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When Everybody Called
Timothy G. Roufs
Source: Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
The aunt my mother found in Bena was Betsy Crow, Jim Buffalo's sister. Her father -- old Fred Crow, my grandfather on my father's side -- used to own a hotel and a big liquor store in Bena. Old Fred Crow was a white man, so my aunt Betsy was a breed.
I think Fred Crow was also related to my grandmother on my mother's side, but you couldn't see any Indian in him. He was a white man, at least he looked white. But he had a little Indian way of life to him. They all called him May-kwán in Indian. Ya, they called him May-kwán-i-bát. He mixed up so much with the Indians that they thought he was a great man.
When we first came to Bena we lived with my grandfather at the hotel.
Shortly after we moved my mother built a wigwam. That was a tar-paper
shack made like a wigwam, out of poles. She built her own shack
north of the depot at Bena, with a hammer and tar paper.
Betsy Crow worked in the restaurant of my grandfather's hotel at that time, and before long my mother got a job there too. When I'd go by the hotel grandpa used to call me in to eat in there, and he'd give my sister Mary and me cake and pie to take home. He always told my mother, "Those children go hungry. I want you to take care of them." He would lecture her(1):
There must be some reason that he always told my mother to take care of the kids, which she did. Maybe it was because I was always sickly in my childhood days. My mother was only fourteen or fifteen when she first went to Bena, and she was the only one, at that age, who was taking care of me.
I had pneumonia twice, once when I was a baby. My mother took me to the medicine man,(3) but I don't remember much about it. He chanted me,(4) and used his rattle. I remember looking up at him. That's all I remember.
The medicine man is the one that has the power to heal, and is the
one that knows nature and the history of our life of the Indian. When
people go to see him they put blankets and rugs beside him.(5)
Later on, I was sick again. We went to the medicine
man a second time. I remember better the second time they took me to an
Indian doctor. That was about nineteen-seven or nineteen-eight, somewhere
in there. My mother wrapped me up in a blanket and set me in a wagon.
I think it was somebody else who drove me in the wagon to this medicine
man. I wanted to be a-doctored. I wanted to be known under a different
There were ten or fifteen people gathered when we arrived at Old Man Ryan's(6) house. All of his neighbor-relations came, and two or three of my relatives. My mother was there, and I think my Aunt Betsy came along that day too.
They already notified this man that we were coming at that date, the next day, so he was ready for us when we got to his house. He had medicine and everything there. He also had maple sugar, wild rice, dried berries, and Indian fry bread.
When we arrived we set the blankets and other presents in front of the medicine man. He took the blankets and the rugs and the mats and everything they had worked on and had given him, and he put them aside. We were sitting there before the medicine man and my mother said, "My boy is sick. He's been ill. My boy's not well. My boy has a fever."
"Well," this medicine man said, in Indian, "I shall do your request."
He prayed over me and asked the Great Spirit to cure my sickness. He first took a little drum and pounded it: "dok-u, tok-u, tow, tow, tow, tow, tow, tow, duwduwduwduwduwduwduwduwm." I looked up and he put that drum down. He said,
He put a little piece of that rock-salt on me.
"So," he said, "I'm going to give him a name, one of my names. He shall have the name of Gay-báy-bI-náyss, 'Forever-Flying-Bird.'"
There were two people standing there backing his word.(7)
The old man continued,
He picked up the drum again, "tuk-u, tuk-u, tuk-u, tunk, tunk, tunk, tunk, tunk, tunk." And he sang a little. Then he prayed.
"That's for you, Great Spirit," he prayed on after his little chant.
He pounded the drum again. He smoked a pipe -- what the whites call a "peace pipe." He laid the pipe down.
He spoke to the audience, "You shall see this boy with you when he's an old man. We're all old here. He'll be taking a place of ours, so he should know what I'm transferring to him. He shall be my namesake."
"So," he said to me, "you shall be taken care of from here on."
I felt good right away.
I didn't catch on to what he was talking about till later on. He found out that I had an internal stroke, and high blood pressure. He told afterwards what had happened. He said, "I knew what was wrong." He didn't tell me, but he told my mother that I had high blood pressure. He told her how he got by himself(8) and asked the Creator of heaven and earth, "What's wrong with that boy?" When he received an answer(9) he had to translate it to my mother.
"So take good care of him," he said. "Give him that medicine." And he gave my mother that medicine.(10) "Let him drink that."
That was an ironwood medicine. That's good medicine; it purifies your blood. It thins out your blood, and with that your heart works good.
That's how my namesake Gay-báy-bI-náyss came to help me when I was sick. He told me, "You shall not leave this earth.(11) I'll give you a name. You shall be my namesake. I give you part of my power of life. I shall give and you shall receive. You're my namesake."
I felt better because I was meditated by Old Man Ryan, and from that time on my friends and relatives called me Gay-báy-bI-náyss.
Before this time they called me Nah-gáh-nab, "The-Head-One-That's-Sitting-Down," or "Sitting-Ahead-by-the-Thunderbirds." If you want to find me on the record of Indian enrollment office I go by the name of Nah-gáh-nab. That's how I'm named in the Indian office.
My brother, who was born a year or two before me, was called Nah-gáh-nab. I came back of him, and after eight years a treaty payment came. My mother went to the Indian office in Ashland(12) and told the federal agent, "My boy's name is Gay-báy-bI-náyss. That's his Indian name."
"No," they told her, "it's something else in the book. It says Nah-gáh-nab is his birth name, Nah-gáh-nab, 'Head-One-Sitting-Down.' That's his birth name. That's Federal."
"So we'll leave it that way," my mother told the agent. "It's all the same blood anyhow."
I think of my brother Nah-gáh-nab, "The Head-One," who was born before I was. He was born too young, and died before I got his name. I took the name of him. I should take it, regardless of what happened to him. I should take his name. I should let that name live. Maybe his o-jI-ko-wayss, his "shadow," his spirit, his soul, came back later when its time was here, and is now mine.(13)
I kind-a think of that. Sometimes I think that my older brother's spirit might be mine. The spirits of those they call infants don't go anywhere if they die. The spirit of theirs doesn't earn that final stage of happiness because they didn't get a chance to understand their religion. They were too young. They were newborn. But they go in a place where they'll always be in one unity, and maybe my brother's spirit returned from there. It might(14) be in my blood. The blood always comes back to the blood. That's living close together.
I thought of that lots. My mother thought of that too. She made kind of a remark at one time. She said, "I'm satisfied now. Maybe he's here, maybe not."
But regardless of what happened, on the official Indian enrollment I still carry the name of Nah-gáh-nab, which was transferred from my brother to me, instead of the name Gay-báy-bI-náyss.
My uncle Henry Buffalo was the one responsible for my original name. Shortly after I was born he came for a visit
and mentioned the name Nah-gáh-nab.(17)
Uncle Henry and my dad were from Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, besides Chief Pezeke, Chief Nah-gáh-nab was well known. Uncle Henry suggested that one uncle by a long ways, Aa-bI-jI-gii-Ig, "Everyday-Light,"
should be my namesake. They called Everyday-Light "Sam Wright" in English.
My uncle Sam Wright was more or less a half-brother or step-brother of
my mother. He was a jessokid, that special kind of priest who could
interpret happenings and predict the future. He shook a special tipi as
part of a religious ceremony. They talked to Everyday-Light, Sam Wright.
He's the one that finally gave me my original name Nah-gáh-nab.
He knew about my brother Nah-gáh-nab that died. And since
my uncle Sam Wright was a jessokid he could know everything
about it. He told my folks, "I give him the name. It shall be a forever-lasting
name. As long as he lives the people will know who they're talking about.
I give him the name of Head-One-Sitting-Down, Nah-gáh-nab."
In those days they'd get the name from what they'd think of, or what they'd see. Or they'd give you their own name. Or they'd give you the same name as their namesake. My uncle Sam loved me, and said, "And you shall be my boy." He said I would be able to give lectures, which I did too. He told me about life.
A namesake is a great thing; it's a strong relationship.
Generally you become a we$-ë$', or have a namesake, when you're invited to a place where there's a newborn child and where they have a trust in you. The father and mother of that newborn child believe that you have lived a life, that you have come to an old age, and that you have carried your life being pretty well posted. They recognize that you have good questions and answers.
You have to be qualified to be a we$-ë$'. You have to be, I might as well say, popular, or noticeable,(18) or an advisory. The father and mother will want you to be their child's namesake if they know that you are one of what would be called the "advisory Indians" in the area.
To be a we$-ë$' you have to have something that the parents could trust upon. The parents want this little child to come into the world and be able to lean on someone that has a Spirit of life,(19) someone that has experience. When a person has the experience of spiritual life, tells the truth of life, knows the historical background of the Indians, knows the dangers of life and explains the dangers, explains where to be careful, and explains how to live and do right, they think he's a great lecturer and they ask him to be their child's namesake. They really want -- they generally want -- a powerful medicine man, a powerful doctor. The parents have a trust that a powerful doctor will help their child along if he needs help. When it's time to speak to the Great Creator, the powerful medicine doctor will speak words for their child.
Another thing, if this child was born and had an uncle that the family liked, the mother and father would probably ask him to be the child's namesake. But you also have to be well-liked before you're invited to go to do this.
And they have a feast. At the little feast that they give, the mother and father say,
When a child is six or seven years old he begins taking an interest in things that he's told. Children take more interest when they're nine -- but they start at about seven, or six. At nine, ten, or anywhere along in there, they can understand what you're telling them. You tell this child, "You're me.(22) You're my namesake. I gave you your name. So, my namesake, you're supposed to listen."
That will attract him. He will like you. He'll take a liking to you. Almost always a namesake will join hands with you and want to go wherever you go. A little fellow, nine, ten years old will follow a namesake. And when you talk to him he'll take interest. He'll listen more to you, according to your personal background. Tell him the way to live, the way you live. Tell him the road to go on, the right deal, the right way to live. Tell him to be aware at all times. He's coming into the world, tell him: "Look out, and listen. Think before you go ahead and try to cross the river. It may be too swift a current." He'll know what you mean. Tell him, "Stop, look, listen. Don't try to get out when the storm's coming. Stay put. Wait till it's time to go." Tell him all that. Tell him, "Go up to the meetings of the people.(23) Honor your father and mother. Honor your father and mother! Listen to everything they tell you. Your father will never tell you wrong. Your mother will tell you the right way of life. She'll never tell you wrong. Love your father and mother. And remember, you're my namesake!"
That's a good advisor that talks to his namesake in that way. He'll never forget those words because there's a namesake relationship there. They feel it. They feel that being a namesake is a great thing. And whenever your namesake is sick, you're supposed to go see him -- and he's supposed to come and see you when you're sick. He will ask for healing for you. There's power in that -- if you do it right. With a namesake you'll have more power. That's what a namesake is for, and that's why I was happy to have Old Man Ryan call me Gay-báy-bI-náyss.
Mr. Ryan was a good advisory amongst the chiefs. He was a respected old man. He had family and was a hard worker in his day. Mr. Ryan was a pleasant old man. And he liked me. Every time he saw me he gave me some maple cake sugars or something that I would make use of.
Mr. Ryan was a man who in the olden days believed in the Great Spirit. When he believed in the Great Spirit, Mr. Ryan followed the Indian way of life. Later on different Churches came in, or started to come.(24) Somehow there was a southerner, an Indian guy, who came to the Leech Lake Reservation. I think that guy was from a peyote group of some other tribe. Old Man Ryan and his relatives got in contact with that guy and they became deep in peyote-Christian belief.(25) After in years, when I got to be eighteen to twenty, Mr. Ryan was using that peyote. Out of my Indian way of life he joined the peyote group and became one of the leaders.
I don't know . . . I couldn't say they were wrong or right to use that peyote. I was neutral. I never touched that peyote. I was forbidded to touch it. But Mr. Ryan never did ask me to convert to that belief, or to use that peyote. There's still some old timers here that use peyote, but my family never believed in taking that remedy to help them work for the Great Spirit. We believed we should work for the Great Spirit without taking peyote or any dope. That's what we believed in our Indian way. In our system of belief we never used to eat any kind of dope. We'd use only what's good for your body. We had medicine, but we used no bad medicine. We used no habit-forming medicines. That's what we were against, because it might affect your brains.
They were always aware of what they ate years ago. My people were very careful to do what my father and my grandfolks and our namesakes lectured on. We were careful to always pay attention to the Great Spirit, to the signs of nature, and to dreams.(26)
Later on I caught pneumonia again and had a slight leg stroke. Another person came to our shack in Bena to be with my mother as I was just about taking my last breath. My mother fell to sleep while she was watching over me, waiting for me to die. I was very sick! My mother dreamt that she was before a priest and that the priest came to her and handed her something. I was in a bundle he handed to her.
And in her dream the priest told my mother, "He's baptized. Now he shall live. He shall live for quite a while. He shall come to, and get well."
And she saw a person alongside of the priest, and he came up to her in her dream and said, "Here, he will live. You know why he'll live? Because you believe in the Great Spirit. And don't forget that the Great Spirit will be with him too."
She woke up after that dream and told that she had seen the priest. "It must be a priest as it was a man with a black gown," she told her friend. My mother said that at that time she never went into a church, and that she never even dreamed of what a church looked like. There was no church at Bena at that time. They were doing Mass in log buildings, in private homes. And in her dream my mother saw a priest in a black gown. Before that she had never seen such a priest as she saw in her dream. Maybe it was somebody from an order.(27)
"He says he'll live," my mother told her friend. My mother took me, as in the dream, and she said right then, "He's going to be baptized."
She wrapped me up right away and went for the priest because that's what she saw in her dream. She could go to any priest, so she went for the Catholic priest, even though she had never seen a church.
I suppose she could have gone for an Indian doctor. There were Indians there too that used the Great Spirit, but they were a long ways away at that time of the year. They were travelling seasonally,(28) and the travelling was hard then. There were no cars and no roads. It was hard to get the Indian doctor when they were somewhere else. But the Indian doctor would have told them the same thing. The Indian doctor would have told her what to do too.
We should have gone for a priest, but the priest was a long ways away too. So we didn't get a priest. I should have had a priest at that time, a real priest, but one wasn't there. So my mother went to my grandpa. "Would you bless this boy through the Catholic book or Bible?" That's what she told my grandpa. He was a strong Catholic. "Find him a way so that he can live and have something to go by," she asked. My grandpa took me by the hand. He set me by the bed.
"I baptize thee," he said. "I'll pray as the baptism book says. This boy shall live. We ask God to let him live for a long term."
So anyhow, I got well by my grandpa's request to the Creator -- this time through the Bible. Then, afterwhile, because of that, I had to study who was the Creator, who was God. After I was seven years old, eight years old, I had to study that. That's how I learned that the Bible is a great teaching of the way I should live. "Live the way you want to," it said, "but live what you believe in, and live right."
That's what I was trying to do.
1. Lectures -- instructive talks usually by older individuals -- play a key role in Anishinabe cultures. Throughout life, as is reflected in many of these chapters, lectures are used to teach as well as to entertain. Repetition is also central to lectures, as is usually the case with most people relying on oral traditions.
2. By this time Paul's father, Jim Buffalo, had died, of "consumption."
3. Although Paul Buffalo often uses the term "medicine man," it is not a word he likes. Cf., for example, Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women," Ch. 25, "'Self-Houses,' Sweat Houses, and Bloodletting," Ch. 29, Mi-de-wi-win," Ch. 30, " An Indian Curing Ceremony," and Ch. 31, "'Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking, and Bone-Swallowing specialists." The term "medicine man" sometimes offends native practitioners who use traditional medicines. Paul Buffalo uses the term in English because he knows that the term "medicine man" is one whites will easily understand -- albeit in a stereotyped manner. Preferred terms include "medicine doctor," "native curer," "shaman," or the actual term used in the native language (e.g., "jessokid," and so forth).
4. Sang medicine songs over him.
5. Tobacco, blankets, rugs, food, and similar items, are some of the gifts usually given to the curer or medicine doctor. He accepts these, but not so much in payment for services as a symbol of the important relationship with the patient and as a symbol of his/her esteemed place in the community. Most often these gifts are redistributed to others after the ceremony.
6. Cf., Jackson, Barbara D., "A Peyote Community in Northern Minnesota," in J. Anthony Paredes, Anishinabe: 6 Studies of Modern Chippewa (University Presses of Florida, 1980), pp. 127-193. Pseudonyms, when used, follow Paredes 1980. "Old Man" and "Old Lady" are terms of respect and endearment.
7. The people "backing his word" are there providing psychological, sociological, spiritual, religious, and moral support to the medicine doctor's prayers and requests. They also represent the interest of the community in having the cure be effective.
8. How he went out alone, probably in the woods, and meditated over the problem.
9. He received an answer from the spirit world. Tipi-shakers, Midewiwin, and others sometimes talk in a ceremonial language, one that is often used when communicating with the spirits. Here Old Man Ryan is "translating" that for them, basically explaining to them what the spirt(s) told him. Cf., Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women," Ch. 25, "'Self-Houses,' Sweat Houses, and Bloodletting," Ch. 29, Mi-de-wi-win," Ch. 30, " An Indian Curing Ceremony," and Ch. 31, "'Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking, and Bone-Swallowing specialists."
10. For medicines used see Frances Densmore, "Uses of Plants by the Chippewa Indians," U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Report, 1926-1927, 44 (1928), 275-397; and Virgil J. Vogel, American Indian Medicine (University of Oklahoma Press, 1970).
11. I.e., You shall not die at this time with this sickness.
12. Ashland, Wisconsin.
13. The older brother died because "it was not time" for his soul to remain in this world. The older brother's soul came back again, this time it was his time, and, according to some, his soul/spirit became Paul Buffalo's.14. It is Paul Buffalo's style -- and a style quite frequently used by and with the older traditional Anishinabe -- to suggest that something "might" happen rather than to simply assert that something is fact. If an event is part of a seasonal cyclical event which occurs regularly and inevitably as a part of the natural order, then they will assert that the event happens. If it is part of something like Natural Law -- like gravity causes things to fall, or like the known fact that "3 + 3 = 6" -- then they will assert the existence of the fact or event as a truism. Events which are not inevitably and obviously part of a natural cycle of some kind, or which are not a self-evident truth or known fact, and/or which have not been personally witnessed, are usually just suggested to occur.
This is the nature of the discussion here as Paul Buffalo knows that infants sometimes die because "it is not time" for their soul to be in this world, yet he has neither personally witnessed the return of his brother's soul as his own, nor was it necessarily an inevitable part of nature that his brother's soul should become his when and how it did. In his own mind, Paul Buffalo thought -- although he did not know it with absolute certainty as neither he nor his mother did consult with the jessokid about it (see following text above) -- that his soul was that of his deceased brother Nah-gáh-nab, and hence he thought it also appropriate to have Nah-gáh-nab's name. Had they consulted with the jessokid, the "Spiritual Doctor," the "Tipi-Shaker" -- what the early whites sometimes called the "conjuror" -- they would have known for certain if Nah-gáh-nab's soul was in fact Paul Buffalo's soul. If it was, linguistically, in Anishinabe, the certainty of that knowledge would have be asserted as fact or truism, and that certainty would also be translated into English as a statement of fact.
16. And Paul Buffalo himself was satisfied that his soul was the incarnated soul of his older deceased brother, Nah-gáh-nab.
17. Cf., Sister M. Inez Hilger, "Naming a Chippewa Indian Child," Wisconsin Archaeologist, 39 (1958), 120-126.
18. One who is recognized as a good, powerful, important, well-respected person in the community, one to whom people turn for advice and counsel.
19. Someone that works with the Great Spirit, and accepts the Great Spirit, to create a positive attitude toward life -- including humans as well as all living things.
20. Older, and therefore experienced in life.
21. He'll follow you like a hunter follows tracks in the woods.22. When someone gives you their name, they give you part of themselves -- in a real sense, not just figuratively. So here when an elder says, "You're me . . . ," they mean that in the most literal sense. The namesake receives a part of the one they're named after, and the namesake shares part of the soul/spirit of the one he or she is named after. They also get part of the elder's "power of life." And if you are named after someone who is old, you should also become old, as they have, because that quality of living to be old comes with the part of the person/soul/power that you inherit with a name. The same is true of the other qualities of the one you're named after. Thus, namesake relationships are of the highest bonds in Anishinabe cultures, and it is hard to overemphasize their importance.
This very special relationship of becoming part of the one you are named after is traditionally understood by all, including the young children.
Paul Buffalo had two namesakes, besides being named after his deceased brother Nah-gáh-nab. They were "Old Man Ryan" (Gay-báy-bi-náyss), and "Old John Smith" (Cf., Ch. 40, "John Smith 'Wrinkle Meat'").
23. Meetings of the people were also central to Anishinabe culture. See Ch. 5, "Chiefs and Councils," and Ch. 11, "Campfire Talk." It was also at these meetings and at seasonal gatherings that courtship also took place. See Ch. 24, "Courtship, Marriage, and Living in with the In-Laws," and Ch. 7, "Skayy-go-mI-zi-gáy-wIn, Maple Sugar Time."
25. See Barbara D. Jackson, "A Peyote Community in Northern Minnesota," in J. Anthony Paredes, Anishinabe: 6 Studies of Modern Chippewa (University Presses of Florida, 1980), pp. 127-193.
26. As seen in Ch. 1, "Early Life at Leech Lake," dreams play a crucial role in Anishinabe societies. In some regards, dreams are at the very center of traditional Anishinabe life. Dreams are one of the most important elements of traditional Anishinabe beliefs. In many ways the reality of the dream world is not separable from the reality of the waking world. See Ch. 26, "Dreams and Visions." See also A. Irving Hallowell, "The Role of Dreams in Ojibwa Culture," in Gustav E. Von Grunebaum and Roger Caillois (Eds.) The Dream and Human Societies (University of California Press, 1966), pp. 267-292.
27. A Roman Catholic religious order, such as the Benedictines.
28. They migrated seasonally from camp to camp. See, for example, Ch. 6, "Moving to the Sugar Bush," Ch. 7, "Skayy-go-mI-zi-gá-wIn, Maple Sugar Time," Ch. 13, "Mah-no-min-i-kay Gii-siss, Wild Ricing Moon," Ch. 17, "Winter Wood and Wigwams," and Ch. 18, "Late-Autumn Winter Camp."
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