Posts Tagged ‘Society’

Run Wild

You may have heard the stereotypical phrase, “Running around like a bunch of wild Indians”.

Well, I saw this sign in a nearby park, alluding to that.

See?!  It’s not some Indians.

Other people are planning on running wild in the woods!  😉

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In the old days, the Anishinabeg as a people where virtuous. Parents would not allow their young daughter to meet with a young man unattended. So it was that he would use a courting flute to woo her (and them).

At night, just after the sun went down, the young man would play his flute while hidden in the woods near their lodge. If she liked what he played, she would invite him in for further discussion. If she didn’t like what he played, then she would throw stones at him while making disparaging comments until he stole away in the night.

Mă·nō´mĭn was the name of the flute maker’s beautiful daughter. Her name meant “wild rice”. Her parents named her that for many reasons: one, because they liked the way it sounded; two,  just as wild rice was essential for the survival of the people, they knew they could not live happily without their precious daughter, and three, because her auntie, who was a powerful mĭdewiwĭn, prophesied at her birth that she would have a wild (as in free and unfettered) temperament.

Now being the flute makers daughter, and he having a very young son not yet old enough to learn the tricks of the trade, happily taught Mănōmĭn all of his flute making knowledge. This gave her quite the advantage over her friends. Not that she would take advantage of them, rather, that she knew things that would help her to make a better choice concerning her suitors.

For instance, she knew the four most important things about courting flutes and their owners: how the flute itself reflected the characteristics of it’s owner, who all the young men in the village were; the love magic associated with a courting flute, and how to make her own flute.

You see, either a young man came to the flute maker to learn how to make his own flute, or he came to the flute maker to have a flute made for him. This helped Manomin because she saw all the young men who visited her father.

But this was not all, for in this family, (and so in most of this village) a flute was traditionally as long as the forearm of its maker–from elbow to the longest fingertip. There was a hand’s breadth of space between the mouthpiece and the fetish, another between the fetish and the first finger hole, and still another between the last finger hole and the bottom. The bore was as large as the dominant forefinger of it’s owner and there was a thumb’s breadth between each of the six finger holes.

So, if the owner of the flute was a tall young man with big hands, his flute would be long, with a large bore and so would have a low tone. If the young man was short and had little hands, his flute would be short with a small bore and thus would have a higher tone. Knowing this, Manomin could generally figure out who played what flute.

In either case, the young man came to the flute maker to learn how to play his flute. For her father had to learn how to play his flute well in order to woo and win over his wife, and for a fee or trade he passed this knowledge on to his proteges.

Now, here’s the rub. You see, while each young man was given the basics on how to play a flute well. They all had to practice their flute in private, either deep in the woods, or at their own lodges, which were far away. Not only that, but they also had to create their own songs, becoming one with their own flutes during the process,  so Manomin could not know exactly what songs came from who.

Now, having this knowledge was compounded by another factor. There was love jē´bĭk,  or magic, that could be associated with a courting flute. If a young man wanted to entrance the young woman with his courting flute playing he had to get a personal item or piece of hair from his intended and incorporate it into the decoration of that flute. This was how he would hopefully “seal the deal”.

Knowing this, and knowing that her father wasn’t above trying to “stack the deck” for the  young man of his choice, Manomin was very careful to keep all of her personal possessions hidden away in her Mă·kăk´, which was a birch bark container that is square on the bottom and round on top, and routinely burned any strands of stray hair that ended up in her comb or brush.

Finally, knowing how to make a courting flute was knowledge that Manomin kept up her sleeve for later.


As things go, the courting started in earnest that spring.

It was late enough so that there were leaves on the trees and grass on the ground, but early enough that the mosquitoes and biting flies had not come out yet. It was still cool enough that Manomin would sit by the fire just outside the lodge by a large pile of river pebbles she had gathered over the previous months for that very purpose. These stones were large enough that she could throw them a great distance but small enough that if you were beaned with one it would hurt, but not knock you out.

There were many suitors. Some played so softly and tenuously that she could barely hear them. Manomin figured that she needed someone who played boldly to reflect their bold spirit. So she threw stones at them and they disappeared.

Sometimes she heard rustling in the bushes as if someone were fighting and she would call out and throw stones, letting them know that if they did not let each other play that she would have none of them. So it was by the agreement of the suitors that each one played on a different night until all had a chance.  They would play until Manomin got tired of listening and went inside the lodge or until she threw stones and chased them away.

Some of the songs were unoriginal, like “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. That got the stones. Some of the songs were painful. Their notes too high. Manomin figured that if she didn’t like the songs, that she wouldn’t like the young man who wrote them. Stones, stones, stones.  They were the recipients of stones as well.  Some of the songs were repetitive. Manomin did not want to have a boring relationship so those young men were stoned.

The songs that she liked the most were those that incorporated the sounds of her favorite courting  bird, the Mahng or loon,  and the various woodpeckers. The combination of tremolo in them was either from the player being nervous which she didn’t mind at all because it made her realize she had power to make that young man nervous, or because he was accomplished enough to deliberately incorporate that quality into his song. She also realized that having such a skill might translate into other areas as well. There were a few flutists whose songs made the hair on the back of her neck stand up, they were so thrilling!

The young men were also tenacious enough that they came back night after night. They would play one song that identified them  and then they would play the new songs they had made up over the past few days.


This lasted until near the end of the Fall when Manomin decided to do something totally unexpected. She pulled a flute she had secretly made out of her sleeve! Whenever one of the young men who were left tried to play their songs she would play hers. One of the young men tried to drown her out. She was sad to have to throw stones at him because his songs were so beautiful and sad that they made her weep, but she knew that if he was not smart enough to figure out that she mattered in this way that he would not treat her equally later.

Her playing initially silenced the remaining flute players until only one was left. He came every night and announced his presence with a short song, but Manomin started playing immediately after that.

Then a wonderful thing happened.

When there was a break in her song, the young man would play counterpoint.  When it was possible, and their flutes were in tune –which was very difficult because the notes of Anishinabeg flutes were not tuned to scale as the Europeans do, but were made to the measurements of the user, the young man would play harmony to her melody. This went on four nights with their songs becoming increasingly complicated and intertwined. On the last night, Manomin gave her final test. She ad-libbed! And the young man, well knowing how she played by this time ad-libbed right along with her. The result was a musical synergy that each could not have developed without the other.

It was on that night, just before the first snow fell, that Manomin invited the young man who would become her husband, in to meet her parents.

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I discovered I had a new superpower as I stepped off the plane in Bemidji. I was invisible! It’s true.  Grown-up people I didn’t know did not see me until I said something to them or did something to attract their attention. They looked right through me! This was not true for children. They could see me all the time. So it must have something to do with complicated minds.

This power became stronger as I traveled through Red Lake. Sometimes people could not see me, even if I waved at them! The interesting  thing about this super power is that while my friends could see me easily, the more people did not know me, the more it seems like I had a force field around me that actually repelled their gaze.  It just slid around me.  I’m not sure I want to say too much about it as the NSA and the CIA might want to make use of it. I know it would come in handy in places that are not Minnesota.

Perhaps it’s like the instinct in monkeys. You don’t want to look them in the eye because one of you might be afraid the other is hostile. I just wonder if this is an invisibility gene that comes from someplace.

The other interesting thing I found was that I was not alone in having this super power. It is also true that all the other Minnesotans and especially the  Indians have it as well. But I think it is like a fish being underwater. The water is all around us but since we are in it all the time we don’t notice it until someone points it out to us.

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Up to this point I have never re-blogged a post, (considering such a thing to be cheating). In this case, I thought Lori’s blog was so good that I’d make an exception. Enjoy.

Lori Potter

As we rapidly approach the end of 2012, I believe now is a good time to focus on something big.  What I’m talking about is an issue so deep and dark that it has plagued my community for at least twenty years.   It’s the root of many reasons why so many people are emotionally disconnected and refuse to attend meetings, volunteer, or have generally anything productive to do with the tribe whatsoever.  Yes, folks, it’s high time I address the elephant in the room because frankly, he’s been toying with my community for far too long.

I’m talking about…


Oh yes…a lot of crap can happen in twenty years.  There is indeed a list reasons why people feel the way they feel, and that list is very long.  It includes:

  • broken promises,
  • false assumptions of life-long prosperity spoon-fed to multiple generations,
  • secrecy,
  • political manipulation,
  • financial misleading,
  • threats to remain blindly…

View original post 583 more words

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It is time we activated the clans. Red Lake Clans are  unique Anishinabe institutions and can be service organizations that can  solve problems in ways that belong uniquely to the Red Lake Anishinabeg.
There are a number of questions that need to be answered in order to activate the clans:
Is there a need for the clans that is not being filled now?
Much (but not all) of tribal organization is based on borrowed non-Anishinabeg modes of government. We have a constitution, and departments, and programs, which carry out the ideas expressed in that constitution. These are all good things, but they lack  essential elements for the well-being of the people of the tribe as a whole.
The first element is that of original self-identification. The Anishinabeg definition and use of  clans was an original means of self-identification. Somewhere along the way the use of the clans as a means of self identification-other than identifying oneself as a clan member on an individual basis-was abandoned and needs to be reclaimed.
The second element is that clan membership reinforces the sense of being related and relationships.
The third element is service. I think historically through our relationship with it, non-Anishinabeg government has somewhat successfully inculcated into the tribe the sense that we are a welfare nation. By that I mean that the Anishinabeg operate on the assumption that our people must be given things because they are needy. In the case of the disadvantaged, it has some truth to it, but it is not a complete and accurate description of our tribe. It is important that we change this psychology.
Yes, we must look out for the welfare-as in well being-of some of our tribal members, but we need to do this in a way that recognizes that the Red Lake Anishinabeg as a whole can operate from a position of strength and power.
If the clans are activated as service organizations, this gives the tribe and its members this opportunity. When the Anishinabeg provide productive service to others from a position of power and do so without thought of getting paid for it, (other than the payoff of personal satisfaction) we cast off the psychology of need.
It is not that some of these opportunities do not exist now, but it provides a greater venue that is uniquely identified as Anishinabeg.
The fourth element concerns our youth. Enrollment in a clan would help to keep them out of gangs because it would fill gaps that gang membership  otherwise provides.  It would give them something and someone to identify with, give them something to do, something they can aspire to, and something for which they are respected and protected, all in positive ways.
How can the tribe recognize clan membership?
By this I mean the tribe should officially recognize clan membership by codifying recognition of clans in the tribal constitution. Perhaps a statement like: “The tribe shall have the Bear, Catfish, Eagle , Kingfisher,  Marten, Mink, and Turtle clans as service organizations to fulfill the needs of the tribe and its members.”
I believe that each clan should be a service organization.  Each clan would have a liaison who works with and at the direction and consulting with the tribal council. The tribal council would provide office space, an email address and a phone for clan members to communicate with their liaison. This liaison can be a leader of the clan or they can be designated by the leader(s) of the clan.
The role of the clan would be to assist in developing the tribal resources (its members and construction/utilization of its literal resources) and to assist in  developing the personal virtues/resources of the other members of the tribe (including clan members and members of other clans).
At this time, membership in a clan has  personal symbolic significance for me. I am a member of the Marten clan. This makes me feel good about myself. But unless I put it into practice and use it as a reason for doing good deeds, it has no practical significance. Right now, on a tribal level it has no practical application, and in that way does not benefit the tribe.
How is clan membership determined?
Right now, membership in a clan is inherited. If your father was a member of a clan, then you are a member of that same clan. This is good, but it does not cover a number of present day situations that need to be addressed.
What if you do not have a clan or do not know your clan?
What if your father comes from another band or tribe that did not have clans or did not have the same clans?
What if you do not know your father?
What if your mother did not know who your father was, or did not want your father to be a part of your life?
What if you are adopted?
In one instance, membership in a clan can be based on your mother’s lineage, as it may be now by default if you don’t know who your father is but you know your mother’s clan. Or you can choose to become a member of a clan if your mother does not know what clan she is in.
Every member of the tribe should belong to a clan and there should be an equal amount of the population in each clan.
How is clan leadership determined?
Eventually, each clan would determine how it elected its leader(s). Initially, one leader of each clan would be elected by existing members (those members who have declared themselves on their tribal identification). This initial leader would be a liaison with the tribal council for the first transitional term, perhaps a year, and would facilitate creating their clans infrastructure. That means they would chair the meetings where the clan members decided how to structure the clan. After the first year, the clan(s) would determine how long the liaison stayed in their position.
What should the infrastructure of a clan be, or how should a clan be organized?
This would be determined by its members, although for the sake of consistency and simplicity, it might be nice for all the clans to be initially organized in the same way. If the latter, perhaps the leaders of each clan could meet and decide by consensus on how they are organized.
Do we follow the traditional  agenda of each clan? Does each clan continue it’s traditional responsibility or do its members decide to be responsible in new ways?
As the times change, the needs of the tribe change, the responsibilities of each of clans would reflect this. For example, perhaps all veterans or current members of the armed forces would be in one clan that traditionally was charged with protecting the tribe…
How do we start?
The Tribal Council can either mandate the activation of the clans by resolution, or they can facilitate the activation of the clans by calling for a referendum.
Here are some possible questions that could appear on the referendum or be addressed by Tribal Council resolution.
Should the tribe activate the clans?
At the next general election, should the tribe place on the ballot the names of people who wish to run for  clan liaison?
Should the tribe allow existing self-declared clan members to vote on who they want their liaison to be?
How shall clan membership be determined in the future?
So there you have it, my latest thoughts on Red Lake Clans.

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What is one called
who sneaks into their neighbor’s yard?
What is one called
who cowers under cover of pre-dawn darkness?
What is one called
who shatters their neighbor’s trust?
What is one called
who has no regard for another’s property?
What is one called
who harms a relative?
What is one called
whose reveling eyes reflect the flames
that burned down my grandma’s house
then flees at the sound of sirens?
What is one called?
Around 5 a.m. this last Saturday morning, one or more arsonists torched my grandmother’s/brother’s home on the reservation. Luckily, no one was living there at the time.

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An anthropologist friend asked me the following question:

“I’m teaching Indians of North America this year. One of my students (Anglo) objected to another student’s presentation, because she showed a film clip of a Crow elder, which also included a clip from the sun dance (re-created). He says the sun dance should never be shown. What is your opinion?”

This causes me to ask myself some questions:
“What is the nature of something sacred?”, and
“What is the nature of something secret?”
“Are the two intertwined, or can they be exclusive?”
“What is the nature of the request about the keeping of the sacred and/or secret?”
“How far does one go in respecting the wishes of an institution/organization or individual if they are not a part of it?”

Let me give you a clear-cut example from my own life first. It’s religious but it has bearing on Red Lakers and the example in question which I will get to. Then we can travel through waters that are a little more murky.

I’m Mormon. I’ve been to the temple. I’ve had my endowments, call them ceremonies, rituals, a sacrament, or whatever. They are sacred to me and they are supposed to be secret.

Addressing the secret part, I would say, as a member, I’m admonished in public church (where non-members can participate) on Sunday that because I should hold them sacred, that I shouldn’t speak about their content other than in general context outside of the temple. So publicly I can say that I go to something called an “Endowment” and in it I learn things and I make promises. However, what I wouldn’t speak of outside of the temple is what specific things I learned and the wording of the promises I make.

Now, what you probably already know is that if one doesn’t respect my and the Mormon church’s desire to keep these things secret. You can go online and see for yourself exactly what is there. Why? Because people who were disaffected/left the church or who deliberately weaseled their way to the point where they could participate in the endowment so they could secretly record it, made their own choice to ridicule what I and the church consider sacred and secret. I haven’t been to these sites but I would suppose that they present the information in a way that is neither respectful nor unbiased.

Ok. I can feel myself getting a little worked up here. This brings me to another point of the nature of the Sacred.

How do you know when something is sacred to you? I believe, simply put, it’s when you have strong good feelings about something Good. (Yes that capital G was deliberate.) Weep at the death of a loved one? That’s sacred. Get so choked up that you can’t talk about something? That’s sacred. Motivated to do something good because of something that happened to you? That’s sacred. Cry at a tearjerker? Maybe a little less so; but still, it’s sacred.

Let me speak a little about the sacred and secret in a certain case. The one where you get so choked up about something that you can’t talk about it. That has happened to me a few times about things both wonderful and sorrowful, but the sorrowful time I can use as an example happened a long time ago at my dad’s funeral so I can talk about it now.

For me, my relationship with him was intensely conflicted. So when he died, it hit me hard…really hard. When mom asked me to speak during the funeral—(Being an Elder in my church at the time—I usually had some words to say.) I couldn’t. I was so distraught that I could barely shake my head “no”. Sometimes something is a secret because you are too emotionally wrought, it is too hard, too painful, or too wonderful, to talk about, and when you revisit it, those same feelings arise again. Those feelings arising again are what keep some things a secret. You simply aren’t able to bring it forth.

This is different from those things that are secret because a person or organization wants to maintain power, or control, or keep their works of light from scorn, or–on the other hand–keep their works in darkness.

Conversely, the anger or irritation you feel when someone violates what you unknowingly hold sacred is a good indication that it is sacred as well. A pedophile steals the virtue of a child. A rapist destroys the virtue/innocence of your virgin daughter. Someone tortures a pet. Your home is vandalized or burglarized. Your spouse/mate cheats on you; sacred, sacred, sacred. Talk emotionally about something that has meaning for you and you get a cold flat stare or a negative head shake. That’s when you know you are “casting your pearls before swine”. Perhaps, you’re only a little irritated or chagrined you were teased for crying at the tearjerker; a little less so, but still sacred!

Now let’s muddy the waters. Let’s talk about the Mide’wiwin at the turn of the previous century. There are some good reference materials on the Mide’wiwin of that time. They are:

The Mide’wiwin or Grand Medicine Society of the Ojibway” By Walter James Hoffman.
Chippewa Customs. Washington: Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 86 (1929), 204 pp. By Frances Densmore
Chippewa Music. Washington: Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 45 (1910), 216 pp. By Frances Densmore
Chippewa Music II. Washington: Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 53 (1913), 341 pp. Music, illus. By Frances Densmore
Origin Scrolls of the Southern Midewiwin, by Selwyn Dewdney. (Not available to be read online.)

I’m providing these references because Hoffman and Densmore were respectful and the representatives from a number of different reservations they spoke to at the time believed the sharing of information would benefit everyone—especially their people—and it has and does! You can read most of these references online.
I believe these Mide’wiwin-of-old from a number of different reservations shared the information because they didn’t want it to get lost. However, that may be different from the feelings of the people who are in the Midewiwin now, but I don’t know.

The old Mide’ had different reasons for sharing what they did. Since they were the gatekeepers it was their prerogative to share. Now that what they said, sang and have shown are a matter of public record, the consequences are long lasting.

Now I’ll try and partially answer the question posed about your classroom situation. I think the student who voiced the objection may suffer from what I would call the Fundamental Indian Attribution Error (Caveat–when applicable). That error is that just because someone or some organization is American Indian; that the rules are all the same for all Indians everywhere.

There are over four hundred American Indian Tribes and Bands in the United States alone. Each one is responsible for its internal workings. In addition, within each one, the government and organizations within each Indian government are responsible for what happens to their constituents. Therefore they are all going to be different in some way. Many of these tribes do not agree with each other. Heck, people in each tribe don’t agree with each other, and within each tribe you will find bands that don’t agree, and people in each band who don’t agree, and people in each family who don’t agree, etc.

Some might hold that the ceremonial information itself is secret. You’ll find others that disagree. I think Indians practice a kind of detente about this. If you disagree with someone about something, you move away, or you keep quiet and express your opinions about it (and them) among your own, or in private. In the “old days”, it kept you from getting killed or beat up. (There is still some of that to consider at present in some places) but I believe it’s more important to talk about cultural things publicly today because factors which influence fraction of tribal cultural institutions are increasing.

The rest of my answer is this. My understanding is that a number of people in different tribes practice the Sun Dance. The gatekeepers of this ceremonial practice for each tribe are responsible for how much of their ceremony is public. That’s as far as their authority goes. While I think display of an actual ceremony would be incontinent, a recreation would be acceptable. This is because you are sharing the information about the ceremony in such a way in your classroom venue, that you are not exposing the actual participants and what they hold sacred, to the possibility of ridicule; and you are doing it by permission or instigation of these particular gatekeepers via audio-visual material they’ve created about their particular ceremony which frees you from the obligation of keeping it secret in your classroom.

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