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Flying Bird Image

When Everybody Called Me Gah-bay-bi-nayss,
An Ethnographic Biography of
Paul Peter Buffalo

Timothy G. Roufs
University of Minnesota Duluth

a note on tenses
  a note on style

orignal tapes information

Table of Contents

"This project has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society."

"This publication was made  possible in  part by the  people of  Minnesota  through  a grant funded by an appropriation  to  the  Minnesota  Historical Society  from the  Minnesota  Arts and Cultural  Heritage  Fund. Any views,  findings,  opinions,  conclusions  or recommendations expressed in this publication  are those  of  the authors  and  do not necessarily represent those of the State of  Minnesota, the  Minnesota  Historical Society, or the  Minnesota  Historic Resources Advisory Committee."


Buffalo Image


Blueberry Time

Woman and Blueberries, Parick DesJarlait, 1971

Woman and Blueberries.
Creator: Patrick DesJarlait (1912-1972)
Art Collection, Watercolor, 1971
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. AV1979.211 Negative No. 30610

While we were waiting for our garden to grow(1) we thought about blueberries and started scouting around checking on the crop. In the summer, when we got through sugaring,(2) and planting and hoeing the garden, one of the young scouts(3) said, "We'll go search for blueberries. Well, what are you going to do today?"

"Oh," another one said, "we're going hunting."

"What are you going to hunt?"

"Oh, we're goin' up to White Oak to see if we could see a deer on the lake."

"All right, we're just going to scout around to see if there's any blueberries, or see what other crop is coming along. We'll just scout around to see how the crop is coming. We'll scout around closer by and see if there's going to be any plums, see if there's going to be any blueberries. We'll check around, and then we'll report. We'll report where to go."

That was in blueberry time, about berry picking time. When the berries came we were sure of the season. According to our way of reckoning we called that time "half of the summer," aa-bI-taa-níí?-bÍn. That was usually the month of July.

The scouts went out to search for blueberries, to where they thought there were blueberries, míi-i-nan. When they got back they reported to the families of womenfolks where they saw the most berries. They came back and told the others, "The most blueberry area I saw will be there."

So when the people at the summer camp would get the report they'd get up there to the location described by the scouts. The whole works, maybe, would go. Whoever wanted to go would go. Sometimes older men would stay behind in the place where they planted their garden to look after the potatoes and corn and other crops. The rest moved to the blueberry fields and set up small camps, like they did at maple sugar time.

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Ojibway Indian woman and two girls with loaded canoe heading for blueberry camp, 1920

Ojibway Indian woman and two girls with loaded canoe
heading for blueberry camp.
Creator: Roland Reed
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1920
Minnesota Hisorical Society

Location No. E97.35 r74 Negative No. 65234

In the blueberry field we harvested berries, and got a lot of them. How many we got all depended on how fast we picked, the size of the family picking, and whether or not the families worked together. Three or four small families working together as a group would have maybe two or three hundred quarts for their own use, plus some they'd get for trading purposes. Some of them were pretty good pickers.

When I was picking with my mother in those days I wasn't the best picker or anything, because my one hand was a little bit defective, but we'd go out and get enough to eat anyhow. We got enough energy from that maple sugar, and out of nature and natural resources, for our system, our body, to go out and pick blueberries. We generally lived on fish, wild game, and the other natural resources. I imagined all the time that it was nature that gave us energy enough to pick blueberries.

We put most of our blueberries away for our own use. We dried them in my day, just like we dried jerk steak.(4) We dried a lot of them because we didn't have enough money to buy fruit jars those days years ago. My grandpa Fred Crow told me that the Indians first started using jars about nineteen hundred. When my mother, my sister Mary and I lived in Bena,(5) we saw one Indian start to use jars, and the jar salesman had them on display in Bena. I don't know how much you had to pay for a case of jars then; it didn't make any difference, because we didn't have enough money for them anyway. When we'd go into Flemming's Store in Bena just to look at them, "What did you want?" they'd ask. We were shy them days and didn't want to tell that we just wanted to look at fruit jars. So we generally just took a look, then left.

Fruit jar.

Most of us didn't have enough money to buy jars in those early days, so we dried most everything. Besides, dried berries were easier to carry around. And when you dry blueberries you don't have to put them in the freezer. I've told people about this many times.

We dried blueberries in the sun, without a fire. We put those long sheets of birch bark(6) on top of dry hay, wild hay, then poured the blueberries on top of that. Then, on a sunny day, those blueberries will dry. They will dry cured, like raisins. And they become sweeter, sweeter, as they dry. Blueberries turn sweet, just like dried raisins. These dried blueberries are just as good as raisins too. They're sweet, they take less sugar when you eat them, and it's a pure food, pure fruit.

Blueberries dry up and shrink up pretty good too. A bushel of fresh blueberries will make only about three or four pounds of dried fruit. I could take a bushel of blueberries, and when it's dried, I don't believe I could get two gallons of dried berries out of that. That's the difference -- there's less to keep and it takes less room.

We kept those dried blueberries clean and dry. To keep them dry we tied them in a bag and hung them where it's ventilated, in a ventilated place, so they'd never get mouldy or anything. They were kept well dry that way. That's the way we put them away without canning. They were sun cured, weather dried.

Instead of raisins we used blueberries, in any way. We'd take and use the dried blueberries to make sauce. We'd wash them just like our other food, and put a handful, or two handsfull, in the kettle and cook them. My mother would take less than a cupful to make a meal. A cupful of dried blueberries will make almost a half-gallon of sauce. They'd swell up as they were being boiled in the water, and they tasted just like fresh sauce. They have a good rich taste. Nothing's taken out. All the strength is still in those dried berries, just as it's in our jerk steak, maply sugar, and wild rice. You don't have to use much sugar with them either, because they're naturally sweet.

Besides sauce, we used berry-raisins with meat and wild rice.(7) When the women cook meat or wild rice they use those dried blueberries. They cook meat and wild rice together, or along with anything they want to put in the kettle. When I was a young boy I would put the rice in my dish, then maple sugar, then the meat, and then add many dried blueberries. That was just like having a feast. We used to eat them with our corn too, our boiled corn meal.

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Chippewa women cooking over open fire, 1910

Chippewa women cooking over open fire.
Photograph Collection, 1910
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.32 r3 Negative No. 79816

xxx duplicate

We used blueberries with bread too. Later on we finally got wheat bread. Later on we had flour and we made bread by the fire. We ate blueberries and maple syrup with that home campfire-bread. You dunk that bread in the syrup, you dunk it in the blueberries, and it is something. We used blueberry sauce and maple syrup with the home-made bread as it came right out from the hot fire. And we used it with fried bread too. The women fried bannock, Indian donuts, before we had bleached flour bread. You take that bannock when its warm, fresh, and you dunk it in the sauce of blueberries, dunk it in maple syrup, dunk it in any tallow or the grease of bear or pork, and you've really got yourself something substantial.

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Making fry bread, 1933

Making fry bread.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy
Photograph Collection, 1933
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.32 p12 Negative No. 35184

We'd not only once in awhile meet bears at the berry picking places, we'd meet other Indians too. In my time, in my younger times, if two different groups came together we felt great for them to find us. The different groups that came in recognized our chief.(8) They had respect for our group. They didn't cause any trouble, they just went along on their own division. They were the same as our own Indians.

That's the way it was in my time. In my time I thought it was peace all the way through amongst my group of Indians. That's the way it was.

If two families were going around as a group, and they were camped alone in a berry picking place when another party from that big area would find them, they'd say, "How's the berries?"

"We're getting lots."

Probably the new-comers were going to be invited to join in with them. The tribe had much of the territory in those days and everybody pretty much used whatever area they wanted to, even though they most generally returned to the same places year after year. There were a lot of blueberries too, so even if a family privately owned only a small U.S. government allotment of land of forty acres they couldn't pick all of the berries on it anyway. So the first party, the party already camping in that area, would say, "We have this blueberry patch here, and a village up there. We work up there. It seems like you like to be alone, but you're welcome to our village. So if you want to come to our village, I'll tell the others there that you'll come, and we'll expect you."

"We'll come. Mi-gwitch. Mi-gwitch." Thank you. Thank you.

The new party arrived at the summer village, and while they were building their camp somebody from the first group would cook and go feed them, to help them prepare for their camping. They knew how to cooperate, how to work together. Strangers or no strangers, they worked together, and were in a friendship. And they had a discussion by sitting together and talking. They'd all sit by the campfire, right on cedar mats. Lots of times they'd talk and tell stories. They'd tell what they saw that day, who they met, how things were out in the field. It was interesting for the Indian women to listen to the men-folks talk about what they saw. They'd tell them about the game. They tell about the birds. They'd talk about what crops they saw. They'd tell about the country they discovered. They'd tell if they found something new. They'd tell about the timber. They'd tell about the bark. They'd tell about the material they could use for making more birch bark baskets or siding for the house, for the tipis or wigwams. They learned lots by talking to one another in Indian. It was very interesting to listen to.

They told their history of where they're from. They told one another about their life. They told their history of life, and who they are. After talking a while a member of the first group finally found out that some relative of theirs who left this area went to the visitors' area. By their expression, by their words, and by them talking, one from the first group would realize a visitor as his relation and would say, "I find, I understand, that you have the same blood as I have because this relation of mine went down and lived in your area, in the eastern part of our territory." They discussed everything like that and found out relationships from a-way back.

It sounded good to listen to that. They got acquainted that way. So they were good to one another. They gave one another costumes, clothes, and later on they might give a special powwow for this party that came in order to be acquainted with them.(9) They got along pretty good, in my times. How peaceful they were. They made friendship. That's just caused from helping one another.

They didn't have any fights at that time. Their minds were clear and strong. The only thing that I know that ever destroyed the mind of an Indian was that fire-liquid, that i'sh-koo-day-wáh-boo.(10) That's what brought fighting out, otherwise they were peaceful. As long as people didn't have that fire-liquid, trouble didn't flame up.

But in our times we had interference from other people here and there. We had interference from others who maybe didn't have a trust in us, and fire-liquid would make its way in and weaken someone's mind. At that time young people didn't use the fire-liquid. It was the older class that was drinking that. The young people, the kids, just stood and watched them to see how that worked.

In my canoe days if a group of campers ran across a guy who might be weakened by that firewater and cause trouble, the adults would talk to him and warn him where the drawback was. They'd tell him:

"You're from a different part of the country. If you're from the western part, maybe you can't get along with us. We expect you to get along with us. If you can't get along, you know where to go. Why did you come where we are? Why don't we go up there where you are? You have your own ways of life in your own area. Why did you come here? Are you searching for your tribe? Are you searching for your people?"

"I'm searching for friends," he'd most probably say.

"Well let's be friends."

If he didn't want to be a friend, he'd gradually drift away and disappear. But they almost always like the Ojibwa and stayed with them. Ojibwa are a very good-hearted people. They would rather give than to take.

We felt good when we were able to meet people and share our berry areas with them. Blueberry time was a nice time of the year. It was an active time. It was a busy time. The women were always busy doing something, and the men kept busy hunting, visiting, meeting in council,(11) and playing the moccasin game.(12) With so many things going on, we kept our camp in one place for a long time. That gave us a chance to rest up from moving around, and provided time enough for the blueberries to dry well.

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Moccasin game, White Earth Reservation, 1920
Moccasin game, White Earth Reservation.
Creator: Robert G. Beaulieu
Photograph Collection, 1920
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.38 r3 Negative No. 7571

I loved to sit and watch my mother and the other women use cedar bark strips to make mats, cedar mats gii-zhi-ika-náa-kan. They used the rolls of thin cedar they had prepared earlier,(13) or they would go out and get cedar bark, the second bark of the cedar. They stripped that bark in strings. I would say they stripped it four to six feet long in strings.

Then they'd make a rack, a frame, an a-náa-kan-i-gan. The size of the rack tells you how big, how wide, you want the mat; it tells you what size of a mat you're going to get out of it. You can make little ones; you can make big ones. You can make them any size you want them. You can make them any way you want them too, but generally the mats were square all around. They put up wrapper-poles for the top and sides of the rack, the size of the mat they wanted. They put the side poles up just a little wider than they wanted the mat to be.

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 Chippewa women weaving mat in shade of bark house, 1900

Chippewa women weaving mat in shade of bark house.
Creator: Richardson
Photograph Collection, 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 p13 Negative No. 3936

They made a row-edge on the mat, on the top. They wrapped that on the top wrapper-pole, and all these strings hung down four to six feet, or whatever length they were using. They wrapped the top row-edge of the mat to the top wrapper-pole by looping that basswood stripping, the wigob, around and around both the mat's row-edge and the top pole.

In later years, about nineteen-twelve, fourteen and fifteen, they got burlap bags from the logging camps and they rolled burlap strings and made rope. They made a bailing rope out of burlap strings and they used that homemade rope for wrapping the row-edge on to the pole.

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Jim and George Cloud's mother, Onigum(?), 1931

Jim and George Cloud's mother, Onigum(?).
Creator: Monroe P. Killy
Photograph Collection, 1931
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1C p5 Negative No. 35483

When they're wrapping they have a small knot on the end of the basswood or burlap strings, and a big knot on the end of the cedar strips.

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Chippewa women braiding rush mats, 1890

Chippewa women braiding rush mats.
Creator: Ingersoll View Company
Photograph Collection, Stereograph, 1890
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 r29 Negative No. 34792

Then they commence to work, weaving that cedar bark. It was simple, they'd go over one strip and under one strip from one to another until they got to the last row strip. It's woven that way. It's kind of a braiding. When they're done, when they get to the end of the length of the mat they want, they pull all of the cedar strips tight and tie each one on the bottom. These knots hold the mat together.

They made pretty-colored mats. They're colored. Sometimes they colored what they call "braids." They would weave that cedar bark in different designs of different colors. They made simple designs with the colors. They had roots and all kinds of other things to color the cedar bark, but mostly they used roots, boiled roots, like balsam. Balsam has colored roots, on the end. We generally used underground roots for coloring. They used all kinds of them! They used basswood, and they used oak. Oak makes a good color. Oak will change the color of cedar strips any time. They used different underground roots. Often they used young jackpine for coloring strips. They used all these trees -- balsam, basswood, oak, and jack-pine. Tamarack is another one they used. I use something sturdy, anything sturdy. Any color they wanted, they had. They mixed it. When they boiled the cedar strips they mixed the different root liquids together and made just what color they wanted.

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Boiled Rushes Drying, Mille Lacs Lake, 1959

Boiled Rushes Drying, Mille Lacs Lake.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy
Photograph Collection, 1959
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.69.258 Negative No.

We picked raspberries at this time of the year, and sometimes used them for coloring. Raspberries are good too, for a red color or blue, but they didn't usually use berries to color the mats because the color from berries doesn't stick like a true wood color sticks. Berry color doesn't rub off or anything, it just wears out. If you take these other roots and color the mats with that root dye, that sticks with them.

When they were dying, they put that cedar bark and whatever roots they were using in hot water so long. Then they put it in cold water to set the color. They'd leave it set in the water, the cold water, two or three days, to get a fast color. They'd just forget about it, and when they were ready to use them, the colored cedar strips were ready to go.

If they were not dying the strips, or if they dyed them before they rolled them up at the garden planting spot, they'd still soak them a few days before they used them so they would be flexible.

As long as the cedar strips stay flexible and you can work them, you're all right. But they dry by the heat, by the raylight -- the sunlight -- and by the air. They dry out quick. It's drying while you're working, so once in a while you soak the mats, the whole works!

When you're done, you soak the whole mat again for a couple of days. Then hang it up and dry it. There are four corners on the mat. Hang it up by two corners like a blanket. It will dry out quicker. It takes about two days, or one day, for it to dry outside.

That's what I call cedar mats. They were something to look at. They were pretty. Some of those mats were four feet wide and six feet high. And that colored stripping made pretty designs on the mats. You very seldom see that nowadays.

Cedar mats are sturdy. That's a tough bark, you know, and it lasts for a long time. Those cedar mats were well-made and lasted many years! They lasted fifteen to twenty years. I wish I could show you the places we were. I wish I could show you the early way we made all of these things. You would be surprised.

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Cedar Bark Rug Frame, Nett Lake, 1953

Cedar Bark Rug Frame, Nett Lake.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy
Photograph Collection, 1953
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.69.256 Negative No.

The Indians put these bark-woven cedar rugs on top of the cedar boughs they placed in their wigwams.(14) You could still use them in a house for a rug, and it would be something unusual in the house these days. Those bark-woven rugs were clean. They could wipe them, clean them. Even if you did walk on them and get them dirty, it didn't matter, too much, because you could clean them.

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Interior of Chippewa lodge, Mille Lacs, 1909

Interior of Chippewa lodge, Mille Lacs.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1909
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r72 Negative No. 37966

When the women cleaned them they took a mouthful of water, clean water, and they sprayed it with their lips and mouth. They blew that water against the mat, and when the moisture was there, they wiped it off with rags. They had rags, Canadian goods.(15) They exchanged for it with the Canadians in those days. Before that they used buckskin, mostly. Buckskin went a long ways with us. It had many uses. Buckskin, busk-wáy-i-gÍn, will do a lot of cleaning too.

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Onana fleshing a deer hide, Mille Lacs, 1925

Onana fleshing a deer hide, Mille Lacs.
Creator: Frances Densmore (1867-1957)
Photograph Collection, 1925
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 r8 Negative No. 24643

I liked to watch the women tan hides. The Indian could tan hides for buckskin; they could tan it so that it'd be velvety. It was just like velvet. It was very flexible, but they had to keep it dry.

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Chippewa Indians smoking and scraping buck skins, 1900

Chippewa Indians smoking and scraping buck skins.
Creator: Truman W. Ingersoll
Photograph Collection, 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 p9 Negative No. 11299

We had to use our own ways to tan hides. The women would take the hide of a deer or of a moose and prepare it by soaking it overnight or longer in chemicals, some of ours, mixed with water. We have roots, we have other things that we use in tanning hides, to purify them. We have salt and other things we believe in. We use one thing to treat a hide so it will be cured right -- a solution made of the inner bark of the elm tree, and brains.

When they'd cut up a deer or a moose the women would pick out the brains and use the brains for tanning the hide. They put the brains in a birch bark basket and covered it up until they were ready to tan the hide. When they were ready they put the second bark of the elm, the inner bark, in water, then they put in the deer brains or moose brains, right out of the basket, just as the brains came from the head. In with all that they put the buckskin, or any other skin, like moose skin. Then they smashed up the whole mixture and let it soak.

Some people used other things besides brains and elm bark. They used anything, anything -- even willow, even hazelnut. You can use anything that cuts, like hazelnut. The hazelnut is good for that. There are two kinds of hazelnuts, long-tails and ribbon or bow hazelnuts. The second kind are just like a bow-seed. The ribbon hazelnut has a long tail. We take the bark of that and put in soluted water, along with the elm bark and brains. That all lays right there for awhile. Those things dissolve and cut into the hide and after awhile the hair slips off.

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Zo-zed smoking deer hide to color, Red Lake Reservation, 1910

Zo-zed smoking deer hide to color, Red Lake Reservation.
Creator: Frances Densmore (1867-1957)
Photograph Collection, 1910
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 p10 Negative No. 13194

When it was ready, when the hair would slip off, the women would take that soaked hide and rinse it good. Then they used another purification, water soluted with the same kinds of medicine. Then they'd rinse it, scrape it to get the hair off, and pull on it so that it stretches. They'd kept up that scraping and pulling, and kept a-rinsing it. If they had it, they rinsed the hide in salt water. Then they'd smoke it over a slow-burning small fire.

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Mrs. Jim Dritt scraping hide, Nett Lake, 1946

Mrs. Jim Dritt scraping hide, Nett Lake.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy
Photograph Collection, 1946
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 p31 Negative No. 35218

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Buffalo skins on drying rack at Grand Portage, 1939

Buffalo skins on drying rack at Grand Portage.
Photograph Collection, 1939
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 r10 Negative No. 64416

When they were tanning drum skins they would go about it in the same way, except they wouldn't use the brains. If you want the hide to soften you use brains. You use brains for buckskin, to soften the hide. For drum skins you want the hide sturdy. That's the way the women used to do it.

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Red Feather, White Earth Indian Reservation, 1915

Red Feather, White Earth Indian Reservation.
Creator: Frances Densmore (1867-1957)
Photograph Collection, 1915
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1R p2 Negative No. 20408

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Ogitub scraping hide, Grand Portage, 1915

Ogitub scraping hide, Grand Portage.
Creator: Frances Densmore (1867-1957)
Photograph Collection, 1915
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 r7 Negative No. 2118

We used that buckskin to wrap baby cradles, and for our bedding, and for our clothing. Buckskin made good clothing, and we needed good clothing in those days, for the scouts, the young generation, would go out all day. Most of the buckskin shirts that I saw in those days were straight. The scouts wore straight buckskin leather jackets clean down to their hips. That's the Indian style. And going through the woods nothing could get in from the top of those straight jackets. Everything drops off: leaves, twigs drop right off. There was nothing catching. They had their collar tied up tight so that they could keep enclosed, so that nothing would get in their clothes. They were dressed in buckskin chaps so they wouldn't wear their other clothes out.

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Baby carried on mother's back in a cradle board, 1915

Baby carried on mother's back in a cradle board.
Creator: Roland Reed
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1915
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.33 r16 Negative No. 47937

And in the winter, in those days, they kept warm with rabbit skins, fur, and everything. I know they had to do that those days. But later on, in my time, we had boughten materials. Later on we had flannel under those straight jackets to keep warm. That's what I've seen.

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Mrs. John Franks and rabbit robe, White Earth Reservation, 1942

Mrs. John Franks and rabbit robe, White Earth Reservation.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy
Photograph Collection, 1942
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 p23 Negative No. 35428

In my years we followed the game channel and lived off of natural resources too, but we had better material for clothes. The material, like cloth, was sold to the Indians, traded with the Indians. The women began to see how to make collars, how to make boots, moccasins, how to make these chaps, how to make shirts out of the new materials. They also made beautiful blankets with cloth. Later on they commenced to make rugs, cloth rugs, and that was pretty. They began making these things, as I understand it, as it was told to me, about 1900. They first made them out of flannel and calico, but before 1904, '05, '06, they had very little of that boughten material. Just about the time I was old enough to see and remember things they began to have more boughten material. They worked everything over with that new material. They colored it different and everything. With that they had a better chance. Their living condition was much better and warmer with that.

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Women braiding rug, Bena, 1948

Women braiding rug, Bena.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy
Photograph Collection, 1948
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 p20 Negative No. 35471

A little bit later on, about 1910, '12, we got wool, good wool, from Canada -- in the powwow.(16) The Minnesota Indians learned about wool from Canadian Ojibwa. The Canadian Indians came and gave us wool. They called it Sioux wool -- Sioux wool they called it -- because that's what they traded in the first settlement agreement they had with the Sioux. You know the Sioux used to be here, and they taught us part of the way of living for this area.

Sioux wool is the best wool you can get. Canadian Sioux wool is the warmest. It's sturdy, and has a strong fiber. It's selected for clothes, for clothes and everything. When you have boughten materials, a certain amount of wool and a certain amount of cotton will hold it together. We made heavy woolen shirts out of Canadian wool. We made moccasins, "blanket shoes," out of that wool. They were the shoes made from wool, from a woolen blanket, just like those wool shoes they were wearing at that time in the lumber camps. In the lumber camps they wore the woolen clothes, and woolen pants they left behind made good shoes too, good moccasins. We hand-sewed them, then we tied them with shoe strings -- around the foot and back into the collar of the boot. They were warm. We still use those -- if we want to travel better and get a good footing in the woods.

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Mrs. Morgan Sewing Moccasin, Bena, 1948

Mrs. Morgan Sewing Moccasin, Bena.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy
Photograph Collection, 1948
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.69.178 Negative No.

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Ojibwe beaded moccasins

Ojibwe beaded moccasins.
Used by: Elizabeth Sherer Russell
  White Earth Nation
Photograph Collection, Not earlier than 1923 - Not later than 1931
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifier: 2011.94.1.A,B

About that same time we got woolen threads too, and the women knitted some. They learned to knit, and a lot of us wore knitted socks. Boy they were good. Everything was well made and warm. All the material from Canada made nice clothes for the Ojibway. Canadian material is the most sturdy and can take the wear.

The things we traded with the Canadian Indians were all good. Beads to decorate our clothing came from Canada too, and they were good beads, but they were coming in slowly when I was young.(17) I enjoyed watching the women make beads and string and sew them together for decoration. Only a very few had Canadian beads then. Most everyone used those little round beads that we made ourselves out of sea shells. But there were only a few of them sea shell beads, not so many as the cut glass beads they have now. We made them out of sea shells. It could be any shell. Some of them were large, some of them were big, but for whatever item they were making they usually used the same sized shells. For the neck, the shells could be bigger. But for the beads they wore down from their shoulders and arms for beautification, the shells were small.

Many times they used to use mií-giss because of its religious meaning. Míi-giss is just like a sea shell. It's a "little-bit-twisted-button-shell." It's a light shell. It's a sea shell, very light, and small. All waters have míi-giss. They grow along the Mississippi, and that's where we generally got ours. A míi-giss shell is twisted, and inside it looks like there's a bloodsucker or something in there. But they dried that out, and when they dried them, the innards came out. When they've dried the shell they scrape out that inside. The inside dries up and curls all to pieces, but the shell is good.

Those shells are pretty. Some of them are pretty pearl. They're pretty; that's why they use them for beautification. They make beads out of that, or they just punch or drill a little hole in them and use the whole shell for neck-laces or on their headdresses. They make wonderful beads because they flash up, but they have sharp edges on them when they're made into beads. They use it for all kinds of purpose: for dress and beautification on their person, to beautify their costumes, and as a powerful part of the Grand Medicine Indian religion.

Whenever you're talking about the religion of the Indians of this area, the Indian religion, you'll come across míi-giss. And if you heard an Indian talking about religion in my younger days you would hear them talking about míi-giss. That means they believe in Grand Medicine, the Midewiwin, most generally.(18) The Indians believe strongly in míi-giss, and it's a great powerful thing when it's into your life. They meditate that míi-giss for spiritual power. In the Indian religion we always use something that belongs in this country, something that's a neighbor to us. And just alike I carry and use bear claws and a weasel hide, the Grand Medicine believers meditate and use the míi-giss shells.

The míi-giss is good. It's spiritually big. They use that for sending messages. Whatever they say, whatever they wish, whatever they feel good about, can be a message. There are messages in the air, wireless messages. The white people have wireless communications now. The Indian had wireless messages for a long time. It's in them, and they use it. That's how they build their spiritual powers.(19) The Indians send the míi-giss off as one of their messengers because it's light.(20) It can go anywhere, on water or on land or around anything.

They're also pretty; that's why they make beads out of that. That's what they wear too. A lot of Indians will use that on their dancing costumes, and when you see that it will probably be meditated in Indian so it'll work [its spiritual power]. You never get tired out with that on your costume, if that's what you believe in. You could use míi-giis on your costume without them being meditated, you could use them any way you want to, but if you use them that's pretty rough, spiritually pretty rough.

Míi-giss is a pretty rough word in Indian. When they say that he's got one, a míi-giss, oohh boy!!!!, that's rough! There are members of other churches now and to approve this míi-giss through the old Indians now is difficult. The old Indians know that míi-giss, and they know the young Indians don't listen to that -- until they're sick. Then they know it.

Fear of the power of míi-giss might be one of the reasons we used so few beads then as compared with now, but I don't know that to be a fact and I've never heard anyone talk about it. There were quite a few, quite a few, who used beads and had beadwork, but they didn't use too many. They only used a few beads, when I was a boy. There was only a little of that beadwork, that man-dú-mI-nayss-$káy. We call a working bead, as opposed to a prayer bead, man-dó-mI-nayss in our language; that's more or less a "tiny little spirit berry."

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Mrs. Fairbanks Doing Beadwork, Bena, 1948

Mrs. Fairbanks Doing Beadwork, Bena.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy
Photograph Collection, 1948
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.69.171 Negative No.

The women would run a needle through the holes and load up the beads on a string. You couldn't hardly see those holes they were so fine. They'd make a big string of them and start sewing them on following a design marked with milk-weed. They drawed the picture first, and this picture showed them where they were going to follow. In my early years they used beads a lot on moccasins. They had nice plant designs, with green beads for the leaves and red beads to stop and circle the flowers.(21)

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Ojibwa Floral Pattern, Duluth, Minnesota, 1989

Ojibwa Floral Pattern.
Duluth, Minnesota, 1989.
Photographer: Tim Roufs

There were only a few beads on clothing when I was a kid, but later on clothes were broughten in from the Sioux area and they had more of those beads that were imported and sold to the Indian. And that's where Minnesota Indians started to get theirs, from the commercial bead sellers. When they imported beads for the Indians of this area the beadwork began to pick up so fast here. The women went to the Indian trading post, and that's where they got beads. We got ours from Flemming's Store in Bena. That was a big store [in those days], a big supply store for the Indian. After cloth velvet came in, later on, the women started to use even more beadwork. The first time I remember Flemming's Store handling velvet, for Indian dancing costumes, was about 1918, but we didn't start to use velvet much until 1925 or '26.(22) There was some of that in use before, but they didn't have beads on it, they just used plain velvet. They bought that after they had a little money to buy things.

After they got a little money the Indians bought things like velvet. The velvet was designed with beads and sewed on the edge of the moccasin then. The beadwork like you see now started really to be popular only in the twenties. Around the twenties it got to be popular strong. Before that we pretty much only had small decorations on our regular clothing, or the young girls decorated moccasins with beads to trade with the lumberjacks. It was only later on that they bought velvet cloth for costumes and put beadwork on it. That made a pretty costume, with cut glass designs.

Beads were a big thing when I was a boy. Nowadays you can buy them anytime. There are even small bottles of beads, now. In the old days, the canoe days, the value of beadwork was high. That's why, as with the maple sugar, the men were fond of betting moccasins with beadwork at their moccasin games.(23) If the valuation of a pair of beaded moccasins was too high, which, of course, it wasn't very often, the men would take their valuation down by taking the beads off. That right there shows you how much we thought of those original beads.

In the canoe days, besides woolen goods and beads, we got materials to make fish netting from Canada. Canada had the best material for gill nets. It still is the best place for nets. They were great for making nets in Canada. Those Canadian goods were good netting stuff, good netting material. We could get all kinds of nets up there, and they'd show our people how to make nets. Before my time they'd go up there for nets. They'd go up there to visit just to get nets.

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Indian man and woman mending net, Lake of the Woods, 1922

Indian man and woman mending net, Lake of the Woods.
Creator: Carl Gustaf Linde
Photograph Collection, 1922
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.32F r14 Negative No. 10276-A

In my days cotton was rolled and strings were made of it. We used cotton strings, cotton cords, to make nets. That made tough nets. Boy that was strong cord! You couldn't break it. We used to trade for those cotton cords from the store, Flemming's store. They'd get the whole skein to make nets, after the Canadians showed them how. Those nets were handy in our camp. We'd sit around all day blueberrying, then somebody'd say, "I'd better go and get some fish." They'd set their nets out in the lake, and next morning they'd get all kinds of fish, enough for the whole campground.

Oh, we used to have great times. Those were great days in my life. Those were the days, too, when I began to take closer notice of the old folks' campfire talks . . . and my mother as a medicine women.

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1. Cf., Ch. 8, "Old Gardens and New Bark."

2. See Ch. 6, "Spring Move to the Sugar Bush," and Ch. 7, Skayy-go-mI-zi-gáy-wIn, Maple Sugar Time."

3. See Ch. 4, "Siouxs and Scouts."

4. Researchers at the University of Main report that turning blueberries into raisins (by vacuum-drying them, in their case) does not materially affect their texture, although, according to Dr. Al Bushway, Chair of the University's food Science Department, they get chewy. The "braisins" can be stored at room temperature for up to a year. Al Sicherman, [Minneapolis] Star Tribune, Wednesday, July 6, 1988, 1T.

5. See Ch. 2, "Bena Childhood."

6. See Ch. 8, "Old Gardens and New Bark."

7. Cf., Ch. 14, "Mah-no-min-i-kay Gii-siss, Wild Ricing Moon."

8. See Ch. 5, "Chiefs and Councils."

9. See Ch. 24, "Ni-mi-day-win: Come and Dance, Come and Sing -- Living and Spirit Alike."

10. Whiskey.

11. See Ch. 5, "Chiefs and Councils."

12. See Ch. 15, "Moccasin Game Gambling."

13. See Ch. 8, "Old Gardens and New Bark."

14. See Ch. 18, "Winter Wood and Wigwams."

15. "Goods" or "yard goods" are cloth.

16. Ch. 24, "Ni-mi-day-win: Come and Dance, Come and Sing -- Living and Spirit Alike."

17. Cf., Marcia G. Anderson and Kathy L. Hussey-Arntson, "Ojibwa Beadwork Traditions in the Ayer Collections," Minnesota History, 48:4 (1982), 153-157; xxx David A. Armour, "Beads in the Upper Great Lakes: A Study in Acculturation," in Beads: Their Use by Upper Great Lakes Indians (Grand Rapids, MI: rand Rapids Public Museum); and Edna Garte, Circle of Life: Cultural Continuity in Ojibwe Crafts (Duluth, MN: ST. Louis County Historical Society, Chisholm Museum, and Duluth Art Institute, 1984), pp. 16-18. xxx

18. See Ch. 30, "Mi-de-wi-win."

19. See Ch. 28, "Power."

20. See Ch. 34, "Messengers and Unusual Events."

21. See Carrie A. Lyford, Crafts of the Ojibwa (Phoenix, AZ: Office of Indian Affairs, 1943).

22. *Paul Buffalo moved away from Bena and lived at the Mississippi Forks from 1909 until about 1918. (xxx Check dates after later chapters are written).

23. See Ch. 15, "Moccasin Game Gambling."

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