Susette La Flesche, Indian Rights Activist

Susette (Yosette) La Flesche was born on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska in 1854. She was the eldest daughter of Joseph La Flesche and Mary Gale La Flesche. Joseph LaF lesche was the principal chief of the Omaha. With regard to Joseph La Flesche, John Little, in his biography of Susette La Flesche in Notable Native Americans, reports:

“Joseph La Flesche was a remarkable and far-seeing leader who realized that both his children and his tribe would have to adapt to and make their way in white America. He did all in his power to influence his often reluctant tribesmen to move in that direction, and he inspired his children to seek education in the English language and in American life and culture.”

Susette grew up on the Omaha Reservation and attended the Presbyterian mission school. In 1872, non-Indian philanthropic groups made it possible for her to attend the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

After graduating from the Elizabeth Institute in 1875, she returned to the Omaha Reservation with the intention of teaching. She applied for the position of elementary school teacher at the Indian Agency school on the reservation, but failed to get the job. She was told that she had to pass a teaching examination from the School Committee of Nebraska. When she applied for permission to leave the reservation to take the examination, her request was refused. She left the reservation without permission and took the test.

Later, she discovered that the Indian Office (now the Bureau of Indian Affairs) had a policy which required that Indians be given preference for positions in the Indian Service, including teaching positions. With this information, she wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. She demanded that she be given preference and in 1877 she obtained a teaching job at the Omaha Agency school. She was paid just half of what non-Indian teachers received.

Events far to the south, in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), would, however, soon impact her life. In 1877, the United States government had forcibly and brutally moved the Ponca from their Nebraska reservation to Indian Territory. The Ponca had always been at peace with the United States. At sunrise, army troops—four detachments of cavalry and one of infantry—surrounded the Ponca village and dragged men, women, and children from their cabins.  The Ponca were force-marched for 50 days to their new home where they were informed that they were now prisoners of war. During the next year, one-fourth of the Ponca died.

Among those who died of malnutrition was Bear Shield, the eldest son of Ponca chief Standing Bear. His dying wish was to be buried in the traditional Ponca land. Standing Bear decided to return north to Nebraska to bury him in traditional Ponca territory. In 1879, Standing Bear and about 65 of his people left their Oklahoma reservation and traveled to Decatur, Nebraska where they were welcomed by the Omaha and given food and shelter.

The Ponca and the Omaha are closely related tribes. At one time they had been a single people and when they had moved from the Ohio Valley into the Central Plains about 1715 they separated into two distinct tribes.

The Department of the Interior notified the War Department that the Ponca had left without permission and the army was ordered to return them to the reservation. The Ponca were detained by the army at Fort Omaha, but illness among the Indians and the poor condition of their horses made it impossible to return them to Indian Territory immediately.

While the Ponca were being held captive, Thomas Henry Tibbles, the assistant editor of the Omaha Herald, began to stir up public support for the Ponca. Tibbles arranged for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Standing Bear and his people in federal court in Omaha. The court found that the army had no authority to incarcerate the Ponca. The U.S. Attorney had argued that Indians were not persons under the law and therefore were not entitled to a writ of habeas corpus. Historian James King, in an essay in The Western American Indian: Case Studies in Tribal History, writes:

“The government’s case was simply that an Indian was neither a person nor a citizen within the meaning of the law, and therefore could bring no suit of any kind against the government.”

In Standing Bear versus Crook the United States District Court declares that an Indian is a “person” under United States law and therefore has the right to sue for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court.

Tibbles wanted to take the Ponca case to the Supreme Court so that a definitive statement on the status of Indians in the United States could be obtained. He also wanted to help the Ponca regain a Nebraska reservation. In order to gain support for the Ponca, Tibbles sent Omaha chief Joseph LaFlesche and his daughter Susette to Indian Territory to investigate the conditions which the Ponca had to endure. Upon their return, Susette La Flesche made her first appearance as a public speaker supporting the Ponca cause.

Kenny Franks, in his essay on the LaFlesche family in Encyclopedia of North American Indians, reports:

“Susette was convinced that the only solution to the ‘Indian problem’ was American citizenship. Such an action would legally give the nation’s Native American population equal status with its other residents.”

To take the Ponca case to the Supreme Court would require money. Therefore, Tibbles decided that a speaking tour featuring Ponca chief Standing Bear would be an effective way to raise both money and public support for their cause. Standing Bear, however, spoke no English. The Ponca and Omaha languages are closely related so Tibbles asked if Susette La Flesche could accompany them as an interpreter. Tibbles also suggested that Susette use the name Bright Eyes for the tour.

The tour began in Chicago in 1879. By the time they reached the Northeast, there were eager crowds waiting to hear from Standing Bear and Bright Eyes. In the Northeast, the speaking tour drew packed audiences five to seven nights a week.

The tour stayed for a month in Boston. At a presentation in Worchester, Massachusetts, U.S. Senator George F. Hoar was moved by what he heard. He wrote to President Rutherford B. Hayes expressing his concern at the wrong done to the Ponca by the American government. The President replied that he would give the matter attention.

Their visit to Boston resulted in the formation of an Indian Citizenship Committee composed of a number of prominent non-Indians.

Following Boston, the tour continued on for lengthy stays in New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Tibbles also testified before several Congressional committees.

They returned to Nebraska in 1880. John Little reports:

“La Flesche Tibbles, or Bright Eyes, had by now become a well-known public figure who would find a ready audience for both her speeches and writings for the rest of her life.”

In 1881, Thomas Henry Tibbles married Susette La Flesche (thus she also became known as Susette La Flesche Tibbles). The couple made frequent lecture trips to the eastern United States and made one lecture tour of England and Scotland in 1886-1887. Carl Waldman, in his book Who Was Who in Native American History, reports:

“In their lectures, they described Omaha and Ponca reservation conditions and argued against removal and in favor of assimilation.”

Working with Standing Bear, she co-authored Ploughed Under: The Story of an Indian Chief. In 1881, she presented a paper “The Position, Occupation, and Culture of Indian Women” before the Association for the Advancement of Women.

Writing under the name Bright Eyes, Susette La Flesche Tibbles wrote for a number of magazines. Her writings including stories about Indian life for children’s magazines as well as adult stories.

Susette La Flesche Tibbles died in Nebraska in 1903.

Personal Names Among the Central Plains Tribes

For most people today, personal names consist of two basic parts: (1) a surname or last name which is the same as the father’s surname (or the husband’s surname for some women) and (2) a given name or first name which is generally given at birth. In general, people (particularly men) keep the same name for life. For American Indians, there were no surnames and it was common to change names.

The Central Plains is that portion of the Great Plains which lies south of the South Dakota-Nebraska border and north of the Arkansas River. It includes Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, southeastern Wyoming, and western Colorado. At the time when the Europeans began their invasion of this area it was the home to Indian nations such as the Omaha, Otoe and Missouria, Kansa, Osage, Wichita, and Pawnee. Briefly described below are the naming practices of some of the Central Plains tribes.

Omaha

Among the Omaha, the birth of a child is seen as more than an addition to the clan and tribe. Ethnographers Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche, in their 1911 book The Omaha Tribe, report that a child is

“a living being coming forth into the universe, whose advent must be ceremonially announced in order to assure it an accepted place among the already existing forms.”

Four days after birth, certain symbols would be placed on the child. Eight days after birth, a ceremony would be held to introduce the child to the world.

At the fourth day of life, the child was given a “baby name” which was retained for the first 3-4 years of life. The “baby name” was then thrown away during the Turning the Child Ceremony in which the child received new moccasins and a clan name. In his book Two Crows Denies it: A History of Controversy in Omaha Sociology, R.H. Barnes reports:

“personal names could be said to be on loan for the lifetime of the bearer, reverting to the ‘name pool’ upon his death or earlier for reassignment to a younger member.”

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

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

“In contrast to the effects of male names, women’s names barely rescue their bearers from a general anonymity, neither conferring uniqueness nor indicating group membership.”

Like many other tribes, Omaha etiquette did not allow an individual to be addressed by a personal name. In a 1900 essay reprinted in Talking Back to Civilization: Indian Voices from the Progressive Era, Francis La Flesche recalls his education as a child regarding the elders:

“to use the proper and conventional term of relationship when speaking to another; and never to address any one by his personal name.”

Under no circumstances was it polite to ask a stranger’s name.

Otoe and Missouria

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

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

Kansa or Kaw

Among the Kansa or Kaw, the child was given a name shortly after birth. The name reflected both clan affiliation and birth order and was given in a ceremony conducted by a tattooed warrior. According to Garrick Bailey and Gloria Young, in their entry on the Kansa in the Handbook of North American Indians:

“Additional names referring to some deed of valor might be assumed during an individual’s life, but these did not replace the original clan name.”

Osage

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

Wichita

Wichita children were often named prior to birth as a consequence of dreams of the mother or other relatives. Later in life, the child might be given another name based on some personal mannerism or a significant act. Names might be changed if the person was facing poor fortune or continued illness.

Pawnee

The Pawnee never address each other by personal name, but by a kinship term. This kinship term indicated the expected behavior and reinforced the relationships between people. Anthropologist Gene Weltfish, in her book The Lost Universe: Pawnee Life and Culture, writes:

“A personal name among the Pawnees was of an entirely different character from our own. It was an honorary title of an extremely personal nature.”

She goes on to report that

“the substance of the name was strictly private and reserved to oneself. The name was cited only on the most formal occasions and from the name itself it was not possible to deduce its private significance.”

Massasoit, Wampanoag Leader

During the first part of the seventeenth century, the Wampanoag Confederacy controlled a large portion of what is now New England. Wampanoag territory ranged from Narragansett Bay to Cape Cod. The leader of this confederacy during the first part of the seventeenth century was Massasoit, who is generally described as the Great Sachem. His main village was located near present-day Bristol, Rhode Island.

The Wampanoag were hit hard by the epidemics which swept through New England in 1616-1619. Prior to the epidemics it is estimated that there were 24,000 people living in Indian communities affiliated with the Wampanoag confederacy led by Massasoit. As a result of the epidemics, 75% of the population died.

With the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1621, Massasoit saw an opportunity to increase the power of the Wampanoag confederacy. By signing a treaty of mutual support and protection with the Pilgrims, Massasoit insured that there would be peaceful relations with these people, but more importantly, this alliance would give the Wampanoag better access to European trade goods. With these goods, particularly firearms, the Wampanoag were able to increase their power among the tribes in the region. Historian John Humins, in an article in New England Quarterly, writes:

“This treaty was a bold move by the Wampanoag sagamore, who, as a result, bolstered his economic, military, and political control. He may well have assumed that the pact made the newcomers members of his confederation.”

Writer Frank Waters, in his book Brave are My People: Indian Heroes Not Forgotten, describes Massasoit:

“He wore a deerskin robe and a great chain of white beads to which were fastened a long knife and a leather tobacco pouch.”

In 1621, Massasoit had two of this people—Hobomok and Squanto—teach the Pilgrims agricultural techniques. Without these lessons and without the food supplied to them by the Indians, it is doubtful that the little colony would have survived. That fall, following the harvest, Massasoit brought 60-100 Wampanoag to Plymouth for a traditional harvest feast and with this action set the pattern for a holiday which Americans would later call Thanksgiving. The Wampanoag brought with them five deer to provide venison for the feast, as well as turkey, geese, ducks, eels, shellfish, cornbread, succotash, squash, berries, wild plums, and maple sugar.

In 1621 there was a rumor that Massasoit had been captured by the Pocasset sachem Corbitant. Squanto, Hobamok, and Tokamahomon, who were living with the Pilgrims, went to Corbitant’s village where they found that the rumor was not true, but Corbitant took them captive. Hobamok managed to escape and told the English who then attacked the village, wounding several Indians and freeing Squanto and Tokamahomon. Massasoit then negotiated a peace between the English and the Pocasset.

In 1622, the Narragansett sent a bundle of arrows tied with a snake skin to the Pilgrims at Plymouth. The Pilgrims interpreted this message as a challenge and returned the skin with bullets in it. Historian John Humins reports:

“By doing so, the Pilgrims committed a major diplomatic blunder: they ignored Hobamok’s urgings to confer with Massasoit before responding.”

In 1623, Massasoit became sick and was treated by English physicians. At this time, he warned the Pilgrims that some of the tribes—Narragansett, Massachuset, and some Wampanoag—were plotting against the settlers. Massasoit’s war chief, Annawan, led a series of raids against the insurgent groups.

Over the years, however, Massasoit found that his alliance with English was not beneficial to his people. With the great English hunger for land, more and more Wampanoag land was taken from them. When the Indians complained, they were punished by the English courts who viewed them as trespassers on their own homelands.

Massasoit died in 1661 and the peace which he had helped forge with the Europeans began to crumble. His son Alexander (Wamsutta) became the Grand Sachem briefly. Then his other son Philip (Metacom) became Grand Sachem and led the Wampanoag into the uprising against the English known as King Philip’s War.

Denise Juneau and Native Languages

We don’t really know how many Native American languages were spoken in what is the United States and Canada when the Europeans began their invasion. Linguists Shirley Silver and Wick Miller, in their book American Indian Languages: Cultural and Social Contexts, estimate that there were 250 American Indian languages in this area. On the other hand, Ives Goddard, in an article in the journal AnthroNotes, estimates that there were as many as 400 distinct languages.

For much of its history, the policies of the United States have discouraged the speaking of Indian languages and, in some contexts such as that of the schools, has prohibited their use. As a result, there have been fewer places where the indigenous languages can be freely spoken. Ellen Lutz, the executive director of Cultural Survival Quarterly, writes:

“Native Americans did not lose their languages. Their languages were taken from them by immigrants to American shores who believed in assimilation, the melting pot, and the great American dream.”

Ethnolinguist Jeffrey Anderson, in an article in Anthropological Linguistics, sums it up this way:

“In short, people speak the language in fewer and fewer places.”

For many Indian languages, the primary place where they are used can be considered as ceremonial.

By the 1960s, Silver and Miller estimate that there were 175 Indian languages still being spoken north of Mexico. Of these languages, 136 had fewer than 2,000 speakers and 34 had fewer than 10 speakers. By 2007, it was estimated that only 154 Indians languages were still being spoken and that half of these were spoken only by elders.

At the present time, it estimated that there are 46 Indian languages which are still being spoken by significant numbers of children. Languages which are being learned by children have some chance of survival.

Retention of the native language is an important issue for many tribes. Linguist Ives Goddard writes:

 “Today, many Native American communities have language programs to try to teach their languages to children.”

As a consequence, there are on many reservations programs which are intended to maintain the language. In communities in which the children no longer speak the native language, the goal is language revival in which the Indian language is taught as a second language. By 1986 there were 98 language projects involving 55 different Indian languages. There was an enrollment of more than 14,000 students in these programs. By 2006, there were 62 native languages being taught in 101 programs in 24 states and provinces.

Denise Juneau, who is running of Montana’s sole member of the House of Representatives, says:

Nistowa niitanikoowa ootskoyiiksistsiikoomahyahkii. Niska Pikunakii kii, niitapohtakii siksiikatsitapiiyawa taakaskiniipoowa nitsiipuhwahsin. Niitapohtakii ka-na-tsitaapiiyawa taakaskiniipoowa nitsiipuhwahsin

Pikuni translated to English as “My name is Blue Cloud Woman. I am a Pikuni woman and I am working for my people to have their language. I am working for all tribal nations to have their language”

Denise Juneau is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa tribes and a Blackfoot descendent. Denise Juneau was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. She reports:

As Superintendent, I supported Montana funding native language immersion programs. The first immersion program was started in Browning in 1995, and this year’s class of kindergarteners will go through 12th Grade in an immersion program spending half the day speaking in English and half the day in Blackfeet.

She also promises:

As a member of Congress, I will educate my colleagues on the importance of tribal language programs. And, I will work to create new grant opportunities for tribes to create or expand language immersion programs.

Why should we care about Native languages? Mark Cherrington, the editor of Cultural Survival Quarterly, puts it this way:

“But for all its breadth, English cannot substitute for Native American languages, because these languages are based on entirely different histories, spiritual beliefs, scientific and natural-world understandings, and political and legal ideas. In essence they are based on different realities. Native languages capture concepts that do not exist in English.”

Journalist Elizabeth Seay, in her book Searching for Lost City: On the Trail of America’s Native Languages, puts it this way:

“When people have no language to bridge the gap between generations, they diminish their ability to decode their history. When you lose a language, then, the size of the loss is somewhere between a list of bird names and a conception of the world.”

It is important to elect Denise Juneau and others like her to Congress. For more about Denise, check out her website.

https://denisejuneau.com/

A Brief Overview of the Kaw or Kansa Indians

The state of Kansas and the Kansas River are named for the Kansa or Kaw Indians whose aboriginal territories once included the state and spread into southern Nebraska. Traditionally, the Kaws were village people who farmed as well as hunted.

Like most of the other tribes in the Central Plains area, the origins of the Kansa lie outside of the region. About four hundred years ago, The Kansa, Quapaw, Osage, Omaha, and Ponca lived as one people in the Ohio River area. These five tribes were united in language and culture. With regard to language, linguists refer to the five tribes as the Degiha Siouans.

The tribes migrated west to the Mississippi River where the Quapaw went to the south and the Osage and the Kansa went to the north. The designation Kansa means “people of the south wind.”

While the common stereotype envisions Indians living in tipis, in reality relatively few Indian nations actually used tipis as a primary dwelling. While the Kansa did use tipis, this is only one of five distinct types of houses which they used.

Like the other village agricultural people who lived along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the earthlodge was a common village house among the Kansa. The earthlodge was dug into the ground to a depth of about a foot or a foot and a half. A series of center poles – four, six, or eight poles – and exterior poles were used to support the roof poles. Often the perimeter poles slanted outward. The earthlodges were often 30-40 feet in diameter, though some are reported which exceeded 70 feet in diameter.

Similar to the Indian tribes of the Eastern Woodlands, the Kansa also used a rectangular wigwam which was about 25 feet wide and 60 feet long. The pole structure of the wigwam was covered with skins, bark, or mats.

Unique to the Kansa was a circular structure which was 30-60 feet in diameter with walls four to five feet high and covered with hide, bark, or reed mats. This structure is sometimes described as looking like a haystack. The interior floor of this type of lodge was excavated to a depth of 3-4 feet. This type of house was usually home to 30-40 people.

They also used a skin-covered hunting lodge with a semi-cylindrical roof.

With regard to dress and ornamentation, the Kaws were known for their distinctive hairstyle. Carl Waldman, in his book Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, explains:

“Tribal members plucked or shaved their entire head, except for a single lock in the back.”

During the nineteenth century, the Kansa were divided into three bands or villages. Each village elected its own chief. From these three chiefs, a tribal chief was selected. In addition, there were five hereditary chiefs who were sometimes female.

The Kansa had 16 patrilineal clans—these were named kinship groups in which membership was through the male line. Each person belonged to their father’s clan. Each clan had its own medicine bundle, taboos, and privileges. For example, members of the Deer clan were not allowed to eat venison and members of the Thunder clan were able to control the weather. Each of the clans was ranked in relation to one another with the Earth Maker clan having the highest rank, followed by the Sun Carrier clan.

Kansa clans were grouped into two moieties, each with eight clans. When camping the clans associated with the left moiety would camp on the left of the circle, while those associated with the right moiety would camp on the right.

Among the Kansa, the child was given a name shortly after birth. The name reflected both clan affiliation and birth order and was given in a ceremony conducted by a tattooed warrior. According to Garrick Bailey and Gloria Young, in their entry on the Kansa in the Handbook of North American Indians:

“Additional names referring to some deed of valor might be assumed during an individual’s life, but these did not replace the original clan name.”

At the age of 12-13, Kansa boys would begin fasting to obtain a vision. They would go to an isolated spot where they would fast for up to four days. During this time, the boy might be contacted by an ancestor, an animal spirit, or by some other spirit. This contact would prophesy his future. Girls also fasted, but their visions were considered to be less important.

The Kansa had two sacred bundles which belonged to the tribe. In one of these bundles was the sacred clamshell which had been brought from the east by the ancestors of the Kansa.

The Kansa Calumet Dance was a ceremony used when adopting an individual or a tribe into the Kansa kinship network. The two pipes used in the ceremony were about three feet long. One pipe was symbolically male and was dressed with white eagle feathers, while the other pipe was symbolically female and dressed with black eagle feathers.

Among the Kansa, the dead were buried either in a sitting position with the deceased facing east or in a horizontal position with the head toward the east. Graves were usually located on a high point near the village or along a well-used hunting trail.

Denise Juneau and Indian Education

In has been well documented that American Indians, particularly those living on reservations, have the lowest levels of education in the country. On Indian reservations, the problems of providing education for Indian children are tied in to the rural nature of these populations—a fact which makes it difficult to find and retain good teachers—as well as cultural differences. Historically, there have been three primary structures for providing education to Indian children: (1) the federal government, primarily through an agency known today as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA); (2) Christian missionary schools which were sometimes financially supported by the federal government; and (3) state and local school systems.

Bureau of Indian Education schools in the 21st century are under-funded and the physical conditions of the schools is poor and sometimes considered dangerous. Denise Juneau, who is running of Montana’s sole member of the House of Representatives, has promised not only to support additional funding for these schools, but also to reform the Bureau so that more of this money actually translates into classroom improvements.

In addition, Juneau has pledged:

“I support the Native Education Support and Training Act to create a system of loan forgiveness, scholarships and additional training for educators who serve in schools with a high percentage of Native American students.”

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.

Denise Juneau was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. In 2010, as Superintendent, she launched the Schools of Promise initiative which focuses on improving struggling schools, particularly those on reservations. According to Juneau:

“Children who attend designated Schools of Promise often come from deep, rural poverty. Public assistance services are sparse. The complex needs of these students and their families are often unmet and can make graduation difficult to reach.”

She also points out:

“Schools of Promise is helping these struggling schools make significant progress. The program has become a turnaround model for the U.S. Department of Education given its unique student engagement requirements, school board trustee training, and mental health wrap around services. As a member of Congress I will work to strengthen this initiative to better support struggling schools in all Indian Country.”

Denise Juneau is running as a Democrat against a Republican incumbent. She needs our support. To find out more about Denise Juneau, her policies, and how to help, check out her website.

 

https://denisejuneau.com/