Kansas Land Sharks and the Kickapoo Indians

During the 19th and much of the 20th century, the American federal administration of Indian affairs can be characterized by several concerns. First, while the federal government held a fiduciary responsibility for the Indians as negotiated in treaties, the government preferred to ignore any legal responsibility and to administer federal programs to achieve maximum benefit for non-Indians. Second, the actual administration of Indian programs was largely carried out by individuals whose primary concern was motivated by increasing their personal wealth rather than any interest in benefit to the Indians. And third, there was an overwhelming obsession with private property: the idea of Indian people owning property in common and living together in villages was repulsive to the American government. All of these forces can be clearly seen in the case of the Kansas Land Sharks and the Kickapoo. Unfortunately, this is not a unique story, but one that was replicated wherever Indians owned property in common.  


From the establishment of the United States as a sovereign nation, its founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, had envisioned a nation without American Indians. Indians were seen as obstacles to progress and development. By the 19th century, the American government was adopting policies of removing Indians from the states and relocating them in “undeveloped” lands to the west.

In 1819, the United States government negotiated treaties with two Kickapoo bands in Illinois. Under the terms of the Treaty of Fort Harrison and the Treaty of Edwardsville, the Kickapoo were to give up their Illinois lands and relocate in Missouri. In Missouri, the Kickapoo and their heirs, the government promised, would be able to choose lands for a reservation that would be theirs forever. Upon arriving in southwestern Missouri, however, the Kickapoo found that the Americans had already selected the land for the reservation. The Kickapoo leaders charged that the American treaty negotiators had cheated them out of their Illinois lands.  

The concept of “forever” has always had a different meaning for Americans. By 1826, the American government was once again pressuring the Kickapoo to give up their lands and move. William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) met with the Kickapoo in St. Louis and tried to persuade them to give up their reservation for new lands on the Missouri River. Clark promised them that the Americans would break the ground for them, help them build fences and divide their land into individually owned parcels, build permanent houses for them, and provide them with seed, fruit trees, cattle, and chickens.

In 1832, the Kickapoo signed a new treaty which extinguished their title to all land in Missouri and which established a new reservation for them in Kansas.  In 1833, the United States held a council at Fort Leavenworth with the Northern Kickapoo for the purpose of convincing them that the United States was their friend, faithful guardian, and protector. Some of the Kickapoo were still upset over the fact that they had not been allowed to choose their own land in spite of treaty promises.

In 1853, it was apparent that Kansas would become a state. As a state this meant that Indians would be removed and Indian lands would be open for non-Indian settlement. American settlers, assuming that Kickapoo lands would soon be opened for settlement, simply squatted illegally on these lands. They fenced fields and pastures, they built cabins, and they refused the requests of Kickapoo leaders to leave. The Kickapoo appealed to the commandant at Fort Leavenworth for aid. The Americans, however, had little interest in honoring their legal commitments to Indians and simply negotiated a truce which enabled the squatters to remain.

As expected, the United States negotiated new treaties with the Indians in Kansas which extinguished title to most of their land within the state. The Kickapoo ceded 618,000 acres of land and retained just 150,000 acres. For this they were to receive $300,000, one-third which was to be invested to produce income for a Kickapoo educational fund. The remainder was to be paid out over a period of 20 years for the erection of public buildings and houses, and for the purchase of goods such as equipment and seeds. The treaty also permitted a railroad right-of-way across Kickapoo land and authorized the president to issue individual allotments.

The Kansas Land Sharks:

The new Indian agent for the Kickapoo was William P. Badger. Acting on the needs of the railroad and townsite speculators, Badger reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that the Kickapoo wanted to have their reservation allotted into individual tracts. In actuality, the Kickapoo had always held land in common (it should be remembered that they had been farming for thousands of years) and that the tribal religion stressed the system of communal land ownership.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs was, of course, pleased to hear that the Kickapoo were ready for private land ownership. However, he set down three basic rules for allotment: (1) the tribe was to pay the cost of surveying and allotting the land, (2) each family head was to receive 80 acres of land (this was an arbitrary figure and not based on any actual assessment of how much land each family would actually need to support themselves), and (3) the remaining land was to be held for the Southern Kickapoo. At this time there were a number of Kickapoo bands in Indian Territory and in Mexico.

The idea of reserving land for the Southern Kickapoo did not serve the interests of non-Indians, particularly the railroads. Consequently, the land reserved for the Southern Kickapoo was reduced to 40 acres per family and had to be claimed within one year.

The Kickapoo were not happy with Badger’s administration of their reservation. They charged that he had neglected their interests and had acted in the interests of the railroad. William Badger was removed from office: it was not for failure to do his job, but rather the Republican party won the national elections. The position of Indian agent was a political job and with a new party in power, Badger lost his job.

If any Kickapoo Indians had thought that a new Indian agent would serve them better, they were soon disappointed. The new agent was Charles B. Keith who was not only Badger’s brother-in-law, but also one of his business partners. Keith and Badger kept the only store permitted on the reservation, sold goods to the Kickapoo at exorbitant prices, and retained tribal annuities to satisfy credit extended to Indians. Like Badger, Keith was also an advocate of the railroad and of allotment.

The Atchison and Pike’s Peak Railroad had been formed in 1859 with Senator Pomeroy as its president. The railroad not only wanted a right-of-way across the Kickapoo Reservation, it also intended to gain title to all Kickapoo surplus lands when the reservation was allotted. Senator Pomeroy met with the Secretary of the Interior (the person in charge of Indian affairs) in 1862 and as a result of this meeting the Secretary declared that the Kickapoo were ready for allotment. The already prepared allotment agreement was then sent to Indian Agent Keith for Kickapoo ratification.

Under the terms of the allotment agreement, all surplus lands, an estimated 125,000 acres, were to be sold to the Atchison and Pike’s Peak Railroad for $1.25 per acre. While the politicians and the general public were well aware of the fraud which had been perpetuated against the Kickapoo, the Kickapoo were angered when they found that they had once again been duped by the United States. This time, however, W. W. Guthrie, the attorney general of Kansas, came to their aid.

As it is today, it was highly unusual for any state attorney general to come to the aid of an Indian tribe. Guthrie, however, was not really motivated by the idea of justice for the Indians, but rather he was a part of a group of rival investors who were backing the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad Corporation. While he called attention to the great fraud against the Kickapoo, his real concern was in the advantage which allotment had given to the Atchison and Pike’s Peak Railway.

Guthrie called for an investigation which opened with a grand jury hearing during which many Kickapoo leaders voiced their opposition to the agreement and lodged charges of fraud against Agent Keith. Guthrie maintained a campaign to call the matter to the attention of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the Secretary of the Interior, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Among the facts which Guthrie brought out was that no Kickapoo council had been held to ratify allotment, even though the Agent claimed that it had. In the face of this opposition, the allotment agreement was suspended.

Facing charges of collusion in this matter, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs resigned and the new Commissioner of Indian Affairs conducted a series of hearings into the matter. The hearings revealed that: (1) Keith had threatened military action against the Kickapoo if they failed to sign the allotment agreement; (2) Keith had threatened to withhold the tribe’s annuities if they failed to sign the allotment agreement; (3) when the chiefs resisted coercion, Keith had simply replaced those who opposed the agreement; and (4) only one recognized chief had actually signed the agreement.

Senator Pomeroy then intervened in the matter and because of the allegations that Guthrie actually worked for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad Company, the suspension on the allotment agreement was lifted, allotment proceeded, and by 1865 the Atchison and Pike’s Peak Railroad was selling Kickapoo land to non-Indian settlers. In addition, an agreement between the government and the railroad allowed the company to delay payment for the Kickapoo lands until 1871.

From the viewpoint of the Kickapoo, allotment was sacrilegious and broke the covenent that they had had with the Great Spirit since the time of first creation.

One final note: while the government had ignored all Kickapoo complaints about non-Indians harvesting timber from Kickapoo lands, as soon as it was apparent that these lands were going to be transferred to the ownership of the railroad, the government began to zealously guard and protect the rights of the railroad to that timber.  

Indians 101: Peyote

In some Native American traditions, at the time of creation each one of the plant people was given two gifts: the power of beauty and the power of healing. In the traditional way, there is no such thing as a weed, for all plants are beautiful and all plants are useful.  

There are two aspects to the healing power of the plant people. First, and easiest for non-Indians to understand, specific plants can be made into medicines which promote healing. At the present time, pharmacists acknowledge that over 200 plants used for medicinal purposes by Indians have been incorporated into modern medicines.

The healing power of plants is, however, not limited to the physical use of the plant to promote healing. Plants are living things and were given the power of healing. This means that plants also have a non-material side with regard to healing. Indian people often tap into this spiritual power of plants in healing ceremonies. The use of sage and other plants, for example, as a smudge to help purify also makes a spiritual connection between people and plants.

According to some Native American traditions, the gift given to human beings at the time of creation was the power of the dream. It is through the dream that humans are able to communicate with all of the other parts of creation. Some plants, such as Grandfather Peyote, help us dream. Indian people have been using peyote in ceremonies for thousands of years. The European invaders, however, have taken a different view of peyote and consider it to be a “dangerous drug” and therefore an illegal substance.

Peyote is a small cactus which grows in Texas and Mexico. Peyote contains numerous alkaloids, including mescaline. While peyote has often been confused with the mescal bean and with mescaline, it is the combination of alkaloids within peyote which contribute to the effects of eating it.

One of the concerns expressed by many non-Indians is that peyote is addictive and therefore is a dangerous drug. However, there is no scientific evidence for physiological dependence associated with peyote. In one study of addiction which used an addictive liability index, researchers found that alcohol is most addictive (an index of 21), followed by opium (an index of 16), cocaine (an index of 14), and marijuana (an index of 8). Peyote has an index of 1. According to botanist Edward Anderson:

“The only evidence cited for including it on the scale at all was that some subjects showed a slight increased tolerance during the test period.”

According to the medical and scientific definitions of “narcotic”, “addiction”, and “tolerance” peyote should not be considered a narcotic.

Many of the plants which were used for healing purposes by American Indian have been incorporated into modern medicines. Some researchers have noted increasing evidence that peyote has beneficial therapeutic uses in the treatment of alcoholism, depression, and anxiety. These conditions are often associated with altered or injured serotonin systems. Peyote appears to mimic serotonin and thus may help individuals who suffer from ailments were it is lacking or ineffectual.

The Native American Church, a pan-Indian religious movement that started in the nineteenth century, uses peyote as a sacrament. Today many American Indian alcoholics find participation in the peyote ceremonies to be more helpful to their sobriety than participation in Alcoholics Anonymous. Part of this may be the result of a more culturally appropriate spiritual approach, but the current research seems to suggest that it may be more than that.

Those who follow the peyote road feel that the use of alcohol is not compatible with this way of life. In fact, there are many who feel that peyote can be used to cure alcoholism. Sobriety is often stressed as an important part of peyote spiritualism. The eminent research psychiatrist Karl T. Menninger has concluded that peyote

“is a better antidote to alcohol than anything the missionaries, white man, the American Medical Association, and the public health services have come up with.”

Indians 101: Pine Nuts

For thousands of years Indian people have lived and prospered in the Great Basin by exploiting the natural resources of the area. For Indian people in the Great Basin-the Shoshone, Paiute, Washo, and Ute-one of the important traditional resources of the region was the piñon pine whose nuts provided them with nutrition.  

The Great Basin:

The Great Basin includes the high desert regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. It is bounded on the north by the Columbia Plateau and on the south by the Colorado Plateau. It includes southern Oregon and Idaho, a small portion of southwestern Montana, western Wyoming, eastern California, all of Nevada and Utah, a portion of northern Arizona, and most of western Colorado. This is an area which is characterized by low rainfall and extremes of temperature. The valleys in the area are 3,000 to 6,000 feet in altitude and are separated by mountain ranges running north and south that are 8,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. The rivers in this region do not flow into the ocean, but simply disappear into the sand.

Great Basin Map

The Great Basin is an ecologically sparse environment which includes by small areas where water, game, and plant life are abundant. The summers are often hot and the winters cold. This is an area which seems inhospitable to human habitation, yet Indian people have lived here for thousands of years. For Indian people to live in the Great Basin, they had to have a rather intimate knowledge of a fairly large territory of several hundred square miles: a territory would often encompass the full range of desert biomes.

Traditional Subsistence:

Much of the subsistence of the Great Basin Indian tribes depended on the gathering of wild plants. It is estimated that 30 to 70% of the Great Basin diet was based on plants. Several major groups of plants were important to the subsistence of the Great Basin peoples. These include piñon nuts, mesquite, acorns, agave, camas, sego lily, tobacco root, yampa, biscuitroot, bitterroot, cattails, and berries (wolfberry, buckberry, chokecherries). In general, the gathering year was divided into four periods:

Early Spring: at this time the stored foods were running low and the people were facing some hunger. The first edible plants would appear along streams, near lakes, and in the low hills where the snow first disappeared.

Early Summer: at this time a number of plants would begin to ripen, particularly in the moist hills, but some in the desert valleys. To gather these plants the people would have to leave their winter villages. As the seeds would begin to ripen in the mountains, they would then move into these areas.

Late Summer: at this time the edible roots would mature. These plants could be dug at leisure.

Late Fall: at this time the pine nuts would ripen. However, pine nuts tend to be erratic as each tree yields only once in 3-4 years: in some years there are virtually none in some areas while they are abundant in other places. The harvest period for pine nuts can be 2-3 weeks in some areas and only 10 days in others.

Traditional Use of Piñon Nuts:

Among the Western Shoshone of Nevada, piñon nuts were the staple winter food. Pine nuts are high in fat and this means that less meat would be required in the diet. Pine nuts have about 3,000 calories per pound, which means that they not for the calorie-conscious. Piñon nuts are also high in carbohydrates and protein.

The pine nuts are gathered in September and October. The cones require two years to mature, so careful observation of the cones means that the scarcity or abundance of the crop can be predicted a year in advance.

One of the common ways of collecting the pine nuts was to collect the cones just before they were about to break open. Using poles, the men would beat the trees to get the cones to drop. Then, using a stone hammer or a stick, the cones would be broken open to collect the seeds. Another way of collecting the pine nuts was to pick the seeds from the forest floor after the cones had dried and opened on the tree. This was, however, both labor intensive and time consuming.

Once the seeds were removed from the cones, the seeds were parched on a basketry tray with coals, winnowed, and then either stored in woven sacks or pits, or ground into a flour from which bread or soup could be made.

Prior to European contact, a typical Shoshone family could gather about 1,200 pounds of pine nuts in the fall and this would last the family for about four months. Most frequently the pine nuts were ground with a metate and mano. The resulting meal was then mixed with cold water and stirred. Most frequently the mush was eaten cold. Among some of the tribes the pine nut mush was boiled by placing hot stones in a basket container with the mush until it boiled. In the winter, some of the tribes also made a cold treat out of the mush by setting it outside to freeze.

In some parts of the Great Basin, such as the Steptoe Valley, enough pine nuts to last for two years could be gathered during a good year. In order to preserve the nuts, they were roasted and then buried in a cold place in the mountains.

Among the Owens Valley Paiute, the pine nut gathering areas were divided into family plots. If a family were to trespass on pine-nut areas claimed by another family, violence would ensue. This was especially true if the families were from different bands.

Among some groups, such as the Shoshone of the Ione and Reese River Valleys, the pine nut tracts were owned by the villages. The tracts were in the mountains behind the villages and were bounded by natural boundaries known to everyone.

Piñon Nuts Today:

The Indian people of the Great Basin still gather piñon nuts. Today the gathering of the piñon nuts is an affirmation of their cultural heritage rather than for their physical survival. The nuts are still used in traditional foods and some are sold to supplement the family income. In Nevada, their right to gather the piñon nuts is protected by both state law and by treaty rights.  

Ancient America: Tiwanaku

While the Inka are the best-known pre-Columbian civilization in South America, there were other earlier and longer-lasting highly developed civilizations. Tiwanaku (also spelled Tiahuanaco and Tiahuanacu) is generally recognized by archaeologists as an important precursor of the Inka Empire. Tiwanaku, located on the southeastern shore of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, was a major city-state that controlled parts of the Andean highlands for about five centuries.  

Tiwanaku Map

Tiwanaku is at an elevation of 3,850 meters (2.4 miles) which makes it one of the highest imperial cities in the world.

About 1500 BCE, Tiwanaku was a small, agricultural village. By about 300 BCE, the village appears to have grown into a religious site which attracted pilgrims from the surrounding area. The religious or cosmological power of Tiwanaku seems to have provided the basis for its later development into a powerful city-state.


While Tiwanaku is located in an area which has abundant wild resources-fish, birds, wild plants-its rise to power, like that of other city-states, was based on agriculture. The Titicaca Basin has predictable and abundant rainfall. The people of Tiwanaku developed an agricultural system which utilized this rainfall. The people of the Titicaca Basin developed a farming technique which used a flooded-raised field type of agriculture.

The agricultural fields were created by cutting deep canals in the soils next to the lake. Then soils were thrown up to form long, low mounds which improved the drainage of the fields. The canals supply moisture for growing crops, and in addition they also absorb heat from solar radiation during the day. Nights in the Titicaca Basin can be bitterly cold, often producing frost. At night, the heat that had been absorbed in the shallow canals is emitted which provides thermal insulation for the crops.

The canals also had another use: they were used to farm edible fish. Then the resulting canal sludge was dredged up and used for fertilizer.

The fields were used for growing potatoes and quinoa.

This type of agriculture, known as suka kollus, is very labor intensive, but it produces good yields. Traditional agricultural methods in this region can produce 2.4 metric tons of potatoes per hectare, and modern agriculture-which uses artificial fertilizers and pesticides-produces about 14.5 metric tons. On the other hand, the ancient suka kollus agriculture can produce 21 tons per hectare.

Social Stratification:

The productive agricultural system of Tiwanaku contributed to and supported population growth. The population consequently became more complex, with specialized jobs for each member of the society. At the top of the social hierarchy were the elite who lived separated from the commoners by walls which were surrounded by a moat. Some archaeologists have suggested that the moat created the image of a sacred island on which the elite lived. Commoners may have been allowed to enter the elite complex only for ceremonial purposes.

The Empire:

About 300 CE, Tiwanaku was making the transition from a regionally dominant culture force, to an actual empire. It expanded its culture, its way of life, and its religion into other areas of modern-day Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.

Like empires throughout the world, Tiwanku grew through a combination of political, economic, religious, and military power. It used politics to negotiate trade agreements which made other cultures dependent upon them. It reinforced this dependence through religion, as Tiwanaku was always seen as a religious center. Some of the religious statues from these other cultures were taken back to Tiwanaku where they were placed in a subordinate position to the gods of Tiwanaku. In this way, they displayed their religious superiority over these cultures.

The primary Tiwanaku diety, which is shown on reliefs and in statues, is represented as a male figure with a rayed headdress and two staves. This figure seems to have been derived from the Staff God of the earlier Chavin culture.

Control over the empire often involved colonization and migration. Small groups of colonists from Tiwanaku would settle in key resource areas and thus provide Tiwanaku with access to these resources. In addition, people from the outlying areas were resettled closer to the city. The result was a series of multiethnic communities.

Violence may have reinforced the religious and cultural superiority of Tiwanaku. The archaeological evidence suggests that on top of a building known as the Akipana people were disemboweled and torn apart shortly after death. The disarticulated remains appear to have been laid out for all to see. Some archaeologists have suggested that this was a ritual offering to the gods. The person who was sacrificed was not native to the Titicaca Basin.

The hallucinogenic snuff complex also served to help integrate the empire. This complex involved the use of hallucinogenics in religious ceremonies and manifest themselves in the archaeological record in the form of snuff trays, bone tube inhalers, and decorated mortars and pestles which were used for processing the snuff.

Tiwanaku Snuff Stone

A stone snuff tray is shown above.

By about 600 CE, Tiwanaku could be considered an urban center. At this time, the city covered about 6.5 square kilometers and had a population estimated between 15,000 and 30,000 inhabitants. The three primary valleys dominated by Tiwanaku had an estimated population of 285,000 to 1,482,000.


One of the important features in holding the wide-spread empire together was the control of the llama herds. These herds were essential for carrying goods between the urban center of the empire and its periphery. Large caravans of llamas travelled the Tiwanaku road system. The animals may have also served as a symbol of the social and economic distance between the commoners and the elites.

The most important luxury trade item was textiles. Throughout the empire, the people wore characteristic Tiwanku textiles which helped unify the empire, at least during ceremonies. The large herds of alpaca provided the weavers at Tiwanaku with an important raw material. The alpaca and the llama herds were one of the major sources of wealth in the empire.


Between 600 and 700 CE, as Tiwanaku grew as a city, there was a significant increase in monumental architecture. The urban center contains a ceremonial core with several huge temples, a pyramid, and a number of palace structures decorated with cut stone lintels. The palace structures are also decorated with large statues which have been carved in a distinctive style.

Tiwanaku Wall

Tiwanaku monumental architecture is characterized by its use of large stones. Tiwanaku stone architecture used rectangular blocks which were laid out in regular courses. One of the characteristic features is the use of elaborate drainage systems. Drainage systems are sometimes made of red limestone conduits which are held together by bronze architectural cramps.

In some cases I-shaped architectural cramps were made by cold hammering. In other cases, the cramps were created by pouring molten metal into I-shaped sockets which had been carved into the stone.

Some of the stone blocks were decorated with carved images and designs. There are also carved doorways and large stone monoliths.

Gateway to the Sun

The feature known as the Gateway to the Sun is shown above.

The stone blocks used at Tiwanaku were quarried some distance from the site. The red sandstone used at the site came from a quarry about 10 kilometers (6 miles) away. The largest of these stones weighs 131 metric tons and transporting them without wheeled vehicles or draft animals was a challenge.

The elaborate carvings and monoliths at Tiwanaku were created from green andesite stone that originated on the Copacabana peninsula, located across the lake from the city. The large andesite stones, some of which weighed over 40 tons, were probably transported across Lake Titicaca by means of reed boats. This is a distance of about 90 kilometers (55 miles). They were then dragged another 10 kilometers to the city itself.

Tiwanaku Pottery


Among the buildings which have been excavated by archaeologists and which are visible to modern visitors are the stepped platforms known as the Akapana, Akapana East, and Pumapunku; the enclosures known as the Kalasasaya and Putuni; and the Semi-Subterranean Temple.

The Akapana is a cross-shaped pyramid which stands nearly 17 meters in height. At its center there appears to have been a sunken court (this has been almost entirely destroyed by looters). There is a staircase with sculptures on the western side. The entire structure is an artificial earthen mound that was faced with a combination of large and small stone blocks. The dirt for the structure appears to have come from the moat which surrounds the site.

The feature designated as Akapana East marks the boundary for the ceremonial center and urban area. It was made from a floor of sand and clay that supported a group of buildings.

The platform mound designated as the Pumapunku was built on an east-west axis like the Akapana. It is a rectangular, terraced earthen mound which was faced with megalithic blocks. While it is only five meters tall, it measures 167 meters by 117 meters. One of the prominent features of the Pumapunka is a stone terrace which was paved with large stone blocks. One of these blocks is estimated to weigh 131 metric tons.

The Kalasasaya is a large courtyard which is outlined by a high gateway. It is located to the north of the Akapana. Near this courtyard is the Semi-Subterrean Temple-a square, sunken courtyard that was constructed on a north-south axis rather than an east-west axis. The walls are covered with tenon heads of many different styles.

Tiwanaku Head


About 950 CE, there was a climatic change: the amount of precipitation in the Titicaca Basin dropped significantly. As the rain decreased, the political and religious power of Tiwanaku and its elites also declined. As food became more scarce, the power of the elite waned. Fifty years later Tiwanaku was abandoned.

The city of Tiwanaku and its empire left no written history. What we know about Tiwanaku comes from later historical accounts and from archaeology.  

The Flora Sombrero Lind Scholarship Endowment Fund

Flora Sombrero Lind Certificate

In honor of my mother, THE FLORA SOMBRERO LIND NAVAJO ENDOWMENT FUND has been set up to accept your donations.

This scholarship endowment has been established at the American Indian College Fund to honor Flora Sombrero Lind, as an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation who was born at Inscription House, Arizona of the Many Goats clan circa 1925. This scholarship endowment is funded by Flora’s family and friends who want to see Navajo students pursue higher education and carry on their great Navajo heritage.

Please leave a comment if you donated. I would love to have a record of whom to thank.

Flora Sombrero Lind Banner  

Indian Religious Rights in Prison

Some Indians are in jails and prisons. It is in this setting that we see the continuation of government-backed programs for the assimilation of Indian people into Christianity and the denial of the validity of Indian spiritual beliefs and activities. While prisons pay for chaplains (mostly Christian) to serve the spiritual needs of prisoners and encourage prisoners to engage in religious activities, Indian prisoners seeking to follow Indian spiritual ways find many roadblocks placed in their way. The issues about Indians’ spiritual rights in prison often center on one or more of the concerns discussed below.

Spiritual Leaders:

When an Indian prisoner asks for the spiritual guidance of a traditional Indian spiritual leader, the bureaucracy has a problem: while Christian ministers usually have credentials for a church body and have graduated from a recognized school, traditional Indian spiritual leaders do not have the “paperwork” which makes them spiritual advisors in the eyes of prison officials.

Similarly, prisons require paperwork in advance which is often difficult when the spiritual leaders do not have telephones. Prisons are often inflexible in responding to any last minute changes in plans. Since many traditional leaders do not live by European concepts of time, there are often last minute changes in plans, including the people who are assisting the spiritual leader.

The Sacred Pipe:

For many Indians today, the pipe-usually composed of a stone bowl in an elbow shape or a T-shape with a long wooden stem-is more than simply a symbol of traditional Indian spirituality. For traditional Indians, the pipe is a spiritual tool used for both focusing the mind and for making prayers or communications to the spirit world visible. The substance smoked in the pipe is tobacco.

Indian prisoners are sometimes denied access to a sacred pipe because prison officials are afraid that it can be used as a weapon, because it takes up too much room (often less than a bible), because they don’t really understand what Indians smoke in the pipe and think it might be some drug.

Sweat Lodge:

One of the most common Native American spiritual ceremonies today is the sweat lodge. While many prisons do have sweat lodges for the Indian prisoners, there are still some who refuse to allow the sweat lodge, usually citing concerns for security.

In those prisons where there are sweat lodges, there are often problems over the smell of burning sage and cedar: guards who have not been educated to Indian customs may mistake these smells for marijuana. Consequently, participants may be written up for suspicion of drug use.

There are also problems with interrupting the ceremony at inappropriate times. Even when spiritual leaders attempt to run the sweat “by the clock’, there is little sense of time among the participants during the ceremony. Guards, concerned with doing counts on time, may then interrupt the ceremony.

In many prisons, the Indian inmates are not permitted access to the sweat lodge for contemplation or solitary prayer even though Christian inmates are able to go to the chapel to pray at times when there is no ceremony. There are also difficulties with who has access to the sweat lodge.


Prisoners who want to wear their hair in the traditional way are sometimes denied this right. Prison officials often express concern for security in banning long hair.

In 1972, an Oglala Lakota inmate at a federal prison in Minnesota refused to allow his hair to be cut because of a religious vow and was punished for this refusal. The inmate sued and the Court found that the prison’s regulations about hair length were reasonable. The Court also questioned the petitioner’s sincerity of belief.

In another case, Jerry Teterud (Cree), an inmate of the Iowa State Penitentiary, challenged prison regulations that prohibited long braided hair, contending that such a prohibition violated his freedom of religion, as well as his freedom of expression. In 1975, the Courts found for Teterud and noted that it was sufficient to prove that long hair was rooted in religious practice, rather than being the central tenet of Indian religion.  

Differences in beliefs:

Prisons often do not understand that there are many differences in Indian spiritual beliefs according to cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions. While most prison officials understand that a Catholic priest is different from a Baptist minister, they fail to see the differences between a Lakota spiritual leader and a Cherokee spiritual leader. When it comes to Indian spirituality, there is sometimes an attitude that “one size fits all”, in other words, that an Indian spiritual leader should be able to fulfill all Indian inmate needs regardless of tribal heritage.

Access to Outside Ceremonies:

Prisoners who wish to participate in tribal ceremonies outside of the prison, such as the Vision Quest and the Sun Dance, are sometimes denied this right.

Native American Church:

Prisoners who follow the way of the Native American Church are usually denied the use of peyote as a sacrament because it is considered an illegal drug and not allowed in the prison. Christian prisoners, however, may be allowed to use alcohol in their religious ceremonies even though this drug is not generally allowed in prisons.


Indian prisoners, in attempts to claim their spiritual civil rights, sometimes file lawsuits against the prison to try to obtain rights which are freely granted to Christian prisoners. One of these suits was filed in 1972 against the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

In Nebraska, Indian inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, agitated by the prison’s lack of regard for Indian spiritual and cultural needs, cut their hair in traditional Mohawk styles. Prison officials told them to cut their hair because it offended the deputy warden or go to solitary confinement. They went to solitary.

While Protestant and Catholic clergy were given offices and salaries within the penal system, the Indians were denied participation in their own religion. While there were many special interest groups in the prison, the Indians were denied the right to have an Indian culture club.  

On behalf of 27 Indian inmates, Larry W. Cunningham, a prisoner, filed charges against Charles Wolff, Jr., the warden. In Larry Cunningham on behalf of Indian Inmates of the Nebraska Penitentiary vs. Charles L. Wolff, Jr., Warden, the Indians charge that they had been denied protection under the First, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

The following year, the Indian inmates at the state prison asked the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) for help in the suit against the prison over religious and cultural freedom. NARF assisted the inmates in filing complaints against the penal system.

In 1974, the U.S. District Court issued a Consent Decree – a binding agreement between the state correctional system and the Indian inmates – that provided the precedent for determining how Indian spiritual and cultural needs are to be met within the prison system. This Consent Decree, while dealing specifically with the Nebraska Penitentiary system, set a new standard for Indian prison rights throughout the United States. It has been regarded as a model by inmates from other states as well as the administrations that confine them.

Under the Consent Decree, Indian inmates are entitled to wear their hair long and in Indian style as a religious right. Prison administrators are required to allow Indian inmates access to their spiritual leaders and medicine men.

Ancient America: Nevada

What is now the state of Nevada was home to American Indian people for several millennia prior to the arrival of the first Europeans in the area. As a part of the Great Basin, Nevada is often seen as being somewhat inhospitable to human habitation. The Great Basin Area includes the high desert regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. It is bounded on the north by the Columbia Plateau and on the south by the Colorado Plateau. It includes southern Oregon and Idaho, a small portion of southwestern Montana, western Wyoming, eastern California, all of Nevada and Utah, a portion of northern Arizona, and most of western Colorado. This is an area which is characterized by low rainfall and extremes of temperature. The valleys in the area are 3,000 to 6,000 feet in altitude and are separated by mountain ranges running north and south that are 8,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. The rivers in this region do not flow into the ocean, but simply disappear into the sand. The summers are hot and the winters are cold. Yet in spite of the ecological challenges, Indian people successfully adapted to the region.  

Great Basin Map

Living in the Great Basin required that Indian people have an intimate knowledge of a fairly large territory. During the subsistence cycle, which was often a one to three year cycle, small bands of Indians would exploit the resources-animals, plants, and rocks-over a territory of several hundred square miles that would include several different biomes or ecologic communities.

The archaeological data from Nevada is rather scarce and thus we don’t have a full picture of ancient life in the Great Basin. The archaeological record includes rock art sites with pictograph and petroglyph panels, rockshelters, chipping sites where stone tools were produced, hunting blinds, and open campsites. What follows are the highlights of what we do know from the retreat of the ice fields about 12,000 years ago until the introduction of the bow and arrow about 2,500 years ago.

Stone Tools and Subsistence Patterns:

Much of the data from the earliest sites in the Great Basin is about stone tools and subsistence patterns. Archaeologists often name early cultures after stone tool styles, such as Clovis, Folsom, Scottsbluff, Elko, Desert Side Notched, Gypsum Cave, Hell Gap, and so on. The data from these early sites often provides information about the plants and animals which the people used for subsistence.

By 10,800 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Bonneville Estates Rockshelter. The shelter was used as a short-term camp. They were using nets of juniper-bark cordage to trap small game, such as rabbits and grouse. Their diet included big game (bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mule deer), small game (rabbit, grouse), and insects (grasshoppers).

Indian people were living in the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada by 10,000 BCE. They were making a kind of projectile point which archaeologists will later call “Great Basin Stemmed”.

By 9245 BCE, Indian people at the Falcon Hill site were using Catlow Twined Basketry. This is a semiflexible basket made from twisted tules.

The Western Stemmed Tradition developed in the Great Basin about 9100 BCE spread east. The points were halfted on a socketed shaft.

The period which archaeologists call Wendover began in Utah and Nevada about 7500 BCE. At this time Indian people were engaged in a roving pattern of hunting and gathering. They were occupying settlements seasonally. Plant foods included seeds from pickleweed as well as other plants. The big game animals hunted at this time included deer, pronghorn antelope, mountain sheep, elk, and buffalo. Small game, such as rabbit, were trapped with netting.

In 7000 BCE, Indian people at the Komodo Site were using spear points which archaeologists classify as Great Basin Concave.

By 6900 BCE, the western Great Basin had become more arid. This caused the Uto-Aztecan-speaking hunting and gathering bands to begin a migration to the west and south. This was the initial breakup of this language family into what would become more than 30 distinct languages.

In 6700 BCE, Indian people began to use the Leonard Rockshelter.

In 6600 BCE, a string of about 50 large spire-ground Olivella biplicata beads were obtained in trade from the Central California coast and carried some 250 miles to Nevada. The presence of a complete string of olivella beads some 250 miles from their source provides evidence of an extensive intertribal trading system.

In 6030 BCE, Indian people left a cache containing an atlatl (spear thrower) at a site in western Nevada. Made from an unidentified hardwood, the upper surface of the atlatl is flattened and the lower surface is rounded. The handle is marked with a series of 18 deeply-cut grooves. The engaging hook or spur is carved from bone and is attached to the shaft with sinew. A boat-shaped stone is attached to the underside of the atlatl.


Shown above is a photo of the atlatl.

In 6000 BCE, Indian people, called Archaic by archaeologists, were now occupying 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 brought the obsidian back to the rockshelter and fashioned their tools there. Their diet at this time included Indian rice grass, Great Basin wild rye, pickleweed, and buckwheat. They were also making coiled baskets.

Bonneville Estates

The excavations at Bonneville Estates Rockshelter is shown above.

By 5150 BCE, Indian people were occupying the O’Malley Shelter 16 miles east of present-day Caliente. The people living at the site were involved in the gathering and hunting of locally available plant and animal foods. There was a dependence on large herbivores (deer and bighorn sheep). One of the major activities for the Indian people at the site was the production of stone tools from locally available obsidian and chalcedony.

By 5000 BCE, Indian people were now using the Gatecliff Rockshelter as a campsite.

In 3240 BCE, Indian people living in the Black Rock Desert area were using stone spear points which archaeologists call Scottsbluff.

Around 3000 BCE, Indian people were making stone points known as the Pinto Series. The geographic range of the points is from western Nevada (Hidden Cave site) to Idaho (Weston Canyon Rockshelter). There are five varieties of points: (1) shoulderless; (2) sloping shoulder; (3) square shoulder; (4) barbed shoulder; and (5) one shoulder.

By 2500 BCE, Indian people were occupying Lovelock Cave which was situated near a shallow pond surrounded by tule marshes. The people were collecting fish, shellfish, edible tubers, roots, and seeds. They were using the tule for making baskets. Fiber cordage was used to make snares and nets in which rabbits and birds were caught. Sandals were woven. Blankets were made of bird skins or rabbit fur, and clothing was made of shredded bark. They were also making small split-twig figurines of deer and mountain sheep. Their culture seems to have efficiently used lakeside resources which allowed them to have a sedentary lifestyle.

Indian people in Nevada were weaving sandals and basketry by 2000 BCE. They were also making small split-twig figurines of deer and mountain sheep. In the area of the Lovelock and Humboldt Caves, Indian people were also specializing in using lake resources. They were making nets and fishhooks.

At the Stuart Rockshelter north of present-day Moapa, Indian people were using a type of projectile point called Pinto Series by archaeologists.


The study of human remains can provide us with great insights into life in the past. While this is a controversial field, the scientific study of human remains allows the ancestors to talk to us about their lives. Listed below are some of the early burials which have been uncovered in Nevada.

In 7470 BCE, the bodies of a 10 year old child and an adult were wrapped in a diamond-pattern plaited mat and buried in the Grimes Shelter.

In 7414 BCE, the body of a 40-44 year-old man was carefully wrapped in a rabbit skin robe and woven mats and buried in Spirit Cave. One of the woven bags that was buried with him was decorated with interwoven strips of leather and tule stems. Another bag had dark bands of juniper or sage. The skill of these ancient weavers would later astound modern weaving experts: the split reeds and fur so narrow and even, the cord threads so well spun, the weaving itself close, tight, and even, and the variety of techniques and decorations. The textiles found with Spirit Cave Man were woven with a method known as diamond plating; they look essentially like modern woven fabrics.

The diet of Spirit Cave Man had included several different kinds of small fish which indicate that his group used nets or baskets for fishing. The bones in his right hand had been broken and healed. He was buried in a semi-flexed position on his right side with his head oriented toward the northeast.

His moccasins were made out of marmot hide. The moccasins had been crafted in three pieces, stitched together with hemp cordage instead of sinew.

At the time of his death, Spirit Cave Man was in his early forties. He stood about 5’5″ tall. His last meal consisted of water parsnip and small minnows. The man had lived an uncomfortable life because of abnormalities in his spinal column, including the fact that he had 34 vertebra instead of 33. About a year before his death, he had suffered a severe blow to his left temple which had fractured his skull. He had three abscessed teeth which caused the infection that killed him.  

The cranial and facial features of Spirit Cave Man are more like those of the Ainu of Northern Japan and some European populations than they are to later American Indian populations. He appears to be different from modern American Indians. He has a long cranium and a long, narrow face suggesting affilinities with Southeast Asian peoples.

In 7290 BCE, a woman died, was wrapped in a mat woven from split tules and native hemp, and was buried in Spirit Cave.

In Nevada, the body of a robust man, 40-45 years old, is buried at Wizards Beach. His teeth are well-worn and the abscess in his lower right molar is the source of the infection that caused his death.  

In 7040 BCE, the bodies of two individuals were cremated at Spirit Cave.

Bow and Arrow:

By 500 BCE, the Indian people who were using the Lovelock Cave site had bows and arrows. This more efficient weapon significantly altered hunting styles of the early hunter-gatherers. With the bow and arrow the cultures of the Great Basin change significantly.  

Anton “Tony” Hollow, 1917-2011, The Last of the Lakota Code Talkers?

( – promoted by navajo)


Anton “Tony” Hollow, perhaps the last WW II Lakota Code Talker, and longtime educator and advocate for Native Americans, has passed away after a lengthy illness.

Born March 8, 1917 on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana, he served in the United States Army as a code talker during WWII, attaining the rank of Chief Warrant Officer.

CWO Hollow joined the U.S. Army in January, 1940, and served until March, 1946, including in the Pacific Theater.

News of Mr. Hollow’s passing comes as the Native American community celebrates Navajo Nation Code Talkers Week. We take this opportunity to remember not only those well known Navajo warriors, but their lesser known Cherokee, Choctaw, Meskwaki, Commanche, and, of course, Lakota brothers as well

When Tony Hollow passed through Fort Lewis, WA, near Tacoma, during the war he discovered the beauty of Washington State, where he would spend much of the remainder of his long life. Washington, and particularly its Native American residents would be glad he did,

The GI Bill helped Tony further his education, which he capped off with an MA in Business Administration from Central Washington University in 1975 at the tender age of 58. He and his wife Maude lived in Wenatchee, where he worked as an accountant for local businesses such as Jones Pontiac, Wenatchee Roofing, and the Boeing aircraft company. He was the kind of man who wanted more than a business career.

Tony established the Wenatchee Indian Center and commited himself as a grant writer who was instrumental in bringing numerous services to the Native American community of Chelan County. Somehow he found the time and energy to serve as President of Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, MT, on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, as well.

After Tony’s retirement then Washington Governor Dan Evans appointed him to the Washington State Advisory Board for Native Americans.

Tony was preceded in death by his wife Maude, brother Norman, daughter Sonjia, and grandchildren Martyn and Collette. He is survived by his sisters Carolyn and Harriet, children Walter and Kitty, nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. He also leaves his loving companion of fifteen years, June Jelvik, her two daughters, Betty and Donna, and her grandchildren, Ryan and JR, all of whom were like step children and grandchildren to him.

Tony’s memorial service was held August 11, 2011 in Everett, WA, where he was then inurned at the Cypress Lawn Memorial Park.

After a long life, well lived, Tony Hollow will be sorely missed.

crossposted to Daily Kos

Three Hundred Years Ago

Three hundred years ago, in 1711, the various European powers in North America were involved in a divide and conquer strategy against the Indian nations. The Europeans-the British and the French-encouraged and supported the Indian Nations in their wars against other Indian Nations. In this way, the European powers weakened the Indian Nations and strengthened their own presence in North America.  

The Tuscarora War:

In North Carolina, Swiss Baron Christoph von Graffenried founded the colony of New Bern on Tuscarora land without obtaining Tuscarora consent or paying them for it. The Tuscarora, angered by the European land developers who paid little attention to Tuscarora land and to their treaties, captured a surveying party who were laying out the new colony. The captured men were taken to the Tuscarora town of Catechna and tried before a council of chiefs. One of the men, the provincial surveyor-general, was condemned to death and executed.

The Tuscarora then attacked the Swiss settlement, killing nearly 200, including 80 children.

The Tuscarora, concerned about slave-raids from South Carolina, raided frontier farms and began a war against the European settlers. Joining the Tuscarora in the raids were the Coree, Pamlico, Mattamuskeet, Bear River, and Machapunga.

The British traders encouraged the Yamasee and the Creek to attack the Tuscarora. In addition, the British supplied the Cherokee with guns on the condition that they fight the Tuscarora.

In Virginia, English colonists were afraid that the Nottoway were going to join the Tuscarora in their war against the English. A delegation of English officials visited the main Nottoway village and persuaded them to remain at peace. In addition, Nottoway warriors agreed to help prevent the fighting from moving north into Virginia.

The English authorities noted that the Nottoway at this time had cultivated fields, were using European textiles for clothing, and were raising hogs for both sale and consumption.

Great Lakes Area:

In Michigan, the Ottawa and Potawatomi attacked a Mascouten hunting party near the headwaters of the St. Joseph River. The Mascouten fled east, seeking refuge among the Fox near Detroit. The Fox prepared a war party for retaliation, but the French commander of Fort Ponchartrain ordered them to stop. As a result the Fox attacked the French fort.

While the Fox were attacking the French, a party of Ojibwa, Ottawa, Huron, and Potawatomi arrived and defeated the Fox. Some of the Fox sought refuge among the Iroquois while others fled to their homelands in Wisconsin where they continued to wage war against the French and their allies.

The British War Against the French:

In New York, the British raised an Indian army to attack the French in Canada. The army included Mahican, Scaghticoke, Wappinger, and Munsee warriors. The Iroquois sent 656 warriors to join the expedition: 182 Seneca, 127 Cayuga, 99 Onondaga, 93 Oneida, and 155 Mohawk. The British fleet, however, failed to enter the Saint Lawrence River and the war party returned without engaging the French forces.


In Florida, the remnants of the once mighty Calusa were living in the Keys and were under continuing pressure from the Yamassee and Uchise. The Spanish in Cuba offered refuge to those who professed an interest in Christianity, but most of these died en route to Cuba. A total of 270 Indians, including Calusa, Jobe, and Mayaimi, emigrated.  


In Massachusetts, the Gay Head Reservation was established by the English colonists on Martha’s Vineyard. The New England Company decided that the Indians should pay for a part of the costs of the reservation. Over the objection of the Gay Head,  600 acres were leased to an English settler. Some of the best acres on the new reservation were leased to English settlers at low rates. Consequently, the land brought in very little income for the Indians.  

The War on Poverty

In 1964, with one out of every five Americans living in poverty, President Lyndon Johnson addressed Congress in his State of the Union message and proposed a war on poverty. In response, Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act which established the Office of Economic Opportunity. While the War on Poverty reduced overall poverty in the United States, it had a great economic, political, and social impact on the country’s Indian nations.  

In 1964, the poorest groups in the United States were Indians living on Indian reservations, a fact that had been true throughout the twentieth century and continues to be true today. On the reservations, economic development was controlled-planned, administered, and evaluated-by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). With the creation of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the BIA no longer had a monopoly on the economic future of the tribes. Tribes were eligible for funding for youth programs, community action programs, and other programs. Indian tribes and organizations participated in these programs along with other economically disadvantaged groups. Unlike the earlier BIA programs, these new programs emphasized the need for local involvement at all levels. Soon nearly every tribe in the United States was involved in the War on Poverty and local Indian people, not the BIA, were planning and running the programs.  In other words, the War on Poverty provided tribal people with political empowerment.

Through the efforts of the War on Poverty’s community action programs Indians began to understand that they could control their own destinies. While the funding for the Indian War on Poverty was not sufficient to eradicate poverty on the reservations, these efforts resulted in: (1) providing a new generation of Indian leaders with experience in administering government programs; (2) increasing the capacity of tribal governments to administer federal programs, and (3) increasing the desire of Indian people to take over the management of government programs on the reservations.

Community Action Programs:

One of the key components of the War on Poverty was the Community Action Program (CAP). Each CAP was to utilize and mobilize local people to determine how best to deal with poverty in the local community. On the reservations, the CAPs often had bitter relationships with the long-standing BIA administration. The tribal CAPs dedicated the greatest funding to programs such as Head Start, educational development, legal services, health centers, and economic development.

In 1965, the Navajo established the Office of Navajo Economic Opportunity (ONEO) and Peter MacDonald became the new director. ONEO programs soon expanded into many different areas and almost all Navajo living on the reservation were directly impacted by these programs. MacDonald would later go on to become tribal chairman.

In Oklahoma, the Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity (OIO) was formed as a part of the federal government’s War on Poverty program under the initial leadership of LaDonna Harris (Comanche). The OIO amplified Indian voices, not only at the local level, but also at the state and national level.

In Arizona, the Havasupai began a Community Action Program under the Office of Economic Opportunity. They also started a Head Start pre-school program.

Also in Arizona, the Pascua Yaqui Association under the leadership of Anselmo Valencia obtained a grant to start a Community Action Program under the Office of Economic Opportunity. Under this program they trained tribal members to build their own homes and then to purchase them with sweat equity. The new homes were built on a 200-acre parcel which became known as New Pascua.

Rough Rock Demonstration School:

There were many success stories-some large and many small-that came out of the Indian War on Poverty. One of these involved education on the Navajo Reservation. Traditionally, Indian education on reservations had been controlled by non-Indians who had insisted that they knew what was best for Indian children. Ignoring any possibility that parents and tribal parents might have an interest in educating Indian children, these non-Indian educators, usually BIA employees, designed programs with the goal of making Indian children into monolingual English-speaking Christians trained to be laborers.

Since the formation of the Navajo Reservation in the nineteenth century, there had been basically three kinds of schools. First, there were the schools run by the BIA which the Navajo call “Wa’a’shin-doon bi ‘olt’a,” or “Washington’s school.” Then there were the public schools which the Navajo call “Bilaga’ana Yazzie bi ‘olt’a” or “little whiteman’s school.” Finally, there were the mission schools which the Navajo call “Eeneishoodi bi ‘olt’a” or the school of “those who drag their clothes,” a name stemming from the first Catholic priests in long robes who came to the reservation.

What Navajo parents wanted was a school which would give their children an education which both respected and integrated Navajo culture while preparing them for the modern world. With funding from the War on Poverty, the Navajo organized the Rough Rock Demonstration School. This was to be a three year demonstration project. The school was run by the Navajo and became the first wholly Indian-controlled school in the twentieth century.

The Rough Rock Demonstration school is called “Dine’ bi ‘olt’a,” or the “Navaho’s school.” These words express the Navajo pride in the school and this was the only school on the reservation given this designation. It was not that the Navajo people were consulted about this school, but more importantly they were directly and actively involved in its operation.

The educational philosophy that guided the school was based on the idea that the creation of successful programs lies with the community, not education professionals. Policies were established by an elected seven-member, all Navajo school board. Thus the policies and programs were the result of action initiated by the Navajo people. Control of school policy, including handling the budget, was placed in the hands of the Navajo parents, most of whom were without formal education. School board meetings, which often lasted all day, were attended by many community members.

The school taught English as a second language rather than requiring students to know English in order to learn. What would later be known as bilingual/bicultural education began at Rough Rock two years prior to the passage of the Bilingual Education Act which enabled other schools to establish similar programs.  

Unlike the earlier BIA schools, both reading and writing in Navajo were taught to all students. Furthermore, the students were encouraged to use the Navajo language in the dormitories, the playground, the dining hall, and in the classroom.

Non-Indian staff members received in-service training to familiarize them with Navajo culture. The school also began programs to teach pottery and basket weaving.

Because the Navajo Nation is large and rural the school operated in part as a boarding school. Unlike the old BIA and mission boarding schools, however, parents from the community worked in the dormitories on a rotating basis. The parents acted as foster parents and as counselors for the students. Community elders visited the dormitories to tell stories and teach the youngsters about Navajo traditions, legends, and history.

In the old boarding schools, students were not allowed to go home during the school year. At Rough Rock, the students were encouraged to go home for weekend visits as often as possible. Transportation was provided to those who needed it. The basic policy of the school was that the children belonged to the parents and not the school.

The Rough Rock Demonstration School clearly demonstrated what is possible when Indian people, with limited or no formal education, were given an opportunity to direct and control their own education system. Rough Rock demonstrated that Indians were ready to exercise leadership in affairs affecting them if they were given the chance.

National Council on Indian Opportunity:

In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson, noting the success of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) projects on Indian reservations, announced:

“I propose a new goal for our Indian programs: A goal that ends the old debate about ‘termination’ of Indian programs and stresses self-determination; a goal that erases old attitudes of paternalism and promotes partnership self-help.”

With Executive Order 11399 President Johnson established the National Council on Indian Opportunity (NCIO).

The following year, the NCIO held a public forum in San Francisco to identify the problems of Indian people and to try to find solutions. At the forum, a number of Indian people spoke out about the problems they faced. These problems included racism, education, poor healthcare programs, unemployment, and housing.

The End:

In 1973, the Office of Economic Opportunity was abolished. However, the effects are still being felt today. With the passage of the Indian Self-Determination Act, government policies turned away from terminating Indian tribes to allowing the tribes to take over government programs. The success of the War on Poverty and the programs run by the CAPs had shown Indian people that Indians could not only run their own programs, but they could develop successful programs as well. The leaders which had been nurtured and trained during the War on Poverty became the new Indian leaders who would guide the people into the twenty-first century.  

First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park (Photo Diary)


For thousands of years the Indian Nations of the Northern Plains have hunted buffalo. In the days before the coming of the horse (about 1730), the people used the buffalo jump as a way of harvesting the buffalo for food and clothing. Once or twice year, several bands would gather together to entice small herds (50 to 150 animals) to stampede over a cliff.

First Peoples Sign

The First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park, operated by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, is located near Ulm, Montana (near Great Falls). It is located just to the east of the Rocky Mountains, near the Old North Trail which was used as trade route by the tribes for about 12,000 years.

Sweat Lodge 1

Sweat Lodge 2

The gathering of bands at the buffalo jump was a time of social activity, celebration, and ceremony. Long after the buffalo jump had ceased being important to the economy of the people, it still continued to be a sacred place, as can be seen in the remains of the sweat lodges shown above.

The Landscape:

The landscape of the Northern Plains once stretched as a vast sea of native grass from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye could see. This was a landscape that was filled with millions of buffalo as well as other animals and plants which were used by the Plains Indians for their subsistence.

Landscape 3

Landscape 2

Plains Landscape 1

Modern Landscape

As can be seen in the photo above, the landscape has changed over the past two centuries. The vast buffalo herds have been replaced with domesticated cattle; the native grasses have been replaced with neatly plowed fields of wheat; the old lodges have been replaced with modern houses; and the horizon is now dotted with wind-power generation towers.

Prairie Dogs:

For thousands of years the prairie dogs (a kind of squirrel) lived in harmony with the buffalo. The buffalo would use the prairie dog towns for their dust wallows. Prairie dog towns, made up of deep burrows with many entrances, could cover hundreds of acres. At the top of the First Peoples Buffalo Jump is a prairie dog town.

Prairie Dog Town 1

Prairie Dog 3

Prairie Dog

The Buffalo Jump:


Shown above is the cliff over which the buffalo were stampeded.

On the top of the cliff to a buffalo jump, Indian people laid out a long runway of rock cairns. Running for miles out onto the Prairies, the people would stand next to these cairns, which were laid out in a long V-shape, waving blankets and robes to move the herd toward the cliff.

Jump 1

Buffalo have poor eyesight and as they approached the cliff, what they saw was simply a small, rolling hill, such as that shown in the photo above.

Jump 2

Shown above is the edge of the cliff where the buffalo would have gone over.


Ball and Stake

Ball and Stake 2

Stick and Hoop 1

Stick and Hoop 2

Stick and Hoop 3

Indian games gave children a chance to develop important hand and eye coordination. While the traditional games were suppressed, and many forgotten, during the boarding school era, in recent years there has been a resurgence among Indian people in playing the traditional games. At the First Peoples Buffalo Jump, the park staff teaches and encourages the traditional Indian games among both children and adults.

The Museum:



The small museum provides some dioramas and displays explaining the interrelationships of the buffalo and the Indian people. Also included are brief histories of all of the Indian tribes in Montana.

Stone Boiling

One of the common ways of cooking food on the Northern Plains was with stone boiling. As shown in the photo above, a hide would be placed in a small depression, then filled with water and food. Hot rocks would then be added to bring the water up to boiling. (Note: the rocks were not eaten.)

Métis Museum:

Metis Museum

A small, mobile Métis museum was set up in the parking lot. The Métis are the descendents of the European fur traders (primarily French and Scots) and Indian wives. In Canada, they are recognized as a distinct people, a distinct cultural group. In Montana, they are often closely identified with the Little Shell Chippewa, a tribe which does not have federal recognition.

Red River Cart

Shown above is a Red River Cart which was used by the Métis. Since they didn’t use grease on the axles, it is said that they could be heard for miles.

Disclosure: When I did my presentation at the park, I wore the red sash that identifies me as Métis.  

Alcatraz Island

The occupation of Alcatraz Island in California by a group of Indians from various nations during the late 1960s and early 1970s became the symbol for Indian activism around the United States and inspired similar events in other parts of the country. The occupation of Alcatraz was more than a cause: it became a symbol of Indian pride and their determination to free themselves from the oppression of the American government.



In 1868 Alcatraz Island became a federal prison for military prisoners. As a federal military prison it was also used to house American Indian prisoners. In some cases, these Indians were not soldiers, but simply Indian leaders who did not support the United States take-over of their tribal governments. They were imprisoned without the benefit of legal proceedings, such as a trial.  

In some cases, Indians who had been tried in military courts as prisoners of war were sentenced to Alcatraz. Following the Modoc War in 1873, for example, two young warriors Slolux and Barnchohad their death sentences commuted by President Ulysses Grant and were sentenced to life imprisonment at Alcatraz Island. The young men had been tried without any legal counsel as the Army considered defense counsel a privilege rather than a right.

In 1933 Alcatraz became a part of the federal prison system.

Treaty Rights:

In 1962, the federal government closed its federal prison on Alcatraz Island, California. At the United Council meetings in nearby Oakland, Indian people discussed treaty provisions which promised surplus or abandoned federal lands to Indian tribes. Research determined that this right was granted to the Sioux in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.

In 1964, a group of about 40 Indians travelled to Alcatraz Island by boat. After landing on the island, Allen Cottier, a Sioux descendent of Crazy Horse, read a statement offering 47 cents per acre for the purchase of the island. This was the amount which the federal government was offering to pay for California Indian lands.

The Occupation:

In 1969, a group of young Indian activists, calling themselves “Indians of All Tribes” occupied the abandoned Alcatraz Island to protest Indian conditions. In a proclamation to the “Great White Father” they informed the government that they had reclaimed the island by right of discovery and that they were willing to pay a fair price ($24) for it. The price offered was $1.50 per acre which is more than the 47 cents per acre which the government was currently offering California Indians for their lands under the Claims Commission Act.

Under the terms of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, male Indian adults whose tribes were a party to this treaty are allowed to file for a homestead on abandoned federal lands. Since Alcatraz had been abandoned by the federal government in 1963, the Indians reasoned, they had a treaty right to file a claim on the island.

Occupied Alcatraz lacked decent housing, running water, and employment opportunities. Many Indians observed that in this way it was like a reservation.

Radio Free Alcatraz broadcast a 15 minute daily program hosted by John Trudell and aired by KPFA-FM. The program provided an ongoing narrative of the occupation for the listening audience.

Among those involved in the occupation was Wilma Mankiller who would later become Principal Chief of the Cherokee.

Writer Vine Deloria, who considered the occupation to be irrelevant, received a phone call from President Richard Nixon who ordered him to “get those Indians out of that prison or we’ll throw them in jail.”

Part of the occupation of Alcatraz Island stemmed from the formation of the United Student Council of American Natives (SCAN) by Indian students at San Francisco State University. The students saw themselves as warriors of a new era who needed to arm themselves with education. The founding members included Richard Oakes (Mohawk), Allen Miller (Seminole), Ron Lickers (Seneca), Mickey Gemmil (Pit River), and Gerald Sam (Round Valley). The group was instrumental in the formation of an American Indian Studies Department at the University and in the invasion of Alcatraz.

In 1970, six weeks after the Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island had begun, a 13-year-old girl-Yvonne Oakes, step-daughter of Mohawk Richard Oakes-was killed in an accident. Oakes and his wife Anne suspected that Yvonne’s death was not accidental. They feared that it might have been the result of jealousy arising out of Oakes’s recognition as the Indian leader on Alcatraz by the press and government negotiators. There was, however, insufficient evidence to determine foul play.

In 1970, the Bay Area Native American Council (BANAC) was formed. The group represented 26 organizations which in turn represented some 40,000 Indians from 78 tribes. California governor Ronald Reagan approved a $50,000 planning grant for BANAC to address the needs of urban Indians in the Bay Area, but the grant was not able be used to support the Indians occupying Alcatraz Island. Many Indian people, particularly those who were occupying Alcatraz and providing logistical support for the occupiers, considered the grant an attempt to drive a wedge between the urban Indian population and the occupiers.

Finally in 1971, after having occupied the island for nineteen months and nine days, American forces armed with revolvers, M-1 carbines, and shotguns landed on Alcatraz Island and arrested the last 15 members of the Indian occupation force. The 15 Indian people on the island-six men, four women, and five children-offered no resistance. In less than thirty minutes the occupation was over.


The following year, Alcatraz Island became a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area administered by the National Park Service.

The Indian occupation of Alcatraz inspired a number of other political actions, including the seizure of the Mayflower II in 1970; the Indian occupation of Mount Rushmore in 1972; the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973; and the Longest Walk in 1985.

The occupation of Alcatraz helped to foster a general pan-Indian identity, sense of purpose, and pride. It inspired activism and movements to reclaim tribal cultures. Many feel that this was an important moment in the struggle for the enforcement of treaty rights, the recognition of tribal sovereignty and Indian self-government.  

The French Fur Trade

When the French first entered North America, their primary focus was on gaining wealth through the fur trade. They viewed Indians as trading partners, as important elements in acquiring the furs which would generate great wealth. Following the system of rivers and lakes, French traders using Indian canoes penetrated deep into North America. To be successful, the French traders learned Indian languages, often dressed in Indian style, and married Indian women.  

The fur trade in the seventeenth century was globalized: that is, furs obtained from the Indians in North America were transported to Europe where they were sold for a profit. To obtain the furs, the traders imported European manufactured goods which the Indians wanted.

Over the centuries, the primary engine of globalization has been the transnational corporation. In 1602, the Company of New France, a joint stock company modeled after the English and Dutch companies trading in the East Indies, was given a royal charter and exclusive trading rights from Florida to the Arctic Circle and westward along all rivers flowing into the “Fresh Sea” (the Great Lakes).

The French trading strategy was to travel inland, using Indian canoes to follow the lakes and rivers to the Indian villages. The French wanted to establish firm, long-lasting trading alliances and so they spoke the Native languages. They also recognized that there were traditional ceremonial preludes to trading and they were willing to participate in them.

The French traders usually lived in the Indian villages, so they also dressed in an Indian fashion: they got rid of their cumbersome European dress and wore Native-style hunting shirts and moccasins. They recognized the importance of family relationships in trading networks, so they often married Indian women and were adopted into Indian families.

The marriages between the French traders and Indian women often resulted in children. These children, who were not seen as racially mixed as race was not a Native concept, eventually helped create a new people, the Métis. The Métis are a cultural mixture of European and Indian traits.

The alliances between the French and the Indian nations were often more than just trade agreements. In 1603, the French promised the Montagnais that they would help them in their on-going struggle against the Iroquois Confederacy. The French provided the Montagnais with weapons other than guns and the Montagnais blocked the Iroquois expansion into the Saint Lawrence area.

In 1614, the French established a formal trading alliance with the Huron Confederacy. Once again they had allied themselves with enemies of the Iroquois Confederacy. The following year, the French joined with a joint Huron and Algonquin raiding party against the Iroquois. While the French viewed the war as a failure as it did defeat the Iroquois, it reinforced their alliance with the Huron.

In 1622, the Iroquois sent ambassadors to the French, proposing a general peace. The French traders opposed the peace treaty, fearing that once peace was established the Iroquois would persuade the Huron to start trading with the Dutch who had established a trading post at present-day Albany, New York. When the French government established peace with the Iroquois the following year, the French traders sent additional traders out to spend the winter with the Huron and make sure they continued trading with the French rather than the Dutch.

The general peace negotiated between the Iroquois and the French was broken in 1627 by the Montagnais, who were French trading partners. The Montagnais attacked the Iroquois and obtained several prisoners. The French persuaded the Montagnais to release the prisoners and sent a party to seek pardon from the Iroquois for breaking the peace. The peace party, however, was captured, tortured, and killed. For the next century, the French dealt with peace agreements which were often shattered by their trading partners. The ensuing war, battles, and skirmishes interfered with trading relations.

In 1632, the French established Trois-Rivières, Québec, as a major center for building Indian birchbark canoes for the fur trade. Canoe sizes became standardized: the Montreal canoe was 36 feet long; the North canoe was 26 feet long; and the Bastard canoe was 28-32 feet long. The Montreal canoe, which was most frequently used on the routes from Montreal to the western end of Lake Superior and on the route to Michilimacinac and down the Mississippi, could carry 8,000 pounds of cargo plus the paddlers.

Overall, the French managed to integrate two very different economic philosophies. European economics was focused on material goods and was guided by a philosophy that emphasized the individual accumulation of goods. French society was stratified, that is, it was divided into social classes. On the other hand, Indian societies were egalitarian. Philosophically, the Indians frowned on the accumulation of individual wealth. Those who acquired wealth, gave it away, and in this way gained social prestige.

Many of the European trade goods which the French traders brought to the Indians-beads, mirrors, bells, and caps-were valued by the Indians for aesthetic, decorative, and/or spiritual reasons. Some of the metal items, such as axes, knives, arrow heads, pots and pans, and awls, were incorporated into Indian cultures as substitutes for similar non-metal goods. While iron arrowheads were popular, guns and ammunition allowed the tribes to expand militarily. Guns, along with the gunpowder and the lead balls that they required, were in great demand among the Indians and were often a prestige item within the Indian nations.

Most of the Indian nations with which the French had trading alliances were agricultural. In these cultures, such as that of the Huron, the women did the farming while the men hunted. With the fur trade, men’s economic importance increased as they now hunted not just for calories, but for trade goods. As their hunting ranges increased, this brought them into more conflicts with other tribes.

The French fur trade ended in 1769 when control of Canada was transferred to the British. Many of the French fur traders continued to work as independent traders or joined Hudson’s Bay Company. Overall, the French fur trade established the basic patterns for the fur trade in Canada and much of the United States.  

The Choctaw Removal

By 1830, non-Indians in Mississippi, motivated by greed and racism, were strongly advocating the removal of the Choctaw from the state. According to the citizens of Mississippi (Indians could not be citizens at this time), the reasons for the Choctaw removal included:

(1) Mississippi needed more land to attract immigrants from the east

(2) The Choctaw imposed a heavy financial burden on the state because they did not pay taxes

(3) The Choctaw harbored runaway slaves and non-Indian criminals

(4) They were hunters, not farmers, and hence not devoted to cultivating their fields

(5) They were inferior human beings, incapable of being civilized and therefore Mississippi must remove them as one removes a cancer

(6) Their lands were all within state boundaries and therefore the land belonged to Mississippi

Choctaw Background:

In general, the Indian nations that occupied what is now the American South were skilled farmers. For more than a thousand years, they had been raising corn, beans, squash, and other plants and their surplus agricultural products had allowed the unskilled non-Indians to survive when they first invaded.

Among the Choctaw, it is estimated that corn provided about two-thirds of their diet. In addition to corn and beans, the Choctaw also grew squash, sunflowers, sweet potatoes, and tobacco.

Unlike the Europeans, the Indians of the Southeastern Woodlands did not view land as private property. Land was held in common with individuals and families having use rights. These farming rights were held as long as they continued to use the land. Use rights were generally respected and an individual or family would not seek access to a piece of land until it had been abandoned.

The Choctaw, at the time of European contact, were a loosely organized confederacy composed of three distinctly different divisions: Okla Falaya (Long People), Okla Tannap (People of the Opposite Side), and Okla Hannalia (Sixtown People). The people were living in more than 100 autonomous villages. Chiefs were selected from the senior matrilineal clan in the district. While there was a mingo (leader) for each district, there was no single overall mingo.

The Americans:

Beginning with the creation of the United States, its citizens and political leaders had discussed the idea that no Indians should be allowed in the new country. At the beginning of the nineteenth century this idea took root in the idea of removal. First promoted by Thomas Jefferson, the idea was simple: Indians should be removed west of the Mississippi River so that their lands could be developed. In order to promote this idea, it was necessary to ignore the fact that Indians had been farmers who had developed their lands for thousands of years and promote the idea of Indians as wandering hunters. With the purchase of the right to govern the Louisiana Territory in 1803, the U.S. had a place for Indian removal.

In 1803, President Jefferson told a Choctaw delegation:

“It is hereby announced and declared, by the authority of the United States, that all lands belonging to you, lying within the territory of the United States shall be and remain the property of your Nation forever, unless you shall voluntarily relinquish or dispose of the same.”

In that same year, Jefferson sent agents to the Choctaw to obtain lands from them. When the Choctaw leaders refused to discuss the matter of land cession, the United States officials then presented them with the overdue bills from Panton, Leslie and Company (a British trading company) and demanded immediate payment. As a result, the Choctaw chiefs signed the Treaty of Hoe Buckintoopa which ceded 853,760 acres of land to the United States. Two years later, the Americans used the same tactic to coerce the Choctaw leaders into signing another treaty in which they ceded four million acres of land in order to pay off debts to the trading company.  

In 1817, Mississippi became a state and thus put more pressure on the Choctaw to give up their lands so that non-Indians could develop cotton plantations. In this same year, President James Monroe tells Congress:

“The hunter state can exist only in the vast uncultivated desert. It yields to the more dense and compact form and great force of civilized population; and of right it ought to yield, for the earth was given to mankind to support the greatest number of which it is capable, and no tribe of people have a right to withhold from the wants of others more than is necessary for their own support and comfort.”

In 1818, the United States sent a delegation to meet with the Choctaw leaders and present them with a proposal to move to the west. The Choctaw leaders refused to discuss the matter. The non-Indians in Mississippi were not pleased with the failure of the negotiations and brought pressure for a “get tough” policy regarding the Choctaw.

The following year, the Secretary of War sent a new delegation, one led by Andrew Jackson, to meet with the Choctaw to discuss removal. For three days, Jackson lectured the Choctaw, threatened them, and cajoled them. Choctaw leader Pushmataha bluntly replied:

“We wish to remain here…and do not wish to be transplanted into another soil.”

Pushmataha also pointed out that the land west of the Mississippi was very poor and that the government was trying to cheat them by asking them to give up good farm lands for poor farm lands.

In 1820, the Mississippi state legislature proposed that the United States purchase Choctaw lands for “a small consideration.” Newspapers reported that the governor, the legislature, and the people of Mississippi (meaning Euroamericans) were greatly annoyed with the Choctaw and felt that Choctaw land ownership was a great detriment to the state.

In the same year, Andrew Jackson once again led a delegation to discuss removal with the Choctaw. The council was held at Doak Stand and the Americans provided each Indian with a daily ration of 1.5 pounds of beef, a pint of corn, and free access to alcohol. While most of the Choctaw drew the rations, the followers of Puckshunubbee refused as they did not want to accept American hospitality under false pretenses. At the council, the Choctaw leaders were told that if they did not cede their land to the United States, the government would stop protecting the Choctaw from non-Indian settlers and from the territorial designs of the states and that state government would simply assume control over Choctaw affairs and take the land anyway.

Under intense pressure from the U.S. government, the Choctaw leaders signed the Treaty of Doak’s Stand giving 6 million acres of land in Mississippi to the United States. In exchange, the United States was to give the Choctaw a similar piece of land west of the Mississippi River and to support all Choctaw migrants to this land for one year. In what was left of the Choctaw territory east of the Mississippi River, the Choctaw are to be allowed to live undisturbed and to eventually become American citizens. Each man who migrated to the west was to be given a blanket, kettle, rifle, bullet molds, powder, and enough corn to last his family for a year.

While non-Indians in Mississippi were pleased with this treaty, those in Arkansas, where the Choctaw were to be removed, were not. People in Mississippi told them that they should accept the “burden” of the Indians until they obtained statehood and then they could force the Indians to move farther west. The editor of the Mississippi Gazette wrote:

“In the course of time, the territory of Arkansas, will also claim a state of independence, the Indians must be removed from her soil-and she will set but little importance upon the arguments now volunteered for her, against the treaty which may effect it.”

In 1824, a ten-member Choctaw delegation under the leadership of Pushmataha traveled to Washington, D.C. to protest the fact that their western allotments in Oklahoma and Arkansas are already occupied by non-Indians. In Washington, the Secretary of War provided the delegation with a whiskey allowance of $3 per day per delegate, but this proved to be inadequate. Over a period of three months, each Indian averaged $8.21 per day for whiskey.

In 1825, William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) met with the Choctaw and Chickasaw to convince them to move west. The tribal leaders tell him in no uncertain terms that they are not interested. The non-Indian citizens of Mississippi were outraged at this refusal and some demanded that the Indians be driven out by force.

In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. In making the case for Indian removal, Lewis Cass, the Secretary of War, wrote in the North American Review:

“A barbarous people, depending for subsistence upon the scanty and precarious supplies furnished by the chase, cannot live in contact with a civilized community.”

President Andrew Jackson stated:

“It will relieve the whole State of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama of Indian occupancy; and enable those States to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power. It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.”

Dancing Rabbit Creek:

In 1830 the Secretary of War (who is in charge of Indian affairs in the United States at this time) called the Choctaw leaders together at Dancing Rabbit Creek to negotiate a removal treaty. The United States ordered all missionaries to stay away from the council grounds under the pretext that their presence would be improper as the meeting was not a religious service, but a treaty negotiations session. The American negotiators feared that the missionaries would speak out against the treaty and convince the Choctaw, many of whom were Christian, that it was a bad deal. The missionaries complained bitterly about this decision, but to no avail.

According to the proposal which the Americans submitted to the Choctaw leadership, in removing to the west each Choctaw tribal member would receive money, farm and household equipment, subsistence for a full year, and they would be paid for all improvements made to their Mississippi lands. While the American negotiators were confident that the Choctaw would accept the treaty, the Choctaw council voted unanimously to reject it. They gave two reasons for the rejections: (1) they wanted a perpetual guarantee that the United States would never try to possess their new lands in the west, and (2) they were dissatisfied with the lands which had been offered to them in Indian territory.

In response to the Choctaw rejection of the treaty, the Americans informed the Choctaw that they must either move west or be placed under Mississippi law. Under Mississippi law they would lose their lands, receiving nothing for them. If they resisted, the Americans told them, then the American armed forces would destroy them. As a result of these threats, the Choctaw leaders and the American negotiators reached an agreement in which the Choctaw got a perpetual guarantee of their new home. Under the treaty, non-Indians were not to be allowed to enter the Choctaw nation without the consent of tribal government. The exception to this is the Indian agent who was to be appointed by the President every four years.

The removal of the Choctaw from Mississippi was to take place over a period of three years, with one group (supposedly one-third of the nation) moving west each year. By 1833, according to the treaty, the Choctaw nation would no longer be in Mississippi.

Recognizing that not all tribal members might want to move, the treaty allowed for some to remain in Mississippi. Chiefs who remained were to receive four sections of land and an annual payment of $250;  adults were to receive 640 acres; children over 10, 160 acres. Indians failing to register within 6 months would be barred from registering.

In response to the treaty, Chief David Folsom said:

“Our doom is sealed. There is no other course for us but to turn our faces to our new homes toward the setting sun.”

The Removals:

In December of 1830, 400 individuals left for the west. This initial group was composed of Choctaw captains and high-ranking warriors who felt that they could sell their lands for a handsome price at this time and feared that if they delayed the land values would decrease.

A second group of about 4,000 left in 1831. They were transported by steamboat as far as possible up the Arkansas and Ouachita Rivers. They arrived at their new homes after a five month journey. Many of them were sick and all of them were exhausted and discouraged.

In 1832, the removal of the remaining Mississippi Choctaw was turned over to the army. Under orders to economize, rations were decreased and transportation was provided only for the very young and those who were very sick. Nine thousand Choctaw were removed, most of whom walked all the way to their new homes. They had no time to prepare for the trip and were told that the American government would provide all supplies. They were issued one blanket per family (there were an average of six people per family). They were forced by the government to leave during the winter and en route they encountered a snow storm. Ice flows prevented them from crossing the Mississippi River and they huddled in the freezing rain for several days. Many died of starvation and exposure. During the 350 mile forced march, in which many did not have shoes to wear, it was estimated that 2,500 died. The Choctaw were not allowed to care for the bodies of the dead in their traditional way. Instead, the Americans forced them to bury the dead in a European fashion.

Staying Behind:

Those Choctaw who wanted to remain in Mississippi under the terms of their treaty found it difficult to do so. The Indian agent was strongly opposed to having any Choctaw remain, so he simply put off registering them as long as he could. He pretended to be sick, and sometimes went into hiding. He was determined to deny the Choctaw their treaty rights. Reluctantly, he registered a few-69-so he could show at least token compliance with the terms of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.

Re-Enacting the Fur Trade

As with many other aspects of history, the fur trade in North America has re-enactors who bring this aspect of history alive by acting out the parts of fur traders, mountain men, and trappers. I recently attended a re-enactment, celebration, and historical discussion about the establishment of the Howse House-a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post established by Joseph Howse in 1810-1811. As one of the organizers stated: “The buckskinners provide the touchy-feely part of the program.” Dressed in authentic period outfits, the re-enactors allow people to see, feel, touch, and smell the various aspects of life in the Rocky Mountains 200 years ago. What follows are some of the photos from this celebration.  


Fur traders and trappers often used Indian-style canoes to follow the waterways-lakes and rivers-into Indian country.


Shown above is a typical canoe used in the fur trade.

Kootenai Canoe

Models are often used to show people the different canoes styles as well as techniques for making canoes. The model shown above is a Kootenai sturgeon-nosed canoe. This style of canoe is unique to the Kootenai people.

Canoe Model 1

Shown above is a model of another style of canoe.

The Howse House:

Howse House

We don’t really know what the trading post built by Joseph Howse looked like 200 years ago. We assume that he built a fairly traditional complex of cabins in the Hudson’s Bay Company style. Shown above is a full-scale mock-up of this type of cabin. The cabins were usually built from short, small-diameter logs. He probably put up two or three of these in a compound: one for storing trading goods and furs, possibly one for the men (he had at least 16 other men, including one free black, with him), and one as the “trading post.”


Made Beaver

One of the things that the European traders wanted from the Indians was beaver. Shown above is a beaver pelt, known as “made” beaver since it has been prepared for trade.

Trade Goods 1

When the traders met the Indians at a rendezvous or in their villages, there were no stores and so the trading goods would be simply displayed on the ground.

Trade 3

Shown above are some of the traditional items which were traded to the Indians for furs. This includes guns, knives, awls, and other metal items.

Trade 2

Not all trade items carried by the traders from Hudson’s Bay Company, the North West Company, the Pacific Fur Company, and others were manufactured goods. Shown above are the traditional ropes and twists of tobacco.


Toss 2

Toss 1

Trade Goods 1

At the rendezvous, people would often compete in activities such as knife and hatchet throwing contests.


Flintknapping 1

Pictured above is the flintknapping demonstration. Prior to the European invasion, Indians made many of their tools-arrowheads, knives, axes, etc.-from stone.  

The Athabascan-Speaking Groups in the Southwest

Sometime in the late 1300’s and early 1400’s groups of hunting and gathering Athabascan-speaking peoples began arriving in the Southwest from the far north in Canada. These were the ancestors of the Navajo and Apache peoples. While most scholars agree that the ancestors of the Navajo and Apache originally lived in western Canada, probably on the northern Plains of Alberta, there is some disagreement over: (1) when they actually migrated to the Southwest, and (2) the route, or, more likely, the routes they used.  

The findings from archaeology suggest four different migration routes: (1) An intermountain route through western Colorado and eastern Utah; (2) A Rocky Mountain route through central Colorado; (3) A High Plains route through eastern Colorado; and (4) A Plains border route through Kansas.

While there are some scholars who feel that the Navajo and Apache could have started arriving in the Southwest as early as 800 CE and some who feel that it was as late at 1500 CE, most tend to place their arrival between 1200 and 1400.

With regard to language, Navajo and Apache are Athabascan languages which are related to the languages on the Northern Plains, particularly Sarsi, as well as languages spoken on the Northwest Coast (such as Haida), and California (such as Hoopa). Linguists have suggested that Navajo and Apache may have diverged from the northern languages as early as 2,400 years ago.

When the Spanish entered New Mexico, they recorded that the Tewa referred to one of the neighboring tribes as Navahú in reference to large areas of cultivated lands. This is in reference to the Navajo practice of dry-farming in arroyos, and cañadas. The Tewa also referred to these newcomers as Apachü which means strangers and enemies. The Spanish would later refer to these people as Apache de Navajó meaning the Apaches with the great planted fields.

There are six major divisions of the Apache: the Western Apache, Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, and Kiowa-Apache.

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

The Chiricahua Apache are south of the Western Apache in the mountains of southeastern Arizona. The term “Chiricahua” was coined by an anthropologist to refer to the autonomous tribes living in or near the Chiricahua Mountains. The Chiricahua Apache were composed of four independent political units in this area: Chíhéne, Chokonene, Bidánku, and Ndé’ndaí.

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

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

The Navajo were traditionally divided into numerous, small independent groups. These groups are often described according to territorial groupings: (1) The area around Canyon de Chelly; (2) The mountainous region south of Zuñi, which includes Bear Springs (Fort Wingate); (3) Cebolleta near Laguna Pueblo; (4) San Mateo Mountains around Mount Taylor; and (5) The eastern slopes of the Tohatchi, the Tunicha, and the Carrizo Mountains extending to the Largo Canyon.  

Glacier National Park: Avalanche Lake (Photo Diary)

For centuries before the creation of the United States and the concept of a National Park Service, Indian people from several very different tribes utilized the plant, animal, geological, and spiritual resources of what is now Glacier National Park in Montana. The Blackfoot occupied the area east of the continental divide and the area west of the continental divide was used by the Kootenai and the Pend d’Oreille.

Avalanche Lake and the small creek which runs from it to the larger McDonald Creek are featured in some of the Kootenai stories. Since I am not Kootenai, I am not privy to these stories. Since the creation of Glacier National Park in 1910, the hike up to Avalanche Lake has been popular with tourists and for many, visiting the lake can be a spiritual experience.  

The Trail:

Trail 1

Trail 2

Trail 3

Trail 5

Shown above are some photos of the two mile trail from the trailhead at the campground to the lake. It is classified as an easy hike, but for those who are overweight and underexercised it may seem a bit rough. About half-way between the trailhead and the lake there is a blowdown area and one large tree is now across the trail.

The Creek:

Creek 1

Creek 2

Creek 3

Creek 4

Creek 5

Creek 7

Creek 8

For the first half-mile, the trail follows the creek fairly closely, giving hikers some fantastic views of running waters.

The Mountains:

Mtn 1

Mtn 2

Mtn 3

Mtn 4

Mtn 5

Glacier National Park is in the Rocky Mountains and Avalanche Lake is a mountain lake: thus hikers usually notice the mountains which surround them.

The Lake:

Avalanche Lake 1

Avalanche Lake 2

Avalanche Lake sits in a mountain bowl with four major waterfalls bringing freshly melted snows down to the lake. Sitting on the beach it is easy to understand that this lake, the waterfalls, the mountains, the clouds passing overhead, can easily be a symbol for creation.  

Heathens on the Nez Perce Reservation

When Ulysses S. Grant assumed the Presidency, he inherited a major problem with regard to the administration of the Indian reservations. The Indian Service was notoriously corrupt and his solution was to create faith-based reservations: that is, to turn the administration of the nation’s Indian reservations over to Christian, primarily Protestant, missionary groups. The missionaries, working on behalf of the United States government, were to help the Indians on the road to civilization which required them to become English-speaking Christian farmers.

In 1871, the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho was first given to the Catholics, but due to Presbyterian protests it was then given to the Presbyterians. Under this administration, the Presbyterian missionaries and teachers deliberately made the Indians ashamed of their own culture, language, history, and traditions. Old ways were not only frowned upon and ridiculed, they were also prohibited.

At this time, the Nez Perce were divided into two main factions: the reservation group which was primarily Christian (mostly Presbyterian), pro-American, and willing to accept European customs, and the off-reservation group which had adopted an anti-government, anti-treaty, anti-Christian, and anti-acculturational stance. The off-reservation group was involved in the 1877 Nez Perce War.

The new Indian agent, determined to continue and strengthen the Presbyterian influence on the reservations, ordered the Methodist missionary off the reservation and refused to allow the Catholics to build a mission.

The missionaries on the reservation opposed those things they viewed as associated with Nez Perce heathenism: polygyny, gambling, shamanism, guardian spirits, and any Indian ceremony that including drumming, singing or chanting, and dancing. They also condemned long hair on men, aboriginal clothing, and horses, as all of these had been a part of the traditional Nez Perce way of life. They also strongly opposed the Catholics, who had not been a part of the traditional lifestyle, but who were seen by the Presbyterians as heathens or pagans.

In 1873, the United States government built a church for the Presbyterian mission at Kamiah, Idaho on the Nez Perce reservation.

In 1884, the United States formally outlawed “pagan” Indian ceremonies and any form of promoting these ceremonies. Indians who were found guilty of participating in traditional religious ceremonies were to be imprisoned for 30 days.  This was seen as an important step in the destruction of the Indian way of life.

As the United States government legislated against traditional Native American religions, the Presbyterian missionaries on the Nez Perce Reservation were scandalized at what they viewed as the pagan interpretations of patriotic holidays. During holidays, such as the Fourth of July, many of the Nez Perce would engage in such heathen practices as horse-racing, war dancing, and open sexuality. In order to counter these “pagan” activities, the missionaries decided to sponsor a picnic to provide a Christian alternative during the holidays.

In 1885, the missionaries among the Nez Perce organized the second annual Kamiah picnic as a way of uniting the Nez Perce and countering paganism. The peace of the picnic, however, was interrupted by gunfire as tribal police under the leadership of Tom Hill attempted to make an arrest. Two men were killed. Tom Hill was later charged with murder, but the jury rendered a verdict of justifiable homicide.

By 1888, all of the Nez Perce Presbyterian churches were under the control of native preachers. Non-Indian missionaries assisted in an advisory capacity.

In spite of picnics and Native preachers, the old ways refused to die. In 1891, as a result of the controversy over the blending of pagan and Christian elements in patriotic celebrations, such as the Fourth of July, the “heathen” Nez Perce were expelled from the agency grounds. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered that the race grounds be fenced and forbid all heathenism and immorality on the school grounds.  Later missionary writers would report that this simply removed the heathens from any ameliorating Christian influences. From a Christian missionary viewpoint this meant that the heathen celebrations became more “evil.” Presbyterian missionary Kate McBeth, who was on the reservation at the time, wrote:

“That Fourth of July the camp was made just outside the school ground, half a mile away, and heathenism still raged.”

She went on to say:

“Renegade Indians from almost every tribe on the coast came, delighting to introduce new immoral plays into the Nez Perce camp. Oh! The vileness of it all!”

In 1897, during the ten-day Fourth of July celebration, the Nez Perce broke into two factions: Christian and heathen. Two separate camps were established. Presbyterian missionary Kate McBeth wrote:

“Those who went into the heathen camp were to be considered suspended members until such time as they chose to show sorrow for their acts and confess their sins.”

Word spread among the Christian camp that the heathens were going to lead a parade through the camp. Seven Christian Nez Perce under the leadership of Edward Reboin blocked the road. When the heathen procession led by James Reuben got to them they were stopped. After an exchange of angry words, the procession turned back.

Another Presbyterian missionary wrote:

“In and out of that heathen camp we went and saw all the devilish glamour and savage gorgeousness that covered every kind of wickedness that human mind can invent.”

During the twentieth century, the division between the heathens and the Christians on the reservation remained, but the open conflicts between the two groups became more subtle, often reflected in the political arena.