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Flying Bird Image

When Everybody Called Me Gah-bay-bi-nayss,
"Forever-Flying-Bird":
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

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Buffalo Image

24

Ni-mi-day-win:
Come and Dance, Come and Sing --
Living and Spirit Alike

A gathering keeps the energy of life here. Energy of life is mI-na-wáa-nI-gwáy-In-d^'m. That's a good heart feeling, a good time -- with a feast. When we get together there's energy there. With our gatherings there's something there that brings together the energy of life. The energy of life means something will happen out of the bunch. mI-na-wáa-nI-gwáy-In-d^'m, that's good, good for all. Gathering is a good celebration to the family -- living and gone.

Migwitch Mah-Nomen.

Migwitch Mah-Nomen.
Ball Club, Minnesota, 1965.
Photographer: Tim Roufs

níi-mii-day-wI'n, the dance gathering, the powwow, brings in the new problems and takes care of them. We have no problems when we hit the drum.(1) The scouts(2) put on their costumes and dance with the powwow. They're brave for the dance. And in the old days the scouts even brought in their horses to dance. And we had songs for the horses and songs for the herd of buffalos. We still have songs for the great things like that.

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Chippewa dancers in costume, Wahkon.

Chippewa dancers in costume, Wahkon.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1909
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 r19 Negative No. 43272

We remember the time that the first Thanksgiving gathering was made. The chief told his scouts to go get some venison, to go get some turkeys, wild turkeys, to go get anything in game. "We'll have a good cook-out and 'thanks' the Great for this country we have." That was the first Thanksgiving.

But that was forgotten a long time. After the powwow came, that was forgotten. The Indians had powwows years ago, and the powwow reads(3) the same as a Thanksgiving. níi-mii-day-wI'n means dancing. It's dancing! "They're going to dance." It's a powwow. It's a time to gather.

Of course, we always gathered every spring. The old men would plan spring powwows. They would council on a feast, a springtime feast, with a powwow with it.(4) Our spring gathering is after sáa-gi-b^-gáa-gii-zíss, the moon of the time for the leaves to come in, the time when the greens are coming out. Every spring three or four divisions of Indians had a gathering. We had a good time, and a good feast. The spring gathering is something with the Indians, something we really believe in. It's a seasonal gathering. The Indian word for spring gathering you wouldn't hardly understand in English. When one puts the spring feast on, there's an invitation put out, wii-kon-dI'n. Wii-kon-dI'n is invitation. We believe in saying "thank you" to the Great Creator. Our spring gathering is an invitation to a thanksgiving to the Creator for bringing us through the hard months of cold weather, to look forward to the summer seasons. So each and every spring we thanked the Creator for everything that we received in this beautiful country.(5) In this way we respect the Great, and maybe that's why we are helped as an Indian.

We still gather every spring, but now we have our gathering all together, regardless of whether we're related or not. But it's still a gathering, and we have a feast as a community area.(6) In the community area we all gather for the Great Spirit, for a great talk. We dance and have a good time. It's a feast.

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Dance at Fourth of July celebration, Red Lake, Beltrami County.

Dance at Fourth of July celebration, Red Lake, Beltrami County.
Creator: Arthur A. Richardson
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1908
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 r94 Negative No. 57074

A gathering can be any time. We gather to thank in the fall too. It's a thanksgiving, that's what it is. It's a gathering, and it doesn't make any difference when it is.

At a feast, the leader will get up and talk. It's up to the chief, up to the head man, to tell why we gather. He's been selected by the drumming chiefs of the three or four divisions that gather. He's supposed to serve. And he takes the kettle and puts it on, and those that want to eat go dip a dish of what they want to eat. Boy, they'd have a good time. They'd have wild rice, dried blueberries, baked bannock, maple sugar, fish, venison, and everything else. That is the real nature of what we were living. That's honor. That's a feast.

And there's lots more to that. Years ago people would walk a long way to go to a powwow, to a feast. And later on they'd drive their horses a long way for that. They'd camp along the road, sometimes in tents. They'd tie their horses on the wagon to feed them. They had a knife to cut the hay for the horses, and all night they'd feed them that wild hay. Then they'd start in on their journey again the next day, unless it was raining. If there was stormy weather they'd interrupt their journey and wait for the storm to pass.

The powwow, was always a big thing. It was a great thing. I remember those days. In the old days we were very neat about it. We had respect for that drum and respect for one another. The children were even sitting down holding their places(7); some were dancing and playing.

It's fun to watch the younger class, the younger people, the younger kids dance. It's fun. They are good dancers. Practically all of them are good dancers. And when they're young dancers, they're good dancers. The old-timers sit there and look at them. The kids are dressed cute, beautiful. It's how they dress that makes it more interesting, that's what a lot of them say. And they sing! And they dance! It's fun to see the way they dance and watch the pep and life they have. They're bound to be peppy when they're young. It is a great thing. The drum is wonderful. The dance is wonderful. The singing is wonderful.

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Chippewa dance at celebration, White Earth.

Chippewa dance at celebration, White Earth.
Photograph Collection, 1910
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 p13 Negative No. 19632

We used to dance for weeks, in the 1920s. I never got to go to White Earth, but I heard a lot about it. They'd spend weeks there for the celebration. I remember in my past, in my younger days, that we danced for a week, but that was special for the new year. That was at Sugar Point, about 1926, 1929 -- somewhere in the '20s. At Sugar Point we'd dance from Christmas to the New Year. They used to have a powwow from Christmas to New Year's at Sugar Point here a few years back. They powwowed a whole week!

In 1918 we had a special homecoming dance. We did a song, and the homecoming boy, the boy back from the War,(8) spoke about the world. The chief and everybody celebrated the homecoming boy, and we danced.

Years ago I went to Red Lake and they had a wonderful big time with the drum. At Red Lake they still carry on the old way continually. The younger generation picked that up. The younger class went to the Sioux country, and they went to other tribes. They picked up pretty good songs and they brought them back. They brought them to our tribe and they use those songs. The songs sound pretty good. Those new songs maybe sound alike, but they strike them a little different in some ways. There is a little difference to them.

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Powwow at Red Lake.

Powwow at Red Lake.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy (1910-)
Photograph Collection, 1933
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 p67
Negative No. 35438

Oh, man that was good to hear those! That stimulates you, you know. It puts rhythm in your body. That drum, boy, oh boy, that's something! But I told some drummer once, "You guys pound too fast." Those new songs don't jab just right when you pound too fast.

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Powwow at Red Lake Reservation.

Powwow at Red Lake Reservation.
Photograph Collection, 1949
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 p16 Negative No. 40520

A lot of them can't remember those old songs. They build up new ones. They go to Sioux country and pick up those new songs. They don't fit here, you know, in Minnesota. Minnesota songs are good! That's why we used to get an invite to go to the Sioux. The Sioux are good too. They're God darn good singers, but they're loud. They're good singers, but they, they mix it up too much. The Indians, the Anishinabe, the Ojibway, they don't mix it too much. With the Ojibway songs you can understand what's coming next. You can tell what note they're going to hit.

Another thing. Now the powwows are sometimes more of a contest to see who's the best dressed rather than who can be the best dancer. Even so, they still have dance contests. I can dance, but I don't want to dance in a contest. But . . . that's another thing. There is jealousy, Indian jealousy, in dance contests. I could say quite a bit about jealousy. I could say, maybe, some things about friendship. I think it's a fair deal to be fair with everybody. If I dance in a contest maybe somebody might be jealous of me. That's the way they feel. People told me how they feel. Maybe you're wrong, maybe you're right. The Indian is careful with one another about the Indian ways of life. We have our belief. We have our belief, and a religion of our own.(9) And we use that religion. We strongly believe our religion. The old-timers might do anything if they're jealous of you. That's why I wouldn't dance in contests, even if I could. I can dance, but not in a contest. But the young people want to go along with the whites so that doesn't bother them.

Didn't those old timers really know the songs? God that's a good one! Holy Christ! I've never seen anything like that. They were good old times. And those were good old-time songs.

To me, the old songs sound good now because I remember them, and, of course, that brings my memory back, way back. The younger class that's singing them probably doesn't remember that far back. But at my age those old time songs throw me back memories from far way back. That's the difference between when I hear the old songs and when the younger class hears them.

At one time I asked the old folks, "What is a powwow? How did it become? What is the drum? How come we have a drum? What does it mean?"

When I asked the old timers, "How did that all start?" I got an answer. And so the old folks told the story of the powwow:

At one time the Anishinabe were gathered from different parts of the country and they were all setting around in the camping group. And they did not know one another. They did not know who was camping next to them. It was just like a big city.(10) They were all minding their own business. Each family was minding their own business and so they got acquainted very slowly. They sat together. They all sat around the ring and then they spoke, but only slowly got acquainted.

So the old chief got up and spoke. He said, "I don't think our acquaintance will come very fast. I don't think our friendship will come very fast, the way we're going. We have to have a way to learn from one another."

One chief was discussing that. "The only thing that I could see to help us learn about one another is to take a hide, some deer hide or any hide, and make a wood and put a hide on it and then we'll pound on that. We'll make a drum and we'll pound on that.(11) We have songs we hum. We do hum songs. Let's make new songs, and make a ring with hide, and pound that drum."

And so they made a drum and practiced with that. By practicing, they got pretty good at singing songs.

Then they all joined in and they all sang together. By singing together they all "perped" up. Pretty soon the women-folk that they called on started dancing. The chief went round, "We'll try the drum out. We'll have a big powwow tonight."

They tried the drum out and had a big powwow that evening, that day, that afternoon. And they danced that evening in the cool air by the lake. They rested, but they wanted another day of that. So for a couple, two or three days, they pounded the drum. And everybody came. Everybody heard about that feast far and near. And they made a special trip to see what this was. Finally, they all would come. Pretty soon they wanted another powwow another day.

A drum is a great thing to make friends. It gives rhythm in the body. And the young people thought that the powwow was great. They saw the old-timers dancing. The scouts made costumes, and they really put on.

And then they said, "We have to be acquainting more. We need more acquainting." So they made a squaw dance, a "calico dance" they called it. They made the calico dance so they could dance around the ring and give presents. And in that way we get presents, blankets, needlework, and all that handwork. If there was a stranger here, it didn't make any difference. You went to that stranger and handed him a present. Then he'd get a return gift dance song, and he would hand you a present.

So that's how they became friendly. And it's a good thing. This party came from the south somewhere, or east or north.(12) They said, "We're going to make a drum. We're going to make a powwow, and we want you people at that time to come for a celebration. We'll have a feast. We'll have a deer or something to eat. We'll have an animal, game, fish, or anything we can get. We'll have meat to butcher. We'll have a feast."

They prepared a feast and they all went there and they danced for weeks. From that time on the Indians had a powwow. And later on, when they built log buildings, they did the same in the winter. They made their powwow buildings circled around, and they danced in them all winter long.

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Nett Lake Powwow.

Nett Lake Powwow.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy (1910-)
Photograph Collection, 1941
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 p62 Negative No. 35605

In the winter it was nice to have a building to dance in. I always liked the old log meeting halls we had. I think some of those old powwow buildings were about forty-five feet across, built in a circle. We dance circling around a drum. Inside the log buildings, or outside on the powwow grounds, we always dance the left way around -- that's the only way to dance around. We always dance the left way around, clockwise. We do that because of rightness to always be true. Why do we dance in a round circle? We dance clockwise to always be right. That's the way everything's built. That's nature. That's all I heard.

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Nett Lake Reservation dance house.

Nett Lake Reservation dance house.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy (1910-)
Photograph Collection, 1937
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.7N p4 Negative No. 35459

We build the dance hall in a circle because the dance is always in a circle. The drum is made round, and that's the way the building has to be built. We had circled seats around it inside. The seats of the drummers are also round circles, and the benches for the visitors and special ones are circles. So the buildings have to be round. The old log powwow buildings weren't very high, but they had a round roof.

We had to have a lot of long logs on the sides to get a large room. We had to get it big enough so everybody could come. We made room for all who came. To get the building big enough we had to circle the logs. And when you make it round you have the chance to adjust it to any size you want. We usually had a twelve-foot or sixteen-foot length log house circled around. We generally had twelve-foot length poles circled around. Whatever they could handle, they cut.

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Dance hall, Indian Point, Mille Lacs Reservation.

Dance hall, Indian Point, Mille Lacs Reservation.
Photograph Collection, 1925
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.7M r5 Negative No. 35769

The log buildings had many sides. The number of sides to a building doesn't mean anything. That's just to extend the logs along. That's just for extension around. If you want to knock off one extension, that makes the building smaller. If you want to add another extension, that makes it bigger. And when you build it, you build it carefully at whatever size you want. It's the same as a leaf, a green leaf. Those log buildings made a wonderful dance area. It was nice.

Why do we dance?

Why do we have this drum?

Why do we sing?

Why do we gather here?

Is it only for money?

Or is it only for friendship?

Or only to meet people? To make acquaintances?

No -- it's to relax. It's to take away the sorrow and hard feelings of lonesomeness and heartbreak that we have.

We have lost a lot of people that once were here with us. They're gone. We are becoming lost; every year we are losing a certain amount of people. That's why we're down-hearted. That's why we want to cheer up. By cheering up we'll live a happy life. And we have a special song for that at the powwow.

Song is wonderful, and the drum is wonderful. It makes you feel good to see the sights of the costumes and the way they dress at the powwow. And that's the way we remember those who are gone. I remember how a brave went in to partake of the rites for the chief. That's my memory.

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Chippewa Indians in ceremonial dress, Lake Mille Lacs.

Chippewa Indians in ceremonial dress, Lake Mille Lacs.
Photograph Collection, 1930
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 r98 Negative No. 64913

When you're thinking, you're getting old. In reviewing this, you'll think of all the great service that the Creator gave us. And we believe in that. It's a big life. I lay there in bed and I shut my eyes and, Oh!, I could see everything, just like a picture. That's what keeps lot of people alive, happy.

But if you have done anything wrong, that bothers you. That destroys love. And if you've done anything good in the past you laugh to yourself, thinking about these olden days.

To a lot of the old timers the powwow means a memory. I think to the young people it means to gather and celebrate, that's all. To them it means only a good time. But at the same time when the older class comes, it's a memory from way back. When they hit that drum and sing those songs -- those songs somewhere near the real old-times songs -- when they hit the old-time songs, then the memory comes to the old people and they "perp" up.

And when they "perp" up they get up and dance. You'll always see some of the older class get up and dance, but you don't know what they have in their heart. When they get up to dance, they're dancing for the ones they lost. Maybe they're giving that dance, dedicating that dance, to the ones that have left this world and have gone into the next world. They'll dance to show their son or relative that has gone that they are in life yet.

Maybe after our relatives are gone they see us. We know that maybe in the next world they're looking at us. You can't tell. Maybe they know that we're getting along fine because we're still attending our celebrations. "He hates to leave us when he dies," we say. "He hates to leave us." When he leaves us maybe he thinks that we're at rest or asleep. Maybe he thinks we're going to lose out. Maybe he thinks we're going to fail. But, we keep up the program, we keep up the dance. We keep it up and show the spirit that we are willing. It proves to the spirit of the one gone away that we still know him. Let's put it that way, let's look at it that way, because I feel that way. We don't know what's in the next world. We only live here for a time. We don't know how long we're going to live here. That's the worst part of it, we don't know how long. So we keep a-going. The powwow helps us keep a-going, and shows to those who have gone that we are still a-going.

At the powwow we sing songs for the life of the spirits of the dead who are gone. And when we sing those songs, they'll be here.(13) These songs bring them back to the circle. And bringing back somebody makes them feel good. To remember -- to remember by casting the memory at the deceased -- makes those who are gone feel good because they realize that they're not forgotten. Those who have lived in the past are not forgotten, and they never will be. Their spirits come back to the powwow when we sing songs for them. You can not see them, but you feel good to know that they are there. The song that you do for them is called, tchi-báy-ni-g^-mo-wI'd. That's a ghost dance, a spirit dance.

We have another kind of ghost dance too. The Indian looks at the northern lights and he can see them dance. We say, "The ghost is dancing. Those that passed are dancing." The Indians call northern lights the "powwow of the dead." jîi-bai-^g, that's "ghost," the ghost of inhabitants who left, and nii-mîi-tay-w^g is "they're dancing." We say that in Indian. We still do! The spirits are just getting out and celebrating and having a good time the same as we do. We believe that's the spirit too. The Indian believes it's spiritual work. To us the northern lights look just like a whole line of spirits dancing. The way we pronounce that, northern lights, is waa-sáy-nI-mú, that's the light in the air. See, it's like somebody's doing it, like it's from a spiritual one that lived on earth. So to make the short word of it we say "the ghost dancing." The people that are spirit, who have been on earth, they're dancing.

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Northern Lights.

Northern Lights.
Source: Northwest Territories and Nunavut

I always asked the old timers, I said, "What are those northern lights there, Grandpa? What does that?"

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Northern Lights.

Northern Lights.
Source: Dalton Highway

"Well, its the moon at a certain time. The moon is somewhere. It may not shine here, but it's somewhere. Then that glacier reflects the moon, and then the ocean moves the reflection." That's what they say it is.

But I think it's more or less the moisture that creates the northern lights. I think they're caused when the earth and the cold air hit together. Whatever it is, when the northern lights appear, there's going to be a change of the weather.

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Northern Lights.

Northern Lights.
Source: Dennis di Cicco/CORBIS
Image ID: EN001107

When we see northern lights, when the North is full of northern lights, we're going to have a big change in the weather. Twenty-four or forty-eight hours after we see them, the weather changes. Sure enough, the next day it's just as nice as could be. And if we have nice weather, and if the northern lights are right above, then we can expect rainy weather to follow pretty soon afterwards. When we're pretty close to the northern lights we're going to have another change. Well, it may change to wet, but the northern lights always mean a change in weather.

We generally whistle at the northern lights and they seem to come closer. We heard that they would do that and we just tested it out to see if it's true. You could hear them zip around, like bullets go through the air. You could hear them when they're out. They sound like wind, "ssiuuuu. whiuuu. hhhuuuu," that's quiet, and then they come heavy, "shhuuuuuuuu." You could hear them. They're not very loud, but you could hear them. We test it to see how close they can come. Some of them come pretty close. Yea, we try everything, but after we've tried those things we just have to leave it alone, like it is. We don't fool with the weather(14) unless we know what we're doing, and want to prove our belief to others, to the young people.

We like to watch the ghost dance, the "powwow of the dead." And we like to hear the songs for those who have gone before us. But at our powwows, in those days, the present dance was the most fun. At the present dance we used to give guns, bows and arrows, horses, canoes, or anything we had!

The circle gift dance is a calico dance, a present dance. It's free for all to join in. Anybody who wants to dance can dance just by giving somebody a present. You can give anything. You can give them beadwork, or a buckskin bag, or something. You can give them something new, brand new with beadwork on it, to put on, or you can give them a buckskin bag and let them use it for a money pouch if they want to. Everything that we give is brand new. In the olden days, some of them gave fifty cents or a dollar. And when somebody gives you a present you'll have to hand back to that same party a present of yours.

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Flatmouth (Ne-gon-e-bin-ais) holding bag that is now (1975) in  Minnesota Historical Society Museum Collections.

Flatmouth (Ne-gon-e-bin-ais) holding bag that is now (1975) in
Minnesota Historical Society Museum Collections.
Photograph Collection, 1898
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1N p3 Negative No. 16527

A circle gift dance is ii-kwáy nii-míi-day-wI'n. It's a "woman's dance." A gift song, we call it. A gift song is $ii-kwáy nii-mii-díi naa-gahm-wI'n in Indian. i-kwáy-nii-míi-dii-wI'n, that's a woman dance. It's "she gives." It's a woman's dance. It's a dance where a woman gives a gift. It's a present dance.

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Indian dance at White Earth, June 14.

Indian dance at White Earth, June 14.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1925
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 r47 Negative No. 46044

Otherwise we put it "squaw dance." But in English we don't use that word "squaw" much. They don't like to hear that. The younger generation doesn't like to be called a "squaw." Many are half breeds. And they're more on the white side. When they're called a "squaw" some of them are insulted. And sometimes they don't like to show that they're squaws, that they are part Indian, because they're more on the white side. They've been called a "squaw" before, and in arguments. In an argument somebody might say, "Oh you squaw!" They don't like this, and an inflame comes to their heart when they hear that word.

"Squaw" isn't a very good word, but it's a word. But if a woman gets in a give-dance -- if they're brave enough to go in there and accept and return a gift -- then you can tell by that who the Indian women are. But to call it the "women dance" is OK.

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Ojibway woman wearing jingle dress holding baby in cradle board.

Ojibway woman wearing jingle dress holding baby in cradle board.
Creator: Kenneth Melvin Wright
Photograph Collection, 1936
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.33 p10 Negative No. 908-A

It's the same thing for the young men. o-gI'-chíi-dáa is man, brave, but instead, they like it! Ya. The braves like it. But don't call them a "buck," a "young buck." That word is like "squaw."

In the old days we also called the "squaw dance," the "gift dance," or a "calico dance." When they have an exchange of presents, that's a "squaw dance." In a squaw dance they exchange calico, beadwork, or anything they have. They even exchanged canoes and horses. They gave out everything for presents. There was calico, flannel calico, in the early days -- lots of calico, and that's why we had a "calico dance." We'd buy that calico just for a dance. You would go out and buy calico to give to somebody. We knew what was coming. You can give them what you want. It's a give-dance. We'd buy two yards of it to make dresses for the young, and shirts for the old people or the men. They'd also use it for underskirts for the women. We'd buy that stuff for that, or we'd make blankets with it. We used to have a bundle to take along when we'd go to a powwow. Lots of people would come into the powwow with a bundle, and when they made a present dance, we'd give our calico things to different people.

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Indian woman in costume.

Indian woman in costume.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1901
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1 r14 Negative No. 28155

In a circle dance, or woman's dance, we like to sit around and see who's going to get the most stuff. We like to see who makes out the best. People kind of try to get more. Sure!

And they'll look for the best dancers. The best dancers in the ring are the ones that could swing and jiggle and step and keep time. And when the drum stops -- Whao!! -- they're right on time.(23) "There's the best one," they'll say.

The men could give things too. But listen. . . . ii-kway nii-míi-di-wI'n is a big word. And you know what? I'll tell you the truth of it. The chief comes in there, and if he knows there's a poor man living alone with just a bow and arrow, he sets a rifle right in the front of him. That's a present for him. But he's got blankets to give back, in return -- or cash. They had small money(15) those days. You always have to give something back, even if you're poor. It's the best way to dance. If you didn't, it doesn't work out very good.

In my time we used to have present dances, but now the dances have nothing but the costumes that they put on. There's no point of view expressed at the powwow any more. No one hardly knows what this dance is for, or what that dance is for. Nobody nowadays explains the dances to the whites, to the people, and to the younger class, so they don't know what they're seeing. But in the olden days a chief spoke up and told what this next dance was going to be. This powwow that goes on now just has dancing which goes on over and over, and they don't even announce what dances they are.

I wish more of our people and more of the white class would understand the songs and be able to sing them.

Take note of that.

Lately, two years ago, we discussed that. Now we have a man at the powwow that helps us talk it out. He translates from Indian to English and back to Indian. I'm there too, helping them announce the dances. And when we want the circle dance we ask for a circle dance. And when we'd get it, we'd explain to all what it is for.

In the circle dance they sometimes gave horses. If someone gave a little stick two, three feet long, to a man in the powwow, he gets a horse. When you give an Indian a whip, hand it to him and tell him, "he's in my barn. I have a little barn over there, a log barn. He's in my barn." The man giving the horse announces, "I have one three, four years old, and I'm going to give it to this gentleman." Then he hands him the stick, a little switch, and he gets a horse.

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Leech Lake Ojibway chief.

Leech Lake Ojibway chief.
Creator: Hoard & Tenney
Photograph Collection, Stereograph, 1875
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1 r134 Negative No. 34690

In the meantime, that drum is beating. The chief gets up, the chief of the drum, and he says, "This special song is for a horse to a gentleman. The one that has the horse is giving it to another. Sing a horse song."

That stick they get is made out of willow. Everything is willow. It could be any switch, but you have to trim it. Hand trim the stick, give it to him, and he'll get up and dance. That little stick he gives is b^ss-s^-daá-i-g^'n. That means whip. And when they see that they'll think, "Oh, he's getting a horse." They'll all think that when he gets that switch.

When he gets that stick he has to get up and dance with that old chief, or with the whoever who gives him that stick. He dances with that stick and everybody says, "Oh, he got a horse. He got a horse, maybe two, three, years old." He dances with that stick, and when he dances he holds it up high. He shows it. He shows what he's getting. "Oh, he's getting a horse," they'll all say.

And this party that gets a horse -- if he has a canoe, or a rifle or anything -- will give back something of the same value as the horse. His return gift would be pred'near, pred'near -- somewhere near -- the same value of the horse. It doesn't have to be exactly the same. But at the next dance the one who received the horse has to get something out and give it back to the man he got the horse from. He'll give something in return. The same guy that's given the horse will dig up, maybe, a rifle.

That's what this first guy's aiming for. He wants a good gun. Maybe the guy that's getting the horse has a rifle or a canoe or something that the other guy wants. See, there's a trick in there. Maybe he has a rifle, or maybe he has a canoe or something that this guy who gave the horse wants.

So after somebody gets a present he takes something with the same or pred'near the same value, or somewhere around the same value, and he gives it back to the one he got the present from. If he got a horse he gives a canoe, or something like that, and handcrafts. They only gave certain things in the dance, never a wife or daughter, or anything like that. If you get a horse you could give back a canoe, boat, or a rifle. A rifle and a horse works pretty good. The horse will work for his living, for the one that receives him. And the rifle, or gun, will provide the meals for the other one. So that's what they judge the value by. The Indian has to go out and get his meals. Without a gun, with just a bow and arrow, he might ruin some of the deer. But with a gun, one shot while usually do it. They're pretty good shots. In the present dance they're really exchanging, trading. That's another reason why the present dances used to be interesting to watch.

In the old days we loved the present dance and asked for it often. Now they just dance and don't even pay attention to what kind of dance it is. And people aren't interested in what's going on at a dance. They just look on for a little while and then walk along. We lost a lot of what we had. Yea, we lost a lot of honor. Yea. But when people understand the meaning of the dances and know what the dance is, they become interested in what's going on.

We have all kinds of different dances, different steps, like the rabbit dances and all those. And we even have a song for a Western horse dance. The Westerns(22) came in and they sang a song. They sang the buffalo song. This is a song the Western Indians brought into our area.

We used to sing a song for the Western ponies. We had to have a song for the visitors that came. They were riding horses and they were herding cattle and they were hunters on saddles. In the olden days they hunted and herded on their ponies. So they would come in as braves, and we would give them a welcome song.

And the horses understood those songs. The horses looked so beautiful. They'd keep time with the drum. They'd keep time with the song. How nice they looked when they were dancing. How they performed. How the horses threw themselves proudly. And the Indians on horseback were proud of them. The horses were used to it. The horse is smart. It has a mind. A horse can train very quickly. They'd feel proud to be recognized. We would say they just sparkled with all the trimmings they had on them. And that's why there was a welcome song when the visitors came. It was special.

When the horses dance around the ring, all dressed in beaded straps, the singers sing a song for them. It was pretty to see all of those Indians on horseback. And the animals would keep time to the songs. I saw a lot of them. Yes, I saw a lot of them in my days. That horse dance, the "four-legged" dance, was common.

In Indian we don't call it a "horse dance" or a "buffalo dance." We call it a "four-legged" or a "cow dance," pi-zjíi-ki-w^g d^-níi-mii-w^'g -- "the steers or the cows may dance on this song!" Wh^h$! That includes all four-legged animals. That could be anything on four legs, even a buffalo. That could mean deer too. They gave me a dance,(16) a buffalo-dance, last year or the year before, and it was called a "four-legged dance," not a "buffalo dance." It used to be for steers in the early days. But in the very early days there were cows, not the steers. And later on, when it changed to horses, they called it a "horse dance" in English. But in Indian, we still call it the "four-legged dance."

I saw those Indians on horseback when they came into the powwow ring at Mud Lake. It was at Mud Lake, out away from the cities, where the Indians camped more. I saw that at Sugar Point too. That must have been in 1910. People could come from anywhere they wanted to. They could come from anywhere if they wanted to show their horse and how the horse dressed.

"Cows shall dance," they'd call out. And the cows and the steers danced. And when they sang that song anybody could get on a steer's back and get him out on the floor and see how he dances. And they keep good time. The steers kept good time. Oh yea. They were trained. They were beautiful!

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White Earth Indian Celebration.

White Earth Indian Celebration.
Photograph Collection, 1924
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 r27 Negative No.

And in the powwow they carried flags, a white man's flag, which is to make a mark, to take the place of, the true flag that we carried as the Indian. We lost the flags we carried as Indians. The whites were coming in, later on, so their flag was meant as a welcome to all. We lost the Indian flags because they thought they got a true flag with the American flag. Some of them still have an American flag pinned on them. Some of us still like the Indian flag.

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Indian powwow, Lake Calhoun.

Indian powwow, Lake Calhoun.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy (1910-)
Photograph Collection, 1951
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 p44 Negative No. 35618

We gave a song to honor many animals, not only the four-leggeds. We also gave a song for the thunderbirds. We gave a song for the trees. We gave a song for the waters. gI-chI-no-dIn naa-gah-mo-wI'n is a weather song. We gave a song for all that. These songs are created for certain ones. They're created for the waters, the lakes, and the land. They're also created for the creatures and for thanking God -- for thanking the Creator of everything we have. They were created to thank the Creator for our health. When you believe in something, you're healthy.

We also had songs for the braves. We would sing a brave song anytime, that is, anytime in a powwow. o-gI-chi-dáa, that's brave, a brave song. o-gitch-i-day is brave. Also song-gI-day-ay$ means brave; it means your heart is brave, your heart is a strong heart. They're good songs. We like them. We had words for them. You can put in any words you want to compete with a song. They had words to that, at times, you know, but it is just a warning, a warning sound. It's a brave song.

shi-máh-g^n, shi-máa-gah-gah-mo-wI'n, shi-máa-ga-ni-sh^'g, all these classify as warmongers, braves. shi-máa-gan-Is's, that's a soldier cry, a war cry; it's a cry as one ready to uprise.

These old time songs hit me pretty lonely sometimes, but it also "perps" me up when I hear them. I know everybody else feels the same, those that hear them. You may not understand the languages, but they have a big meaning.

Indians like the songs they can dance with. They're the same songs they sing in a costume dance. They dance in costumes to that any way they want to, and they throw in words in that song. He says this word when he started out, "My brother ni-gii-ki-wIn-zi is out of tobacco, and it's hard to be without tobacco." And, ni-gii-ni-mah-nay-po-wah means "it's hard for me to be without tobacco." So they sing that one continually and hit those words. There's a lot of words that can go in there. You can sing about your friends, or your brother, or your cousin, or your brothers, or the friends. And when they put in words, they all smile on that, ki-wIn-z.

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Indian woman and child in costume.

Indian woman and child in costume.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1920
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E96 r12 Negative No. 66603

You can put in any words that fit in the song. We do that sometimes. When you put words in the song at the powwow you disturb everybody's minds and then they bust laughing, sometimes. Some pretty good singers can cut in there with these words and make you laugh.

The Canadians like to do that too, and they have a little different sling to their words, but we can understand them anyway. The same is true for the other reservations. The other Westerners and Canadians, Minnesota and Wisconsin, all have a little slang to their words.

There's another brave song that the Indian used to sing and add words to. It's about a scout dancer. The first part is introduction, then comes the second. Then they'd get up. "Where is he, eh?" The scouts get up. "Tcha-ah-ah-in. They'd get mad. This is a warning." This old chief would sing that, then say, "Where is he? Where is he? tcha-ah, tca-ah-ah-i."

That one will make any old timer cry. Oh, geez! They'll always get up and dance for me when I sing it. Jess Tibbetts would laugh when I would sing that to Jess.

"Jesus Christ!, you are typical," he'd say. "You're a typical Indian."(17)

Some of our special dances are food dances. They're food dances, for the lunch. In the food dance we have a meal cooked with wild rice, maple sugar and raisins, dried berries, blueberries. And it's a good dish.

We most generally have a dance when we have a new-comer visiting on the reservation. And we give him a farewell dance when he goes from the drum. And when he goes, they continue to ask, "Did they learn you any songs? Did you pick up any?"

It's very hard, very hard, to get some people that'll sing our songs, that'll know our songs. It's very hard to find them. I'm not selfish about it, but I'm glad that I was able to get a drum that was given to me.(18) And I think everybody loves to hear a drum. Everybody loves to hear my drum. But even with that, I wouldn't want to say I'm a singer.

Sometimes we get our songs from other tribes. They have their own songs. We go visiting other tribes, like the Sioux. You may go visiting alone. The drummers there are waiting for a visit. When the one who goes gets back he discusses his trip with the others on his drum. They might ask, "Did they have a dance?"

"Yeah."

"Did you learn any new songs?"

"Yes. I picked up quite a few."

"Well, let's try one."

They'll say, "He's back. This is what he brought." And they hit that drum and they all practice. It comes natural.

So they have a dance.

You can also dream a song, and if you do, that's yours. You can give the song you dreamt to the drum. You can give it to the other singers if you want. You can explain, "This is my dream. This is my song, and I want all you people in this area to hear it. This is my dream. Remember that." And you hit that drum, "I want to give it. This song was given to me to give out." The Old Testament reads, "give what you got. Give a little to others, and the others will give unto you." That's what you want to do with this song. That's why that song comes to you. You should say, "So I give you my song. I give you that song. You shall hear it now." Bang!!! You pound the drum.

We had drums in the past that belonged in the community, just like an orchestra. We had certain ones, six or seven singers, that had to be there when that drum was taken out. And we had women singers who took the chorus.(19) In that way they all have a chance to believe, to work together.

During a feast there were four or five elder women in the powwow ring singing the last chorus of certain songs. They sang a certain chorus with the men of the drum. There used to be four to seven women there, each holding some honorable sign, like hoops with ribbons on, that they carried. That was special.(20)

The women singers carry the chorus in the powwow. They get up and sing and dance. It's an honor to the drum, to the songs of the group. It's a memory. It's a picture. It's a mother of the drum, the women. And they're all pred'near dressed alike. They stand by the singers, around the drummers, in the powwow, and sing. They stand there rocking on the one side then on the other side, like they're dancing. You can hear the women; they carry the chorus. And how they could sing! naa-gah-mo-wI'n is a song. Just a song. naa-g^'m is where you throw out your voice, and singing. Boy, that sounds beautiful. Boy, is that ever pretty! That sounds pretty. That's special, and you listen to them.

These women had stems on their shoulders. That's to identify who they are. They had six or seven of them. There's a curl on the bow. It was made out of wood -- ash or willow. They use that just to identify themselves. It's curled up. They call that kI'n-o-wáa-chi-g^'n ii-kway-w^g.

And you should see those things they carry. They have ribbons on a stick, and hoops. The hoops are decorated a little bit with ribbon, and they hook one end around on their shoulder to carry them. Sometimes they have a hoop that's wrapped with fur.

There are several parts to our belief about fur. We have things for what we go through in life, things that signify a certain part of our belief. We usually carry animals and things. We have favorites in animals that we think do more, and we use the certain part of the animals that we figure the animals favorize. That's what the fur is that we use on our hoops. We require a fur animal to favor us. They're our scouts. Some of the medicine we use goes out in messages with our favoritized animals.(21) The Indians have messages and we send messages through this animal. "Try this," they tell the animal. The Indian also receives these messages in his mind.

That's why the hoops are wrapped around with fur. They use these hoops just around the drum too. They use them, then put them away. That's respect for the drum. In respect they hang four of them together. Hanging them together means that this world is yours and that you'll hang tough to that Indian belief.

wáy-nI-m^-shæ na-gah-a-wI'n is a love song. Everyone likes to hear an Indian love call. In one of our songs there's a pair of lovers talking under a big tree. The father and mother can not hear what they're talking about. She meets him by that tree, and he leans on that tree while talking to her. She's standing there making something with her handwork. And that man, that Indian, sings. He says, in the song, "Please" -- it's the same word as please, mah-no -- "let it be." He says, "Please be my girlfriend. Come to me. Come with me to my house. I'm lonesome. I'm lonesome at my home. Come to me. Come with me. I will be lonely. I will be lonely for you. For you I will be lonely. For you I am lonely."

She answers. She hears the verse of it and she has to answer by love songs. And she answers with the same tune. "I would like to go, but I have a child. I will go. Please take me along. I am lonesome, too. I shall go. I will go."

When that song of her's is over he sings, "Get ready. We'll go." That's the answer he gave.

I heard that in 1906. They feel bad, and they go out and work together. He finally asks her old people if he can have the daughter, and they engage. That's an old song, 1907. And anybody that heard that song would laugh.

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Margaret Guinon, office clerk at United States Agency, White Earth, dressed for celebration.

Margaret Guinon, office clerk at United States Agency,
White Earth, dressed for celebration.

Photograph Collection, 1910
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1G r16 Negative No. 57555

We used to laugh on that, too. In another love song the man would sing, "I would love that girl from that bay point" -- it would sound like a bay point of the lake -- "if I had her for my wife, I would love that. I would be good to her, that girl, if she was my wife."

But sometimes you know what he said instead? . . . "It's nothing for us to use the same blanket, my nI-nii-mu-shín, my sweetheart. It's all right if I use the same blanket you do. And when we go we'll take a little pillow along."

"What for?"

There's no answer.

That's really some pillow talk.

When the singers sing that song, they're dancing, and the dancers don't know which it's going to be. They're dancing with a smile.

Oh, the people, how they did laugh when I sang that song. They'd ask, "How did you tie that up? How did you think of it? How did you remember it?"

Well, I used to like that song and I used to hum that to myself. I heard that many years ago. We were kids thinking all the time, but when you're twelve, fourteen years old you glance at that kind of stuff, but you don't think about that all the time. But when you come to be twenty-five, thirty, it comes back to you, and when you're forty then you're thinking hard. Then it begins to brighten up what you have forgot. You don't forget it entirely. A little later on in years it'll all build up back to you, and then you'll see the whole picture of what you went through when you were little.

I still hear in my mind a song they sang when I was a boy living at the Leech and Mississippi Forks:

Gay-go mIn-i-mush mah-wii-kayn

Ma-wii-e-kayn mag-ah-jak-ah-iahn

e-o-zah-moo-o-sahm k^-sh-p^n-^^-zah-bIsháa

Oh-y-gay-go ma-ok"

Gay-goo wii-ka mIni-mush

Ma-wii-e-k^n Maa-ah-jal-i-yahn

Gii-wee-deey no-ni-a-we-pah-bahn-ah-i-ja

gIb-oohan ah-ban

That means "and don't cry because I'm going up north. I'm going to look around for daylight. Before daylight, I'll be up there. And don't cry, I'm looking for something that's the same as beneficially for your life. You have to look."

In another good love song, a sad one, the man sings, "Don't cry for me when I leave, when I leave you. Don't cry when I leave. When I leave, if you cry, there's something about being lonely. And never cry when I go. Never cry when I go. But I hate to go" -- it just sounds like "I hate to go." "I hate to go because you have a child that I hate to leave. Oh you have a child, sweet child. I leave. Oh, I leave. Don't cry when I leave you. Sweetheart don't cry."

Geeze! That's a good song. It's something that you can listen to. They really used to sing them year years ago.

In one of our favorites it says, the man says, "When I go, take me as far as the timber," you might as well say. At least it sounds like that. It says, "take me as far as the woods. And when you get there, I'm telling you that the woods is awful thick where I'm going through. And my camp, my home ground, is full of woods. And it's awful, awful snaggy woods." He's telling her that where his house is, there's woods all around, and they're very thick. And then from there, "It's hard going through the woods, where I'm going. The woods is hard to go through." That's what it is. "The woods is hard to go through." And it sounds like he is going to go through alone and this sweetheart is going to go back because it's too hard for her. And then I bring that chorus in, and that's a heartache. And he says, "I'm getting tired, and that makes me lonely." And then he said, "Yahaaaaa!."

He's just sympathizing her, breaking her heart. He's not satisfied. He wants to go through with her, but she can't go. The woods are too thick. So he tells her there's no use to go. It's the same thing as telling her, "It's no use." She makes me feel bad, and it's just the same as she's leaving. She has a little boy, a little baby. She has a little baby, little baby's come, a little baby. Ohhh, little baby.

Then he turns around and sings, "Sweetheart, my sweetheart; She got a baby, she has a baby." . . . Ah-bin-no-gii, Ah-bin-no-gii, in-dah-ya-i-wa. That is, "She has a baby behind. Gee, that's an old song. That's a lonely song. You know you might as well say when he left her, that he's just a-thinking. He looks back. He hates to leave her, but he had to go. There's woods all around this place and she couldn't come because she's got a baby. She had babies. And he left her.

Years ago I heard them sing that song. I heard my folks sing it too. And it sounded so sad that I used to tell my folks, "Don't sing that, ma, it's too lonely. It's too lonely for these people. Sing something lively. I don't like those melancholy songs." I was too young for that song at that time, but I was coming into it. That struck me when I heard that. See, maybe I had a girl friend at that time. "Don't sing that. It hurts."

"All right son." And then she'd sing some other song.

My folks would sing that song on a journey. They would sing while they were in a boat, especially a canoe, or a wagon. We had ponies years ago in my time. They'd be singing along while they were paddling. One would stop paddling and start singing. Then the other one would answer, the other one would sing along. But the kids didn't want to hear anything like that. They wanted to fool around with the water. You also might say that they were busy and that disturbs the singing. But if there's only two, a man and a wife, or two lovers paddling, then they're singing. They'll be singing about the water, singing about the land, singing about the beauty of the sky. They'll be singing, "You are beautiful, sweetheart." And they'll be singing about the sweetest boat we have. They'd sing about all that. And, if they were sweethearts, they'd really enjoy those love songs.



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Footnotes

1. Cf., Ch. 23, "Drums."

2. Cf, Ch. 5, "Chiefs and Councils."

3. If you are "reading" the meaning of events in the Indian manner, the Indian feast is the same as what is commonly known to the American White world as "Thanksgiving."

4. Cf., Ch. 5, "Chiefs and Councils."

5. Largely North and South Dakota.

6. Note: the focus of the gathering has changed from a family-band oriented event to a geographic gathering.

7. The children were sitting down and listening and watching.

8. World War II.

9. Cf., Ch. 26, "Self-Houses, Sweat Houses, and Bloodletting," Ch. 27, "Dreams and Visions," Ch. 28, "Power," Ch. 29, "'What's Behind the Sun?': An Indian Sermon," Ch. 30, "Mi-de-wi-win," Ch. 31, "An Indian Curing Ceremony," Ch. 32, "Spiritual Doctoring (Tipi-Shaking), and Bone-Sucking Specialists," Ch. 33, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women," Ch. 34, "Messengers and Unusual Events," and Ch. 35, "Fireballs, and The Shadow Man."

10. There were many groups camping around, and each group was staying pretty much to itself, minding its own business.

11. Cf., Ch. 23, "Drums."

12. Not West; i.e., not from the Sioux or Dakota (Lakota/Nakota) country. Usually "Western" means Sioux (Dakota). See also use of "the Westerns," "Western Indian," "Western ponies" . . . which most generally referrs to the Sioux or Dakota.

13. The spirits of the dead return to your presence when you sing the powwow songs. The singing of the songs brings them back.

14. People with special spiritual powers are commonly thought to be able to control the weather. However, these people likewise are reluctant to try to control or influence the weather unless they really know what they are doing, and unless there is a pretty good reason for controlling it -- such as to demonstrate and prove the power of Indian belief to the younger generation.

15. Small amounts of money, typically a few dollars in cash.

16. At the Ball Club Migwitch Mahnomen (Wild Rice Thanksgiving) Days, they gave Paul Buffalo a dance, i.e., they gave him one by publicly dedicating a dance to him, and it became his. The power and the spiritual forces of the dance became his. In doing this they announced the dance as a "four-legged dance" in Chippewa, even though all the English speakers would have expected them to announce the dance for "Buffalo." "Four leggeds" and "two leggeds" make up two important categories of being in Chippewa cosmology.

17. "Typical Indian" to the old timers is a very warm positive statement that the person is a very traditional Indian, in the best sense of the word. Paul Buffalo felt very good when one of his contemporaries called him a "typical Indian."

18. See Ch. 23, "Drums."

19. The women singers stood behind or next to the men singers who were seated around the drum. The women did not sit in amongst the men, but stood by themselves a few feet away from the drum. They chanted a high pitched chorus supplementing the men's singing. Usually they did not sing the same as the men, but added this background chant in a style of their own. Two old traditional individuals told me on separate occasions that this was not originally a Chippewa custom, but that it was a Sioux [Dakotah/Lakotah/Nakota] custom that came in as the Sioux and Chippewa peoples intermixed at the powwows and feasts.

20. Hoops are very important symbols for Chippewa peoples. The women singers also liked to carry an eagle feather. They often beat time to the men's singing with these sacred items.

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

22. "Westerns" generally means Sioux (Dakota). See footnote 12. above above.

23. Good dancers stop exactly on the final beat of the chant.

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