Nepinak and Katchiwe family

Hi All,

Am wondering about the origins of the people that use the surname of Nepinak (Neebinah-maqua or SUMMER BEAR) and Katchiwe (Ke-Kasheway) who are both Ojibwe families.  We believe that we came to Manitoba around the 1790’s.  The Nepinak family is to be a part of the BEAR clan.

Our people signed treaty with the government on Aug 21, 1871 and became Waterhen Band of Indians.  Where could I go to find out where there might be more information on the names of these people!

Another man that became Chief of Dog Creek First Nation (aka Lake Manitoba Band) was Chief Sousonse (or Little Long Ears)…his son Charles, Jean Metweassin (Maytwayashing) became the next chief, followed by his son Jean Baptiste Maytwayashing.  I would be related to him in one of our lineages.

I am interested in learning more about the Saulteaux/Ojibwe people.


Cameron Parenteau-Katchiwe

Posted in Uncategorized

Trying to research for my daughter the Blackfoot tribe


My name is Jennifer and I am looking to

find out more information for my daughter.

She connected with her biological father

last year and as they got to know each

other better he had told her that she had

some native american in her. He thought

they had came from the Blackfoot tribe. I

am wondering if you might be able to help

me or point me in a direction so I can find

out how to verify if she does or does not

have Native American in her. She is very

interested in finding out more about this

whole other side of her family.

I do know a few names and have did some

research on but it does not

list if they were Native American or not.

Her father and I were very young when we

got pregnant. He was 14 and I was 15. With

being this young it was to much for him to

handle and as most young fathers he

“bailed”. He found her last year on

Facebook and that is how they started

getting to know each other. She is very

intested in knowing more about that side of

her familly but alot of them are deceased.

I found many records on but am

not sure if they are the right people or

not. I have never did any type of reasearch

like this before so I don’t really know

where to start.

I had came across your website along with a

few others and thought I would go ahead and

email you to see if you might be able to

help us. I have visited the site

but I can’t find any contact information

for the Blackfoot tribe. I know that her

grandfather lives in Hooker OK and was born

and raised in Blackwell OK. I do know some

names that her grandmother gave me that she

could remember. They were not married very

long. This has became very important to my

daughter and she wants to find out if there

is a way to possibly connect with others

that had ancestors that belonged to this

tribe so she might be able to learn more

about the culture. But there are so many

sites out there and I want to make sure I

getting the right information. So any

information you can provide me with would

be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

Jennifer Bennett

I found many records on but am

not sure if they are the right people or

not. I have never did any type of reasearch

like this before so I don’t really know

where to start.

I had came across your website along with a

few others and thought I would go ahead and

email you to see if you might be able to

help us. I have visited the site

but I can’t find any contact information

for the Blackfoot tribe. I know that her

grandfather lives in Hooker OK and was born

and raised in Blackwell OK. I do know some

names that her grandmother gave me that she

could remember. They were not married very

long. This has became very important to my

daughter and she wants to find out if there

is a way to possibly connect with others

that had ancestors that belonged to this

tribe so she might be able to learn more

about the culture. But there are so many

sites out there and I want to make sure I

getting the right information. So any

information you can provide me with would

be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

Jennifer Bennett

Ancient America: Florida BCE

American Indians occupied, utilized, and developed the peninsula known as Florida for thousands of years. Our knowledge of the ancient past-of Florida, BCE-comes primarily from archaeology. Unfortunately, archaeology tells the story of the past based on material remains which means that these remains must have endured for thousands of years, then be found, and finally interpreted. As a result our picture of Florida, BCE is not complete, but rather a series of seemingly disjointed snapshots.  

By 11,000 BCE, Indian people were living in northern Florida. At this time, the sea levels were 350 feet lower than present. The land mass of Florida was much larger than it is today. The people at this time were engaging in hunting and gathering wild plants for food and fiber.  At this time, the Indians were hunting mastodon, mammoth, horse, camel, and giant land tortoise. Water sources, particularly those in deep springs, were important for both human habitation and for the animals which they hunted.

A thousand years later, the Indian people at the Little Salt Spring were hunting turtles and the giant land tortoise, Geochelone Crassicutata. The turtles were killed with a stake and then cooked in the shell. These people were also using an oak throwing stick or boomerang for hunting small mammals. They also had a deer-antler which had had its roots and points cut off and 28 parallel notches cut into it. This is one of the earliest examples of counting time in North America.

Bison antiquus

About 9,000 BCE, Indian people near the Wacissa River were hunting Bison antiques (skull shown above).

About 8500 BCE, Indian people living near Mineral Springs buried their dead near the edge of the springs. One was a man, 30-40 years of age, who was 5’4″ tall and weighed about 110 pounds. He had worn and abscessed teeth. Another was the body of a middle-aged female. As the sea level raised at the end of the ice age, so did the water within the spring. By the time the skeletons were discovered by archaeologists, they were under water.

About 7500 BCE, there was an increase in population and new settlements were formed around freshwater sources. There was a shift in the way of life from nomadic to a more settled form. This marks the beginning of what archaeologists call the Archaic Period. At this time new types of stone tools appeared. Trade networks connected the people to other parts of the southeast. During this time, Florida’s climate was growing warmer and wetter.

Among the new stone tools were the Rowan points. These medium-sized dart points had broad, shallow side notches and a concave basal edge. The basal corners were lobed or rounded and the stem edges were ground.

About 6120 BCE, Indian people began burying their dead in the Windover Bog Site. Archaeologists will later recover the remains of 177 individuals at this site. Adult males have an average height of 5 feet 9 inches. While their teeth were worn, they had very few cavities. Anthropologists managed to obtain DNA samples from some of the bodies at the site, but the mitochondrial DNA lineages which were found are not present in any contemporary American Indian populations. One of the samples, however belongs to lineage X, which is also found in European populations. This lends some support to the hypothesis that there were some migrations by boat from Europe to North America.

By 5000 BCE, Indian people were living on the dune ridges of Horr’s Island in south Florida.  

By 2900 BCE, Indian people began building a large mound with layers of white sand, charcoal-stained sand, and oyster shell on Horr’s Island. The mound eventually reached a height of 6 meters (20 feet). The people were living in a year-round settlement and making small houses from poles and thatch.

Fire pottery is being used by the Florida Indians by about 2500 BCE. These early ceramic vessels are very similar to the earlier steatite (stone) bowls which they had been making.

There is evidence that by 2400 BCE, Florida Indians were making sea voyages to both the Caribbean Islands and South America. The people were probably making such voyages much earlier than this, but this time marks the first archaeological evidence of the voyages.

At the Summer Haven site (officially designated as 8SJ46) Indian people constructed four circular structures about 2000 BCE. The people who occupied this site were practicing cranial deformation (a deliberate modification of head shape which begins by binding the head of an infant shortly after birth). This is a practice which was common in Mexico at this time.

About 2000 BCE, Indian people living on Useppa Island in the Pine Island Sound were making fiber-tempered pottery.

A type of decorated pottery known as Tick Island was being made by Florida Indians by 1600 BCE. The Tick Island decorated pottery resembles the pottery found at Barlovento on Colombia’s northern coast and this pottery, in turn, appears to be derived from the Valdivia pottery of Ecuador.

The Rollings Shell Ring was constructed in 1580 BCE. A shell ring is a curved midden made of shells which partially surrounds a cleared space. The ring is 7 meters in height (about 23 feet) and 250 meters (825 feet) in diameter. The ring was built up quickly and there were few artifacts within it.

By 1500 BCE, the Indian people at the Joseph Reed Shell Ring site (officially designated as 8MT13) were making sand-tempered pottery. This represents one of the earliest intensive uses of pottery in south Florida. The pottery is the earliest sand-tempered and chalky wares in Florida. Archaeologists Michael Russo and Gregory Heide report:

“In terms of migration/diffusion, the pottery from Joseph Reed has nowhere to migrate from. It is not tempered with fiber as is the pottery of the site’s nearest contemporaneous pottery-producing neighbors to the north. Thus a direct connection cannot be made with those neighbors in terms of paste and temper (design and form, however, cannot be ruled out until more data are obtained).”

People began to occupy a site near the Crystal River in 537 BCE. The site included two large temple mounds with ramps, a smaller residential mound, a plaza, and two burial mounds. There appears to be contact with the Hopewell people in Ohio as evidenced by flint knives and other artifacts.

By 500 BCE, the Timucua began to occupy the sub-tropical areas of Florida. At this same time, the Tequesta were living in the area near present-day Miami, Florida. They constructed a number of round houses, including a chief’s house or council house, using a post framework.

In 350 BCE, the Crystal River site was established as a ceremonial center. Construction began on a feature designated by archaeologists as Mound F which served as a burial mound. It would eventually rise to a height of 20 feet. About 1,000 people would eventually be buried here.  

In 30 BCE, Indian people along the Crystal River began construction of a series of shell mounds which have astronomical alignments. The mounds and stone pillars could be used to observe the solstices and equinoxes.

President Taft and the Indians

William Howard Taft served as President of the United States from 1909 to 1913. Like most American Presidents, Taft took office with little background in or awareness of American Indians. Yet during his term as a progressive Republican he impacted the lives Indian people.  

Administration of Indian Affairs:

In the United States, the administration of Indian Affairs is under the Department of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was appointed by the President to oversee Indian Affairs. President Taft appointed Robert Valentine as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Valentine had originally entered the Indian Service in 1905 as the personal secretary of Commissioner of Indian Affairs Francis Leupp. He later became superintendent of Indian schools and then assistant commissioner.

In 1910, a circular from Indian Commissioner Valentine was distributed to all Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendents and agents. The circular cited section 2103 of the revised statutes of the United States and indicated that the Bureau had the power to deny individuals the power of attorney and the power of representation. In addition, they could keep individuals from speaking to Indian groups on reservations.

In 1912, Indian Commissioner Robert Valentine issued Circular 601 which prohibited teachers in government schools from wearing religious garb or displaying religious insignia. The order directly affected fifty-one people, mostly Catholic nuns. President Taft revoked the Circular and ordered Valentine not to take any further action in this matter. Taft’s actions were criticized by Protestant groups and lauded by Catholics.


During Taft’s term as President, one of the major foci of Indian policy was on the allotment of the reservations. In general, the United States has strongly opposed the idea of Indians owning land in common and has insisted that the reservations be broken up into small, individually owned parcels to free up land for non-Indians and to ensure the continued poverty of Indian people. While the data showed clearly that allotment benefitted non-Indians and was detrimental to Indians, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Congress continued to push the idea of allotment.

In 1909, the allotment of the Coeur d’Alene reservation in Idaho was completed: 638 Indians received allotments. Of those receiving allotments, 541 were Coeur d’Alene and 97 were Spokan. President Taft ordered that all of the non-mineral and unreserved lands on the reservation be opened for settlement under the Homestead Laws.

Commissioner of Indian Affairs Valentine was a staunch supporter of allotment and advocated competency commissions to speed up the transfer of Indian land into private hands. The idea of competency was based in large part on the racist idea that if Indians had any non-Indian “blood” then this somehow made them competent to manage their affairs in the non-Indian world. Congress in 1910 authorized the Bureau of Indian Affairs to create competency commissions to determine which Indians were capable of managing their own affairs. Competent Indians were to be given title to their land (which meant that they were able to then sell it) and declared citizens. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was given more authority over Indian property.  

In 1910, Congress gave Indians the rights to the live timber on their reservations. The Bureau of Indian Affairs appointed J.P. Kinney, a graduate forester, to head the Bureau’s forestry division. He visited 12 western reservations and objected to designating timber lands as surplus so that they could be opened for non-Indian settlement by homesteaders with no intention of farming but rather selling the timber, clear-cutting, and leaving. He argued that controlled cutting would provide sizable long-term income for the Indians. Disregarding the advice of the forester, of Commissioner Valentine, and of Gifford Pinchot of the Forest Service, the Department of the Interior declared that the program of having timber lands managed for the long-term benefit of the Indians was illegal.  

In 1910, the Shoshone and Bannock of the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho sent a delegation to Washington, D.C. Under the leadership of Shoshone leader Ralph Dixey, one of the largest cattle and farm operators on the reservation, the delegation argued that their allotments should be based on the 1889 agreement which calls for 160 acres of farmland and 160 acres of grazing land. Government officials, however, were unmoved by the arguments of the Shoshone and Bannock and replied that the government had their best interests in mind when they unilaterally changed the agreement. In addition, the government officials told them, under the Supreme Court ruling in Lone Wolf v Hitchcock the government was able to change any agreement if it wished.

Government actions appeared to have been based on the idea of opening the reservation up for non-Indian settlement rather than promoting an Indian livestock industry. By restricting the number of acres of grazing land which were to be allotted to the Indians, the government made sure that: (1) the Indian cattlemen could not compete economically, and (2) there would be more land available for non-Indians.

In 1912, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs asked Indian superintendents to tell him about the effects of fee patents on the Indians on their reservations. With regard to the Omaha reservation, 90% of those who had been issued fee patents by the competency commission had already sold their land, 8% had mortgaged their land, and only 2% still retained their allotments.

Indian Reservations:

While Indian reservations were often created through the treaty process or by Congressional action, during the first part of the twentieth century, Presidents had the power to create and to modify Indian reservations by executive order. During his term, President Taft utilized Presidential executive orders on several occasions.

Rainbow Bridge in northern Arizona is an area considered sacred to the Navajo people. In 1910, President Taft designated Rainbow Bridge a National Monument by executive order. The area was removed from reservation jurisdiction without tribal consent or compensation.

In Arizona, California, and Nevada, the Fort Mohave Reservation was enlarged by Presidential Executive Order in 1910. The following year, President Taft issued an executive order revoking the enlargement of the reservation.

In 1911, President Taft issued the executive order establishing small reservations (80 acres each) for the Arizona Papago (Tohono O’odham) at Indian Oasis (later renamed Sells for Commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells) and San Miguel. The following year, President Taft issued a series of Executive Orders creating the Maricopa, Cockleburr, Chi Chisch, Tat-muri-ma-kutt, and Boboquivari Peak-Santiergos Reservations for the Papago.

President Taft issued an executive order creating the 47,600 acre Ak-Chin reservation in Arizona in 1912. The reservation is created in part in gratitude to the Papago for their help in the wars against the Apache in the late 1800’s. The Bureau of Indian Affairs filed for a water appropriation on behalf of the Ak-Chin Indian Community which called for a total of 70,000 acre-feet annually. Non-Indians in the area were upset about the size of the reservation and about the water appropriation, and within four months of the original executive order, President Taft issued a second executive order which reduced the size of the reservation to 21,840 acres.

In 1912, President Taft issued an executive order setting aside 80 acres in Utah’s Skull Valley for the exclusive use of the Gosiute.

In 1912, the Hupa Reservation in California was restored by President Taft to its status prior to the 1908 proclamation by President Roosevelt which gave most of the reservation to the Trinity National Forest. Although this meant that the Hupa supposedly recovered their lands, many government employees continued to assume that the land belonged to the Forest Service which continued to administer it.

At this same time, President Taft also restored to the Mescalero, Fort Apache, Jicarilla, Navajo, San Carlos, Tule River, and Zuni reservations forest lands which had been seized to create national forests.


One of the concerns during the Taft administration was the growth of a new religion, one not approved by the United States, known as the Native American Church. While this movement incorporated many elements of Christianity, it was generally opposed by Christian missionary groups because it was a Native American movement and all aspects of Native American religion were illegal at this time. In their persecution of the Native American Church, the government and the missionaries focused on the fact that the church used peyote as a sacrament.

In 1909, the Bureau of Indian Affairs assigned a special agent to deal with the “peyote problem” in Oklahoma. When the agent failed to convince the courts that peyote was included in the current prohibition laws, he simply raided peyote meetings and destroyed all of the peyote buttons that he obtained.

The Board of Indian Commissioners began to lobby Congress for a law to outlaw peyote in 1912. According to their annual report:

“The danger of the rapid spread of the habit, increased by its so-called religious associations, makes the need of its early suppression doubly pressing.”

Delegations from several tribes – Omaha, Cheyenne, and Arapaho – visited Washington to express their opposition to attempts to outlaw peyote. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, however, told Congress:

“I firmly believe that the use of Peyote is injurious to the health and welfare of the Indians and, therefore, shall do everything within my power to prevent its use among Indians.”

Aboriginal Farming in New England

When the Pilgrims first arrived in New England in 1620, they viewed the area as an undeveloped wilderness. One of their first activities was to rob Indian graves, taking from them, among other things, maize (commonly known as corn). While the Pilgrims relied on the produce from Indian farms-corn, beans, and squash-for their survival they failed to either see or understand the well-developed Indian agriculture which they encountered. In the centuries since the Pilgrims began their invasions, historians, politicians, pundits, and others have been unaware of Indian agriculture.  

Aboriginal New England agriculture was based on corn, beans, gourds, pumpkins, passionflower, Jerusalem artichoke, tobacco, and squash. Beans of many different colors and textures were used in many different ways and were added to many foods. Corn (maize) was a variety known as northern flint which had eight-rowed, multicolored ears.  

Fields were initially cleared by slash-and-burn methods. Fires would be placed around the bases of standing trees which would burn the bark and kill the tree. Later the dead tree would be felled, often knocking down other dead trees as it fell.

Once an area had been cleared, earth mounds or hills were constructed about four or five feet apart. Kernels of corn and beans would then be planted in the mounds. The corn stalks would later be used by the bean vines as a pole. In the spaces between the mounds, the people would plant squash, gourds, and tubers. The squash vines would trail alongside and over the mounds, protecting the roots of the corn plants and preventing weeds from establishing themselves. This type of agriculture did not look orderly to European eyes and thus it was often unseen by them.

In addition, the farming was done by women. Since the English assumed that only men farmed, they didn’t see the farming because it was done by the women. The European invaders assumed that men were inherently more important than women and thus valued only men’s work, or what they perceived as men’s work. In actuality, women contributed as much as three-fourths of the total calories consumed. A single Indian woman, working an acre or two, could raise 25-60 bushels of corn which was enough to provide about half of her family’s caloric needs.

Hoes for preparing the ground and weeding used the shells of horseshoe crabs, clams, the scapulae from deer, or turtle shells. Small huts were often constructed in and around the fields. From these huts, children would watch the fields and scare off any birds which threatened the plants. Among the Narragansett, tamed hawks were also used to frighten the birds away.

In southern New England, planting was timed by the disappearance of the constellation Pleiades from the western horizon and harvesting began with its reappearance in the east. These astronomical observations mark the length of the frost-free season in the area.

In order to keep an accurate measure of the seasons, the people constructed observatories in the form of stone chambers, stone circles, and carefully split boulders which enabled them to view and mark solar events such as solstices. These architectural features, which have often puzzled non-Indians, may have also been used to mark lunar and stellar cycles.

While the aboriginal inhabitants of New England have often been characterized by non-Indians as nomadic hunter-gatherers, they were actually settled agriculturalists. Throughout New England, Indian villages had extensive fields and at least six of the thirteen phases of the lunar calendar were named or described in terms of agricultural schedules. The fields would range from 20 to 200 acres in size.

Over time, agricultural fields lose their fertility. In many areas, the declining fertility would be noticed after 8-10 years, at which time the people would increase fertilization and/or create new fields by burning the woods. After a decade or so, the fields might be abandoned and the people would move a short distance away to establish to new village. This move would be done gradually, often over a period of several years. A few families would move initially and then the others would join them.

Since farming was an important part of the daily life of the people, it should come as no surprise to find that agriculture was also the center of their religious and ceremonial life. Of particular importance was the harvest ceremony (or, better, ceremonies) which involved several days of feasting, dancing, and the giving away of material wealth. Among Native Americans food was seen as communal and was shared freely by all who were in the village.

The Green Corn Ceremony was usually held in August when the first corn ripened. For a period of about two weeks, the community leaders would eat only at night.

The cosmology of the Indian Nations of New England included many different spiritual beings or forces. Unlike the Europeans, they did not rely on one god with multiple personalities, nor did they have a hierarchy of gods and goddesses. The traditional stories tell of forest elves, river elves, fairies, dwarves, and giants. Among the Narragansett, it was an entity called Cautantouwit who sent the first kernels of corn to the people in the ear of a crow and for this reason the Narragansett did not harm crows.  

Ojibwa Migrations

Migration is an important part of the oral traditions and histories of many Indian nations. The oral tradition of the Ojibwa (Anishinabe) tells of the five original clans – Crane, Catfish, Loon, Bear, and Marten – traveling west from the Atlantic Ocean, through the Great Lakes and into what are now Minnesota, Ontario, and Manitoba. Originally, the people had been living by a great sea, traditionally called the Land of the Dawn (Waabanakiing), where they were ravaged by sickness and death. The great miigis (cowrie shell; also spelled megis) appeared out of the sea and brought warmth and light to the people by reflecting the rays of the sun. At this time, the people were given the great rite-the Midewiwin-in which life was restored and prolonged.

The oral tradition also tells that a powerful miigis went into the sea and then returned with a prophecy for the people. According to this prophecy, the people needed to move west to keep their traditional ways alive. The prophecy told of a time when there would be new settlements by the sea of a people who would be incapable of understanding the traditional ways.

The miigis then disappeared and reappeared in the west leading the people into new areas. The Midewiwin lodge was pulled down and the rite was not practiced until the people settled in the area near present-day Montreal, Canada. After a while, the miigis led them farther west to the shores of Lake Huron. Once again the Midewiwin lodge was constructed and the rite practiced. After a while, the miigis led them to a place called Bow-e-ting located at the outlet of Lake Superior. Here they remained for many winters. The miigis then led them to the Island of La Point (Medicine Island).

The story of the migrations of the five Anishinabe clans has been recorded in oral tradition and has also been incised on the birch bark scrolls of the Midewiwin lodge. John Rogers recalls his father telling him about one of the scrolls:

“This is a chart … that has been handed down to me through many generations of our peoples. It is said to be fully six hundred years old.”

As an aside, it should be pointed out that most non-Indian scholars seem firmly predisposed to the idea that no Indian nation north of Mexico had writing. Yet the designation of the Ojibwa as Ozhibii’iwe meaning “those who keep records of a vision” refers to their pictorial writing used in the Midewiwin rites.

The tribes of the Three Fires Confederacy-Ojibwa (known as Older Brother), Ottawa (known as Middle Brother), Potawatomi (known as Younger Brother)-were once a single people living in the east according to oral tradition. According to the Midewiwin scrolls, the Confederacy was formally organized about 796 CE. At this time, the tribes were living in the area of the Straits of Mackinac. The Potawatomi would later separate and move south into present-day Michigan. It is estimated that the three tribes may have separated as late as 1550.

With the coming of the European fur trade, the Ojibwa once again migrated. As the Ojibwa moved into the present-day states of Minnesota and Wisconsin during the late 1700s, they established numerous permanent villages along rivers and lakes. This in-migration resulted in pushing the Sioux populations of the area toward the west and south. During this time, the people were fragmented into numerous villages, large and small, distributed over a very broad area. This meant that economic, ceremonial, and political cooperation and communication were not maintained among them.

Some of the people moved out into the plains of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta (Canada), often working with the fur traders, intermarrying with them, and having children who would later become known as Métis. These western groups of Ojibwa were sometimes called Nakawe, Saulteaux, or Bungee.

The migrations of the Ojibwa people continued during the twentieth century, with some settling on the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana. In the twenty-first century, federal recognition was denied for the Little Shell Chippewa (Ojibwa).Today there are Ojibwa living throughout the United States and Canada, including, according to oral tradition, at least one living in a New Mexico pueblo.

The Archaeology of Head-Smashed-In, Alberta

Archaeology is the study of the past through material remains. One of the goals of archaeology is discovery and description. Discovery and description, however, is only the first step: archaeologists also seek to develop explanations. Understanding the past means that we should try to understand how people lived in the past and why changes occurred. Ultimately, archaeology seeks to understand human behavior. In addition, there is also a concern, some would say an obligation, of communicating archaeological insights to the general public. One way of doing this is through displays at museums and interpretive centers. One of these interpretive centers is found in southern Alberta: the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre.

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Indian people have lived in southern Alberta for more than 11,000 years. By 6,000 years ago, they were using a sophisticated hunting technique that involved driving buffalo over a cliff at Head-Smashed-In. In 1965 archaeologists began their first dig at this site which led to the establishment of the Interpretive Centre which now explains the archaeological findings. The fifth level of the Interpretive Centre, Uncovering the Past, shows the archaeology behind the displays and explains how archaeologists uncover the past.

Buffalo 3397

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Below the impressive buffalo at the top of the cliff there is a replica of the archaeological dig. The replica is a cast of an actual dig. Digging is often done with a trowel, the dirt placed into the bucket, which is then screened to find small items.

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Shown above is the grid used to help record the context of the finds.

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The idea of “dig” in archaeology often means going down many meters. In general, the farther down you go, the farther back in time you go.

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Archaeology is more than just digging up pretty or exotic objects to be displayed in museums: the context of all items is carefully recorded. The photos above shows the notebooks used to record the findings.

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diorama 3404

The diorama shown above displays an archaeological dig on the right and the Indian village on the left. This shows what the site was like when it was in use and then what it looks like to the archaeologist. The archaeologists’ job is to use the material remains left at the site to reconstruct what happened there. The amount of detail in this diorama is amazing.

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A hide scraping tool is shown above.

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A series of interactive displays (some of which are shown above) explains some of the different artifacts found at Head-Smashed-In. The displays show not only different types of artifacts, but also how they are made and used.  

The Michif Language

The French, unlike the English and the Spanish, saw Indians as trading partners. The French saw that their best opportunity for economic gain was to be found in the fur trade in which their Native American trading partners would retain their autonomy and provide them with furs. The French explorers quickly established trading relations with the Native nations. The best way for the French traders to establish trading relations was for the traders to marry into the Indian societies as traditional trade relied heavily upon kinship relations. Having married an Indian woman, the trader would have a kinship network which could be utilized for trade.  

One of the consequences of marriage is often children. The offspring of the French-Indian marriages grew up in multilingual households with a French-speaking father and an Indian speaking mother. These children also grew up with two cultures: one European and one Aboriginal. The two cultures blended and created a new group of people known in Canada as Métis.

Out of the Métis culture also came a new language: Michif.  Michif is sometimes described as a mixture of Cree and French.  While there are some who confuse Michif with pidgin trade languages, such as the Chinook trade language spoken along the Columbia River, it is not a pidgin (a language with a reduced vocabulary and grammar), but a true language. Linguist John McWhorter writes:

“Michif is not a fallback strategy for people who could not really manage their ancestors’ languages, nor is it a jolly sort of pig Latin-it is a new language altogether.”

Michif utilizes French-origin noun phrases which retain lexical gender (something unusual in the Algonquian Indian languages) and adjective agreement. At the same time, Michif uses Cree-origin verbs with a polysynthetic structure. Polysynthetic structure simply means that instead of using a bunch of words to give additional nuance and meaning to a verb, this is done through a series of prefixes and suffixes. The result is some very long words: verbs can incorporate up to twenty morphemes (sounds which have specific meanings). Thus, Michif grammar tends to be Cree-based.

In general, most of the Michif nouns (an estimated 83-94%) are of French-origin, while most verbs (an estimated 88-99%) are Cree-origin.

The study of language origins, particularly the study of creole languages, has strongly suggested that new languages tend to be formed by children. In the case of Michif, linguists generally feel that the children were fairly fluent in both French and Cree when they developed Michif.

At the present time, Michif is classified as a moribund language, meaning that relatively few children are learning it. In the United States, there are probably fewer than 1,000 Michif speakers, most of whom are associated with the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. In Canada, where the Métis are legally and socially recognized as a distinct people, there are many more Michif speakers.

Navajo Weaving

Even the most casual tourist who travels through the Navajo lands of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah cannot help but notice the abundance of fine weavings commonly called “rugs” which are offered for sale at roadside stands, tourist traps, restaurants, museums, and fine arts galleries. Navajo weavings are some of the best-known and most easily recognized American Indian art forms.

Navajo weaving trading post

According to the oral tradition, at some point in the mythological past, Spider Woman taught Navajo men how to make an upright loom and then instructed Navajo women on how to use this loom to weave beauty. Beauty is an important part of Navajo culture-it is not a matter of being surrounded by beauty, but being involved in the process of beauty.

Navajo weaving is not just a way of making cloth or textiles: it is a form of artistic expression. While oral tradition gives Spider Woman credit for teaching weaving to the Navajo, the archaeology suggests an additional dimension to the story. Sometime in the 16th century the Navajo learned weaving from the Pueblo people in the Southwest and for more than a century, Navajo weavings closely resembled those of the Pueblos. Both the Navajo and the Pueblos at this time wove the same kinds of clothing.

Navajo Manta

There are some major differences between Navajo weaving and Pueblo weaving: in Pueblo culture, the men do the weaving, while in Navajo culture weaving is generally women’s work.

Among the Navajo, it is the process of weaving, not necessarily the final product, which is important. Weaving provides an opportunity to make individual decisions, to discipline one’s thought process, to practice self-control, patience, and tenacity, and to develop one’s skill. The process of weaving is closely attuned to spiritual concepts. Working at her loom, the weaver seeks to create a single whole that blends fine and bold contrasts in color, feature, and design. In this way, the weaver seeks to emulate the process by which the Holy People created the world.  

When a Navajo weaver sits down before her loom to start a new weaving, she has a design in her mind-it is not written down and it is not a design which she has done before. Navajo weavings are always designed anew and the designs are always changing, moving, and flowing. The Navajo weavers see the process of weaving and their designs as a form of communication. In this way, the process of Navajo weaving is like a language with codes and conventions that carry meanings embedded in specific historical, cultural and familial contexts.


Weaving with cotton was common in the southwest prior to the arrival of the Spanish. After the arrival of the Spanish, the Navajo acquired churro sheep and began weaving with wool. Within a relatively short period of time they became proficient in weaving wool and by the early 18th century they were already selling their textiles to both Spanish and Pueblo communities.

During the 19th century, Navajo wearing blankets were traded throughout the Southwest and into adjacent culture areas. These blankets are woven wider than long and are worn by both men and women, draped around the shoulders. Outside of the Southwest, these blankets became prestige items and are often referred to as “chiefs’ blankets”.  These blankets were so tightly woven that they would shed water. The use of indigo dyes and costly yarns meant that they commanded a high price. On the Great Plains, only those people with significant resources could afford such a blanket, thus the designation of Chief blankets.

Chief Blanket

The Chief blanket is based on a simple striped weaving pattern. The blankets had dark horizontal stripes which were organized into a solid broad band at the blanket’s center. At the top and bottom there were bands which were half as wide as the center band. Between the center and the border bands there would be narrower alternating black and white stripes.

The earliest known Chief blanket, dating to about 1775, consists of evenly spaced alternating brown and white stripes. There are four rows of narrow stripes at each end. By the early part of the 19th century, Navajo weavers broadened the stripes giving them an additional sense of depth. Outlining the horizontal dark brown stripes with deeply saturated indigo blue added even more depth to the design.

By 1850 many Navajo weavers had adopted a technique known as tapestry weave and added geometric forms to the Chief blanket. The horizontal plane is interrupted with twelve vibrant red rectangular bars. When the blanket is draped about the body, the vertical elements are visible down the back and front of the wearer.

About 1860, Navajo weavers began adding terraced triangles and diamonds to the design of the Chief blanket.

By the end of the 19th century, Navajo weavers were using a two-faced weave. This means that one pattern could be developed on the front, and a different pattern, usually one featuring simple stripes, could be done on the reverse side.

In addition to blankets, Navajo weavers also produced a number of other woven items, including sash belts, garters, saddle cinches, women’s dresses, knitted socks, and leggings.

Navajo Blanket

While in today’s market, Navajo rugs are most frequently woven and traded, this is an aspect of Navajo weaving that emerged toward the end of the nineteenth century in response to a globalized market for American Indian goods. This will be discussed in a separate essay.  

Assimilation in 1920

By the late nineteenth century, all Americans, except for American Indians, knew for a fact that all Indian tribes would be extinct in the twentieth century and that all individual American Indians, like other immigrants, would be fully assimilated into mainstream American culture in which they would be English-speaking, Christian farmers. While this American fantasy continued to survive through most of the twentieth century, Indians did not vanish. As Americans entered into the period of growth and prosperity popularly known as the Roaring 20s following World War I, Indian tribes and Indian people continued to exist, usually out of sight of non-Indians.  

Resource Development:

During the nineteenth century, the American government, in its infinite wisdom and charity, had moved American Indians out of the way of economic development by attempting to confine them to reservations. In 1920, non-Indian entrepreneurs, aided by the American government’s Indian Office and inspired by greed, began to look at the possible economic resources on Indian reservations. The American government, believing its own racist propaganda, assumed that Indians should not be allowed to develop these resources, but rather they should be developed for and by non-Indians. Since Indians were the poorest people in the United States, there was little, if any, concern for providing adequate compensation for the resources which were taken from them.

The Indian agent for the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana rented the coal mine on the reservation to a non-Indian. While Indians now had to buy coal from the mine, non-Indians were allowed free coal. The Indian agent justified renting the coal to non-Indian interests by saying that the Indians did not know enough about Anglo practices to mine and market the coal.

The City of Tacoma, Washington, applied to the Department of Interior to purchase a right of way through the Skokomish Reservation for power lines and service access roads in conjunction with their Cushman Hydroelectric Project. While the Department of Interior was considering this request, the City of Tacoma filed a condemnation suit in state court to acquire the land needed for the project. Included in the condemnation suit were the tribal trust lands. The City did not notify the Department of the Interior or the Bureau of Indian Affairs about this law suit.  

In order to allow non-Indians to obtain Yavapai water rights in Arizona, the Bureau of Indian Affairs quietly obtained an executive order from President Woodrow Wilson which authorized the allotment of the Salt River Reservation and reclassified the Fort McDowell Reservation as grazing land.

The residents of Bernalillo, New Mexico, put forth a plan to divert water from one of Santa Ana Pueblo’s ditches into the Bernalillo Community Ditch. While the residents claimed that their plan would not interfere with Santa Ana water, the Pueblo insisted that an agreement be drawn up in which the Bernalillo Community Ditch users acknowledged Santa Ana water rights. The document also stated that these water rights did not fall under state jurisdiction.

While one of the goals of the government’s assimilation program was to make Indians into self-sufficient farmers, a government report (released in 1921) revealed that most Indian land was being farmed by non-Indians: 4.5 million acres as compared with only 762,000 acres which were being farmed by the Indians themselves.


In the United States in 1920, most Americans strongly believed that there was only one true religion: Christianity as reorganized during the Protestant reformation. With regard to American Indian religions, most non-Indians felt that either Indians had no religion or that they worshiped the devil. In either case, it was the duty of the government to bring the Indians into Christianity so that they could participate in American society. While Indian religious activity had been illegal now for two full generations, the aboriginal ceremonies refused to die and so the government continued its efforts to suppress these activities and to jail those who participated in, or advocated participating in, such evil ceremonies. The government was particularly interested in stopping the Plains Indian Sun Dance and the pan-Indian Native American Church.

In Wyoming, the Shoshone under the spiritual leadership of Morgan Moon openly revived the Sun Dance on the Wind River Reservation. The reservation superintendent had banned the dance and when John Truhujo spoke with him about it, Truhujo was threatened with five years in Leavenworth Prison. An Indian Office supervisor from Washington, D.C. watched the dance and took pictures. After having seen the dance, the supervisor disagreed with the reservation superintendent and reported that he saw nothing wrong with the ceremony.

In Arizona, the non-Indian principal of the Oraibi School interrupted a Hopi ceremony when he saw a clown dancer with a huge artificial penis. In the words of the principal, he stopped the ceremony and told the dancer

“that if he ever did a thing like that again, I would put him in jail. He told me that he did not know it was wrong, that it was a Hopi custom.”

The American government was (and still is) particularly concerned with instilling an addiction to greed in American Indians. Above all, private property was to be worshipped, so the traditional practice of giving property away was deemed offensive. In Montana, the superintendent of the Fort Peck Reservation wrote about Indian dances:

“The dance itself is extremely demoralizing because when they dance they insist upon giving away property. More than one-half of these Indians if allowed to would give away all of their property. The Indian dance has a direct influence against the Church influence.”

While government agents were busy attempting to suppress traditional religious practices on the various reservations, the Indians continued to borrow non-Christian religious ideas from each other. On the Fort Peck Reservation, for example, where the Indian agent was busy trying to stop Indian dances, the Assiniboine imported what would become the Owl Dance from the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota. This was primarily a social dance and it was held in secret in isolated places out of the sight of the Indian agent and other non-Indians.

One of the concerns of government officials and missionaries was the rise of a new religious movement which blended Christianity and traditional American Indian concepts. Ignoring the elements of Christianity in this new movement and focusing almost entirely on the fact that it incorporated a plant-peyote-as a sacrament, the government and the missionaries attacked the Native American Church on the basis that it somehow promoted intoxication.  Using bogus science and the paranoia of “drunken” Indians, there was a rush to create new laws at the local, state, and federal levels to ban peyote and the religion associated with it.

In Idaho, the peyote religion was brought to the Shoshone and Bannock of the Fort Hall Reservation by Shoshone spiritual leader Jack Edmo and by Sioux spiritual leader Cactus Pete. The new religion rapidly spread across the reservation and alarmed agency officials. In response, the Indian agent arrested Jack Edmo and others as he viewed peyote meetings as a form of immorality. He then contacted the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to see if he was authorized to try them for violating Indian Office Regulations against the practices of medicine men.

Help school in Indian Country

Help a school in Indian Country get a badly needed makeover.  Help our kids go to school in a nice environment!  Go to and vote for Jefferson Elementary in Gallup, NM.  Voting lasts until October 26.

Smoke Signals and Mirrors

A number of different Indian cultures used long-distance signaling systems in war and in hunting. The most stereotyped of these is the use of smoke-signals. Unlike the Plains Indian Sign Language which facilitated intertribal communication, there was no standard set of meanings for the puffs of smoke used in smoke signals. Each tribe established its own set of signals.

Smoke Signals

Shown above is a Frederick Remington painting of Indians sending smoke signals.  

In making the smoke signals, different fuels were used to produce different kinds of smoke. Damp leaves and dung would be used to produce dark smoke, while wood and some dried grasses tend to produce a white smoke. To produce different puffs or streams of smoke, a wet blanket or hide would be placed over the fire and then removed.

Among the Karankawa of South Texas, more than 20 different kinds of smoke signals were used. These smoke signals included columns, spirals, zig-zags, and diverging lines.

Writing in 1873 about the Southeastern Indian tribes, archaeologist Charles Jones reported:

“In order to facilitate the rapid communication of intelligence, upon an emergency, the Southern Indians erected conical earth-mounds upon commanding points, such as the tops of hills, or elevated river-points. Fires kindled upon their summits could be readily recognized and interpreted.”

In this way, they would communicate rapidly over fairly long distances.

In addition to smoke signals, Indian people also used signal mirrors. The number and kinds of flashes were used to symbolize the communication. Mirror signals were commonly used by hunting scouts to indicate the type, number, and location of game. Similarly, war party scouts used mirrors to indicate information about the enemy. Among the Plains Cree, for example, many of the warriors carried a mirror, often in a beaded buckskin pouch, around their necks. The members of the group would agree in advance as to the meanings of the different flashes.

In addition to hunting and war, mirrors were also used to communicate between lovers.

In the Southwest, the Ancestral Puebloans (also called Anasazi), the ancestors of the modern Pueblos, constructed stone towers which facilitated signaling with smoke signals and mirrors. In the Chaco Canyon area of New Mexico, archaeologists have found several related mesa-top signal stations that provide for line-of-sight communications-presumably by smoke, fire, or reflected light. Fires were used for communicating at night, while during the day they would use smoke signals or mica mirrors. Chacoan society had an integrated system of instant communications. Archaeologists estimate that messages could be flashed throughout the Chaco Canyon area of New Mexico in just a matter of minutes, which enabled them to start ceremonies in several pueblos nearly simultaneously.

In other parts of the Ancestral Puebloan world, such as the pueblos in Colorado and Utah, stone towers served as a line-of-sight communication system to link the pueblos together. While these communication systems could have helped warn of possible enemy attacks, they also could be used to coordinate important ceremonies such as solstices and lunar maximums.

At the Mule Canyon Pueblo in Utah, the signal tower is linked to a kiva-an underground ceremonial chamber-with a tunnel which may have been used ceremonially. Stone towers in other pueblos in the area were used as a part of the visual communications system which used mirrors, crystal reflectors, fires, and smoke signals to tie the area together.

Another form of long distance communication involved the use of body signals. Different gestures and postures were used by scouts and lookouts to communicate with the main band.  

Plains Indian Sign Language

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the world of the American Indians who inhabited the Great Plains changed greatly. The first, and perhaps most significant, change began with the adoption of the horse following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The horse not only extended the hunting range of the Indian nations which already inhabited the Plains, such as the Blackfoot and Crow, but it also brought a number of newcomers into the area. The increased number of tribes on the Plains not only spoke different languages, but their languages were often totally unrelated.  

On the Plains, a sign language developed to allow for trade and easier communication among the many different Indian nations in this area.  This sign language seems to have been a pidgin language: it was a second language with a simplified grammar and vocabulary. However, there are some who feel it may have arisen out of a deaf language. Linguists feel that this sign language originally developed in the area of  south Texas and the Gulf Coast and then spread north, developing some local variations.

While the Plains sign language was a pidgin language, it is generally seen as an elaborate and efficient form of nonverbal communication. It permitted linguistically alien groups to transmit fairly complex messages.  Sign language was the lingua franca for trade among the different tribes. Many of the early European explorers, such as Lewis and Clark, relied heavily upon Plains sign language.

By the nineteenth century Plains Sign Language was used by tribes which spoke more than three dozen languages. Not every individual in the tribe was fluent in sign and there was great variation between the tribes regarding fluency in sign. Some individuals had a vocabulary of 3,500 words while most functioned quite well with a vocabulary of 500 to 1,000 words in sign.

One of the advantages to sign language is that it enabled the people to communicate over fairly long distances. Thus, on the Plains two groups could talk to each other and exchange information before they came within voice range.

Rushing Bear 1880

Shown above is an 1880 photograph of Rushing Bear illustrating the sign for “now” (Smithsonian collections).

Among the Arapaho, the elders report that at one time all children acquired the use of sign language. They tell of a time when people used sign language most of the time while they spoke Arapaho. They also used it to talk across rooms or large areas during social events.

With regard to tribal proficiency in sign, on the Northern Plains the Crow, the Northern Cheyenne, and the Blackfoot were considered the most proficient, while on the Southern Plains, the Kiowa were considered the best.

While most of the linguist study of Indian sign language has focused on the Plains tribes, there are some suggestions that sign languages also developed independently in other areas. The Plateau Culture Area-the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade mountains that includes western Montana, northern Idaho, eastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, and southeaster British Columbia-appears to have developed its own distinctive sign language prior to the adoption of the horse. Once the Indian nations of the eastern portion of this area had the horse, they began hunting buffalo on the Great Plains, putting them into contact with the Plains tribes. At this time they seem to have adopted the Plains sign language which eventually replaced the Plateau sign language.

In the Southeast, a sign language was developed to facilitate communication among the various nations affiliated with the Creek Confederacy. Little is known about this sign language today.