that Indians have been on the continent for an immense length of time. His views were attacked and he was called “a howling atheist.”


Notes on the State of Virginia was the only full-length book written by Jefferson.

In a 1787 book by Benjamin Smith Barton, the great mounds in Ohio were claimed to have been built by Vikings rather than Indians. These Vikings, according to the author, then journeyed south where they became the Toltecs. This was a common belief during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and actually endures among some people today.

It wasn’t just the Vikings who were credited with bringing “civilization” to North America. A book by John Williams, published in 1791,  An Enquiry into the Truth of the Tradition Concerning the Discovery of America by Prince Madog ab Own Guynedd about the Year 1170, supported the idea of Welsh-speaking Indians living in the interior of the Americas. Many European explorers anticipated finding Welsh-speaking Indians, and even in the twentieth century popular accounts of Indians claimed that some groups, such as the Kootenai in Montana, must be related to the Welsh.


Some of the English colonists studied the Indian languages, usually for the purpose of providing aids to missionaries. In some instances, writers simply provided a vocabulary list. In 1634, for example,   New England’s Prospects, written by William Wood, contained a description of the region’s natural history and native peoples. It included a five-page vocabulary of words and phrases.

The most important of the books on language was A Key Into the Language of America written by Roger Williams and published in 1643. The book is a phrase book and guide to Indian customs based on his experience among the Narragansett in Rhode Island. The book is organized into three parts: (1) Narragansett words and phrases, (2) geography and natural history, and (3) an account of Indian cultural institutions. Williams saw the origin of Indians as either Jewish or Greek. This was the first extensive book on Native American language which was published in English.

In the book, Williams contrasted Indian culture with European culture. Williams attacked some of the common stereotypes of Indian inferiority and pointed out that Indian cultures often had more civility and Christ-like spirit than did the European cultures.

In 1787, Jonathan Edwards, the son of a missionary who worked among the Stockbridge Indians and who grew up as a bilingual, published his Observations on the Language of the Muhhekaneew Indians which discussed Mohegan grammar. Edwards rejected many of the contemporary notions about primitive languages because of his first-hand knowledge of Indian languages.

Ernesto Yerena’s Newest Addition to the Pine Ridge Billboard Project

This is part three of my continuing coverage of Aaron Huey’s Pine Ridge Billboard Project.

Below is Ernesto Yerena’s latest screenprint made for this project and based on one of Aaron Huey’s images from Pine Ridge. Information about Ernesto and his first illustration for this project is featured below the fold.

I’m truly amazed at the magnitude of beauty in this artistic collaboration among Aaron Huey, Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena.  

Art and Activism.

Background on this project below:

The famous street artist Shepard Fairey of the Obama HOPE image has generously donated his time. This will be available as a limited edition signed screenprint through Aaron Huey’s Pine Ridge Billboard Project.


Here is Aaron Huey’s photo that Shepard Fairey based his illustration on:

Theo White Plume - Wambli Wahancanka

      Theo White Plume – Wambli Wahancanka (Eagle Shield)


I would like to announce a new project to raise NATIONAL awareness of the poverty on our reservations. My friend Aaron Huey is launching an ambitious billboard campaign using his images of Pine Ridge reservation. Aaron is donating his time and talent to organize this project.

I have been documenting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for the past six years. Recently I have realized how inappropriate it is for this project to end with another book or a gallery show.

More than any project I have done in my career, the ever-evolving Pine Ridge project gives voice to social injustice and a forgotten history. I want my work to empower the Lakota and other tribes who fight for recognition of the past in order to help give them a chance to move forward.

Your involvement will help raise the visibility of these images by taking them straight to the public to the sides of busses, subway tunnels, and billboards. I want people to think about prisoner of war camps in America on their commute to work. I want the message to be so loud that it cannot be ignored.

Honor the Treaties

Illustration by Ernesto Yerena using images by Aaron Huey

Lakota Girl Reaching

Image used to create the illustration above


[American Indian voice: Rick Two Dogs]

You know, history, when you break it down it means “his story,” which is really the story of the dominant culture.  And we all know historically that the — I guess the conquerors are the ones that write the history, you know, and it’s really never based on the people that were supposedly conquered.

[Text block]

The last chapter in any successful genocide is the one in which the oppressor can remove their hands and say, “My god, what are these people doing to themselves, they are killing each other, they are killing themselves!”

[Aaron Huey:]

When I first got to Pine Ridge, I didn’t really get it.  All my first assignments were about poverty and violence and gangs and all those stories skimmed the surface.  And now, six years later, now that I know the real story, I realize that mainstream American magazines won’t print it.

The real story is the history — a history of broken treaties, of prisoner of war camps, and massacres.  It’s too hard to look at.  It’s too dark.  It’s too layered and too painful to fit in between shampoo ads and car commercials.  This project has reached the limits of print media.

I don’t want you to give me money today for a book or a gallery show, where everybody drinks wine and looks at beautiful pictures of suffering.  I want to take the images I’ve made over the past six years on Pine Ridge and put them on billboards.  I want to put them in subways.  I want to put them on the sides of busses.  I want to put them in places where people can’t ignore them.

I’m here today asking for your participation in a project that will illuminate a hidden history and empower a community.  This is a grassroots information campaign.  Your involvement, not just your money, is crucial.  We will need help distributing these images in your communities.

Several partners have already joined me in this cause, including Ernesto Yerena, an activist and artist from Los Angeles who created visuals for the Alto Arizona campaign.  Ernesto is collaborating with me to create a poster series based on my photographs that transcends these depressing statistics.

This collaborative image is the first of many that we will make in February.  Also joining us will be Shephard Fairey, the most prolific street artist working in America, widely known for his ongoing Obey propaganda and Obama’s Hope campaign.  If anybody can raise an issue to icon status, it’s him.

My collaborations with Ernesto and Shephard will go up on walls in cities all across America.  We will be working hand in hand with Lakota and other indigenous rights organizations to produce this work, sharing resources through a website I have created at

Remember, this project is not a charity.  It’s about turning awareness into action.


In 1980 the Supreme Court ruled upon the longest running court case in US History, the Sioux Nation vs. the United States. The court determined that the terms of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty had been violated when the Sioux were resettled onto P.O.W. camps, and 7 million acres of their land were opened up to prospectors and homesteaders. These camps are now called reservations.

The grim statistics on Native Reservations today are the equivalent to that of a 3rd world country, revealing the legacy of colonization and treaty violations. Unemployment on the Reservation fluctuates between 80-90%. Many are homeless, and those with homes are packed into rotting buildings with up to 5 families. More than 90% of the population lives below the federal poverty line. The life expectancy for men is 47 years old – roughly the same as Afghanistan and Somalia.

ACTION: For as little as $10 you can help launch this project.

Your involvement will help raise the visibility of these images by taking them straight to the public to the sides of busses, subway tunnels, and billboards. I want people to think about prisoner of war camps in America on their commute to work. I want the message to be so loud that it cannot be ignored.

Mock-up of a highway billboard installation:

Mock-up of a wall installation using 24x 26″ posters:

Mock-up of a subway platform installation:

For the minimum donation of $10 you get access to the “making-of zone.” The making-of zone will be a special behind the scenes page where you can monitor Aaron, Ernesto, Shepard and others as they work on this project.

CREATIVE PARTNERS: Helping me to turn my photos into powerful illustrations are Ernesto Yerena, an artist and activist who created visuals for the Alto Arizona campaign, and Shepard Fairey, the most prolific street artist in America, known for his street art (OBEY) and the Obama HOPE campaign image. These collaborations with Ernesto and Shepard will go up on buildings and bus stops all over the country. I hope to also involve some of you with distribution of imagery and possibly even in the role of a wheat pasting in your towns. Shepardard’s image will be uploaded in April.

FINANCIAL GOALS + BUDGET: $17,250 will provide funding for a nationwide guerilla poster campaign. $30k, will allow for substantially more visibility, taking the photo essay to subway platforms in NYC and to billboards around South Dakota and Washington DC, where policy makers have the power to make real change on Reservations. Expenses: 35-40% to printing posters and billboards, 40-50% for ad space, 5-10% Shipping and Travel, and 1% for website setup.

Progress so far today:

Remember that $17,250 is the minimum goal, the ultimate goal is $30K to allow more visibility.

PLEASE TAKE A FEW MINUTES to watch my TED talk on this subject, the video is posted below.


Honor The Treaties


Through this campaign a website is forming at I hope to build this site up to become a point of reference for those who want to know more about the history and the (broken) treaties of the Sioux and other tribes. There will be direct links to assist grassroots Native non-profits in places like Pine Ridge.

Our first partner is Owe Aku.

Support the Owe Aku International Justice Project,  a grassroots non-governmental social change organization dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of the Lakota Way of Life, 1851 & 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty Rights, and Human Rights.  “Owe Aku” means “bring back the way.”  Learn more about their specific actions at There is also a donation page if you’d like to help this group. They are currently in need of a new computer for their office.

Raising the NATIONAL awareness in metropolitan areas like New York City and Washington DC will help us influence policy makers to help our American Indian tribes and reservations.

This is an excellent campaign.




to honor the treaties:

Senator Dorgan

Senator Barrasso

Senator Akaka

Senator Cantwell

Senator Coburn

Senator Crapo

Senator Franken

Senator Inouye

Senator Johanns

Senator Johnson

Senator McCain

Senator Murkowski

Senator Tester

Senator Udall

Indian Names of the Southern & Central Plains Tribes

The Great Plains is a huge American Indian culture area which is generally sub-divided into the Northern, Central, and Southern Plains. Among the Indian nations of the Central and Southern Plains, the customs regarding names-their use as well as the naming process-varied greatly among the different cultures.  

Central Plains

The Central Plains lie south of the South Dakota-Nebraska border and north of the Arkansas River. It includes Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, southeastern Wyoming, and western Colorado. At the time when the Europeans began their invasion of this area it was the home to Indian nations such as the Ponca, Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Quapaw, Iowa, Missouria, Kansa (also known as Kaw), Pawnee, Wichita, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Yankton Sioux, and the Teton Sioux.

Pawnee map

Among the Otoe and Missouria, the child was given a name on the fourth day after birth to insure a long and successful life. Each name included a song which became the property of the owner (the person who now carried the name). The naming ceremony was the initiation of the child into the clan. As an adult, an individual might take on a new name based on a vision or on some deed.

Otoe and Missouria children were also given nicknames by the mother’s brother. The nicknames, considered to be lucky names, were usually obscene and uncomplimentary and were intended to keep people from talking unkindly about others.

Among the Kansa, the child was given a name shortly after birth. The name reflected both clan affiliation and birth order and was given in a ceremony conducted by a tattooed warrior. Additional names might be assumed later in life and these names would usually refer to a deed of valor.

Among the Osage, personal names were owned by the clan and these names reflected the spiritual associations of the clan. The naming of a child was an important ritual as it conferred upon the child both clan and tribal membership.

The Omaha felt that personal names were on loan for the lifetime of the bearer. Upon the death of the bearer, the name would revert to the “name pool” and could be reassigned to a younger tribal member. At the fourth day of life, the child was given a “baby name” which was retained for the first 3-4 years of life. The “baby name” was then thrown away during the Turning The Child Ceremony in which the child received new moccasins and a clan name.

Omaha men frequently changed names during their lives and so it was possible for two men to share the same name at different times in their lives. It was not uncommon for a warrior to assume a new name after a successful war party. These “bravery” or “valor” names established a claim on public esteem.

The number of names available for Omaha women was relatively small and consequently there were many Omaha women with the same name. In addition, women’s names were not generally linked to clans and thus women in different clans could share the same name.

Like many other tribes, Omaha etiquette did not allow an individual to be addressed by a personal name. Under no circumstances was it polite to ask a stranger’s name.  

The Pawnee never addressed each other by personal name, but by a kinship term. This kinship term indicated the expected behavior and reinforced the relationships between people. A personal name was an honorary title of an extremely personal nature. The substance of the personal name was strictly private and reserved to oneself. The name was cited only on the most formal occasions and from the name itself it was not possible to deduce its private significance.

Pawnee Lodge

A Pawnee lodge is shown above.

Among the Wichita, children were sometimes named before birth because of the dreams of the mother or another relative. In some instances, a number of warriors would be invited into the father’s lodge and their names pronounced. The child would then select one. The child would then be given not the warrior’s name, but rather a name referring to an act of valor performed by that warrior. Among high status families, boys and girls might change their names as teenagers.

Southern Plains

The Southern Plains lie south of the Arkansas River valley. It includes Oklahoma, Arkansas, portions of Texas, the eastern foothills of New Mexico, and portions of Louisiana. At the time of first European contact, this area included hunting and gathering tribes, such as the Comanche and the Lipan Apache, and more agricultural tribes such as the Caddo.  

Among the Comanche, children were called by nicknames. Later they would be given a formal name or real name at a public naming ceremony. There was no set time for giving real names and names were not distinctive of gender. The naming ceremony began with a pipe ceremony and then the child would be lifted up four times and given a name. A sickly child would often be given a strong name to make the child strong.

Comanche girls were named after their mother’s relatives. Later in life, a woman’s name would not indicate whether she was married or single.

Among the Kiowa and the Kiowa-Apache, children were named shortly after birth by a grandparent or some other relative. Names usually referred to some incident or to a great deed by an ancestor. Later in life, new names could be adopted as the result of a vision or because of warfare or hunting.

Caddo children were traditionally named six to eight days after birth. This first name was usually a diminutive of the name of the parents. The naming ceremony was done by an elder who held the child, bathed it, and then would ask the parents what name they would like to give it.

Among the Southern Plains tribes there were also some customs with regard to the names of the dead. Among the Comanche, the name of a dead person was not spoken for several years. Among the Tonkawa, the name of a dead person and names similar to those of a dead person were never spoken. Out of respect for the deceased’s family, the Kiowa never spoke the name of the dead.

Ancient America: 8,000 Years Ago

Eight thousand years ago, the people in the British Isles as well as in most of Europe were still living as hunters and gatherers. They had a tribal way of life, probably not that different from the Native Americans in North America at this time. Below is a look at some things going on in North America at that time.


In the Southwest, the Archaic Period begins about this time and is characterized by broad-based hunters and gatherers. The first Archaic people migrated into the Southwest from the Great Basin. These people were nomadic hunters who hunted for deer and antelope. They also gathered fruits, nuts, roots, and different kinds of seeds.

With regard to material culture, these Archaic people brought with them basketry which they used in food preparation, for storage, and for transporting goods. The first baskets which were used by the Archaic people were shallow trays and carrying baskets made by twining. They also made watertight baskets which were used for cooking. The baskets were filled with water and food materials, and then hot stones were dropped in to bring the water to a boil.

Great Plains:

In the Great Plains, there was a climatic change in which the climate became warmer and drier. This marks the beginning of a period which archaeologists call the Archaic Period (also called the Middle Pre-contact Period by some archaeologists). With this climatic change, the bison deserted much of the Plains. Some bison may have taken refuge in stream valleys or peripheral foothill areas where the water shortage was less severe.

With regard to human habitation in the Great Plains at this time, there was a greater reliance on plant foods, especially small seeds. There was increased hunting of smaller animals, although the modern large animals-deer, mountain sheep, and bison-continued to be important.

With regard to stone tool technology, side-notched and corner-notched projectile points began to replace the lanceolate and large stemmed points.

Near Casper, Wyoming, hunters used a parabolic sand dune with steep sides to capture a herd of about 100 bison during a hunt in late autumn. The bisons’ hooves sank into the loose sand and immobilized them, which allowed the hunters to move in and kill them at close range.

In the eastern portion of the Central High Plains, Indian people began using pit houses. They were also making slab-lined storage pits which made it possible for them to stay at base camps for longer periods of time.

In central Texas, Indian people adapted to changing environmental conditions by having a settlement/subsistence system which was characterized by small groups seasonally occupying widely dispersed camps.

Great Basin:

In Nevada, Archaic Period Indians occupied the Bonneville Estates Rockshelter. They tended to be more sedentary than the earlier residents of the rockshelter, staying in it for longer periods of time. They were obtaining obsidian for their stone tools from a quarry about five miles from the rockshelter. They would bring the obsidian back to the rockshelter and fashion their tools there.

The diet of the people living the Bonneville Estates Rockshelter included Indian rice grass, Great Basin wild rye, pickle weed, and buckwheat. They were making coiled baskets.

In Utah, Indian people were now occupying the Sudden Shelter located in Ivie Creek Canyon. Hunting was the major activity carried out by the people who occupied this site. Sudden Shelter was a base camp from which the people were able to exploit a wide variety of resources. One of the main animals being hunted was the mule deer.


In the Columbia Plateau area, the Old Cordilleran culture began to replace the Windust culture. The Old Cordillaran people hunted deer, antelope, mountain sheep, and birds. They also took salmon and fresh-water mollusks from the rivers. As with other Indian people at this time, gathered wild foods were important: they collected and processed berries and tuberous plants such as camas.

Indians were using Owl Cave in Idaho as a site for the systematic killing of buffalo. Each of the Owl Cave kills resulted from a well-planned and coordinated undertaking in which herds of 30 or more Bison antiquus were induced or driven into the cave, dispatched with spear thrusts into the body cavities, and then systematically butchered.

In Idaho, Indian people were hunting and gathering in the Centennial Mountains where they left behind hundreds of camp sites.

In the Plateau area of British Columbia, the archaeological tradition known as Early Nesikep began. This cultural tradition was a hunting oriented culture that appears to have been made up of a mix of earlier traditions from the region. The climate at this time was cooling and becoming wetter. At this time, Indian people were living in fairly small camps which are occupied for short periods of time-from a few days to several weeks. An important and indispensible part of the technology was the use of microblades.


In California, the Encintas tradition began to replace the San Dieguito complex. The Encinitas people gathered plant foods. They then processed these plant foods using manos and matates (stone mortars and pestles).  They were also gathering shellfish, but seemed to do very little hunting.

At Buena Vista Lake in California, Indian people were killing and butchering big game animals.

Great Lakes Region:

In the Great Lakes region, Indian people have started to use copper for making tools: adzes, socketed axes, harpoons, awls, weapons.

New England:  

In New England, Indian people were living in larger groups and moving less frequently. Archaeologists refer to this as the “Settler Period.” The tool kits used by the people at this time included specialized equipment for a large range of tasks, including axes for heavy woodcutting and adzes for shaping wooden implements and structures.

In New Hampshire, Indian people at the Neville site, near the Merrimack River, were making and using points which are characterized by triangular blades and tapering stems.

Northwest Coast:

In British Columbia, Indian people were now living at the Bear Cove Site. With regard to fish, rockfish was most frequently taken (72%), followed by salmon (10%). Other fish make up the remainder.  Sea mammals, particularly porpoise, were also hunted. The artifacts being used at this time included pebble choppers, leaf-shaped points and retouched flakes which may have served as cutting and scraping implements.

Indian people in southeastern Alaska were using a variety of stone tools, including microblades, anvil stones, hammerstones, and whetstones. They were gathering shellfish, including horse clam and sea urchin. They were hunting seals, sea lions, and beaver.

The Importance of Cultural Education

Much of what is known of Native American culture in non-Native communities is what has been romanticized in movies, books, and other forms of media which usually depicts the wise older Native American man in ceremonial garb telling stories of animals or of an Indian princess or warrior dancing during a Pow Wow. People would probably be surprised to see how people on a reservation actually live their day to day lives. Eventually, this will be what future Native American children will know of their culture. Sadly much culture had been lost during the years of the early boarding schools as children were separated from their families, homes, culture, and language, suffering years of abuse while losing the traditions and values that are so important to the Native American community. This caused a generational gap in the passing down of Native American culture which is still evident in today’s youth especially as more of the pre-boarding school generation is beginning to die off. Another factor contributing to the decrease in cultural identity is the movement from on-reservation school to off-reservation, public schools due to better funding or programs.

Therefore attention needs to be directed to off-reservation schools and how to create a more accepting environment for these Indian children which can both better their education as well as preserving their cultural heritage. I suggest that training programs be developed to instruct teachers on better ways to present information to their Native American students such as in the form of group projects where individual success helps the overall success of the group. The formation of after school programs as well as involvement in team sports have shown to also improve student performance in schools.

Yet I wish to emphasize the opportunity to implement culturally based programs into schools that are located in an area with a high Indian population.  These could include anything from language classes to Indian art projects to including Indian history in American History classes or even the recognition of historically relevant events in Native American history. Such inclusions into the schools would help dramatically in the success of the Native American student. It would also promote awareness in the non-Indian students as well which can help bridge the tension between the two groups that years of abuse and mistreatment have caused.

Much attention needs to be generated for this cause because such a large undertaking would require a large amount of support both locally as well on state and federal levels. There is also a sense of urgency has much of the cultural history is being lost as the years go on with the aging of the Indian population. While I can never fully understand all the problems that the Native American community is facing, I wish to express my support for the survival and successful preservation of your people and your culture. I hope this is the start of future understanding between our people and that there will be no repeat of past tragedies.  I feel that education is a step in the right direction for a better future.

The 19th Century Indian Office

In 1824, the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, established the Office of Indian Affairs without Congressional authorization. He did this by appointing Thomas L. McKenney to a vacant clerkship in the War Department and then directing that all matters relating to Indians be directed through this office. In 1832 Congress authorized the appointment of a Commissioner of Indian Affairs who was to be responsible for directing and managing Indian Affairs. The Commissioner was to report to the Secretary of War.

Commissioner of Indian Affairs

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs was appointed by the President and the primary qualification for the office was support for the President and his political party. The first Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Elbert Herring, was appointed by President Andrew Jackson. He was an ardent supporter of President Jackson’s Indian removal policies and did not feel that Indians had cultures which were worth preserving. In his first report to the Secretary of War, Herring claimed the despotic rule of the chiefs and lack of a sense of private property were keeping Indians in the savage life. He suggested that the educa¬tion of the youth and “the introduction of the doctrines of the Christian religion” could overcome this savage life.

In 1850, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs described the policy of “civilizing” Indians this way:

“When civilization and barbarism are brought into such relation that they cannot coexist together, it is right that the superiority of the former should be asserted and the latter compelled to give away. It is, therefore, no matter of regret or reproach that so large a portion of our territory has been wrested from its aboriginal inhabitants and made the happy abode of an enlightened and Christian people.”

For the most part, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was more concerned with non-Indian interests on Indian lands than with the Indians themselves. This was particularly true when it came to mining. In 1872, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs wrote:

“It is the policy of the government to segregate such [mineral] lands from Indian reservations as far as may be consistent with the faith of the United States and throw them open to entry and settlement in order that the Indians may not be annoyed and distressed by the cupidity of the miners and settlers who in large numbers, in spite of the efforts of the government to the contrary, flock to such regions of the country on the first report of the gold discovery.”

After Congress created the Smithsonian Institution in 1846 to fulfill the terms of the will of James Smithson, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs also became involved in obtaining materials for the museum. The Smithsonian was given custody of all federal government museum collections, including collections of Indian artifacts. The Smithsonian’s regents encouraged the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to collect items which would illustrate the history, manners, and customs of the Indians.  Some of the items obtained for the museum came from graves which were robbed by Indian agents and others.

With the notable exception of Ely Parker (a Seneca appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant), the Commissioner of Indian Affairs had little understanding of or contact with Indian cultures. The Commissioner was aided in his duties by a cadre of clerks in Washington, D.C. The field force of the Office of Indian Affairs-superintendents and agents-were primarily political appointees and a few detached soldiers.

The Field Staff:

Since those in the field were political appointees, it was not uncommon for superintendents and Indian agents to have their very first contact with an actual Indian after arriving at their post. Very few came into the job with any real understanding of the history, culture, or reality of Indian life. Their primary qualification for appointment to the position was usually faithful party service.  

Since the field staff knew that their positions were temporary-dependent on the outcome of the next election-they often misused the office for personal gain in wealth and/or politics.

Superintendents were responsible for Indians in a large geographic area. At times, this might be an entire Territory. The Indian superintendents were not only required to oversee the Indians under their jurisdiction, but also to supervise and to regulate any traders who conducted business with the Indians. It was not uncommon for the Indian superintendents to appoint the Indian agents and to select the sites for the agency’s headquarters.

Most Indian agents reported to a superintendent. Frequently the Indian agent was the only government representative actually residing with the Indians. Thus, the Indian agent occasionally engaged in the delicate tasks of diplomacy and negotiation to secure treaties with various tribes.

Indian agents, many of whom took the title of “major,” had dictatorial power on their reservation. They could have Indians arrested, whipped, and imprisoned; they could prohibit Indians from leaving the reservation; they could prohibit non-Indians from entering the reservation; they could require the Indians to attend church and to cut their hair. Within the reservation, the agent was the law and it was difficult, if not impossible, for the Indians to appeal to a higher authority.

Part of the agent’s responsibility included the distribution of annuities and supplies required to honor the treaties which had been ratified by Congress. The distribution of annuities and supplies was a profitable area for many Indian agents. They would simply open up a store in a nearby off-reservation community and stock it with supplies which the government had intended to be given to the Indians. The Indian agent might contract with some local non-Indian cattle growers to provide beef to the reservation. The weight of the cattle would be over reported and the agent would receive a “commission.”

The annuities promised to the tribes in treaties had to be shipped to the reservations. The Indian agent would often issue a shipping contract in which the actual number of miles was inflated and then receive a “commission” from the shipping company. In some instances, the agent was a silent partner in the shipping company.

The Indian agents were also responsible for “civilizing” the Indians. This usually involved government sponsored education and agricultural training programs which were based on federal policy goals, not the needs of the local tribes.

Another example of corruption can be seen in 1874 when the Commissioner of Indian Affairs persuaded President Ulysses S. Grant to restore the eastern portion of the Apache reservation in Arizona to the public domain by executive order. This portion of the reservation contained copper-bearing lands which non-Indians wished to mine. Both the Indian agent in Arizona and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs had financial holdings in the company which subsequently developed the copper mines.

Territorial governors often served as the ex-officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs for their territory. In this position, they reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who, in the hierarchy of nineteenth century U.S. government, had little status. In this system, the territorial governor, in his role as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the territory, was to report to the commissioner of Indian affairs, an inferior in the government’s hierarchy and protocol to the status of territorial governor.  This also created some conflict of interest: as superintendent of Indian affairs, the territorial governor had a fiduciary responsibility with regard to the Indian tribes, while as territorial governor there was an obligation to encourage settlement, development, and, hopefully, statehood. Many, and probably most, of the territorial governors viewed Indians as an impediment to culture, civilization, and the economic exploitation of the land.

In 1864, Sidney Edgerton was appointed as Montana’s first territorial governor and ex-officio superintendent of Indian Affairs. With regard to his Indian policy, he said:

“I trust that the Government will, at an early day, take steps for the extinguishment of the Indian title in this territory, in order that our lands may be brought into market.”

In 1891, four groups of Indian Service employees – physicians, school superintendents and assistant superintendents, school-teachers, and matrons – were placed under Civil Service Classifi¬cations. This was the initial step for the creation of a professional field staff. School Superintendent Edwin Chalcraft explains:

“Prior to this time, Indian Agents made all those appointments, but from this date they were made by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs from names submitted to him by the Civil Service Committee in Washington, D.C. These rules prohibited the dismissal of employees for political or religious beliefs, but the Appointing Officer in Washington, D.C., could remove an employee for any other cause without giving him reason for doing so.”

In 1896, President Grover Cleveland issued an executive order which placed most Indian Service employees under Civil Service classifications. Only Indian agents and inspectors were exempt from Civil Service. Indians who applied for positions in the Indian Service were exempt from Civil Service requirements.