Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

The sound–like sleet upon a roof

draws me outside to see

a great flock of European Starlings

filling the surrounding fall trees.

surrounding me.




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Dear Readers,

In two weeks, I am going to present at a fortune 100 company as part of their diversity program. I have a half hour for my presentation and a four-by-eight table on which to place pictures or things. I get to talk about being “Indian”.  (In my case, being a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, and having ancestors from the Red lake, Leech Lake and White Earth bands as well.) I suppose my audience will be people I’ve met from a relative’s department, and perhaps some of the big wigs from the company.

Having lived on and off the reservation and having degrees in American Indian Studies and psychology, it would be easy for me to come up with my perception of what being Indian means.  However, as part of the presentation, I would like to know and present two things. 1) What you would like to know about a person/people from these cultures if you are not from there, and 2) what you would like other people to know if you are.

For fellow Anishinabeg, I’m aware that we come from many different  reservations, reserves, places and experiences, and want to take this into account. But I need your input in order to do so. If you would like me to keep your replies confidential, I can do that, as this blog is set up so that I have to approve,  and can edit, your reply before posting it. I would however like to use your reply and at least note where it comes from.

Yours Sincerely,

Russell Littlecreek

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How high does an Eagle have to fly

in order to take your prayer to Heaven?


About 3 feet.

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Are the dead meant to fade away?

Are our forebears meant to be forgotten,
when the ones who loved them pass away?

Spirit houses are not made to last.
They are new at the time of death
and old and decrepit after a short time,
a few years.

This so the spirits of those who linger
near the world of the living
have time to transition.

In some of the reservation cemeteries,
there are the newest graves at the front,
with their gaudy plastic flowers and mementos
and bright and shiny polished granite
fading to graves halfway back.

On these, no plastic blooms.
They are the somber, weathered, dusty tombstones;
some in the lichen covered, obsolete limestone,
of those who could afford them.

And the simple wooden crosses
rotting and askew,
of those who could not.

And further back still,
the depressions in the grass
of those old, old ones,
silent and unattended,
unmarked and forgotten.

The lost ones

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Hand DrumHere is a picture of a drum I made way back on December 12th, 1975 (A year out of High School) My sister owns it now.
In a somewhat stylized painting of Anishinabeg drawings, it represents the people of the four directions: Red, White, Black, and Yellow; while also representing the four directions themselves.
Note: I believe it is ok to use this style of drawing in one’s art because the symbols had individual meaning and were the property of their owner and were passed to another as such. They did not have a universal meaning. And, as long as one does not try to pass oneself off as being a Mide’ (unless you are one) this style of drawingis a part of being Anishinabeg.
The horizontal line through the middle represents the separation between the world of the living and the world of the dead.  
The accent lines pointing to the hands and feet of the man and woman in this world represent their power to move, act, etc., in short, their power to do everything that a person with a body can do in this world.
Notice that the spirits of the man and woman do not have hands and feet, which signifies that they lack some of the power that comes from having a body in this world.
On the left is a drawing of Mishipeshew-the great water Lynx. He represents an evil spirit. The red fire coming out of his mouth represents “the fiery darts of the adversary”, which tempt the people of the world.
Note the line coming from  his heart to his mouth. This is called the heart line, and  it also represents that what comes out of a person’s mouth comes from his heart. Mishipeshew is also reflected in the spirit world to represent that he has the power to influence the spirits of people there as well.
The tree represents the tree of life, which is a symbol of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (I believe that many of the Mide’ symbols are remnants from the time that Christ visited this continent.) It exists in this world and in the spirit world.
The figure on the right is the Holy Ghost, which operates in both worlds as well. (The Holy Ghost is a little faded because some of the white paint wore off  🙂    )

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Is it a wonder,


an Eagle soars where prayers are offered?

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The question is not: “How many spiritual leaders are there in Red Lake?” because whether we see it or not, or whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, the fact is, we are all spiritual leaders.
Rather the question is only: “What kind of spiritual leaders do we choose to be in Red Lake?”

Who is a spiritual leader?

Elders: While some elders never learn their lessons, old age can be conducive to spirituality. Disease, accidents or consequence due to lack of impulse control or wrong choices kill off many of The People in their prime of life.
In general, people who make wise choices tend to live longer.

Most elders aren’t as driven by their hormones as teenagers because they are older. (Elders may not have as many hormones.) They may have little or no sex drive or are not as impulsive because of a lack of hormones.
Elders don’t sleep as much, or as well, so they have more time to think, or do other things.

Parents are spiritual leaders by example as are aunts, uncles, older brothers, sisters,  siblings, and twins.

Teens and pre-teens are spiritual leaders  because their peers look to them for social approval over any other age group at this stage of their development.

Little children are spiritual leaders because not yet having learned the vices of the world, they are innocent, and virtuous. By  being who they are, they teach and remind those of us who may have abandoned some of those virtues as we grew older,  to re-examine and reclaim them.

Whether we want to be or not, Red Lakers are visible because we may look different. It can be hard to hide being Anishinabeg. Therefore, we are spiritual examples of being Anishinabeg whether we want to be or not.

Whether we believe we are participating or not, we are spiritual examples. We are an example of participation in spiritual things when we do, just as we are an example of non-participation in spiritual things when we don’t participate.

How do spiritual leaders lead?
I know where the best wild rice lakes are because someone showed me and now I can show you. Spiritual leaders lead by experience gained through faith and knowledge. They believed that the best wild rice lake was there even though they could not immediately see it, and acting on the belief, searched until they found it. Having gained the knowledge through the experience of their search, they could tell or show you how to get there.

Caregiver, servant, teacher, guide, helper or rescuer are just other names for  a spiritual leader .

One can never be better than others  when one is a spiritual leader because being better than someone else is a false assumption, that is because we can only be better than we were.

I have heard it said that there is no up or down when it comes to spiritual leadership because being higher or lower is a false comparison; as if being better than who we were somehow makes us better than other people. It doesn’t. It is just a matter of  our making individual progress.

It is a common assumption that being spiritual means being good. That is an erroneous assumption. Spirituality is neutral until we place a value on it. Spiritual leaders can be good, bad, and evil.

If a person is a good spiritual leader, it is because they practice being virtuous. Virtuous action is a result of choosing to be virtuous. While one can have ulterior motives to doing things that appear virtuous, usually the reason is because one wants to be good.

If a person is a bad spiritual leader, it is not necessarily because they want to hurt other people but  because they are trying to be good but are making mistakes.

An evil spiritual leader is a person who acts intending to cause pain or suffering, or intending to hurt or destroy another person–whether physically, spiritually or socially.

Connecting with a higher power can only be done by virtue.

Connecting with a lower power can only be done by vice.

We cannot do the one and expect to connect with the other.


Just a few stray thoughts.

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* Happy Thanksgiving Day!
Dear God,
Thank you for:
creating this beautiful and wonder-full Earth,
people in all their varieties,
and every living thing.
caring and loving nuclear and extended families
good neighbors
people who stand up for what is good, right, just, merciful, benevolent,  virtuous, charitable and true
Veterans, Police, Firefighters, and Emergency Medical Technicians
everyone in the traditional, and non-traditional mental and physical health  and helping professions
professors and teachers
the political leaders of our country who serve with our best interests at heart
spiritual men and women who lead by example
the freedoms we enjoy in this country
our free agency and all of our personal blessings.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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I have many heroes in Red Lake, some great, some small, but I would like to write about the one who I think exemplifies the best qualities found in true Red Lakers.

Maydwaygwanonind or He Who Is Spoken To

His Anishinabe name was Mādwāgwănōnĭnd. His translated name is “He Who Is Spoken To”. The funny thing is, non-Indians could never get his Indian name right. I came across quite a few different–and strange–spellings for it in my web search.

There is not much in print about Maydwaygwanonind –two or three pages at best as far as I know, and most of that is from Episcopal Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple who was his spiritual contemporary. However, aside from the following facts, we can infer much from what was written about the character of this great “old chief”.

Maydwaygwanonind was born about 1806.1
He was about 92 years old when he died in the winter of 18982.
He was the principle head chief of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians.
He had a flag with 38 Stars on it that Abraham Lincoln gave him.
One of his greatest achievements was keeping Red Lake Reservation from allotment.

Bishop Whipple described him as being,

“Six feet and four inches in height, straight as an arrow, with flashing eyes, frank, open countenance, and as dignified in bearing as one of a kingly race.”

J Maurice Farrar said:

“He [was] of immense stature, and [had]… a head which might have been the model for Michael Angelo’s Moses, with its grand mane of iron-grey locks and powerfully marked intellectual features”3

He could speak:

“…in a voice of thunder, and with a majesty of diction and action which might have become one of the old Homeric heroes in council”,3


“…with all the grace and dignity of a Roman senator,”    

Maydwaygwanonind was a man of many virtues.

He was humble and teachable. Once during a conversation with Bishop Whipple he said,

“I will now talk to you about my people. We have never sold any land to white men. They will come some day and ask us to make a treaty. Will you tell me what to say to them?”

Maydwaygwanonind knew that in these circumstances he was ignorant, but he was willing to ask someone he trusted to look after his best interests and follow their advice.

One hallmark of a wise person is that they learn from the mistakes of others. Maydwaygwanonind illustrated his wisdom when he said, “The Indians to the East have sold their land and have perished. I want my people to live”.

Maydwaygwanonind was true, and by that I mean undeviating.

“Mr. Kittson, one of the oldest of the traders of the Northwest, said… He is a man that no money could swerve from the truth”.

“The Old Chief” was dedicated. In the winter of 1863-4, he walked to get Bishop Whipple’s advice.

“…when the lakes were frozen, Madwaganonint walked one hundred and fifty miles to see me.”

This was no easy feat as any Minnesotan who has survived a winter can tell you. Maydwaygwanonind was about 57 years old when he made the journey and at our age the cold feels painful. In addition, being the frontier, Indian-White relations were strained; and being a tall Indian man, he probably didn’t get an offer to ride in the rare passing settler’s wagon or sled—if any were out at that time.

Maydwaygwanonind was astute. He showed this when he spoke to Bishop Whipple about another chief.

“The white men say they have bought my land. There are four principal chiefs. One-half the Indians are in my band and nearly one-fourth are in Ase-ne-wub’s band. Asenewub says he has signed no treaty. Whether he has or not the Indians will believe him. I did not sign because there were no houses, cattle, nor schools in the treaty. The game will be gone, and there is a place for my people’s graves. Will you help me? ”

… I asked him why he spoke as he did about Asenewub. ‘He had a horse given him,’ was the answer; ‘and white men do not give Indians horses for nothing.’ I afterward learned that the horse was a return for signing a paper.”

He was also faithful.

“Madwaganonint became from the first a regular attendant upon public worship. After due instruction, he was baptized and confirmed and from that time to the day of his death, he faithfully kept the “Praying day” and sought to lead his people to the Savior.”

“The old chief” was composed and considerate, even when under pressure. Bishop Whipple recounts this story of him.

“Many of the clergy and laity of the diocese will remember the speech which Madwaganonint made at the council at Duluth in 1886. I was presiding, and seeing the old chief standing at the door, and knowing that he had made the journey of two hundred miles to see me, I beckoned to him to come forward. Turning to the council, I said: ‘I want to introduce to you the head chief of the Red Lake Indians, our brother in the Church of Christ, whose village is the only one I know in Minnesota where every man, woman, and child is a Christian.’ Judge Wilder and Judge Atwater instantly rose, and the rest of the council followed.

With perfect composure Madwaganonint turned to me and asked, “Do they expect me to speak to them?”

“I think they will be very glad to hear you”, I answered.

Dropping his blanket from one shoulder, he stood with all the grace and dignity of a Roman senator, and said: “My friends, I am glad that when you chose a man to be your father, you chose one whose heart was large enough to have room for my people. I thank you that with all the work you had for him to do, you permitted him to come and tell me and my people that we have a Savior. I am an old man and almost home. Will you pray for me? Good-by. I have done.”

He Who Is Spoken To was the epitome of a spiritual and tribal leader. He,

“…sought to lead his people to the Savior… As their chief, he considered it his duty to see that the young men fulfilled their promises. He more truly represented the patriarchal chieftain and counselor than any Indian I have known.”

In addition, according to Bishop Whipple, his was the village,

“…whose village is the only one I know in Minnesota where every man, woman, and child is a Christian.”

Indians and Whites respected Maydwaygwanonind. When he entered a room to speak:

“…Judge Wilder and Judge Atwater instantly rose, and the rest of the council followed.”

Of his death Bishop Whipple wrote:

Headstone for Maydwaygwanonind or He Who Is Spoken To

"In memory of Madwaganonint, Head Chief of the Red Lake Indians, always faithful and true. He has gone to his reward."

“Only a few months ago, in the winter of 1898, I received a letter from the Rev. Francis Willis, at Red Lake, telling me that Madwaganonint had entered into rest. For a moment my heart was overwhelmed with sorrow, for I loved this noble red man, one of the truest souls I have ever known. He had seen great sorrows, and felt keenly the wrongs which his people had suffered, but I do not recall a word of murmuring from the brave heart. Over his grave near the little log church which, stands in the Red Lake forest, I placed a marble cross representing the rough trunk of the oak tree, at the base of which was inscribed: ‘In memory of Madwaganonint, Head Chief of the Red Lake Indians, always faithful and true. He has gone to his reward.’”


1. 1895 Minnesota State Census

2. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from: Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate, Being Reminiscences and Recollections of the Right Reverend Henry Benjamin Whipple, D.D., LL.D., Bishop of Minnesota, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1899. Chapter XIII, http://archive.org/details/lightsshadowsoflwhip

3. Five years in Minnesota: sketches of life in a western state, J Maurice Farrar, Minnesota, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1880, Page 139


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Here are my observations on people who have claimed to have visions.

How to know if you have NOT had a vision.

You’ve had illegal drugs, prescription drugs or alcohol in the 14 days previous to the time you had your vision. In other words, there are no chemical shortcuts to receiving a vision.

Delirium Tremens from alcohol withdrawal do not count as visions.

Diagnosed paranoid schizophrenics do not have visions.

If you are not a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and you had a vision, a certified mental health professional would diagnose you as a paranoid schizophrenic after hearing you relate your vision.

Along these same lines; If you have a vision, you will not hear or feel that you can do something illegal or break what any religious people call the commandments. This includes, but is not limited to: killing or hurting a person or people, or animals, having sex with non-consenting adults or children, or having sex with consenting adults who are not your spouse, etc.

Don’t follow people who have visions who tell you to: Drink poisoned Kool-aid or go out to meet little green aliens.

How to know if you have a true vision.

You will be lucid in your vision. You will be aware of yourself and your surroundings.
A vision can happen in a dream or when you are awake.
If a vision happens in a dream, you will have lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming has three components:
You are conscious.
You have volition.
You have acute clarity of emotion and perception.

A vision has such clarity that you do not perceive the difference between an in-the-body and out-of-body experience whether you are sleeping or awake.

A holy vision will always have a  moral teaching component to it that is personal to you.

A vision will always be good in itself. It will always focus on good things, or it will have benefits which are good; i.e. , you are shown a catastrophic experience which you must avoid or for which you are to prepare, or about which you are to warn someone else.  P.S. these catastrophic experiences are on a small scale that one might see happening to a friend. Avoid people who claim to have visions about the exact time of the rapture or an apocalypse.

Fasting for three days without food or water connected with a vision quest puts most people squarely in the zone, but is not for everyone.

Fasting for four days without food or water in conjunction with questing for a vision is “pushing the envelope” and is iffy.

Unless you can lay down your life and take it up again, fasting for forty days and forty nights without food or water is a no-no.

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