Apache Spirituality

Bands or tribes known collectively as the Apache ranged widely throughout the American Southwest at the time of the first Spanish exploration and invasion. The Apache are Athabascan-speaking and migrated into the Southwest from Canada perhaps as early as 850 CE, but most likely between the late 1200s and early 1400s. In her entry on the Western Apache in the Encyclopedia of North American Indians, Elizabeth Brandt writes:

“Evidence from archaeological sites suggests a date around A.D. 1450 for the entry of Athabaskan peoples into the Southwest, but some scholars call for earlier dates.”

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Cherokee Spirituality

Among the Cherokee, spirituality (religion) was embedded into everyday life and was not seen as something apart. In her book Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835, historian Theda Perdue writes:

“The Cherokees did not separate spiritual and physical realms but regarded them as one, and they practiced their religion in a host of private daily observances as well as in public ceremonies.”

Cosmology refers to the concept of the general order of the universe. The cosmos was seen as being composed of three levels: The Upper World which was the domain of past time and predictability and which was represented by fire; the Under World which controlled the future and change and which was associated with water; and This World which was the domain of human beings who mediate between the Upper World and the Lower World.

In This World, human beings do not have dominion over plants, animals, and the rest of creation. Instead, they live with creation, attempting to maintain balance within This World. Spiritual power can be found throughout creation. Thus plants and animals have spiritual power, as do rivers, caves, mountains, and other land forms. In their book The Columbia Guide to American Indians of the Southeast, Theda Perdue and Michael Green report:

“These features served as mnemonic devices to remind them of the beginning of the world, the spiritual forces that inhabited it, and their responsibilities to it.”

Sacred Fire

One of the common elements of the spirituality among the Indians of the Southeast is the sacred fire as a symbol of purity and the earthly representative of the sun. Among the Cherokees, the fire and the sun were viewed as old women. Out of respect, the fire was fed a portion of each meal, for if she were neglected she might take vengeance on them.

While the sacred fire represents the sun and the Upper World, water (especially water in springs and rivers) represents the Under World. Among the Cherokee, it is important to keep these two elements apart and therefore water is never poured on the sacred fire.

For the Cherokee, the sacred fire is seen as a grandmother and is human in thought, emotions, consciousness, and intent. Anthropologist Peter Nabokov, in his book Where the Lightning Strikes: The Lives of American Indian Sacred Places, writes:

“Fire was the medium of transformation, turning offerings into gifts for spiritual intercessors for the four quarters of the earth.”

The sacred fires are fed with the wood from the seven sacred trees: beech, birch, hickory, locust, maple, oak, and sourwood.


Among the Southeastern tribes, such as the Cherokee, the idea of balance is important. There is a spiritual view that the world is a system of groups which oppose and balance one another. In her book Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835, historian Theda Perdue says:

“In this belief system, women balanced men just as summer balanced winter, plants balanced animals, and farming balanced hunting.”

Illness and Healing

It was believed that illness was caused primarily by animals. Thus healing also had to come from animals. In his book A Law of Blood: The Primitive Law of the Cherokee Nation, John Reid reports:

“All human diseases were imposed by animals in revenge for killing and each species had invented a disease with which to plague man.”

The fish and reptiles, for example, would retaliate against humans by sending bad dreams that would cause them to lose their appetite, sicken, and die. To prevent disease, hunters would apologize to the animals which they killed and explain their great need.


An important concept in Southeastern Indian spirituality is that of purity. Maintaining purity involves the avoidance of pollution. Pollution occurs when things from two different categories – such as fire and water – are allowed to physically mix. Thus the maintenance of purity involves the separation of opposing forces or items.

One of the ways of overcoming pollution is to bathe early in the morning before eating any food. Among the Southeastern tribes, everyone went to the river in the morning to bathe. This ceremonial bathing was done year-round, even when the bathers had to break the ice on the river.

Green Corn Ceremony

One of the important ceremonies among the people of the Southeastern Woodlands was the Green Corn Ceremony or puskita (which became Busk in English) which was an expression of gratitude for a successful corn crop. The ceremony was held after the harvest and was a time for renewing life. Old fires were put out, the villages were cleaned, and worn pottery was broken. This was a time of forgiveness: debts, grudges, and adultery were forgiven. According to Theda Perdue and Michael Green:

“Held when the crop first became edible, the Green Corn Ceremony celebrated both the crop and the communitarian ethic that shaped their lives.”

The Green Corn Ceremony was also associated with the quest for spiritual purity. Fasting – one of the principle ways of attaining purity – was an important element in the ceremony.

Sacred Places

Land often has special spiritual significance for Indian people. Among the Cherokee there are a group of spirits known as the Immortals who are invisible, except when they want to be seen. The Immortals have town houses within the mountains, and especially within the bald mountains (those mountains on whose peaks no timber grows). The Immortals like to drum and dance. The rumbling coming from the mountains is evidence of the drumming and dancing of the Immortals within the mountains.

The Cherokee view the Little Tennessee River as a benevolent spirit whose head rests in the Great Smokies and whose feet touch the Tennessee River. According to anthropologist Peter Nabokov:

“For Cherokee who bathed in his body, who drank from him and invoked his curative powers, the Long Man always helped them out.”

Nabokov also writes:

“At every critical turn in a man’s life, the river’s blessings were imparted through the ‘going to the water’ rite, which required prayers that were lent spiritual force with ‘new water’ from free-flowing streams.”

Ute Spirituality

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

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

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

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

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

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

“These stone circles are individual ritual sites and are still considered sacred today.”

There was not a standardized way of using these stone circles. Each of the spiritual leaders had their own ceremonies and their own way of using the circles.

Among the Southern Ute, there are supernatural powers associated with the land. Spiritual leaders for each band would go to specific “power points” to leave offerings and to ask for help on behalf of the band. Robert McPherson and Mary Jane Yazzie write:

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

Sweat Lodge

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

Bear Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun Dance

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

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

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

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

Traditional Indian Leadership and Harmony

An important part of daily life among many traditional American Indian people was-and for many still is-the maintenance of harmony. Harmony is about living with other human beings and non-human beings, about living with the environment, and about living within the physical limitations of your own body.  

Living in harmony with other human beings is difficult, and sometimes feels as though it is impossible. Traditional Indian people prior to the European invasion knew that for the individual to survive there must be a group. While individual freedom was highly esteemed, there was a recognition that decisions had to be made based on the common welfare. Although many decisions dealt with immediate needs, future survival had to be considered. With most decisions the community considered: How will this impact the seventh generation?

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The role of the leaders-sometimes called “chiefs” by non-Indians-was not to impose their will upon the people, but to listen respectfully to all and to summarize the comments. Being a leader required humility, an ability to listen, and good oratory skills. Good oratory was expected to bring the people together, not to separate, segregate, or alienate them. Leaders chose their words carefully, fully understanding that words are living things and will continue to have impact long after they are first spoken.

It was also said in many tribes that a leader must have skin at least two thumbs deep. In other words, leaders must be focused on the common welfare of the people and not on themselves. They must not take the words spoken by others personally. Again, there is a focus on humility, not personal aggrandizement, fame, wealth, or ego.

Living in harmony with the environment was easier for animists: everything was seen as having a soul, as being a living person, and thus the same courtesies afforded to humans applied to the environment. When thinking about the environment-about the plant people, the animal people, the water people, and so on-the human people had to consider the common welfare. This was the common welfare of the human people and the other people.  

In dealing with the environment, traditional Indian leaders had to be able to listen. They studied the plant people, the animal people, the stone people, and all of the other things around them. As with their dealings with humans, the leaders did not impose their wills upon these other people. Their decisions were based on observation and knowledge-today, we would call this science. People in a position of leadership required humility, an awareness that they did not fully understand everything, and a realization that they must continue to learn from the other people in the world.

A final note on humility: the idea of erecting a statue of a leader, or carving the likeness of their face into the side of a mountain, or even naming the mountain after them would have been unthinkable. All of these actions honor the ego of the leader, and true leaders acted in the spirit of humility. It was not their name that was important, but the impact of their actions on the seventh generation.

The Suquamish Museum (Photo Diary)

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The area along the Pacific Coast north of California and between the Cascade Mountains and the ocean, is the home to many Indian nations who traditionally based their economy on the use of sea coast and river ecological resources. The Suquamish are the people of the clear salt water. For more than 10,000 years they have occupied that area known today as the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island, Blake Island, and parts of Whidbey Island.  

“We are the Suquamish people. We are a tribe, a nation, a culture, and a family.

We share a proud heritage founded on the teachings of our ancestors, and an enduring future forged from our spirit, wisdom, and enterprise.

We are born of these ancient shores, where the water touches the land, and where the gifts of opportunity are revealed with every changing tide.

Wherever those tides may carry us, these shores will always be our home.”

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One wall of the museum (shown above) presents a time-line history of the Suquamish people.

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One of the most important Suquamish villages once stood on the shores of Agate Passage. This is where the Suquamish built Old Man House, the largest longhouse on the Salish Sea. This was a major intertribal gathering place where people from all across the region came together for trade, celebrations, and diplomacy. In 1841, Joseph Perry Sanford, a member of the United States Exploring Expedition, described the Old Man House:

“It measured 200 ft by 100 ft. The floor is of earth and sunken. It had on either side 20 uprights and on which were rudely carved uncouth figures with head, eyes &c.”

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The entrance to the museum is between two carved house poles which are sometimes called the welcoming figures.

The Museum:

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Shown below are some of the items displayed at the museum:

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The Squamish were traditionally a fishing people. Mounted on the museum’s ceiling is a display (see photos above) showing a woven net/basket and a school of fish.

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The rather nondescript rocks shown above, labeled as “cooking rocks”, were heated in a fire, then dropped into a water-filled basket. In this way, the water could be brought to a boil and the food cooked. It should be noted that not just any rocks can be used for this since many rocks simply disintegrate when heated.


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As with other Indian tribes, living a successful life depended on the assistance of spiritual helpers. Individuals had songs and dances, set to the rhythms of hand drums, to obtain their help. Much of the carving and painting on both common and ceremonial objects was designed to gain cooperation from one’s spiritual guides.

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Shown above is a raven rattle.

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Dighton Rock

When the Europeans first began their invasion of what would become known as New England, they encountered people-American Indians-whose origins and existence puzzled them. They were firm in their conviction that they knew the true history of the world and that this history had been written down in their holy book. Since American Indians were not mentioned in their book, they had to come up with some explanation of their origins. Ignoring American Indian oral traditions, they simply superimposed their own creation story on them, regardless of whether it made any realistic sense of not.  

The imagined story of the American Indians frequently had two premises: (1) that Indians, like the Europeans, were recent arrivals on this continent, and (2) that Indians, who were obviously an inferior people, could not have developed any sophisticated cultural features, such as agriculture, stone work, and writing. Unfortunately, the physical evidence did not support the Europeans’ active imaginations and they had, therefore, to attempt to devise seemingly plausible explanations for this evidence.

Shortly after arriving in Massachusetts, the English colonists noticed a large rock into which had been carved numerous symbols. The rock was a forty-ton boulder in the riverbed of the Taunton River. This boulder, now known as the Dighton Rock, had been deposited in the riverbed at the end of the last ice age about 10-13,000 years ago. Composed of a gray-brown crystalline sandstone it has the form of a slanted, six-sided block. While ice age boulders are not uncommon in this region, what make this one different are the inscriptions carved on its trapezoidal face. The carved surface is inclined 70 degrees to the northwest and faced the bay.

Dighton Rock

Dighton Rock Eastman

The images on the rock feature meandering lines, round-headed anthropomorphs, turkey and animal tracks, and footprints. The images were deeply carved into the rock and carving them would have required standing in water to make them.


An 1830 drawing of the carvings is shown above.

The English colonists puzzled over the mysterious symbols which had been carved in the rock. The Reverend John Danforth made a drawing of the petroglyphs in 1680. Convinced that the writing on the rock was Phoenician, he sent his drawing to the Royal Society of London to see what they thought, but the English scholars were non-committal. Danforth’s drawing is still preserved in the British Museum.


Danforth’s 1680 drawing is shown above.

In 1690, the Reverend Cotton Mather, in his book The Wonderful Works of God Commemorated, wrote:

“Among the other Curiosities of New-England, one is that of a mighty Rock, on a perpendicular side whereof by a River, which at High Tide covers part of it, there are very deeply Engraved, no man alive knows How or When about half a score Lines, near Ten Foot Long, and a foot and half broad, filled with strange Characters: which would suggest as odd Thoughts about them that were here before us, as there are odd Shapes in that Elaborate Monument….”

Some seventeenth-century scholars were convinced that the markings were actually Phoenician writing. Their world view regarding Indians made it impossible to conceive of the carvings as having been done by Indians.

In 1783, Ezra Stiles, the president of Harvard University and well-known Biblical scholar, declared that the writings on Dighton Rock were the work of Phoenicians. The Phoenicians were a maritime trading culture that had flourished in the Mediterranean from about 1550 BCE to 300 BCE. While they travelled routes known to the Biblical world of this time, there is little evidence that they ventured outside of the Mediterranean. They were, however, mentioned in the Bible and thus it was assumed that they must have sailed (or rowed) across the Atlantic to the Americas.

Ezra Stiles

Ezra Stiles is shown above.

Phoenician Map

A map of Phoenician trade routes is shown above. While they did venture outside of the Mediterranean, they voyaged along the African and European coast lines, never out of sight of land.

The Europeans, with familiarity with the Norse sagas, had long assumed that the Vikings-a Christian Norse group-had sailed to North America by 1000 CE. Thus, in 1837, Carl Christian Rafn proposed that the carvings on the Dighton Rock were actually Norse runes and therefore proof of their presence in North America. Rafn was a Danish historian, translator, and antiquarian. He was particularly interested in determining the location of Vinland which had been mentioned in the Norse sagas. Rafn was convinced that he saw Roman numbers and the name “Thorfinn Karlsefini” in the stone.

In 1912, Edmund B. Delabarre declared that the carvings on the Dighton Rock had been done by the Portuguese. According to Delabarre, a professor of psychology at Brown University, the inscriptions on the rock had been carved by Miguel Corte-Real, a Portuguese explorer whose 1502 expedition into the western Atlantic never returned. He claimed that the carvings include the Coat of Arms of Portugal, the name Miguel Corte-Real, and the date 1511. Delabarre also claimed to have deciphered the writing as:

“Miguel Cortereal by the will of God, here Chief of the Indians.”

In 2002, Gavin Menzies, in his book 1421: The Year China Discovered America, suggests that the carvings are evidence of Chinese exploration. While the book was a best seller, most academic scholars remained unconvinced.

I haven’t seen any reports claiming that the carvings on Dighton Rock are evidence of ancient aliens from other worlds exploring and/or colonizing North America, but I suspect that there are some advocates of this hypothesis.

The petroglyphs on Dighton Rock were made by American Indians. While there are still a few people today who will dispute this, the fact remains that Indian people left petroglyphs (carvings in rock) and pictographs (paintings on rock) throughout North America, including New England. The problem today is not whether or not they were made by American Indians, but why they were made and what the symbols mean.

Let’s start with why. In general, rock art was created by American Indians for several basic reasons: (1) it was a way of recording spiritual experiences, such as vision quests, (2) it was a way of recording historical experiences, such as battles and deaths, and (3) it was a way of marking tribal territories, pathways, and usage rights. The location of Dighton Rock makes me suspect that it was a territorial marker. However, it is possible that it was a vision quest site as we know very little about vision quests among the Algonquian people who lived in the area.

As to what the symbols mean, unless we have access to the cultures which created them it is easy to misinterpret them. The best we can say is that we don’t know what they meant to the people who carved them. Present day claims by non-Indians as to their meaning are based in non-Indian imaginations, not in the actual Indian cultures.

In 1963, the rock was removed from the river and installed in a museum in the Dighton Rock State Park. In 1980 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dighton Rock Museum

Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians, Part II

( – promoted by navajo)


photo credit: Aaron Huey


Prior to contact, the Modoc people inhabited an area approximately 5,000 square miles in southern Oregon and the northeastern corner of California, where today Modoc County corresponds somewhat to traditional geography. To the southwest (moowat and Tgalam) Mt. Shasta rises up, covered in shining blue ice. Modoc people would make pilgrimages to the sacred mountain every year, but would not dwell there.  Sacred journeys were also made to Medicine Lake: a healing volcanic feature now used as a recreation park.  To the east (lobiitdal’) lies Goose Lake, and to the north (yaamat) in Klamath land is Mt. Mazama.  Today, Mazama is known as Crater Lake.

Thousands of years ago, oral traditional states, the ancestors of the Modoc and the much more numerous Klamath people hid in caves from the catastrophic eruption of Mazama.  Beyond the terrifying images of raining ash and fire imaginable, this event affected world climate.

In between these boundaries are Klamath Lake, Tule Lake, Lost, Williamson and Sprague Rivers, hundreds of marshes, many seasonally dry, pine forests, the lush Cascade mountains, high desert, and alkali flats most desolate in appearance.  The geography dictated the lifestyle: considered harsh by other Indian peoples, Modocs were nonetheless blessed with the bounty of wocas, a pond-lily seed, during the annual harvest season, salmon and suckerfish, as well as plentiful duck, pelican, goose and other waterfowl, many deer, moose, bear, elk, and delicious berries and roots like camas. Traditionally, they are a weaving and hunting people. Tule reed is the principle fabric source.

This stark land was one of the last places in the 48 where European settlers, desirous for land, timber and gold, would venture. It would become the setting for the most expensive Indian war in US history.


In Part 1, I gave an overview of Modoc life as it existed for 8,000 years from the eruption of Mt. Mazama to contact, and from there, disease, increasing tension between Modocs and European-Americans, and bloodshed, up until the Ben Wright Massacre and its crippling effect on Modoc people.

At least 41 Modoc men, women, and children died in the Ben Wright Massacre, an assault at night on a Modoc village. Schonchin John, brother of Old Schonchin, was one of the only survivors.



  • Old Schonchin

  • John Schonchin, his brother

  • Keintpoos, or Captain Jack

  • Toby Riddle, interpreter

  • Cho’ocks, or Curley-Headed Doctor

  • Link River Doctor

  • Hooker Jim

  • Scarfaced Charley

  • Mary or Queen Mary, Keintpoos’ sister

  • Lizzie, Keintpoos’ wife
  • Old Wife (of Keintpoos)

  • Rose, Keintpoos’ infant daughter.

  • Jeff Riddle, Toby’s son.


  • Ulysses S. Grant, US president

  • Alfred B. Meacham, Oregon Superintendent for Indian Affairs

  • J.W. Perit Huntington, Oregon Superintendent for Indian Affairs
  • Elijah Steele, Indian Agent for Northern California
  • Lindsay Applegate, founder of the Applegate trail, Oregon Indian Subagent

  • O.C. Knapp, Subagent

  • Captain James Jackson, Army

  • Frank Riddle, settler, husband to Toby

  • The Second Generation’s Passing, The Rise of the Third

    After the Ben Wright Massacre, wars broke out between the US and multiple tribes across the northwest and great basin, and even more treaties were made. These treaties dealt with issues that are still politically tense today: fishing, farming, and timber, and with these, water rights. US government was to protect American Indian rights in exchange for their reservation captivity, peace and the forfeiture of much more land.

    For Modocs, the second generation since contact began to disappear, either plagued by tuberculosis, smallpox, influenza or other disease, or massacred by settlers.  Old Schonchin who had led the raid on settlers at Bloody Point and his brother John passed into elderhood.  The Modoc children alive during the Ben Wright Massacre of 1852 matured into adulthood. These included Keintpoos who would become known as Captain Jack, his wife Lizzie, and his sister Queen Mary.

    The Valentine’s Day Treaty

    Keintpoos met with Elijah Steele. Steele was Northern California’s Indian agent and a Republican Party boss, former prospector, judge and a founding settler of Siskiyou County, California.  Keintpoos and his band felt cheated by the process up north.

    In The Modocs and Their War, Keith A. Murray describes their horribly modest goals:

    [T]hey asked Judge Steele to draft a treaty for them, even thought they were no longer under his agency.  Steele knew that his jurisdiction no longer extended to the Modocs [relocated to Oregon] and Klamaths and, furthermore, that he had no authority to negotiate treaties with any Indians. Nevertheless, he felt that an informal treaty was better than none, especially when the Indians themselves asked for one. He thought he could turn over to the new superintendent a fair accompli.  By the terms of the treaty, the Modocs and others who signed it promised to stop stealing stock and to refrain from further child stealing. They agreed to quit selling their women to the miners, though marriage by purchase to other Indians was permitted.  They also agreed to cease quarreling among themselves.  They conceded the right of soldiers to punish them if they broke the agreement.  In return, they were given permission to trade, to acts as guides, and to operate ferries for a fee.  They also agreed to get permission from the soldiers at Fort Klamath whenever they wished to leave a reservation that would be set up for them.  Steele promised, bound only by his own word, to try to get a reservation for Jack’s band just west of Tule Lake along the Lost River.

    This reservation would have cost $20,000 and appeased Keintpoos, a much smaller sum than the over $1,000,000 Modoc War that would follow.

    The Klamath Tribes Treaty of 1864

    There was another treaty, one that became binding. This October treaty, signed in Oregon, required the Modoc and Yahooskin tribes (a band of the Snake Indians) to enter a reservation on Klamath land.  You can see a text of the treaty here, along with the names of the signers.  Modoc participants included Old Schonchin and Keintpoos, recognized by treaty as chiefs of the Modoc people, with Schonchin recognized as the superior.  Although the Modoc spoke a dialect of Klamath, intermarried, and traded with Klamath people, their relationship was not friendly. The Klamath saw the Modoc people as a country people, coarse in their speech and hardscrabble in their existence.

    ARTICLE 9. The several tribes of Indians, parties to this treaty, acknowledge their dependence upon the Government of the United States, and agree to be friendly with all citizens thereof, and to commit no depredations upon the person or property of said citizens, and to refrain from carrying on any war upon other Indian tribes; and they further agree that they will not communicate with or assist any persons or nation hostile to the United States, and, further, that they will submit to and obey all laws and regulations which the United States may prescribe for their government and conduct.

    ARTICLE 10. It is hereby provided that if any member of these tribes shall drink any spirituous liquor, or bring any such liquor upon the reservation, his or her proportion of the benefits of this treaty may be withheld for such time as the President of the United States may direct — from the 1864 treaty.

    In 1865, Keitpoos led his band (there had been 4 villages on the Lost River before the Ben Wright Massacre) back to his ancestral home on the Lost River after the government did not recognize him as chief. He had grown disgusted with the US favoritism towards Old Schonchin. With dozens of men, women and children with him, Keintpoos spent 4 years coming and going through the Klamath basin. Because the 1864 treaty was not ratified by the US senate and therefore not in effect, Applegate could not coerce Keintpoos to leave his homeland.

    In 1869, Keintpoos met with Oregon’s superintendent for Indian Affairs, Alfred B. Meacham. Keintpoos, who was by now known as Captain Jack, (allegedly a man in Yreka found Keintpoos similar in appearance to an old mariner) fled with all warriors at the sudden and unexpected appearance of US soldiers. Meacham ordered the women and children (who had been left behind) to be boarded on wagons bound for the reservation.  Meacham entreated Queen Mary, the sister of Captain Jack, to go persuade the man and his band into heading back north. Captain Jack relented. The Modoc were all together again on the reservation.

    Reservation Woes

    What is cultural genocide?

    Article 7 of a 1994 draft of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples uses the phrase “cultural genocide” but does not define what it means.[4] The complete article reads as follows:

    Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide, including prevention of and redress for:

    (a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;

    (b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;

    (c) Any form of population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;

    (d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;

    (e) Any form of propaganda directed against them.

    To what degree do these apply to the Third Generation’s pre-war story?

    The misfortunate of the Modoc was to be outnumbered by the Klamath, who could then control the distribution of promised goods delivered by the US. Because the reservation was so small, the Indian peoples had no choice but to depend on the deliveries of food, clothing and other supplies. Nor were the deliveries generous in size. Hunger and poverty began with the third generation.

    Because she was married to the settler Frank Riddle, Toby Riddle was free to come and go as she pleased, with her young son Jeff.  Since her English was among the best spoken by Modoc she found employment as an interpreter.

    Keintpoos, with his wife Lizzie, daughter Rose, his “Old Wife,” Cho’ocks, Hooker Jim, Scarfaced Charley and other Modoc all sojourned south from the reservation to the Lost River over the next several years. On the Klamath tribes reservation deep misery overtook the people. Those who stayed behind began a lifestyle of cattle ranching (growing crops failed) and forestry as instructed by the agents.

    Although Meacham had won acclaim for removing Indians from Iowa to the Pacific, his personal beliefs were not totally unsympathetic to the treatment of First Americans.  In fact, he was distressed:

    • one agent had told Meacham that the best solution for the Indian problem was to “wash out the color”; many Indian agents were impregnating Indian women
    • at Fort Klamath, Modoc women could not pay for the goods they wanted, and so engaged in prostitution
    • officers took Indian women from their husbands
    • Indian husbands would not take back wives who had been seized by whites
    • many male settlers moved onto reservations and lived in a casual state with women

    Meacham issued an ultimatum to settlers on the Klamath reservation: marry, or leave.

    Despite the Modoc abandoning their ancestral home for the exponentially increasing Applegate Trail settlers, treaty promises remained unfulfilled. One of the stipulations was the establishment of a saw mill, because the newly created Klamath tribes was to support itself through the harvesting of timber. No saw mill, as promised by the Applegates, had been built.

    As a good Methodist, Meacham stood fiercely opposed to the Modoc religion and its spiritual leaders. The new tribal elections system deliberately bolstered trustworthy, if not puppet, rulers, and reduced the political power of the traditional spiritual leaders. Methodist missionaries have been the primary religious establishment among the Klamath Tribes ever since.

    Many Modoc, including Keintpoos and Cho’ocks, felt great unease at these and more developments.  Across the west, Indians resisted the missionary influence of the Meachams and began to adopt a racial view of themselves.  This was facilitated especially by the Ghost Dance, a radical, pan-Indian spiritual movement that arose during the first reservation era. The goal of the Ghost Dance was to raise the dead, who had been taken by murder, mayhem and disease, and together expel the European-American settlers. Understanding its unifying potential, the US suppressed the Ghost Dance movement with force.  For the Modoc, Curley-Headed Doctor, or Cho’ocks, was now the main spiritual leader. He acquired knowledge of the Ghost Dance from the Paiute. Meanwhile, Link River Doctor faced arrest, trial and imprisonment in 1870 at the hands of Subagent Knapp, with Meacham’s encouragement, for the practice of Modoc religion.

    Modoc people raided settlers for food. Complaints deluged Meacham’s office.

    Meacham was both retained as an agent in the region and would prove a critical actor in later events. However, J.W. Perit Huntington replaced Meacham as Oregon Superintendent. Ulysses S. Grant was president, then, and this reshuffling was in keeping with politics at the time, including the “spoils system.”

    With a growing crisis in the region, Meacham requested a separated reservation for Keintpoos’ band down at the Yainax station in the southern part of the Klamath Tribes reservation.  Like the previous attempts by various actors, this too was ignored.

    It was 1872, and in one of a multitude of ironies, Captain Jack was to be arrested for the murder of a ‘shaman.’ Traditionally, the tribe would take the life of a healer who failed to cure the sick. Not only did Keintpoos exercise a tribal duty, (not the first time he would end up vilified for fulfilling tribal obligations) he had eliminated a person whom the government itself criminalized. Notwithstanding, a warrant was issued for Captain Jack’s arrest.

    The Battle of Lost River

    Cpt. James Jackson, on orders from Ft. Klamath, marched with 40 troops to Captain Jack’s camp to force a return to the reservation. They were joined by a citizen’s militia from Linkville, (now Klamath Falls) the main European-American settlement in the basin.  At the camp on November 29th, the Modoc were ordered to disarm. After doing so a fight broke out and firing commenced.

    Quickly, the Modoc reclaimed their weapons and fled to California. They took shelter at Lava Beds, a complex series of lava tubes near Tule Lake.

    Between November 29th and 30th, Hooker Jim led a band of Modoc on a series of raids that slaughtered 18 settlers around the lake.

    This was the beginning of the 1872-1873 Modoc War.

    Centuries of Genocide is a generational series on the destruction of First Americans, or American Indian peoples. I began this series with Part I of the Modoc story. Subsequent generations will be described in the upcoming entries.


    Glacier National Park: Spiritual Water

    Water is a living thing according to many Native American traditions. In some Anishinabe traditions, water symbolizes humility and provides the people with many important lessons regarding life, harmony, and healing. Water is often a part of Native American spiritual practices.  

    I recently had the honor of escorting two Kossacks (oke and rfall) a short distance into Glacier National Park, an area which has a spiritual history associated with at least three tribes (Blackfoot, Kootenai, Pend d’Oreille). What follows are simply some photos snapped during this short excursion. Those who follow Native spiritual paths may get a sense of the spirituality of water. Those who follow other paths may simply enjoy the beauty of the park.

    Lake McDonald 1

    Lake McDonald 2

    from bridge

    from Apgar

    Shown above is Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

    Upper McDonald 1

    Upper McDonald 2

    Upper McDonald 3

    Shown above is upper McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park.

    Moose Area

    Shown above is a moose habitat area. In the Anishinabe oral traditions, the place of moose is between the west (which represents death) and north (which represents dreams). Moose is about the nurturing of dreams.

    Avalanche Creek 1

    Avalanche Creek 2

    Avalanche Creek 3

    Water Pool

    Avalanche Creek 4

    Shown above is Avalanche Creek in Glacier National Park.

    Water Seep

    Shown above is a water seep in an old growth cedar forest.  

    A Blessing for the Native American Caucus

    I am unable to attend NN11 and the Native American caucus. Navajo had asked me for some words for the caucus, and since I do not have email at this location, I’m going to put these words into a short diary for all to read.  

    Traditionally, Native American events began with a blessing. We understand that there are a great many different religious and spiritual traditions, and beginning discussions with a spiritual blessing does not imply that all must “believe” the same-rather it simply indicates that this is an important event. Traditional Indians have little concern for making converts, for carrying “the message,” or for proselytizing. An elder is simply asked to bless the event. This blessing might involve smudging with sage, sweet grass, cedar, or some other herb. It might involve a song. It might involve a pipe ceremony. It might involve some symbolic gestures.

    Spoken words are different from written words, and many of us who live in oral pagan traditions are reluctant to write down the words that we would speak at a blessing. The power of the word changes when it is written and it loses its sense of the here and now. If I were to do a blessing at this event, it would probably involve smudge and the use of the pipe. What follows is not the words which I would speak, but a description of their intent.

    This is a blessing calling upon the seven directions. It starts with offerings to that which lies above and that which lies below. It is a way of reminding ourselves of our need for fresh air, for rain that falls clean and free of chemicals, for the sun, the moon, and the star people. It reminds us of our dependence of the earth and our responsibility to nourish and care for it, just as it nourishes and cares for us.

    Next would come an offering to the manitos (spirits) of north and a reminder of the importance of dreams. It is a reminder that it is our responsibility to bring our dreams to life.

    Next would come an offering to the manitos (spirits) of south and a reminder of the importance of words. We should remember that words are living things and they continue to impact our lives long after they have been spoken. At meetings such as this we should speak words which bring us together, which create harmony. Words which separate us-those which reflect racism, sexism, homophobia, agism, classism, and other divisions-should have no place here.

    Next would come an offering to the manitos (spirits) of west and a reminder of the importance of death. If I have lived well, then it is a good day to die. The focus among traditional Native Americans was on maintaining harmony in life: there was not a lot of concern for what happens next. The offering to the west is also about endings, about changing things in our lives.

    Next would come an offering to the manitos (spirits) of east and a reminder of the importance of birth. This is a reminder of the need for birth, rebirth, and new ideas. New ideas, new concepts, like newborns, must be nurtured and nourished.

    And the final direction, the seventh direction, is inward. It is placing myself within the circle that has gatherered and opening myself up for the words which will be spoken and the concepts which will be presented.

    We come from many traditions. We come here to find harmony in our common cause.  

    Northern Plains Indian Medicine Bundles

    ( – promoted by navajo)

    The Northern Plains Indian medicine bundle is simply a collection of objects which symbolize a spiritual path. The use and nature of these bundles varies greatly among the various Indian Nations of the Northern Plains. In addition, some of the bundles are owned by individuals and are symbols of their individual spiritual paths, while others are owned by the tribes or tribal associations and are associated with the spiritual well-being of the larger group. In this diary, we are going to look at the personal medicine bundles.  

    The personal medicine bundle is made in accordance with instructions received from spiritual helpers during the vision quest. The sacred contents of the bundle are symbols of power: they are not the spiritual power itself. Thus, if a personal medicine bundle is lost or stolen, the power is not lost as the individual has the power to remake the bundle.

    With regard to the Crow, the initial power of the medicine bundle traditionally comes from a vision. The medicine bundle is therefore grounded in individual revelations. The spirituality of the bundle involves not only the assembly of the materials which it contains, but also the rituals of displaying these materials and the responsibility of bundle ownership. The function of the bundle is to care for general well-being and to prevent misfortune.

    One example of the contents of a bundle and the symbolism of the objects within the bundle can be seen in the bundle of the Crow warrior Half Yellow Face. The main object in the medicine bundle was a flute painted with yellow lines. Carved into the flute were an elk’s head and a bighorn sheep’s head. Attached to the flute were curlew and red woodpecker feathers. An eagle feather hung from one end. Half Yellow Face did not put this bundle together but received it from another Crow warrior, Cold Face. The power in the bundle had been originally given by the Great Above Person to Cold Wind through the elk. Cold Wind had received the vision for the bundle while fasting on a high mountain top near the Stillwater River. Thus the symbolism of the elk and the bighorn sheep represent this original vision. The power of the bundle helped to protect Half Yellow Face in war and to find his enemies. The bundle also contained love medicine.

    After the death of Crow medicine man Braided Tail, his skull was added to his bundle. In this way the bundle became an oracle to its owners. The bundle would tell its owners about the enemy-their location and the outcome of raids-as well as where to find game. The bundle could tell if a sick person would be cured and it could tell the location of missing property.

    One object found in many medicine bundles is the Buffalo Stone. Buffalo Stones are small stones containing strong medicine which are found on the prairie. This stone is generally a fossil of some kind, and the stone itself takes the initiative in contacting humans and offering itself as a helper. For the Blackfoot, the stone will call out to the individual with a faint chirp. Traditionally, these stones gave the Blackfoot hunters great power in hunting buffalo.

    Among the Mandan, there are personal medicine bundles which are owned by both men and women. These personal bundles were assembled as tangible evidence of visionary contact with a specific spirit. If this spiritual power was deemed inadequate a bundle might be disposed of and another vision sought. Each bundle has its own sacred songs and rituals associated with its opening. The Mandan ceremonial bundle is a collection of objects which serve as aids in remembering the sequence and content of the origin stories.  Bundles owned by women are often associated with healing.

    Among the Mandan, personal bundles are passed down from generation to generation in a matrilineal fashion. Thus, a man may inherit a bundle from his mother’s relatives, but not from his father. Before inheriting a bundle, however, a man has to show that he is worthy of it. Traditionally, this was done by giving feasts to the bundle at various times.

    Among the Plains Cree, a vision might give an individual the ability to make a bundle containing war equipment to protect the wearer from wounds and other hazards. When bundle contents were worn in battle or for ceremonial occasions, a cloth had to be given to the bundle. When any bundle was opened, a pipe offering had to be made.

    Among some tribes, such as the Blackfoot and the Crow, it is felt that the power of a medicine bundle can be transferred from one individual to another. Among the Crow, the owner of the bundle has the power to sell the bundle, along with its associated ceremonies, to someone else. The special talismans from a bundle can be sold three times and still retain the spiritual powers. In transferring the spiritual power of the medicine bundle, the original owner adopts the person wanting the bundle in a ceremonial process that began and ended with a sacred sweat lodge ceremony and prayer.

    The Crow warrior Two Leggings explains why some men would buy a medicine bundle:

    “Some of us bought powerful medicine bundles from well-known medicine men even if we had a vision of our own because we wanted their power and their sacred helpers.”

    Among the Blackfoot, personal medicine bundles were assembled in accordance with personal visions. While the bundle originated with the owner’s vision, the owner could sell the bundle to another person. The songs and other knowledge associated with the bundle remained the personal possession of the individual until he was willing to transfer the bundle and the spiritual power which it represents to another.

    No photographs of medicine bundles have been included here as most Native elders feel that it is improper to photograph the bundles and their contents. While there are many photographs of these bundles, it would be inappropriate and disrespectful to show them here.

    Northern Plains Indian Spirituality

    ( – promoted by navajo)

    Many of the stereotypical images of Indians that abound in movies and popular books were inspired by the Indian nations of the Northern Plains: these are the horse-mounted buffalo hunters that roamed the plains of Montana, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Dakotas, and Wyoming during the nineteenth century. The popular images of the Northern Plains spirituality often focus on features such as the Sun Dance and the Vision Quest without any understanding of the underlying spiritual principles.

    Northern Plains Indian spirituality tended to be somewhat different than the spirituality expressed in Christianity. The Crow warrior Two Leggings said:

    “When the Black Robes [Jesuits] came to us they talked about the devil but we could not find him in the things we knew. We think that everything is good and bad and that no person or thing is all good or all bad.”

    In the Crow language, the word alachiwakiia/ is often used for religion, but the word translates as “one’s own way” and may interpreted as “it’s up to you!” The experiences and manifestations of the power that enables life are personal.

    Spirituality among the Northern Plains tribes was traditionally very personal. There was generally no universally acknowledged set of dogmas. Nor was there any ecclesiastical organization that handed down laws for the guidance of the religious consciousness. No one insisted that a person should believe in a particular creation myth or subscribe to some accepted concept of the hereafter.

    As with tribes in other culture areas, the Indian nations of the Northern Plains did not traditionally separate their spiritual life from their daily life. The natural world and the supernatural world were not seen as distinct entities but as integrated into the people’s view of the universe. All things are alive-and therefore usually spoken of as “people.” This includes the animal-people, the plant-people, and forces such as streams, thunder, wind, sun, rocks, and so on.

    Throughout their lives, the Indian people of the Northern Plains would carry on a dialogue with spiritual patrons who would guide their daily decisions through instructions given in dreams. In addition, these spiritual patrons could be summoned with special talismans (often included in their medicine bundles) and songs when danger was near or when help was needed in curing or in finding buffalo.

    The term “medicine man” and “medicine woman” are usually used today to indicate a person who has some special spiritual power. Traditionally, these people treated the sick, conducted ceremonies, and spoke of the future. These medicine people were taught by supernatural entities or spirits who appeared to them in dreams or visions. These visits were often prompted by a prolonged fast and by the many sacrifices made to the spirits.  There were many ways of practicing these healing powers and therefore each man and woman conducted ceremonies differently and according to the way they had been instructed in their visions.

    There are many important elements which define the traditional spirituality of the Northern Plains Indians. These elements include the sacred pipe, the sweat lodge, smudging, and paint.

    The Sacred Pipe:

    Smoking the pipe is a way of making prayers and communications to the spirits visible. The pipe is incorporated into almost all Plains Indian ceremonials. Some pipes are owned or held by individuals, while others are a part of societal or tribal bundles. The pipe symbolized peaceful intent, truthfulness, and mutual obligation.

    Some of the Northern Plains tribes had tribal pipes, pipes which were used to spiritually aid the tribe. Among the Arapaho, for example, their Flat Pipe was viewed as a sacred object which was held in the highest respect. The keeper of the Flat Pipe was responsible for the care of the pipe and for praying daily for the well-being of the tribe. The keeper also assisted individuals who had vowed to pray through personal sacrifice to the pipe.

    White Buffalo Woman gave the sacred pipe to the Lakota with precise instructions on how to use the pipe as an agent of prayer and peace. She told the Lakota that those who fought each other within the tribe must be friends.

    While most of the northern Plains tribes used stone pipes with a T-shaped stone bowl, the Crow most frequently used straight tubular stone bowls. Among the Mandan, the village Medicine Pipe was crafted out of clay with a large center bowl and four pipe stems. It allows four medicine people to smoke together.

    The Sweat Lodge:

    The sweat lodge is the oldest known ritual among the Northern Plains tribes. It precedes most religious ceremonies and is often conducted as a ceremony in its own right. In ceremonial context, the sweat lodge functions to purify the participants.


    The smoke of sage, sweetgrass, and other plants is often used for purification. Smudging makes it possible to see and communicate directly with the spirits. Smudging is a part of almost all spiritual activities. Among many of the tribes, smudging with sweetgrass (Savastana odorata) is a universal component for all ceremonies. The smoke is a purifying agent, a means of dispelling the everyday atmosphere and substituting a pleasant odor for the spirits.


    While non-Indians sometimes call the Indian use of paint as “war paint”, the painting of the body, face, and hands is an important part of many ceremonies which are not related to war. According to Blackfoot elder Long Standing Bear Chief:

    “We believe that the Creator gave paint as one of four gifts to the human child of this Great Holy Being. Paint was given to use as a means of painting a person in difficulty because they were being marked for special recognition as being a person of the Source of Life’s making.”

    Among the Gros Ventre, people have traditionally painted their faces with a special design in red paint. This symbolizes creation and their special relationship with the Great Mystery.  

    Iroquois Spirituality

    ( – promoted by navajo)

    Long before the Europeans arrived on this continent there was born to the Huron people a man who had a vision of bringing peace to his people. In his vision he saw a great pine tree. The roots of this tree were five powerful nations. From these roots, the tree grew so high that its tip pierced through the sky and on top there was an eagle watching to see that none of the nations broke the peace among them. This Peacemaker was a man named Deganawida (also spelled Deganawidah).  

    The Iroquois Nations:

    According to oral tradition, Deganawida named each of the allied nations, choosing a place as the distinguishing feature of nationality:

    Seneca: the big hill people, or the people of the big mountain

    Cayuga: the people at the landing, in reference to portaging a canoe

    Mohawk: the people of the flint, in reference to the flint quarries in their territory

    Onondaga: the people of the hill, in reference to the hill where a woman long ago had appeared to give the people corn, beans, squash, and tobacco

    Oneida: the people of the standing stone, in reference to the supernatural stone which followed them

    Deganawida’s vision, articulated through the great Mohawk orator Hiawatha, united five Iroquois-speaking nations – the Seneca, the Cayuga, the Onondaga, the Oneida, and the Mohawk- into the League of Five Nations. Later the Tuscarora would join them to form the League of Six Nations. The League is also called the Iroquois Confederacy. They refer to themselves as Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse).

    While the designation “Iroquois” is often used to refer to the Five or Six Nations, it should be remembered that not all Iroquois-speaking nations in the Northeast were members of the League. Deganawida’s own nation – the Huron – did not join.

    Iroquois Spirituality:

    The Iroquois tribes, like many other Indian cultures, viewed themselves as a part of nature: neither subordinate to it nor in dominion over it. Seneca archaeologist Arthur Caswell Parker, in his biography of Red Jacket, writes:

    “Life was like water; it flowed on like a river and then entered a great sea and mingled in a vast pool of life. Old age was like a tree whose branches had been broken by storms and whose trunk had become weather-beaten and decayed. Good words were like flowers that bloomed and bore seed that lived on after the flowers had withered.”

    In maintaining harmony with the world, individuals had guardian spirits to aid them. Everyone-especially young men-found a special guardian spirit at puberty. Great emphasis was given to individual contact with the spirit world. To obtain spiritual aid, people would fast and/or give gifts of tobacco to the spirits. Humans share the natural world with spirit powers and it is important to communicate with these spirit powers.

    Everything has a soul. This includes the plants, the animals, the lakes, the rivers, the rocks, and the forces of nature. All things have power to communicate their will and to influence human experience to some degree. In a generalized form, spiritual power is called orenda.

    One of the most important aspects of Iroquois spirituality is the dream. Writing in 1668 about the Seneca, the Jesuit missionary Father Fremin observed:

    “The Iroquois have, properly speaking, only a single Divinity-the dream. To it they render their submission and follow all its orders with the utmost exactness.”

    With regard to spiritual beliefs, the Iroquois believed that all living things were filled with an essence called orenda. Dreams were the main form of contact between orenda and human beings. Individuals would fast and pray to obtain a vision. Dreams expressed the desires of the most inner realm of the soul. The fulfillment of a dream was absolutely essential.

    As with tribes in other culture areas, the Iroquois also had a vision quest. Young people were expected at puberty to engage in the vision quest in order to seek out a personal guardian spirit. This guardian spirit was usually associated with the person’s new and sacred name.

    Dreams could also tell of the future, providing advice on what to do and not do. Dreams were taken into account at council meetings. In addition, it was common for trade, hunting, fishing, and war expeditions to be organized in response to a dream.

    In mid-winter, the Iroquois would hold a dream festival. During this time, old fires would be put out and new fires would be lighted.

    Among the Huron, each person has two souls: one of these souls animates the body and one soul extends beyond physical activities. In sleep, one soul communicates with spirits and with other human souls. When this soul returns to the body, dreams are the way in which the soul’s experiences are communicated. It was essential to reenact these dream adventures in order to unify the two souls and make each person whole again. The failure to do this would result in serious illness which could impact the entire village.  

    Native American Spirituality: The Omaha Venerable Man

    ( – promoted by navajo)

    Among the Omaha there are two objects which are sacred to the tribe: Sacred Pole or Venerable Man and the Sacred White Buffalo Hide. These two sacred objects and their pipes occupy the center of the camp circle during times of tribal ceremony. The Venerable Man has been with the Omaha for several centuries: he was with them when the Ponca were still a part of the Omaha. He signifies the unity of the Omaha people.  

    The most important ceremony involving the Venerable Man is Anointing the Pole. The pole is set up at a 45-degree angle facing the north star. The traditional ceremony involved in greasing the Sacred Pole each year and was a ceremony of thanksgiving for the gifts received from hunting.

    In 1888, ethnologists Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche (Omaha) persuaded Yellow Smoke, the keeper of the sacred pole of the Omaha – the Venerable Man – to send the sacred object to the Peabody Museum in Massachusetts for safekeeping.

    Recognizing that the ethnographic significance of the Venerable Man would be greatly reduced without a precise and detailed account of the ritual songs and sacred stories associated with it, they also persuaded Yellow Smoke to speak of these things and to allow the story to be recorded. Yellow Smoke was hesitant to speak of these things as this was punishable by the supernatural. However, Joseph La Flesche (Iron Eye), the father of Francis La Flesche, agreed to accept for himself any penalty that might occur following the revealing of these sacred traditions.  After Yellow Smoke finished telling the story, Iron Eye became ill and died two weeks later.

    Joseph La Flesche had opposed traditional ceremonies and advocated assimilation into American culture. As the principal Omaha chief he had refused to support the annual renewal ceremony  (Anointing the Pole) for the Venerable Man. Following this he developed an infection in his leg which resulted in its amputation. Traditional Omaha feel that this was a result of his refusal to participate in the ceremony.

    A century after the Venerable Man left the Omaha people to live in a museum basement, he returned to them. In 1989, Harvard’s Peabody Museum returned the Venerable Man to the Omaha tribe at the tribal powwow in Macy. The Omaha brought him back hoping that his return to the tribal circle would bring all his relations “blessings for a long time to come.”

    In 2000, the Venerable Man was set upright in accordance with Omaha traditions in a special Plexiglas case at the University of Nebraska. He will return home to the tribe when the tribe can afford to build a museum to protect his fragile wood.

    The Iroquois False Face Society

    ( – promoted by navajo)


    photo credit: Aaron Huey

    Among many cultures around the world there are two kinds of illness. First are those which have a clear physical cause, such as a broken arm. Then there are those for which the cause is less readily apparent. Curing these illnesses often involves ceremonies and spirituality.  

    The Iroquois tribes have a number of different medicine societies which can perform different curing rites. The Little Water Society, for example, dealt with general illness and was usually called in when the patient had had a vision of the dwarf spirits (that is, the Little People). The healing rite would begin by placing tobacco on the fire and calling for the spirits of the dwarfs.

    In cases of an illness which modern physicians call dementia, the Bear Society would be called in. In their healing rites, the members would dance counter clockwise around the patient.

    There were times when the patient would not improve after the ceremony from the healing society. In cases of serious illness when other medicine societies have failed to bring about a cure the Wooden False Face Society would be called in. This society dates back to a time during creation when the world was ruled by mythical beings.

    The wooden False Face masks are made from white pine, maple, basswood, and poplar. To make a mask, the features are first carved in a living tree. During the process of carving the mask and cutting it free, a prayer is addressed to the evolving mask and to the spirit forces which it represents. The mask is then painted and adorned with horse hair. The new mask is consecrated to human service by placing it in the hot coals and ashes of the longhouse fire.

    All of the masks are characterized with distorted features and deep-set eyes. The noses are bent and crooked. The masks are generally painted red and black and have pouches of tobacco tied onto the hair above their foreheads. With regard to the symbolism of the masks, they portray the Great Doctor, dwelling at the world’s rim, whose broken nose and twisted mouth derive from a mythical struggle with the Creator for control of the world. The masks also symbolize the forest-dwelling ‘Common-faces’ seen in dreams. In addition, some of the masks are beggar masks which caricature neighbors and strangers alike.

    The masks are not artifacts, but living representations of a spirit. One of the rules governing the care of the masks is the need to periodically anoint them with a mixture of sunflower seed oil and animal grease. At the same time the masks are fed white corn mush. In payment for their services tobacco is burned for them and small bags of tobacco are tied to them.

    Members of the Wooden False Face Society might be called at any time of day or night to perform ceremonies for those who are ill. Upon recovery, the patient is expected to join the False Face Society. The actual curing ceremony is sacred and is not to be shared with those outside of the society.

    Traditionally, the Wooden False Face Society would perform two community rituals each year. During this ceremony, the story of the False Faces is told. The members of the society, wearing their masks, then go through the community, entering the houses and driving out all sickness, disease, and evil.

    At the present time, there are several concerns about the False Face masks. First, there are a number of non-Iroquois artists who are making what they call False Face masks and selling them to the general public. Second, a number of False Face masks are in the hands of private collectors who do not care for them in the traditional manner. The Iroquois have called for collectors and museums to return the masks to the tribes so that they can be cared for in a respectful manner. The National Museum of the American Indian has returned a number of these items. The Iroquois Traditionalists Society opposes the sale of False Face masks to private collectors and museums.

    No photos of the False Face masks are shown in this diary as public display of the masks and photographs of them is considered improper by the Iroquois people.  

    American Indians and Tobacco

    ( – promoted by navajo)

    One of the common sayings in Indian country is that when our ancestors first gave tobacco to the European invaders, they knew it was going to kill them, they just didn’t think it would take this long.

    The use of tobacco today, for smoking as well as other uses, is a global phenomenon, and a global health concern. Tobacco, however, is a plant which originated in the Americas and which was first used in a variety of ways by American Indians. Most importantly, tobacco was, and continues to be an integral part of Native American spirituality. The history of tobacco is partially a history of American Indians.  

    First, some information about the plant. Tobacco’s genus, Nicotiana, contains 64 species. Today, the most frequently used tobaccos are Nicotiana tabacum (tall, annual, broad leafed plant) and Nicotiana rustica.

    While tobacco grows wild in many parts of the Americas, the archaeological evidence suggests that Indian people in the Andes region of South American began to domesticate and cultivate tobacco about 7,000 years ago. The practice of growing tobacco as a crop then spread north into the tribal traditions of what is now the United States and Canada and also out to the Caribbean Islands. Shortly after the beginning of the European invasion in 1492, the use and cultivation of tobacco began to spread to other parts of the planet.

    Tobacco can be used by humans in many different ways: it can be sniffed, chewed, eaten, smeared on the skin, drunk, used in eye drops and enemas, and smoked. Smoking is the quickest way of getting the drug into the blood stream other than using a hypodermic needle. Taken in small doses, tobacco has a mild effect on those who use it. However, taken in large doses it can produce hallucinations, trances, and death.

    Smoking is an unusual way of ingesting a drug. At the time of the European invasion in the 1500s, smoking was found only in the Americas and in a few parts of Africa. Europeans were unfamiliar with this activity and were, at times, amazed when they encountered it.  

    Tobacco was traditionally used by nearly all of the tribes of North America and the most common way of using tobacco was to smoke it in a pipe. Indians used pipes made from various materials in a variety of shapes. The most recognized is the Plains Indian “peace” pipe with its stone bowl and long wooden stem. The bowl of the “peace” pipe is often in an elbow shape or a T-shape.

    The people whom archaeologists call Basketmaker in what is now the American Southwest were using a tube-like pipe about 3,500 years ago. For their smoking mixture they used wild tobacco (Nicotiana rustica) which was probably mixed with other materials. In a similar fashion, the Indian people around the Great Lakes area about 3,000 years ago were using tubular-shaped pipes for smoking tobacco. The pipes are flared on the tobacco end and narrowed on the mouth end.

    While some pipes are left plain, others are elaborately carved. The designs can range from abstract patterns to realistic animal and human effigies. In some instances the animal effigies represent the guardian spirits of the pipe’s owner. Human heads, which are often carved so that they face the smoker, sometimes represent an actual deceased individual and are smoked to facilitate spiritual communication with that person.

    One interesting historical side note is the collection of effigy pipes of Toussaint Charbonneau, the guide for the Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery expedition. Charbonneau collected pipes which realistically portrayed people in erotic situations.  

    The Indian people in the eastern part of the United States frequently made pipes from clay. It was this clay pipe which the Europeans copied when they began to smoke tobacco.

    In addition to using stone and clay for making pipes, Indian also made pipes from wood, bone, and antler.

    Traditionally, the material smoked in the pipes was a mixture of tobacco and other plant materials. The Algonquian term “kinnekenick,” which means “mixture” was often used to describe this mixture of smoking materials.

    While smoking could be a social event or a solitary undertaking, the act of smoking always involved some ritual. When the pipe was first lit, smoke would be offered to the directions: four directions in some traditions, six in others, and often seven.

    Often pipes were individual pipes: that is, there were privately owned. An individual pipe could be used ceremonially to aid in the owner’s personal spiritual quest or the owner could use the pipe to help other people. In addition, an individual pipe might be used for recreational smoking. When the owner of the pipe died, the pipe was either buried with the owner’s body or it was destroyed.

    Sometimes pipes were communally owned: that is, they were a part of a bundle of spiritual objects. These pipes were used only ceremonially and were used to spiritually help the people.

    Today, pipes are still commonly used by American Indian people. Many of the old bundles and their pipes still play an important role in the spiritual life of the people. Many individuals also have pipes and, as “pipe carriers,” they are often asked to conduct spiritual ceremonies.

    Tobacco is still used as a spiritual offering. When asking the advice of an elder, for example, it is customary to give the elder tobacco. In gathering wild plants for ceremonial use, it is customary to leave a small offering of tobacco for the spirits of the plants. In preparing the fire for the sweat lodge, tobacco offerings are given to the fire. Ceremonially, tobacco is still an important part of Native American spirituality.

    In the United States today, tobacco use-primarily cigarettes and chewing tobacco-is extremely high on Indian reservations and among Indian populations in urban areas. This is accompanied by the usual tobacco-related health problems. In many areas, the elders are attempting to tell the young people that tobacco should be used only in ceremonial context and not for recreation.  

    Wellbriety Cycles: Cycle of Life

    ( – promoted by navajo)

    Like people throughout the world, traditional Native American cultures recognized and celebrated the changes that people experience as they age. Human infants are often greeted with certain celebrations, ceremonies and rituals in the minutes, days, or months following birth. As the infant grows into childhood and then into adulthood and then into old-age, each of these transitions may be marked by more celebrations, rituals, and ceremonies. And finally, there comes death.  

    Wellbriety Background:

    Wellbriety is a concept which grew out of attempts to bring sobriety to American Indian alcoholics and drug addicts. In order to bring about long-term sobriety, long-term changes in addictive behaviors, the entire community needs to embrace wellness-to obtain wellbriety. Wellbriety is a community approach which incorporates traditional Native American world views.

    Wellbriety views the Medicine Wheel as a circle of teaching that explains that anything growing is a system of circles and cycles.

    One of these is the cycle of seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Another is the cycle of life: baby, youth, adult, elder. On a personal level, the four directions of human growth are emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.

    The Cycle of Life:

    As with the cycle of the seasons, traditional cultures recognize and celebrate lifecycles with ceremonies.

    Many Native American cultures have ceremonies which mark the arrival of a new baby. Among the Chiricahua Apache, the Cradle Ceremony is conducted four days after birth. The significance of this brief rite is to spare the child from evil influences so that it would occupy the cradle in the future. The ceremony involves marking the child with pollen, presenting the cradleboard to the four directions, and then placing the child in the cradleboard.

    In English, the word “infant” means “unable to speak” in Latin [in (not) + fari (speak)]. In many American Indian cultures, a child is considered to be human when it can speak. This marks the transition from baby to youth. In many Indian cultures, this transition is marked with a naming ceremony in which the child, now considered fully human, is given a new name, one which reflects the child’s human characteristics.

    In many American Indian cultures, there would be a ceremony to mark the transition from youth to adult. In some of the cultures, particularly on the Great Plains and in the Columbia Plateau region, this would include a formal vision quest in which the youth would obtain a spiritual mentor, or tutelary spirit.

    Among the Ojibwa, children would start fasting for visions at age four or five. At first they would go into the woods and spend a day without food or water while waiting for their visions. Later, they would spend four or more days at time fasting and waiting for their visions to come to them. Both boys and girls sought visions.

    For the first vision quest among Ojibwa children, the face and arms are blackened with ash and then the child is taken to the Place of Visions. This is usually a location which is felt to be unnatural, a place formed by neither humans nor nature. On the occasion of the vision quest the spirits would welcome human visitors to this place. After making an offering of tobacco and asking the spirits to bring a vision to the child, the parent leaves. For a number of days the child waits alone, waiting for a vision.

    The vision often comes in the form of a particular animal who gives special instructions on how to live, teaches special songs, and shows how to use special medicines. This animal or guardian spirit becomes the person’s personal Manitou. Often the person then carries a representation of this spirit which represents the essences of the spiritual power. Throughout one’s life one can call upon the guardian spirit for assistance, guidance and protection by using a representation.

    Among the Western Apache there is a girl’s puberty ceremony which invests in young girls the qualities which are felt to be important for adulthood. This is an elaborate ceremony which has consequences for the entire community. In the ceremony, the power of Changing Woman enters the girl’s body and lives there for the four days of the ceremony. The gift of Changing Woman is longevity and physical health.

    Among the Kwakwaka’wakw on the Northwest Coast, the girl’s puberty ceremony, called the Ixanttsila, was a pivotal moment in a girl’s life, marking her transition into womanhood. In preparation for the ceremony, the girl would be secluded for 16 days. During this time she would be taught how to conduct herself.

    The transition from adult to elder is more subtle. Among many Indian groups, this is seen by the use of titles such as “uncle,” “aunt,” “grandfather,” and “grandmother.” These titles do not indicate genetic relationships, but rather they show a respected status. It is to these elders that the youth and the adults turn for the teachings about the culture, its history and its meaning.  

    Wellbriety Cycles: Cycle of the Seasons

    ( – promoted by navajo)

    In traditional cultures, the cycle of the seasons was-and often still is-recognized and celebrated with ceremonies. These ceremonies are a way of obtaining and maintaining harmony with the natural world. For humans to live in health, happiness, and harmony, they must be in tune with the continually changing world around them. This diary is going to look at the Cycle of the Seasons.

    Wellbriety Background:

    Wellbriety is a concept which grew out of attempts to bring sobriety to American Indian alcoholics and drug addicts. In order to bring about long-term sobriety, long-term changes in addictive behaviors, the entire community needs to embrace wellness-to obtain wellbriety. Wellbriety is a community approach which incorporates traditional Native American world views.

    Wellbriety views the Medicine Wheel as a circle of teaching that explains that anything growing is a system of circles and cycles:

    One of these is the cycle of seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Another is the cycle of life: baby, youth, adult, elder. On a personal level, the four directions of human growth are emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.

    The Cycle of the Seasons in Native Cultures:

    In traditional cultures, the cycle of the seasons was-and often still is-recognized and celebrated with ceremonies. These ceremonies are a way of obtaining and maintaining harmony with the natural world. For humans to live in health, happiness, and harmony, they must be in tune with the continually changing world around them.

    The Tohono O’odham are an agricultural people who farmed in the Sonoran desert of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. At the beginning of the rainy season in July they hold the Saguaro Festival to bring rain to the desert. As a part of the ceremony, cactus wine – tiswin – is made and consumed.

    In the Saguaro Festival, the local village representative plus three guests occupy four directional positions representing the rain spirits of these directions. Cup bearers then bring the tiswin. They drink a portion of it and sing four rain songs. They then dip their fingers into the gourd and sprinkle the beverage on the ground to symbolize rainfall. The first night of the festival is called “sit-and-drink” and during this time ritual speeches are made. Following this everyone consumes the tiswin until it is gone. In the words of one woman:

    “People must all make themselves drunk like plants in the rain and they must sing for happiness.”

    The seasons are marked not only by the changing weather patterns, but also by changes in the sun, the moon, and the stars. For many Indian groups in the Southeastern Culture Area, the movement of the stars through the seasons are viewed as a celestial canoe. The Alabama, for example, call the bowl of the Big Dipper the Boat Stars while their Creek neighbors call this Pilohabi, meaning “image of a canoe.”

    Traditionally the Iroquois (Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk, Cayuga, and Seneca) would hold a nine-day Midwinter Ceremony to close out the old year and to bring in the new year. The ceremony began five days after the first new moon following the zenith of Pleiades. The teachings of Handsome Lake, however, say that the ceremony should start five days after the first January new moon. The timing of the ceremony with the zenith point of the Pleiades has an important association. During the ceremony people are dancing on earth when the line of communication with the sky realm is open directly above and while the sky spirits are also dancing .

    The first part of the Midwinter Ceremony is concerned with curing, dream fulfillment, renewal, and personal well-being. This was a time for the cleansing of thoughts, not of deeds. It was a time when the fears and worries of the year were bought into the open and cured. The second part of the ceremony was concerned with sacred rituals and food spirit observations.

    Among many of the Indian nations of the Northwest, the year was divided into two periods. The non-ceremonial or secular time was from March to November when the people were primarily occupied in fishing, hunting, and gathering. The Kwakiutl call this Bakoos time. Nuu-chah-nulth artist and ritualist Ki-ke-in writes:

    “To continue this good life, we as kuu-as (real living human beings) must follow a disciplined schedule and observe our sacred practices governed by lunar and seasonal cycles.”

    One of the ceremonies found among the Indian nations of the Northwest coast is the First Salmon Ceremony. The salmon are beings who live like people in their own world and each year they appear as fish to give their flesh to humans. The salmon, therefore, are treated with special reverence and a ceremony is held at the first catch to honor the salmon and to encourage its abundance. This ceremony serves to remind the people of the rhythmic cycles in nature and the interdependence of all beings.  


    ( – promoted by navajo)

    Throughout the Southwest, a figure known as Kokopelli appeared on rock art: pictographs (painted) and petroglyphs (carved). Later, the Kokopelli figure was incorporated into pottery and other art forms. Kokopelli today is often seen as one of the symbols of Southwestern ancestors.

    Kokopelli 1

    Kokopelli 2

    Kokopelli is usually depicted as a humpbacked flute player. According to some traditions, his fluteplaying chases away the Winter and brings about the spring.

    Kokopelli 3

    In the hump of his back he carried the seeds of plants and flowers. In some traditions, such as those of the Hopi, Kokopelli carries unborn children in his backpack and distributes them to women. For this reason unmarried young girls are often afraid of him. Kokopelli is often associated with marriage rituals.

    Kokopelli 4

    Kokopelli is often depicted with a long penis. He is  sometimes accompanied by Kokopelli Mana, his female companion.

    Kokopelli 5

    In some traditions, Kokopelli is associated with the reproduction of game animals. He is often depicted with animal companions such as the deer and the ram. He is sometimes associated with snakes, lizards, and insects.

    Some scholars feel that Kokopelli’s flute is actually the depiction of a blowgun, while others feel it is a pipe for smoking tobacco.

    There are some who feel that Kokopelli was actually a trader from northern Mesoamerica. He carried trade goods on his back and would announce his arrival to trade by playing the flute.

    The Southwestern oral traditions, particularly those of the Hopi, talk about the exploits of Kokopelli. In Hopi ceremonials he takes on a ribald role of a comic seducer of girls and a bringer of babies. In his many guises, Kokopelli can be seen as a Southwestern manifestation of the American Indian trickster.

    Sexuality was important to the Native people of the Southwest: it was not something hidden. In addition, sexuality was incorporated into the spiritual in stories, in art, and in ceremonies. The Europeans and Americans were, and sometimes still are, offended by the graphic depictions of Kokopelli’s sexuality. Often, these people defaced the ancient rock art to obscure the offending penis. As a result of pressure from the contemporary American society, many of the modern images of Kokopelli have been sanitized and desexualized.

    Kokopelli 6

    Dam Indians: The Columbia River

    During the twentieth century, the United States viewed large hydroelectric dams as signs of progress, and as symbols of American technological superiority and modernity. In 1932, the Army Corps of Engineers submitted a 2,000 page report which called for the construction of 10 large dams on the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington. The report described the benefits of these dams, including improved navigation routes, electric power, irrigation water, and flood control. Boosters of the project promised that the electricity generated by the dams would change the culture of the area and bring in new, innovative industries. There was no concern for any possible impact on the Indian nations which have lived along the river for thousands of years, nor was there any consideration given to the spiritual meaning and use of the river.  

    In 1934, Frank B. Lenzie, the Bureau of Indian Affairs range supervisor in Spokane, wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs expressing concern over the construction of dams on the Columbia River. His concern was that the dams would cut off the salmon run and thus impact the Indians’ income. The government, however, has little concern for Indian use of the river. President Franklin Roosevelt, when he pushed the button which started the first power unit at the Bonneville Dam, outlined a plan for ever-expanding development and more dams on the river.

    In the 1950s, promotion of dam-building on the Columbia River took on a new dimension: national defense. If the United States, the Army Corps of Engineers argued, was going to defeat godless communism, then it was going to need the electrical power generated from the Columbia River dams. This provided a new sense of urgency for the construction of the dams and a new excuse for ignoring the impact of the dams on Indian cultures. At this same time, the government is fighting communism in the United States by attempting to terminate Indian nations whose communally-held lands were seen as un-American.

    While the courts had long recognized that Indians have superior fishing rights along the Columbia River which they reserved under their treaties with the United States, the authorization of dams by Congress effectively took this resource from the Indians. Economic benefits for non-Indian communities-hydroelectric power, irrigation water, improved transportation-were more important than Indian resources (fish) and spirituality.

    In assessing the costs of the dams, the Corps of Engineers ignored any cultural costs, particularly any spiritual or religious values of the Indian nations.

    The government destroyed traditional Indian fishing sites along the river when it constructed the dams. The government made solemn promises to provide the Indians with in-lieu fishing sites to replace these sites. However, the in-lieu sites were not a high priority for the federal government. The government had to deal with more pressing issues, such as providing recreational areas for non-Indians along the river. While the government seemed able to find land for recreational sites, and to find the money to purchase this land and improve it, it was unable to find either land or money for the in-lieu fishing sites.

    The Army Corps of Engineers managed to build 27 parks along the river, all of which were developed after the Corps promised six sites to Indian fishers. While the Corps was unable, or unwilling to find land for the Indian in-lieu fishing sites, their parks total 952 acres, more than double the land it couldn’t find for the Indians.

    The government constructed seventeen dams between the salmon and their Columbia and Snake River spawning grounds. The government irrigation projects took water from the River to water non-Indian farms and then returned some of the water laden with fish-killing fertilizer and pesticides.

    In 1986, Congress passed the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act. The Act itself does not recognize the Indian fishing sites along the river, but the congressional report which accompanied the Act states:

    “It is the intent of Congress that previous agreements with Tribes be fulfilled and this legislation not prejudice the ability of Congress to accomplish what was promised 47 years ago. Recreation plans must recognize the need for additional sites and provide for them in the planning process, following the recommendations by the appropriate tribes.”

    In 1988, the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on the situation of the in-lieu fishing sites and fishing regulations on the Columbia River. The committee brought in representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Indians from the Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Nez Perce tribes also provided testimony.

    Yakama tribal spokesman Levi George pointed out that the Columbia River was now a series of lakes and that:

    “Under these lakes lies the heritage of the Yakama people. Gone are our traditional villages, camp sites, drying sheds, rapids and falls and usual and accustomed fishing places, covered by these lakes in the name of progress. Also gone are many promises made to us by the white man during the building of the dams, including promises that fish ladders at the dams would fully protect our salmon, that our fishers would not be lost through progress and that our fishing places, at least in part, would be replaced.”

    In response the representative from the Corps of Engineers states:

    “From a purely technical/legal perspective, we believe the Corps has met its legal obligations to provide in-lieu sites.”

    The Indian Nations along the Columbia River continue to fish in the river and the river continues to be an important part of Native spirituality. Recognizing the interdependence between human people and salmon people, the tribes are using scientific methods in an attempt to maintain the salmon runs.