Friday, November 07, 2008

The Omaha Tribal Circle (in 3D)

This is a brief article I wrote for a Indian Education class I taught in December, 2005 . I found it yesterday and read it last night at our A.A. Talking Circle at the Ponca Tribal Office here in Lincoln. The reason I read it was in response to someone's question about why we had Talking Circles. They wanted to understand the meaning.

Before Contact: Millenia of Our Own Teachings...The Tribal Circle (in 3D)

For indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, our tribal circles (or spheres) have existed for thousands of years. The tribal circle was based on the balance of every
thing that exists in the universe, the duality of masculine and feminine forces. To look at the symbol of the circle, you must imagine it as a sphere, with the top half of the circle representing the sky and the bottom half representing the earth. Around this sphere you also have the four cardinal directions, and the center, which represents the here and now or the human being. This ancient symbolism was reflected in all our tribal systems: governments, villages, homes, and within ourselves (the very act of breathing represents the duality of in and out).

Through our tribal educational systems, our clans, in particular, we were taught how to relate to the
Sky and the Earth because as human beings we were composed of the same elements as both (spirit and matter). This relationship was one of respect, a mutual respect between all living matter. We had the understanding of what modern science terms "Relativity" and "Quantum Physics." We understood our relationship to the microcosmic subatomic level on up to the macrocosmic universal level. We encompassed this understanding in one phrase: We Are All Related. The phrase acknowledged the spirit or energy that vibrates in all of us. The Omaha people called this energy Wakonda.

The tribal circle was the foundation of how we learned and survived. From the time we were born, we went through growth cycles. Ceremonies marked each stage of growth and we developed our teachings around the skills acquired at these benchmarks. In the Omaha system the men and women learned separately. We each had our own language, our own ceremonies, and our own societies. There was respect between the two sexes where neither was considered better than the other. We were complementary.

And, the one underlying method of teaching in our system was that no one was allowed to fail!

This did not mean that we lived in perfection, however, because there were always natural catastrophes, illness, and warfare that would disrupt our circles from time to time. Yet, we were always able to reestablish our circles through any conflict...especially now.

And, these days we engage with one another through Talking Circles, such as the one I attended last night. I hope that this was helpful to all who were there.

- Renee

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Message from Grand Chief, Eddie Benton Benai, on Passing of Midewiwin Leader Tommy J. Stillday...

I received this message via email from the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge listserv and am posting to my blog today in honor of Tommy Stillday.

Mide Anishinabe doog,,Nin duh way maw gunni doog,,maydaywi yeag. Me i ewe noon goom uhshoo mawjaud bayjig ay chi inung i zood Mide wi inini. Mide brother/uncle Tom Stillday, Ponemah Nayausheeng, lodge has been called home. His beautiful midewiwin work and life has been completed. All midewiwins of the three fires lodge are being asked to put a bit of food and tobacco out on Sat.evening ,just before dark. This will be our respect and honoring of a great Mide man who served the Anishinabe people for many years, decades, tirelessly. He has always respected the three fires lodge and our work. Personally Tommy J. always had good words and encouragement for my own efforts and will always remember and honor that. I will find out to whom we can send $ donations in absence of being present for the funeral. Me i ewe it is a dark day for all of us,,wayway ni,, - Bawdwaywidun (Eddie Benton Benai)

I also found this posted on th
e RLNN (Red Lake Net News):

Remembering Tommy J...

This is a story Michael Meuers wrote back in 1997 under the Whitefeathe
r administration about Tommy J. being the first Indian Senate Chaplain in the state of Minnesota. The story appeared in the Red Lake Nation newspaper back then. Tom called Mr. Meueres "Makakii ."


By Michael Meuers
Red Lake Public Relations

Thomas J. Stillday, Jr. was the first non-Judeo/ Christian Spiritual Leader to serve as Senate Chaplin in the history of Minnesota. He was elected unanimously by the Minnesota Senate 67-0 on the first day it convened on January 7th, 1997 for a two-year term. (The biannual session) Tommy J. had been going through a slow recovery from a recent surgery and was unable to be sworn in at that time. He was expected to give the invocation at the beginning and end of the Senate session for those two years...which he did. Other religious leaders filled in for Tom at other times during the session.

Because of his slow recovery, it was decided to have Tom sworn in during Red Lake Day at the Capitol. So at 9 AM on Thursday February 13, 1997, Red Lake members and employees were joined by urban Red Lakers in the Senate Gallery. On the Senate floor near the front, Chairman Whitefeather place a headdress on Tom, while Aloyisius Thunder prepared the pipe. Red Lake Government Re
lations person Michael Meuers was in the door of the retiring room, talking with the press, and arranging for photographs with senators and the press. Senate President, Alan Spear, asked the press to shut off their cameras and swore in Thomas J. Stillday, Jr. as the first Indian, and the first member of a non-Judeo/Christian belief to serve in that capacity in the 139 year history of Minnesota statehood. You could feel the pride in the gallery as history was witnessed, and on the floor, 67 senators stood at attention for ten minutes as Chaplin Stillday prayed in Ojibwe to the four directions, mother earth and the Creator. He asked that the Senators be guided by the Creator as they make decisions that will affect all people. You could have heard a pin drop. A proud moment indeed.

After the ceremony, in the Senate retiring room, senators and staff jockeyed for position to shake the new Chaplin’s hand and have their picture take with him. Out in the hall, reporters and photographers all wanted exclusive interviews. Famous television reporters were overheard saying “this is so cool”. The interest from the press was so great that Senator Moe arranged for a press conference across the hall from the Senate Chamber. Microphones were place in front of Tom sitting at the head of a table by reporters from television, newspaper and radio. Reporters from the Minneapolis Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press stood ready with note books...photographers flashed pictures. Tom’s wisdom (along with a little BS for the Chimooks) came through as he answered questions. Whitefeather and Moe stood proudly behind Stillday. After the press conference, Tom continued to be asked for interviews until noon by some who had missed the press conference including public television, Minnesota News Network radio, and WCCO’s Pat Kessler. Radio and TV would report on the event throughout the day And in the morning, Chaplin Stillday’s photo and story were on the front page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and on the front page of the “B” section of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

That evening’s event took place at the Minnesota History Center where Young Dreams Dance Troupe performed for nearly 300 legislators and other guests. First was a reception by invitation for a dinner of walleye fingers, wild rice, veggies and fry bread. When Moe took the stage in the 3M Auditorium, he announced that he would advocate a joint session to hear a State of the Tribes message from Tribal Governments, an idea of Chairman Whitefeather’s. (This also came to fruition) Young Dreams with the Eyabay Drum appeared the night before on Public TV’s Newsnight Minnesota. At the performance, the finale, the friendship dance, saw many of the audience come down to the stage, senators, Red Lake members and those who had never danced before. Smiles were broad enjoying the good feeling that young Dreams delivers.

Part historic, part educational, part interesting conversation, but most of all this day was a sharing of good feelings between different cultures of good people. This was Red Lake Day at the Capitol ‘97.

Post Script: This was a big event and another first for Red Lake. (Only to be rivaled, press wise, by Red Lake High School’s trip to St. Paul for the State Basketball tournament) Tom was featured on the front page of the Pioneer Press with a long story. He was featured in the Star-Tribune front page with a full color photo and long story. Tom was featured in an editorial for the Trib on 2/19 with the title; “Indian Chaplin, Enlarging all Minnesotans’ heritage. Tom was featured in “Inside Talk” in the Trib with “You Gotta break a few rules” talking about the rules of the Senate requiring no smoking and ties in the Senate Chamber, both rules broken by the swearing in of Thomas Stillday. Tom was also featured in the political newsletter, Politics in Minnesota. There is also a full-color photo of Chairman Whitefeather placing the headdress on Chaplin Stillday from the Pioneer Press as well as a smaller photo of Tom and Wishy sharing a laugh. And the News from Minnesota in the national newspaper, USA Today, featured the swearing in of Thomas J. Stillday, Jr. Finally, Tom remains in the history of Minnesota by being featured in the reference book published by the Secretary of State entitled Minnesota Legislative Manual (The Blue Book). For the edition “97-’98, he is listed with the Senate Officers with photo. On page 149, Chapter Two it lists Officers of the Senate and Leadership Staff. With a photo of Stillday it reads, “Chaplain: Thomas Stillday, Ponemah, Minnesota. Spiritual elder for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians; attended University of Minnesota-Morris, majoring in elementary education; obtained other education from spiritual leaders of the Ponemah community that passed on; worked in Ponemah public schools; Korean War veteran; served 12 years on the tribal council; wife, Marylou, six children; eight grandchildren. Elected 1997-98 sessions”.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"The Synchronicity of Old Connections" Quote from Chris Corrigan's Blog

I am always reading other people's blogs. Can't help myself. Especially, since I am always reading about quantum physics and string theory. (My kids find this all fascinating, as well.) I enjoy finding out that there are other souls out there who enjoy the same things. I came across Chris Corrigan's blog during my search today and liked what he had to say. This quote is from the report Dialogues Between Western and Indigenous Scientists by Dan Moonhawk Alford. It's all about time, space, and language! So here it is:

1. Everything that exists vibrates

    This point of agreement is important because it moves beyond our usual ‘thingy’ or particle notion of existence based on raw sensory impressions, which is favored in the indo-european language family, and allows a justification on the part of Native Americans for the existence of spirits.

2. Everything is in flux

    (Sa’ke’j:) The only constant is change–constant change, transformations; everything naturally friendly, trying to reach a more stable state instead of bullying each other around. That kind of process the English language doesn’t allow you to talk about too much, but most Native American languages are based on capturing the motions of nature, the rhythms, the vibrations, the relationships, that you can form with all these elements, just like a periodic table in a different way: relationships rather than a game of billiards, where you only count the ones that go in–all of their motion doesn’t count.

3. The Part Enfolds the Whole:
(not just whole is more than the sum of its parts)

    (Sa’ke’j:) When we wear leathers and beads and eagle thongs and things like that, it’s not seen as totally ludicrous, as decoration - it’s seen as containing something you want to have a relationship with.

4. There is an implicate order to the universe

    (Sa’ke’j:) This implicate order holds everything together whether we want it to or not, and exists independently of our beliefs, our perceptions, or our linguistic categories. It exists totally independently of the methods or rules that people use to arrive at what it is, and David Bohm’s captured that with the great phrase the implicate order, versus the explicate order of things that they can explain quite concretely, such as a rock falling out of a window. This also agrees with the lakhota phrase ’skan skan,’ which points to the motion behind the motion.

5. This ecosphere is basically friendly

    Sa’ke’j maintains that the planet, and especially the Americas as well as the physical universe, are basically gentle and friendly: You don’t have an electron jumping and bullying into other(s) unless it knows it’s missing a stable state and knows it can reach that stable state and increase its own stability.

6. Nature can be taught new tricks

    (Sa’ke’j:) We also agreed that that world out there that exists–that reality, not imaginality–can be taught new tricks with the cyclotron; and what was raised in the meeting was, are these new tricks beneficial, or will they create a hostile universe on their own, independent of scientists, once they teach electrons how to jump and how to amass the energy to jump, and it becomes a bullying, hostile biological world.Reminds me of Alan Watts talking about how the universe has had to learn how to get ever smaller and ever larger as we probe it with microscopes and telescopes, receding ever further in the distance as self observes itself.

7. Quantum Potential and Spirit

    After listening to the physicists and American Indians talk for a few days, it struck me that the way physicists use the term potential, or quantum potential, is nearly identical to the way Native Americans use the term spirit. They all agreed there was something similar going on.

8. The principle of complementarity

    Physicists for all this century have realized that our usual notion of bipolar or black & white opposites was insufficient when working with nature. The first clue came when they asked incoming light, ‘Are you particle?’ and it answered Yes; ‘Are you wave?’ and it answered Yes. This is equivalent to asking whether something is a noun or a verb and getting a yes answer to both–which is exactly how Native American language nouns are made up: as verbs with suffixes that make them temporarily into nouns for discussion sake. this yes-yes complementarity is foreign to Indo-European languages, but quite common in other language families (such as the Chinese notion of Yin-Yang), and represents a higher level of formal operations, in Piaget’s terms, referred to by some as post-formal operations–that which lies beyond normal Western Indo-European development.

Monday, September 08, 2008

What is Home? And, Why Are There So Many Homeless People?

"I should not be alive!" proclaimed the woman sitting next to me on the steps of the Family Shelter the other day. I had just gotten my children on the school bus that picks them up each morning when this woman came outside to smoke a cigarette. She seemed distressed and wanted to talk, even though we were strangers, so I sat down with her to listen to what she had to say.

"There are many times, I should have died from being beaten up, car accidents, or, but for whatever reason God keeps me alive!" She said between puffs.

"I'm here now because my fiance tried to kill me last night! I had to run to my neighbor's apartment next door to call the police. This is the second time he's done this but this time, I'm not going back."

As she continued talking about her life, I listened in the way I usually do to everyone, detached and non-judging. I always like to hear everything before I make any comments or suggestions. Sometimes, I can tell that people only need to talk things out before deciding to take action on their challenges. Even without any advice from me.

As she sat there with tears in her eyes, she asked the question that I have been wondering about for the past several weeks, "Why are there so many homeless people in this country?"

It's a question that needs to be addressed because it is not restricted to just the transient, often romanticized, hobo subculture, or the bum off the street stereotype. Homelessness affects many, many people of all backgrounds, nationalities, and beliefs.

Women and children, and the elderly, are particularly affected. I don’t know the statistics but I know that my family is just one such statistic. I took a survey recently given by the shelter staff and I was asked why I sought out services from the Family Shelter. I told them that in order to be eligible for all social services, I had to become certifiably homeless. When I was working full-time, making a decent salary, and living in an apartment. I still was not earning enough money to support my family. So, I sought out assistance for us, but I was told that I made too much money to qualify. It was a real dilemma. What was I supposed to do?

And, what does this mean for the United States, supposedly the most powerful country in the world, when there are many hard working people forced on the streets for various reasons, not just the stereotypical ones.

I have been listening to other women here talk about their lives. Women of all colors, ages, and creeds. They cry sometimes and, sometimes...I cry with them.

The Creator has placed me here at this particular time and place for a reason, I realized. If for anything to help me to understand what is happening on all levels with the people around me. I need to experience what this is so that I can be of better service to the people, especially to the children.

It's the children who suffer the most because they need to eat and feel secure, like they have a home.

One day I saw a former colleague in the cafeteria. I tried to tell her about everything that was happening in my life but she turned away and had this funny look in her eye. Then she told me that she would keep this in confidence and would not tell anyone that she saw me in the Family Shelter.

I couldn't help it, I had to laugh. I told her, "You don't have to do that! Everyone knows that I am here! It's no big secret!" (I mean I’m blogging about it for heaven’s sake at this very moment.)

Well, one thing this incident showed me is that there is a stigma attached to being homeless. There is a cloak of shame around the entire subject. Why is it such a taboo subject?

I ponder such things! And then, as a Native woman, I look at it and think that Native people never thought of themselves as homeless! We often packed up and moved the location of our homes because of the need to do so. We were geniuses at mobility.

The women in my tribe owned the homes. We were quite resourceful and always found ways to make things work. Just as I am doing now.

I have never desired to own a home, at least not in the contemporary fashion, but rather I have desired to have a home built that is respectful of our natural surroundings. A home that would be much like what our ancestors lived in, only with a modern twist so to speak. I am determined to make this happen. My dream home.

This dream came about because of a question posed by Daniel Wildcat in an interview that I read in the Winds of Change Magazine in 2005.

Wildcat had this to say: The problem we face today is that the measure of technological progress is often thought of as the extent to which humankind can control and mitigate the so-called forces of nature. I find it hard to imagine a more problematic and dangerous idea. Why not figure out a way to live with nature?

Well, why not? Native people have done so for thousands of years. What is to stop us now from continuing our methods in this so-called modern society? Wouldn’t it be in our best interests to do so? Economically, environmentally, and spiritually?

And, this whole topic begs the question what is home? My friend Christopher Cartmill has been based three of his plays, the Homeland Trilogy, on this very question. He’s very passionate about this concept of what is home and wrote about it from many perspectives.

It 's two blocks from the bus stop to the shelter and takes about five minutes at the most. Last week, while walking the two blocks with two other women. One said conversationally, "I never ever imagined myself walking this f-----g strip in my life!" We all looked at each other and laughed, then the other replied, "None of us did! But here we are!"

Yes, we are here from all walks of life.

We will be getting a house soon. My children and I. A place that we will call home for a time here in Lincoln, Nebraska but I already know that it won't be our last home.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Steve Blake Making his Journey Home...

Steve Blake, 51, artist and advocate for American Indians

Blake created the American Indian Movement logo as a teenager and spent his adult life working for justice, as well as practicing and teaching about his native culture.

By BEN COHEN, Star Tribune

When Steve Blake of Minneapolis was a boy, the artist and future chairman of the Twin Cities chapter of the American Indian Movement would sketch the whirl of activity around the Wounded Knee conflict of the early 1970s.

Blake, who as a teenager designed the American Indian Movement, or AIM, logo widely recognized as the symbol of the movement, died of lung ailments on Wednesday in Minneapolis. He was 51.

Blake, whose father, Francis Blake II, helped establish the AIM, became a teacher in his Ojibwe culture, fluent in the language and a force for justice in Minnesota, said his family and friends.

His mother, Norby Blake of St. Paul, recalled that he sketched the activities of the early AIM leaders in the late 1960s and early 1970s. "He was a curious and very active young man," she said.

He was a graduate of Heart of the Earth School and South High School in Minneapolis.

As a member of the Minneapolis Police Community Relations Council, he worked to ensure that people receive fair treatment when dealing with the police. Clyde Bellecourt, American Indian activist and co-chairman of the Police Community Relations Council, said Blake had been reviving the AIM street patrols he helped establish in the 1980s.

"If someone needed help day or night, he would respond," Bellecourt said. "If it was Red Lake or anywhere, he would go."

In recent years, Blake helped establish AIM chapters at St. Cloud State University, in Red Lake, Minn., and in Fargo, N.D.

He was an accomplished dancer and singer in native ceremonies, participating in powwows around the nation. He crafted ceremonial drums and ceremonial dress.

His "top-notch" paintings were "seen around the world," Bellecourt said.

Two years ago, Blake underwent a double lung transplant. In April, he struggled anew with illness, but he had bounced back until recent weeks, said his cousin, Minneapolis Police Sgt. Bill Blake, who also serves on the Police Community Relations Council.

"Steve really had a strong passion to help people and reach out to others," Bill Blake said.

Floyd (Buck) Jourdain, tribal chairman of the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation, said Steve Blake was a leader who would also roll up his sleeves and do the grass-roots work, such as teaching the culture to children in Minnesota and Wisconsin or taking kids to Pipestone, Minn., to teach about its sacred quarry.

"He was articulate and outspoken" but didn't waste words, Jourdain said. "He backed up his talk with action. He practiced the culture hands-on."

In addition to his mother, he is survived by his fiancée, Lani Moran of Minneapolis; a brother, Francis III of St. Paul; a sister, Valerie of St. Paul, and nephew Jesse and niece Neegahnee, both of St. Paul.

A wake will be held at 6 p.m. today at All Nations Indian Church, 1515 E. 23rd St., Minneapolis. Services will begin at 6 p.m. Friday at Little Rock Community Center on the Red Lake Reservation.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Actual Thoughts about the Seven Fires and My Life in General...

As I thought about my previous post, I realized that I was writing more about everything in general and very little about the Seven Fires Prophecies. However, what I do think is that my life is working in time with the Seven Fires Prophecies. For the past three years, I have been retracing the footsteps of my ancestors. And, I have gained a greater understanding and respect for all ancient Native teachings.

When I decided to return to Nebraska. I wasn't quite sure where we were going to go next. It just seems like in the past two years, my kids and I have been in total upheaval since their dad walked out on us. It was good for them that they spent this past year with him. Hopefully, a lot of healing took place between them.

I am doing my best to be a good mother. I have accepted that I am doing this on my own without any help from their dad. (No bad feelings intended there, just the truth, I wish him well.) Today, as I am writing this, I feel really good because things really are starting to change around for us.

When I decided to move back to Lincoln, I wasn't sure at first that I was doing the right thing. Everything felt weird and I just felt lost. Then I went to sundance held near Hallam, Nebraska and danced for two days. The man who runs this sundance is Hermus Lonedog and he is a very compassionate man. Sundancing made a great difference because I also accepted that I am truly walking my path now and am making my own decisions about how my life will accordance with the Grandfathers.

That was over a month ago and now that we are in the shelter, we are receiving all the assistance for families in transition. We are starting all over from scratch.

I've been networking like crazy and getting a lot of support from colleagues and former teachers. My relatives here have also been very helpful.

I am writing curriculum for the LIED Center for Performing Arts for the upcoming performance of Kevin Locke in November. This curriculum is to be a Nebraska equivalent to the Kevin's curriculum "the Drum is the Thunder, the Flute is the Wind." I am also looking at becoming an ArtsREACH Teaching Artist through the LIED Center.

Yesterday, I was readmitted to the Graduate Studies Program at UNL. I will be taking two classes in Special Ed. so that I can renew my teaching certificate. I will start working on my Master's Degree, once again, and am looking at the possibility of Special Education/Early Childhood Education.

What I marvel at is how everything this past week has been like butter. When just the week before, everything was so difficult. I didn't know how we were going to get through.

So, here we are now...

As I am thinking of everything today, I am truly thankful for the Grandfathers' help in everything. My children and I are blessed.

I reflect back to what the Grand Chief, Bawdwaywidun, (Eddie Benton-Benaise) said at the Three Fires Society Spring Ceremonies in June, up by the shores of Lake Superior. He asked everyone in the lodge, are we the new people of the Seventh Fire? ARE WE?

Yes, I accept that I am one of the New People of the Seventh Fire.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Thoughts on the Seven Fires Prophecies...

For all of you's who may not know, I've been doing my thing here back in my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. My kids and I are living at the Peoples City Mission Family Shelter until we get a house. Lots has changed in my life, once again. Need I say more?

Job prospects are good. I'm seeking employment with the Lincoln Public Schools. Finally going to put my degree to good use. I've got my kids enrolled in the public schools. I had to overcome my reluctance to work with the public school system. If I cannot change this system, perhaps I can help in some way to work with Native students.

I am continuing my work on my language school. In fact, I have changed the name from Shonge Xube Tapuska to Path of the Sun. In the Omaha Huthuga (Tribal Circle) the center line that balanced the two moieties, the Sky People and the Earth People, was called the Path of the Sun. The name changed resulted from a speech I heard by Jerry Lopez, Director of the Multicultural Indigenous Academy of St. Paul, Minnesota last spring. His perseverance and vision has provided so much inspiration to me.

I am missing the Summer Ceremonies this week. The Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge are gathering in Manitoba. I feel the longing to be there with them in my heart. So I thought I'd post this about the Seven Fires Prophecies.

Teachings of the Seven Prophets: The Seven Fires

Note: The following was asked to be read by Elder William Commanda at the Aboriginal Learning Network Constituency Meeting of Elders, policy makers, and academics on April 16th and 17th, 1997 in Aylner, Quebec.

The source for this story is The Mishomis book : the voice of the Ojibway by Edward Benton-Banai. Printed in St. Paul, Minn. Published by Indian Country Press, copyright 1979.

Seven prophets came to the Anishinabe. They came at a time when the people were living a full and peaceful life on the North Eastern coast of North America. These prophets left the people with seven predictions of what the future would bring. Each of the prophecies was called a fire and each fire referred to a particular era of time that would come in the future. Thus, the teachings of the seven prophets are now called the "Seven Fires".

The first prophet said to the people,

    "In the time of the First Fire, the Anishinabe nation will rise up and follow the sacred shell of the Midewiwin Lodge. The Midewiwin Lodge will serve as a rallying point for the people and its traditional ways will be the source of much strength. The Sacred Megis will lead the way to the chosen ground of the Anishinabe. You are to look for a turtle shaped island that is linked to the purification of the earth. You will find such an island at the beginning and end of your journey. There will be seven stopping places along the way. You will know the chosen ground has been reached when you come to a land where food grows on water. If you do not move you will be destroyed."

The second prophet told the people,

    "You will know the Second Fire because at this time the nation will be camped by a large body of water. In this time the direction of the Sacred Shell will be lost. The Midewiwin will diminish in strength. A boy will be born to point the way back to the traditional ways. He will show the direction to the stepping stones to the future of the Anishinabe people."

The third prophet said to the people,

    "In the Third Fire the Anishinabe will find the path to their chosen ground, a land in the west to which they must move their families. This will be the land where food grounds on water."

The Fourth Fire was originally given to the people by two prophets. They come as one. They told of the coming of the light skinned race.

One of the prophets said,

    "You will know the future of out people by the face of the light skinned race wears. If they come wearing the face of brotherhood then there will come a time of wonderful change for generations to come. They will bring new knowledge and articles that can be joined with the knowledge of this country. In this way, two nations will join to make a mighty nation. This new nation will be joined by two more so that four will for the mightiest nation of all. You will know the face of the brotherhood if the light skinned race comes carrying no weapons, if they come bearing only their knowledge and a hand shake."

The other prophet said,

    "Beware if the light skinned race comes wearing the face of death. You must be careful because the face of brotherhood and the face of death look very much alike. If they come carrying a weapon ... beware. If they come in suffering ... They could fool you. Their hearts may be filled with greed for the riches of this land. If they are indeed your brothers, let them prove it. Do not accept then in total trust. You shall know that the face they wear is one of death if the rivers run with poison and fish become unfit to eat. You shall know them by these many things."

The fifth prophet said,

    "In the time of the Fifth Fire there will come a time of great struggle that will grip the lives of all native people. At the waring of this Fire there will come among the people one who holds a promise of great joy and salvation. If the people accept this promise of a new way and abandon the old teachings, then the struggle of the Fifth Fire will be will be with the people for many generations. The promise that comes will prove to be a false promise. All those who accept this promise will cause the near destruction of the people."

The prophet of the Sixth Fire said,

    "In the time of the Sixth Fire it will be evident that the promise of the First Fire cam in in a false way. Those deceived by this promise will take their children aways from the teachings of the Elders. Grandsons and granddaughters will turn against the Elders. In this way the Elders will lose their reason for living ... they will lose their purpose in life. At this time a new sickness will come among the people. The balance of may people will be disturbed. The cup of life will almost become the cup of grief."

At the time of these predictions, many people scoffed at the prophets. They then had medicines to keep away sickness. They were then healthy and happy as a people. These were the people who chose to stay behind in the great migration of the Anishinabe. These people were the first to have contact with the light skinned race. They would suffer most.

When the Fifth Fire came to pass, a great struggle did indeed grip the lives of all native people. The light skinned race launched a military attack on the Indian people throughout the country aimed at taking away their land and their independence as a free and sovereign people. It is now felt that the false promise that came at the end of the Fifth Fire was the materials and riches embodied in the way of life of the light skinned race. Those who abandoned the ancient ways and accepted this new promise were a big factor in causing the near destruction of the native people of this land.

When the Sixth Fire came to be, the words of the prophet rang true as children were taken away from the teachings of the Elders. The boarding school era of "civilizing" Indian children had begun. The Indian language and religion were taken from the children. The people started dying at a early age ... they had lost their will to live and their purpose in living.

In the confusing times of the Sixth Fire, it is said that a group of visionaries came among the Anishinabe. They gathered all the priests of the Midewiwin Lodge. They told the priests of the Midewiwin Way was in danger of being destroyed. They gathered all the sacred bundles. They gathered all the scrolls that recorded the ceremonies. All these things were placed in a hollowed out log from the Ironwood tree. Men were lowered over a cliff by long ropes. They dug a hole in the cliff and buried the log where no one could find it. Thus the teachings of the Elders were hidden out of sight but not out of memory. It is said that when the time came that the Indian people could practice their religion without fear a line boy would dream where the Ironwood log, full of sacred bundles and scrolls, was buried. He would lead his people to the place.

The seventh prophet that came to the people long ago said to be different from the other prophets. He was young and had a strange light in his eyes. He said,

    "In the time of the Seventh Fire New People will emerge. They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the trail. Their steps will take them to the Elders who they will ask to guide them on their journey. But many of the Elders will have fallen asleep. They will awaken to this new time with nothing to offer. Some of the Elders will be silent because no one will ask anything of them. The New People will have to be careful in how they approach the Elders. The task of the New People will not be easy.

    "If the New People will remain strong in their quest the Water Drum of the Midewiwin Lodge will again sound its voice. There will be a rebirth of the Anishinabe Nation and a rekindling of old flames. The Sacred Fire will again be lit.

    "It is this time that the light skinned race will be given a choice between two roads. If they choose the right road, then the Seventh Fire will light the Eighth and final Fire, an eternal fire of peace, love brotherhood and sisterhood. If the light skinned race makes the wrong choice of the roads, then the destruction which they brought with then in coming to this country will come back at them and cause much suffering and death to all the Earth's people."

Traditional Mide people of Ojibway and people from other nations have interpreted the "two roads" that face the light skinned race as the road to technology and the other road to spiritualism. They feel that the road to technology represents a continuation of headlong rush to technological development. This is the road that has led to modern society, to a damaged a seared Earth. Could it be that the road to technology represents a rush to destruction? The road to spirituality represents the slower path that traditional native people have traveled and are now seeking again. This Earth is not scorched on this trail. The grass is still growing there.

The prophet of the Fourth Fire spoke of a time when

    "two nations will join to make a mighty nation."

He was speaking of the coming of the light skinned race and the face of brotherhood that the light skinned Brother could be wearing. It is obvious from the history of this country that this was not the face worn by the light skinned race as a whole. That might nation spoken of in the Fourth Fire has never been formed.

If the Natural people of the Earth could just wear the face of brotherhood, we might be able to deliver our society from the road to destruction. Could we make the two roads that today represent two clashing world views come together to form a mighty nation? Could a Nation be formed that is guided by respect for all living things? Are we the people of the Seventh Fire?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ellen Moves Camp--Hero of Wounded Knee...

Ellen Moves Camp—Hero of Wounded Knee
By Stephanie Hedgecoke
Published Jun 8, 2008 9:34 PM

Photo: Anne Pearse Hocker

Ellen Moves Camp, known along with Gladys Bissonnette as the “Grandmas of the American Indian Movement (AIM),” passed April 5 at the age of 77 on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Moves Camp and Bissonnette played key roles before, during and after the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, which moved the Indigenous struggle into the view of the whole world.

The struggles of Indigenous people globally are illustrated in the story of Ellen Moves Camp and Wounded Knee.

The Lakota Nation’s title to most of South Dakota and parts of Montana and Nebraska, including the Black Hills (Paha Sapa), was recognized in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. George Armstrong Custer took miners to the Black Hills to find gold and the U.S. broke the treaty and stole 34 million acres of land, leaving the Lakota divided among separate reservations. Over time that land base was further eroded as the Oglala Lakota were forced to lease their land to ranchers for pennies.

In the 1970s, the federal government moved Oglala families into cluster housing to reduce spending on utilities, freeing more land to be leased by cattle ranchers. Meanwhile over 100 Indians had been murdered in racist white towns surrounding Pine Ridge.

Unemployment was at 90 percent. Traditional families and activists were attacked by the Bureau of Indian Affairs-installed reservation government of Dick Wilson and his paramilitary GOONs (Guardians of the Oglala Nation), armed by the FBI. Wilson signed over some 200,000 acres of land to the U.S. for a bombing range.
Underlying these events, the U.S. had secret plans to turn the Paha Sapa into a “National Sacrifice Zone.” The continent’s richest deposits of weapons-grade uranium lie under the bombing range. Uranium and coal were to be mined, over 188,000 acres destroyed, and incredibly toxic smog and debris would have poisoned the region and destroyed countless square miles of waterways and ponds.

Energy companies signed up to create dozens of coal-fired plants to surround the Black Hills and build a “nuclear energy park” of 25 reactors. Test drilling began on a huge scale. Leaking uranium poisoned the aquifer, the only source of drinking water.

Resistance at Wounded Knee

On the basis of estimates of half a billion dollars in uranium revenue, the U.S. was determined to eliminate AIM and traditional opposition. But the strength of resistance at Wounded Knee forced the Interior Department to retreat from some of its plans.

In 1973 traditional elders with the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) called AIM to Pine Ridge to protect the people from the GOONs. Denied access to the BIA building at Pine Ridge by federal marshals, AIM held a meeting at Calico with 600 supporters where 1,500 grievances against the BIA and Wilson were taken in a two-day meeting. Then traditional elders Ellen Moves Camp and Gladys Bissonnette stood and challenged the men to take action.

AIM warrior Dennis Banks said of that meeting: “The decision to take Wounded Knee came when Ellen Moves Camp pointed at us and said, ‘What are you men going to do about it?’ If the women hadn’t done that we’d still be meeting at Calico.”

Clyde Bellecourt recalled Bissonnette asking AIM, “Haven’t you heard enough? Go back to Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Los Angeles or Portland. We are going to stand here and be warriors.” He said that he “was stunned by that confrontation with an elderly woman, wrinkles all over her face.”

Wounded Knee was chosen for the takeover protest as it was still held by the Lakota community. The village is the site of the 1890 historic massacre of Big Foot’s band of 300 Lakota Sioux women, men and children as they were peacefully moving to the Pine Ridge Reservation to avoid starvation. Instead, they were viciously murdered by the U.S. Army Seventh Cavalry in the snow. The world had heard of Wounded Knee through Dee Brown’s book, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”

Some 200 Native people went to Wounded Knee on Feb. 27, 1973, to hold an early morning press conference. The government attacked. The press conference was never held. And the big business media did not report the total government deployment of 17 armored personnel carriers, 130,000 rounds of M-16 ammunition, 41,000 rounds of M-40 high explosives for grenade launchers, helicopters and other aircraft. An army assault unit in Colorado was put on 24-hour alert.

The standoff held the attention of the world. Support committees formed to help educate non-Native people about the conditions of the Indigenous on the reservations, and the significance of Native American Indian culture, language and the land in the fight against genocide.

During the 71-day struggle against the U.S. military assault of the National Guard and armed FBI agents, Moves Camp served as negotiator for the protesters with the Justice Department. As Banks recalls: “Once the strength was reawakened with the Oglalas, they became the principal negotiators—especially the women. Because it was their future. From there, AIM took a backseat. The further we stepped back, the further the Oglalas stepped forward.”

Moves Camp was from Wanblee and had lost family members in the 1898 massacre. During the military assault in 1973, her nephew Buddy Lamont was one of two Indians killed. On the occasion of the 1998 commemoration of the struggle, Ellen Moves Camp said it’s “just a matter of time before another Wounded Knee and ... a violent confrontation with the U.S. government.”

On the loss of Ellen Moves Camp, Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier said: “Those of us who really knew her will dearly miss her as she was a big inspiration to all of us. She loved and fought for her People and the Nation without ever once that I know of complaining or asking for something for her personal use.”
Ellen Moves Camp stands as an inspiration to Indigenous people in struggle everywhere.

Sources include articles by Ian Record, Lakota Student Alliance; Jon Lurie’s article on the 25th anniversary of Wounded Knee for the Pulse of the Twin Cities; and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

Monday, May 19, 2008

State may be asked to help in Macy dispute

Published Saturday May 17, 2008
State may be asked to help in Macy dispute

LINCOLN — The attorney for the Macy, Neb., school district said Friday that the Attorney General's Office may be asked to intervene in a dispute between the school district and the Omaha Tribal Council over the status of school Superintendent Morris Bates.

Bates on Wednesday was escorted off the Omaha Indian Reservation by members of the Tribal Council and tribal police and told to never return.

That action followed a meeting of the Omaha Nation School Board in which a motion to fire Bates was made but never seconded.

The school board member who made the unsuccessful motion, Barry Webster, also is a member of the Tribal Council. He and the tribal chairman, Ansley Griffing, led the contingent that expelled Bates, according to minutes of the school board meeting.

Attempts to reach Bates at his home in Homer, Neb., were unsuccessful.

Webster said the Tribal Council was exerting its sovereignty rights, expelling the superintendent due to poor test scores of Omaha Nation students.

"It should have been done a long time ago," he said.

John Recknor, the school district's attorney, said the Tribal Council has no jurisdiction over employment of staff of the school, which is a state entity.

Bates, he said, just received a two-year contract extension from the six-member school board, a majority of whom believes the superintendent is doing a good job.

Recknor said he was instructed by the school board, during an emergency meeting Thursday, to send a letter to the Tribal Council informing them of the "real mess" they have created.

He said summer school would be canceled because of the removal of Bates, who must be paid because of the new contract. State funding and the status of federal grants administered by Bates also are imperiled, Recknor said.

Recknor said he hoped the Tribal Council would reverse its action against Bates and back off a threat to expel two other school administrators. If not, he said he might ask the attorney general to step in.

Omaha Nation Schools superintendent removed from reservation

Omaha Nation Schools superintendent removed from reservation
BY DOLLY A. BUTZ / Sioux City Journal
Friday, May 16, 2008 - 07:10:25 pm CDT

MACY — The Omaha Tribal Council has removed the Omaha Nation Public
Schools superintendent from the reservation and asked that two
principals be dismissed from their positions for unstated reasons, the
school’s lawyer said Friday.

John Recknor, an attorney based in Lincoln who represents the school,
said the school board was meeting Wednesday when a board member moved
that Superintendent Morris Bates be fired immediately. Recknor said the
motion was never seconded. A short time later, he said, members of the
Tribal Council ordered Bates off of the reservation.

“A couple members of the Tribal Council, including the board member,
came in and handed him a piece of paper saying that he needed to get
off of the reservation immediately, and that he should resign or they
would remove him from the reservation,” he said.

Recknor said the Tribal Council also produced a motion asking to
dismiss high school principal David Friedli and special education
director Mary Wilson from their positions. Unlike Bates, he said the
two were not ordered to leave the reservation. All three staff members
are under contract, according to Recknor.

Sioux City Journal reporters made numerous phone calls to the Omaha
Tribal Council office in Macy but were unable to speak with anyone
about this issue.

Recknor said Bates was escorted out of the meeting by a tribal police
officer, allowed to gather his things from his office and told to leave
the reservation.

Then, at 10 a.m. Thursday, the Tribal Council held a meeting in which
three council members voted in favor of a motion to remove the three
Omaha Nation school officials. Those council members were: Barry
Webster, Amen Sheridan and Sterling Walker, according to meeting

One member, Rodney Morris, voted against the motion, saying he felt the
school board should make the decision, not the Tribal Council. Council
member Ansley Griffin did not vote on the motion, and two council
members, Mitchell Parker and Tim Grant, did not attend the meeting.

Recknor said the school is unaware of any wrongdoing alleged against
Bates and said the Tribal Council has not provided a reason for his
dismissal, or that of Friedli and Wilson.

“He’s still our superintendent,” Recknor said. “We have no grounds or
desire for him not to be our superintendent.”

An emergency meeting was held Thursday afternoon at the school. Recknor
said Broderick Steed is temporarily acting as superintendent.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” he said. “Basically,
this appears to be usurpation of the school district’s power.”

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ojibway leader blames racism for holding back natives

Here is a recent Anishinabe news story (May 8th), posted on the front page of the local Sault Star (Bawating):

Ojibway leader blames racism for holding back natives — COMMENT ON THIS STORY
Posted By Michael Purvis

Racism, passed down over generations, still prevents native youth from getting the kind of education they deserve, says a prominent Ojibway educator and an early leader in the American Indian Movement.

Eddie Benton-Banai addressed teachers, principals and school administrators from a variety of Northern Ontario boards on Thursday as the keynote speaker for a two-day symposium hosted by Algoma District School Board.

"I think the biggest (barrier) is long-standing stereotypes, generational racism as well," Benton-Banai told media. "People don't like to disagree with grandmothers, grandfathers even fathers and moms, you know."

He told of confronting one school board in the United States on its failure to pass any native students over a nine-year span.

"They never addressed the problem, but they came up with the classic answers: 'Well, you know those Indians, they don't want jobs. All they want to do is draw welfare, and the girls all they want to do is become pregnant so they can have bigger welfare cheques,' "said Benton-Banai. "Those were the answers from white, civilized, well-educated school boards."

"That wasn't true then, and it's not true today. . . . So those of you in education: deal with those stereotypes that you have been given from your parents and your grandparents," he said.

Benton-Banai pointed to another barrier, an overwhelming North American mainstream culture that is fortified by religion and politics, and to the "continuing exclusion," of other cultures from education.

There should be "curriculum about other people, not just about native people, but about other people. We don't know enough about each other and I think that's a big barrier," he said to reporters.

The government is working to correct those issues, said Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, who toured local schools on Thursday and was to address the symposium that evening.

"What I would say is, it is starting to happen in Ontario because we do have now this aboriginal education framework; there's more funding for native programming, and so that's the kind of work we're doing," said Wynne. "Are we finished? No, we've got more to do but we're off to a good start."

Wynne said a line has been added to the funding formula, with $15 million in ongoing funding set aside for programming in aboriginal education.
Chief Lyle Sayers, of Garden River First Nation, and Chief Dean Sayers, of Batchewana First Nation, told the symposium that curriculum based on the history of First Nations people in this region would go a long way toward engaging students.

Benton-Banai told the crowd that the American Indian Movement, which gained notoriety in the early 1970s with its bold approach to protest, "sprang to life" behind prison bars, with an idea "that we must build our pride (that) we cannot walk around these streets or work in these factories and work on these jobs without knowing who we are."

"From that small movement came a bigger movement that rolled onto the streets of Minneapolis, where the police were treating native people like the Gestapo treated the Jewish people in Germany, where every Friday and Saturday the police wagons and trucks rolled up to any place where Indian people congregated and threw them into the vans and into the trucks and trucked them off to jail, week after week after week," said Benton-Banai.

He said the resulting movement spread to other parts of the U.S. and led to what is now known as Anishinabe education.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Step by step tribal members bring awareness to Great Lakes

Posted: 5-5-2008

Josephine Mandamin, a member of the  Ojibway First Nation tribe from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, carries a pail of Lake Michigan water while walking along Fruitvale Road in Montague last Monday on the Mother Earth Water Walk. Accompanying her is Josh Me

Josephine Mandamin, a member of the Ojibway First Nation tribe from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, carries a pail of Lake Michigan water while walking along Fruitvale Road in Montague last Monday on the Mother Earth Water Walk. Accompanying her is Josh Me

Josephine Mandamin is a woman on a mission. In fact, she’s an Ojibway First Nation woman on a mission to preserve the Great Lakes for future generations.

Her mission has been to create awareness of the lakes’ plight by walking around them - all five of them- from town to town carrying a pail of the lake water. She is joined by other tribal members and supporters.

Last Monday she passed through the White Lake area on the Mother Earth Water Walk.

Starting the morning at 3:30 a.m. and getting on the road by 4:30 a.m. each day of the walk, Mandamin and her fellow walkers, take shifts in traveling until sunset when the pail and staff of eagle feathers are put to rest at night. The group, which is followed by vans, takes rest days along the trip.

In the final year of the six-year effort, the Mother Earth Water Walk is traveling around the southern end of Lake Michigan and along the Wisconsin shoreline from Manistee, Michigan to Hannaville, Michigan near Escanaba.

This year’s walk began at the Little River Casino in Manistee on Saturday, April 26. Two days later they were in the White Lake area. At 9 a.m., Mandamin and her group were walking steadily along Fruitvale Road between Whitbeck Road and old U.S. 31.

They plan to finish in Hannaville on May 11.

“Lake Michigan has been very prostitutionalized by the money changers,” Mandamin, a resident of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, said. “Our water is not for sale.”

Mandamin said the walk brings attention to the lakes for those who pass by.

She said the lakes are like women who hold life inside them. “Water is life,” Mandamin added.

The walkers pass out brochures explaining the Mother Earth Water Walk, providing simple facts about water and recommendations in preserving water.

The Mother Earth Water Walk started in 2003 by circling Lake Superior. In 2004, the upper half of Lake Michigan was the route of the walk. In 2005 it moved to Lake Huron, then moved on to Lake Ontario in 2006 and Lake Erie in 2007.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reflections on Healing, Renewal, and Living with Vows...

I have been on a healing journey to the heart since the day I was born. As a mother of four, a writer, and teacher, I am continually challenged to find new ideas and connect those ideas with our traditions. This is what has led me to the great state of Minnesota.

The first step to my own healing was the realization that I needed to be healthy. And, that meant I had to change! Quite an undertaking, I tell you. I mean, I have been alcohol and drug free for many years but that wasn’t enough. I was missing an important ingredient that had to do with my own self-determination and spirituality. My life became a disaster two years ago because I had just gone through separation and I was struggling to hold my family together.

So, I worked on myself--physically at first. I lost a lot of weight, adjusted my diet, etc. Then I worked on my mental attitude and began to see results from the shift in my consciousness reflected in everyone around me. I also went through therapy and traditional ceremonies to begin my emotional and spiritual healing as well. I dealt with issues of intergenerational trauma and faced them head on for the first time in my life.

Most of my trauma, I saw, centered on the concept of shame. Much of which wasn’t even my own. This was shame that had been passed down through generations from the time of first contact, I was certain. This element of shame coated everything in my life. I really believed that I had to hide my problems from everyone (and not air my dirty laundry so to speak). So I struggled to maintain a façade of success, while inside I was in so much pain. There were many times when I had the urge to just give up and start drinking again or to take anything just to feel numb. Ironically, it was only when I actually faced the ruins of my world that I was able to identify what I was really feeling. Then I saw the shame slide off my body like water draining from a basin. When it was gone, I felt so much lighter and free.

The renewal came when I actively sought out the ways of our ancestors. I began to ask questions that pertained to our identity as Native people and to our traditional practices. Some questions kept me awake night after night pondering: What does it mean to be Native in this contemporary time? Are we Native only during certain times of the day or week? Or is this something that we are 24/7?

People thought I was crazy and asked me why I even worried about such things. “Of course, we’re Native!” they said, “It’s in our DNA! Right?”

Well, once I started down this path, I couldn’t stop. It became my obsession and I wanted to find out if it is truly possible to live as a Native year round, without compromise. Where no one would actually question our inherent right to practice and develop our traditional ways in accordance to Native beliefs. Is this possible? I had to give it a try. My experience was quite challenging and revealing. Challenging because many people were opposed to the thought of how I was living. Revealing because I found out that in order to live by Native values, I had to let go of my own misconceptions of what that meant. But I did it for nearly two years. During this time, I homeschooled my children and worked from home part-time. And, I lived without many conveniences.

I spent two years examining the values that shaped me. From all of this self-examination, I posed these questions. How did our ancestors maintain their honor and conviction in everything they did? What did they do and how did they do it? I knew that the answer to this was the key to my own sanity.

The answer is that our ancestors walked with honor. That honor was held binding through the making of vows.

So, I decided to make vows to the Above, to the Grandfathers, to the Creator. These vows were to serve my people in the best way that I can. Now I became committed. My honor was called upon. And my honor became my shield…one that I walk with each day.

As I began to put my life back together as a single mother, I saw patterns. More realizations came that if we could all make our own vows, whatever they might be, wouldn’t this make a difference in the way we walked our own life paths? Particularly in maintaining our own sobriety and how we teach our children?

Living with vows means subscribing to principles that must be adhered to day and night. That’s how our ancestors lived.

Extremist that I am, it’s what I strive to follow. And, teach. And, of course the most important lesson for me in all of this is that I do so with my heart in my hand.

Ewithai Wongithe! All My Relations!

- Shonge Xube Wau (also known as Renee Sans Souci)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Return of the Thunders...

My latest poem I read on Friday, April 25 at the Spring Feast hosted by the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center.

Return of the Thunders
By Renee Sans Souci

This is a sacred time!
Where life begins
In the balance of the universe
Blue for the Sky, Green for the Earth
Then all around us
The Life Givers dance and sing...

Our life circles began as one
Energy that is unending
Surrounding us with Beauty
Renewal time known as Spring
When the Thunder Beings come home
To remind us still...

That life and death are one
Ancient miracles that balance
The budding of the trees
And the falling of the leaves
Echoes of voices singing
Songs of Red and Black...

Our life circles breathe
Inhaling a new beginning
Exhaling to honor the past
Sacred Breath a gift to us
From the Thunders, Bringers of Life
Returning. Returning.

This is a sacred time!
Where life begins
In the Return of the Thunders
Red and Black,
Reflected everywhere
Welcome them! Welcome them!
They are home.

Happy I've Got My Kids Back!

My kids came back to me two weeks ago, after spending nearly a year with their dad, Charles.

Our marriage broke up two years ago and the divorce was finalized in September of 2007. We had no disputes over any property. My only request to him was that he make sure that his kids inherit his land in Pine Ridge.

The kids said that they enjoyed their time with their dad. He also said that he enjoyed every minute with them. It was a special time for all of them.

I can honestly say at this time that I hold no rancor toward their father. We spent almost four days together as a family again (just for clarification for certain parties, we made agreements as parents not as husband and wife) here in the Twin Cities before he returned to North Dakota and to Canada (where he has remarried).

So, it is back to me and my kids again. I have my work cut out for me here. I love my kids so much! I missed them greatly while we were apart. Now I feel whole once again.

I do have lots to work on. I work for the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center. I am also becoming more serious about my writing. People are taking me more serious too! It's amazing how this is all working out now. I actually get paid for writing! Not much...yet. But I am getting there!

I have a mini-van for my kids. Yippee Skippee! And, I am looking for a place to live at this very second. Last Friday, I was approached for the second time by an Ojibwe woman from Augsburg College. She is recruiting for a Tribal Special Education Cohort Master's Program. I gave it a lot of thought over the weekend and have decided that it's time to go back to school! I've got to keep moving forward. I feel energized...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Planting in January by Jerry Lopez

It is January

The coldest month of the year

And there I was outside in 40 below

Pounding at the soil with a steel stake

Pounding with all my might

I was doing all this pounding to plant a seed

Not just any seed

A seed I just could not seem to take care of

A seed that I thought would do better here than with me

So there I was with the seed in hand

Pounding and pounding away

With every thrusting effort the ground would dent

Then dent a little more, and a little more

Finally the dent would be deep enough

To plant this seed

I placed the seed deep within in this dent

Pulled out my reused glass jar of “organic, chemical free, fare trade, water”

And poured it so ceremonially over the seed

Within seconds the water had frozen

But I smiled, said some words and walked away with all the confidence in the world

For I knew deep within that the seed had everything it needed

It was a seed that could find life in the most challenging conditions

Just not with me

And so I walked away and never looked back

Months later the snow began to melt

The ground began to thaw

The birds returned and the leaves began to bud

The garden was beginning to flower and

Soon the garden took on full life and the people noticed

All those walking, driving, running, and cycling by would stop and look

The beauty of the garden was breathtaking

People could not help but slow down and look

Slowing down and looking was happening to everyone

Looking at such beauty traveled deep into the people

This beauty began to bring peace, love and harmony

Into the minds and heart of all those who slowed down and take it in

This garden was so profound that an entire community began to transform

The people were smiling and greeting each other

People began to pick up the trash and be kind to each other

Parents began to play with their kids and read them books

Kids began to wake up on time and run to school

Or at least walk and not be late

Then one day I walked by the garden

I was in awe

Suddenly the wind was taken out of my chest and offered to the flowers

A tear formed in the corner of both my eyes and my chest pounded slow yet strong

Time began to slow down and slow down some more

Everything came to a stop

I looked around and all but the flowers were a blur

I looked out upon the flowers and asked, “Which of you did I plant?”

But none would answer

I asked again

And none would answer

I asked four times and on the fourth time I asked

“Which of you is the one I planted at a most difficult time

A time when in my hand was my heart

And you the seed was my heart

I planted you here until I was ready to return

Which of you was this seed?”

Again there was silence

Just as I accepted my fate of not knowing

A voice spoke to me and said

Your heart has always been within you

But when you planted me

You too gave life to all of us

Now I belong here with all the seeds

That have been planted by the hearts of many

And so do not worry

There is much more of me inside of you

So go plant more seeds

No matter how hard it may be

No matter what season it is

When you plant a seed from the heart

Beauty will flower and all people will smile

Jerry wrote this for the Spring Equinox which was celebrated last week on March 20, 2008 in ceremony with Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Reflections on Chalchiutlicue by Bawshkeeng Wabigun (Tara Chadwick)

(L to R) Renee, Vanessa, Tara and her son Mictla

Reflections on Chalchiutlicue… notes from the Indigenous Women’s Water Policy and Leadership Training, March 20-23, 2008 @ Lake Itasca Biological Field Station.

Before I read the evaluations that I’m just patiently waiting to unfold, I want to leave a written reflection on the weekend’s event. I returned home to a fresh, soft blanket of snow and a new pint of sap in our maple bucket. It was 40 degrees in Northern Minnesota when we left early this afternoon, and 25 in St. Paul when we arrived here at 5 pm… interesting temperature change.

This weekend was the most recent culmination of years of work toward an endeavor to bring together the scientific and cultural knowledge of our local indigenous communities in an effort to boost our community readiness to engage in strategic systems change in water policy and management in local, state and federal arenas.

We started the journey toward this weekend with months worth of planning, logistics, location, ideas and timelines. Next was the content, resource guide and invitations to presentors and participants. Finally were the reminder calls, registration forms, supplies and sleeping assignments. Thank goodness for teamwork!

We invited all the women we could think of who are engaged in strategic, political, educational, or cultural work with water, especially those who regularly share their knowledge with other people in their community. We even invited women who we know would not be able to join us but who might be inspired to engage their own communities in similar endeavours.

When it finally arrived, the day of travel was difficult and filled with all sorts of obstacles, from snow, to rain, to ice, copy machine problems to vehicle space limitations… many of us made it to our departure point feeling anxious, uncertain and stressed out! But we were determined to begin in a positive and peaceful manner, and so we gathered in the Maynidoowahdak Community Center in honor of the call for 8,000 drums for Mother Earth, and we shared some food, thoughts, tobacco and songs to recenter ourselves and focus on our intentions for the training and on the road ahead.

The road ahead was long, it seemed to take forever to get there. And along the way, it was after all, the first day of Spring, we decided that we must add a workshop on tobacco seed planting. I had to stop at three different stores in Park Rapids, MN, before I could find soil that did not bear the Caution, Warning, Danger, Poison label that indicates the presence of toxic chemicals. Our next plan was going to be digging out frozen soil from the earth to plant the seeds… I am ashamed to say that I found it at the last stop, Walmart. The purchase of the only available package of organic potting soil, which was actually Canadian sphagnum peat moss, intruded on my five year boycott of the monster store. I’m sorry that Simone couldn’t join us from IEN, at least she could have used my scab peat purchase for a discussion about the peat mine that’s being proposed for the Red Lake bog, and the environmental and political impacts that are expected.

When we got to the park, it was dusk; we found a beautiful homey cabin filled with smiling women, and a feast of corn, rice, meat and berries spread out and steaming ready. We ate, and then headed out to find the fire, which had already been lit for the full moon ceremony. It had been snowing the whole day so we weren’t even sure which direction was east. The fire was magnificent, though, warm, huge and welcoming. There were wooden benches arranged around the fire, just enough for everyone to have a seat. We had a beautiful ceremony, and just before the end of it, our grandmother shone through the icey mist, a reminder of how the first water must have looked when it first arrived to surround our gwenawjiweengay mide wahkeeng.

After the ceremony we shared some social singing, drumming and snacking in the main cabin, then retired to our various sleeping quarters. Morning came very soon, I awoke, very uncharacteristically, at the break of dawn, despite my best efforts to sleep for as long as possible, I had to get up and get ready. Beautiful dreams about what lay ahead gave me strength and inspiration to go and talk to the other Midewiwin women about how we could create the offering ceremony that would happen next. I had dreamt about our teacher, gweewisence daywayigun. He was sitting with us, teaching us about the various elements we all have in common with him, each other and with all our living relatives on our mother the earth.

It was he who led us on our walk to the headwaters of the Mississippi. We could hear the loud, strong voice of the water speaking, singing to us, as it went flowing through, over and under the line of rocks that spanned the river; they could be crossed in two or three strides. Our grandmothers arrived first, and began their work, we all followed, set up a place for our teacher to work on the ice which was still strong enough to stand on, over the water at the shore of the Mississippi Headwaters. It was a timeless moment, I think we all felt like we remembered having been there before, remembering the memories carried by our ancestors, realizing as we stood there, that we are making a connection that was lost long, not too long, ago.

Next came the beautiful sounds of creation in harmony. Together we observed, felt and witnessed the coming of a new beginning. After the first song, the sun shone through the icey mist; after the second song, tiny black manidoons appeared among us, barely visible, hopping around on the snow. After the third song, the women spoke, sending their voices of observation, memory and intent into the future, near and distant. The speaking was a collective teaching, all voices equal, all participants active, engaged. The voices identified changes that had occurred over historical time, compared them with previously held observations, qualitative and quantitative measurements encoded in the memory, songs and teachings handed down for generations. The women analysed the differences between our historical and current situation, with the water, the earth and the environment. They posed hypotheses for how things could change, and identified an agenda of the most pressing issues… our voice and Midewiwin perspective in the development of land and water management policies, including a retroactive ban on the commodification and privatization of water; water quality restoration worldwide; access to clean, safe water for all human beings now and into the future. Then they spoke of solutions, benchmarks, what it would take to turn the present course of events to a series of desired outcomes. In the next 500 years… we would like to see the rivers restored to drinkable quality. We do not need to worry about the health of the earth, she will survive, it is us, human kind who are in danger. What befalls our brother the wolf, who walked the earth with Waynaboozhoo, will befall the Anishinabe. What will it take to ensure the survival of our people? What will we do? What will I do?

“lis-ten to your heartbeat, lis-ten to your heartbeat,” my three year old son chants…

The grandmothers echo his instruction. And inspiration. We have knowledge, technology and the power to create the change that we seek. Our only responsibility is to remember our teachings, offer our tobacco, pay attention, reflect and act. Do. Plan. Seek. Talk. Organize. Work. Walk. Speak.

We left the headwaters with a lighter step, and a stronger inspiration, and headed for the classroom, three miles downriver, on the shore of Lake Itasca’s East Arm.

The classroom was actually a basement science lab, with windows looking out on the Lake. At first, the transition from ceremony to classroom seemed too harsh, but we engaged our self discipline and entered together into the academic world of power point public policy, dotted with examples of real life situations that brought us back from intangible social theory to context that we could readily understand. We realized, I realized, that what we are doing is social change theory, only we don’t talk about it or write about it, we just do it. And keep doing it. And keep trying, even if the doing it doesn’t work out! I guess that is called 500 years of resistance and survival in my bedrock guide of (bedrock = below grassroots) growing up indigenous. For me, the development of political consciousness was inseparable from the development of social identity as an indigenous person. Citizen engagement and social activism was a given part of who we are and what we did, not a job acquired skill or a required reading. The lecture was good, though, a primer on what public policy is, means and needs in order to be a successful tool of social change.

Next we came to Grandmother Josephine’s presentation about the Mother Earth Water Walk, a remarkable committment to the ever present question: what will you do? Raise awareness, send a powerful message, work with the water, lead by example, follow our teachings. Josephine and her helpers will be walking through Chicago this May 1st- 7th and there is some concern for the safety of the walkers in this high profile water diversion area that is dominated by corporations who profit from the undeveloped consciousness of the majority of the masses. Josephine would like as much press and media attention as possible on the Water Walk for this year, and is inviting all women and men to participate and support the Walk to raise awareness and bring healing to the water.

After the classroom presentations, we returned to our eating cabin and feasted on buffalo stew. The third part of our day turned traditions and academics into creative practice. We transitioned, this time, into spring seed planting mode. Sharon shared the fruits of her trial and error tobacco seeding efforts. Smudge, tobacco, seed, tobacco, song. No water directly on the plants, only on the soil around the edges, till they’re big enough to plant in the ground about June. Keep covered, warm and constant temperature. Our seeds were planted, ready for us to take home and, hopefully, sprout in four days, a reminder of ourselves and our commitments and intentions.

Then, after watching a youth video and listening to a poem that reflect our work, our history and our intentions for the present and the future, we were challenged to take on a commitment to produce a creative message, one that reflects the learning that had taken place. In other words, it was everyone’s turn to work together or separately, to do something. Anything. Somehow! This is the exercise with the push that we need to turn the theory, back into action. Two hours later, we had a wonderful time, sharing what we had created. There were posters, skits, singing, drawings, paintings, beading, and cutting:

• Mainstream messaging through music (Mississippi River lyrics, karaoke)
• A Water = Life collage illustrating the interdependence that all the elements of our creation history share, surrounded by four pairs of moccasins that represent the Mother Earth Water Walk
• A red cuxtal and charcoal drawing representing the relationship between water, women and mother earth and reminding us of our responsibility and what could happen if we do not fulfill our obligations.
• The capers of Wally and Dory, the Minnesota walleye, and their run-in with a Red Lake fisherwoman.
• A Publicity Poster for the 2008 Mother Earth Water Walk, incorporating the issues of corporate commodification and privatization of water; bottled water quality, shelf life, and the generation of plastic bottle waste.
• A worldwide water quality and access comic strip storyboard.
• A beaded lace representing the free flow of living water running through the arteries of mother earth (undiverted and undammed).
• A poster for a Midewiwin culture based Younger Youth Water Education Project
• A room-wide game of ring around the rosey, exemplifying the movement of water

The sharing of our creative productions was followed by popcorn and an in-depth documentary titled “Green Green Water” filmed by a Minnesotan woman, about the relationship between Minnesota based Xcel Energy Corporation and Manitoba Hydro. The film focused on the effects of dams and electricity generation on the lives and livelihood of Crees from northern and central Manitoba. It was sobering to see the destruction that a dam produces, so that we can flip on the lights.

At the conclusion of the video, a call to action was spurred by a presentation by participants in the weekend workshop who are also danzantes from Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc. They related the experience of the Manitoba Hydro dam to the many dams that have been and are being built throughout central and south American right now as part of Plan Puebla Panama and Nafta, Cafta and the current country by country trade agreements that are being negotiated, such as the trade deal with Columbia that is before congress right now. US internal and international policy is driven by the voices of powerful corporations that profit from exploiting and destroying common natural assets such as rivers, acquifers, and land based deposits of minerals and rocks. These trade and “implementation” agreements are taking away the power of indigenous people to provide for and protect our people and common natural assets. The only way for us to regain our power is to reclaim our power. Reclaim our power. As the grandmother shines brightly, watching.

We closed with evaluations the next morning, written and shared, one more offering of tobacco, and a song to celebrate our milestone accomplishment. We have stood together, we will continue to stand together. To Stand Strong. We are the buffalo. The wolves. The turtles. We are the grandmother, Waynaboozhoo, the fire and the water. Atl tla chinolli… the fire and the water. We are agitated, like boiling water, spurred to action. To reflection. To figuring out the answer to our ever present question: What will you do?

Meegwetch. Ome Teotl.

Bawshkeeng Wabigun (Tara Chadwick)
March 23, 2008, Upon returning home from the Water Retreat.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Language Too Beautiful to Lose...

February 3, 2008
A language too beautiful to lose
By David Treuer

ONLY three Native American languages now spoken in the
United States and Canada are expected to survive into
the middle of this century. Mine, Ojibwe, is one of
them. Many languages have just a few speakers left --
two or three -- while some have a fluent population in
the hundreds. Recently, Marie Smith Jones, the last
remaining speaker of the Alaskan Eyak language, died
at age 89. The Ojibwe tribe has about 10,000 speakers
distributed around the Great Lakes and up into
northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba. Compared
with many, we have it pretty good.

If my language does die -- not now, not tomorrow, but,
unless something changes, in the near future -- many
understandings, not to mention the words that contain
them, will die as well. If my language dies, our word
for "bear," makwa, will disappear, and with it the
understanding that makwa is derived from the word for
box, makak (because black bears box themselves up,
sleeping, for the winter).

So too will the word for "namesake," niiyawen'enh.
Every child who gets an Ojibwe name has namesakes,
sometimes as many as six or eight of them. Throughout
a child's life, his or her namesakes function a little
like godparents, giving advice and help, good for a
dollar to buy an Indian taco at a powwow. But they
offer something more too. The term for "my body,"
niiyaw (a possessive noun: ni- = "I/mine"; -iiyaw =
"body/soul"), is incorporated into the word for a
namesake because the idea (contained by the word and
vice versa) is that when you take part in a naming,
you are gifting a part of your soul, your body, to the
person being named. So, to say "my namesake,"
niiyawen'enh, is to say "my fellow body, myself."

If these words are lost, much will happen, but also
very little will happen. We will be able to go to
Starbucks and GameStop and Wal-Mart and the Home Depot
as before. We will tie our shoes the same way and
brush our teeth and use Crest Whitestrips. Some of us
will still do our taxes. Some of us still won't. The
mechanics of life as it is lived by modern Ojibwes
will remain, for the most part, unchanged. The
language we lose, when we lose it, is replaced by
other languages.

And yet, I think, more will be lost than simply a
bouquet of discrete understandings -- about bears or
namesakes. If the language dies, we will lose
something personal, a degree of understanding that
resides, for most fluent speakers, on some unconscious
level. We will lose our sense of ourselves and our
culture. There are many aspects of culture that are
extralingual -- that is, they exist outside or in
spite of language: kinship, legal systems, governance,
history, personal identity. But there is very little
that is "extralingual" about story, about language
itself. I think what I am trying to say is that we
will lose beauty -- the beauty of the particular, the
beauty of the past and the intricacies of a language
tailored for our space in the world.

Yes, that's it: We will lose beauty.

My older brother Anton and I, among many others, have
been trying to do something about that. For the last
year, we have been working on a grant to record,
transcribe and translate Ojibwe speech in order to
compile what will be the first (and only) practical
Ojibwe language grammar. Since December, we have
traveled once, sometimes twice, a week, from our homes
on the western edge of our Minnesota reservation to
the east, to small communities named Inger, Onigum,
Bena and Ball Club, where we record Ojibwe speakers.
We've also taken longer trips to Red Lake Reservation
(to the north) and south to Mille Lacs.

RECORDING Ojibwe speech in Minnesota, where the
average age of fluent Ojibwe speakers is 55, means
recording old people. My brother, at 38, is very good
at this, much better than I am. For starters, he is
much more fluent. And he looks like a handsome version
of Tonto: lean, medium height, clear eyes and smooth
face, very black shiny braids and very white shiny
teeth. This helps. He has made this kind of activity
his life's work; it is what he does.

Right after college, he apprenticed himself to Archie
Mosay, at that time the oldest and most influential
Ojibwe spiritual leader, who grew up in the hills of
the St. Croix River Valley in Wisconsin and did not
have an English name until he was 12 and a white
farmer he worked for gave him a pocket knife and the
name "Archie." He kept the knife and the name for
another 82 years. Archie and my brother were friends.
Deep affection and respect and tenderness ran in both

The people we are interviewing are also our friends.
There is Tom Stillday, from the traditional village of
Ponemah on the Red Lake Reservation. Tommy Jay, as
he's known, is somewhat famous for his spiritual work
and for his sense of humor; he refers to his knees as
his baakinigebishkigwanan, which means "openers," and
once he described his Indian name, Ozaawaabiitang
(Yellow Foam), as the "puke of the waves as they wash
up onshore." He is a Korean War combat veteran, has
served on the tribal council and was the spiritual
advisor for one or two sessions of the Minnesota
Senate. He is also my daughter's namesake.

Then there is Anna Gibbs, also from Ponemah, also
famous -- for her voice and her special and
spectacular cept by human grasping.

Since we've begun our project, six of our informants,
our friends, have died, including Mark Wakanabo, who
worked as a janitor at our tribal school for decades
until someone realized that since he was a fluent
speaker, it would be better if he pushed young minds
toward the language rather than pushed a broom. He was
a sweet man, about whom I knew very little, except
that he was gentle, with a soft voice. Two of his sons
(identical twins) were my friends through middle and
high school.

Luckily, other people are working on making more
Ojibwe speakers. My good friends Keller Paap, along
with his wife Lisa LaRonge, David Bisonette, Thelma
Nayquonabe, Harold Frogg, Rose Tainter, Monica White
and others, have started an Ojibwe language immersion
school named Waadookodaading (We Help Each Other) on
the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in north-central
Wisconsin. The school has been in operation for six
years, and all the children in the program have passed
fifth-grade aptitude tests mandated by the state of
Wisconsin. Sixty-six percent of them scored in the top
10 percentiles in English and math, compared with a
much lower passing rate among students in the tribal
and public schools on and near the reservation. And
yet the students at Waadookodaading received no
instruction in English and their math was taught in

LAST spring, I went spearing with Keller Paap and Dave
Bisonette on a lake in their treaty area. Band members
fought for and won the right to continue exercising
their treaty rights on ceded land, and so they do. One
of those rights is to spear and net walleye pike
during the spring spawn. It is cold on the water in
April, and it was that night. We took the boat across
Round Lake to the northeastern shore and into the
shallow waters where the fish spawn. One person ran
the motor, the other stood in front wearing a headlamp
and speared the fish with a long pole. With a few
modern modifications, this is something we have done
for centuries.

The night was very foggy. Mist skated over the water
and billowed up, disturbed, over the gunwales of the
boat. We kept close to shore. Round Lake is a resort
lake and many of its bays and inlets are packed with
houses. (It is rumored that Oprah Winfrey has a house
there.) Most of these places were closed up,
shuttered, waiting for the tourists to come in for the
summer. The docks reached down into the lake as if
testing the water, but finding it too cold, drew up
halfway on the banks. Yet here and there, lights shone
from living room windows. And when the house was
perched especially close to the lake, we could see
televisions glowing ghostly and blue.

It was past 10 -- time for Letterman and Leno. Dave
and Keller and I spoke Ojibwe over the puttering motor
and the watery stab of the spear going down into the
water and the clang as it came out with a walleye
wiggling against the barbs. The pile of fish grew on
the bottom of the boat, and they flapped dully, trying
to fly against the unforgiving aluminum sky of the
boat. A dog barked from shore. I could hear, clearly,
Letterman's Top Ten List coming from an open window.
Fish scales, knocked loose by the tines of the spear,
were plastered all over the inside of the boat, and
they sparkled like jewels when swept by the lamplight.

This way of life and the language that goes with it
felt suddenly, almost painfully, too beautiful to
lose; too impossibly beautiful and unique to be
drowned out by the voice of a talk show host or by any
other kind of linguistic static. And I thought then,
with a growing confidence I don't always have: We
might just make it. *