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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

Table of Contents

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Buffalo Image

45

Churches and Missionaries

Roman Catholic Church and part of school, Red Lake.

Roman Catholic Church and part of school, Red Lake.
Photograph Collection, 1900
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.10 Negative No.


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St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
Photograph Collection, 1900
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.7 r4 Negative No. 71553

 

Both the priest and the medicine man draw a crowd -- and make a practice of doing something to draw a crowd.(1) And when they're successful at making a practice of it, they're empowered.(2) Anybody who regularly associates with anything like that also gets empowered. That's true for the Whites, and that's the same way with the Indian too. So the Indian can get empowered from the priest or the Medicine Man, either way. Whichever one they want. Most of the people nowadays go to church.

Around 1900 the missionaries were going around visiting and taking pictures to see how the Indians live and everything.(3) The missionaries were glad to go around cruising amongst the Indian. They would write a book or a write-up on how it is here, and on what they have seen and where they have been. That's how a lot of them got stories about the Indians.

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St. Benedict's Mission Church, White Earth; group posed on steps.

St. Benedict's Mission Church, White Earth;
group posed on steps.
Photograph Collection, 1881
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.7W r27 Negative No. 38997

 

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St. Columba Episcopal Church and congregation, White Earth.

St. Columba Episcopal Church and congregation, White Earth.
Photographer: Robert G. Beaulieu
Photograph Collection, 1905
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. E97.7W r37 Negative no. 6443-A

The missionaries came to the Ball Club area about nineteen-hundred, in there somewhere. Ya, they came in around nineteen-hundred. I know because my sister(4) was baptized through the Christian church, through the Catholic church. They gave us holy water, and they gave us beads to signify that we're on the Catholic religion. Some of them took them, some of them didn't. And some of them took the beads just to sew on their dance costumes.

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Baptism at Red Lake Indian Mission (St Mary's), Father Alban Fruth officiating.

Baptism at Red Lake Indian Mission (St Mary's),
Father Alban Fruth officiating.
Photograph Collection, 1956
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. B1.22 r6 Negative No. 81929

My younger brothers and sisters were more of a Catholic, and I had to go to Catholic church with them. But I was even baptized as Catholic. I was baptized in my younger days in church, in the Catholic church.(5) And I was young when I accepted the Catholic church. I accepted the Catholic church under my mother's willings. She wanted me to be Catholic, and I though that being Catholic was all right. Their Old Testament, the way they read the Old Testament, was pretty good. I though the way they were doing the Testament was good. They didn't seem to dictate how to live, them days. But nowadays you have to be careful what you do and about how you want to live. So I am a Catholic!, but now I follow the Indian belief.

For a long time I left the Indian belief. I used to be a singer in church. I used to join the choir. Tom Nason(6) and I sang. I sang with him when I was pretty young. We used to go to every service -- every wake and every meeting. We'd join them. Gee, he was good. I sang tan-ner(7) with the choir. They'd say, "Gee, you boys used to hit that pretty damn good there." I made a practice of it then, but I'm all out of practice now. Church songs have a lot of words to them.(8) I wish I had that hymn book we used to use. I'd sing you a good song. They had a book, a real book, to help you sing them. They had big books for the church songs. The Christians sing about how God died for them. They sing about how He showed us He could die. And how He got up on a certain morning, now they say it's Easter morning. Nowadays, we have to obey these new Christian holidays. That's another thing that's Christian! The Christians and the church sing about God. They sing about how they enjoy His blessing He gives to each an individual. We're back to singing a few songs again, like the "Good ol' Sunshine,"(9) "Good Ol' Summertime. . . ."

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Indian choir at St. Columba Church, White Earth Indian Reservation.

Indian choir at St. Columba Church,
White Earth Indian Reservation.
Creator: John Johnson
Photograph Collection, 1910
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. B1.32 p36 Negative No. 51688

The fishing days are comin' . . . and futures . . . and life.

For a while I went to churches, but I always dropped back to my old old way of my people. I saw how they did it. Why do I drop back to the old meditation? I was free for it. I feel free with it. I'm free to the world with it. This is mine.

It belongs to the Indians. That's where I belong, where the Indian is. I'm an Indian; I'm glad to say. I work with anybody that will work with me. And I'm happy they work with me. We all feel the same. That's why we have good friends. When people come in our area they're good to the Indian and the Indians are good to them. We live like that. We're friendly. That's what we want, friends.

The missionaries talked to the Indians as friends. They just talked to them. Well, the Indians felt that they should have a little cooperation with the missionaries, so we listened to them. The Indians felt that a better understanding with the missionaries would help them with education and better schooling. So generally we at least listened to what they had to say. And if they didn't make any success with one party, they'd keep right on a-goin' and meet somebody that'd give them a little better understanding. Sooner or later someone would understand them, and they'd understand one another.

"Well, you got a good line," the older Indians say to them, "but I'm satisfied with the way things are."

"Well, that's all right," the missionaries would say.

So the missionaries would just keep a-goin', and afterwhile they would find someone who would listen to them long enough to take on their way of doing things.

Then priests(10) and all that came later on. Priests preach the means to a good life too. The priest came to Ball Club in {xxx 1908},(11) Father Felix, yea.(12) Between 1907 and 1910, the government boarding schools, the doctor, and the priest all came in. Yea, they all came at the same time.

The church in Bena was built around nineteen . . . nineteen . . . well at first the service was only in log buildings, in private homes, not in a church. The church itself was built about nineteen . . . ineteen . . . nineteen four or five. But at first the priest had services in the little log house, in only a little room. The priests had little houses, little log cabins, where he'd do his services. At first the little log houses had only one little room, and very few would go in there. But the crowd got bigger because of his baptizing, and his lectures on the Creator, the God. His lectures sounded so good to the Indian that a lot of them became Catholic.

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Priest posed with children in front of church, Indian boarding school, location unknown.

Priest posed with children in front of church,
Indian boarding school, location unknown.
Photograph Collection, 1900
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.12 Negative No.

In Ball Club we also had a log house, a big log house, as a church. That log house would be about forty feet long, and about twenty-five, thirty feet wide. And they'd go over there to see the priest. He had crosses there, and it was blessed. At that time we didn't realize the log house was blessed through the word of God, but it was.

So afterwhile they built St. Joseph-St. Mary's Church, because it started getting too crowded in the log house. In nineteen-twelve, fourteen, they all joined in and built a Catholic church. St. Joseph-St. Mary's had big dinners to help build a church. That Ball Club Catholic church was built for the priest, for the ministers, and for the meeting hall of the community.(13) It was well made and was plastered with mud and clay. We all got together in the fall of the year to help plaster. We hauled the clay by hand.

The priest came to Ball Club in about nineteen . . . nineteen-eight. {xx??1908 Cf., page 1434} There was only one priest, Father Felix, and he had a big area to work in. He had to work hard, and he had to go here(14) from another town. I had a cutter and a single horse. So I loaded him up and took him fast from the train in Ball Club to where he wanted to meet the Barneses. I loaded him up on the single horse and the cutter and I took him over to Joe Barneses' place across the river from us. He had to go bless them, and give a little sermon to them.

By '16, '18, '19, I began to notice priests and missionaries coming in pretty heavy here and there. Whenever the railroads and the highways became passible they came more. They used to walk in before, but now we have highways and they come in a lot more since then. I think it was Father Simon(15) who came after Father Felix. Then I think it was Father Dennis, and then Father Morse {SP?? Morris??}. Father Morse {SP??}, and then Father Anthony {Anthanase Fuchs sp??}.

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Ped-way-way-geshig, Reverend Frank Pequette in rowboat.

Ped-way-way-geshig, Reverend Frank Pequette in rowboat.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1909
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1P r7 Negative No.

Father Dennis is the one that lived in Bagley, somewhere out of Bagley. He was a wonderful priest. He was very lively and very sociable.(16) He was a sport! He liked to be with the people. He liked to talk with the people and he learned who the people were by understanding who believed in the Creator.

After Father Dennis we had a priest that stayed here in Ball Club a few years back, and lots of them didn't like to go to church because he came outright with his feelings towards the people.(17) I asked him why this, and why that, and he said he wanted people in church who'd agree to try to be perfect with the respect-ion of God. But he was not guilty, at least. I don't think he was doing wrong. Most of the time you can't go on your own way because there are laws, rulings, now. With all them church laws it's kind of hard to be a good Christian, a perfect Christian. Nowadays there's different rulings. And he was just trying to uphold the rulings of the church.

So, as far as I've been concerned, he's been OK. And before him I talked to that priest, Mr. Morrison(18) -- or Morse. Father Moore, I think, was his name -- and I told him, "You're a very nice priest."

I think Father Morse was a very nice priest, a very nice priest. I like a man to come outright and be sincere to me, to talk to me, and tell me what's right. That's very good. I think, "You are right."

I don't believe, I don't think, a priest should go wrong in advising you on things. Ya. But, I feel that some of our people were hurt when the new priest tell them what was wrong with their doings.(19) Naturally, I suppose they practice the wrong and still they feel that they are right.

The way I feel -- in my personal feeling -- I think that if anybody would tell me what's right I should thank them -- if I think he's right. But I wouldn't listen if anybody was telling me anything wrong, that is, if I could see that it was wrong. If I didn't know whether it was right or wrong, I'd try to do it, and I'd soon find out if it was wrong.

So I thanked the priest for that what he said.

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Father Aloysius Hermanutz, White Earth Indian Celebration.

Father Aloysius Hermanutz,
White Earth Indian Celebration.
Creator: Minneapolis Journal
Photograph Collection, 1924
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. B1.4 r18 Negative No. 81696

The Catholic priests, any of them, they think we're superstitious.(20) They have an idea on that. Ya. Father Athanese {Fuchs sp??} never argues with me because he thinks I'm superstitious, and I won't say much to him. Father "Anthony" is a great priest.

You know why?

I had a deep argument with Father Morse {SP??}. I said, "In my times, Father Morse {SP??}, there never were any churches. When I was a little boy we didn't have churches. Now it's all Catholic.(21) I'm a Catholic too. I was baptized. I don't know all the reason why, but my folks baptized me. But see, I'm telling you, I am a Catholic. I'm baptized. Sure. Now I practice my Indian belief, yes, but I still believe in one God. And I'm just showing you what the Indians can do. I'm telling what we believe in. And we believe that all we have is one God. And I'm telling you that there never were any Catholic churches in my times. The church they used to use was an old log cabin. That's true. They took a long time to build up the church they have now. How much money did they collect during all that time?"

Father Morse {sp??} didn't like it when I brought up the question on money. But that collecting money in church was a real sore point for Indians. Priests were always asking for donations and more donations for that new church. And lots of people donated their labor and everything so that the Indian would have a church. That church wasn't given entirely to the Indian, but they helped donate.(22)

Then the wise guys commenced to say, "Well, that's just a money racket."

But they had good sermons about how God, the Spirit, is good. Everyone liked their sermons. When you go to church for your religion, any religion, that black-gown(23) is going to give you a lecture, a sermon, about the Good Spirit. And that's going to remedy you in your heart. You'll be clean when you come out. When you go in there to the Catholic church, the church is full. They pass the dish around and you throw in a dime, nickel, quarter, whatever you got. That's to help the priest. That's to help the church. That's to help the Pope. That's to help. That money goes all over to help the hungry, and the poor -- a certain part of the poor.(24) Then, afterwards, you go out of church and you put your hand in that holy water and make a sign of the cross.

Some Indians go to church, nowadays, when they have a celebration for the priest or for the church, and they wear their costume.(25) The church generally isn't the place for the Indian costume. Generally Indians would get into White costumes when they go into church. There's a very little wearing of Indian costumes inside the church, but they go to the church ground and dance in costume for the priest when they have a church powwow. We have that church powwow every year, now. And we have good singers, drums, good costumes, and present dances. Oh, geeze. And the priest is right in the middle watching. And he's selling! And he sells the clothing and the art and crafts that's given to him. People donate to him to sell, so he sells fast. And the priest collects the money. That's for the priest. That's for the Catholic church. Everywhere it's money, money. Even at a social gathering!

When I got to be twenty-one, the Indian belief of life was almost totally lost, except once in a while I'd hear them gather for a feast in the spring of the year. When I begin to be thirty-two, thirty-three, there was almost a total loss of Indian beliefs. In Ball Club a lot of the Indians wanted to become Catholic. Oh, Ball Club! You know, I tell you, they're dictated to so much in Ball Club that they listen. There are big families that branch off in Ball Club.(26) There are groups of big families, and there's a leader of each family. When they go to that church they hear the big word, from the big book in the church. Now they're all Catholics, so they believe in helping. That's what the dictation is. They believe in helping, ya. We do that too, in Indian belief, but not the same way. They tell you that the only way they can help you is if you come to church. Ya, it might be so. But I tell them, "You're not helping me out in the field.(27) I'm helping myself out in the field."

Amongst the Indians, Catholics and Episcopals were the main protestants.(28) Episcopals came in with their church and built up an Indian church. When they came in they all went there to hear their services.

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Methodist Episcopal Church and Catholic Church, Deer River.

Methodist Episcopal Church and Catholic Church, Deer River.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1909
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. MI8.9 DR r2 Negative No.

 

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Catholic and Methodist Episcopal Churches, Buhl.

Catholic and Methodist Episcopal Churches, Buhl.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1910
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. MS2.9 BL r6 Negative No.

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Episcopal rectory and Joseph A. Gilfillan family.

Episcopal rectory and Joseph A. Gilfillan family.
Photograph Collection, Cabinet photograph, 1880
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.7W r53 Negative No.

So why?

They had Indian ministers. They were trained for the ministry of the schools that we had. The Indian ministry went amongst the Indians. The Indian Episcopal ministers had nice talk and nice services. And pretty soon the Indians began to believe one another. The Indians got attached to that. They kind of went along with it and started dropping their own Indian belief.

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Reverend Many Penny and family, Episcopal missionary at Leech Lake.

Reverend Many Penny and family,
Episcopal missionary at Leech Lake.
Photograph Collection, 1909
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1M r35 Negative No.

And in later years when the younger folks came back from schools, they could understand English pretty good. They had ministers in government schools, and the Indian children would go to their churches on Sunday.(29) They'd most generally go to them. The school officials gave them a chance to go to the Episcopal church; they gave them a chance to go to the Catholic church; they gave them a chance to go to any church they belonged in.

I don't think they forced them to go. It was on their own will that they went to a church. Good lectures, I think, is what they followed. They gave good sermons in the government schools, and the following they had proves it.

It's also much easier to go to church, I think, than stay with the Indian belief. You have a place to watch the other guy, or the other party, and see what they're doing. Then you do the same. You follow suit. And the priest gives a nice sermon and you have a good warm place to set in.

Grand Medicine does the same thing.(30) They do the same thing, but some of the Indians were afraid of Grand Medicine. They were kind of afraid of it too, you know. The Grand Medicine is spiritual work. Well, the Catholic is spiritual too. But the younger Indians trust the Catholic church more, or any other church.

They lectured about God in the churches, and they gave sermons about God that were pred'ner like the Indians'. We can understand what the Indian language means for "the God on earth." We know that you come from earth and go back to earth. We came from earth and we go back to earth, the same as any vegetation that grows. That's what the Grand Medicine thought, "from earth and back to earth." And that's what the Whites thought. That was easy for us to understand.

The Whites read that too, but they think they are ahead and above the Indian.(31) And they asked one another, "Is there a heaven above?"!

They don't KNOW!

Well!

And then they looked in the dictionary to find out where is hell, and it said, "Hell is right here, six feet in the ground. . . ."

Indian gatherings were also too far apart. They were not supposed to be close together. The Indian gatherings of the Indian religions were a little far apart, while those ministering the Christian religions had to hold their services every Sunday. See the difference there? So the churches got a foothold by having their services every Sunday. Many Indians would get into White costumes every Sunday and would go to the church. Every time they went there they heard a good lecture, a good sermon of the Great: "Do right and you'll always find what is right." That's a good word. They all believe a good lecture is a good lecture. They thought that the Catholics and the Episcopals were working for the Great with the same principle we all use. "It was the same as the Indian," they though. The Indian talks about the Great Creator too. I suppose they liked the new service and so they drifted along and began to believe in that way.

They also wanted their children, they wanted their people, to go to church, and with the Christians they had a better chance to go to church. When they heard that bell ring, they knew it was time to come. When the bell rang at that hour, you got your service and it was all done. You were working for God at that hour.

The Indians didn't like all that collecting money, but it wasn't the money entirely they didn't like. Sometimes people forgot that they went to church!! That's what a lot of the Indians didn't like. You have to be more careful when you go with the Indians. You have to be careful with one another all the time -- not just for an hour on Sunday.

There was never any friction between the Catholics and the Grand Medicine traditionals. Never. No. The Indians had their right to go to whatever church they wanted. The Mide didn't ask the Catholics if anybody came to their church. No. 'Course they didn't allow the Catholics to come in their medicine ring -- because it's dangerous, you know. Their medicine might take affect on your body. See, that ceremony might affect you if you get too close. Then again, the Grand Medicine may not let you in because you probably changed your way too. The Indian believes that if you change from one religion to another, you're doing something wrong for yourself again.(32) See? They believe it that way.

These days they have religions that are breaking away from certain Indian beliefs. There are a lot of Indian beliefs that religions are busting up.(33) The churches want you to believe in one religion, because they think there's only one way for some things to be done. And some people just didn't want to believe in two religions. These religions say that there's no other god but the one that's going through the priests. And now that God says, "There's no other god before me." It stands that way, that big word. It's coming in pretty heavy like that.

But there isn't! There isn't just one way!

The God says that too: "I give you 'equal,'" He says. "Use your 'equal.' Use your own judgement. You're equal. You're just as good as the next man. There's no power on earth that could send you to heaven, nor could you send anybody else. You're sending yourself to heaven."

And then we had different churches come in a little later on. We had the Episcopals come in earlier. Later on, specially after the highways came in, other churches arrived. The older Indians used to say that by bringing in so many different churches they'll all make a hatred towards us, thinking we're dumb. That's why the older Indians wouldn't have anything to do with them. As it worked out, the new churches got their way, and the Indians that wanted to go to the Catholic Church got their way too. So that's the confused part of it. It's all proven, pred'ner proven, now. That's the way it goes now.

I think they're pretty sharp, those oldtimers. But anyhow, one old Indian guy said, "If you are living the Indian way of life and believe in God, then you have nothing to worry about."

It got so after awhile that we didn't know who to believe. At that time, yes, it was confusing. And yea, we argued over that lots. The churches had a better chance of explaining their beliefs to the second class(34) who had more education. The first class(35) didn't mind(36) what the preachers said. The second class had a better education, and that's where the argument came in.

The main point to the argument is that they wanted you to go to church all right, but then when you go to church the first thing they do is ask for money.(37) Then the Indian says, "we ain't got the money to go to church." Then they say, "We don't have to pay our way to heaven. If I knew that we could pay our way, I'd be glad to go, and I'd be glad to pay." But even if the money is all there, money cannot buy your next world which comes to each and everyone. But your head can buy you a better world. What's in your head can buy you something. Boy! But in the Indian way you don't have to pay your way to the next world. If you wanted to, you could give a prize(38) to show what it's worth to you. You could volunteer any prize you want, but they didn't require anything special. The Indians were confused by the churches in the early days because they were always trying to have you throw in quarters and dimes. In those days the quarters and dimes made quite a sum.

Some of them Indians have all kinds of money, they have all the will power, and they go to church. Sure they go to church. It's nice to go to church and believe in the church, believe in the Gospel, believe in the teaching, and throw in those quarters and dimes. Sure, they can believe that if they want to. But remember now, you're from the Great, and that Great, He's a Great Master. That's what the Indian knows; that's the Great, and everything's from the Great, and they'll never forget Him. In our religions, He's a great man, and if you will believe in Him, He will help you. When the time comes, He will repay you good. Oh, yea, gee. There's nothing against church, but you have to use it right. You have to be true-heart. You have to have it in your heart. You can see things then.

But quite of few of them were confused in my time, away back. They said Catholics go in a church and they adore the statue, they adore the crucifix, they adore the pictures.

"We don't go for all this adoring the statues, adoring the crucifix, and all that," these Indians said.

"Uh, uh," I said, "they do just the same as I do. I have something I carry, a weasel hide.(39) We use those kind of things for reminders too. They are just reminders of what you believe in. I don't adore that weasel hide. It's just a reminder, a symbol, of something that I believe in. It's something that you have to have. If you carry this, when you're going to do something wrong, you can't. You don't want to."

"It isn't the crucifix that they adore. A picture or crucifix will do the same thing; they remind. The Catholics aren't having a statue just to adore that statue. That statue just puts you in mind of God's mother. It puts you in mind of Jesus."

"It makes you think, 'How was He before you ever came on earth, years ago? Can you see His footprints on the rock? Can you see Moses writing the Ten Commandments? How was that? Do you know about the Last Supper and about the Twelve Apostles, and all this stuff? Was that true?'"

"There's something to that somewhere," they'd say.

"We have a right to believe in any church we want to, but the church you belong to is the one you should stick to."

"And furthermore," the Indians said, "there weren't churches in God's time. He was born out in a barn, they say. Well, there must have been a house(40) of some kind out in the barn."

Then again, the Indian says, "We were born out in the field of where we live, out in the wigiwam. We had no houses. We just had a piece of bark over us. So what's the answer now? Is there a God that can bless us to improve our way of life and make our country better? Is there a God that tries to make improvements for His own part of the people?"

"Those churches called us in. What did they tell us? 'You should be glad that you can come in a place where you're sheltered and fed.'"

"Fine, but God didn't go in a sheltered place, maybe. He was right out there. I see that He met right out there in the field. And he suffered out there on the hill."

"So a little suffering doesn't hurt anybody, to show that you love Him."

"We all should talk out in the open. It is hard to go to church. It is big and crowded at times."

"After you go out into the open, you commence to believe that you're going to be helped. But if you go to churches, maybe you feel sometimes you don't do enough. I think when you go to church you get that feeling because the priest is telling you that. I think when you go sit down and talk to somebody about God right out in the open, I think when you say 'God' out there, you can feel Him in you."

That's the way they want it. Most of the Indians want to be by themselves when they think of Christ; a lot of them feel that way. I do sometimes. I don't want to be attracted by somebody else. I want to look around at nature as I understand how hard this Christ suffered: "Why? Why did Christ suffer? Why did he die on the cross? And why did the Indian say 'you're hungry; we're hungry?'"

Because if you get hungry you will starve. You will starve if you don't believe there is a God. They always managed to get along. That's God's people. He put them here.

That's the way it is out in the open. Nobody disturbs you. You have your own mind. Then you look at the trees and the birds and think: "Whose is that? Who made that? Somebody in heaven. What is that sun up there for? That proves somebody's putting the light on. When you look at the moon and the stars, that proves who made that. That proves the Great. Then should we deny it? If we deny it how can we believe that big light looking at us. Who's behind that?"(41)

That's the way we believe it. Nature proves that way because there is a God. If you do right He will help you.

But there are time it doesn't work that way anymore. The times are changing. There are different and better ways of living. The development of religions and schools amongst the Whites is making life better. It's getting better, and a lot of this old way, the old style of living, is getting done away with. Better living's coming in. So maybe you may not be lost, even though you may have forgotten your own national duty,(42) and then have gone with the Whites.

It's different now that White people are learning us a better way of living. We go out amongst the White people now and they're awful nice to the Indian, up in the North here. I feel like they're nice to me, and neighborly, because they like to talk to me. Maybe they like to talk to me because they know I have a little schooling. I think by talking to White people I learned. I learned from the White people. They give me better ideas on how to live and how to take care of myself. Oh, if I'm puzzled on points I'll ask anyone who got a little better education or is a little older than I am. They usually have a better view of things, and when they give me good advice, I take it. But I don't take their advice about praying in church.

Well, that's religion you know. You can pray any way you want. I think religion helps amongst our people. For me it helps. The religious way helps me, in my way of life. I've been here a long time -- I think I've been here a long time -- living with the people of this area. I sit with them and I listen to them. I know them and they use me good. They talk to me. Sure, that's good enough. If they know I'm hungry, and they want to feed me, that's nice. I always think, "I don't like to go anywhere.(43) I like to be alone with my Indians(44) -- not only Indians, but White people also. We got White people in with us through intermarriages, and they have nice little children coming up. I enjoy seeing that, seeing how nice they are. They have better schooling. They have better games. Development's coming to the Indians."

See?

I was talking to a boy, one of the native boys who had a hard life. He was born and brought up here in Ball Club, and went to the high school and graduated. His father and mother didn't have anything. They were quite the drinkers, and they enjoyed that drinking. So he meant to go out into the world and see that he could do to better with his life in the future. Well, he got to believing the word of God and he joined this, oh, I think it was that Alliance Church that he joined. They had a school at Mission, and he went to school there at Cass Lake.(45) He said there was some mission school, some kind of a Christian school there, and he went to school there.

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Indian mission school, Cass Lake.

Indian mission school, Cass Lake.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1915
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.7L r4 Negative No. 40622

He went to that school, and finally they got him out on the road, because he had a good education and a good personality. He was quite a boy. I knew him when he was a kid. They put him on the road and so he took off with no money for expenses. They put him on the road to go out and speak. So he went out to speak, and he speaked so well that he was invited all over.

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Catholic Church and Parsonage, Cass Lake.

Catholic Church and Parsonage, Cass Lake.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1919
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. MC3.9 CL5.1 r6 Negative No.

 

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Grave of Chief madwaganonint at Episcopal Cemetery, Redby

Grave of Chief madwaganonint at Episcopal Cemetery, Redby.
Photograph Collection, 1960
Minesota Historical Society
Location no. MB4.4 p1 Negative no. 7587

One time he had an invitation to Fargo and an invitation to some place way out in North Dakota somewhere. He'd have to be at this other place shortly after he spoke in Fargo.

He said the second town was about twenty-five, twenty-four, twenty-five, miles from Fargo. He spoke in one church hall in Fargo and then he was invited to another church where he had to be at eleven o'clock. But somehow his car broke down and it looked like he couldn't get there.

Meanwhile they were waiting for him up there at the other town.

He said, "I'm trying to do good work, and that's for others. And somehow," he said, "I was there at that hour. I didn't have much time before the talk, but I got there at that hour."

He was telling me that, so I asked him, "How did you get there at that hour when your car was broke down?"

He says, "When my car broke down I got a telephone call at my hotel telling me to come down to the garage. So I went down to the garage. Somehow they couldn't fix my car, but the man said, 'there's a car there. That's yours. Well, that's yours. This car of yours is an old car and is beyond repairs. This is a better car.' They gave me another car."

"How can that be?" I asked them.

"Well, that's donated to you by the community because you're doing work for the public and the people. You are a speaker for others, so that car's donated for you. You're a good lecturer."

Boy, he thanked him and went on to the town he was supposed to be at.

I said, "Well, how'd you get that car to get there?"

He said, "Well, how I got that car? I prayed: 'I wish I would be there for that appointment.' So when the new car appeared I just throwed my bags and books in that new car, and I stepped in there and thanked them all for authorizing me to speak in their hall."

How simple that came, just by praying, just by saying to the Spirit that you need a power.

He said, "If I didn't care what I was doing, I'd-a never made it. If I didn't show that I was interested in what I do, why I'd-a been stranded. But I kept it up, and I showed interest, and I asked the Good Spirit to help me get there."

He did.

Why that's wonderful, isn't it?

I know that the Indians liked to go into the church services and hear sermons and lectures -- at least some of the older class did. They liked to go set in there. After awhile it got so they believed all this that goes on here and there. But later on, a lot of them went back to the Grand Medicine doctor and asked for that medicine. And the Medicine Man told them, "I couldn't doctor you. You go to your god."

Now there's a picking up of the old Indian ways among the people. It is. They seem to be going back to picking it up. Well, I'll tell you why. You know, they've seen enough of this White man's religion. The Church has come in and it's going a little too strong. They're taking that Bible and preaching it, and we don't know who to believe now. There are many different churches, you know. It is a good thing to go to church; I believe in that. I would spend a little time there on Sunday, but I'm not able to.(46) But I know the people get tired of going to church. They begin to think, "Now I may not go to church, I think I will . . . I think I will follow my own way because maybe in that beautiful church, it is too beautiful."

They call that beautiful church God's home, but the Indian thinks the big world is our home with God -- that's our home with God. The Whites say this church is God's home -- but the earth is the home of God anyway. Why is that sun, stars, and everything there? They were there before they build a church, maybe. The people(47) were here first. The old Indian was here a long time ago. So that's what they believe in.

You know why?

They saw things here.

They even saw "monasters" years and years ago. Those "monasters" were a big thing. They were here too; they were natural. They were big monsters. They were big snakes, big animals. What do you call these big animals with tails, long tails? They were here. They're gone now. The generation's getting smaller, because they don't know where to go. There's a mixture of people. They're mixing; everything is mixing. Everything is vanishing slowly.

So before it's too late I better grab my book, because otherwise it'll be too late.

I think that churches had worked hard, but they don't seem to get it any better with the people. It's getting worse, so the Indians want to hang on to their Indian beliefs. That's why they're getting interested in the old beliefs. So they pick it up. That's your decision; that's free for you; that's your own beliefs; that's what it's given to you for. As an Indian I'm going to pick up my own beliefs, and I feel better about it. And it don't cost me nothing.(48) All it costs me is a good, happy life, good health. I get paid by having God with me. You have to have God with you.

Nobody can tell you about God. He had prepared you when He said, "This is my blood; this is my body." On earth he put that. Just think how much power He has. He has a lot of power. We use it, we feel it, we make it, and we feel good about it someday.

As an Indian we had the opportunity to receive the word of God, which we always spoke in Ojibwa, Chippeway, Indian.(49) We had the opportunity to receive that from the Catholics, Episcopals, and the other churches coming in. But many of us always fell back to the Indian way of believing in the Great Spirit. When the churches first come in we thought, "The Great Spirit has handed down a new set-up," we figured, "in which we would have an opportunity to be in a church where we could hear a sermon and go to services." Many Indians went to those places to listen, because they were talking to the Great Creator. That's God. We all work for the same principle, God. We're all wishing to seek to find Him when we're done on earth. That's why we're all trying to serve God. But the Indian always falls back into the Indian language and the Indian ways of sermon.

Why?

Because most of them were hurt when they couldn't understand this priest. It seemed that he was always saying that they had faults and that they had to go through confession and everything. You have to tell him what your faults are, that's the rules and regulations of the Church.

But I don't believe in going to tell a certain man my sins. The Indian believes you can go out alone and confess them sins, and leave them there. You can just say that: "I'm gonna try for the better." God says, "Wherever you believe in me, I hear you. Anywhere you speak to Me, I'll hear you." You don't have to go to the next man. You don't have to dress good and have a nice car and a nice hat. It's a good thing to go to church to teach the younger class the words of the Book and everything, but it's the practice that's important. You have to get out and practice on your own, by your own will. You have to be willing to develop the will to see as you go along. If you go to the priest and have him, or any minister, have him, expect him, to help you, he can't do it for you. He doesn't know what you're doing -- but the Great Spirit does. Then, when you go to the priest, he's got an awful load to take care of all around. So he does that, sure, he talks to the Great for you. But each and every one of you has that power to do it yourself. But a lot of them expect that the priest can put you to heaven, that he can defend you, and so they confess to him.

And that's another thing: they didn't like going to just one man to talk to the Great for you, because what's the use of me to go and tell the priest my sins and have him talk to the Great about it, when maybe I could do the same thing too? The Indians didn't like it that you can go to confession and that one man has the power to forgive you, or to have God forgive you. The priest doesn't forgive you, he just prays for you; God forgives you.

Some would be watching us go to church, going into church and telling the priest our sins. To forgive them he tells you to not do that again, then you're forgiven. When you go to confession you're supposed to change your way of life. The Indian didn't like the fact that you could go to confession and tell the priest, tell God, that you're not going to commit a sin anymore, and then come right back out and start to do the same sin over again.(50) Ya, you go right back into the field again and do the same thing over and over. If you can be forgiven by the priest over and over, then the religious is all right, maybe. But when you go out and do the same thing over again, you never know whether you're forgiven or not. See, they couldn't understand why they go confess every Friday. All they heard was "confession," "confession," and then along came a collection box. That way the priest was doing pretty good, see? But the priest often said that the collection box is for the Church, for the betterment, so that we would be able to upkeep our priests in the whole area. It was true, for in the long range that will happen.

But, you know, there's nothing wrong or against believing in the Great Creator in the Indian way.

And all the books you read about the different churches and different denominations, that's another thing.

Who's right or wrong?

The Indian, or the churches, or the word from the priest?

They're all talking about the Creator, the Judge, the Father of heaven and earth. Which is right or wrong remains to be found by just working for the best, by working for the Creator. Thank God, the Creator, for everything you see. "Funny, there never were churches here where God created you," that's what the Indian feels. And just automatically the Indian will find a way to thank the Creator for what he gets. Respect all the birds, the trees and everything, the air and daylight, the sun, and all that He gives you. Give thanks for all that. Have a feast over that. Always remember, He gave you life and everything -- that's what the Indians believe.

But going through the church, that's another thing again, see? Even in the Catholic church it says that the messengers(51) go out into the world. He gave that order, so the priest goes amongst the people and tells them the bylaws of the ten sacraments.(52) So I think . . . I don't know . . . I think if you do right and remember the ten sacraments, and do good and try to keep out of sin, I think you have all you could do to find internal(53) happiness.

That's what I picked up in time, see? That's what I found out in my time. I heard them talk about that. The Indians are natural born believers. After many years, after many Indians are gone, Indians are still put away by the Indian Minister.(54) {XXXcf 67-39}

All these things that came to pass went away, and then some new deal, some other new religion, comes up.(55) That sounds good, but it shouldn't make any difference how you believe. If you're working for the Creator I don't think it should make any difference. You still respect Who gave you life. You still respect the earth, sun, the moon, and the things that's keeping your body and soul up. You enjoy your health. I think the main thing is to thank Him for what He's doing for you. Thank Him when He, the Creator, serves you. There are some good people that don't go to church. Maybe they should go to church because they're Catholic and belong in Church. But why should I go to church when God is everywhere? The Creator is everywhere. The Book reads, "Wherever you talk of me, I'll be there." So don't forget the Creator. Don't forget who let you on earth, and you'll be all right. And don't go and lie to the priest. Don't tell him you're not going to do it again and then fall right back in the same sin. Un ah. That's worse than ever.

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Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Chippewa village, Cook County.

Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church,
Chippewa village, Cook County.
Photograph Collection, 1965
Minesota Historical Society
Location No. MC8.5 r2 Negative No. 2828


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Footnotes

1. Cf., Ch. 33, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."

2. Cf., Ch. 28, "Power."

3. For a brief summary of missionary work among the Chippewa see Vecsey, Christopher. Traditional Ojibwa Religion and Its Historical Changes, (Philadelphia, PA: The American Philosophical Society, 1983), "Christian Missions to the Ojibwas," pp. 26-44.; Cf. also, Albert Keiser. 1922. "The Work Among the Chippewas in Michigan and Minnesota." In Lutheran Mission Work Among the American Indians. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, pp. 55-94; Ketcham, William H. 1920. "The Chippewa Missions of Minnesota." The Indian Sentinel, 2:161-164; Schell, James Peery. 1911. In the Ojibway Country, A Story of Early Missions on the Minnesota Frontier. Walhalla, ND: C.E. Lee; Whipple, Henry B. 1901. "Civilization and Christianization of the Ojibways of Minnesota." Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, 9:129-142; Winchell, Newton H. (ed.), The Aborigines of Minnesota. . . ., (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1911).

4. His older sister, Mary Buffalo. Paul Buffalo was born on 4 July 1900.

5. For details on Paul Buffalo's baptism see Ch. 2, "Bena Childhood."

6. A half-brother.

7. Sic.

8. Compared with some of the Indian songs which are basically chants with few or no words. xxxCheck for a reference in Densmore. These hymns were around for a long time. For example, Thomas Hulbert. 1846. "Hymns in the Chippewa and Ottawa Language To Which Is Appended a Short Summary of Christian Doctrine; Peter Jones (trans.). 1840. A collection of Chippeway and English Hymns for the Use of the Native Indians. Translated by Peter Jones . . .To Which Are Added a Few Hymns Translated by Rev. James Evans and George Henry. . . .Toronto: Printed for the Translator. (This version is based on the Jones 1829 ed., New York: Printed at the Conference Office by J. Collord. This work was reprinted and reissued numerous times, often under various titles.)

9. You Are My Sunshine.

10. Conceptually there are the "missionaries," people who come in to proselytize and then move on, and "priests" and "preachers xxx," religious who come and live among the Indian peoples.

11. check church records: '08, 1908 {xxx??? 1904, Cf. page 1344} [37-14] ['04, 1904 ??]

12. Check to see if this is {xxxFather Felix Nellis, OSB??, pp. 47- A Century....Red Lake, who came to Red Lake in 1898 "to help take care of the outlying missions making his headquarters here [Red Lake] til 1900.  . . . After he left in 1903 Father Felix was again here for a short time."

13. The psychological importance of the church as meeting hall was a major factor in the community. The role of church as a meeting hall for the community was to play a significant role in the later development of the community. See footnote 1118 for details.

14. Ball Club. I.e., he had at first to come to Ball Club from another community. Priests in this area often served two or more communities.

15. xxx Check church records: ?? Father Simon Lampe ?? [A Century. . . , p. 79]

16. "For much of the recent history of the community [written in 1966], the resident priest was an exceptionally well-liked man. Every adult member of the community interviewed for purposes of this study mentioned Father [Dennis] and talked of his personality and his warm relations with the local people. A visit by Father [Dennis] was anticipated as the highlight of the first annual church dinner in the fall of 1966, and everyone waited eagerly to see and talk with him. Many people mentioned that he danced at the local powwows, that he established particularly active St. Mary's and St. Joseph's societies, and that he permitted the [Ball Club] Indian people to meet and even to conduct traditional Indian wakes in the basement of the local church. The minutes of the council record the names of only 2 people accorded special invitations to the new council hall dedication [in 19xx]: Father [Dennis] and the lieutenant governor of the state." [Tim Roufs, in Paredes, p. 228.]

17. This eventually became very significant in the formation of the successful Ball Club Local Indian Council: "A few years before the formation of the Wicket [pseudonym] Local Council, Father [Dennis] was replaced with a man who created much antagonism in the community. One of the first actions reportedly taken by the new priest was to remove the sign reading 'Indian Mission' [its reported official designation] from the church. [The church serves/served both Indians and Whites.] The chairman of the local council [and former head of the St. Joseph's Society of the church], apparently still quite irritated by this action, asked me on my second visit to Wicket if mission status was reserved 'for the Pope alone to change.' Dissatisfaction with this new priest was so intense that one of the local white residents wrote a letter to the bishop of the diocese in the name of the Indian community, formally stating the complaints of the people. The letter created a disturbance among some of the clergy in the region, because they felt that 'the Indians were trying to dictate theology' to them. As a result of the actions of the new pastor, [many] Indians in Wicket no longer participated in the activities of the St. Joseph's and St. Mary's societies."

And the Indians of the community went on to build a community hall on Indian land.

"The relationship between the Indians and these societies became such that the Indians sent a delegate 'to clarify to the ladies of the Rosary Society . . . that there is no segregation among the whites and Indians of the community; anybody is welcome to our Indians' community hall and grounds; if they want to send a delegation to one of our meetings they are welcome to do so.' This message of January, 1964, which indicates both perceived social segregation as well as a verbal denunciation of it, is especially significant since just a few years earlier some of the most active members and officers of this religious societies had been Indians."

Reportedly, the most significant action taken by the new priest was to refuse the sacraments and a Christian burial to anyone not practicing the Catholic religion strictly. . . . In addition to his other actions, the new priest no longer permitted Indian wakes to be held in the basement of the church. As might be expected, reaction against the new priest was a very important factor in increasing cooperation among Wicket Indians. One influential community member stated bluntly, 'The reason that the new community hall up there was built was so we could hold these wakes and meetings if we wanted to.' Although some community members explain the sudden impetus for cooperating to build a community hall only in terms of the need for a meeting place, others note that the community began to feel this need acutely when they no longer had access to the church building and had to conduct their wakes [and meetings] in homes that were too small." Tim Roufs, in Paredes, pp. 228-229.

18. This actually might have been Father xxx {xxxREM check Cass Lake field notes from 1965}.

19. What was wrong with their behavior.

20. Cf. XXX and XXX.

21. In 1966, 81.8% of the Indian household heads and spouses in Ball Club said they were Catholic. 10.9% said they were Methodist, and 3.6% said they were Episcopalian. Only 1.8 said they were traditional Indian, but at that time people generally in an interview would not say they followed the Indian belief. Some, like Paul Buffalo, who actually followed, or returned to, "the Indian belief," responded that they were Catholic in the formal interviews. In the sample that would be about xxx%. (xxxcheck questionnaires with fieldnotes) (Tim Roufs in Paredes, p. 216).

22. Although reportedly officially designated an "Indian Mission," the church served both Indians and Whites of the Ball Club area. See footnote No. 1118 for details on the background of the dispute.

23. Blackrobe.

24. What he is implying here is that they are collecting money from one poor group, the Indians, to send off to another poor group -- and that they are getting the poorer end of the deal.

25. For e.g., Alen Wilson was reader in Ball Club church in costume in late 1960s. xxx See TR field notes for Ball Club.

26. Cf., Timothy G. Roufs. 1967. Social Structure and Community Development: An Analysis of a Chippewa Case. Master's thesis, University of Minnesota.

27. Out in the neighborhood/area where he lived, as opposed to being helped one at the church. The criticism here is that the help is centered around activities at the church building, and that people from the church do not actually come out into the community to help. It might also be a criticism of the Whites of the church, who did not generally interact much [understatement] with the Indians outside of the church grounds. The Episcopals were probably different.

28. Sic.

29. Cf. Ch. 36, "School."

30. Cf., Ch. 30, "Mi-de-wi-win: Grand Medicine."

31. This is a classic use of humor to equalize social relationships when a person or group seems to be thinking they are better than someone else. (Cf., Frank Miller's article xxx add here and to bibliography). A statement is made; then the situation is ridiculed. In this case the fact that heaven (and God) exists is obvious to those in a traditional belief -- all one has to do is stand outside and look around to know that. It's one of the simplest things to know. The Whites are ridiculed for asking if there is a heaven. As for hell (the counterpart in some Indian beliefs is getting lost on the way to heaven, the next world, and not making it there), Whites are ridiculed for having to look it up in a book! And, furthermore, Whites are poked fun of because they think hell is a geographical place, rather than being in a terrible predicament. If "hell" is being lost on the way to heaven, then you can be in hell in lots of places, and wherever you go you're "in [the state of being in] hell." The very point of hell is that it is a situation -- a state of being -- you can't get out of, no matter what you do or where you go.

Book learning from a "real book," i.e., an actual published volume -- as opposed to learning things by practice and by living life -- was often looked upon with skepticism. Paul Buffalo once saw me reading a book on hunting white-tail deer. He couldn't contain his laughter (for days), pointing out that reading about hunting was something typical that a Whiteman would do -- and ridiculous. "If you want to learn how to hunt deer," he chided, "put the book down and go out and hunt deer." And of course, when he returned home he had a wonderful story to tell his Indian friends about a White guy who READS!! ABOUT how to hunt. Layered upon the absurdity of a White guy reading about how to hunt was the fact that I was studying to be a professor, so I was partially excused from being a total fool, as, of course, "everybody knows" professors pretty much read about everything.

32. That's one of the reasons why traditionals didn't think much of a person who converted from one religion to another. According to a more traditional belief, you were supposed to keep whatever religion you were born into, much like you were supposed to keep your word no matter what. Keeping one's word was one of the most highly prized values. Changing religions was looked upon kind of like not keeping your word, and with equal disdain. That's also a reason they were not too keen on letting Whites "convert" to the Midewiwin.

33. And hence, if you're changing from one religion to another, you're doing wrong. And since wrongdoing and the effects of wrongdoing are contagious, those who are more traditional sometimes avoid those who have converted.

34. The second or younger generation.

35. The older generation, the first ones to encounter the churches.

36. Pay attention to.

37. Generally Indian traditional religious practitioners do not ask for money. They accept gifts, and usually give those gifts away. Cf., Ch. 30, "Mi-de-wi-win: Grand Medicine," Ch. 31, "An Indian Curing Ceremony," Ch. 32, "Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking and Bone-Swallowing Specialists," and Ch. 33, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."

38. A gift.

39. Cf., xxx.

40. A place to eat and sleep.

41. Cf., Ch. 29, "What's Behind the Sun?: An Indian Sermon."

42. Your duty as a member of "the Indian nation."

43. He doesn't like to leave the place where he lives.

44. The group of Indians to which he belongs.

45. That was at the Mission at Cass Lake, [ Mokahum {xxsp??} Bible School??]

46. In part, because of physical difficulties associated with his paralysis.

47. The Anishinabe, "the genuine people."

48. This is a reference to the distaste many Indians have about taking up collections in the churches. Cf., page xxx.

49. Note that the "word" of God is the Chippewa language.

50. This is another example of not keeping one's word, which is one of the greatest human defects one can have. Your word should be sacred. And if you can't keep your word, you can't be trusted.

51. Missionaries as messengers.

52. Seven sacraments and the Ten Commandments.

53. And perhaps eternal happiness as well.

54. They are still buried with a Medicine Man presiding at the funeral. See Ch. 11, "Buried in a Blue Suit," Visenor, Gerald. 1972. The Everlasting Sky: New Voices from the People Named the Chippewa. New York: Crowell-Collier Press, pp. 128-136.

55. For example, Bahai, American Indian Evangelical Full Gospel [?? Ross's church], Alliance Church, Christian Science. . . . At the time of the taping Baha'i were active in some parts of northern Minnesota.

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