Ancient Michigan

European interest in the area which would later become the state of Michigan began in the seventeenth century and was driven by two concerns: (1) to expand the lucrative fur trade with the Indians, and (2) to discover a water-based passage to the Pacific Ocean. The French expedition led by Étienne Brule reached Michigan in 1622, finding it occupied by the three Algonquian-speaking tribes of the Three Council Fires Confederacy: Ojibwa, Ottawa, Pottawatomi. In 1668 the French established a permanent settlement at Sault Ste. Marie as a base for their Catholic missions.  

Between the creation of the Great Lakes at the end of the ice ages when the Laurentide ice sheet receded about 10,000 years ago and the French arrival into the area, various Indian nations had lived and prospered in Michigan. Unfortunately, the archaeological record does not provide us with a year-by-year account of what was happening in the area. What we have instead are simply hints of early life in Michigan supplemented by the oral traditions of the tribes.

Archaeological findings show us that Indian people were living in the area by 8300 BCE when a group of Indians established a seasonal camp near present-day Traverse City. The stone tools which they were using had been fashioned from stones quarried in the Saginaw Bay area, about 100 miles away. This implies that the people at this time were either utilizing resources over a fairly large area, or that they were trading with other people who had access to the Saginaw Bay quarries.

Stone tools provide important information to archaeologists. First, they are more likely to survive the ravages of time. Second, they provide information about stylistic changes in tool-making over time. And third, they provide some hints into the subsistence patterns of the people.

By 7500 BCE, some of the Indian people in Michigan were using a type of stone tool which archaeologists have designated as a Thebes point. These points, which were used as both dart points and knives, have broad diagonal notches squared at the inner end. They have a broadly expanded stem. These points are also found in archaeological sites in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri. This does not mean that a single tribe inhabited this area, but that there was an interchange of ideas and goods among the various peoples in the region.

Thebes Point 3

Thebes Map

A Thebes point and a map showing the distribution of Thebes points are shown above.

At this same time (7500 BCE), some Indian people were using a stone tool which archaeologists call Hardin points. These points, which were used as both dart points and as knives, have straight or convex sides with straight to expanded stems. The points usually have pronounced barbs. These points are also found in archaeological sites in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Trade has always been important to American Indians. Some of our earliest evidence of trade among the Indian people who lived in Michigan actually comes from a site in Illinois. By 6500 BCE, a group of about 25 Indian people was living at the Koster site. The people at the Koster site were trading to obtain hematite beads from northern Michigan.

While it is common to stereotype ancient Indians as a “stone age” people, this stereotype is not accurate. By 5000 BCE, the Indian people in the Great Lakes area were making tools, weapons, and ornaments from copper. Indians, called the Old Copper Indians by archaeologists, maintained copper mines in the Keweenaw Peninsula and Isle Royale. Here they dug thousands of mining pits. Some of the mining pits were up to 20 feet deep. With hammerstones, birchbark buckets, and a system of levels, the miners extracted the copper from the earth. The metal was then taken back to their villages where it was shaped by cold-hammering and annealing. The tools formed by the Old Copper Indians included leaf-shaped knives and spear-points, fishhooks, harpoon points, gouges, chisels, awls, wedges, punches, needles, drills, and axes.

By 1500 BCE, there is more evidence of long distance trade. At this time, the copper beads manufactured by Michigan Indians had found their way into Poverty Point, a large site in Louisiana.

Burials provide archaeologists with a great deal of information. The bones of the ancestors speak, telling us about their diet, their daily lives, and some of the illnesses which they encountered. They also provide some insights into religious practices. By 1000 BCE, Indian people began burying their dead at the Riverside site.  Burial goods suggest that the people had well-developed trade networks with the Ohio River Valley, the Gulf Coast, and the Great Plains. Included in the graves were obsidian from the Yellowstone National Park area of Wyoming, marine shells from the Gulf or Atlantic seacoast, flint from North Dakota, and stone tools from other parts of the Midwest.

Tobacco is important to American Indians, and one of its uses is as a smoking material. By 1000 BCE, Indian people were using tubular-shaped pipes for smoking tobacco. The pipes were flared on the tobacco end and narrowed on the mouth end.

Another common stereotype of American Indians sees them as nomadic hunters and gatherers whose lifestyle was focused on hunting big game animals. Yet, at the beginning of the European invasion, most Indians obtained most of their calories from agricultural crops. One of the important domesticated plants was corn, which had been originally domesticated in Mexico. One of the questions asked by archaeologists is when corn agriculture reached the Great Lakes area.

The first evidence of corn in Michigan is found at the Eidson site: by 240 CE the Indian people at this site had corn. By 600 CE, there is evidence of corn at the Gard Island 2 site, the Indian Island 4 site, the Sissung site, and the Leimbach site. All of these sites are located around western Lake Erie.  By 850 CE, Indian people at the Birch Run site had 8-row corn.

While corn certainly marks the beginning of change for many Indian cultures, there was no overnight shift from a hunting and gathering form of subsistence to agriculture. Many groups continued the old ways. In 600 CE, for example, archaeologists report that the economy of Indian people in west-central Michigan was based on hunting, fishing, and gathering with seasonal migrations. Archaeological findings suggest a mixed economic strategy which included fishing in the spring, summer, and fall. In the fall and winter the people hunted deer and other mammals.

One of the largest and most complex Native American civilizations was Mississippian which was centered at Cahokia near present-day St. Louis. By the eleventh century, the Mississippian cultural complex was evident in Michigan. By 1000 CE, Mississippian people were beginning to enter southwestern Michigan.

During the eleventh century there were a number of large village agricultural sites, some of which were indigenous and some of which were influenced by Mississippian culture. These include a large agricultural village on the Kalamazoo River known as the Nordhoff site and Moccasin Bluff. Agriculture at this time included a number of cultigens other than corn, including squash, tobacco, and sunflower.

Permanent villages which are occupied for long periods of time give archaeologists insights into cultural changes. By 1100, the Indian people at the Moccasin Bluff site were using both grit-tempered Moccasin Bluff ware and shell-tempered Berrien ware (pottery). Archaeologists interpret this change in pottery as reflecting an indigenous culture which was heavily influenced by Mississippian. About 1150, there was an increase in population at Moccasin Bluff. There was also a change in the type of pottery being used: shell-tempered, cordmarked pottery decreased while grit-tempered pottery, both cordmarked and plain, increased.

By the thirteenth century, the Indian people in Michigan had economies that included agriculture, hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. In 1200, Indian people built a small fortified agricultural village in the upper Muskegon River Valley, known as the Boven earthwork to archaeologists. The people were using cordmarked ceramics. The fortifications found there are an indication of inter-group conflicts.

About 1210, Indian people established a summer fishing and farming village along the Lake Michigan shore north of Grand Traverse Bay. This shows that these people were using agriculture to supplement their subsistence, rather than relying on it exclusively. Instead of permanent villages, they are using summer villages and winter villages, based on available resources.

By 1250 the weather in the lower Great Lakes area was starting to change. The climate was now characterized by decreased rainfall and cooler temperatures. This meant that agriculture became less dependable.

Archaeologists are able to associate some fifteenth century sites with specific tribal affiliations. The ancestors of what appear to be the Fox and Sauk abandon their village at the Fosters site about 1400.

In the fifteenth century, the tribes of the Three Council Fires–the Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi- moved south to Lake Huron. The Ottawa stayed at the mouth of the French River and Lake Huron Islands while the Ojibwa and Potawatomi occupied the shoreline to the Mackinac Strait.

A century later, several tribes displaced by the Ojibwa expansion into Michigan and Wisconsin south of the Great Lakes began to migrate. This included the Menominee, who were pushed south and formed an alliance with the Winnebago. The Cheyenne and the Arapaho began to move west. At this time, the Potawatomi began a migration to the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.  This set the stage for the Indian nations which the French fur traders would find when they moved into the area in the seventeenth century.  

Northern Plains Agriculture

The common stereotype of American Indians paints a picture of them as horse-mounted, nomadic, buffalo hunters. This stereotype is often based upon the Northern Plains Indians which the American traders, missionaries, and military encountered in the nineteenth century. However, not all of the Indian nations of the Northern Plains were buffalo hunting nomads: the tribes of the upper Missouri River Valley-the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara-were sedentary agriculturalists. These villages raised corn, beans, sunflowers, tobacco, pumpkins, and squash. They produced not only enough agricultural products for their own use, but also a substantial surplus which was traded to other tribes, and later to the Europeans and Americans. Their agricultural surplus brought them wealth and political power.

Catlin Mandan

Shown above is a painting of a Mandan village by George Catlin.  

Agricultural Fields:

Sensitive to the ecological demands of the Northern Plains, fields were established in the fertile bottomlands where the tillable soil was renewed annually by flooding. The brush which was cleared for the planting was spread over the fields and burned. This practice softened the soil and added nutrients. Hidatsa elder Buffalo Bird Woman, speaking about 1910, says:

“It was well known in my tribe that burning over new ground left the soil soft and easy to work, and for this reason we thought it a wise thing to do.”

In addition, fields were taken out of production and allowed to lay fallow for two years in order to let the land rejuvenate.

Among the Arikara, each family worked a plot of land from a half acre to an acre and a half in size. The plots were separated from each other by brush and pole fences. These fields tended to be irregular in shape. Among all of the tribes, the fields were tended by the women. Since no fertilizer was used, the fields were periodically abandoned and new fields were cleared and put into use.

In preparing the fields for planting, the Mandan used rakes and digging sticks. Some of the rakes were made from deer antler and some were made from long willow shoots. In cultivating the fields, the Mandan used a hoe that was often made from the shoulder-blade of the buffalo or elk, which was attached to a long wooden handle.

Among the Mandan, there were watch platforms scattered throughout the fields. These platforms were staffed by young boys who kept a careful eye out for enemy warriors who might threaten the unprotected women who were working in the fields.


Sunflowers – black, white, red, sand striped – were the first crop planted in the spring and they were the last crop harvested in the fall. The sunflowers were planted around the edges of the field. The Hidatsa name for April is Mapi’-o’ce-mi’di which means Sunflower Planting Moon.

Sunflower seeds were parched in a clay pot and then made into meal. Some of this meal was used to make sunflower balls which were an important item in the diet. Warriors would carry a sunflower-seed ball wrapped in a piece of buffalo-heart skin. When tired, the warrior would then nibble at the ball. Hidatsa elder Buffalo Bird Woman describes the effects of nibbling on a sunflower-seed ball:

“If the warrior was weary, he began to feel fresh again; if sleepy, he grew wakeful.”

Corn planting began after the sunflower seeds were planted. When the gooseberry bush began to leaf it was time to plant. Corn was planted in hilled rows with the hills about four feet apart. This spacing was tuned to the local rainfall. Closer spacing would bring higher yields only if the growing season were unusually wet. A second planting of corn was done when the June berries were ripe.

Most families kept enough seed corn for two years. After two years the corn would not come up well and after four years the corn seed was dead and worthless.

The village tribes of the northeastern Plains planted between nine and eleven different varieties of corn. The Indians also observed some basic plant genetics. According to Hidatsa elder Buffalo Bird Woman:

“We Indians knew that corn can travel, as we say; thus, if the seed planted in one field is of white corn, and that in an adjoining field is of some variety corn, the white will travel to the yellow corn field, and the yellow to the white corn field.”

The corn grown by the Missouri River tribes was extremely hardy. It adapted itself to varying amounts of moisture and produced some crop under drought conditions. It was also resistant to the unseasonable frosts which are apt to occur in the region.

One of the main varieties of corn was flint corn, which was well-adapted to the semi-arid Northern Plains climate. This corn took about 60 days to mature and, because of its short stalk, was able to withstand winds fairly well. This corn is usually eight rowed, occasionally ten or twelve rowed. It is high in protein and the grain is very hard and heavy.

The tribes also grew flour corn which is softer and lighter. It is largely composed of starch and is deficient in protein. The advantage of this species of corn, however, was that it could be easily crushed or ground and it was much softer than the flint corn when eaten parched.  

The farming efforts of the village tribes on the northeastern plains produced surplus crops which were used in developing trade with other tribes and, later, with the European immigrants. The Sioux, for example, would make yearly trips to the Arikara villages to trade buffalo robes, skins, and meat for corn. During the 19th century, the Arikara produced 2,000 to 3,000 bushels of corn annually. Even when drought and early frost killed part of their crop, they had surplus to trade.

Squash was planted in late May or early June. To prepare the seeds for planting, they were first wetted, then placed on matted red-grass leaves and mixed with broad-leaved sage. Buffalo skin was then folded over the squash bundle and it was then hung in the lodge to dry for two days. During this time the seeds would begin to sprout. The sprouted seeds were then planted in hills about four feet apart.

Immediately after planting the squash, the beans were planted in hills about two feet apart. The beans were often planted between the rows of corn. Five different varieties of beans were planted.

Tobacco was also raised by the tribes. Among the Hidatsa, tobacco was planted only by old men. According to Hidatsa elder Buffalo Bird Woman, young men did not smoke as

“they were taught that smoking would injure their lungs and make them short winded so that they would be poor runners. But when a man got to be about sixty years of age we thought it right for him to smoke as much as he liked.”

The Hidatsa tobacco fields were about 18 feet by 21 feet.

Storage and food preparation:

The village tribes stored their crops for winter in cache pits. These pits were shaped like a jug with a narrow neck at the top.  Among the Mandan, the storage pits would be from 6 to 8 feet deep. The cache would hold 20 to 30 bushels. They were lined with grass or woven plants to prevent spoilage from moisture.

In preparing the corn for storage the ears would be braided into strands. The length of the braids was standardized: the length was from knee down around the foot and up to the knee again. Once braided, the corn would be hung on the frame of the drying scaffold.

One of the popular ways of preparing the corn for eating was making corn balls. In one version of the corn balls, pounded sugar corn was mixed with grease. Another kind of corn ball was made using pounded corn, pounded sunflower seed, and boiled beans. It is reported that this tasted like peanut butter.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

By 7000 BCE, American Indians were living in Arizona’s Verde Valley. While these earliest inhabitants of the area had a hunting and gathering subsistence, by 700 CE there were farmers, called the Southern Sinagua people by archaeologists, living in the area. At this time they were growing crops similar to other Southwestern peoples: corn, beans, squash, and cotton. By 1000 CE their population had increased and they had begun to build cliff dwellings. Life in the Verde Valley, however, was interrupted in 1064 when the Sunset Crater volcano erupted, spreading a half billion tons of ash across 800 square miles. The Southern Sinagua people temporarily abandoned the valley.  

Pit House

Shown above is the excavation of a pit house that was occupied during the Camp Verde phase (900 to 1125 CE). The photograph is from the 1958 excavation of the site.

When the Sinagua people abandoned the Verde Valley, they simply moved to the nearby hills where they sustained themselves on agriculture dependent on rain.

By 1100 the Southern Sinagua people were returning to the Verde Valley and by 1130 they had started construction on a cliff dwelling which would later be called Montezuma Castle. This was a twenty-room, five-story dwelling located in a limestone cliff about 100 feet above Beaver Creek. The natural overhang shades the rooms and shelters them from the rain. This structure is estimated to have housed about 50 people. By 1300, there were an estimated 6-8,000 people living in small villages in the well-watered area.

Montezuma Castle 1

Montezuma Castle 2

Like their Hohokam cousins to the south, the Sinagua people used an irrigation system to bring water to their fields. About 11 miles away from Montezuma Castle is an immense sinkhole that was formed when an underground cavern collapsed. It is about 55 feet deep and 368 feet in diameter. An estimated 1.4 million gallons of water flow through the well daily. The Sinagua people dug irrigation ditches to channel this water to their fields.

Montezuma Castle was abandoned by the Sinagua people about 1425 CE. According to Hopi oral traditions, the Sinagua people migrated to the north where they become incorporated with the Hopi. Archaeologists do not know why the Sinagua people left the area, but the hypotheses include warfare, drought, and clashes with the newly-arrived Yavapai people.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the abandoned pueblo was “discovered” by Americans who arrogantly assumed that such a complex and elaborate structure could not have been built by the “primitive” Indians of North America and thus believed that it had been built by the Mexican Aztecs. They named it Montezuma Castle based on this belief, naively unaware that the structure predated the rise of the Aztecs in Mexico. Caring little about its historical significance, the Americans then mined it for any artifacts that they might find, often destroying parts of the structure in their greedy quest. In some instances they used dynamite to destroy walls so that they could gain entrance to rooms in order to loot them.

Following the passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt declared four sites of historic and cultural significance as the first National Monuments in the United States. One of these first four was Montezuma Castle, which the President identified as “of the greatest ethnological value and scientific interest.” Montezuma Castle National Monument encloses 826 acres.

Montezuma Castle Historic

Shown above is an early photograph of the site.

T Shaped Door

The T-shaped doorways shown in the photograph above are similar to those found in Ancestral Puebloan sites such as Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde.

One of the first advocates for the creation of Montezuma Castle National Monument was Edgar Lee Hewitt who had worked on the drafting of the Antiquities Act. Hewitt felt that this was an archaeologically significant site that was being imperiled by aggressive pot hunting. The creation of Montezuma Castle National Monument was relatively uncontroversial and caused few complaints. The site was small, remote, and not being exploited by agriculture in the vicinity.

Montezuma Castle National Monument soon became a destination for America’s first car-bound tourists. While the early tourists who visited the National Monument were allowed to climb a series of ladders up the side of the limestone cliffs, public access of the ruins was discontinued in 1951 due to extensive damage from the visitors.

During the 1930s, there was more archaeological focus on the valley. Earl Jackson, a graduate student under Byron Cummings at the University of Arizona and the son of the Montezuma Castle custodian Martin Jackson, conducted an archeological survey of the entire Verde drainage area for his master’s thesis. In this work, Jackson specified the location of numerous sites and made comparisons of sherds, burials, and artifacts that he discovered. In 1933, archaeologists excavated Castle A, another 45-50 pueblo on the Monument. The findings from this excavation provided more detail about the Sinagua people who lived along Beaver Creek.

Castle A 1

Castle A 2

Shown above are photos from the excavation of Castle A. These are from a report by Martin L. Jackson entitled “Report on Montezuma Castle C.W.A. Work, Federal Project No. 5.”

In 1947, the National Park Service acquired Montezuma Well, a place which is sacred to a number of tribes, including the Yavapai and the Hopi. According to Yavapai tradition, Montezuma Well is the hole through which the Yavapai entered this world. Once they had entered this world, the hole filled with water. After acquiring the administration of this property, Park Service personnel noted that Yavapai, Apache, Hopi, and Navajo people frequently visited the site for spiritual reasons.

In 1949, Albert Schroeder, the first full-time archaeologists assigned to Montezuma Castle National Monument, visited with Hopi priests. He showed them sketches of the ruins near Montezuma Well. He reported:

They reminded me of a legend that had formerly been related to me of how the Snake arose from a great cavity or depression in the ground, and how, they had heard, water boiled out of that hole into a neighboring river. The Hopi have personal knowledge of the Well, for many of their number have visited the Verde Valley, and they claim the ruins there as the home of their ancestors. It would not be strange, therefore, if this marvelous crater was regarded by them as a house of Paluluken, their mythic Plumed Serpent.

The National Park Service at Montezuma Castle National Monument has facilitated visits by tribal members and groups for spiritual purposes. They allow Native people to collect water from Montezuma Well for spiritual purposes and provide them with private access to portions of the Monument for the performance of spiritual ceremonies.

In 1966, Montezuma Castle National Monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This means that all of the prehistoric sites within the Monument are considered as contributing properties. Monument administration is thus required to consider the potential impacts of its undertakings on historic and prehistoric resources.

After the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) in 1978, the Monument collaborated more closely with the tribes to insure that tribal perspectives and interpretations are included on issues ranging from development plans to interpretive museum labels.

In the 1970s the National Park Service at Montezuma Castle National Monument began working with the Yavapai-Apache tribe to develop a tribal cultural information center. In 1981, the Yavapai-Apache completed a regional visitor information center, a gasoline station and convenience store, and a one-hundred-unit RV campground. The National Park Service began leasing roughly six thousand square feet of the information center building from the nation to serve as the administrative headquarters and visitor orientation center for Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments. In 1995, the tribe also opened Cliff Castle Casino and the Monument’s administration moved to Camp Verde.

After the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, the Monument removed from museum displays all artifacts associated with human remains or burials and those considered to be sacred objects.

About 350,000 tourists visit Montezuma Castle National Monument each year. The visitor center at the Monument includes a museum and, of course, a gift shop.

Seeking Opinions for Art Project

I am currently working on a video art piece for class contrasting my relation to my Penobscot and Cherokee heritage, which I am very passionate about but currently unable to officially “prove”, with stories I have heard of individuals who take advantage of being able to declare Native status but have no interest in the culture of their ancestors.

I am hoping someone sees this and might have opinions I could use in my project.

Posted in Uncategorized

First Nations News & Views: Killing eagles, kill white buffalo and Jetsonorama wows ’em

Welcome to the ninth edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find news briefs a look at the year 1622 in American Indian history, and some linkable bulleted briefs. Click on the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Editor’s Note: We recently reported that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given an extremely rare and extremely controversial approval for the Northern Arapaho of Wyoming to kill two bald eagles for religious purposes. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act forbids non-Native people to kill the eagles or possess any parts of the birds. American Indians can apply to obtain eagle feathers or carcasses from a federal repository in Colorado for ritual use. The USFWS permit states that the Northern Arapaho may kill or capture and release the birds after the ceremony. Just how controversial this decision is can be seen in the fact that not just environmental advocates but also members of the Eastern Shoshone tribe, who share the Wind River Indian Reservation with the Northern Arapaho, oppose the killing of the birds.

Because of the controversy, we asked two highly respected veteran diarists at Daily Kos to explore the issue from their distinct points of view. Lineatus is a longtime birder and raptor bander. Ojibwa is an academically trained Indian historian who regularly carries out traditional ceremonies.

-Meteor Blades

Killing Eagles for Ritual Purposes Needs Thorough Reassessment

By Lineatus

Golden Eagle Lineatus
Golden Eagle

(Photo by Lineatus)

Few birds inspire the sense of awe that eagles bring out in us. Their size, their power, their presence. Not just a predator, but a flyer that can soar without effort, circling ever higher until it disappears from sight into the very ceiling of the sky. Small wonder that they’ve had a place of significance to humans virtually since the dawn of our days on the African savanna.

We have two eagle species in the US – Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Golden Eagles are found primarily in the West and North, where they favor grasslands, mountains and other open country. (They are also found in Europe and Asia.) They prefer to nest on rocky cliffs, but will use trees if they are large enough to support their massive nests. Their prey is primarily mammals, especially ground squirrels and rabbits. But they have been recorded killing prey as large as antelope and deer.  

Eagles Nest Lineatus
Golden Eagle nest site above Merced River,

Yosemite National Park

(Photo by Lineatus)

Bald Eagles range across the country, especially in the winter when they wander widely, and prefer to live near water. They primarily nest in trees. They take a wider variety of prey than Goldens, with an emphasis on fish and waterfowl, along with mammals, birds and scavenged food (i.e., carrion). They sometimes gather in large groups when there is an abundant food source, like a salmon run or a waterfowl wintering area.

Typical for a large bird at the top of the food chain, eagles are slow to mature and slow to reproduce. They take at least five years to reach sexual maturity, and their first breeding attempts are less likely to be successful. They lay one to three eggs (most commonly two) with an interval of two to three days between eggs. These hatch after incubating for five to six weeks, normally a few days apart, and the eaglets fledge 10-12 weeks later. (Males, being smaller, typically leave the nest earlier than females.) Young birds will spend several months learning to hunt with their parents before heading out on their first migrations. 

Bald Eagle Nest
Bald Eagle nest, central California

(Photo by Lineatus)

Because the time from first egg-laying to independence is so long, eagles begin nesting very early in the year, even in snowy regions. If the nest fails past the first few weeks, it’s usually too late for them to make a second attempt for the year. Frequently, only one chick will reach fledging stage. Second (and third) eggs and chicks are an “insurance policy” to make sure that at least one bird survives to fledge.

If food is abundant, the adults will feed all of the chicks, but if prey becomes scarce, they will focus their efforts on the larger, more vigorous eaglet(s) and the smaller, weaker siblings will likely die. After leaving the nest, young birds still need to learn to hunt; more than half don’t master the skills and die before their first winter is over.  About 10 percent to 20 percent of eagles actually make it to breeding age.

Such a low reproductive rate is sustainable. Over the course of a lifetime, a breeding pair only need to produce two offspring who themselves live to breeding age to maintain a stable population. Unfortunately, human activities (especially over the past century) have led to population declines. Habitat loss is one factor as is€” loss of hunting grounds to agriculture, and loss of nesting sites to logging. Intentional and unintentional killing is another. Eagles were early on targeted by ranchers who thought they killed livestock, especially calves and lambs. In one of the first laws protecting animals, intentional killing of eagles was outlawed in 1940 by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. But the birds still face accidental killings from electrocution on power lines, hitting wind turbines, and secondary poisoning from baits set for ground squirrels and other prey species.  

Adult and Sub Adult Bald Eagle
Adult and sub-adult Bald Eagle

(Photo by Lineatus)

And for Bald Eagles, a devastating population crash caused by widespread use of DDT occurred in the post-World War II years. The pesticide didn’t kill them outright but built up in their systems through their prey base (especially fish and waterfowl) and caused eggshell thinning, leading to breeding failures. When DDT was banned nationwide in 1972, several generations of breeding birds had been lost, and the species was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1976. Since the DDT ban, numbers have rebounded solidly with the help of major reintroduction efforts in the earlier years. The species was officially delisted in 2007. Some raptor biologists opposed the delisting.  They weren’t sure populations had recovered sufficiently and some saw it as a ploy by the Bush administration to try to tell an environmental good-news story while allowing various areas to be opened to oil, gas and coal interests with fewer constraints.

Though delisted, the birds remain protected by the Eagle Protection Act. That law has been amended to acknowledge the significance of eagles to Native Americans to some extent, but still limits possession of feathers and other artifacts with tight regulations. With healthier eagle populations now, should those regulations be revisited to allow taking of eagles by Native people for ceremonial purposes? If so, what revisions are appropriate? Should there be different policies for Golden and Bald Eagles, based on differing population trends?

I am myself conflicted.

My main problem is with killing a member of a species that is long lived and slow reproducing, especially in the name of religious freedom.

My objection is not about killing as part of a ritual in and of itself. If the rituals involved killing, say, ducks, then no problem. They are abundant and reproduce quickly. It’s not even really about killing raptors, as much as I love them. If they wanted to take a certain number of redtail hawks every year, I would be okay with it (although admittedly not thrilled). But redtails are doing reasonably well in the world, even expanding their territory in many areas. The loss of a few would have minimal impact on the population.

It’s also not about exemption from laws in the name of religious freedom, in and of itself. If a religious practice has no harmful effect on anyone other than the practitioner, I have no objection. Muslim women (and Sikh men) should be allowed to wear head coverings in their workplace; Native Americans should be able to use peyote (though not, say, when they’re driving buses).  

So that’s what it’s not about for me. What is it about?

It’s the conflict between religious freedom and other legitimate concerns. An analogy is a church that wants to get a permit for a religious procession that will block city streets. The city should make the process as transparent and reasonable as possible, but it should also be able to say, “You can’t block the streets around fire stations and hospitals.” There are sound reasons why these protections for eagles were enacted.  The rules were not created with the intent of discriminating against Indians, though they have had that effect, they were created because populations of slow-reproducing birds were threatened (critically, in the case of Bald Eagles).

The Eagle Protection Act has been modified some to accommodate Indian concerns and should be further amended to make it more workable. But any changes should be made with consideration of both biology and tradition. The government should make the process less opaque and open it up as much as is reasonable.

If it was a very limited take, and it was timed so as not to cause problems for breeding birds or fledglings, it would be easier to support. I think the loss of a handful of eagles each year (Bald or Golden) would not have a significant impact on the population and could be safely allowed. Oddly, the thing that I’m sure many people might find hardest to deal with is the thing I could best accept the practice of taking an eaglet from a nest, raising it to a certain age, then killing it ceremonially. (Nest cams have got a lot of people very attached to baby eagles.)  As I explained, eagles often have more than one chick hatch, but only one lives to fledge. Taking a young bird that would likely have died anyway seems the least bad option. It also frees the parents to concentrate their efforts on the remaining youngster both before and after fledging, thus giving it a better chance at survival.

If an adult bird is captured and killed, then I have more concerns, mostly related to breeding. Also, there’s something inherently upsetting in thinking about ritually killing a bird that might have survived 20 to 30 years in the wild, with all the obstacles we’ve created for their survival. That’s the bird we want in the gene pool, and that’s the bird who should be teaching youngsters how to survive.

At the minimum, I’d hope that the hunt would be limited to fall and early winter and after youngsters have fledged, learned to hunt from their parents and departed and before the next breeding season begins.

One argument I totally don’t accept is: A lot of the birds are killed by power lines and autos and windmills, so what’s a few more for ceremonial reasons? I have been involved in trying to stop those deaths too, so this one just doesn’t cut it for me. If it’s bad for them to die by accident, how is it not bad for them to be killed intentionally?


For Many Indians, Eagle Feathers Remain Big Medicine

By Ojibwa

Eagles have a special spiritual significance for many, but not all, American Indians. In some cultures the spirit or soul of the eagle might visit a person during a vision quest; in some cultures eagle medicine was associated with war and the wearing of eagle feathers symbolized war honors.

Crow Chief Plenty Coups, Montana State Historical SocietyCrow Chief Plenty Coups in eagle feather headdress
Crow Chief Plenty Coups in eagle feather headdress

courtesy of Montana State Historical Society

On the Northern Plains, eagles were seen as a source of spiritual power. Hunting eagles, particularly golden eagles, was a dangerous feat performed by men who possessed special power to do so. Among the Cheyenne, the only eagle hunters were old men who had ceased being active warriors. On a hilltop, the hunter would hide in a pit covered with poles, twigs and grass, with a dead rabbit or other small mammal placed on top as bait. When an eagle swooped down to take the meat, the hunter would try to grab it by both feet, pull it into the pit and wring its neck. The eagle’s feathers were used in making bonnets and for decorating shields.

On the Central Plains, Omaha warriors recognized for bravery were allowed to wear a Crow Belt bustle: two trailers of hide covered with feathers hung from the belt with eagle wing pointer feathers protruded upward from the base of the bustle. The main body of the bustle was made of an eagle skin with head and tail still attached. For the Omaha, the eagle was associated with the destructive powers of the Thunder Being and the destructive nature of war. To wear the Crow Belt, a warrior had to be the first to strike an unwounded enemy in battle; to be the first to touch a fallen, live enemy; to be the second to touch a fallen, live enemy; and then to repeat all three of these deeds of valor.

The Cahuilla in California believed that the eagle lived forever and, by permitting itself to be killed by people, assured them of life after death. Eagles’ nests were closely watched and a feast was held when the eggs were laid. When the birds were well-feathered, one would be removed and raised in a cage. When the bird was grown, the Eagle-Killing Ceremony would be held. This included singing songs about the death of eagles and dancing with the eagle.

During the reservation era, U.S. officials, as leaders of a “Christian nation,” felt they had not only the right but also the obligation to eradicate all symbols of Indian religions, including the wearing of eagle feathers. On some reservations those who wore or displayed eagle feathers were imprisoned. In 1884 the United States formally outlawed all Indian religions.

The war against Indian religions abated during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. But in 1940 it took on a new dimension with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of Interior issued regulations restricting the taking, possessing and transporting of bald and golden eagles and their parts, which directly undermined traditional Native peoples who use eagle feathers for religious purposes. Under the act, individual spiritual leaders and traditional practitioners were persecuted. As with most federal legislation affecting Indians, there was neither testimony from Indians nor any consideration of Indian religions before the vote was taken.  

In 1962 Congress modified the act slightly to provide an exception for Indian religious purposes.

But in 1974, 14 Indians were arrested in Oklahoma on charges relating to the possession and sale of illegal feathers. From the government’s viewpoint, the arrests were made to stop trade in the feathers of protected birds, viewing this trade as contributing to the near extinction of the birds. Some Indians, on the other hand, felt that the government’s action was really an attempt to retaliate for actions such as the 1973 takeover of the hamlet of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota by traditional Lakotas and other members of the American Indian Movement.

In subsequent court cases, lawyers argued unsuccessfully that Indians had no choice but to buy religious objects and clothing from craftsmen who knew the old skills that are needed to make them. The government pointed out that the arrests had been made of Indians selling feathers to white undercover agents not to trade or sale among Indians.

In 1978, the Eagle Protection Act was further amended to let the Secretary of the Interior allow Indians to take eagles for religious purposes.

In 1986, the Supreme Court stepped in with its ruling in United States vs. Dion. This involved a Yankton Sioux who was convicted of hunting eagles. The Court found that Congress had abrogated treaty hunting rights with both the Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Winslow Friday
Winslow Friday

(photo courtesy of his family)

While the 1858 treaty with the Yankton did not place any restrictions on Indian hunting rights, the court was unanimous in its disagreement with the argument that the treaty allowed hunting of eagles. The Court felt that by passing laws protecting eagles and migratory birds, Congress intentionally relieved the Yankton Sioux of that hunting right.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order allowing eagle feathers and other animal parts to be made available to Indian tribes for religious and ceremonial use. As part of this process, the National Eagle Repository was established in Colorado. It receives bodies of eagles killed by cars or power lines and provides them on request to Indians for ceremonial use. It’s an imperfect situation, with an average wait of three-and-a-half years for obtaining an eagle carcass. Also, some traditionals feel the eagles that have been killed accidentally are not ritually clean and should not be used in ceremonies.

In 2005, Winslow Friday (Northern Arapaho) killed an eagle on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming to help with his family’s Sun Dance obligations. Among the Arapaho, Sun Dance sponsorship is both an honor and a responsibility. For the sponsors’ relatives, this is a communal obligation, including the need to obtain an eagle for use in the ceremony. This eagle must be pure: It cannot have died through poison, disease, accident (often the case in roadkill) or electrocution.

In response to Friday’s arrest, the Northern Arapaho tribe filed suit in a challenge to the Eagle Protection Act. While federal law allows tribal members to kill bald eagles for spiritual purposes, there is no clear way of obtaining a federal permit, they said. In fact, none had been granted since amendments to the act. Since the eagle was killed by Friday for religious purposes, the tribe argued that government’s requirement for a “fatal-take permit” runs counter to their First Amendment guarantee to the free exercise of religion, and wanted the Feds to make it easier for tribal members to kill eagles for ceremonial purposes.

Federal District Judge William Downes dismissed the case against Friday:

“Although the government professes respect and accommodation of the religious  practices of Native Americans, its actions show callous indifference to such practices. It is clear to this court that the government has no intention of accommodating the religious beliefs of Native Americans except on its own terms and in its own good time.”

The government appealed. In 2008, in U.S. v. Friday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned the lower court’s ruling and ordered Friday to stand trial. He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. In the appeal, his attorney pointed out that the government’s fatal-take permit for eagles was not well known, and tribal members as well as the government’s own field agents were unaware of it.

Friday’s attorney wrote:

“Yet still the government wants to punish criminally a tribal member who took a bird, no longer listed on the Endangered Species List, for a religious ceremony performed for centuries by his tribe, even though that bird faces a far, far greater threat from utility companies, whose power lines kill thousands of raptors, including eagles, every year.”

In 2009, the Supreme Court refused to grant certiorari and Friday dropped his fight, pleading guilty to killing an eagle. The prosecution then transferred the case to the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Court at Wind River. He was fined $2500 and his hunting privileges on the reservation were suspended for a year. In federal court, Friday had faced a possible sentence of a year in jail and a $100,000 fine. Those charges were dismissed.

eagle in flight

(First Nations News & Views continued below the frybread thingey)

This Week in American Indian History in 1622

By Meteor Blades

On March 22, 1622, Indians from a dozen tribes of the Tsenacommacah (Powhatan) Confederacy made a surprise attack on 36 settler communities along 50 miles of the James, Appomattox and York rivers in Virginia Colony, ultimately killing 347 men, women and children, a fourth of the white population of the time. It is often mistakenly called the Good Friday Massacre of 1622, but it didn’t happen on Good Friday, which fell that year on April 19. Mary Miley Theobald writes:

Warriors from perhaps a dozen of the thirty-two affiliated tribes -€”Quiyoughcohannocks, Waraskoyacks, Weanocks, Appomatucks, Arrohatecks, and others -€” fell on men, women, and children in their homes and in their fields, burning houses and barns, killing livestock, mutilating the bodies of their victims. Planned by the Pamunkey headman Opechancanough, kinsman of the deceased paramount chieftain Powhatan, the offensive slew about 350 whites …

A fanciful woodcut depiction of the massacre of 1622,

with fortified Jamestown shown surrounded by a moat.

(Matthaeus Merian, sometime before 1634).

Because of an early warning from an Indian who changed his mind before joining the attack, Jamestown itself was mostly spared. After the one-day uprising, many plantations and small settlements were abandoned and the English retreated to more defensible positions. But the loss of food stores and loss of land on which to plant more crops led to the starvation of another 400-500 settlers in the coming months.

Still Opechancanough did not achieve his objective, that having been to permanently push the English off Indian lands they were steadily encroaching as ever more colonists arrived and multiplied, many of them running plantations of the first export crop, the sweet Orinoco tobacco first cultivated by John Rolfe. His 1614 marriage to Pocohantas, daughter of the confederacy’s headman or werowance, Wahunsenacawh, whom the English knew as Powhatan, brought an end to the first Anglo-Powhatan War and eight years of peace.

During that time, trade between the English and the Indians became widespread. Christian ministers sought to convert and “civilize” as many as they could.

Large numbers of settlers, under relaxed rules allowing them for the first time to privately acquire their own farms, took little heed of official warnings not to settle “straglingly in divers places.” […] By 1619 only servants, potentially the most rebellious segment of society, were restricted from freely trading. Debating how to treat Indians who frequently found employment “in killing of Deere, fishing, beatting of Corne and other workes,” Virginia’s general assembly finally decided “neither to utterly reject them nor yet to drawe them in.” Although “five or six” could be admitted to “places well peopled,” “lone inhabitants” were “by no meanes to entertain them” – precaution that often went unheeded.

When Wahunsenacawh died in 1618, Opechancanough, whom many historians believe was his younger brother, became werowance of the confederacy. He viewed the English expansion as a problem that needed to be stopped and, while nobody can ever be certain, it is thought that the plans for the uprising began months, possibly even years before it occurred. George Percy, twice governor of the Virginia colony, wrote afterward:

My opinion is that their heathen priests, who are the tools of the devil, were constantly working upon the credulity and ignorance of this people to make them believe that the English had come to exterminate them in the same way as the Spaniard had done in other parts of the West Indies, and to prevent this the murderous attack was decided upon and brought into execution.

Theobald writes, “Although Percy scoffs at the idea that the English intended to exterminate the Virginia Indians, time would tell a different story.”

Early that spring morning, the Indians took advantage of the friendliness that had developed over the years to launch their attack. In some cases, they killed whole families in houses where they themselves had eaten and slept. With tomahawks and farm tools, they struck. Even some English who had been the most friendly were not spared.

Opechancanough had figured that the English would behave as tribes typically did when attacked in such force, which was a rare occurrence: They would submit or they would move somewhere else. The English did neither. Already considered a death-trap because of disease, Virginia as an investor-owned company collapsed and came under direct rule of the British Crown. Retaliation against the confederacy began that autumn and would soon take the lives of many times more Indians than English who died on March 22. In 1623, for instance, some 200 Indians were lured with talks of peace to a meeting at which they were all well fed and killed with poisoned wine.

There would be no peace for another decade during which time English war captains became the dominant leaders in Virginia colony, with absolute power. A deep-seated racial hatred developed, as epitomized by the words of Edward Waterhouse, who urged the use of bloodhounds and mastiffs to “teare them, which take this naked, tanned deformed Savages, for no other than beasts.”

Mollie Holme Adams (1881-1973) was a leader

of the Mattaponi tribe of the old Powhatan

Confederacy. She fought to keep her Indian

identity at a time when the Virginia Bureau

of Vital Statistics was classifying all Indians

as “Negro” to subject them to Jim Crow laws.

She also kept the feather-weaving craft alive.

Her grandson, Kenneth Adams, is the

Mattaponi chief today.

Gradually, the Virginians took back the land and extended themselves over far more, established eight fortresses and scores of plantations, and, three times a year, sent military expeditions against the confederacy of tribes designed to keep them in check and edge them farther and farther from the settlements. A shaky peace was agreed to in 1632.

In 1644 came another uprising, led again by the now-ancient Opechancanough, who thought to take advantage of colonial divisions brought on by the English Civil War. Some 500 English died, but by this time there were nearly 9,000 colonists in Virginia and the Indian losses were far greater. The old werowance was captured and plans were made to ship him to England. Before that could happen, an English guard shot him in the back.

A treaty was signed in 1646, but unlike previous ones, this was not between equals. The new headman Necotowance agreed to pay symbolic tribute, accept the sovereignty of the king of England and yield more territory. Stephen D. Feeley writes:

The treaty’s main points (along with successive addendums) would form the basis of Virginia’s Indian relations for the remainder of the colonial period, laying out the theoretical justification for English authority, delineating separate territories, limiting freedom of movement, and curtailing cross-racial contacts. The overarching theme was containment of Indians and settlers into more strictly defined spheres. To this end the Virginia government assigned “Necotowance and his people” an area on the north side of the York River and to the southwest, beyond the Blackwater River.

These boundaries proved to be, let us say, highly permeable, with settlers soon extending as far as the Potomac in search of ever more land suitable for growing lucrative tobacco. By 1669, the non-Indian population excluding slaves had reached 41,000. The Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy, about 15,000 when Pocohantas became a bride, had dwindled to 3,000.

Today, the only two reservations in Virginia are those of two tribes that were part of the confederacy, the Pamunkey, with some 200 enrolled members, and the Mattaponi, with 1025 enrolled members in two bands. Together, their reservations encompass a mere 1232 acres. Both tribes continue to deliver tribute in the form of game or a “peace pipe” each year to the governor of Virginia, just as they have every year without exception since the treaty of 1646. They have been seeking federal recognition without success for several decades.

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Love Letters to the Navajo Nation from Jetsonorama

By navajo

The artist, Jetsonorama at work

Recently, a very thoughtful and informative article at High Country News about a street artist who has lived on the Navajo reservation for the past 25 years caught my eye. I recognized the roadside art from my last trip through the rez and wanted to know more. He goes by the moniker Jetsonorama for his art, but his full-time job is as the only permanent physician at the Indian Health Service at Inscription House in Arizona.

I first became aware of his work with a report of his contribution to’s challenge to street artists around the world to create art that reflected local effects of climate change. His piece was a beautiful Navajo baby with a large lump of coal looming over its  

Jetsonorama, Black coal with baby
Navajo baby subject with finished piece,

note traditional Navajo leggings and moccasins on baby.

This is one of several installations in Arizona

head – “a metaphorical black cloud over the head of future generations if we keep burning fossil fuels.” The Navajo Nation is home to the largest coal-mining operation in the Southwest run by the largest private-sector coal company in the world, Peabody Energy. The electricity generated on the rez supplies cities from Denver to Los Angeles. The Navajo often burn coal for fuel in their homes, causing respiratory illnesses. Jetsonorama’s piece serves as a message that energy from coal is contributing to climate change.

San Francisco Peaks Installation, San Francisco Peaks Installation - Flagstaff
The artist with his Save the San Francisco Peaks

installation in Flagstaff

Last year, Jetsonorama teamed up with activists who have been fighting a legal battle since 2005 to prevent the Snowbowl ski resort from further desecrating the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff by making artificial snow from 100 percent reclaimed sewage water. These are sacred to 13 surrounding tribes. He asked friends and activists what their thoughts were about what’s happening to the peaks. Those thoughts were written on their faces. Jetsonorama photographed them and the installation went up in Flagstaff last year. Unfortunately, the latest ruling allows Snowbowl to continue using sewage water, something not done anywhere else in the world. But the battle isn’t over.

code talkers, 89 north
Jetsonorama’s Code Talker installation

on a roadside jewelry kiosk

Before Jetsonorama hit the street scene, one of his hobbies was photography. Dinétah (Navajoland) made a lovely subject. Today for a big installation he enlarges his photos in 2-foot by 2-foot sections, trims them, makes his own wheat paste using Bluebird Flour -€” a staple on the rez for making fry bread -€” and leaves these love notes around the rez, often where they can be seen from the highways. One of his first installations was on one of the numerous and often abandoned roadside kiosks of Navajo jewelry vendors. He noticed after his installation of the Code Talkers on one kiosk that the owners were making repairs. He stopped to find out why, and the owners said that many more tourists were attracted by the murals and business had picked up. He was asked to install more art on the other walls attracting traffic in the opposite direction.

Yote Jetsonorama dialogue
The dialogue between Yote and Jetsonorama began here

when Yote anonymously added his woodblock coyote

to Jetsonorama’s work.

Thus, The Painted Desert Project was born. Launched a few weeks ago, a collaboration with Yote, another street artist, the project aims to invite their favorite street artists to the rez and show it some love. Painting the numerous roadside kiosks – which are usually barren plywood – is the main goal.

Jetsonorama said: “The purpose of the project is three-fold. It will increase interactions between travelers and the local population hopefully fostering dialogue and challenging negative stereotypes. The second objective is to involve youth from the local communities in mural making workshops and thirdly, we’ll have incredible art along the roadside in northern Arizona.”

The project is already moving fast and the following artists are on board for personal apperances: Breeze, Gaia, Over Under, Doodles, Chris Stain and Caledonia.  If this ambitious tour de force project moves you, visit this link and you’ll see how you can help.

I cannot wait for my next road trip through the rez!


Coincidentally: Aaron Huey (amazing new project from him in the works, btw) told me I needed to connect with Jetsonorama. My mother was born at Inscription House where this good doctor is practicing. He knows all my relatives who live in nearby Shonto and Kaibeto. What a delight to see street art, relating to my heritage, on the vast Navajo rez. I urge you to click on the links above to see more of the artists’ work. The videos are simply wonderful.

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Texas Hunt Lodge Scrubs White Buffalo Hunting Package from Its Website

By navajo

Texas Hunt Lodge White Buffalo Kill, Texas Hunt Lodge White Buffalo Kill
A very brave hunter with ultra modern equipment who shot a domesticated white buffalo

while it just stood there. Now that’s a trophy!

The Lakota Sioux and other tribes consider the white buffalo to be sacred. The animal is part of the Lakota creation story and a key component of their spirituality. White buffalo are considered sacred omens when they are born. Last year, a naming ceremony was held for a white buffalo born in a thunderstorm in May 2011 on the Lakota Ranch near Greenville, Tex. He was named Lightning Medicine Cloud. That name is also a tribute to a female white buffalo calf born in 1933 and called Big Medicine. Lightning Medicine Cloud is thought to be the first male white buffalo calf born in 150 years. The National Bison Association say white buffalo naturally occur about once in every 10 million births.

Traditionalists believe that Whope, goddess of peace, appeared in the form of a white buffalo calf once, and that she will return when four white calves are born. That will bring about a new age. Thus, it was no surprise that the arrival of Lightning Medicine Cloud generated widespread celebration among the Lakota and other tribes across the nation. In June last year, 2,000 Indians traveled to the ranch to take part in ceremonies honoring the white calf.

But there are some white buffalo that aren’t born in natural, luck-of-the-draw circumstances. They are bred for a specific purpose, the kind of captive “hunting” favored by the likes of Dick Cheney.

It was noticed recently by Indian Country Today that a big game company was offering a $13,500 hunting package to bag an enormous white buffalo:

Texas Hunt Lodge allows the opportunity to hunt and harvest the Authentic and Rare White Buffalo. There are no seasonal restrictions on hunting the White Buffalo, or White Bison, in Texas, which makes it a suitable trophy year round.

We typically let our hunters choose the method of hunting White Buffalo that they prefer. Hunters of White Buffalo can choose the Spot and Stalk method, Bow Hunting, Rifle Hunting, Black Powder, Safari Style Hunting, Handgun, as well as hunting from a Blind. We can accomodate [sic] hunters of any age and experience level, as well as hunters which have physical disabilities or may be confined to a wheelchair.

Our White Buffalo bulls weigh 1200-1500lbs, and have horns in the 17-20 inch [range] … your white buffalo trophy will be a huge!

The outrage over this quickly came to a boil:

“€œThe company started the white buffalo hunts about two years ago, and there was a big outcry about it then,” said James Swan (Cheyenne River Sioux), founder and president of the Rapid City-based United Urban Warrior Society.

The lodge acquiesced to pressure from Native Americans at the time and ceased its white buffalo hunts, according to Swan.

“But now it’s started back up again,” he said. “€œIt’s a slap in the face for our people.”

That was two weeks ago. Soon, a social media uproar forced the lodge to remove the content from that page.

Indians and other people took issue with a business making money off a white buffalo kill. But the whole purpose of the company is to provide access to exotic animals that clients can pretend to have stalked and killed in the wild so they can mount them on the wall and regale their beer buddies with tales of their daring.

Aaron Bulkley, owner of Texas Hunt Lodge, told ICT “€œWe’€™ve had a ton of feedback from people since the white buffalo story came out, and I understand the white buffalo is sacred to Indians,”€ he said. “It’€™s been on the website for three years and all of a sudden people are excited about it. I do understand their point. I’€™m not saying I disagree with it or agree with it but I am going to take it off the website.”€

Asked directly if he would be offering white buffalo hunts at all, he responded, €œ”Not for white buffalo.”

But, apparently, there’s still a market for it.

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Former AIM Activist Appeals Conviction in Aquash Murder: One of the two men convicted in the 1975 slaying of fellow American Indian Movement activist Anna Mae Pictou Aquash (Mi’kmaq) is appealing on the grounds that the government should not have been allowed to move his case from federal to state court after he was extradited from his Canadian home to the United States. Prosecutors claim that John Graham (Southern Tutchone) helped kidnap Aquash from Denver and then shoot at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on suspicion that she was a government snitch.

-€”Meteor Blades

Washington Governor OKs a Bill Allowing End of State Jurisdiction Over Tribes: Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed legislation that would sets up a procedure to cede state jurisdiction over some criminal and civil matters to American Indian tribes seeking that authority. A tribe could also ask that the state give the authority to the federal government. The federal government already has jurisdiction on Indians reservations when it comes to major crimes, including homicide, child sexual and physical abuse and violent assault as well as crime related to casino gaming.

-Meteor Blades

The Quandary of American Indian Quasi-Dual Citizenship: Attending the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Convention got Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton Wahpeton/Mdwakanton/Hunkpapa) at The Last Real Indians web site to thinking about what it means to be Native in America. She went specifically to hear Bill Clinton speak and came away thinking: “Part of me would like to wash my hands of the whole American political process, not necessarily because of our notable absence in Clinton’s speech, but because of the entire twisted, ruinous history of U.S. and Tribal relations.” On the other hand, she concludes that voting to protect Indian rights, women’s rights and poor people’s rights as well as to support good programs is crucial: “If we don’t, those decisions will be made for us, and against us; and I for one know that my ancestors didn’t fight for my freedom just so I could close my eyes to it.  In this case, silence could spell our doom. Stand up and be counted.”

-Meteor Blades

Indians Unhappy with Nevada Bear Hunt, Racist Remark: Some American Indians have joined the fight against Nevada’s black bear hunt. They also a comment made last week by the chairman of the Washoe County wildlife advisory board, Rex Flowers. Flowers told the group of eight Paiute, Washoe and Shoshone that he didn’t want to “hear of bows and arrows” because his panel was committed to the bear hunt, according to Raquel Arthur (Pyramid Lake Paiute), spokeswoman for the northern Nevada chapter of the American Indian Movement.

-Meteor Blades

Oglalas Win Full Early Voting-for 2012: Shannon County, S.D., has always sought ways to keep Oglala Lakota people from exercising their voting franchise. But thanks to a settlement forced by a lawsuit, they will for first time be able to early-vote during a 46-day period leading up to the June primary and November general election, just like other South Dakotans. They originally had just 6 days, something their lawsuit called “a denial of the right to vote” and “discriminatory.” With access assured for 2012, the request for a preliminary injunction ordering that access became moot, Judge Karen Scheier declared.

-Meteor Blades

California Tribes Fight Ocotillo Wind Farm Near Sacred Sites: Kumeyaay, Cocopah, Quechan and other American Indian tribes in southern California have banded together to oppose a massive wind energy project proposed for construction on publicly owned Bureau of Land Management land. They say the project will damage hundreds of cultural and archaeological sites. Their opposition makes them allies of desert conservation groups and recreation enthusiasts. The project would put up as many 155 wind turbines on towers as tall as 450 feet.

-Meteor Blades

Little River Casino Agrees To Second Union Contract: The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Manistee, Mich., have announced that the tribe has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the United Steelworkers Union. The agreement covers slot machine technicians at the Little River Casino Resort. Security guards also signed an agreement at the end of last year. Many tribes argue that they are, as sovereign nations exempt from federal and state labor law, and refuse to allow unions in tribal casinos.

-Meteor Blades


Indians have often been referred to as the “Vanishing Americans.” But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.

First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.

Sacred Places in the Great Basin

The Great Basin is an area which 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. As with Indian people in other culture areas, there are many places in the Great Basin-water sources, hot springs, isolated rock formations, rock art sites, mountain peaks, and caves-which the Indian nations of this area consider to be sacred.

Great Basin Map

Water sources are traditionally seen as spiritual places and are often approached with requests for the spirits associated with them. In making these requests, Indian people traditionally leave offerings as a way of showing respect for the spiritual nature of these places.

Rock art sites-places which may include pictographs and/or petroglyphs-are often of great antiquity and are seen as places of great spiritual power. For the Northern and Eastern Shoshone, rock art was used to mark places of special spiritual power. Some of these were places where vision quests were commonly conducted.

At Big Spring in the Big Lost River Range of Idaho, the Shoshone have several pictographic panels which designate this as a sacred site. The area includes a water fall and the pictographs are selectively placed to focus on the sacred geography of the place. Some of the pictographic figures seem to indicate contact with the southwest, perhaps with the Hopi.  

Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is a sacred ceremonial area for the Shoshone. This is an area in which the Shoshone had traditionally held a Sun Dance. In 2000, acknowledging that a Sun Dance had not been held in this sacred location for 132 years, the Shoshone of the Wind River Reservation asked the National Park Service for permission to hold a Sun Dance on this sacred ground. The National Park Service, however, turned down the request, claiming that the ceremony would cause environmental action and that the Park did not have adequate resources for it.

At Dinwoody Canyon on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming there are hundreds of pictographs which have been drawn over a long period of time. There are several large panels which have representations of the Water Ghost Beings and the Rock Ghost Beings. Some of the figures are obviously female, showing breasts and pubic fringe. The figures show that the spirit world includes female figures.

At Medicine Butte and Cedar Butte in Wyoming there are pictographs which are sacred to the Shoshone.

For the Eastern Shoshone in Wyoming, Bull Lake is also a sacred place for it is the home of monsters and it is the place where ghost people play the hand game. The lake, according to Shoshone tradition, houses a remarkable water buffalo. These are supernatural spirits which look like buffalo, but live in the lake. Seeing a water buffalo is considered to be a bad sign.  

Mount Newberry in Nevada is called Avi Kwa Me or Spirit Mountain by the Mohave. This sacred mountain is the residence of Mutavilya and Mastahmo, the spirit teachers who instructed the Mohave people to be the caretakers of the river and the land.

Crowheart Butte in Wyoming is a spiritual place for the Shoshone. There are lots of good guardian spirits here. In 1866, the Shoshone and the Bannock fought a battle against the Crow here.

The Great Basin is a tectonically active region and has a number of hot springs. Hot springs are traditionally seen as a source of healing water and mud which can be used to relieve pain. For traditional Native Americans it is important to leave offerings at these healing waters and not to use them for recreation.

Pagosa Hot Springs in Colorado is sacred to the Ute for its ability to heal the sick. Smoking the sacred pipe at the springs is especially powerful.

Hot Springs in Wyoming is sacred to the Shoshone. According to some oral traditions, the Shoshone were warned to stay away from the springs by the Nimimbe (a race of dwarfish mountain people). The spring, according to the Nimimbe, is home to monstrous serpents.

South Fork Canyon of the Little Wind River contains a deep cave where the Shoshone traditionally buried their dead.

Yucca Mountain in Nevada is sacred to the Shoshone. In 2002, it was designated as the site of a storage facility for dangerous nuclear waste. In making the decision to use this site the tribe was not consulted by the U.S. government. The plan for the nuclear waste repository was scrapped in 2010. Under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley, the Shoshone still claim ownership of this sacred site.

Parowan Gap in southern Utah is sacred to the Paiute. The gap was used as a solar calendar to mark the beginnings of the seasons. Petroglyphs etched into the rocks around the gap convey the spiritual significance of the area.

Old Man Mountain is an isolated rock formation in Colorado. This is a vision quest site that has been used for more than 3,000 years.

Cave Rock near Lake Tahoe in Nevada is sacred to the Washo. In 2000, the Forest Service began to allow rock climbing on this sacred formation.

In spite of a century of propaganda to the contrary, there are many sacred places in present-day Yellowstone National Park. The Shoshone, for example, would seek spiritual help from the geysers. Bathing in the waters of the geysers was a way of enhancing one’s spiritual power.  

One of the continuing problems facing sacred sites in the Great Basin is vandalism and looting by non-Indians. In 2010, the Shoshone-Paiute tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation began flying helicopters to keep watch on important culture sites and to prevent vandalism and looting. The sites include vision quest sites as well as ancient fishing sites, burial grounds, and other sacred areas.

The Ute often used stone circles as a part of their ceremonies. The Ute traditionally used these stone circles as individual ritual sites and they are still considered sacred today. There was not a standardized way of using these stone circles. Each of the spiritual leaders had their own ceremonies and their own way of using the circles.

Among the Southern Ute, there are supernatural powers associated with the land. Spiritual leaders for each band would go to specific “power points” to leave offerings and to ask for help on behalf of the band. Tribal members feel that the location of these power sites should not be general knowledge. The locations of these sites and the powers which they contain should be discussed only with those who have a need to know. Knowledge of these sites is to be passed on through oral traditions and should not be transmitted through writing.

Due to the spiritual nature of these sites and in respect to the tribal elders, no photographs of them have been used in this essay.

The Antiquities Act

Interest in a scientific understanding of the history of North America prior to the European invasion and a desire to obtain legislation to protect our ancient heritage from looting and vandalism began to coalesce in the late nineteenth century with the formation of several groups and government agencies. The groups included the Archaeological Institute of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Anthropological Association of Washington (which would later become the American Anthropological Association). The primary government agency concerned with antiquities was the Smithsonian’s Bureau of Ethnography.  

In 1879, the Archaeological Institute of America was established by Charles Eliot Norton, a professor of art history at Harvard, and a group of his friends. The purpose of the Institute was to promote and direct archaeological research, both classical archaeological research and research in the Americas. With regard to the Americas, it was felt that an understanding of aboriginal America was essential to the understanding of humans and it was important to understand the human conditions on this continent prior to the European discovery.


Charles Eliot Norton is shown above.

With regard to American archaeology, the Institute turned to Lewis Henry Morgan for advice and assistance. By 1898, the Institute had affiliated groups in Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Madison, Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C. The members of these groups generally came from influential circles and therefore had significant influence on Congress and on Congressional concern for preserving antiquities.

Frederic W. Putnam of the American Association for the Advancement of Science helped establish a committee to work for legislation to protect antiquities on federal lands. In 1894, Putnam was placed in charge of the anthropology program of the American Museum of National History in New York City.


Frederic W. Putnam is shown above.

In 1879 Professor Otis T. Mason of Columbian College and others assembled at the Smithsonian Institution and founded the Anthropological Association of Washington which would later become the American Anthropological Association. The AAA provided crucial support for the American Antiquities Act in 1906.


Otis T. Mason is shown above.

Noting the destruction of ancient sites in the Southwest, Dr. J. Walter Fewkes wrote in 1896:

If this destruction of the cliff-houses of New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona goes on at the same rate in the next fifty years that it has in the past, these unique dwellings will be practically destroyed, and unless laws are enacted, either by states or by the general government, for their protection, at the close of the twentieth century many of the most interesting monuments of the prehistoric peoples of our Southwest will be little more than mounds of debris at the bases of the cliffs. A commercial spirit is leading to careless excavations for objects to sell, and walls are ruthlessly overthrown, buildings town down in hope of a few dollars’ gain. The proper designation of the way our antiquities are treated is vandalism. Students who follow us, when these cliff-houses have all disappeared and their instructive objects scattered by greed of traders, will wonder at our indifference and designate our negligence by its proper name. It would be wise legislation to prevent this vandalism as much as possible and good science to put all excavation of ruins in trained hands.


J. Walter Fewkes is shown above while working at Mesa Verde.

In 1901, Dr. Walter Hough, working in northeastern Arizona for the National Museum, wrote:

“The great hindrance to successful archaeologic (sic) work in this region lies in the fact that there is scarcely an ancient dwelling site or cemetery that has not been vandalized by ‘pottery diggers’ for personal gain.”

In 1899, the American Association for the Advancement of Science established a committee to promote a bill in Congress for the permanent protection of aboriginal antiquities on federal lands. At this same time the Archaeological Institute of America established a Standing Committee on American Archaeology. The two committees combined their efforts to seek preservation of American antiquities.

In 1902, the Records of the Past Exploration Society was formed and started publishing a journal, Records of the Past. The new society recommended the establishment of a national antiquities law. In 1904, the journal’s editor Rev. Henry Mason Baum, whose primary interest was in Biblical Archaeology, testified before the Senate:

“…two years ago I visited the mounds of the Mississippi Valley and the more important pueblo and cliff ruins of the Southwest. One of the objects I had in view was to ascertain how the antiquities on the Government domain could best be protected.”

Baum and his associates prepared a draft of a bill intended to preserve America’s antiquities. The bill, introduced by Representative William Rodenberg of Illinois, would place all historic and prehistoric ruins, monuments, archaeological objects, and antiquities on the public lands in the custody of the Secretary of the Interior with authority to grant excavation and collecting permits to qualified institutions.

In 1904, Senator Shelby M. Cullom and Representative Robert R. Hitt, both of Illinois, introduced bills which had been carefully worked out by the Smithsonian Institution. These bills defined antiquities as:

“…mounds, pyramids, cemeteries, graves, tombs, and burial places and their contents, including human remains; workshops, cliff dwelling, cavate lodges, caves, and rock shelters containing evidence of former occupancy; communal houses, towers, shrines, and other places of worship, including abandoned mission houses or other church edifices; stone heaps, shell heaps, ash heaps, cairns, stones artificially placed, solitary or in groups, with or without regularity; pictographs and all ancient or artificial inscriptions; also fortifications and enclosures, terraced gardens, walls standing or fallen down, and implements, utensils, and other objects of wood, stone, bone, shell, metal, and pottery, or textiles, statues and statuettes, and other artificial objects.”

Following the conflicts between the two bills in Congress-one championed by Baum and the other championed by the Smithsonian), Commissioner W. W. Richards of the General Land Office had Edgar Lee Hewitt, the former president of New Mexico Normal University, review the entire antiquities preservation problem on federal lands. Hewitt had done archaeological work in the Southwest and was active in the American Anthropological Association. He studied at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and received his Ph.D. in anthropology. Hewett’s unusual combination of western background, farming and teaching experience, first-hand knowledge of ancient ruins on federal lands in the Southwest, and experience as an archaeologist and administrator, enabled him in this period to enjoy alike the confidence of members of Congress, bureau chiefs, staffs of universities and research institutions, and members of professional societies. Hewitt produced a memorandum which provided the Land Office and Congress with a detailed description of the antiquities in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. Following Hewitt’s recommendations Representative John Fletcher Lacey of Iowa and Senator Thomas M. Patterson of Colorado introduced new legislation to preserve American antiquities.


Edgar Lee Hewitt is shown above.

In 1906, Congress passed an Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities which makes it a criminal offense to appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy historic or prehistoric ruins or objects of antiquity located on federal lands. The bill was motivated in part by reports of looting in the Southwest, particularly at sites such as Chaco Canyon, as well as by an increasing interest in the indigenous past of North America. The bill also reflected President Theodore Roosevelt’s passion for conserving and studying natural history, protecting America’s past, and ensuring continued access for a fast-growing scientific community.

As with most legislation regarding American Indians, there was no Indian involvement in the creation of the bill, no testimony by Indian leaders. There was, in fact, no suggestion that Indian people might have any legitimate affiliations with the past. There was still a strong feeling among politicians and among academics that Indian people were a disappearing people and that they were supposed to have vanished by the twentieth century. The fact of their continuing presence did not deter many non-Indians from assuming that they no longer existed.

In addition, many people still felt that Indian people had never been capable of great civilizations and thus the great ruins which were found throughout the Americas must have somehow been built and/or designed by non-Indians. A century later, people would be crediting aliens from other planets with many of the works done by American Indians.

There was no concern that living American Indians might have religious, spiritual, or historic connections to the sites which were to be preserved under the Antiquities Act. With the Antiquities Act, Congress declared that the American Indian past belonged to the general public in the same way as Yellowstone National Park. It was now the responsibility of the federal government, not the Indians, to protect and interpret the nation’s archaeological and historical resources. Under the permit system stemming from this act, protection and interpretation of the American Indian past was given to the scientific community rather than to the people whose ancestors had been responsible for its creation.

Under the Antiquities Act, amateur access to America’s past-whether by Indians or non-Indians-was now prohibited. Permission to examine ruins, excavate archaeological sites, or gather objects of antiquity is limited to people who were deemed

“properly qualified to conduct such examination…for the benefit of reputable museums, universities, colleges, or other recognized scientific or educational institutions.”  

Human remains of Indians who had been interred on what were now federal lands were to be considered archaeological resources and thus were federal property. As federal property these human remains were to be stored in facilities for further research.

It has now been more than a century since the passage of the Antiquities Act. The looting and vandalism of American Indian sites has continued on federal lands, state lands, and private lands. With regard to the preservation of antiquities, the United States Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has passed the National Historic Preservation Act (1966), the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (1970), the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (1978), and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990). Indians now have more of a voice in protecting their past.

First Nations News & Views: AIDS/HIV awareness, Lakota block pipeline trucks, mass hanging memorial

Welcome to the eighth edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by Meteor Blades and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find a focus on Native and AIDS/HIV, a look at the year 1824 in American Indian history, five news briefs and some linkable bulleted briefs. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

The Red Road Needs More Than Red Ribbons

By Aji

KyleThumb When you think of the face of HIV/AIDS, it probably doesn’t look like this – but maybe it should. Meet Kyle. He’s a young American Indian man. And he’s HIV-positive.

Tuesday, March 20, is National Native HIV and AIDS Awareness Day.

American Indians now constitute the third-fastest-growing ethnic group with new diagnoses of HIV and AIDS: 10.4 for every 100,000 persons. At first glance, that number seems much smaller than the rate for Hispanics, at 27.8/100,000, and that for African Americans, at 71.3/100,000.

However, the numbers are deceptive. First, as with everything else related to American Indian health, rates of HIV and AIDS are without doubt substantially underreported. Second, “current” estimates are already seven years out of date: The most recent global figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control are from 2005, and the trends indicate greater rates of infection since then. Indian youth are becoming infected with HIV at faster rates than whites, with shorter survival times.

Third, talking about rates of HIV/AIDS in American Indian communities in terms of numbers per 100,000 population misses the forest for the trees. In the 2010 census, a mere 5.2 million people identified themselves as American Indians, either wholly or in part. That’s only 1.7% of the total U.S. population of some 308 million people. At that level, a diagnosis rate of 1/100th of a percent is a great deal more significant for the entire ethnic group.

And, according to CDC research covering diagnoses between 1997 and 2004, of all ethnic groups, American Indians and African Americans have the shortest rates of post-diagnosis survival: 67% and 66%, respectively, at the end of the period’s nine-year follow-up.

For a demographic in which 26% of those infected don’t even know they have HIV, awareness has now become a matter of both individual and ethnic survival.

It can be disheartening to read the literature of the world of HIV/AIDS awareness and outreach. Even efforts geared toward people of color regularly omit American Indians. Those that do remember to include them too often do so from a dominant-culture perspective that doesn’t even realize that there are cultural and other differences that must be recognized and incorporated into any successful outreach program. This approach makes Indian health, wellness and survival a mere afterthought. And all the red ribbons in the world won’t do a thing to increase awareness of the growing threat that HIV and AIDS present to our communities, much less enhance prevention and ensure survival.

The good news is that several Indian nations have already taken steps to create HIV/AIDS awareness, education, diagnosis, and treatment programs that are culturally relevant and respectful of tradition. Partnering with the Indian Health Service and other public health entities, these efforts target this most underrepresented and underserved of populations in concrete ways.

The Navajo Nation helps administer perhaps the most comprehensive programs currently in existence. The Navajo AIDS Network, founded by Melvin Harrison, partners with the Gallup [New Mexico] Indian Medical Center to provide counseling and case management services to Navajo patients diagnosed with HIV. The group also offers testing and educational services.  

The GIMC itself is a valuable resource: Geared explicitly toward tribal members, it works closely with both the Indian Health Service and traditional hataa’lii, or medicine persons, to provide comprehensive medical and spiritual healing for HIV and AIDS (as well as for any other illness, injury or condition).

The lack of awareness spurred the 2006-2007 Miss Navajo Nation, Jocelyn Billy, to make HIV/AIDS education and outreach the service program for her year in office. Ms. Billy connected with the young people, the group most at risk, and helped adults navigate the gaps between traditional ways and modern medical realities.

Admirable as such efforts are, they aren’t enough, of course. What’s needed is the sort of full-bore commitment to HIV/AIDS awareness in Indian Country that is seen in other public health contexts – for cancer, heart disease or illnesses that are not seen as belonging to some marginalized “other.” On March 14, the White House announced that President Obama has appointed Dr. Grant Colfax as the new director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.Colfax is widely regarded as a public health expert on HIV and AIDS. Now would be a good time to push him and his agency to expand their work to include culturally appropriate outreach, education and treatment among our Native populations.  

The models are already there: Other programs are taking shape around the country.  For a glimpse of some of the events currently planned for Native communities for the coming week, visit’s site, which features a clickable map.  

You can learn more about Kyle’s daily journey on the Red Road, living as an Indian with HIV, at The Positive Project.

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

This week in American Indian History in 1824

By Meteor Blades

Thomas McKenney

On March 11, 1824, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was established. That it was set up, without congressional authorization, as a division of the War Department explains the prevailing view at the time. In fact, Indian affairs had been handled by the War Department since 1789, having been during the Revolution and its aftermath in the hands of three commissioners who included Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry. Ironically, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, who invented the BIA, appointed Thomas McKenney, a Quaker, as its first superintendent. McKenney had been Superintendent of Indian Trade from 1816 until 1822 when the 16-year-old trade program was abolished. Among other things, McKenney took to calling it the Office of Indians Affairs, a name that stuck until authority was transferred to the Interior Department 25 years later.

McKenney worked diligently to get the OIA made official. In 1829, Congress did so, establishing a budget and giving the president authority to appoint a Commissioner of Indian Affairs who reported to the Secretary of War and had responsibility for “the direction and management of all Indian affairs, and all matters arising out of Indian relations.” 

McKenney was a great believer in “civilizing” American Indians but, during his six years at the OIA, he became a vigorous proponent of removing Indians to places west of the Mississippi River. The removed Indians included the Cherokee who had become so “civilized” that thousands of them were literate in their own language with its own alphabet when they were marched out of their homeland at gunpoint. McKenney lost his job in 1830 because another great believer in removing Indians when he wasn’t actively engaged in killing them-Andrew Jackson-disagreed with his view that  “the Indian was, in his intellectual and moral structure, our equal.” McKenney was shocked when he later saw how brutal the murderous removals actually were in practice.

When the Interior Department was established in 1849, the OIA was moved out of the War Department and permanently named the BIA, as Calhoun had intended from the beginning. Over the next 18 years, much of its work related to distributing aid, including food, both to Indians who had been removed and were now starving in their strange new environments, and to others who had signed treaties providing annuities in exchange for great swaths of their land. Corruption was the rule of the day. Indian agents, who often bribed their way into office, cheated the tribes of what was due them in various ways, many of them becoming wealthy buying secondhand goods and wormy food with Washington’s allocated funds for the tribes and pocketing the difference.

A congressional investigation in 1867 made recommendations for modest changes, some of which were enacted. However, a proposal to remove the BIA from Interior and make it an independent agency failed. In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed his Civil War adjustant, Ely Parker (Seneca) as the first commissioner of the BIA with Native blood. For the next two years, under Grant’s “peace policy,” military conflict with the tribes was greatly reduced. But after Parker left office, that changed again. Indians were fought, defeated and corralled onto ever smaller pieces of land, often far from their home territory. By 1900, the BIA had effectively become tribal government for all intents and purposes.

Over the next century, the BIA was investigated, reformed and reorganized several times as Indian policy went from the devastating allotment period that led to the seizure of tens of thousands of acres of land, the reestablishment tribal governments under the New Deal, the termination policies of the 1950s and 1960s during which more land was taken, and the turn toward more tribal sovereignty in the ’70s and ’80s as a partial consequence of red militancy emerging out of the broader civil rights movement. 

Today, the BIA remains at Interior and holds nearly 56 million acres of land in trust for 566 Indian tribes and Alaskan Natives. How that land gets exploited by non-Indians remains a major point of contention between the bureau and many tribes. The BIA also runs Indian schools and Indian child welfare. It provides funding and training for police forces, tribal courts, reservation road building and other operations in cooperation with tribal governments. Where once Indian employees were rare, they now make up the vast majority of the bureau’s workforce, which is headed by Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echohawk (Pawnee). Having Indians in charge has not stopped many other Indians from continuing to call the agency the Bureau of Incompetence and Arrogance.


Additional information about the BIA can be found in this diary by Ojibwa.

More below:

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Oglalas Face Criminal Charges for Civil Disobedience Related to Canadian Tar Sands

By navajo

Debra White Plume, Lakota Blockade

First Nations people in Canada and the United States have been in the opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline ever since builder TransCanada proposed it years ago. The 1661-mile pipeline is designed to carry bitumen from the Alberta tar sands deposits to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas where it can be turned into oil. Along with other foes, some Indians were arrested last summer during protests against the pipeline at the White House.

Earlier this month, Lakotas on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southern South Dakota stepped up their opposition by blocking a highway when two massive trucks headed for the tar-sands mines forced a reservation motorist to pull off the road. Several of them were arrested but they vow to keep up their opposition.

The blockade got underway March 5 after word reached Debra White Plume (Oglala)that trucks carrying unusual covered cargo were making their way down the relatively narrow reservation highway not built for such heavy vehicles. White Plume, who was arrested last year in the White House protests, and whom climate-change activist Bill McKibben calls his “hero,” went into action when she heard that “Calgary, Alberta, Canada” was written on the side of the trucks from the Trotan company. She wasted no time in rallying her people and rushing to intercept the trucks. While she was en route, social media and the local reservation radio station, KILI, went into action, calling all able- bodied people to show up and support the blockade.

Marie Randall, Marie Brush Breaker Randall, Oyate Akitapi Win - Nation Woman, who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the small hamlet of Wanblee, South Dakota
Marie Brush Breaker Randall 

or Grandma Marie, 92 

(Oglala Lakota)

Nearly 75 people eventually arrived, including 92-year-old Marie Brush Breaker Randall (Oglala), who is called Grandma Marie by everyone on the reservation, and another revered elder, Renabelle Bad Cob (Oglala), who came in her wheelchair. 

Grandma Marie, her given name is Oyate Akitapi Win-Nation Woman (Oglala), lives in Wanblee, the word for “eagle” in Lakota. Her work includes raising awareness about diabetes and teaching the Lakota language to the next generation of Oglalas at Crazy Horse High School.

Her eloquent statements to the tribal police about the reasons for the human blockade are documented in this video that has had over 23,000 views since March 6. She says the road traverses Lakota land and asks the truckers who gave them permission to drive through. Why, she asks, didn’t they take much-faster state roads? In fact, who can travel on reservation roads has been long established by the courts, and the truckers were within the law.

Video can be seen here:…

The truckers, who were bringing their cargo from Texas, told blockade leaders that they had not been told their designated route would take them through Indian Country. They produced papers showing they “…each carried a ‘treater vessel’ which is used to separate gas and oil and other elements. Each weighs 229,155 pounds [far more than the residential roads are built to handle] and is valued at $1,259,593…” White Plume says in the video that the truckers also told them that the corporate office in Canada and the state of South Dakota made a deal to save the corporation $50,000 per truck by driving through the reservation to avoid state weighing stations. Randall proposed that the reservation needs to set up its own weigh stations. 

The prevailing attitude of the peaceful blockaders was we will not stand down whatever the cost. 

After six hours, the tribal police showed up and asked everyone to leave. Five Lakota refused. So Alex White Plume, Debra White Plume, Andrew Ironshell, Sam Long Black Cat and Don Ironshell were arrested and charged with the only thing police could come up with, disorderly conduct. They were booked and released. Debra White Plume:

We stood our ground for our land, our treaty rights, our human rights to clean drinking water and our coming generations. We did this in solidarity with the First Nations people in Canada who are being killed by the tar sands oil mine, which is so big it can be seen from outer space, it is as big as the state of Florida. It didn’t matter where the heavy haul was going, either to the tarsands oil killing fields, or another oil mine, we didn’t want it crossing our lands, until the Tribal Police could get there and determine under whose authority they got onto the Reservation

The huge trucks could not be turned around easily, so they were escorted off the reservation by the tribal police.

After the blockade, Debra White Plume says the Associated Press incorrectly attributed to her statements about what she was told. She said the reporter wrote in a story that appeared in the Argus Leader and Rapid City Journal that “the truckers told the group they were heading to a Canadian oil field with empty containers for drinking water,” when the truckers actually told her they were carrying treater vessels. The AP article also said a spokesperson for TransCanada had denied the trucks or their cargo had anything to do with the tar sands or the pipeline.

People on other reservations are organizing and preparing to block future Trotan convoys if they try to transit through their reservations. This likely generated new charges against the previously arrested five Oglalas have been told they now face.

According to a posting on Andrew Ironshell’s Facebook page, tribal Attorney General Rae Ann Red Owl is compiling a list of as many as eight charges put together with FBI involvement. A trial date will be set sometime in the coming week. The five arrested protesters have been told not to speak with the media and not to return to the blockade site on the highway. They may travel to Wanblee, but cannot pass through, which is something Ironshell called “ironic, huh?” the blockaders now blocked. “Will the OST [Oglala Sioux Tribe] Tribal Court support the values of the community or the interests of a corporate US Congress and a foreign company – TransCanada?”

On March 7, Alex White Plume wrote that the acting chief judge of the OST will handle the case and that Judge Fred Cedar Face has been recused. This presents an issue of fairness, White Plume wrote, because Cedar Face knows Oglala customs and speaks Lakota but the acting chief judge, who is not Oglala, does not.

Meanwhile, next Thursday, President Obama will visit Cushing, Okla., a major hub of oil pipelines. TransCanada has been given the green-light to build the southern leg of the Keystone XL from Cushing to Texas refineries at Port Arthur. Many foes of Keystone view the president’s “welcoming” statement regarding that section of the pipeline as an indication he will approve the whole project once the company has provided an alternative route that avoids the ecologically fragile Sandhills of Nebraska, a major focus of the opposition to TransCanada’s original rejected application.

NAN Line Separater

Dakota Descendants Seek Memorial for Largest U.S. Mass Execution

By Meteor Blades

Vernell and Ernest Wabasha with young relative

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. On Dec. 26, 1862, on the direct orders of President Abraham Lincoln, 38 eastern Dakota (Sioux) men were sent to the gallows in Mankato, Minn., the penultimate act in the six-week-long Dakota War of 1862, also known as the Sioux Uprising. The final act was the expulsion of the Dakota from Minnesota and the termination of their reservations in the state.

Now, direct descendants of those hanged that day want to establish a memorial to them in Reconciliation Park in Mankato. But the majority of the city council, after informally approving the memorial, retreated recently by tabling formal consideration. Calling up old language, one councilman spoke of the “hostility” in the words of a 1971 poem that supporters of the memorial want included on it. That poem, which the councilman called divisive and untrue had nothing to do with reconciliation, he said.

Like hundreds of conflicts in the Indian wars before and after, the 1862 Dakota resistance arose out of broken promises. Before the ink was dry on the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, Congress had stricken the crucial Article 3. This guaranteed a strip of land 70 miles long and 10 miles wide on each side of the Minnesota River for a reservation. Instead, Congress bought the land for 10 cents an acre and annuities.  

Jerome Big Eagle

(Mdewakanton Dakota)

Soon the Dakota were confined to the strip on the south side of the river. Payment of annuities were often late when they weren’t diverted by greedy, unscrupulous Indian agents who had bribed their way into office. They stole from the Dakota by various means. By the late 1850s, deprived or their best hunting grounds, plagued by rough winters and failed crops, the starving Dakota became ever more dependent on government food distributions. These too were often late and, thanks to government contractors and agents, consisted of substandard goods when they arrived at all. The Dakota became increasingly incensed over land encroachments and the failure to enforce the treaty rights they had forced to exchange for money and goods.

The push into a smaller space was meant to force the Dakota to adopt a new way of life. Chief Big Eagle said many years later, “It seemed too sudden to make a change […] If the Indians had tried to make the whites live like them, the whites would have resisted and it was the same with many Indians.”

Though accounts of his specific words vary, storekeeper Andrew J. Myrick inflamed passions in August 1862, by remarking at a meeting where Dakota representatives sought to buy food on credit, “If they are hungry, let them eat grass.” Several days after the meeting, four hungry and enraged Rice Creek Dakotas took it out on five settlers near Acton, Minn. Those killings spurred Dakota chief Little Crow to call a council that chose to go to war. Soon after the fighting broke out, Myrick was found dead with grass stuffed in his mouth.

The conflict ultimately killed some 500 whites and an uncounted number of Dakotas, including the 38 who were hanged in December that year. At one point, thinking the uprising might be part of a Rebel conspiracy, President Lincoln pondered the option of freeing 10,000 Confederate POWs to fight the Dakota under Union commanders. Before that could happen, however, the war was over.

In late September, a five-member military commission was convened. On the first day, 10 Dakota were sentenced to death. So it went for six weeks, 393 cases, 323 convictions, 303 death sentences. Thanks to pleas from an episcopal bishop, Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 39, and one additional man was later granted a reprieve. The day after Christmas, chanting their death songs, they marched single file onto the gallows in Mankato and were hanged. Seven months later, Little Crow – who had escaped to Canada before the trial but returned to Minnesota – was killed by a white settler who shot him for a $500 bounty. Little Crow’s scalp and skull were displayed in St. Paul and finally returned to his grandson in 1971.

The proposed memorial

Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich declared 1987, the 125th anniversary of the executions, a “Year of Reconciliation.” Out of that came Reconciliation Park in Mankato, where today there is a plaque and two sculptures, one of a Dakota “Winter Warrior” and one of a bison, both victims of the Manifest Destiny that generated the 1862 uprising in the first place.

But those sculptures aren’t enough for Vernal Wabasha (Dakota). She and others want a memorial in the park for those executed. “They have markers all along the road about our savage Indians attacking white people,” said Wabasha, who has been married to Ernest Wabasha, a hereditary Dakota chief, for 56 years. He is the sixth chief of that name. The third one was chief at the time of the executions. Said Vernell Wabasha: “These men fought for the Dakota way of life, trying to hang onto something, to hang onto this land for the future generations of their children and grandchildren. […] They weren’t savages like they’ve been depicted for so long,”

Designed by Linda Bernard and Martin Barnard (Dakota), the proposed memorial lists the 38 names on a 10-by-4-foot scroll. The phrase “forgive everyone everything” circles the monument, planned to be 20 feet in diameter. The names on one of the fiberglass scrolls will face south because the Dakota traditionally believe the spirits of the dead rise on the fourth day and travel south.

On the other scroll was to be a poem about executions written in 1971 by the state’s former human rights commissioner, Conrad Balfour. But that 20-line verse is what prompted the city council to back off endorsing the memorial two weeks ago. Among the criticized lines:

The day before the countryside had mourned the

death of Christ the Jew

Then went to bed to rise again to crucify the

captured Sioux […]

Then Captain Dooley cut the rope

38 was cleared of breath

Christmas day the children laughed and churches prayed the blessing set

In that town was 38 was blessed

Peace on earth good will to men

A few days after the council’s action, a bland new poem was written by Katherine Hughes that is more to the liking of at least some councilmembers:

Remember the innocent dead,

Both Dakota and white,

Victims of events they could not control.

Remember the guilty dead,

Both white and Dakota,

Whom reason abandoned.

Regret the times and attitudes

That brought dishonor

To both cultures.

Respect the deeds and kindnesses

that brought honor

To both cultures

Hope for a future

When memories remain,

Balanced by forgiveness.

While several councilmembers have said the new poem is acceptable, Vernell Wabasha is withholding judgment. Nothing is “chiseled in stone,” she said.

Cost of the memorial is estimated at between $55,000 and $75,000. Thus, if it is approved, fund-raising is next on the agenda. Wabasha, the Barnards and supporters of the project hope finished it by September, in time for the Mankato wacipi (pow-wow) gathering.

The names of the 38 who were executed:

Ti-hdo-ni-ca (One Who Jealously Guards His Home)

Ptan Du-ta (Scarlet Otter)

Oyate Ta-wa (His People)

Hin-han-sun-ko-yag-ma-ni (One Who Walks Clothed In Owl Feathers)

Ma-za Bo-mdu (Iron Blower)

Wa-hpe Duta (Scarlet Leaf)

Wa-hi-na (I Came)

Sna Ma-ni (Tinkling Walker)

Hda In-yan-ka (Rattling Runner)

Do-wan-s-a (Sings A Lot)

He-pan (Second Born Male Child)

Sun-ka ska (White Dog)

Tun-kan I-ca-hda ma-ni (One Who Walks By His Grandfather)

I-te Du-ta (Scarlet Face)

Ka-mde-ca (Broken Into Pieces)

He pi-da (Third Born Male)

Ma-kpi-ya (Cut Nose)

Henry Milord

Wa-kin-yan-na (Little Thunder)

Cas-ke-da (First Born)

Baptiste Campbell

Ta-te Ka-ga (Wind Maker)

He In-Kpa (The Tip Of The Horn)

Hypolite Ange

Na-pe-sni (Fearless)

Wa-kan Tanka (Great Spirit)

Tun-kan Ko-yag I-na-zin (One Who Stands Cloaked In Stone)

Ma-ka-ta I-na-zin (One Who Stands On The Earth)

Maza Kute-mani (One Who Shoots As He Walks)

Ta-te Hdi-da (Wind Comes Home)

Wa-si-cun (White Man)

A-i-ca-ga (To Grow Upon)

Ho-i-tan-in-ku (Returning Clear Voice)

Ce-tan Hu-nka (Elder Hawk)

Can ka-hda (Near The Woods)

Hda-hin-hde (Sudden Rattle)

Oyate A-ku (He Brings The People)

Ma-hu-we-hi (He Comes For Me)

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Ancient Alutiiq Kayak to Revive Construction Knowledge

By navajo

Illustration of an Alutiiq Hunter

Alutiiq seal-skin kayaks were usually buried with their owners. But one dating back nearly a century and a half has been stored at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology since 1869. Now, with help from two visiting Alutiiqs from Alaska – Alfred Naumoff, the last traditionally trained Alutiiq kayak-maker and seal-skin sewer Susan Malutin – researchers hope to learn more about the kayak and take efforts to preserve it before it is moved to the Alutiiq Museum on long-term loan.

When he was a teenager, Naumoff began to ask tribal elders about traditional kayak-making. On his trip to Cambridge he identified many components of the kayak that the researchers did not previously understand, such as that it had been made for a right-hander and that the craftspeople engaged in a long process to ensure the seal skins produced a light weight, yet extremely durable covering for the kayak.

For centuries, kayaks were central to the lives of the people of the southern Alaskan coast.

“I heard a reference that to insult somebody, you said, ‘Your father had no kayak,'” [Alutiiq Museum Director Sven] Haakanson said with a laugh. Alutiiqs used their kayaks to fish for porpoise, to hunt seals, whales and sea lions, as well as for traveling through the Aleutians and, at least once, as far as San Francisco, he said. “It was critical. Without having those skills to go out and kayak, you were going to starve. You couldn’t survive in Kodiak without that knowledge.”

The ancient Alutiiq way of hunting was replaced upon contact with Russian and European invaders who had modern boats and firearms. Assimilation and persecution took effect and traditional kayak-making, like language and other cultural elements, began a path toward extinction.

When the Peabody researchers complete their work, the kayak will be moved to the Alutiiq Museum. “It is hoped it can be used to invigorate the next generation’s interest in Alutiiq traditions and repatriate the knowledge,” Haakanson said.

h/t to GreyHawk

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Youngest Iditarod Winner Ever Followed Trail of Ancient Alaskan Natives

By navajo and Meteor Blades

Iditarod dogs, Photo Courtesy of Frank Kovalchek

-Photo Courtesy of Frank Kovalchek

Part of what is now the Iditarod Trail was used by the Native American Inupiak and Athabascan peoples hundreds or more years before Russian fur traders began traveling that route in the 1800s. Now, it’s famous for the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The 2011 winner was John Baker, a 48-year-old Inupiak, the first Native to win the race since 1976. It was his 15th Iditarod. His lead dogs were Velvet and Snickers. They, Baker and the other dogs on the team covered the race in 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes, 39 seconds, slicing three hours off the previous record.

That record was not eclipsed by this year’s winner of the 40th Iditarod, Dallas Seavey, from Willow, Alaska. At 25, Seavey is the youngest musher ever to win. His lead dogs were Guinness and Diesel. It took them 9 days, 4 hours, 29 minutes and 26 seconds to complete the grueling race. His father won the race in 2004. His grandfather, now 74, competed in the first Iditarod in 1972.

Two women, Libby Shaw and Susan Butcher, won the Iditarod in the 1980s. Butcher won four times, having lost her chance to become the first women to win in 1985 when her sled rounded a sharp turn and ran into a pregnant moose that killed two and injured five of her dogs. A woman, veteran musher Aliy Zirkle, came in second this year.

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Drunken Indian Poster Celebrates Record Company’s Anniversary

By Meteor Blades

Jonathan Fischer wondered this past week whether the poster advertising a “Pow Wow Party” for Windian Records’ third anniversary had crossed the line.

Is that a Native American? With fangs and exaggerated features? And an intoxicated look? Yes, it is all of those things.

But is it racist? One Washington City Paper contributor thought so, and he let the label know via Twitter. To which Windian proprietor Travis Jackson tweeted back, with his usual caps-lock affect: “HOW IS IT RACIST? ITS JUST ART MAN. BESIDES, IM NATIVE, AND IM NOT OFFENDED…HOW ARE YOU?”

Jackson, former drummer of the garage band The Points, sometimes calls himself “Beeronimo,” claims his grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee and “celebrate my heritage loudly, thru rock and roll music and art.” The Windian logo itself is a Plains Indian wearing a battered feather headdress and a puzzled expression. The fanged pow-wow drawing, which looks a lot like some now-abandoned sports-team logos, is typical, Jackson says, of the work of the artist, Ben Lyon. But Lyon’s work published on-line contains no fanged, besotted caricatures of other people of color. Nothing minstrelsy or lazy-Mexican-style.

Via email, Fischer asked Jackson what was up with the poster and he replied: “Its rock and roll. Its art. Its influenced from 50-60’s Rock N Roll art and culture. Its nothing new, its been done many times over.”

Yes, racist images are indeed nothing new and have been done plenty of times. You can still find wooden “cigar-store” Indians in front of small-town shops the way black lawn jockeys once populated so many front yards.

Ben Lyon himself wrote: “I know I’m not a racist. I think anyone offended enough to make a big stink over the art on a poster for a punk show, that they probably aren’t gonna attend in the first place, probably needs to get a life. Leave it to white American 20-somethings to see a neo-nazi lurking behind every tree.(ha ha!) Who says Indians can only be drawn as stern wisemen? Sounds like stereotyping to me! (ha ha) I would have no problem showing the poster to any of my Native American friends. I stand by my work.”

By March 14, Windian Records has replaced the show poster with a new one. Could “Beeronimo” have wised up?

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Last Fluent Speaker of ‘Kiksht’ Language Dies in Oregon: Gladys Thompson, (Wasco) 97, learned Kiksht from her parents and was also fluent in Ichishkiin and Sahaptin. Honored by the Oregon Legislature in 2007 for working to preserve the culture of the Wasco Tribe and keeping the Kiksht and Ichishkiin languages alive, Thompson also helped pass a bill to certify native language teachers. At the time she had 26 grandchildren, 78 great-grandchildren, and 23 great-great-grandchildren.


Larry Echo Hawk Receives the 2012 Governmental Leadership Award from NCAI: Echo Hawk (Pawnee) was appointed in May 2009 as assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, a position that oversees 10,000 employees in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education. The National Congress of American Indians, the nation’s oldest and most representative body of Indians, has made the award for the past 13 years. In 2011, it went to then-Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli. Echo Hawk said: “The work we do at Indian Affairs is a rewarding experience in and of itself. It reminds me daily of my civic duty and loyalty toward my tribe, my people, my heritage, Indian Country and America.”

-Meteor Blades

Native Youth and Young Adults Smoke the Most: A 920-page report released by the U.S. Surgeon General shows that American Indian youth (12-17) and young adults (18-25)  are far more likely to smoke tobacco than any other racial/ethnic group in their age bracket. Nearly 50 percent of young adult Indians smoke. The only good news is that there has been a sharp drop in smoking among these cohorts over the past few years.

-Meteor Blades

High-Tech Glass Helps Ojibwes Connect with Beauty of Ancestral Homeland: When the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe built its new government center on the shores of the eastern Minnesota lake to which it has strong ancestral ties, it included large windows so tribal employees could enjoy the view and connect with the outdoors. But when the sun reflects off the water, they have to pull the blinds. Unhappy with that, the band installed SageGlass® in the nine south-facing windows in the wall of the conference room. The glass electronically (and automatically) tints itself and eliminates the need for blinds. The glare is eliminated but employees and visitors have an unobstructed view of the lake.

-Meteor Blades

Sixteen-Year-Old Learns Ojibwe in 10 Days: Tim, who runs the YouTube channel PolyglotPal’s, has taught himself several languages via computer, including Russian, Pashto, two Arabic dialects, Hindi and the American Indian language Ojibwe. You can watch him speaking Ojibwe, or Anishinaabe (with subtitles) here.

-Meteor Blades

Oregon May Ban Schools’ Use of Indian Nicknames for Their Teams: The state board of education has held hearings on whether to force 15 Oregon high schools to stop using Indian nicknames, logos and mascots for sports teams. About 20 schools dropped the usage in the 1970s, but the rest have hung on despite a 2007 recommendation that they be dropped. As elsewhere, some Indians support the ban; others do not. One Indian on the state board, Chairwoman Brenda Frank (Klamath), wants to see the nicknames go. Numerous studies cited by the American Psychological Association say the names, logos and mascots give Indian children a negative self-image. According to psychology professor Andrae Brown, who testified before the board, the use of the nicknames and associated material “undermines the ability of American Indian nations to portray accurate and respectful images of their culture, spirituality and traditions.”

-Meteor Blades

A New TV Series, Navajo Cops premieres on National Geographic Channel: Perhaps the most unusual “cops” series yet, the 17-million-acre reservation is the main challenge the tribal police face, but the scenery shots are a bonus. Officers with traditional views are featured. One policeman washes himself with bitter herb for protection, and many on the force take calls about witchcraft seriously. Clips can be seen here.

-navajo with a h/t to Ed Tracey

Bald Eagle Kill OKed for Northern Arapaho Tribe Under pressure from a lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given an extremely rare approval for kill two bald eagles for religious purposes by the Northern Arapaho of Wyoming. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act forbids killing the eagles or possession of any parts of the birds by non-Indians. American Indians can apply to obtain eagle feathers or carcasses from a federal repository in Colorado to use in ceremonies. The law also allows them to apply for permits to kill bald eagles, but permission has never previously been given. In testimony in 2007 regarding a member of the tribe who had killed an eagle and was being prosecuted for it, Nelson P. White Sr. (Northern Arapaho) said that birds obtained from the repositories were often rotten: “That’s unacceptable. How would a non-Indian feel if they had to get their Bible from a repository?” The USFWS permit states that the tribe may kill or capture and release the birds after the ceremony. Members of the Eastern Shoshone tribe, who share the Wind River Indian Reservation with the Northern Arapaho, oppose the killing of the birds.

-Meteor Blades


Indians have often been referred to as the “Vanishing Americans.” But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.

First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.

The Great Basin Tribes

The Great Basin Culture 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.

Great Basin Map

The Great Basin is an ecologically sparse environment punctuated by small areas where water, game, and plant life are abundant. Summers can be fiercely hot and the winters bitterly cold. The land is unfavorable for farming and contains little game for food. This is an area which seems inhospitable to human habitation, yet Indian people have lived here for thousands of years. This was the last part of the United States to be explored and settled by the European-Americans.

Aboriginal life in the Great Basin required a rather intimate knowledge of a fairly large territory-often several hundred square miles-which encompassed the full range of desert biomes or ecologic communities. In other words, the Indian tribes which called the Great Basin home had to have a great deal of environmental knowledge in order to survive.

Linguistically all of the Indian people of the Great Basin, with the exception of the Washo, spoke languages which belong to the Numic division of the Uto-Aztecan language family. The Numic languages appear to have divided into three sub-branches-Western, Central, and Southern-about 2,000 years ago. About a thousand years ago, the Numic-speaking people expanded northward and eastward. The linguistic and archaeological data seem to suggest that the Numic-speaking people spread into the Great Basin from southeastern California.

Great Basin families were primarily nuclear families: that is, they were composed of a man and a woman and their children. At times, there might be other people who were also a part of the household, such as a younger brother, a grandfather, a widowed aunt. Beyond the nuclear family, people were linked by blood relationships, marriage relationships, adoptions, and friendships. These various and extensive linkages gave the nuclear family access to many different resource areas, something that was very important during times of food resource shortage in the home area.

One of the characteristics of the Great Basin cultures is sexual egalitarianism. Both boys and girls were free to engage in sexual exploration that could lead to a trial marriage. There was instruction in abortion methods as well as contraception. Divorce was simply a matter of either partner returning to their parental camp.

Among some of the Indian tribes of the Great Basin, such as the Northern Paiute and the Shoshone, a woman would sometimes marry a set of brothers – a practice called fraternal polyandry by anthropologists. This appears to be a response to sparse, scattered populations and the difficulty in finding eligible mates. There were also some instances of polyandry involving two cousins as well as unrelated males. While polyandry usually involved two males, there were a few instances of polyandry with three males.

With the harsh nature of the environment, Indian bands tended to be small – rarely larger than 30 people in the desert areas and up to 100 in other areas – and they usually used places near water sources for their residential sites. Band membership tended to be fluid. While many of the band members were related to each other by blood or by marriage, people were free to leave one band and join another. Band leadership was not autocratic and members were free to pursue an independent course when they so desired.

The tribes of the Great Basin Culture Area include Shoshone, Bannock, Gosiute, Paiute, and Ute.


The Shoshone are often divided into four general groups: (1) the Western Shoshone who lived in central Nevada, northeastern Nevada, and Utah, (2) Northern Shoshone who lived in southern Idaho and adopted the horse culture after 1800, (3) Eastern Shoshone of Wyoming who adopted many of the traits of Plains Indian culture, and (4) Southern Shoshone who live in the Death Valley area on the extreme southern edge of the Great Basin.

The Northern Shoshone groups include the Fort Hall Shoshone, the Lemhi Shoshone, the Mountain Shoshone, the Bruneau Shoshone, and the Boise Shoshone. The Lemhi Shoshone hunted buffalo in western Montana, but depended primarily upon salmon for their subsistence. The Bruneau Shoshone were not a horse people and depended largely on salmon and camas. The Boise Shoshone also used salmon and camas as primary foods and also hunted buffalo in Wyoming and Montana.

Shoshone bands, like other groups in the Great Basin and Plateau Culture Areas, were often named after their dominant food source. Thus mountain-dwelling Shoshone were known as Tukudika (“eaters of bighorn sheep” or sheep eaters). Other Shoshone groups include the Agaidika (salmon eaters), Padehiyadeka (elk eaters), Yahandeka (groundhog eaters), Pengwideka (fish eaters), Kamuduka (rabbit eaters), Tubaduka (pine-nut eaters), and Hukandeka (seed eaters), and the Kukundika (also spelled Kutsundeka: buffalo eaters).

The Shoshone (also spelled Shoshoni) take their name from the Shoshone word sosoni’ which refers to a type of high-growing grass. Some of the Plains tribes referred to the Shoshone as “Grass House People” referring to the conically-shaped houses made from the native grasses. They also were referred to as the “Snakes” or “Snake People” by some Plains groups. This term comes from the sign which the people used for themselves in hand sign languages. While the hand motion made to represent “Shoshone” seemed  to represent a snake to some signers, among the Shoshoni it referred to the salmon. Among the Plains Indians who often referred to the Shoshone as Snakes, the salmon was an unknown fish. The Shoshone often refer to themselves as newe.

Shoshone Camp

A nineteenth century Shoshone camp is shown above.

The Sheepeater Shoshone were known for making compound bows from the horns of mountain sheep, buffalo, and elk. In making a bow from the horns of a mountain sheep, the horns would first be heated to make them pliable and then straightened. The horn would be heated and shaped until there was a tapered piece from each of the ram’s two horns about 18 to 24 inches in length. The butt ends of the horns would then be carefully beveled and joined by laying a separate piece of horn over the joint. This joint would then be tightly wrapped with wet rawhide. To further strengthen the bow, strips of animal sinew would be glued to the back. In the Yellowstone National Park area, the bow makers would throw the horns into a hot spring and leave them there until they became pliable.

A carefully made horn bow would take about two months to complete. Such a bow could send an arrow completely through a bison. The Sheepeater Shoshone horn bows were prized by other tribes and in trading they were valued as being worth a horse and a gun. A typical Sheepeater bow had a pull strength of sixty-five pounds. This meant that the archers had to have considerable upper body strength.

Shoshone Mocassins

Reservation-era Shoshone moccasins are shown above.

The leader of a Shoshone band-often dubbed “chief” by non-Indians-was often given the title of “talker” (daigwahni’ in Shoshone). The primary duty of the talker was to keep informed about the ripening of plant foods in different localities and to impart his information to other band members. The person designated as talker was usually a gifted speaker who used only the power of persuasion during group decisions.


The Bannock, who call themselves Bana’kwut (“Water People”), were called Buffalo Eaters and Honey Eaters by other tribes. According to Brigham Madsen, the Bannock “migrated from the desert areas of southeastern Oregon to the more propitious and well-watered region found at the confluence of the Portneuf and Blackfoot streams with the Snake River. When the Bannock moved into the Snake and Lemhi River valleys and the Bridger Basin, they came into close contact with the Shoshone. This association was reinforced by intermarriage between the two groups and is indicated today by the term “Sho-Ban” to refer to the two tribes. Culturally, the two groups shared a common heritage and a similar worldview. They spoke closely related languages: Shoshone is Central Numic, whereas Bannock is Western Numic. With intermarriage between the Shoshone and Bannock, many people were bilingual.

Bannock culture tended to emphasize war more than Shoshone culture. With regard to the merger of the Shoshone and Bannock, it was the Bannock warriors who generally emerged as the most influential leaders of the equestrian Shoshone-Bannock bands.

Bannock by Remington

An illustration by Frederick Remington showing a Bannock hunting party during the Bannock Indian War.


A Bannock group is shown above.


The traditional homeland of the Gosiute was south and west of Great Salt Lake. They lived in the Tooele, Rush, and Skull valleys. A number of scholars feel that the Gosiute are linguistically and culturally Shoshone.

Wild plants were an important part of Gosiute subsistence. They used at least 81 different plants, including 47 plants which were used for their seeds, 12 for berries, 8 for roots, and 12 for greens.


The Paiute tribes are traditionally classified as Northern, Owens Valley, and Southern Paiute. The Northern Paiute traditionally lived in eastern California, western Nevada, and southeast Oregon. For the Northern Paiute tribes, piñon nuts would be gathered in the fall to provide food for winter. The Northern Paiute tribes include Burns Paiute, Upper Sprague River, Salmon Eaters, Root Eaters, Yellow-Bellied Marmot Eaters, Fort McDermitt, Wild Onion Eaters, Mountain Dwellers (also known as the Winnemucca tribe), Rabbit Eaters (Yerrington Paiute Tribe), Pyramid Lake Paiute, Ground Squirrel Eaters (Lovelock Paiute Tribe), Tule Eaters, Trout Eaters (Walker River Paiute), and Pinenut Eaters.

The Owens Valley Paiute are in California and include Big Pine Band, Valley Paiute, Bridgeport Paiute, Lone Pine Paiute, Bishop Paiute, and Utu Utu Gwaitu Paiute.

There 15 to 31 Southern Paiute subgroups, including Chemehuevi, Las Vegas, Moapa, Paranigat, Panaca, Shivwits, St. George, Gunlock, Cedar, Beaver, Panguitch, Uinkaret, Kaibab, Kaiparowits, and San Juan.

As with other tribal groups in the Great Basin, wild plants were an important food and fiber source for these groups. Among the Southern Paiute, for example, seeds were gathered from at least 44 different species of grass. Among the Owens Valley Paiute, seed areas were owned by the band. Women would gather the seeds using a small, paddle-shaped basket which they would use to knock the seeds into a conical container. The seeds would then be winnowed, parched with hot coals, and ground on a flat stone. The seed flour could then be prepared as mush or used for making bread.

Among the Owens Valley Paiute ditch irrigation of wild plants was used to increase the yields. Brush dams were used to divert the water into ditches which ran for miles and which watered multi-acre plots.

Some of the Southern Paiute groups (Shivwit, Chemehuevi, Kaibab, San Juan, and Moapa) were engaged in agriculture.. The Paiute in northern Arizona and southern Utah raised corn, beans, melon, pumpkin, sunflowers, and amaranth. The Southern Paiute people probably learned to raise corn and certain other products from the Pueblo Indians.

The traditional Paiute leader was called niave. This leader led by example and by helping the band to reach consensus. This leader was not a decision-maker, but rather he would offer advice and suggestions at council meetings.


The traditional homelands of the Ute peoples included present-day Utah (the name of this state was derived from the name Ute), Colorado, and portions of northern New Mexico. The name “Ute” means “high land.” The Ute tribes included both those who lived in the mountains and those who lived in the desert.

The Ute were never a single unified tribe. There are several bands of the Ute: (1) the Weminuche (Weeminuche) or Ute Mountain Ute whose homeland is the San Juan drainage of the Colorado River, (2) the Tabeguache (also known as Uncompahgre), (3) the Grand River band, (4) the Yampa whose homeland is in northwestern Colorado, (5) the Uintah whose homeland ran from Utah Lake east through the Uinta Basin, (6) the Muache (Moache) whose homeland ranged south along the Sangre de Cristos as far south as Taos, (7) the Capote of the San Luis Valley and the upper Rio Grande, (8) the Sheberetch in the area of present-day Moab, (9) the Sanpits (San Pitch) in the Sanpete Valley in central Utah, (10) the Timanogots near Utah Lake, (11) Pahvant who lived in the deserts surrounding Sevier Lake, and (12) the White River (Parusanuch and Yamparika) in the White and Yampa River systems of Colorado.

The Ute would often trade deer and buffalo hides and meat with the nearby Pueblos for corn and other agricultural products. After the Europeans entered the area, they would also trade hides with the Spanish and other Europeans for horses, knives, and manufactured articles.

Ute bands generally had two chiefs: a chief spokesman and a civil chief. During times of war there might also be a war chief. Each band had a well-defined territory, but their territorial claims were not exclusive. Among the Ute, land was viewed as a gift of creation, to be shared in common. Land was not an object of private possession.

The Mi’kmaq and French Missionaries

Until the sixteenth century the Mi’kmaq, one of the northernmost tribes on the Atlantic coast, lived a traditional lifestyle based on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. Then the Europeans began to arrive, bringing with them manufactured trade goods and the illnesses of European society, smallpox and Christianity. Smallpox tried to kill the people and Christianity tried to kill the Mi’kmaq culture.  

Traditional Culture:

The Mi’kmaq followed a seasonal subsistence round: their migratory pattern was to hunt inland during the fall and winter and then to spend the summer on the seashore. In the fall they would disperse into small groups to hunt moose and caribou. They also hunted partridge, waterfowl, seals, rabbit, beaver, otter, and porcupine. In addition to using the bow and arrow, they also used deadfalls and snares in hunting.

In hunting moose, the Mi’kmaq would use birchbark callers to attract the animals. Sometimes they would make the call of a female moose and then take water in a birchbark container and let it fall from some height. The noise would make the bull moose think that a female moose was urinating, something that attracted the male.

In the spring the Mi’kmaq would gather in large groups at traditional camping places on the coast and the rivers. Here they would take advantage of the abundant shellfish, and the spawning smelt, herring, and salmon. Groups at this time might have as many as 200 people. In fishing for cod, smelt, trout, and salmon, the Mi’kmaq would use bone fishhooks and nets. Occasionally fishing weirs were used. There are some reports that the Mi’kmaq raised fish in artificial ponds.

The Mi’kmaq were a sea-going coastal people who paddled their ocean-going canoes far out into the open waters of the Atlantic hunting for whales and porpoises. Both the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk seagoing canoes were unusual in that they had a rise amidships which allowed the craft to be leaned over 35 degrees without shipping water. This made it possible for hunters to bring on board a 300-pound porpoise.

With regard to navigation in open water, the Mi’kmaq charted their directions by the stars, using the North Star as a stationary point of reference.

In some areas, the sea-going canoes were rigged with sails for long journeys. While the sails were sometimes made from bark, the hide of a young moose was more common. Some canoes, such as those of the Beothuk, appear to have had keels and used stone ballast, particularly when rigged with sails.

Early European Contacts:

There were only sporadic contacts with the Europeans during the sixteenth century. The first recorded contact between Europeans and the Mi’kmaq was in 1519 when European fishing boats began trading with the Mi’kmaq in what is now Maine and the Canadian Maritime Provinces. It is quite probable that there were earlier, unrecorded contacts between the Mi’kmaq and English fishermen from Bistol in the 1480s and the Vikings in the 1000s.

In 1593, Richard Strong, the captain of an English ship that was fishing off the coast of Nova Scotia, landed at Cape Breton in search of fresh water. They traveled inland and found that the Mi’kmaq had round ponds in which they were keeping live fish.

While there were relatively few accounts of contacts between the Mi’kmaq and the European invaders during the sixteenth century, it is clear that a number of Europeans visited them and perhaps lived with them for a while. In 1609, Marc Lescarbot published his Histoire de la Nouvelle-France. Lescarbot, trained as a lawyer, provided a detailed description of many aspects of Mi’kmaq life.

The Indians generally viewed the French as physically stunted, with repulsive hair on their faces and bodies. Since many could not speak the Indian languages very well, the Indians assumed that they must be mentally retarded. And finally, the French salted their food making it inedible and many of their customs, including their symbolic cannibalism, seemed utterly barbaric.

The Missionaries:

During the seventeenth century, the French claimed what they called New France under the Discovery Doctrine, a legal doctrine which states that Christian nations have a right, and possibly an obligation, to govern all non-Christian nations. While their primary concern was in making money through the fur trade with the Indians, they often justified this by claiming that they would also convert the Indians to Christianity.

In 1610, Samuel de Champlain asked the Recollets-an ascetic branch of the Catholic Franciscans-to send a missionary to work among the Indians. The Recollets did not prove to be very successful in gaining converts and were soon replaced by the Jesuits.

In 1634, the Jesuit missionary Father Julien Perrault described the unique culture of the Mi’kmaq in what is now Nova Scotia. In his report he told how they lived with the seasons, how they dressed and behaved, and what they looked like. Reflecting his Jesuit bias, he reported that

“what they do lack is the knowledge of God and of the services that they ought to render to him.”

In 1634, the Jesuit mission to the Mi’kmaq on Cape Breton Island was closed as the native population had dwindled. The Jesuits decided that Cape Breton was not a productive area for teaching and conversion. The Jesuit missionaries were sent inland.

In 1661, Father Chrestien Le Clercq, a Recollet priest, published Nouvell Relation de la Gaspésie which provided a detailed description of the Mi’kmaq (also called Souriquois and Gaspésians by other early writers). He had spent 12 years living among the Mi’kmaq, teaching them the Gospel. He learned the Native language and the people described how their nation had been settled long before by visitors from overseas.

Le Clercq notes that the Mi’kmaq had writing:

“I noticed that some children were making marks with charcoal upon birchbark, and were counting these with the finger very accurately at each word of prayers which they pronounced.”

He also notes their expertise in cartography by reporting that they had

“much ingenuity in drawing upon bark a kind of map which marks exactly all the rivers and streams of a country of which they wish to make a representation.”

In 1711, the English military took control of Port Royal from the French. This ended the French missionary work among the Mi’kmaq. Unlike the French, the English made no attempt to cultivate any good will among the Mi’kmaq and did not engage in the traditional gift-giving. This led to conflicts between the British and the Mi’kmaq.

Ancient Minnesota

When the first French fur traders arrived in Minnesota in the 17th century, they found that the area was occupied by Indian nations from two different language groups: Algonquian (primarily Anishinabe or Ojibwa) and Siouan (primarily Sioux). The French found that the Ojibwa (Chippewa) and the Yanktonai Sioux were engaged in a war.  

At the time the French first entered the region, the First Nations had an economy that was based on a combination of farming (corn, beans, squash, and tobacco), hunting (deer and moose were most important), fishing, and gathering wild plants. Agriculture was of less importance to these tribes than to the tribes farther east because of climatic conditions: there was a relatively short growing season in many areas.

Like other areas of North America, the region that would later become Minnesota had been inhabited by American Indians for thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived. American Indians were not-and are still not-a static people with unchanging cultures. In the millennium prior to the arrival of the French, American Indian cultures in what would become Minnesota had undergone many changes.

By about 650 CE, the cultural tradition which archaeologists call the Blackduck Complex was developing in what is now Minnesota and Manitoba It was a cultural complex based on the exploitation of a number of resources, including sturgeon, moose, black bear, beaver, turtle, snowshoe hare, wolf, clams, martin, and muskrat. In the southern portion of the Blackduck range, people also collected wild rice.

The Blackduck people manufactured pottery which had a round base and a constricted neck with flattened and thickened lips. The pottery was made with a paddle and anvil technique. Some of the pots were decorated. Decorating techniques included cord-wrapped stamping, comb stamping, punctuation of various kinds, and vertical brushing.


Blackduck pottery is shown above.

Archaeologists tend to feel that the Blackduck Complex was associated with Algonquian groups.

By 700 CE, the culture which archaeologists refer to as the Effigy Mound Culture had spread through Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. Effigy mounds occurred in groups situated on elevated terrain overlooking streams and lakes. Groups of up to 20-30 mounds were fairly common, but isolated mounds are occasionally found.

Eight effigy mound types are generally recognized: panther, bear, bird, deer, buffalo, turtle, canine, and beaver. About 5 human figures have been identified. However, archaeologists point out that the current naming designations for the mounds probably do not accurately reflect the intentions of the mound builders.

Very little is actually known about the lifestyles of the Indian peoples who constructed the effigies. Their material culture included the use of cord-marked pottery (pottery which had been decorated by pressing cords into the wet clay prior to firing) and triangular stone spear points. In general, the Effigy Mound Culture was based on hunting and gathering with some agriculture. The seasonal cycle involved harvesting nuts and deer in the late fall, winter, and early spring; then a concentration of lowland resources, including aquatic resources, in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Gardens were planted in late spring. While Effigy Mound people tended to live in small seasonal camps with some small wide-spread villages, there are a few sites with substantial occupation. Mounds were constructed during the summer.

Construction of the mounds involved more than just heaping dirt on the ground. The mound construction began by digging out a precise intaglio of the effigy which was to be constructed. The mounds were built up over time with successive layers of different colored earths, termed “ceremonial earths” by archaeologists. In between there would be fire- blackened strata which appear to demark different periods of construction.

About 800 CE, the Blackduck culture was beginning to replace the earlier Laurel culture at the Grand Mound site. The Blackduck people were now using the bow and arrow instead of the atlatl. They were also more dependent on wild rice.

By 900 CE, a couple of regional cultural variations are seen in Minnesota. In some areas of Minnesota, South Dakota, and Iowa, Indian people were building villages which were located on the edge of a first terrace immediately above the floodplain or shallow lake. These villages were not fortified, indicating that there was little endemic warfare. Archaeologists call this the Great Oasis Phase.

Great Oasis ceramics were generally globular-shaped jars with rounded shoulders and bottoms. The exterior of the ceramics tended to be smooth, or smoothed over cord-marks. With regard to subsistence, corn was important at many of the sites. In addition, the people hunted a wide variety of mammals including buffalo, deer, ground squirrel, beaver, wolf, and rabbit. Birds and fish were also important in the diet. Their only domesticated animal was the dog.

In Minnesota, the main Great Oasis sites are the Great Oasis site (for which the phase was named) and the Big Slough site. The Great Oasis site appears to have been intensely occupied.

At this same time, the Oneota culture began to develop in southern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota. One of the characteristics of this culture was the use of red pipestone (catlinite). The Oneota people lived in large villages with long houses. These people were making a number of products from pipestone, including pipebowls, which were traded to other tribes. In addition to corn and other food crops, they also cultivated tobacco.

Oneota ceramics are also distinctive. The Oneota potters were using a shell-tempered paste in creating their ceramics. Shells were broken up and mixed with the clay to temper it. The most common vessel form was a squat jar that often had trailed designs on the shoulder.

One example of an Oneota site in Minnesota is the Bartron site which was established about 1050. This village, located on a low island in the Mississippi River flood plain, covered 7 to 10 acres and was palisaded.

Oneota culture is ancestral to the Chiware which, in turn, is ancestral to the Iowa, the Oto, the Winnebago, and the Missouri. Over the next several centuries this culture spread throughout the region. By 1300, the Oneota culture could be found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Illinois. By 1300, archaeologists feel that Oneota was associated with the Siouan-speaking peoples, particularly the Iowa, Oto, Missouri, Winnebago, and Kansa.

By 1000 CE, the central forests of Minnesota were supporting a large population of wild-rice gatherers. In fact, the wild rice subsistence base appears to have supported a larger population than did the corn-based agriculture found to the south. This wild-rice based culture, called Psinomani by archaeologists, lived in  large, semi-permanent, palisaded villages. The use of palisades around the villages is an indication of inter-group conflicts. Sites used for gathering wild rice and for fishing are commonly associated with Psinomani.


Psinomani pottery is shown above.

The Psinomani also engaged in seasonal buffalo hunting in the prairie near Red River. One of the sites near the Red River which was used for buffalo hunting was the Shea site.  While the main subsistence activity at this site was buffalo hunting, archaeologists have found evidence showing that other animals were also hunted and that the occupants engaged in some corn agriculture. The village was surrounded by a palisade. The Shea site appears to have been a seasonal site occupied during the warm months and then abandoned during the winter. It was in use until about 1460.

Psinomani is a Dakota word which means “wild rice gatherer.” Psinomani is generally felt to be ancestral to the Santee Dakota.

In north-central Minnesota, the Wanikan Complex (seen by some archaeologists as a variation of Psinomani) began about 1100. This complex is associated with pottery which includes varieties with smooth surfaces, with vertical cord marks, and with check stamping. Other traits include burial mounds, and triangular projectile points. The people were gathering wild rice and living in seasonally occupied sites. While bison hunting was the main form of subsistence in the plains area, there was also some corn agriculture. It is believed that the Wanikan Complex was associated with the Assiniboine and Santee.  

Also at this time-about 1000 CE-a phase which archaeologists call Cambria begins in southwestern Minnesota. The sites associated with this phase are located along the trench of the Minnesota River from near Cambria in the southeast to around Lake Traverse in the northwest. Cambria has distinctive pottery which includes globular jars with constricted necks, pronounced shoulders, and smooth surfaces. Ceramics are made with a grit temper.

Four different kinds of sites are associated with Cambria: large village sites on terraces; secondary villages located near the large villages; small upland prairie-lake and riverine sites; and burial sites. The Cambria site is a large horticultural village which covers about 3.5 acres. It is located on the southwest side of the Minnesota River about 15 miles northwest of present-day Mankato. The Price site is a smaller site located near the Cambria site. Hunting appears to have been more important at this site.

The different kinds of Cambria sites suggest a seasonal subsistence pattern that involved agriculture at the large village sites, bison hunting on the prairies, and the exploitation of many different plant and animal resources.

With regard to burial practices, the Cambria phase people used earthen burial mounds. Such mounds are associated with most of the villages.

One of the largest and most complex Native American civilizations was Mississippian which was centered at Cahokia near present-day St. Louis. Mississippian spread over a wide area and by 1125 Mississippian people were occupying the Byran Site in Minnesota.

About 1190, Indian people established a large village and earthen burial mound complex at the Byran site.  The site was situated on a high terrace overlooking the Cannon River not far from its juncture with the Mississippi River. The people built square to rectangular houses. A log palisade, 10-12 feet high, surrounded the village. The people at the Byran site were raising corn. The pottery at this site is Mississippian, but the stone, bone, and antler tools at the site show a connection with Plains cultures to the west.

Some archaeologists feel that the intrusion of Mississippian cultural traits into Minnesota may have been the result of a Cahokia sphere of economic and religious influence. There may have been a Mississippian network which expanded into the area for the purpose of resource extraction. Acting as traders to groups farther west, the Minnesota sites may have been able to provide the people of Cahokia with buffalo robes, dried meat, and other items.  

By 1200, there were many changes occurring among the tribes who inhabited Minnesota. The influence of the Mississippian cultures to the south fades and the dominant influence in Minnesota following this time appears to have been Oneota.

In the centuries just prior to French exploration of Minnesota, there had been a number of migrations and tribal expansions. As the fur trade with the Europeans became more important to the eastern tribes, there was an expansion westward resulting in dislocations, warfare, and migration. Part of this was caused by the Ojibwa expansion westward which pushed the Menominee south and helped to create an alliance between the Menominee and the Winnebago. During this time, the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and various Sioux groups begin their migrations from the eastern woodlands out onto the northern plains.  

17th Century Jesuits in New France

French exploration into what would later become New France (and which would eventually become Canada) began in 1534 with Jacques Cartier. In 1540, King Francois I announced his intention to establish a colony in order to exploit the resources of the area, and justified this colony in religious language and with the idea of bringing new souls to their god. As with other European countries, the French did not acknowledge any validity to aboriginal religions, possible land ownership, and ability to govern themselves. Under the Discovery Doctrine-a legal doctrine stating that Christian monarchs had a right, and possibly an obligation, to rule all non-Christian nations-the French assumed that their religion and government was superior to the religions and governments of the Native Americans.

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 in 1602. This charter included exclusive trading rights from Florida to the Arctic Circle and westward along all rivers flowing into the “Fresh Sea” (the Great Lakes). In exchange for the trade monopoly, the Company promised to settle 4,000 colonists in New France over the next 15 years. The Company was also to see to the conversion of the natives.

One of the first missionary groups to begin working with the Native peoples in New France was the Jesuits. The Jesuits are members of a Catholic male religious order known as the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits, who are sometimes called “God’s Marines,” have a reputation for accepting orders to live and proselytize anywhere in the world, even under extreme conditions.

The Jesuits arrived in New France in 1611 and began to learn the native languages as a way of carrying their message to the people. The Indians found the Jesuits to be different from the other Europeans they had encountered as they did not seem to want land, furs, or women. They only wanted to live in an Indian household so that they could learn the language. Initially the Jesuits, who were often called Blackrobes, were well-liked because of their quiet manners. However, the Indians considered them to be poorly educated and perhaps somewhat retarded as they had little understanding of the spiritual world.

As the Jesuits were learning the Indian languages so that they could begin their spiritual mission, France was making plans to send more colonists and to redeem more souls for the Church.

In 1625, three Jesuit priests and three lay brothers arrived in New France. They were financed by Henri de Lévis, duc de Ventadour. Father Charles Lalemant, former professor of grammar, literature, and mathematics at the Jesuit college in Paris, is placed in charge of the mission. Later historians would call this small group of determined, disciplined, highly trained, and militant members of the Society of Jesus the shock troops for conversion. The French merchant in the colony, however, did not welcome the Jesuits as they feared that converting the Indians would interfere with the fur trade.

Two years later, the Compagnie de la Nouvelle France (Company of the 100 Associates) was organized and sought a royal charter giving it a fifteen-year monopoly on all commerce except for fishing in New France. The charter excluded all religions except for the Catholic Church. The Jesuits were given the position of spiritual advisors to the colonies and the Récollets, who had also had missionaries in the area, were banned. The investors in the company acted more out of religious devotion and patriotism than out of a concern for profits. The investors, as well as the King and his ministers, envisioned the creation of a Catholic French society in which the Native people would be molded by French ideals.

All of the furs were to be sold to the company’s agents and the profits from this enterprise were to be used to sustain the Jesuit missionary efforts. Unlike the Récollets, the Jesuits saw no advantage in assimilating the Indians into French culture. They did not wish to alter Indian culture any more than was necessary for them to convert to Christianity.

In 1631, the Jesuits in New France began publishing an annual report on their missions. These reports can be considered to be “truthful” propaganda which fed French curiosity about the Indians and the New World.

In 1634, the Jesuits increased their missionary planning. According to their revised plan, missions were to be opened among the major native groups beginning with the populous and centrally located Hurons. In addition, Jesuit residences were to be established at Quebec and Trois-Rivières, and natives were to be encouraged to settle near them for instruction in everything from agriculture to Catholicism.

In 1634, the Jesuit missionary Father Julien Perrault described the unique culture of the Mi’kmaq. In his report he told how they live with the seasons, how they dressed and behaved, and what they looked like. Reflecting his Jesuit bias, he reported that

“what they do lack is the knowledge of God and of the services that they ought to render to him.”

In 1637, Pope Urban VIII threatened excommunication for Catholics who deprived native peoples of their property or freedom. All of the European powers, however, simply ignored this edict.

Unable to cure the Huron of smallpox, the shaman Tonneraouanont lost face among his people in 1637. When he broke his leg and died from the resulting infection, the Jesuit Jean de Brébeuf assigned the calamity to evidence of the power of the Catholic God and attempted to assume the role of tribal shaman. While the Huron viewed the Jesuits as powerful shamans, many felt that the Blackrobes were responsible for the deaths. From the Huron viewpoint, the Jesuits engaged in incomprehensible rituals which seemed to be causing death among their people. Many Huron leaders called for the execution of the Jesuits as evil shamans. However, the desire to maintain good trading relations with the French was stronger than the desire to kill the Jesuits.

In 1639, the Jesuits built Sainte-Marie as a special compound and headquarters for their mission work. The Jesuits appeared to maintain a favorable attitude toward Indian religions. They recognized certain concepts that might be comparable between Indian religions and Christianity and used these in converting the Indians.

1638 Map of New France

A 1638 map of New France is shown above.

In 1640, the Jesuit mission at Sainte-Marie was staffed with 30 men, 15 of which were priests. From this headquarters new missionary expeditions were to be sent out.

In 1640, the Jesuits established a mission among the Nipissing. All of the sick children whom they baptized recovered, which seemed to show that the Jesuits had great power and their missionary efforts were relatively successful. Two chiefs-Mangouch and Wikassoumint-also converted.

In 1641, the Jesuit mission to the Mi’kmaq on Cape Breton Island was closed as the native population had dwindled. The Jesuits decided that Cape Breton was not a productive area for teaching and conversion and the missionaries were sent inland.

Montreal was founded in 1642 with great enthusiasm and hope by its devout and zealous backers, les Messiurs et Dames de la Société de Notre-Dame de Montréal pour la conversion de Sauvages de la Nouvelle France. They hoped to create a New Jerusalem, blessed by God, and composed of citizens destined for heaven. The Jesuits labored diligently among the Indians with the intent of incorporating them into this community.

By 1646 there were about 500 practicing Huron Christians. The Jesuits were using a number of different methods to get the Huron to convert. The Jesuits consciously attempted to impress the Hurons with their technological superiority and greater knowledge, including the ability to predict eclipses. There was also a practical side to conversion from the Huron perspective. They had discovered that Christians were treated better than were non-Christians when they traded with the French, and they were also paid higher prices for their furs.

By 1648, Christians had become a majority in the Huron village of Ossossane. While the Christians in this village had been free to behave as they wished when they had been a minority, the Jesuits now directed them to forbid non-Christians the right to practice their traditional religion if they wished to remain in the village.

By 1649, there were 18 Jesuit priests and 30 of their assistants working among the Huron. The Jesuits reported that thousands had been baptized.

In 1665, the Jesuits persuaded a group of Oneida to settle alongside several French families at La Prairie, thus establishing the Indian community of Caughnawaga. Among the Oneida was Catherine Gandeaktena, an Erie woman who had been captured by the Oneida. She had converted to Catholicism and was influential in persuading others to convert.

The Jesuits sent Fathers Jacques Fremin, Jean Pierron, and Jacques Bruyas out to evangelize among the Mohawk and Oneida in 1667. They reported:

“The whole country of the Iroquois was at that time so overcome with fear of a new French army that for several days fourteen warriors had been constantly on the watch…But, by the great good fortune for them and for us, instead of being enemies to them, we were Angels of peace”

In 1667, the Jesuits also traveled to other parts of New France. In Ontario, they established a mission to convert the Ojibwa. Jesuit Father Claude Allouez visited the Nipissing at Lake Nipigon. He found a number of Christian Indian families who had not seen a missionary for nearly 20 years.

In that same year, Father Allouez contacted the Plains Cree in what is now Saskatchewan. He characterized them as being kind, docile, and more nomadic than other tribes. They lived by hunting and gathering wild rice. Two years later, Jesuit Father Dablon tried to convert the Plains Cree. However, as they were nomadic, it made it difficult to convert them.

In 1697, the Jesuits established a Huron community near the fall of the Saint Charles River in Quebec. A chapel honoring Our Lady of Lorette was constructed. In the new community, the Huron continued to live in longhouses and agriculture remained in the hands of the women. The men contributed to the defense of New France by continuing to fight against the Iroquois Confederacy.

First Nations News & Views: Wounded Knee memories, Seattle totem pole honors carver killed by cop

Welcome to the seventh edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find a remembrance by Carter Camp of the Wounded Knee siege 39 years ago, a look at the year 1954 in American Indian history, five news briefs and some linkable bulleted briefs. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Carter Camp Tells Why Wounded Knee Siege of 1973

Still Matters Today

Carter Camp marked as a warrior

Carter Camp marked as a warrior at Wounded Knee, S.D., in the late winter of 1973

Thirty-nine years ago at the end of February in 1973, some 250 Oglalas and their supporters in the American Indian Movement took over the hamlet of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. The immediate catalyst for the protest was the corrupt leadership of the tribal chairman, Dick Wilson. By many traditional Oglala, he and his administration were viewed as an extension of the “colonial” system that had ruled the reservations for decades despite a veneer of sovereignty conveyed by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

But their objections in this specific matter had their roots in a different, broader issue, one that remains unresolved to this day, the unfulfilled promises in hundreds of broken treaties and other agreements between Indians and the U.S. government. Those pacts smoothed the way across the nation for the expropriation and occupation of the land of hundreds of tribes as well as the destruction of our culture, our languages, our religions and our traditions.

By the time of Wounded Knee, AIM had been in the forefront of high-profile protests against the injustices against Indians by the government for nearly five years. It had already organized an occupation of Alcatraz Island, marched across the country to Washington in the Trail of Broken Treaties, and occupied BIA headquarters, making off with boxes full of documents after a week inside the building.

The takeover at Wounded Knee had resulted in a siege by U.S. Marshalls and the FBI that lasted 73 days. I was there for 51 of those days, leaving only when it briefly appeared a resolution had been achieved. The siege continued for another three weeks. When it was over, two members of AIM and one federal marshall were dead. In the following two years, 60 AIM members and two FBI agents were also killed.

Though his name is less known than that of Russell Means and Dennis Banks, in the AIM leadership at the time was a young Ponca man named Carter Camp. He was chosen as war chief.

But let my friend Carter tell this story in his own words, compiled from a number of his writings and interviews over the past dozen years.

-Meteor Blades

By Carter Camp

Carter posts at Daily Kos as cacamp.

Ah-ho, My Relations,

I ask you to remember that our reasons for going to Wounded Knee still exist and that means the need for struggle and resistance also still exist. Our land and sacred sites are threatened as never before. Even our sacred Mother herself is faced with unnatural warming caused by extreme greed.

Wounded Knee takeover leaders were upset by the Nixon

White House’s response to the siege and asked for

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to visit.

Here an interviewer asks Carter Camp if that’s really

necessary. Camp asks, “Why not? Indians are just as

important as any other issue the U.S. has, like Vietnam.”

In some areas of conflict between our people and those we signed treaties with, it is best to negotiate or “work within the system.” But, because our struggle is one of survival, there are also times when a warrior must stand fast even at the risk of one’s life. I believed that in 1973 when I was 30 and I believe it today at 70. But to me Wounded Knee ’73 was really not about the fight, it was about the strong statement that our traditional way of living in this world is not about to disappear and our people are not a “vanishing race” as wasicu (white) education would have you believe. As time has passed and I see so many of our young people taking part in a traditional way of living and believing, I know our fight was worth it and those we lost for our movement died worthy deaths. […]

Today is heavy with prayer and reminiscence for me. Not only are those who walk for the Yellowstone Buffalo reaching their destination, today is the anniversary of the night when, at the direction of the Oglala Chiefs, I went with a special squad of warriors to liberate Wounded Knee in advance of the main AIM caravan.

For security reasons the people had been told everyone was going to a meeting/wacipi in Porcupine, the road goes through Wounded Knee. When the People arrived at the Trading Post we had already set up a perimeter, taken 11 hostages, run the BIA cops out of town, cut most phone lines, and begun 73 days of the best, most free time of my life. The honor of being chosen to go first still lives strong in my heart.

That night we had no idea what fate awaited us. It was a cold night with not much moonlight,  I clearly remember the nervous anticipation I felt as we drove the back way from Oglala into Wounded Knee. The Chiefs had tasked me with a mission and we were sworn to succeed, of that I was sure, but I couldn’t help wondering if we were prepared. The FBI, BIA and marshalls had fortified Pine Ridge with machine-gun bunkers and armored personnel carriers with M-60s. They had unleashed the GOON squad [Dick Wilson’s Guardians of the Oglala Nation] on the people and a reign of terror had begun. We knew we had to fight, but we could not fight on wasicu terms. We were lightly armed and dependent on the weapons and ammo inside the Wounded Knee trading post, I worried that we would not get to them before the shooting started.

As we stared silently into the darkness driving into the hamlet, I tried to foresee what opposition we would encounter and how to neutralize it. We were approaching a sacred place and each of us knew it. We could feel it deep inside. As a warrior leading warriors I humbly prayed to Wakonda for the lives of all and the wisdom to do things right. Never before or since have I offered my tobacco with such a plea or put on my feathers with such purpose. It was the birth of the Independent Oglala Nation.

Things went well for us that night, we accomplished our task without loss of life. Then, in the cold darkness as we waited for Dennis and Russ to bring in the caravan (or for the fight to start), I stood on the bank of the shallow ravine where our people had been murdered by the 7th Cavalry [in 1890]. There I prayed for the defenseless ones, torn apart by Hotchkiss cannons and trampled under hooves of steel by drunken wasicu. I could feel the touch of their spirits as I eased quietly into the gully and stood silently, waiting for my future, touching my past.

Finally, I bent over and picked a sprig of sage – whose ancestors in 1890 had been nourished by the blood of Red babies, ripped from their mothers’ dying grasp and bayoneted by the evil ones. As I washed myself with that sacred herb, I became cold in my determination and cleansed of fear. I looked for Big Foot and YellowBird in the darkness and I said aloud:

“We are back, my relations, we are home.”

Carter Camp being interviewed for the

2009 PBS special, “We Shall Remain.”

We were fighting every day and in danger every day. But it was a lot of fun. During the lulls in the fighting, or during the time when there was not actual danger, it was just a wonderful time being together. People would break out the drum every night and we’d sing together, and different tribes would sing their songs. We had Indian ceremonies that are very special to us, but we don’t bring ’em out in public. But now we could have ’em right there where everybody could participate. We don’t have to hide them around anymore. We had the elders, medicine men, women and children – all in Wounded Knee with us.

We were a strong community. We all had work to do and fighting to do. But at the same time, we could live together and do the things that we wanted to do, say the things that we wanted to say and understand this world the way that Indian people understand it. So it made us feel good. We just really were able to come together in a unity that you don’t hardly find in Indian Country. We’re different tribes and we don’t always get around to each other like that. I mean literally thousands of Indian people were coming from around the country. At any one time we might only have 700 or 800 people in Wounded Knee, but people were coming and leaving. Then, of course, a group of AIM people and the traditionalists stayed there throughout the thing.

Wounded Knee galvanized Indian Country, all over. During those 73 days we were in there, from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and from New York to Florida, Indian people were trashing BIA offices, protesting at the Indian Health Services, telling their own tribal governments to stop the leases with the uranium companies and the coal digging and that sort of thing. Indian people were just making themselves known.

Wounded Knee and the rise of the American Indian Movement and the struggle of the late ’60s and ’70s just changed everything about the way Indian people think of themselves. They started thinking in terms of the future, not of being exterminated or maybe this is our last generation that cares about being Indian. It just invigorated the entire Indian nations […] They started having pride in where they came from and what they were and who they were. […] It also made the government understand that once more there was a line in the sand that they couldn’t push us beyond. We had taken all we could absorb and that if they pushed us just too damn far then we’ll fight.

There is a excellent PBS documentary about the Wounded Knee takeover and siege on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Carter is featured in this 80-minute segment, We Shall Remain, Wounded Knee, Episode 5. (h/t exmearden)

We Shall Remain PBS header

Haida Whale Divider

This Week in American Indian History in 1954

A secton of the Garrison Dam, the fifth largest earthen dam in the world. (Bureau of Reclamation)

On Feb. 27, 1954, the U.S. government took additional land from the Yankton Sioux Tribe to build the Fort Randall Dam and Reservoir in southeastern South Dakota. That dam and four others built on the Missouri River by the Army Corps of Engineers from 1946 to 1966 were approved for flood control, pollution and sediment control, navigation, conservation, recreation, hydroelectric power and enhancement of fish and wildlife under the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program, a part of the Flood Control Act of 1944.

Construction of the dams and consequent flooding forced the relocation of more than 1500 Indian families on seven reservations, including some 136 on the Yankton Reservation. The tribes lost more than 350,000 acres. Besides the Yankton Reservation, fertile bottom land was condemned on reservations at Fort Berthold, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, Lower Brule, Crow Creek and Santee.

The tribes didn’t only lose their land but also any timber, wildlife and native plants plus homes and ranches. In the case of Fort Thompson on the Crow Creek Reservation, an entire town was inundated. As a consequence, the BIA and Indian Health Service offices were moved off the reservation to Pierre, making it far more difficult for Indians they were supposed to serve to use them.

The losses also included spiritual ties to the land and the intangible benefits that came from living along the Missouri.

The tribes were never consulted about the project during the planning stages. No Indians were asked to testify during hearings on the projects in Congress. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which supervises Indian land held in trust by the Department of Interior, raised no objections.

The Corps of Engineers handled negotiations. Tribal sovereignty and treaty rights, including the Yankton Treaty of 1858, were completely ignored. So also was the Winters Doctrine, a Supreme Court ruling that Indians have inherent rights to water resources on their lands. Philleo Nash, who had advised Presidents Roosevelt and Truman to integrate the Armed Forces and later served as BIA Commissioner under JFK and LBJ, would later say that Pick-Sloan “caused more damage to Indian land than any other public works project in America.”

The amount of money offered to owners of individual Indian land allotments was often significantly less than the amount offered to non-Indian land owners. Likewise, as the dam projects began in a time when termination of reservations was in full swing, government compensation for damages caused by the taking of communally owned tribal land was well below its market value. Land at North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Reservation of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people was condemned and bought for $33 an acre. Today, the earthen Garrison Dam is on the land, holding back Lake Sakakawea, and capable of generating some 583 megawatts of electricity.

Twenty-five years after the last dam was completed, the General Accounting Office undertook the first of four reports on providing better compensation, which you can see here: 1991; 1998; 2006; and, 2007

Today, the tribes whose land was taken have an on-reservation population of about 32,000, with another 20,000 enrolled members living elsewhere.

-Meteor Blades with a h/t to ojibwa

(First Nations News & Views continued below the frybread thingey)

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

First Totem Pole in a Century Raised in Seattle for Victim of Police Shooting

John T Williams Mural Seattle
A large mural of

folk hero John T. Williams

is at 11th Avenue

between Pike and Pine

The strength of a First Nations community came together on Feb. 26 when a 33-foot-tall, 5,000-pound totem pole was ceremoniously carried a mile-and-a-half from its carving site on the shoulders of scores of supporters and erected near the 50-year-old Space Needle. It was the first totem pole erected in Seattle in nearly 100 years. Conceived and carved in the traditional manner, the cedar totem pole honors John T. Williams (Ditidaht), himself a master carver, who was shot and killed by Seattle police officer Ian Birk in August 2010. After months of protest by Indians and their supporters, the shooting death was found not justified. Officials said Birk took actions that were “outside of policy, tactics and training.”

John T Williams Totem Pole

As can be seen and heard in this disturbing video here, Birk stepped from his patrol cruiser and came up behind Williams on the street, who was walking and carrying a small, legal folding knife and a plank of wood which he had been carving. Birk told Williams to put down the knife. He then shot Williams four times in the back, killing him instantly. The entire encounter took eight seconds. Facing termination from the force after the damning report was released, Birk resigned.

Immediately after the shooting, the Williams family reported strained relations with police. They said they were being scrutinized and harassed by bicycle patrol officers in a street market where vendors have sold their goods for decades. Other Native people complained in public forums that they had good reason to feel unsafe around the police. Demonstrations erupted and community meetings turned into shouting matches.  

Over time, the tensions relaxed. One element that helped bend police officials and Native peoples toward better interaction was the initiation of a restorative circle, a practice developed in Brazil by Dominic Barter.

In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice released the findings of its investigation of the City of Seattle Police Department. It concluded the SPD has a “pattern and practice” of using excessive force, especially in communities of color, and that it needs structural reform in training, supervision and discipline. While disagreeing with aspects of the report, the department has stated it will overhaul its use of force policies and procedures.

The Williams family’s seven generations of traditional carving inspired Williams’s brother Rick to design a totem pole that turned the tragedy into an honoring of his brother’s life and heritage. Rick called for a peaceful resolution to the community conflict that followed the fatal shooting but had been building beforehand. “Despite his grief and anger, Rick Williams, by his own account, found strength in the wisdom of his ancestors and rejected calls for violence and retribution against the police. He requested that the response to the shooting be peaceful, in respect for his brother. By his example and explicit requests, he helped keep the peace in the streets where many felt despair, outrage, the need for change, and an urge for revenge.”

The team of master carvers took more than six months to finish the totem pole. The cedar tree came from Harstine Island and was donated by the Manke Lumber Company. The loggers who cut it estimate its age to be at least 120 years. Two other totem poles carved from the same tree are in the works and will be placed elsewhere in Seattle.

The family of John T. Williams has forgiven the Seattle police force. Now at peace, they honor Williams’s life with an exquisite piece of art but also an important symbol of cultural legacy, hope and community healing.

An interpretive display at the carving site explains the figures on the memorial totem pole:

• Top: Eagle. “The Eagle flies the highest and sees the farthest, so he takes the perch at the top of the pole.”

• Middle: Master Carver. “This is a Williams family symbol handed down through seven generations of woodcarvers. This master carver is John T. Williams displaying his own signature totem, which features the Kingfisher and the Salmon. This carving, at the age of 15, made John a master carver in the Ditidaht First Nation, in British Columbia.” According to the interpretive display, John T. Williams’s works, and other Williams family pieces, are displayed all over Seattle, at the White House and in the Smithsonian. At this writing, early John T. Williams carvings are being sold on eBay for $8,500.

• Bottom: Raven Mother and Baby. “The Raven watches and nurtures us, making up the foundation of the totem.”

Rick Williams carving Johns Totem Pole
Rick Williams carving his brother John’s memorial totem pole

There is an amazing video of the whole procession and traditional raising of the memorial totem pole.…

The final stage of this publicly funded project is a seating area for contemplation encircling the pole with customizable granite tiles. Interested people can make a donation at The John T. Williams Totem Pole Project to secure a tile.

You can also support the project at Facebook. Almost 3000 others have.

-navajo & Meteor Blades

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Two Vermont Abenaki Bands Expect State Recognition

Under a new Vermont law, two bands of Abenaki Indians gained state recognition in 2011. Two more may now be on the verge of doing so. The Abenaki were once part of the Confederacy of the Wabanaki, the “People of the Dawn Land” in their Algonquin tongue. They ranged from modern-day New England into Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. Today bands with and without reservations live in Quebec, New Brunswick, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Vermont Commissioner of Native

American Affairs Luke Willard

Twenty-three states have laws that set parameters for recognition, which can confer various benefits to members that are not otherwise available. In a few cases, such as Florida, no tribe can receive state recognition unless it is already one of the 566 federally recognized tribes of Indians or Alaskan Natives. Others require some genealogical proof of native ancestry and a historical connection to the area in which they now live. A few don’t require that, and some tribally enrolled Indians consider recognition of tribes in those states to be fraudulent.

Indeed, critics have claimed that all the Vermont bands are modern inventions and that most or all of the people claiming tribal connection have no true claims to being Abenaki or Indians at all. At his web site – The Reinvention of the Alleged Vermont and New Hampshire Abenakis – Doug Buchholz has published birth certificates that he says prove some of the leading members of the tribes are fraudulent wannabes. That’s not how the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs see things.

The commission was established by the new law and recommends which tribes should be granted recognition based on nine criteria. Most of members of a tribe must live within a specific area inside the state and a large number must be related through kinship. They must have a connection to the state that can documented by historical, ethnographic or archaeological evidence. After a tribe submits its evidence, a panel of scholars and other experts reviews it and reports to the commission, which decides whether or not to recommend recognition. The legislature can grant or reject recognition then and there. Or it can choose to do nothing. If it takes the latter course, a recommended tribe gains recognition automatically after two years.

Based on these criteria, the Elnu Abenaki in Windham County and the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation in northeastern Vermont – gained state recognition last year. The two other bands of Abenaki in Vermont – the St. Francis-Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi in northwestern Vermont and the Koasek Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation from the Connecticut River Valley – presented their evidence before a joint legislative committee hearing Feb. 14:  

St. Francis-Sokoki band Chief John Churchill testified that state recognition will bring cultural pride to his band.

“Pride is a big thing. Whatever nationality one says you are, you don’t have to prove it. If you say you’re Abenaki or Native American, for some reason you have to prove it,” he said.

Roger Longtoe Sheehan, chief of Elnu Abenaki, testified on the positive cultural impact of recognition, particularly in his band’s relationship with other nations.

“It’s a pride thing so you can walk into a pow-wow and go to any sort of site that would be tied to the culture and be able to say, ‘We’re Abenaki,'” Sheehan said, later adding. “Unless you get state recognition, they basically won’t talk to you.”  

State recognition can lead to some limited federal benefits, particularly in education and in grants for economic development and cultural rejuvenation. State-recognized tribes can also legally sell handicrafts such as baskets with “Indian-made” labels attached. But state recognition does not set up a government-to-government relationship of sovereignty the way federal recognition does.

Luke Willard, chairman of the state Native American Affairs Commissiion and a tribal trustee and treasurer of the Nulhegan Band has pointed out that what Vermont provides is more of a “cultural recognition.” No tax money is expended. There will be land claims, no casinos, no treaty rights fights, no battles over tax-exempt cigarette sales and or reservation tax exemptions because there is no communally owned tribal land from which to assert such claims.

Among the difficulties the St. Francis-Sokoki and Koasek have had is finding Colonial-era documents proving that a majority of members have continuously resided in the same  historical area. According Erin Hale at, Peter Thomas, the retired director of the University of Vermont’s archaeology program, thinks it doesn’t make sense to make a recognition determination based on today’s borders to a region occupied by Native people for at least 11,000 years and the Abenaki since before Anglo-Americans arrived on the Continent.

The Koasek Band ultimately was able to show that 58 percent of its members lived within Vermont’s borders. The St. Francis-Sokoki were helped by the 1973 discovery of a burial site dating back at least two millennia and another discovered in 2000 that contained the remains of 27 Abenaki, with artifacts from the 17th through 19th centuries.

Other issues include proving kinship ties because Indians and mixed-race people were often listed in the 1700s and 1800s as “pagan” or “colored,” not “Indian.” Hale writes that “Vermont’s eugenics movement in the 1920s and 1930s further damaged record keeping.”

Federal recognition was denied the St. Francis-Sokoki in the 1990s, and that was an issue for some committee members at the February hearing. But an expert witness explained that obtaining federal recognition is an expensive process requiring between $5 million and $12 million “to get the political clout in Washington to be able to get recognition.”

Willard said one of his reasons for joining the commission was to “nullify federal recognition. Why do we need federal recognition if we have a state government that is willing to work with the tribes and is willing to enact state policy and legislation that will successfully meet the needs and empower the native people of the state? I just don’t see the sense in spending millions of dollars just so you can get a thumbs-up from people who are hundreds and hundreds of miles away.”

-Meteor Blades

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Navajo Nation Sues Urban Outfitters Over Use of Tribal Trademark

Authentic Navajo cuffs, like

this one, are legally sold under the

Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

Months after the Navajo Nation had sent a cease-and-desist order to Urban Outfitters to stop selling their line of clothing using the designation term Navajo in the style’s name, the Navajo Nation has sued the company and its subsidiaries. The suit alleges they have violated the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (IACA) and for trademark infringement. The Navajo Nation has 12 trademarks registered under the label Navajo. The suit was filed in New Mexico where part of the Navajo Nation reservation is and where Urban Outfitters has a number of stores.

The truth-in-advertising IACA “prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States.”

Urban Outfitters’ Fall 2011 collection had many style names that included the term Navajo. Two of the most offensive were a Navajo flask and Navajo Hipster Panties, which can been seen (if you must) at the Native Appropriations blog. Urban Outfitters was widely criticized for its stupidity in following their fashion directors’ prompts of what the latest trend is. Having once been a buyer in the fashion business, I can just imagine the boardroom excitement of naming the season’s trend, “OMG … Navajo is so hot right now!”

American designers, like sports team owners, love to “pay tribute” to this unique American icon, the “noble Indian.” But it’s not a tribute. It’s a rip-off and an insult.

Ralph Lauren, Pendleton, Dolce & Gabbana and others have been producing American Indian-themed clothing for decades with little public outcry. But now, with the power of the Internet, young Native bloggers are turning the spotlight on this long line of expropriations of land, resources, spiritualism and whatever else can be grabbed from Indians and twisted to benefit greed.

It was Sasha Houston Brown, 24, (Dakota/Santee Sioux), an academic advisor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College where she works with the American Indian Success Program, who sent a letter on Columbus Day last year to Urban Outfitters’ CEO Glen T. Senk after she visited one of their stores in Minneapolis.

…she was offended by “plastic dreamcatchers wrapped in pleather hung next to an indistinguishable mass of artificial feather jewelry and hyper sexualized clothing featuring an abundance of suede, fringe and inauthentic tribal patterns.”

Brown told […] Senk that the collection was “cheap, vulgar and culturally offensive.”

Another Indian blogger, Adrienne K. at Native Appropriations, wrote:

First of all, these products represent a stereotype of “southwest” Native cultures. The designs are loosely based on Navajo rug designs […] or Pendleton designs, but aren’t representations that are chosen by the tribe or truly representative of Navajo culture. Associating a sovereign Nation of hundreds of thousands of people wit[h] a flask or women’s underwear isn’t exactly honoring.

Additionally, it’s more than likely that Urban [Outfitters] chose “Navajo” for the international recognition–to most of the world Navajo (and Cherokee)= American Indian […] This conflation of Navajo with “generic Indian” contributes to the further erasure of the distinct tribes and cultures in the US and solidifies the idea that there is only one “Native” culture, represented by plains feathers and southwest designs.

Urban Outfitters immediately removed the Navajo designation from its site last fall. You would think the board members had learned their lesson.

Apparently not.

One of the company’s upscale subsidiaries, Free People, recently ran a distinct collection of styles, attaching labels identifying the products as vintage Navajo. Note the jewelry pieces, a definite “no no” on the rez and according to federal law … in the entire United States! Fashion faux pas? Mais oui, C’est une grande wtf.

Screenshot Free People Navajo Appropriations

The Navajo Nation included this screenshot in their legal filing. Of course, if you search for the Navajo descriptor now, nothing comes up.

But look at what is still up at Free People:

Free People Screenshot Lakota Bag

And it’s in stock for a mere $498!

-navajo with a h/t to Lauren Chief Elk

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“Fighting Sioux” Fight in North Dakota Gets Hotter Still

The conflict over the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo at the University of North Dakota that we have been reporting on for a few weeks not cooled. On the contrary. Here is the latest news:

• The NCAA has told university officials not to allow its sports teams to bring the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo of a Lakota Indian head to any playoffs. The university was in the process of buying new uniforms without the logo as a result of the NCAA’s 2006 rule against such nicknames. But state legislators and supporters of a referendum to keep the name have complicated the situation.

• The University of Iowa has gone a step farther and denied UND an invitation to a track meet. UI’s policy “prohibits the athletics department from scheduling competition with schools or attending tournaments hosted by schools using American Indian mascots unless those mascots have been approved by the NCAA and their respective American Indian tribes.” Previously, officials at the Iowa school had continued competing with UND, but the delay in removing the name finally spurred those officials to begin enforcing university policy.

• Students at the University of Minnesota-Duluth have been warned they will be ejected from any future games if they again behave as they did during a recent hockey game with UND. Several students taunted the North Dakota team with war-whoops as well as chants of “Smallpox Blankets!” and “Hi, HOW are you?” The UMD athletic department stated in the letter that students would be ejected at any future games and have their season tickets voided if they engage in such racist behavior in the future.

• Meanwhile, some supporters of a statewide initiative to keep the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo are threatening to start a second initiative that would get rid of the state’s Board of Education and replace it with a single elected higher education commissioner. That move comes in response to the board’s decision to seek a ruling from the state supreme court about the legality of a law the initiative backers want to reinstate. The law requires that the “Fighting Sioux” nickname be kept. It was passed in February last year and repealed in November and then reinstated again until the initiative is decided by the voters.

The board of education majority says the legislature overstepped its authority in the matter, but its members said they are not trying to subvert the legislature’s authority in general. “With the current board, there is no accountability,” Sean Johnson, of Bismarck, told a legislative higher education oversight committee on Friday. “We need to have accountability, and we don’t have it.”

Opponents of the idea say they think it is a bad idea to replace a board with a single commissioner. Some elected officials say it would be better to have a commissioner appointed by the governor.

-Meteor Blades with a h/t to betson08

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Oklahoma Taking Steps to Bring Jim Thorpe’s Body Home: Olympian Jim Thorpe (Sac & Fox) was buried in Pennsylvania in a town he never visited while alive. His last wife took away his body during his funeral to spite the governor of Oklahoma who refused to fund a memorial. Thorpe’s family is suing under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to have his body returned to the reservation.


Mariah Watchman competes on America’s Next Top Model: ANTM features the 20-year-old Watchman (Ojibwe/Modoc/Mandan) as the Pocahontas stereotype. The 20-year-old model from the Umatilla reservation in Oregon turns their racism into an opportunity to give back to Indian Country.


Minnesota Redistricting Could Boost Indian Voting Clout: The Minnesota Supreme Court has ordered a new redistricting plan that could lead to the election of a Red Lake or Leech Lake band member to the Minnesota Legislature because it will include entire entire reservations within legislative districts. And that would be good for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party since Indians in the state cast their ballots preponderantly for the DFL.

-Meteor Blades

Adopted Cherokee Baby Returned to Father Under the Indian Child Welfare Act: Dustin Brown (Cheyenne) won full custody of his daughter Veronica under a federal law designed to keep Indian children and their families together. Brown said he was tricked into signing papers to give her up. The adoptive family is upset.

-navajo with a h/t to Land of Enchantment


Indians have often been referred to as the “Vanishing Americans.” But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.

First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.

Indians Saving the Buffalo People

For the Plains Indians, the buffalo (technically bison) was more than an important source of food, shelter, and clothing: the buffalo was also an important spiritual and cultural symbol. At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were an estimated 30 million buffalo roaming the Great Plains. A century later, in 1900, the buffalo had become an endangered species. At this time there were only 500 buffalo left.

Original Distribution

The aboriginal distribution of the Plains Bison and the Woods Bison is shown above.  

Buffalo Hunt by Catlin

Shown above is a Catlin painting of an Indian buffalo hunt.

Direct Genocide:

The near genocide of the Buffalo People was brought about by the actions of non-Indians, often purposefully intended to bring about the extinction of the species and with it, it was hoped, the extinction of Plains Indian cultures.

Buffalo 19th century

The nineteenth century extermination of the buffalo is shown above.

Many American officials, particularly those in the military, saw a direct correlation between the extermination of the buffalo and the extermination of Indians. Thus, many advocated the genocide of the Buffalo People as a way of conquering the Indian nations of the Great Plains. In 1869, for example, General Sherman wrote to his superior, General Philip Sheridan, and suggested that sportsmen from the United States and England be encouraged to come out to the west to shoot buffalo.

In 1870, American hunters armed with Sharps breech loading rifles killed an estimated two million buffalo. Colonel R. I. Dodge noted: “Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.” The buffalo population dropped to an estimated 7 million.

Testifying before Congress in 1871, Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano said:

“I would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western prairies, in its effect upon the Indians. I would regard it rather as a means of hastening their sense of dependence upon the products of the soil and their own labors.”

On the Southern Plains, non-Indian buffalo hunters (known as “runners”) were crossing into Comanche territory to hunt and the army did nothing to stop them. In fact, the army had adopted a proactive role in the destruction animals and was supplying the runners with equipment and ammunition.

In testimony regarding a bill to protect the buffalo, General Sheridan told a joint session of the Texas legislature in 1875 that buffalo hunters “have done in the last two years and will do more in the next year to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years” His recommendation:

“for the sake of a lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo are exterminated.”

In the debate over the buffalo in Congress in 1876, the administra¬tive position was stated by Representative James Throckmorton of Texas:

“There is no question that, so long as there are millions of buffaloes in the West, so long the Indians cannot be con¬trolled, even by the strong arm of the Government, I believe it would be a great step forward in the civilization of the Indians and the preservation of peace on the border if there was not a buffalo in existence.”

In 1882, a buffalo herd of an estimated 75,000 animals crossed the Yellowstone River near present-day Miles City, Montana. Passengers on a steamer shot the animals until the river ran red with blood. Fearing that the herd might reach Canada and be utilized by Sitting Bull’s Lakota, the army issued free ammunition to those who wished to shoot the animals. Only 300 animals reached Canada.  

Buffalo Skuls

A pile of buffalo skulls from animals killed by non-Indian hunters seeking to exterminate the species is shown above.

Indirect Genocide:

Part of the near genocide of the Buffalo People stemmed from the unintended consequences of the fur and hide trade. While the fur trade had begun during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with a focus on furs and on beaver pelts, by the early nineteenth century the focus was changing toward hides, particularly buffalo hides. Since buffalo hides now had value as a trade item, this changed the relationship between the Indian people and the Buffalo People. By 1835, there was a greater demand for buffalo hides than for fur pelts in the international trading markets.

Traditionally, Indian hunters had taken buffalo and had used the entire animal-hide, meat, horns, hoofs, and intestines. This had been a sustainable relationship which was celebrated in the Indian religious and spiritual traditions. The European traders, however, introduced Indian people to a globalized market in which they could obtain manufactured goods by trading buffalo hides. Before long, the desire for the manufactured goods overcame spirituality and buffalo were killed only for their hides. This ended the sustainable relationship between the Indian People and the Buffalo People.

The buffalo robe trade from the Missouri Valley generated an estimated $50 million. The production of buffalo robes by the Indians was limited by two things: (1) the number of animals which could be killed by the hunters, and (2) the number of hides which the women could process. The average number of robes which could be processed by a single woman during the winter was 18-20 with some doing as many as 25-30.

The buffalo hide trade changed women’s roles within the tribes. More of their time was now engaged in the production of buffalo hides for trade. It would take about 80 hours of work to prepare a hide for trade and the hide would bring the Indians $1.50 to $2.50 in trade goods. This meant that the women were earning about 2 or 3 cents per hour for their work.

In 1871, tanneries in the United States and in Europe developed a new method for processing buffalo hides as leather, thus creating more demand for buffalo hide. As a result of this new process, the slaughter of the animals was no longer restricted to a particular season.

With regard to the buffalo hide trade in 1876, 155,000 hides were shipped from Montana; 170,00 were shipped east via the Santa Fe Railroad; and 200,000 were shipped from Fort Worth Texas.  Since not all of the buffalo had usable hides, these 550,000 hides probably represent the killing of more than a million buffalo.

Saving The Buffalo People:

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a number of people, both Indian and non-Indian, were concerned about saving the buffalo. In 1874, Congress voted overwhelmingly to stop the slaughter of the buffalo on the plains, but the bill was pocket vetoed by President Ulysses S. Grant. There are conflicting theories about what Grant actually did with the bill. Some historians feel that he received the bill and then put the document into a pigeonhole for its India ink to become a rich brown before it was seen again. There are others who feel that he used it for lighting his cigar.

The noted zoologist and buffalo authority William T. Hornaday wrote in 1887:

“The wild buffalo is practically gone forever, and in a few more years, when the whitened bones of the last bleaching skeleton shall have been picked up and shipped East for commercial uses, nothing will remain of him save his old, well-worn trails along the water-courses, a few museum specimens, and the regret at his fate.”

While zoologists and Congressmen were lamenting the passing of the buffalo, there were a few Indians and others who were trying to do something to save the Buffalo People. In 1871, Walking Coyote, a Pend d’Oreille from the Flathead Reservation in western Montana, killed his wife-some say he killed her because of the furies in his head-and then fled across the Rocky Mountains to the Blackfoot. While living among the Blackfoot he took a Blackfoot wife, but he still found that he missed the mountains of the Mission Valley. Noticing his deep melancholy, some of the Blackfoot suggested that he might capture a few buffalo and take them back to the Flathead Reservation as a kind of peace offering. Since there were no buffalo on the Flathead Reservation, he might be forgiven for his crime and welcomed home as a hero.

Walking Coyote joined a Blackfoot hunting party along the Milk River where it crosses into Canada. After a successful hunt, a dozen stray motherless buffalo calves grazed alongside the horses in Walking Coyote’s camp and followed the hunters around. Walking Coyote then returned in 1872 to the Flathead Reservation, bringing some of the calves with him to start his own herd.

The following year a man known as Samuel Welles or Indian Sam brought four buffalo calves from the Plains area across the Rockies to the Flathead Reservation. Elder Que-que-sah recalls:

“Buffalo hunting had ended owing to the fact that the herds had all been killed. We were all greatly interested in the welfare of Samuel’s calves. I think that every Indian upon the reservation looked upon this little herd as the last connecting link with the happier past of his people. I know we all protected them, wherever they were grazing.”

On the Flathead Reservation in Montana, Charles Allard and Michael Pablo started their own buffalo herd in 1884 with animals purchased from Walking Coyote. They later added some additional buffalo which had been raised with cattle.

In 1893, part of the Allard-Pablo buffalo herd was driven to Butte where they were exhibited for a week. As entertainment for local residents, a kind of rodeo was put on in which cowboys rode the buffalo. An additional 46 buffalo which Charles Allard had purchased from “Buffalo” Jones were shipped from Nebraska and joined the Flathead herd in Butte. There were some battles between the bulls of the two herds.

When Charles Allard died in 1896, the buffalo herd was broken up. Michael Pablo retained 150 head.

Raising buffalo on the Flathead Reservation was not encouraged by the government. In 1900, 27 buffalo from the Allard-Pablo herd were purchased by banker and entrepreneur Charles Conrad. Conrad, who had a Blackfoot wife and family in addition to his non-Indian wife and family, purchased the herd because he felt that the buffalo were near extinction and wanted to support the propagation and perpetuation of the species.

In 1902, 21 buffalo from the Allard-Pablo herd were purchased by Yellowstone National Park.

National Bison Range:

President Theodore Roosevelt established the National Bison Range near Moise, Montana on the Flathead Reservation in 1908. The mission of the National Bison Range is to provide a representative herd of buffalo, in natural conditions, to help ensure the preservation of the species for the public benefit and enjoyment. While the Bureau of Indian Affairs discouraged buffalo on the reservation, it freely gave up reservation land for the new Bison Range. As usual, the Indians were not consulted in this transaction.

The following year, 34 buffalo from the Conrad herd (which had been the Allard-Pablo herd) were purchased by the American Bison Society and placed on the National Bison Range. Thus, the buffalo which had been discouraged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs came home to the Flathead Reservation.

By 2003, the American government was interested in getting out of the business of government through a process known as privatization. At this time, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes of the Flathead Reservation once again expressed their desire to manage the National Bison Range at Moise. Under the 1976 Indian Self-Determination Act the tribe could assume management of federal programs within the reservation. While the tribe had successfully assumed management of other programs, the Department of the Interior had been reluctant to give up management of the National Bison Range. The Fish and Wildlife Service had managed the Range as a wildlife refuge. In 2004, the tribes signed an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assume management functions at the National Bison Range Complex. The tribes were to take over the responsibility for five activities: administration; the biological program, including habitat management; fire control; maintenance; and visitor services. Ownership and overall management authority was to remain with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The tribal take-over of the management of the National Bison Range was vigorously opposed by non-Indian groups and by members of the Montana Congressional delegation.

In 2006, the Fish and Wildlife Service took the management of the National Bison Range away from the tribes citing concerns over the tribes’ ability to manage the facility. Many observers, both Indian and non-Indian, felt that the tribes had been set up to fail and had not been given adequate support for the transition. In 2008, the tribes resumed management. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall stated:

The Bison Range occupies a special place in the hearts of Tribal members. I know the passion that they have for the land of their ancestors, and for the wildlife that sustained them. Fish and Wildlife Service employees also care passionately about the future of the Bison Range, and I strongly believe this agreement will serve to bring everyone together to accomplish great things for the refuge.

Bison Range

Bison Range A2

Buffalo Commons:

In 1987, Frank J. Popper and Deborah Popper published an essay in which they pointed out that current use of parts of the Great Plains is not sustainable and suggested the creation of a Buffalo Commons: an area of 139,000 square miles in which the buffalo or American Bison could be reintroduced. There is strong opposition to this idea from non-Indians who feel that land must be developed and modified from its aboriginal form.

Inter Tribal Bison Cooperative:

In 1992 the Inter Tribal Bison Cooperative was started to help the tribes with their buffalo herds. At the present time, it has 57 tribal government members in 19 states. Since 1992, the number of buffalo on Indian lands has tripled.

Current Distribution

The current distribution of bison herds is shown above.

Southeastern Indian Agriculture

One of the common misconceptions about American Indians that is often repeated in the media and in high school and college textbooks is the idea that they were “hunting and gathering” people. In fact, the Indian nations of the Southeast were agricultural people who lived in permanent villages.  


The Southeastern Woodlands is an area which is bounded by the Ozark-Ouachita Highlands of Arkansas and Missouri and the dry plains of eastern Texas on the west and the low plateaus of Kentucky and Tennessee and the interior plains of Illinois on the north. The eastern boundary is the Atlantic Ocean and southern boundary is the Gulf of Mexico. The Southeastern Culture Area includes the present states of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, western North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, southern and eastern Arkansas, Tennessee, and the portions of Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky that border the Mississippi River. Prior to European contact nearly two million Indian people lived in this area.


Crops (primarily corn, beans, squash, and tobacco) were planted along the creeks and bottomlands near the villages. The area would be first cleared by cutting and burning. The ashes of the burnt wood and cane would then nourish the crops. In addition to the primary crops, the Indians of the Southeast also raised sunflower, sumpweed, chenopodium, pigweed, knotweed, giant ragweed, canary grass, amaranth, and melons.

In order to obtain a maximum yield from their fields, the Southeastern Indians practiced both intercropping and multiple cropping. Intercropping involved planting several different kinds of plants together in the same field. By planting corn and beans together, for example, the bean vines could twine themselves around the corn stocks.  

The farming practices of the Southeastern Indians did not rapidly exhaust the soil. They planted beans with corn, thus offsetting the latter’s great consumption of nitrogen. They also carefully hoed the fields to avoid eroding the land.

One interesting aspect to intercropping was the practice of leaving and/or planting trees in cultivated fields that yielded nuts and fruits. This practice helped maintain long-term soil fertility. Fruit and nut tree cultivation in fields with maize and other annuals planted in hills contributed to maintaining fertility. These trees included cherries, white and red mulberries, persimmons, walnuts, chestnuts, plums, and dwarf chinquapins.

Many of the tribes also cultivated plums, particularly the Chickasaw plum (Prunus chicàsa). Later Europeans, who tended to be blind to Native American agriculture, described this as a wild plant and failed to notice that it was found only near abandoned Indian fields.

In addition to helping provide nutrients, the trees also attracted birds. The birds, in turned, helped to restrain the insect population in the fields.

Multiple cropping involves the planting of two successive crops in the same field. Thus, early corn was planted first. It ripened early and was picked green. Then the field would be cleared and a second crop was planted.

Not all cultivated plants were food plants. The Southeastern Indians also grew bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria). When cured, the bottle gourd has a hard shell that is very light and difficult to break. Bottle gourds were used for making water vessels, dippers, ladles, bowls, cups, rattles, masks, and bird houses. Tobacco was also grown.

The fields were worked communally. The entire field was not tilled, but rather worked into small hills about a foot in diameter which were spaced about three feet apart and which were laid out in straight lines. Working the fields in this fashion prevented soil erosion and preserved the fertility of the soil longer than did the plow-agriculture which was later introduced by the European colonists.

Fields were cultivated with handled implements that the first Europeans described as hoes. These implements had blades of stone, oyster, mussel shell, fishbone, or wood. In addition, they used a digging stick for making holes into which the seeds were planted.

Unlike the Europeans, the Indians of the Southeastern Woodlands did not view land as private property. Farm land was owned communally and therefore the food it produced belonged to all. Each village had a common granary to protect against times of famine.

In general, each of the Southeastern towns would have a certain amount of land under cultivation. Whenever a child was born the land under cultivation would be proportionally increased.  To determine the amount of land needed by the town, a census would be taken each year.

An important part of agriculture is the ability to store the harvested crops in such a way that they are kept safe from mice and other animals. To do this, the Southeastern Indians built corn cribs which were raised 7-8 feet on posts. The posts were polished so that the mice could not climb them. The crib itself was plastered and the door was sealed. When corn was taken from the crib, the seal would be broken, the door opened, some of the corn removed, and then the closed door was resealed to protect the corn which remained in the crib.


The diet of the Southeastern Indians was heavily dependent on corn, beans, squash, and other agricultural crops supplemented with wild game and fish.

There is an important reason for consuming both corn and beans together. While corn supplies some essential protein, it lacks the amino acid lysine. On the other hand, lysine is abundant in beans. Thus, when beans and corn are eaten together they are a good source of vegetable protein.

The early European settlers were amazed at the number of different ways that the Indians prepared corn. It is estimated that there were at least 42 different ways of preparing corn, each with its own name. Corn was processed into hominy which has been described as the staff of life for the Southeastern Indians. This process involved the use of wood-ash lye which selectively enhanced the nutritional value of the corn by increasing amino acid lysine and niacin. This protects people who eat a corn-based diet against pellagra.

To produce the wood-ash, the Choctaw women would pour cold water over clean wood ashes placed in a hopper. This would produce a yellow lye which would drip down into a small container. This lye would then be added to the cornmeal.

Among the Choctaw, corn was made into paluska holbi, which was a kind of bread. Boiling water would be poured into cornmeal, which was then pounded into a stiff dough, and shaped into small rolls. These rolls were then wrapped in corn husks and cooked under hot ashes. For a richer taste, they would add chestnut or hickory oil to the cornmeal.

Another Choctaw cornbread was bunaha. This was prepared by mixing dried beans, wild potatoes, and/or hickory with the cornmeal. The rolls of this mixture, wrapped in cornhusks, were then boiled in water.

Another important part of the cuisine of the Southeastern Indians was squash. At least five different kinds of squash were grown. As a fresh vegetable, squash was often used in stews. It was also sun dried, which concentrates the sugar so that dried squash could be cooked as a sweet dish.