Dam Indians: A Tribal Victory!

The flag of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana was raised over a hydroelectric facility on the Flathead River on September 4, 2015. The facility, formerly known as the Kerr Dam, was promptly renamed the Salish Kootenai Dam in honor of the new owners. For the past 30 years, the tribes have been battling to reclaim the dam which has a generating capacity of 188 megawatts of electricity.

At the celebration of the transfer, former tribal council member Steve Lozar said: “This day blesses all our tribal hearts collectively. It’s a combination of people of water that once again to rejoice and feel a true tribal baptism of water as it washes over us – and for that I am very thankful for. I am thankful for the people that has brought us this opportunity; for the tribal members that gave their lives to build this facility. And I’m mostly proud for the children that are once again going to be regenerated and rejuvenated by the water that washes over them.”

Source

Background:

The history of the relationship of the federal government with Indian nations has generally focused on the transfer of wealth—land, mineral rights, etc.—from Indian people to non-Indians. For the Pend d’Oreille, Flathead, and Kootenai people this began in 1855 with the Hell Gate Treaty that transferred to the United States millions of acres of tribal land and established what would become the Flathead Indian Reservation.

In 1904 Montana Congressman Joseph Dixon secured the passage of the Flathead Allotment Act which called for the survey and allotment of the Montana reservation without the consent of the Indians. Under allotment, each Indian family was to be given a parcel of land and then the reservation was open to non-Indian settlement. Following allotment, the Indian agent, who favored allotment, needed an armed guard when traveling on the reservation.

To improve farming on the allotted Reservation, the government created the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. As with most Indian irrigation projects, this project was soon delivering water to non-Indian farms. A national report on Indian irrigation projects released in 1929 showed that the number of acres of Indian land irrigated and used had declined, and that while the cost of constructing irrigation projects had been charged to the Indians, non-Indian farmers had been the primary beneficiaries of these projects.

In 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act which allowed tribal governments to reorganize and to create federally chartered corporations which can borrow money, enter into contracts, and sue. Under this Act, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes came into existence.

The Dam:

 In 1927 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs met with representatives of the Montana Power Company to discuss the development of a hydroelectric site on the Flathead River south of Polson, Montana. An agreement was reached which gave Montana Power the right to generate power. The driving force behind the dam proposal was the need for electricity for copper mining activities in Butte and smelter activities in Anaconda. While the dam site is on the Flathead Reservation, no Indians were invited to the meeting.

The agreement was criticized by John Collier who maintained that it violated the 1855 treaty with the Flatheads. Collier also pointed out that the Federal Water Power Act of 1920 promised Indians all royalties from reservation lands and that the agreement with Montana Power only gave the Indians one-third of the royalties. Collier also questioned why the agreement gives non-Indian settlers on the reservation electricity at cost.

The proposed site for the dam was an important cultural resource for the tribes, but since all Indian religions were illegal at this time, the spiritual concerns of tribal elders were not considered. Many tribal members opposed the construction of the dam.

Construction of the dam began in 1930 and by 1939 the facility was producing power. The new dam was named for Frank Kerr, the president of Montana Power. Kerr dam is a concrete arch dam which controls the elevation of the top ten feet of Flathead Lake. Fourteen tribal members were killed in construction-related accidents during the building of the dam.

In 1985 the dam’s license came up for renewal and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) bid for the license. As a result, CSKT became a co-licensee with Montana Power Company. During the negotiations, the tribes agreed to take a reduced payment for the use and occupancy of the dam site in exchange for an exclusive option to acquire the dam in 2015.

To take over the operation of the dam, the tribes created a tribally owned corporation, Energy Keepers, Inc., under the Indian Reorganization Act.

Republican Response:

Montana Republicans are not happy about having a tribally-run hydroelectric facility. In an attempt to stop the takeover, state Senator. Bob Keenan and Flathead Conservation District Supervisor Verdell Jackson filed a complaint seeking a temporary injunction. The Missoula Independent reports: “In the kind of sleuthing worthy of a Tom Clancy novel, Keenan and Jackson drew a direct connection between Turkey’s work to help foster economic development in Indian Country and Turkey’s harboring of terrorist groups.”

According to the complaint, the Turkish government is seeking to promote Islam on Indian reservation as well as other dangerous activities, such as seeking access to uranium deposits. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have expertise in uranium mill tailing cleanups and the lawsuit claims that the tribes are too gullible or naïve to realize that the Turks may have terrorist ties. Turkey, by the way, is a U.S. ally and a member of NATO.

According to the Missoula Independent: “While the case was quickly thrown out, one might begin to suspect Keenan and Jackson have something against the Salish and Kootenai people, or against the federal government that approved CSKT’s intent to purchase Kerr Dam three decades ago. But then again, such theories seem a little too grounded and devoid of conspiratorial intrigue for their ilk.”

 

Kootenai Political Organization

The Kootenai (also spelled Kutenai), whose homeland was in the area west of the Rocky Mountains in what is today western Montana, northern Idaho, and southeastern British Columbia, are generally divided into two groups: Upper Kootenai and Lower Kootenai, referring to their position on the drainage of the Kootenay River. The Upper Kootenai lived near the western face of the Rocky Mountains. The Kootenai had several politically independent bands. There was no political unity which tied all of the Kootenai bands together. Kootenai unity was linguistic, cultural, and emotional rather than political.

Among the Upper Kootenai, the War Chief represented the people in “foreign” affairs. For this reason, the Americans considered the War Chief to be the Head Chief. According to ethnographer H.H. Turney-High in his Ethnography of the Kutenai:  “he had nothing to do with the real administration of the band. He did carry with him the love and respect of his people, and he was without doubt the most prestigeful personality in camp, but in everyday life everyone appreciated that the head chief’s contribution was slight.”

This chief was not formally chosen and there was no special regalia associated with the position. The War Chief was simply the warrior who had the strongest military medicine and all members of the band recognized this.

The Guide Chief among the Upper Kootenai was the person who knew most of the trails, the topography, and the geography of the band’s range.  This chief was not selected on the basis of war honors, but rather on intelligence and experience. The Guide Chief selected the camp sites and laid them out. Since the Guide Chief knew the resources of the area well, it was his responsibility to direct subsistence activities.

The Lower Kootenai elected their chiefs. Chiefs needed to be strong in mind, body, skill, and spiritual power. Each band generally elected five chiefs: Band Chief, War Chief, Fish Chief, Deer Chief, and Duck Chief. The Band Chief had the greatest prestige. The War Chief, who was considered to be subordinate to the Band Chief, was a distinguished warrior. One of the responsibilities of the Fish Chief was to supervise the construction of the fishing weirs. The Deer Chief was responsible for leading the communal deer hunts.

The primary functions of the Lower Kootenai Band Chief were spiritual. Among other things, the Band Chief served as the Sun Dance Chief. To be elected as Band Chief, a person would first have a dream or vision in which the spirits would tell him that he was to become chief. The individual would inform council of this vision and would then have to be elected to the position by the council.

Kootenai Origins and Spirituality

The Kootenai (also spelled Kutenai), whose aboriginal homelands straddled the Rocky Mountains and included parts of Western Montana, Idaho, British Columbia, and Alberta, have a unique language and culture. Kootenai is one of a handful of languages in the world which is considered a language isolate: it is not related to any other language. With regard to phonology, Kootenai, unlike most other North American Indian languages, uses pitch. Thus, a rising or falling pitch can change the meaning of a word.

The Kootenai appear to have once lived on the Great Plains east of the Rocky Mountains and then migrated into the Plateau Culture Area. In his Ethnography of the Kutenai, H.H. Turney-High writes:  “There is a strong tradition even at Bonner’s Ferry that the whole body of the Kutenai originated on the Great Plains and at some, to them, very ancient time gradually moved westward.”

Within the Plateau Culture area, the Tobacco Plains area of Montana is the original Kootenai homeland. Once they had a great village in this area and their oral tradition speaks of the Tobacco Plains area as where they “woke up.” One group eventually split off from the Tobacco Plains village and established a village in Fernie, British Columbia. Another band later broke up and settled in the area of Libby, Montana. From the Libby band came the people who settled around Flathead Lake in the Somers, Elmo, Dayton area. According to H.H. Turney-High:  “As soon as peace was made between the Kutenai, Flathead, and Kalispel, the bulk of the Jennings-Libby people moved to Flathead Lake and are the People-of-the-Bay today.”

According to oral tradition, there was a time when one of the Kootenai bands continued to live east of the Rocky Mountains, perhaps in the area of McLeod, Alberta, and were a Plains tribe. However, they suffered an epidemic which reduced their numbers. Knowing that they could not continue to survive on the Plains with their reduced numbers, they migrated across the mountains to join their western cousins. They settled in the southern portion of the Kootenai hunting range where they mingled with Salish-speaking people. According to H.H. Turney-High:  “They are today entirely extinct save for those mixed bloods who claim tunáxa ancestry.”

Healing:

Among the Kootenai, the healers were primarily women who knew the healing powers of the plants and who had had dreams or visions about healing. A long time ago, the spirits told the Kootenai women that they were to form the Crazy Owl Society in order to fight off epidemics. Ethnographer H.H. Turney-High points out:  “Epidemics were considered the result of disobeying the spirits, and the Crazy Owls were supposed to prevent such consequences.”

The spirits would visit one of the powerful women and she would then begin to sing as directed by the spirit. The other women of the Crazy Owl Society would then join her and follow her as she encircled the lodges. When all of the lodges in the camp had been treated, the leader would lead the group to a tree and strike it. When the proper number of trees had been struck, they would run to the west. Ethnographer H.H. Turney-High reports:  “Soon they would leave the ground and run in the air, with the exception of the file-closer, who ran after them on the ground. Eventually they all came to ground, held a council, and adjourned.”

The Kootenai Shamans’ Society was formed by all of the shamans or medicine people who banded together for mutual assistance and joint public service. The oldest and most respected shaman acted as the formal leader of the group.

Blanket Dance:

This is a Kootenai dance which is similar to the Shaking Tent ceremonies found among the Plains Algonquians. According to anthropologist Bill Brunton, in his chapter on the Kootenai in the Handbook of North American Indians:  “It was essentially a ceremonial meeting with various spirits in order to seek assistance from them.”

The spirits often speak in an archaic form of Kootenai and therefore someone must translate for them. The ceremony deals with finding lost articles, healing, and seeing the future. One of the important spirits in this ceremony is the Owl.

Sun Dance:

The Kootenai and the Coeur d’Alene were the only Plateau tribes to adopt this Plains Indian ceremony. Among the Kootenai, the Sun Dance was conducted in the spring. According to oral tradition, the Kootenai obtained the Sun Dance from across the eastern ocean where the Sun Dance spirit lives.

The Kootenai Sun Dance focused on success in hunting. On the last day of the dance, the Sun Dance Chief was given lavish gifts, including horses and food. These were then redistributed to those in need.

Among the Kootenai, the Sun Dance was held in response to a vision. The vision would indicate the location of the ceremony as well as its timing.

In the Kootenai Sun Dance, members of the Crazy Dog Society are instructed to cut 30 lodge poles, twice as long as regular lodge poles, for the ceremony. In cutting down the Sun Dance center pole, both men and women are involved. When this tree falls, it must not touch the ground, but has to fall upon the shoulders of those who have pledged to dance.

Archaeologist Roger Tro, in his University of Montana M.A. Thesis writes:  “Another effect of the Sun Dance, and perhaps the most significant, was that it helped in maintaining a tribal bond between the Upper and Lower Kutenai. This was the only occasion during which these two divisions were consistently together and may easily have been a primary factor in maintaining tribal identity.”

Grizzly Bear Dance:

This was a Kootenai ceremony which was an early spring prayer to insure plenty for the coming year. The spirit of the grizzly bear was honored at the beginning of the berry season as berries are the food of the grizzly bear and through this dance the grizzly bear will show the people how to find other food.

Fir Tree Dance

 This was a Kootenai ceremony which was held only at times of great stress and crises. Musicologist Loran Olsen, in an article in Idaho’s Yesterdays, writes:  “Whenever the people faced famine a Fir Tree Dance was held to bring game back to the region.”

When game was scarce and the people were facing famine, the shamans would set up a long house for this dance. A tree would be set up in the middle of the long house and decorated with gifts. The shamans would then dance and talk to the tree. The fir tree was chosen for this dance since Deer lives in the fir forest.

Death:

Among the Kootenai, the corpse was wrapped in a robe and quickly taken to be buried by two people. Burial was usually in a talus slope. There was no ceremony or feast associated with burial. As a sign of mourning, spouses would cut their hair. If the deceased were a man who had died at home, the lodge poles, fir bough flooring, and tent pegs would be destroyed. If the deceased were a woman who had died at home, then the lodge covering would be destroyed.

Kootenai Fishing and Hunting

The Kootenai (also spelled Kutenai), whose homeland was in the area west of the Rocky Mountains in what is today western Montana, northern Idaho, and southeastern British Columbia, are generally divided into two groups: Upper Kootenai and Lower Kootenai, referring to their position on the drainage of the Kootenay River. The Upper Kootenai lived near the western face of the Rocky Mountains. By the  beginning of the nineteenth century, the Upper Kootenai were more dependent on the annual buffalo hunts while the Lower Kootenai depended more on fish for their subsistence and the buffalo played only a minor role in their economy.

Fishing:

Among the Lower Kootenai, weir fishing was considered a communal affair which was supervised and controlled by the Fishing Chief. According to H.H. Turney-High, in his Ethnography of the Kutenai:  “When the Fishing Chief, or some principal man deputized by him, returned from emptying the traps, he filled his own basket as a measure and gave this to the first lodge in the camp circle, the same to the next, and so on until the fish had been evenly distributed.”

Strangers in the camp received the same share as residents.

The Kootenai used a bone device for fishing. This consisted of two fine pieces of bone which were ground to a sharp point at one end. These two pieces were lashed together and then tied to a line. Bait would then be attached and the line cast out (or lowered through a hole in the ice when ice fishing). When the fish swallowed the bait, the line would be jerked to snare the bone device in the mouth.

Deer Hunting:

 The Kootenai usually conducted the communal deer hunts during the fall and winter, a time when the animals were fat and had heavy fur. The deer would be driven by beaters toward archers who would shoot them. It was possible to obtain the whole season’s supply of venison in a single day.

In level areas where the deer were known to be abundant, the Kootenai would use a fire surround. Some of the hunters would take pine-wood torches and move out in two directions to form a circle, setting fire to the brush and trees along the way. As the deer fled from the fire, they would arrive at the unfired opening where hunters with bows awaited them.

With regard to leadership during the Kootenai deer drives, Claude Schaeffer, in his University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. dissertation on The Subsistence Quest of the Kutenai: A Study of the Interaction of Culture and Environment, reports:  “During the season for holding deer drives, emphasis was placed upon the need for group cooperation rather than individual enterprise. The hunting leader assumed charge of the various activities connected with the drive.”

During this time, no one was allowed to leave camp to hunt alone: to do so would result in a reprimand and possibly banishment.

Among the Upper Kootenai, the meat taken in a hunt, including a communal hunt, belonged to the man who killed it. However, when the hunter turned the meat over to his wife for processing, it then became her exclusive property.

Among the Lower Kootenai, all of the game taken in the communal hunt was turned over to the Deer Chief who then distributed it equally among all of the lodges in the camp, irrespective of whether or not the men in the lodge had been a part of the hunt.

The Lower Kootenai would use a disguise in hunting deer only during periods in which the deer were scarce. The hunter would wear a decoy headdress and conceal his body behind a deerskin robe. Claude Schaeffer reports:  “Aided by his supernatural power, a hunter thus disguised was able to ‘see’ game, even though it was rendered invisible by unfriendly shamans of the adjacent Salish.”

Other Big Game Hunting:

 Among the Kootenai, elk hunting was an individual undertaking. Elk hunting was usually done after they had returned from the buffalo hunt. As the Kootenai did not care for the taste of elk meat, elk were taken primarily for their hides as it made good robes and tipi covers.

Another big game animal hunted by the Kootenai was the woodland caribou. The caribou were the first of the large game animals to reach prime condition in the spring and so were often hunted in April. According to ethnographer H.H. Turney-High:  “They were easy to kill, being so gentle and stupid that the hunter could go right up to them and discharge his arrows without their taking flight.”

The moose was the least important food resource among the Kootenai. Moose were sometimes taken in conjunction with elk and deer hunting, but little attempt was made to specifically hunt moose.

With regard to the Kootenai hunting mountain goats, H.H. Turney-High reports:  “The mountain goat is considered very fine food but, as it is a very wise animal and hard to kill, it remained of minor importance.”

With regard to the hunting of bighorn sheep among the Kootanai, Claude Schaeffer writes:  “Bighorn were hunted in winter by hunters climbing above them and driving them into drifts at lower levels. There the animals were easily stabbed.”

Among the Kootenai, bears, because of their supernatural importance, were taken only as a result of an accidental meeting.

Buffalo:

After the acquisition of the horse in the eighteenth century, some of the Kootenai bands would cross the Rocky Mountains to hunt buffalo on the Great Plains. The buffalo hunt was often an inter-tribal affair as alliances provided some protection against the war parties of the Blackfoot and other tribes. The Kootenai, for example, often joined with the Coeur d’Alene and Spokan for the buffalo hunt. The Flathead would hunt with the Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, and Spokane.  The hunt would usually last about four weeks and Kootenai hunters would usually bring back 2-3 horse pack loads of buffalo meat.

For the Kootenai, hunting buffalo meant that they would be traveling in enemy territory. Ethnographer H.H. Turney-High reports:  “Since the bison hunt was undertaken under military conditions, the band moved onto the Plains in warlike formation.”

The Kootenai would travel east of the mountains in the summer with 80 lodges. As a large group they felt that they could repel any attack against them. The hunting party included women and children. During the four-week hunt, many hunters would obtain four or five pack-horse loads of meat.

The Kootenai would usually have two tribal buffalo hunts each year. Each of the hunters limited themselves to killing no more than two buffalo per day as this was as much as could be butchered in a day. According to H.H. Turney-High:  “To kill more would have been a waste of natural resources.”

The buffalo hunt provided the Kootenai with a store of dried meat. The meat would be dried by hanging strips of meat on a fence-like structure around a fire. Some of the meat would be preserved by making it into pemmican. Unlike other tribes who made pemmican by mixing the meat with berries, the Kootenai used wild peppermint. Ethnographer H.H. Turney-High reports:  “It gives the pemmican a strong flavor which they enjoyed as a condiment, but its principal function was to serve as a preservative.”

Unlike some of the Plains tribes, the Kootenai did not use the buffalo’s entrails. According to H.H. Turney-High:  “They say they were never so poor that they had to eat such things, and it is probably true that they had enough vegetable and fruit foods to provide enough vitamins.” He also points out:  “They express great contempt for the Blackfoot for eating raw liver.”

Bird Hunting:

Among the Kootenai, cranes and geese were the preferred birds. Geese were hunted in the summer using the bow and arrow. Ducks were another staple which were taken using a square, moveable net. Fool hens (a grouse) were hunted by knocking them from the branches with a stick or by using a pole which had a noose attached which was then slipped over the bird’s neck.

The Kootenai did not hunt loons, but they watched loon behavior very closely as this would tell them about approaching storms.

Many Plateau tribes also hunted eagles for their feathers. This was done by digging a pit, covering it with brush, and laying a bait of meat on the roofing. Concealed in the pit, the hunter would wait for the eagle to come down for the bait and then seize it by the legs as it landed on the brush covering. Ethnographer H.H. Turney-High, reporting on the Kootenai, writes:  “Only persons with Eagle powers could hope to take the adult bird in this manner, as its powers of resistance are very real.”

First Nations News & Views: This Week – Code Talkers, Slurs and Silencing Native Tongues

Welcome to the third edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Each Sunday’s edition is published at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time, includes a short, original feature article, a look at some date relevant to American Indian history, and some briefs chosen to show the diversity of modern Indians living both on and off reservations in the United States and Canada. Last week’s edition is here.

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Cross Posted at Daily Kos

70 Years Ago This Month the Navajo ‘Code Talkers’ Were Born

Joe Morris Sr. walked away from us on July 17. Keith Little walked away from us on Jan. 3. Jimmy Begay walked away from us Feb. 1. They were Navajo “Code Talkers,” three of the tribe’s 421 warriors who enlisted in the U.S. Marines to learn how to give Japanese intelligence headaches. Only a handful of those who joined up in the early months of 1942 remain and will soon also “walk away from us,” a common Navajo expression for dying. On Jan. 29, the last surviving member of the original 29 enlistees, Chester Nez, celebrated his 92nd birthday. Without them, their commanders and other officers have said, American casualties in battles for Japanese-held islands would have been far more ghastly than they were.

Those 29 and all the other Code Talkers were sworn to secrecy in case the code had to be used again. It was, in Korea and Vietnam. It was never broken. In 1968, the code and the story of its crucial role were declassified, freeing those who invented and used it to tell their experiences. Since then, more than 500 books have been written, several documentaries have been produced, Hollywood made a version called Windtalkers, a film that spends more of its time following Nick Cage around than it does Adam Beach (Saulteaux), who for his role spent six months learning Diné, the Navajo language. Famed sculptor Oreland Joe (Navajo-Ute) created the Navajo Code Talker Memorial at the Navajo Tribal Park & Veterans Memorial at Window Rock, Ariz. Oral histories were taken.

The original 29 Navajo “code talkers” at Camp Pendleton in 1942.

Yet, although President Ronald Reagan declared Aug. 14, 1982, National Navajo Code Talkers Day, it wasn’t until Dec. 21, 2000, 56 years after they first saw action, that the five surviving original Code Talkers and relatives of the other 24 received Congressional Gold Medals for their innovativeness and heroism. The other Code Talkers were awarded Congressional Silver Medals. The belated awards contained a deep irony. Many of these men who had saved untold numbers of American lives by using their native language had been punished for speaking that same language as children in boarding schools.  

It may come as a surprise to many who are acquainted with the story of the Code Talkers that the Navajos weren’t the only Indians used for code work during World War II. And they weren’t the first. The Army even used eight Chocktaw speakers to confuse German troops in 1918. In the the next war, the Army in both the Pacific and Europe used Lakota speakers, Oneidas, Chippewas, Pimas, Hopis,Choctaws, Sac and Fox and Comanches. But those Indians simply talked to each other in their Native language. The first 29 Navajo Code Talkers developed a real code. They could not even be understood by other speakers of Navajo.

The Marines had never used Indians for this purpose. But Philip Johnston, a white man who had grown up on the lands of the Navajo Nation, approached the Corps in mid-February with an idea. Why not use Navajos and members of other large tribes for military communications? Show us, the Marines said. So Johnston brought four Navajos with him to Camp Elliott, Calif., for a demonstration. They were given some military messages. They substituted some Navajo words and then, in pairs, went into separate rooms and communicated by radio. Gen. Clayton Vogel witnessed the success, the decoded messages were accurate renditions of their English originals. He recommended to his superiors that 200 Navajos be recruited.

It took some high-level meetings before a decision was made. But, in April, a pilot program was initiated and in May 29 of the 30 Navajos recruited showed up at Camp Pendleton near Oceanside, Calif., for seven weeks of basic training. They came from places named Chinle, Kayenta, Blue Canyon and Kaibeto. Many had never before been off the reservation.

Haida Whale Divider

They developed a dictionary with words for military terms and then they memorized them. The Navajos could encode, transmit and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds. Machines of the era took 30 minutes to do the same thing. Before the code, the fluent-in-English Japanese intercepted and deciphered codes easily. The Americans developed complex code, but these took a long time to decode, which could cost lives.

Initially, the Navajo code comprised about 200 assigned words, but by the end of the war, there were 800. Here is a small  sample from the many to be found at Official Website of the Navajo Codetalkers:

Dive Bomber  –  Gini – Sparrow Hawk

Torpedo Plane – Tas-chizzie – Swallow

Observation Plane – ine-ahs-jah – Owl

Fighter Plane  – Da-he-tih-hi  – Hummingbird

Bomber Plane – Jav-sho – Buzzard

Patrol Plane – Ga- gih – Crow

Transport Plane – Astah – Eagle

The code was more complicated than mere word substitutions. The fear was that some sharp Japanese linguist might catch on to that soon enough. So words also could be spelled out using Navajo words representing individual letters of the alphabet. The Navajo words “wol-la-chee” (ant), “be-la-sana” (apple) and “tse-nill” (axe) all stood for the letter “a.” To say “Navy” in Navajo Code, they could say “tsah (needle)  wol-la-chee (ant)  ah-keh-di- glini (victor)  tsah-ah-dzoh (yucca).” Thus, using assigned words or the alphabet code, they could encrypt anything. By not repeating the same word all the time for the same letter, they made it next to impossible to crack the code. In fact, it never was.

Navajo Code Talkers stand and salute as the colors are posted during Code Talkers Day event in Window Rock, Ariz., Aug. 14, 2008. Photo courtesy of Morris Bitsie

Navajo code talkers were on the ground with their fellow Marines in every major action in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. They proved their value at Guadalcanal, at Tarawa and at the 36-day siege on Iwo Jima. After that immensely bloody battle, Major Howard Connor, a 5th Marine Division signal officer, said: “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.” He had commanded six Navajo code talkers during the first two days of the battle. They sent more than 800 messages, all without error.

Their participation went unsung for decades because of the secrecy. The world they returned to was not unlike the one they left. Federal policies which had improved somewhat during the New Deal era again focused on assimilation and terminating reservations. Many returning veterans were denied the right to vote even though they had supposedly been made full citizens by the Snyder Act in 1924.

Like other veterans of World War II, most of these men, many of them teenagers when they enlisted, have already walked away from us. The death of Keith Little leaves a big hole because, as a long-time leader of the Navajo Code Talkers Organization, he was the powerhouse behind the National Navajo Code Talkers Museum & Veterans Center project:

The museum is dedicated to the overarching purpose of providing historical clarity, accuracy and context in preserving the extraordinary contribution of the Navajo Code Talkers for future generations. Their story will be told in compelling detail through an immersive learning environment, powerful interactive exhibits and activities, living demonstrations of the Navajo code and culture in the larger perspective of modern history. The museum and integrated education programs will serve as the national repository for the once-secret military voice code and the legendary skill, endurance, courage and ingenuity of the Navajo Code Talkers.

The project also will include a veterans center for all Armed Forces veterans and active-duty personnel.

New Mexico State Sen. John Pinto has introduced a bill in the legislature there to appropriate $175,000 for the project. In October, just two months before he died, Little testified in Santa Fe before the Senate’s Military & Veterans Affairs Committee seeking to revive the bill, which was languishing. The bill received a unanimious “DO PASS” from the Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee on the last day of January and has been  forwarded to the Finance Committee.

Donations to support the Museum & Veterans project that Mr. Little envisioned and was very much committed to can be made through the website: www.navajocodetalkers.org or by contacting Wynette Arviso at 505-870-9167 or via email wynette@navajocodetalkers.org.

The Code Talker Emblem

Code Talker Emblem

The emblem of the Code Talker represents a communication device used by two young Navajo boys called the Hero Twins. The device allowed them to secretly communicate with each other. The legendary Hero Twins were sent to the Sun to seek a weapon that would kill the monsters attacked the Navajo. The Sun gave them the Thunderbolt.

The Code Talker emblem and is also pictured on the reverse side of the Congressional Gold and Silver Medals.

This Week in American Indian History in 1890

The Indians must conform to the “white man’s ways” peaceably if they will, forcibly if they must. They must adjust themselves to their environment, and conform their mode of living substantially to our civilization. This civilization may not be the best possible but it is the best the Indians can get.

-(Bureau of Indian Affairs Report, 1889)

On February 11, 1890, half of the land on the five reservations making up the remnants of the Great Sioux Reservation was opened up to the public, continuing what was by then already a 40-year-old process that would continue to shrink Lakota tribal lands well into the 1960s. Both the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and later Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 reduced the area in which the Lakotas (and other tribes) were allowed to live. But, everything to what is now the boundary between Wyoming and South Dakota lying west of the Missouri River, including the sacred Black Hills, was to be theirs forever. Years of government pressure had failed to persuade many Lakota to stay within the reservation boundaries. This was especially true of the Oglala and Hunkpapa, whose chief and holy man, Tathanka Iyotake (Sitting Bull), had refused to sign the 1868 Treaty or live on the designated lands.

The shrinking of the Lakota Nation

Click
for a larger version of this map.

When a thousand soldiers under George A. Custer confirmed the presence of gold in the Black Hills in 1874, a deluge of miners staked claims on reservation land, which led to repeated clashes. Those clashes and refusal of thousands of Lakota to keep to the reservation ended in the Battle of the Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn River) in June 1876, a Pyrrhic victory for the Lakota. Just four months after Custer and his men died in Medicine Tail Coulee, Washington imposed the Treaty with the Sioux Nation of 1876. Under the provisions of the 1868 treaty, terms could only be changed with approval of three-fourths of Lakota adult men. Nowhere near that number signed in 1876. But the treaty was imposed anyway, stripping away a 50-mile-wide swath of land in what is now western South Dakota, including the Black Hills.

Preparing for statehood, Dakotans lobbied Washington for a cutting up of what was left of the Great Sioux Reservation into smaller reservations, grabbing nine million acres and opening land to homesteaders. In 1888, a federal commission sought to collect signatures from three-fourths of Lakota adult males. They were unsuccessful. The next year, they stepped up the pressure but still the Lakota refused to assent. Spokesmen John Grass, Gall, and Mad Bear opposed it, and though not chosen by his people to speak, Sitting Bull did speak and urged everyone to not be intimidated into signing away the land.

But enough signatures were obtained and, in 1889, Congress passed the Sioux Bill, opening the reservation to non-Indians and making acreage allotments to individual Indians with the intent of breaking up tribal land held in common and ending reservations entirely. Non-violent resistance continued after the law took effect in February 1890. Consequently, Sitting Bull was murdered during an arrest in mid-December and the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee came two weeks later. After that, resistance ended. More land was taken in 1910.

Many non-Lakota homesteads were abandoned in the 1930s, but instead of restoring these lands to the tribes, Washington turned them over to the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Even more land was taken for the Badlands Bombing Range during World War II. When the Air Force declared it was unneeded in the 1960s, it was transferred to the NPS instead of being returned to communal tribal ownership.

-Meteor Blades

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South Dakota May Adopt Flag with Medicine Wheel Motif

Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, one of the 24 Democrats in the 105-member South Dakota legislature, is sponsoring a bill to choose a new flag that is different from the state seal. The one he has in mind was designed Dick Termes in 1989 for the 100th anniversary of South Dakota’s admission to the Union. It’s flashy and contains a stylized medicine wheel inside a sunburst. Medicine wheels are also known as sacred hoops. As described in a June 2007 article in Indian Country written by Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa, Santee Dakota, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo)

The hoop is symbolic of “the never-ending cycle of life.” It has no beginning and no end. Tribal healers and holy men have regarded the hoop as sacred and have always used it in their ceremonies. Its significance enhanced the embodiment of healing ceremonies.

The best known medicine wheel is the 300-400-year-old, Indian-constructed 80-foot stone circle in the Bighorn Range in Wyoming.

Possible choice for new South Dakota flag

Termes’s creation was forgotten 23 years ago. But he recently posted it on his Facebook page. And, in yet another example of how social media can turn obscurity into fame overnight, his design could soon be flying over public buildings everywhere in South Dakota. So, in a state known for the rapacity of the Indian wars fought on its soil, in the land of the Black Hills whose ownership is still in dispute, a place where ferocious anti-Indian racism still thrives in voter suppression and a hundred other ways, a new flag may soon incorporate a Native design as an expression of what Hunhoff calls a symbol of unity.

Bison rancher Ed Iron Cloud, III (Oglala), one of three Indian representatives in the legislature, said such a flag might show unity and coexistence.

– Meteor Blades

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Miranda Washinawatok
Miranda Washinawatok

Menominee 7th Grader Suspended for Speaking Her Native Language

The student body at Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano, Wisc., is more than 60 percent American Indian and the Menominee reservation is just six miles away. Twelve-year-old Miranda Washinawatok (Menominee) was having a casual conversation with her Menominee friends, as were many other groups in their home room class while the teacher, Julie Gurta, worked on progress reports. Washinawatok, who is fluent in her native language, translated “hello” into “posoh” and “I love you” into “Ketapanen” for her friends. Gurta abruptly walked up to the group, slammed her hand onto Washinawatok’s desk and said: “You are not to be speaking like that. How do I know you’re not saying something bad and how would you like it if I spoke Polish and you didn’t understand.”

Gurta had told the group once before that they could not speak Menominee. She did not ask what the girls were saying. Later, another teacher told Washinawatok that she did not appreciate her upsetting Gurta because “she is like a daughter to me.” By the time school ended Washinawatok had been informed by Assistant Coach Billie Joe Duquaine, a preschool teacher at the school, that she was suspended from the next basketball game because of an “attitude issue.” Washinawatok told her mother she had not talked back, argued with Gurta or otherwise behaved badly.

According to Tanaes Washinawatok, Miranda’s mother: “Miranda knows quite a bit of  Menominee. We speak it. My mother, Karen Washinawatok, is the director of the Language and Culture Commission of the Menominee Tribe. She has a degree in linguistics from the University of Arizona’s College of Education-AILDI American Indian Language Development Institute. She is a former tribal chair and is strong into our culture.”

Washinawatok’s mother and Tribal legislators Rebecca Alegria and Orman Waukau Jr. met with Principal Dan Minter and the teachers. A verbal apology was given to Washinawatok and a public apology was promised.

However, the letter sent home with students was not the agreed-upon apology to Washinawatok, the family and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.

Principal Dan Minter, however, instead sent students home Wednesday with a letter addressed to Sacred Heart’s parents and families. In it, he apologized for allowing a “perception” of cultural discrimination to exist, but denied the reprimand and benching – which are not mentioned specifically – were the “result of any discriminatory action or attitude and did not happen as a negative reaction to the cultural heritage of any of our students.” […] Minter said the incident was the result of “a breakdown of our internal processes designed to offer protection to student, faculty, staff, volunteers and administrators.”

“I regret if there was any perception by a student or family that this in any way promoted an atmosphere of cultural discrimination,” he said in the letter. “If that perception was allowed to exist, then it is deeply regretted by Sacred Heart School and for that we apologize.”

Sacred Heart Catholic School was established in November 1881. One hundred thirty-one years later, it is finally creating a awareness program to promote cultural diversity, which will include education for both the students and staff.

News & Views h/t to Bill in MD

– navajo

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Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero

Lansing Mayor Slurs Indians in Casino Dispute:

On one side are the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa (Ojibwe) Indians and the city of Lansing, Mich. On the other are the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians. The four are in a clash over a proposed $245-million casino in downtown Lansing, the state capital.

For Lansing, adding a local casino to the more than two dozen now operating in the state means an estimated 1,500 permanent jobs and 700 construction jobs and more tax revenue to help revitalize the city. For the Sault Ste. Marie Chippewas, it gives an off-reservation foothold from which to expand into southern Michigan, adding to the five Kewadin casinos the tribe owns on the state’s Upper Peninsula. For the Saginaws and the Nottawaseppis, it means competition for their casinos in Battle Creek and Mt. Pleasant and, in their view, is a violation of the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act (IGRA). For Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero (D), avidly in favor of the casino, it has meant getting a remedial lesson regarding racist outbursts.

At a fund-raising breakfast, Bernero showed up wearing a bulls-eye taped to his back, implying he is the target of arrows. According to people at the fund-raiser, he referred to James Nye (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians), a spokesman for casino opponents, as “Chief Chicken Little.” That generated calls for apologies. Bernero obliged with one of those no-apology apologies to “any and all who were offended. […] but none of my remarks were directed toward Native Americans, and nothing I said can fairly be construed as a racial slur, despite our opponents’ attempt to spin it that way.”

In a statement from the two Tribes, Saginaw Chippewa Chief Dennis Kequom said Bernero’s presentation clearly was racial: “Racial slurs by government officials against Native Americans conjure images of a bygone era of destructive policies that resulted in centuries of genocide and poverty.” Kequom called on other Native American leaders-and particularly those of the Sault Tribe-to condemn Bernero’s actions. He also told the mayor to get some sensitivity training.

Under the plan, the tribe would buy land from the city to build the casino, which would need approval from the Department of the Interior. The Saginaws and Nottawaseppis issued a statement saying the casino “stands no chance under federal law and administrative rules governing land into trust acquisitions for ‘gaming eligible’ lands.” The statement was accompanied by a letter from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, Atty. Gen. Bill Schuette and Philip N. Hogen, a former chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission. Hogen said the Sault Tribe’s actions were an attempt “to circumvent the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and applicable state laws against illegal gambling. […] The distant sites do not constitute ‘Indian lands,’ as defined by IGRA and therefore Michigan state gambling laws apply.”

– Meteor Blades

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David Slagger is the first member of the

Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians to serve

in the Maine House of Representatives. In

his hand is the golden eagle feather he held

when he was sworn in by Gov. Paul LePage

last month. (Gabor Degre)

Maliseet Added to Maine’s Unique System of Tribal Representatives in the Legislature

He can’t vote in the Maine House of Representatives, but David Slagger of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians can make speeches, propose legislation with a co-sponsor and sit on committees. He is the first member of his 800-person band to be chosen as a tribal representative to the legislature since the state approved the position in 2010. The Maliseets were not federally recognized until 1980.

Slagger joins non-voting representatives from Maine’s two biggest tribes, the Passamaquoddy and the Penobscot nation. Both have sent representatives to the legislature for years. His cross-borders tribe is part of the larger Maliseet Nation of New Brunswick, Canada, and together with the Passamaquoddy, Penobscots, Abenaki and Mi’kmaq, form the Wabanaki Confederacy, which means people of the “dawn land.” Maine is unique among the states in having tribal representatives in its legislature.

Slagger told the Bangor Daily News that he has been involved in tribal issues for 25 years. “In public service, it is the people’s voice that matters,” he told a reporter. “But for a long time the Maliseet people have not had a voice. This is a good first step.” He was appointed by Chief Brenda Commander after interviews by the tribal council. For now Slagger has a seat on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and sits in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses to get a good picture of what the issues are in the legislature. He has a couple of ideas for new laws. He would outlaw people from pretending to be Indians so they can sell arts and crafts and other Indian-branded products. He also wants the state to create a repository for bird feathers and allow Indians to use them in their crafts.

Slagger lives in Kenduskeag with his wife (a Mi’kmaq) and their three children. You can listen to some of his interviews here.

– Meteor Blades

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Kootenai Tribal Chairperson Jennifer Porter

Kootenai Get ETC Cards for Easier Border Crossings

As a consequence of the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was enacted. This requires all travelers, including U.S. citizens, to present passports or other secure documents upon entering the United States. Technology, including Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, are now being used to enhance identification documents and speed the processing of cross-border traffic.

Beginning in 2008, U.S. Customs and Border Protection began working with federally recognized Indian tribes to produce an “Enhanced Tribal Card” showing citizenship and identity that would be acceptable for entry into the United States. Under a memorandum of agreement, a secure photo identification document with embedded RFID verification would be issued to enrolled tribal members whether they were U.S. or Canadian citizens.

The Idaho Kootenai tribe, whose 142 members live on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border, were the first to sign such a memorandum in 2009. The Idaho band is one of seven making up the Kootenai Nation. Their ETC officially became a valid form of I.D. to enter the U.S. on Jan. 31. So far, 11 other tribes have applied for an ETC memorandum of agreement. Besides the Kootenai, CBP has signed an agreement with five others: the Pascua Yaqui of Arizona, the Seneca of New York, the Tohono O’odham of Arizona, the Coquille of Oregon and the Hydaburg of Alaska.

Kootenai Tribal Chairperson Jennifer Porter said, “The Kootenai ETC allows our tribal citizens to continue to travel within Kootenai Territory on both sides of the United States-Canada boundary to visit family and practice our culture while helping to secure the border for the greater good of all citizens.”

– Meteor Blades

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Johnson Holy Rock, Prominent Lakota Language Preservationist Passes: A World War II veteran, Lakota Language Consortium founder and past Oglala Sioux Tribe president who met with John F. Kennedy in the White House has died. His grandfathers traveled with Crazy Horse and his father was 11 years old when Custer attacked the Lakota-Cheyenne encampment at the Little Bighorn. He was featured in A Thunder-Being Nation. In 2005, he recorded the telling his life story in Lakota.

– navajo

Frybread Mockumentary Spoofs Importance of Which Tribe Makes the BEST: In the comedy More than Frybread, 22 American Indians, representing all federally recognized tribes in Arizona, convene in Flagstaff to compete for the first-ever Arizona Frybread Championship. The film has been selected to show at the Sedona International Film Festival and the Durango Independent Film Festival in 2012.

– navajo

Tribal Identity Film Selected for Sundance: OK BREATHE AURALEE is writer/director Brooke Swaney’s (Blackfeet & Salish) NYU thesis film. It stars Kendra Mylnechuk (Inuit) and Nathaniel Arcand (Cree) with music composed by Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache). A Native identity film about an adopted woman discovering her past was selected for the Sundance Film Festival 2012.

– navajo

Daugaard’s Staff Attacks NPR Report on Indian Foster Care Scam: South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who personally profited from placing Lakota children in non-indian foster homes calls the NPR report flawed and useless. But two members of the U.S. House of Representatives thought the NPR report was valid enough to call for an investigation.

– navajo

Does Spam Cause Diabetes in Native Populations?: The researchers said that their study could not prove that eating processed meats was to blame for the increased risk of diabetes. I suspect highly refined carbs are also to blame since low income and need for long shelf life products are prevalent on our reservations.

– navajo

National Marine Fisheries Service Sued For Not Protecting Our Northwest Coast: A coalition of conservation and American Indian groups filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to mitigate harm to marine mammals from U.S. Navy warfare training exercises along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.

– navajo

red_black_rug_design2


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

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

The 1855 Hell Gate Treaty

When the United States divided Oregon Territory into Washington Territory and Oregon Territory in 1853, western Montana was included in Washington Territory. President Millard Fillmore appointed Isaac I. Stevens as the territorial governor of Washington. Stevens immediately began an aggressive plan to deprive the Indian nations within the territory of title to their lands. Western Montana was not high on his priority list and so he did not arrive there to “negotiate” treaties until 1855.

Governor Stevens considered the western Montana tribes-the Flathead (also called the Bitterroot Salish), the Pend d’Oreilles (also called the Upper Kalispel), and the Kootenai-to be unimportant. His goal was to consolidate them, together with other tribes in eastern Washington Territory, on a single reservation.  

At the treaty council, held near the present-day city of Missoula, the head chief for the Flathead was Victor, the head chief for the Pend d’Oreilles was Alexander, and the head chief of the Kootenai was Michelle. The Pend d’Oreilles chief Big Canoe also played an important role in the negotiations. Stevens insisted that all three tribes be treated as a single nation because he assumed that they were all Salish. He was unaware that the Kootenai are not a Salish-speaking people.

The Kootenai were included in the treaty council because they had one band living on the western shore of Flathead Lake. However, the Kootenai speak a language which is unrelated to the Salish languages of the Flathead, the Pend d’Oreille, and the other tribes in eastern Washington Territory. Not only are they culturally distinct from the other tribes, they did not have a peaceful relationship with the Flathead.

Following the standard practice of American treaty councils, the Americans simply appointed Victor as the head chief over the three tribes. The Americans preferred to deal with a single chief, preferably a puppet dictator whom they could control.

The American plan for a single reservation was not met with enthusiasm. Stevens proposed that the reservation for the three tribes be created in the Jocko Valley, the homeland of the Pend d’Oreilles. However, the Flathead did not want to leave their homeland in the Bitterroot Valley nearly a hundred miles to the south. When Chief Victor refused to sign the treaty until it included provisions for a separate reservation for this people in the Bitterroot Valley, Governor Stevens called him an old woman and a dog. Victor replies:

“I sit quiet and before me you give my land away.”

Chief Alexander, a Christian, favored the treaty as it would give his people an opportunity to learn more about Christianity. He did, however, accuse Governor Stevens of “talking like a Blackfoot.” This was not a compliment.

Red Wolf (Flathead) questioned the wisdom of combining the three tribes and attempted to explain to the Americans that each of the tribes is different. The Americans turned their deaf ears toward his words and continued to act upon their delusion that all Indian cultures were the same.

Big Canoe, a Pend d’Oreilles, pointed out that his people had offered the hand of friendship to the Americans since first contact. He questioned why there was a need for a treaty, saying that treaties were used to settle differences between enemies. While he still offered friendship, he felt that the Americans did not have the right to come into his territory and take away his lands.

While the 1855 Treaty of Hell Gate established what would become the Flathead Reservation in western Montana, it also acknowledged the rights of the Flathead to remain in their homeland in the Bitterroot Valley. According to the treaty, which was theoretically the supreme law under the Constitution, the Bitterroot Valley was to be closed to non-Indian settlement.

As with the other treaties negotiated by Stevens, the Hell Gate Treaty states:

“The exclusive right of taking fish in all the streams running through or bordering the reservation is further secured to said Indians; as also the right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed places … together with the privilege of hunting, gathering roots and berries…”

The assembled chiefs signed the treaty agreement believing that the United States would protect them from Blackfoot raids and that the government would provide them with generous monetary payments and annual appropriations. The chiefs were unfamiliar with American concepts of land ownership and both the treaty and the discussions regarding land ownership were poorly translated.

Gone-to-the-Spirits, a Kootenai Berdache

( – promoted by navajo)

The Columbia Plateau is the geographic region that lies between the Cascade Mountains to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east. It covers parts of present-day Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and British Columbia. It is a country that includes large rivers, such as the Columbia, semiarid plains, and forested mountains. Indian people have lived in this area for many thousands of years.

With regard to language, there are several major language families represented in the area.  To the north there are many Salish-speaking tribes, such as the Pend d’Oreilles, Coeur d’Alene, Kalispel, Spokane, and Flathead. To the south of these groups there are Sahaptian-speaking tribes, such as the Nez Perce, Walla Walla, and Umatilla. Linguistically, the Salish and Sahaptian tribes are related to tribes on the Pacific coasts which suggests that there was an ancient migration from the coast inland, probably following the rivers.

The Kootenai, whose aboriginal homeland included parts of British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, and Alberta, are an unusual Plateau tribe. Linguistically, Kootenai is classified as a language isolate: it is not related to any other language. In addition, it appears that the Kootenai migrated into the Plateau area from the Great Plains to the east of the Rocky Mountains.  

While each of the tribes of the Plateau area is unique, they do share a number of cultural characteristics. One of these is a long tradition of prophets. Some people would undergo a great personal and spiritual transformation. One common theme is for a person to die and then return to life. It was not uncommon for people, both men and women, who had had such transformations to be able to predict the future. In other words, they became prophets.

Some prophets, such as Smohalla and Jake Hunt, became known to non-Indians, but most were known only to the Indian people.

Another feature of Plateau culture, and one that is shared with Indian cultures in other areas, is the view that the dividing line between men and women is not rigid. It was not uncommon for an individual to be born with male genitalia and a female spirit, or vice versa. In living with their internal harmony and balance, it was common for these people to change their gender identities. During the nineteenth century, the fur traders would refer to these individuals as berdache.

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, a child was born in a Kootenai band in western Montana and southeastern British Columbia. She was given the name One-Standing-Lodge-Pole-Woman and she grew into a large, heavy-boned woman. It is said that there were some who doubted the she would ever marry, but then she surprised them by marrying a Norwester (a fur trader with the North West Company) about 1807. Marriage between fur traders and Indian women was a common practice at this time and was encouraged by the trading companies as a way of establishing kinship ties with the Indians. Among the Europeans, this type of marriage was called an “in-country marriage” as it was done without a Christian ceremony and it was not expected to be of a long duration. While the Europeans viewed this as a special kind of marriage, and one that differed from the European norm, from an Indian perspective this was a marriage like any other. Among the Plateau people at this time, there was neither a religious ceremony for marriage nor an expectation that such a union was last forever.

Like other Indian wives, One-Standing-Lodge-Pole-Woman went with her husband, Augustin Boisverd, when he left Kootenai country.

Later she returned to the Kootenai without her fur trader husband. When she returned to her own people she told them that she had been transformed into a man and that her name was now Gone-to-the-Spirits (Kauxuma-nupika). As was traditional among people who had undergone a spiritual transformation, including receiving a strong vision, Gone-to-the-Spirits began to dance out the story of her sexual transformation. As evidence of this transformation, Gone-to-the-Spirits now wore a man’s shirt with leggings and breechclout, and like other Kootenai men, carried a gun as well as bow and arrow.

Just like those prophets who had died and returned to life, Gone-to-the-Spirits claimed to have gained a great deal of spiritual power through the transformation from woman to man. As with others who had gone through transformations, Gone-to-the-Spirits had gained the power of prophesy. Soon the prophesies of Kauxuma-nupika spread through the Columbia and Fraser River Plateaus and contributed to rise of other religious movements in these areas.

Since Gone-to-the-Spirits was now living as a man among the Kootenai, like a Kootenai man he/she sought out a wife. After a while, he/she found a woman who had been abandoned by her husband. The two moved in together and, in Kootenai custom, were considered to be married. While many Kootenai apparently tried to find out the intimate details of this relationship, neither Gone-to-the-Spirits or his/her wife would talk about them.

As with other relationships-both European and Indian, and heterosexual and homosexual-the relationship deteriorated after a while. Before long, Gone-to-the-Spirits was openly beating his/her wife, a behavior that was not viewed with favor.

About this time, Gone-to-the-Spirits also began having problems with gambling. After he lost his bow, quiver, and canoe because of gambling, his wife then left Gone-to-the-Spirits for good. While Gone-to-the-Spirits had gained great spiritual power in her transformation into a man, she apparently acquired a number of short-comings that were often associated with men.

As a woman who had become a man, Gone-to-the-Spirits went on horse raids. While crossing a river on one raid, her brother noticed that she still had female genitalia even though she had claimed to have become a man physically. After this incident, she again changed her name to Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly (Qánqon Kámek Klaúla).

Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly then married another woman, but this relationship also soured. Once again his wife left and demonstrated the human shortcomings of this prophet.  

By 1811 Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly had gained a reputation among the tribes of the Plateau area as a prophet who foretold of both disease and the coming of a time of plenty. According to oral tradition, the spiritual power of Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly was intensified when he died and then returned to life to tell of the things he had seen.

In 1811, Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly and his wife traveled down the Columbia River to Astoria, Oregon. On this journey, they acted as couriers for the North West Company, carrying letters from Kettle Falls to Astoria, Oregon.

Along the way down the Columbia River Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly would inform the tribes they encountered that he/she had the power to introduce smallpox. While this was probably intended to increase his power, both the Chinook and the Clatsop made plans to kill him or to capture him and sell him into slavery. In this way they hoped to remove the danger of smallpox.

While in Astoria, Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly made a number of maps of the interior for the fur traders.

On the way back up the Columbia River, Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly claimed that he had been sent by the Great White Chief with a message for the people: gifts of goods and implements would be sent to them. Furthermore, the traders had cheated them by selling them goods instead of giving them to them as directed by the Great White Chief. This tended to create some bad will for the traders.

In 1837, Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly went on a raiding party with a war party of young Kootenai warriors. The war party failed to locate any enemy and so were returning home when they were ambushed by the Blackfoot. One Kootenai warrior hid in the dense brush and later told the tale of the massacre.

According to oral tradition, Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly was wounded several times before the Blackfoot warriors could subdue him. They held Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly in a sitting position and slashed at his midsection with their knives. Each time, the wound would close and heal as soon as the knife blade was withdrawn. Finally, one Blackfoot warrior slashed open his chest and quickly reached inside to remove a piece of his heart. This was a coup de grace that was reserved for only the most respected of enemies. Following this, Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly was unable to heal the wound and died after being tortured for more than half a day.

Sometime later, when the Kootenai reached the bodies of their slain warriors, they found that the body of Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly was undisturbed by wild animals or birds.