Denise Juneau, Putting Montana First

In 1924, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act which gave citizenship—the right to vote and to be elected to public office—to all American Indians. Exercising these rights, however, was not easy. It has been unusual for American Indians to be elected to state-wide and national offices.  In Montana, Denise Juneau was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. At the present time, she is running for Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Denise Juneau is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa tribes and a Blackfoot descendent. She graduated from Browning High School on the Blackfeet Reservation and obtained her bachelor’s degree in English from Montana State University. She continued her education and earned a master’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

She taught in North Dakota and Montana and worked for the state education agency. She then went back to school and received her juris doctorate from the University of Montana School of Law.

In her tenure as Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau has raised academic standards, expanded college and career readiness opportunities and advocated for policies to improve the quality of education in our state and nation.

Denise is facing a tough election. She is running as a Democrat is a Republican state. As an Indian, she faces an anti-Indian, racist sentiment among many of the state’s conservatives. To find out more about Denise Juneau, her policies, and how to help, check out her website.

 

https://denisejuneau.com/

Ute Spirituality

The Ute Indians were traditionally mountain-dwelling bands whose traditional territory extended from the southern Rocky Mountains in present-day Colorado, west to the Sevier River in Utah. Their traditional territory extended as far south as the upper San Juan River in present-day New Mexico and as far north as southern Wyoming.

As with other Great Basin peoples, the Utes perceived all physical features and elements of the world as being spiritually alive. These spiritual beings have a power which controls the world and thus impacted the fate of human beings. Spirituality was based in large part on the acquisition of power through visions and dreams.

Rituals and ceremonies often focused on curing ceremonies to help the people maintain life, strength, and mobility. Among the Southern Ute, healing powers were received by shamans, usually men, through dreams. According to Robert McPherson and Mary Jane Yazzie, in their essay in A History of Utah’s American Indians:

“The dreams gave secret information concerning power within animals, plants, and natural elements that the shaman could invoke for good.”

There were also rites of passage—ceremonies to mark events such as birth, puberty, and death.

The Ute often used stone circles as a part of their ceremonies. In his essay on the Northern Utes in A History of Utah’s American Indians, Clifford Duncan reports:

“These stone circles are individual ritual sites and 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. Robert McPherson and Mary Jane Yazzie write:

“The location of specific power sites is not general knowledge and should be discussed only with those who have a need to know.”

Sweat Lodge

Among the Ute, the sweat lodge ceremony is perhaps the oldest of all ceremonies. Traditionally it was a ceremony for the medicine men. However, during the twentieth century it evolved into a separate ceremony with more participants. The ceremony is conducted in a dome-shaped structure formed from curved boughs and covered with hides, blankets, canvas, or other material. Within the lodge, a number of fire-heated rocks provide heat, and water is sprinkled on these to create an intense steam. Traditional Ute songs are used to bring about spiritual enlightenment, purification, and rejuvenation.

Bear Dance

One of the important aspects of Ute spirituality which is expressed ceremonially, is veneration of the bear. Anthropologist Bertha Dutton, in her book The Ranchería, Ute, and Southern Paiute Peoples: Indians of the American Southwest, reports:

“The bear is regarded as the wisest of animals and the bravest of all except the mountain lion; he is thought to possess wonderful magic power. Feeling that the bears are fully aware of the relationship existing between themselves and the Ute, their ceremony of the bear dance assists in strengthening this friendship.”

The Bear Dance is performed in the Spring. During the 10-day ceremony, a group of men play musical rasps (notched and unnotched sticks) to charm the dancers and propitiate bears. According to oral tradition, this dance was given to the Ute by a bear.

The circular dance area represents a bear cave with an opening to the south or southeast. Traditionally, the dance area was enclosed with timbers and pine boughs to a height of about seven feet.

In dancing, women choose male partners and the women lead in the dancing. Spiritual leader Eddie Box says:

“Bear Dance is a rebirth, an awakening of the spirit. It’s a time of awareness. You come to learn from the past in order to arrive at the present with an understanding of the harmony of things.”

Historian Richard Young, in his book The Ute Indians of Colorado in the Twentieth Century, describes the Bear Dance this way:

“Probably the oldest of the Ute Dances, the Bear Dance was a festive, social dance that had always been held in the spring before winter camps disbanded and family groups went their separate ways in search of food.”

Sun Dance

The Sun Dance spread into the Great Basin from the Plains after 1800. Most of the groups who adopted the Sun Dance did so after they were moved to reservations. The focus of the Sun Dance was on healing and community well-being. Writing about the Ute on the Uintah Valley Reservation, attorney Parker Nielson, in his book The Dispossessed: Cultural Genocide of the Mixed Blood Utes, reports:

“Adapted from other Indian groups, the ‘thirsty dance’ went on for three to four days, without food or water, for the health, well-being, and solidarity of the collective group.”

With regard to the Southern Ute, historian Richard Young writes:

“the main focus of the dance is the acquisition of power, both spiritual power and physical good health, for the individual dancers as well as for the tribe as a whole.”

Vice President Charles Curtis

Indian citizenship and participation in American politics involves more than just voting: it also involves having Indians elected to public office. One of the first Indians to be elected to national office was Charles Curtis.

Curtis was born in 1860 near present-day North Topeka, Kansas. His mother was a descendent of Kansa (also called Kaw) chief White Plume. White Plume was the son of an Osage chief and had been adopted into the Kansa. Later, Curtis’s tribal affiliation would be listed as Kansa (or Kaw) or as Kansa-Osage.

In 1863, following the death of his mother, he was placed in the home of his paternal, non-Indian grandmother, Pamela Hubbard Curtis. In his biography of Curtis in the Encyclopedia of North American Indians, William Unrau writes:

“A stern person who insisted that the Methodist Church and the Republican Party [were] the keys to salvation, she exerted a considerable influence on Curtis’s education.”

At age 6, he went to live with his Kaw grandmother, Julie Gonville Pappan, on the Kaw reservation in Kansas. He attended the Friends Mission School. When the Kaws were later removed to Indian Territory he was returned to the home of his paternal grandmother.

Following high school, Curtis read law under Topeka attorney Aderial H. Case and was admitted to the Kansas Bar at the age of 21. He soon entered politics as a Republican. In 1885 he was elected county attorney for Shawnee County and his political career began. Shawnee County at this time was dry and as county attorney, he shut down most of the bootleg bars in the county.

In 1892 was elected to Congress and began the first of eight terms in the House of Representatives. With regard to his political campaigning, William Unrau writes:

“His small talk of local affairs, family, and the weather was rendered all the more effective by his penetrating eyes, his engaging smile—and his Indianness, at a time when most whites nostalgically anticipated the demise of Indian America.”

Like many others of this era, Curtis felt that Indians had to be assimilated into American culture. Assimilation meant that traditional cultures and languages had to be destroyed. Sociologist Laurence French, in his book The Qualla Cherokee: Surviving in Two Worlds, writes:

“In Congress, Curtis used his Indian heritage as a mandate to speak for all American Indians in Indian Territory. Few American Indians saw him as their spokesperson.”

William Unrau writes:

“He championed the rights of Indian orphans and women even as he advocated the interests of the oil, gas, and coal companies that were cheating tribal governments of their natural resources.”

In 1898, Curtis wrote a bill to extend the provision of the Dawes Act over Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The Act—commonly known as the Curtis Act—stipulated that tribal governments would continue to exist only to issue allotment deeds to tribal members and to terminate any other tribal business. The Act is officially entitled “An Act for the Protection of the People of Indian Territory and for other purposes.” In his book The Dawes Commission and the Allotment of the Five Civilized Tribes, 1893-1914, Kent Carter reports:

“The ‘protection’ part of the proposed legislation was intended to help all of the unfortunate whites (many from Curtis’s state, Kansas) who had entered Indian Territory, whether invited or not, but who had no voice in government, no schools, and no protection against criminals.”

One of the tribes for which the Curtis Act would have major impact was the Cherokee. The Cherokee objected to the bill and sent a delegation to Washington to testify but they were not allowed access to the rooms where committees were debating the bill. Corporate representatives, on the other hand, had free access to the committees.

While in the House, Curtis worked on a number of committees, including the Committee on Territories, the Committee on Way and Means, the Committee on Public Lands, and the Committee on Indian Affairs. His work for assimilation, allotment, and detribalization led to opposition by many of the tribal leaders in Indian Territory. Overall, his work set the stage for Oklahoma statehood in 1907.

With the 1902 Kaw Allotment Act, the Kaw Nation was officially dissolved. Since Curtis had not moved with the Kaw to their reservation in Indian Territory, his name had been removed from the tribal roles in 1878. He was returned to the tribal roles in time to share in the allotment of the Kaw reservation. As enrolled members of the tribe, Curtis and his three children received a total of 1,625 acres in Oklahoma.

In 1907, Curtis was elected to the United States Senate. He was defeated for re-election, but ran again in 1914 and served in the Senate until 1929.

While in the Senate, he attempted to prohibit the Indian use of peyote (a sacrament used by the Native American Church). His efforts on this matter, however, failed to pass.

In 1921, he supported the Secretary of the Interior’s efforts to minimize the sovereignty of Pueblo tribal governments. In his profile of Curtis in Notable Native Americans, George Abrams reports:

“Curtis was philosophically and politically antagonistic to some forms of traditional American Indian tribal government.”

In 1928 he made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination. However, he ran as Herbert Hoover’s vice-president and was elected. At the inauguration in 1929, he had an Indian jazz band perform. William Unrau writes:

“As vice president, Curtis called for improving the life of American Indians, yet he provided no details as to how this was to be accomplished.”

George Abrams puts it this way:

“During his tenure, Curtis spoke for American Indians whenever the occasion arose. He has generally been viewed as having served a rather lackluster tenure of vice president.”

When he retired from public elected life in 1934, having been defeated for re-election, he had served longer in Washington, D.C. than any active politician. He was the last vice-president to wear a beard or mustache while in office.

In addition to promoting Indian assimilation, Curtis was also a strong supporter of women’s suffrage and Prohibition. He died in 1936.

Treaty Rock and the Coeur d’Alene Indians

Long before the European invasion of North America, the Coeur d’Alene, who call themselves Schitsu’umsh, occupied a territory that included parts of eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana.

According to their tribal history:

“We were lake and rivers people who had permanent encampments along these waterways but also followed the natural cycle of life. We followed this sacred cycle, not only for survival but, to live live harmoniously with nature and to respect the delicate balance between creation and our ceremonial and spiritual way of life.”

The water ways that sustained the people included Coeur d’Alene Lake, Spokane River, Coeur d’Alene River, and St. Joe River. These waterways formed an aboriginal super highway between the villages and their resource areas.

Things began to change when the fur traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company began to enter their territory at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The traders brought the people new goods. Then came the missionaries in the 1840s who sought to make the Indians into European Christians. The Catholic Jesuits establish a mission at Cataldo.

In 1859, the Coeur d’Alene signed a treaty with the United States at the Cataldo Mission. Two years later, the United States established a road across Coeur d’Alene territory to connect Fort Benton in Montana with Fort Walla Walla in Washington.

In 1871, German immigrant Frederick Post met with Coeur d’Alene Chief Moses Seltice to negotiate the rights to a parcel of land. Treaty Rock symbolizes the verbal agreement between these two men that allowed Post to use 200 acres of tribal land on the Spokane River to start a mill. There was no formal treaty signed at Treaty Rock nor was any money exchanged for the land. Oral tradition indicates that Post promised to provide the tribe with lumber, but there is no record of that agreement being kept.

Post carved his name and the date in the rock to acknowledge the agreement. There are also pictographs on the rock done in red ochre. According to the Coeur d’Alene tribal history:

“Treaty Rock, as it is known in written history, is a special place for both the Coeur d’Alene people and the residents of today. It represents a moment in time when great change occurred and affected both a growing nation and a people that had been on these lands for thousands of years.”

The Political Organization of the Omaha Indians

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Omaha Indians were living in what is now Nebraska where they were a farming people who engaged in buffalo hunting. The Omaha fields would be planted in May and tended until the corn was well established, usually late June or early July. Then the entire village would leave on the summer buffalo hunt and return to harvest the corn in September and October.

One of the principle features of Omaha social organization was the patrilineal clans. These clans were named, and membership was through the father, that is, each person belonged to the father’s clan.

The Omaha had a central government which was composed of a council of seven chiefs who were overseen by two principal chiefs. Decisions made by the council had to be unanimous. Each of the chiefs was the leader of a clan which possessed a pipe. The number seven is a sacred number because it is made up of the four cardinal directions plus up, down, and the place in the center where all directions meet. Noting the importance of the two pipes in Omaha government, ethnographers Alice Fletcher and Francis La Fletche, in their 1911 book The Omaha Tribe, wrote:

“The retaining of the two Pipes as the supreme or confirmatory authority within the council rather than giving that power to a head chief was consonant with the fundamental idea embodied in the tribal organization.”

Attending the Omaha council meetings in an ex oficio capacity were the keeper of the Sacred Pole, the keeper of the Sacred Buffalo Hide, the keeper of the two Sacred Tribal Pipes, the keeper of the ritual used for filling the two pipes, and the keeper of the Sacred Tent of War. According to Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche:

“None of these five keepers had a voice in the decisions of the council, the responsibility of deciding devolving solely on the Seven Chiefs who composed the council proper.”

At the Omaha council meetings, one of the members would raise an issue or question. It would then go around the circle, starting with the man next to the man who had introduced the issue. The matter would pass around and around the circle until all came to an agreement. It was not uncommon for an entire day to be spent in deliberation in this fashion. In making a decision, ethnographers Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche report:

“All must accept it and then carry it through as one man. This unity of decision was regarded as having a supernatural power and authority.”

In addition to the seven clan chiefs and the two principal chiefs, there were two other orders of chiefs among the Omaha. There were an unlimited number of lower chiefs known as Brown Chiefs (Ni’kagahi xu’de) and a higher and more limited number of Dark Chiefs (Ni’kagahi sha’be). To become a dark chief, there were seven grades which a man had to pass through. The first of these was to obtain the materials for the staff carried by the leader of the buffalo hunt. The seventh grade involved the giving of gifts to maintain peace in the tribe. When a man had done a hundred of these acts of gift giving, he was eligible to join the Night Blessed Society and to have his daughter tattooed.

Law

With regard to law, accusations of serious wrongdoing, such as murder, were not taken lightly. Many of the tribes safeguarded the social order with some form of punishment. Among the Omaha, for example, there was in the Tent of War a staff of ironwood which had a rough end. Rattlesnake poison was placed on this rough end and a person who was guilty of a major offense would be prodded with the stick, usually resulting in the offender’s death. This punishment was decided on by the council and carried out by a trustworthy man. One of the offenses punished in this way was making light of the authority of the chiefs.

Among the Omaha, deliberate murder was punished by banishment for four years. During this time the murderer had to camp outside of the village and was to communicate to no one. The offender was also required to wear a special garment which was not to be removed during the period of banishment. After the chiefs passed the sentence of banishment, they would take the Sacred Pipes to the murder victim’s family. They would present the family with gifts and ask that they not seek any further punishment on the murderer’s family.

War

Among the Omaha, the true function of war was to protect the people from outside enemies. Ethnographers Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche report:

“Aggressive warfare was to be discouraged; any gains made by it were more than offset by the troubles entailed.”

It was, however, difficult to stop the young men from going to war. However, there were steps that had to be taken. A younger man would go to one of the keepers of a war bundle and invite him to a ceremonial feast. By obtaining the permission of the war bundle keeper, the leader of the war party was relieved of any responsibility should a member of the party be killed. Chiefs were required to use their influence for peace and could not initiate war parties.

During the nineteenth century, Omaha war parties tended to be small: 10-15 warriors. The war party would usually leave the village at night. The warriors would wear no feathers or ornaments. When returning from a successful battle, the war party would light a fire near the village to signal their return.

Among the Omaha there were two classes of war parties: (1) those undertaken to capture horses and other valuables, and (2) those undertaken as revenge for attacks by other tribes.

The Omaha recognized six grades of war honors which could be taken from the body of an enemy:

  • Striking an unwounded enemy with the hand or with the bow. This was the highest war honor and only two warriors could take this honor from the same person.
  • Striking a wounded enemy with the hand or bow.
  • Striking a dead enemy with the hand or bow.
  • Killing an enemy.
  • Taking a scalp.
  • Severing an enemy’s head.

Among the Omaha, warriors who were recognized for their bravery were allowed to wear a Crow Belt bustle: two trailers of hide covered with feathers hung from the belt and eagle wing pointer feathers protruded upward from the base of the bustle. In an essay in Painters, Patrons, and Identity: Essays in Native American Art to Honor J.J. Brody, Aaron Fry describes the bustle:

“The main body of the bustle was made of an eagle skin with head and tail still attached; the eagle was associated with the destructive powers of the Thunder Being and the destructive nature of war. A wolf tail was tied to the right side of the skin; a stuffed crow skin was tied to the left.”

To be able 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 Crow Belt, originally created when the Omaha, Osage, Quapaw, and Kansa were living as one tribe, represents the mythic relationship between the warriors and their patrons, the wolf and the crow.

Gender Among Northern Plains Indians

The Northern Plains include what is now North and South Dakota, Eastern Montana, northeastern Wyoming, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. In general, the Indian nations of the northern Plains can be divided into two major groups: (1) the buffalo hunters and (2) the agricultural nations along the Missouri River in the Dakotas.

In traditional Northern Plains Indian life, men and women often had different roles. Most frequently, the men took on the roles of hunters and warriors, while the women were involved with gathering plants and with the home. In the agricultural tribes, the women worked the fields and therefore they owned the crops, the fields, agricultural implements, and the lodges.

While there was division of labor by gender, this was not a rigid division. It was not uncommon for women to be warriors. Among the Indians of the Northern Plains, the role of warrior was an alternative which was open to women. According to anthropologist John Ewers, in article in Skeletal Biology in the Great Plains: Migration, Warfare, Health, and Subsistence:

“There is ample evidence that a number of women of many tribes joined raiding parties and took active parts in them.”

John Ewers also points out:

“What is known of these woman warriors does not suggest that they were sexual deviants.”

With regard to the Cheyenne, George Bird Grinnell, in his book The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Lifeways, reports:

“While it was not common for women to go on the warpath with men, yet they did so sometimes, and often showed quite as much courage and were quite as efficient as the men they accompanied.”

Most of the Plains Indian nations also recognized a third sex, generally referred to as a Two-Spirit or, in the older literature, a berdache. There were some boys who preferred the company of girls and who eventually dressed as girls. Among the Crow, at about the age of 10-12 a young boy might take on female clothing and female work. The male Two-Spirit was accepted as a third sex and might “marry” a man. Edwin Thompson Denig , writing in his 1856 book Of the Crow Nation, says:

“He is not to be distinguished in any way from the women.”

Among the Blackfoot, the behavior of the Two-Spirit was attributed to being inhabited by spiritual forces. The Two-Spirits were in great demand as wives because of their physical strength and their artistic abilities.

Writing about the Sioux, historian William Nester, in his book The Arikara War: The First Plains Indian War, 1823, says:

“Homosexual men were allowed to don female dress and live at the camp’s edge.”

He goes on to say that they

“believed that the dual nature of the transvestite (winkte) gave him great spiritual power, and they both respected and feared him for it.”

The Two-Spirits also had important ceremonial roles. According to anthropologists Wendell H. Oswalt and Sharlotte Neely, in their book This Land Was Theirs: A Study of Native Americans:

“in the Sun Dance certain rituals could be performed only by a berdache.”

With regard to the Hidatsa, ethnologist Alfred Bowers, in his book Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organization, reports:

“Since the berdaches were viewed as mystic possessors of unique ritual instructions secured directly from the mysterious Holy Woman, they were treated as a special class of religious leaders” and “The berdaches comprised the most active ceremonial class in the village.”

Among many of the Plains tribes, the Two-Spirit was felt to have strong curing powers. Among the Cheyenne, for example, war parties often included a Two-Spirit whose job was to care for the wounded. In addition, the spiritual powers of the Two-Spirits were felt to bring good luck. According to anthropologist Walter Williams, in his book The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture:

“Their presence on war parties was also desired because of their special spiritual powers.”

Large war parties were seldom without a Two-Spirit.

While much of the literature about the role of the Two-Spirit or berdache in Northern Plains cultures focuses on men, there were also many instances of women who wore men’s clothing and took men’s roles. Some of these women married other women, some were warriors, and some were chiefs. Among the Blackfoot, women who took on the aggressive roles of men were referred to as “manly hearted women.” They would usually begin to take on these roles as teenagers when they would join war parties. They would wear male dress, marry women, and often obtain leadership positions as warriors and/or spiritual leaders.