A REVIEW OF NATIVE PEOPLE OF MINNESOTA
By Laura Waterman Wittstock
Native People of the Hemisphere
The western hemisphere stretches 9,000 miles from top to bottom. This is the originating place for Natives of what is called Turtle Island. When Native people are referred to as “minorities” or they are represented as a small percentage of the population, that is because they have been killed, have died, or have been displaced by other people, usually Europeans. In the United States, English has displaced many Native languages. In other parts of the hemisphere, Spanish or Portuguese are the displacing languages. However, none of these European languages has succeeded in entirely replacing Native languages. For example, while Spanish is the dominant language of Guatemala, there are also over 30 major Native languages in this Central American country where the Native people constitute the population majority.
Linguists have identified twelve major Native language groups in the hemisphere. Within these groups called “phyla,” are many subgroups of related languages called “families,” and within these many more individual languages. Several others have never been identified and some are yet to be understood.
Millions of Native people once lived in the Hemisphere undisturbed. It is estimated that Christopher Columbus and his men killed five to ten million Natives on Haiti and on the other islands known as Hispanola in the first decade after Columbus’ first expedition in 1492. So complete was their work that Native people are now extinct on Haiti.
It is perhaps more pleasant to imagine what the reactions of the Europeans might have been the first time they tasted pineapple, as Columbus surely did. It was grown first in the Caribbean. Columbus was so impressed with the nutritional power of manioc that he brought quantities back to Europe and is credited with introducing it to famine-stricken Africa as a cultivated plant. It is likely Columbus and his men also used tobacco for the first time. Spanish adventurers brought coca leaves back to Spain where they quickly became a royal drug. Commoners were punished if caught with the leaves. The word barbeque is a Native term meaning essentially the same thing it means now, and comes from the area Columbus dominated. One can imagine the many delicious meals he and his men had - most likely a diet more nutritious and varied than any they had ever experienced in their lifetimes!
Two other great combinations quickly found their way into European cuisine - chocolate and vanilla. The introduction of potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and beans took somewhat longer, but they are now clearly staple foods all throughout Europe.
And, it should be remembered, these were cultivated foods from the western hemisphere, not the discoveries of Europeans.
One of the continuing controversies that extend into the current time is that when the European-style nations formed, the previous Native territories were ignored. Thus we have tribal groups living on two sides of the Canadian and Mexican political borders. The same is true in most countries of Central and South America, and the same is true of many State borders in the United States, including Minnesota.
Making Maple Sugar
Across the northern Great Lakes area of the United States and parts of Canada, northern Native people acclimated a wide variety of seeds to the shorter growing seasons. In addition, wild plants and products were harvested and processed seasonally. The two most famous of these from the Great Lakes area are wild rice and maple sugar. These foods increased people’s ability to live through harsh weather situations.
The process for producing maple syrup has been essentially the same for over 500 years. The sugar maple tree (Acer saccarum) was tapped from upper Canada to Ohio. The tapping was done by a slash method, rather than the more familiar spigots or hosing that is seen today in commercial productions. Boiling baskets were used for the evaporation process.
It takes approximately 30 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup or about four pounds of granulated sugar. Through evaporation, the water is removed and a variety of syrups, candies, and sugar are processed and used throughout the year. The work was labor-intensive but rewarding.
Ojibwe sugaring is done each Spring in Minnesota, beginning in March, depending on the region of the State.
Working Toward Religious Freedom
In the United States, where religious freedom is held to be one of the most fundamental rights of all people, Native people have been trying to save their spiritual practices.
Now, after the bloody wars and a long missionary period of prohibitions, Native spiritual practice has not died out and is undergoing a resurgence that promises to bring balance and health back to many groups.
A remedy was proposed for Congressional enactment by Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. The measure extended religious freedom to Native people, something taken for granted by most Americans, but subject to interference, prohibition and even arrest for religious practices.
The measure was enacted. It stated: “on and after August 11, 1978, it shall be the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.”
Congressional protection was extended in January, 1994 to include the religious use of peyote, following a Supreme Court decision that such use was unprotected and users were subject to arrest.
Alcohol in the History of Native-U.S. Relations
Prior to European contact 500 years ago, there were several drugs and alcoholic beverages prepared and consumed by Native people, although there is no evidence of distilled liquor being one of the forms. These drugs and beverages were used ceremonially and seasonally by people throughout Native lands. Even today, tobacco, peyote and some other drugs are used as part of spiritual ceremonies. Consuming drugs and alcohol apart from ritual is a northern European invention which was imported into the western hemisphere. Even coffee in the Minnesota region was labeled in the Ojibwe language as “black medicine water,” (muck-a-day-moosh-ki-ki-wah-boo), thus relegating it to a non-social drug.
Beginning in 1620, Massachusetts colonial laws restricted the sale of liquor to Native people. This was the beginning of a trend that lasted into the 1950s. The idea was not to restrict sales out of concern for Native people who were unused to distilled liquor, but to regulate all trade with them. Those that controlled the trade became rich and powerful.
Throughout the 1800s, United States treaty language usually included some form of prohibition of liquor. These provisions had the effect of creating a flourishing subrosa market. By 1862, Natives or others could be in violation of the prohibitions. This was the turning point, and by 1916, the possession of alcohol was a crime, as “prima face evidence of unlawful introduction.” Like the Chinese who were singled out for prosecution regarding opium, the Native people were linked with alcohol and experienced the first punitive efforts, long before national Prohibition
There is little doubt now that alcoholism would have taken a much lower toll on Native people had the introduction and use of the drug been normalized as it had been in Southern Europe, that is, associated with family and religious practice. By becoming a tool in the struggle to wrest land away from Native people, alcohol in the United States was historically linked with Natives. A far different outcome would have been likely without the constant interference of government and the extensive lawlessness that was the norm for over 200 years.
Native People in Minnesota
Minnesota’s boundaries were permanently set in 1858 with statehood, but they don’t approximate the territorial markers of Native people. Most indigenous Native families have relatives north in Canada, west in North and South Dakota, and Nebraska, east in Wisconsin and Michigan, and south in Iowa and Illinois.
The recent nature of the Minnesota boundaries is a reminder that Native people have lived in this area permanently before the end of the last ice age ten thousand years ago. Skeletal remains from about 20,000 years ago have been found. It is thus incorrect to refer to Native people in Minnesota as “minorities.” The name preferred by the Ojibwe language group, the largest in the State, is “Anishinabe,” or “original people.”
Minnesota is the homeland of Native people from different Nations who were then displaced by Europeans. But whereas Native Nations moved into the territory for living space and self-sufficiency, the Europeans came primarily for lumber, nearly stripping Minnesota bare in just under one hundred years. Complete destruction was averted by President Theodore Roosevelt, who established the Superior National Forest. It is virtually the only place in the State where pre-European timber can be found.
Native people who lived in the area before 1600 hunted extensively, gathered and preserved a variety of wild foods, and raised cultivated crops from seed stock, rhizomes, and cuttings. Because food was plentiful and nutrition high, the Native populations grew rapidly as soon as the glaciers from the last ice age receded.
Lakes and waterways were named for their geographic characteristics, and the Mississippi was used to carry trade goods south while bringing other goods back to the territory. It was only after the arrival of Europeans that places and bodies of water were named for individuals.
The Dakota people farmed and hunted, developing a highly organized cultural and political structure. A predominant characteristic of Dakota culture is the concept of family and alliances. Families extended to many hundreds of people in some cases. Alliances with other close language groups resulted in agreements for common defense and safe passage across thousands of miles of open territory. Art flourished and some of the most beautiful quill and beadwork ever made can be seen in museums that exhibit Dakota artifacts.
The Ojibwe people were later arrivals and they brought with them powerful political alliances. The Three Fires Confederacy which included the Ottawa, Potawatomi and Ojibwe Nations were hundreds of thousands strong. Today in Minnesota there are still extensive and complex systems of clans, bands and nations that attest to the power of the Confederacy. Far from being extinguished, Ojibwe culture and spirituality are extensively practiced in several areas.
Ho-Chunk people lived and continue to live in the region. Their reservations are located in Wisconsin and Nebraska. A sizeable population lives in Minnesota, primarily St. Paul. The tribe may be called Winnebago by some. They have an extensive culture that is associated with Great Lakes peoples. A deeply intellectual people, the Ho-Chunk have devised a highly complex spiritual code and have composed thousands of stunningly beautiful songs.
It is difficult for most Minnesotans to intimately know the cultures of the Native peoples of Minnesota, but there are some avenues to gaining insights beyond what is seen on television and in the newspapers.
Eleven “reservations” (Native tribal lands legally excluded from the rest of Minnesota) are dispersed around the State. These lands are independent and should be thought of as different countries rather than as parts of Minnesota. Even though the exact nature of tribal land is challenged from time to time, as in the recent fishing disputes, treaties still prevent Americans from running roughshod over tribal sovereignty.
The American laws known as “Indian law,” contain four doctrinal bases: 1. Tribes are independent entities, 2. The independence of Tribes is only subject to exceptionally great powers of Congress to regulate and modify, 3. only the federal government may deal with Tribes, and 4. the federal government has the responsibility for the protection of Tribes and their properties (including encroachments from States and their citizens). These are the four basic themes from which all laws dealing with Native Nations must flow.
For many people, the new gaming industry operated on tribal land is not well understood. But as the industry approaches mega-status among corporations, the net gains for at least some of the Native people have included a return to former self-sufficiency.
On September 24, 1993, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians opened the Nay Ay Shing Primary and Secondary Schools. The schools will serve Native children from early childhood through grade 12. The funds used to build the schools have come entirely from gaming revenues earned by the Nation. No federal or state tax dollars were used.
270 children will learn Ojibwe language and culture in a full academic curriculum. The two schools are located in a woodland setting 10 miles north of Onamia. The buildings are designed so that students enter a circular room with a skylight. Included in the design are the four sacred colors and directions of the earth.
Advising the school is a group of Ojibwe elders who will share their knowledge, wisdom and language with the students.
This latest development in Native resiliency and creativity is proof positive that the Native people of Minnesota are strong and able to care for their own communities when afforded opportunity and freedom from interference.
1. In Minneapolis, a city named for a combination of Dakota for water (mnii) and Greek for city (polis), there are some misplaced and just plain wrong names. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in his poem “The Song of Hiawatha,”(1855) mixed Iroquois culture with Ojibwe culture, and came up with the hero Hiawatha from Iroquois history, and Minnehaha, a fictional character with a name which was supposed to mean something like, “laughing water.” Mnii, as we see in the name of the city is the Dakota word for water, and “ha ha” was a figment of Longfellow’s imagination!
2. Minnetonka is Dakota for a large body of water.
3. Chaska is Dakota for the title given to a first born son.
4. Mahtomedi is Dakota for White Bear Lake.
5. Chicago is Ojibwe for a place where skunks live.
6. There are over 100 Native languages spoken in the United States today.This is a probable decrease of over two- thirds.
7. Before Europeans came, treaties were common between Native Nations. The first treaty between the United States and a Native Nation was with the Delaware in 1778.
8.As with dealing with foreign nations, the U.S. Constitution stipulates that only the United States, not the individual States, may make treaties with Native Nations, and the U.S. Government comes first over States when there are conflicting laws.
8. The first United States Trade and Intercourse Act (1 Stat. 137, 1790), said there would be no transfer of any Native lands to any individual or State except by treaty “under the authority of the United States.”
9. A short description of the laws known as “Indian law,” contains the following four doctrinal bases: 1. Tribes are independent entities, 2. The independence of Tribes is subject to exceptionally great powers of Congress to regulate and modify, 3. only the federal government may deal with Tribes, and 4. the federal government has the responsibility for the protection of Tribes and their properties (including encroachments from States and their citizens). These are the four basic themes from which all laws dealing with Native Nations must flow.
10. Native Nations, unlike women and former slaves, did not ask for the right to vote. They held no citizenship in the United States. Yet Congress passed a statute conferring citizenship on all U.S. born Native people in 1924. Some Nations to this day neither recognize citizenship nor practice it.
11. Beginning in 1953, Congress started to “terminate” Native Nations. Once such Tribe, the Menominee in Wisconsin, not only won its status back, but the new Assistant Secretary of Interior for Indian Affairs in the Clinton Administration is a member of that Tribe. Her name is Ada Deer. She was one of the key fighters against the unjust ruling of Congress.
12. Nearly 800 treaties between Native Nations and others have been signed. Over 400 of those treaties were between Native Nations and the United States.
State Names From Native Sources
Of the fifty States in the United States, the names of 28 are taken directly from Native languages. One (Indiana) refers to Native people,and another (California) is of unknown derivation. Twenty have no references to Native languages in their names. This means 56 percent of all the States have a “Native connection.”And, interestingly, most of the States with the no connection (except Montana, Colorado, Nevada, and Washington) are those that were established early, on the United States eastern seaboard. There was a stronger propensity at that time among the British to name places after their own homelands that they had left behind.
States with no connection
States with Native connections
Alabama: Choctaw, referring to thick vegetation and the reaping thereof.
Alaska: Aleut, referring to the mainland, as compared to the islands.
Arizona: Pima, for “small place of the spring.”
Arkansas: French corruption of the name for the Quapaw Nation.
Connecticut: Mohican (Maíingun) word for “the long river.”
Hawaii: Named by the Native people for their homeland.
Idaho: Shoshonean languages describing the sun coming down the mountains.
Illinois: Ojibwe, referring to men.
Iowa: Named for the Iowa (Native) people.
Kansas: Named for the Kansas (Native) people.
Kentucky: Iroquoian languages, referring to meadow land.
Massachusetts: Algonkian languages for “great hill.”
Michigan: Ojibwe, referring to a big lake.
Minnesota: Dakota, referring to the reflection of the sky on the water
Mississippi: Algonkian languages for “great river.”
Missouri: Named for the Missouri (Native) people.
Nebraska: Siouian languages, referring to a flat, wide waterway.
New Mexico: Aztec, referring to the “place of the war god.”
North Dakota: Named for the Dakota (Native) people.
Ohio: Iroquoian languages, for ‘beautiful.”
Oklahoma: Muskogean for “red people,” named by Allen Wright, a Choctaw leader.
Oregon: Shoshonean languages referring to a bountiful land.
South Dakota: Named for the Dakota (Native) people.
Tennessee: Cherokee, for the name of one of their villages.
Texas: Native derivation of the Spanish term “Tijas,” or allies.
Utah: Named for the Ute (Native) people.
Wisconsin: Ojibwe, referring to the confluence of waters.
Wyoming: Delaware (Algonkian) for “large meadows.”
A Short Chronology Of Events In Native History
1400 Iroquois Confederacy of five nations formed.
1500 European diseases ravage Native people.
1512 Spain makes it legal to make slaves of Native people.
1512 The Pope declares that Native people are descended from Adam and Eve.
1520 Hernando Cortes murders Montezuma. His crown of feathers still reposes in Vienna, where Austria refuses to give it back to the Aztec people.
1539 Francisco de Vitoria in Spain tries to advocate that Native people are free and exempt from slavery.
1585 Roanoke settlement from England is founded, disappears in one year.
1589 Acoma people revolt against the Spanish. One year later 800 Natives are killed in retaliation.
1616 Smallpox epidemic in New England.
1620 Pilgrims arrive in Wampanoag territory. They learn farming and how to give t hanks for nature’s gifts. (Thanksgiving ceremonies were practiced extensively by all Nations that had developed agriculture.)
1631 Roger Williams argues that Native lands are being illegally expropriated. He urges a more humane policy.
1633 More smallpox epidemics kill Native people.
1675 British establish a Secretary of Indian Affairs in Albany, NY
1676 Metacomet killed trying to protect home lands.
1680 Pope, a Tewa spiritual leader succeeds against the Spanish. The effort is defeated in 1689.
1682 William Penn devises treaty with the Delaware, opening up friendly relations between Natives and Quakers.
1689 75 years war between England and France; Iroquois side with British, Algonkian Nations with French.
1751 Benjamin Franklin cites the Iroquois Confederacy as a model for the Union.
1778 U.S. Treaty with the Delaware.
1787 Northwest Ordinance calls for the sanctity of Native lands but also urges further white settlements in Native territory.
1789 Department of War established and assigns matters relative to Indian
Affairs to it.
1790 Intercourse Act, requiring a treaty to sell Native land and instituting criminal
procedures for crimes against Natives.
1817 Federal courts given jurisdiction of Natives and others in Native territory.
1819 First efforts to “civilize” Native people using missionaries and other “persons of good to widespread cheating of Natives.
1830 Indian Removal Act, “voluntary” movement of Native people to west of the Mississippi River.
l849 Department of Interior established. Commissioner of Indian Affairs moves from the Department of War to Interior.
1871 Ended treaty-making without public debate. Also severely limited power of the President. Probably unconstitutional, but tolerated.
1887 General Allotment Act divided Native lands and opened up “surplus” for homesteading, pitting one vulnerable group against another.
1892 Authorizing forced attendance at Indian Service schools.
1918 Limited appropriations to Native Nations by defining blood quantum.
1921 Snyder Act; permanent authority for services to Natives. Later formed the basis for Federal services to State reservations and urban or off-reservation Natives.
1924 Citizenship conferred without being requested on all Natives born in U.S.
1934 Johnson-O’Malley Act. U.S contracts with States for services to Native people.
1946 Indian Claims Commission established to settle Indian land claims.
1953 Infamous House Concurrent Resolution 108 terminating many Native Nations.
1953 Public Law 280 passed without Native consent and allowing States jurisdiction on many reservations.
1955 Federal responsibility for health shifted from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (Now the Department of Health and Human Services.)
1969 Occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. Island reclaimed by Native people.
1971 Alaska Native Land Claim Settlement Act, land settlement with 20-year termination clause.
1972 Indian Education Act assuring some community and Native control in programs to educate Native students.
1972 American Indian Movement occupies the Bureau of Indian Affairs and forges 20-point position paper, leading to several legislative reforms.
1972 Yakima Nations receives 21,000 acres of land back.
1973 American Indian Movement battle U.S. forces at Wounded Knee, SD over horrendous living conditions and rigged tribal elections.
1975 Indian Self-Determination Act permitting Nations to manage some of their own programs.
1978 Indian Child Welfare Act establishes standards to protect Native children from being separated from their families and tribes.
1984 President Reagan’s Commission on Reservation Economies accuses BIA of excessive regulation and recommends assigning the agency’s responsibility to other Federal agencies. Proposal is rejected by Native Nations.
1996 Case Law: Corbell v. Norton is a class-action lawsuit filed on June 10, 1996, in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. to force the federal government to account for billions of dollars belonging to approximately 500,000 American Indians and their heirs, and held in trust since the late 19th century.
Through document discovery and courtroom testimony, the case has revealed mismanagement, ineptness, dishonesty and delay by federal officials, leading U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to declare their conduct "fiscal and governmental irresponsibility in its purest form."
Then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Kevin Gover and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin were held in contempt of court in February 1999 by Judge Lamberth for their departments' repeated delays in producing documents, destruction of relevant documents and misrepresentations to the court in sworn testimony. As the case proceeds, new revelations of false testimony, financial misconduct and bureaucratic retaliation have continued to surface.
The facts underlying the litigation involve a broad sweep of United States history. Although U.S. policy in the 1870s was to locate Indians on reservations, hunger for the land by non-Indians led to a break-up of most of the reservations starting in the 1880s. Thousands of individual Indians generally were allotted beneficial ownership of 80- to 160-acre parcels of land in the break-up. As trustee, the government took legal title to the parcels, established an Individual Indian Trust and thereby assumed full responsibility for management of the trust lands. That included the duty to collect and disburse to the Indians any revenues generated by mining, oil and gas extraction, timber operations, grazing or similar activities.
As a result of more than a century of malfeasance, the United States government has no accurate records for hundreds of thousands of Indian beneficiaries nor of billions of dollars owed the class of beneficiaries covered by the lawsuit. The suit encompasses approximately 500,000 Indian beneficiaries.
The purpose of the litigation - which was filed by Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet tribe in Montana, and her co-plaintiffs - is two-fold: to force the government to account for the money, and to bring about permanent reform of the system.
Judge Lamberth bifurcated the case along those lines. After a trial on Phase One - reform of the system - Judge Lamberth ruled on December 21, 1999 that the secretaries of Interior and Treasury had breached their trust obligations to the Indians. The court retained judicial oversight of the system for a minimum of five years, to ensure that it is overhauled, and ordered Interior to provide an historical accounting of all trust funds. An appeal by the government, arguing that the judge had overreached his authority, was unanimously rejected by a three-judge appeals court panel on February, 23, 2001.
To help enforce his orders, Judge Lamberth has appointed both a special master, who oversees the preservation and production of trust documents, and a federal monitor, who provides the judge with assessments of the truthfulness of Interior's representations to the Court regarding execution of trust reform. In his first report to the court - 19 months after Judge Lamberth's December 21, 1999 order - the federal monitor declared that Interior's stated efforts to provide an accounting in compliance with the order are a sham, are "still at the starting gate" and have been marked by "unrealistic responses and evasion."
A trial on Phase Two - accounting for the money - has not yet been scheduled.
The Circle newspaper, published monthly, Minneapolis, MN
News From Indian Country, the Native Nations Newspaper, published twice monthly, write to the paper at Rt. 2, Box 2900-A, Hayward, WI 54843
A Small Group of Fundamental Book Resources
Frederic Baraga. A Dictionary of the Ojibway Language. St. Paul, MN. Minnesota Historical Society Press. 1992.
John Bierhorst. A Cry from the Earth: Music of the North American Indians. New York. Four Winds Press. 1979.
Dee Brown. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York. Henry Holt. 1970.
William C. Canby, Jr.American Indian Law: In a Nut Shell.St. Paul, MN: West Publishing. 1988.(with updates in 2004)
Stewart Culin. Games of the North American Indians. 2 Volumes. Nebraska. University of Nebraska Press. 1992.
Richard Drinnon. Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire Building. New York. Schocken Books. 1990.
Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Biological Services. Biological Impact of the Chippewa Off Reservation Fishing. Odanah, WI. P.O. Box 9, Odana, 54861. 1989.
Rayna Green and Lisa Thompson. American Indian Sacred Objects: A Resource Guide. Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Institution. 1992.
Inez M. Hilger. Chippewa Child Life and Its Cultural Background. St. Paul, MN. Minnesota Historical Society Press. 1992.
Fredrick E. Hoxie.America in 1492: The World of the Indian People Before the Arrival of Columbus, ed Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. New York: Knopf. 1992.
Francis Paul Prucha. Atlas of American Indian Affairs. Nebraska. University of Nebraska Press. 1990.
Francis Paul Prucha. Documents of United States Indian Policy. Nebraska. University of Nebraska Press. 1990.
Gordon Regguinti. The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering. Minneapolis, MN. Lerner Publications. 1992.
Alan R. Velie. American Indian Literature: An Anthology. Norman, OK. University of Oklahoma Press.1979.
Virgil J. Vogel. American Indian Medicine. Norman, OK. University of Oklahoma Press. 1982.
Jack Weatherford. Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World. New York. Ballantine Books. 1988.
Jack Weatherford. Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America. New York. Ballantine Books. 1992.
Laura Waterman Wittstock. Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugar Making. Minneapolis, MN. Lerner Publications. 1993.
The Cloud Family Collection. 8 Radio Plays. Cassette. MIGIZI Communications, Inc. 3123 East Lake Street. Minneapolis, MN 55406
Coming From America. 2 -hour Documentary. Cassette. MIGIZI Communications, Inc. 3123 East Lake Street. Minneapolis, MN 55406.