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When Everybody Called
Timothy G. Roufs (Ed.)
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 now-a-days 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
My younger brothers and sisters were more of a Catholic and I had to go to Catholic church with them. 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 later on when I got to be a little older I thought that being Catholic was all right. Their Old Testament -- the way they read the Old Testament -- was pretty good. And I though the way they were doing the Testament was good. They didn't seem to dictate how to live -- them days. But now-a-days 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. Tom Nason(6) and I sang in the choir. 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 whenever we could. Gee, Tom 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(9) -- to help you sing them. They had big books for the church songs. The Christians and the Church sing about God. They sing about how they enjoy His blessing He gives to each an individual. 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. Now-a-days we have to obey these new Christian holidays. That's another thing that's Christian!
Now we're back to
singing a few songs again, like the "Good Ol' Sunshine," "Good Ol' Summertime. . . ."(10) And in church they sing about 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 the churches did things and then dropped back. 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.
The old way of my people belongs to the Indians. And 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 Indians and the Indians are good to them. We live like that. We're friendly. That's what we want, friends.
The missionaries came in and 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 the missionaries 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 the missionaries, "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 and all that came later on.(11) Priests preach the means to a good life too. Between 1906 and 1910 the government boarding schools, the doctor, and the priest all came in.(12) Yea, they all came at about the same time.
The church in Bena was built around 19 . . . 19 . . . well at first the service was only in log buildings, in private homes, not in a church. The church itself was built about 1904 or '05. But at first the priest had services in a little log house, in only a little room. The priests had little houses -- little log cabins -- where they'd do their services. At first the little log houses had only one little room, and very few would go in there. But in Bena and Ball Club the crowds got bigger because of the priest's baptizing and his lectures on the Creator, the God. His lectures sounded so good to the Indian that a lot of them became Catholic.
In Ball Club we also had a log house -- a big log house -- as a church.(13) 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.
Afterwhile they built St. Joseph-St. Mary's Church because it started getting too crowded in the log house. In 1912, '14, 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.(14) 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.
That priest, Father Felix, came to Ball Club in about 19 . . . 1908 or 1906. There was only one priest and he had a big area to work in. He had to work hard, and he had to go to Ball Club from another town.(15) I had a cutter and a single horse at that time 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 Barnes's 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 often. 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 who came before Father Felix, and I think it was Father Dennis who came after Father Felix. And then it was Father Morse . . . I think his name was Father Morse . . . and then Father Athanase.(16)
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.(17) 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.(18) 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. Now-a-days 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 . . . Father Morse 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. And when they do that 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 would 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.
The Catholic priests, any of them, they think we're superstitious.(20) They have an idea on that. Ya. Father Athanase never argues with me because he thinks I'm superstitious, and I won't say much to him. Father Athanase is a great priest.
You know why we don't argue anymore?
I had a deep argument with Father Morse. I said, "In my times, Father Morse, 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 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 -- Indians included -- donated their labor and everything so that the Indian would have a church. That church wasn't given entirely to the Indian because we helped donate with our labor and with our money.(22)
Then the wise guys who didn't think much of the Church anyway commenced to say, "Well, that's just a money racket."
But the priests all 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.(25)
Some Indians go to church, now-a-days, when they have a celebration for the priest or a service for the church and they wear their Indian costume.(26) The church generally isn't the place for the Indian costume. Generally Indians would get into white costumes when they go in to church. There's very little wearing of Indian costumes inside the church, but they go to the church grounds 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.(27) 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.(28) I'm helping myself out in the field."
Amongst the Indians, Catholics and Episcopals were the main protestants.(29)
Episcopals came in with their church and built up an Indian church. When
the Episcopals came in they all went there to hear their services.
They had Indian ministers. They were Indians trained for the ministry of
the schools and churches 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
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.(30) 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.
The school ministers 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 sit in.
Grand Medicine does the same thing.(31) They do the same thing, but some of the Indians were afraid of Grand Medicine. They were kind of afraid of it, 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' lectures. 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. And they asked one another, "Is there a heaven above?"!(32)
They don't KNOW!
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 in Midewiwin 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.(33) 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. 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 their priests. And now that God says, "There's no other god before me." It stands that way, and that's a big word. And 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 other 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 old-timers. 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 a while that we didn't know who to believe. At that time, yes, it was confusing. And yes, 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." And then he says, "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 to your church, and I'd be glad to pay."
But even if the money is there, money can not buy your next world which comes to each and every one. 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, in the Indian way, you could give a prize to show what it's worth to you.(38) 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 teachings, 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; 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. There's nothing against church, but you have to use it right. You have to be true‑hearted. You have to have your belief in your heart. If you have it in your heart you can see things then.
But quite of few of them were confused in my time, a way back. They said Catholics go in a church and they adore the statues, 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 kinds 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 the Catholics adore. A picture or crucifix will do the same thing as a weasel hide; 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.(40) And then they'd move on to their next point. . . .
"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(41) of some kind out by the barn."
Then again, the Indian says . . . Indians my age, "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 who were born out in a field like He was?"
"Those churches called us in. What did they tell us? They all told us, 'You should be glad that you can come in to 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."
They'd tell us, "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 in to a church. It is big and crowded in there at times."
"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. After you go out into the open, you commence to believe that you're going to be helped. But if you go in to churches, maybe you feel sometimes you don't do enough. I think when you go to church you get that feeling that you don't do enough because the priest is telling you that."
Indians want to talk out in the open. 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. But they always managed to get along. That's God's people. He put them here. And He takes care of them . . . if they ask.
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?"(42)
That's the way we believe it. Nature proves that there is a God. And if you do right He will help you.
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 has 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 and any where 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.(44) I like to be alone with my Indians(45) -- 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."
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.(46)
He said there was some mission school at Cass Lake -- some kind of a Christian school --
and he went to school there.
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 he took off with no money for expenses. They put him on the road to go out and speak and he spoke so well that he was invited all over.
One time he had an invitation to speak in Fargo and an invitation to speak in some other 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 he was invited to speak at 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 able to make it there at that hour I needed to be there. 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 said, "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 good 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 where you were going?"
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 threw 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."
I know that the Indians liked to go in to the church services and hear sermons and lectures -- at least some of the older class did. They liked to go sit in there and listen. After a while 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 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. There 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 all 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.(47) 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."
The whites call that beautiful church God's home, but the Indian thinks the big world is our home with God . . . and that is our home with God. The whites say that the 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 built a church. The people(48) were here first. The old Indian was here a long time ago . . . a long time before the churches were built.
So that's what they believe in.
You know why?
They saw things here.(49)
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. And there were big snakes . . . and other big animals. What do you call those big animals with tails -- long tails? . . . They were here. They're gone now. . . .
And the generations are getting smaller, because they don't know where to go. There's a mixture of people. They're mixing; everything is mixing. And everything is vanishing slowly.
I think that churches worked hard, but they don't seem to get it any better with the people now-a-days. . . . 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. That's why they're picking them up. What you believe is your decision; that's free for you to decide; that's your own beliefs; that's what your mind is given to you for. As an Indian I'm going to pick up my own beliefs; I feel better about doing that and it doesn't cost me anything.(50) All it costs me is a good, happy life, with good health. I get paid by having God with me. You have to have God with you if you want to make it in this life.
As an Indian we had the opportunity to receive the word of God, which we always spoke in Ojibwe . . . Chippeway . . . Indian.(51) 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 came in to this area 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 in there. 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.
Because most of them were hurt when they couldn't understand this one priest. It seemed that he was always saying that they had faults and that they had to go through Confession and everything.(52) You have to tell him in Confession what your faults are; that's the rules and regulations of the Catholic 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 things 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 too, 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 has that power to do it yourself. But a lot of them expect that the priest can put them to heaven, that he can defend them, and so they confess to him.
And that's another thing: the Indians didn't like going to just one man to talk to the Great for them . . . 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 in to church and telling the priest our sins. To forgive them the priest 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.(53)
Ya; in the Catholic Church you can 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 that religious way is alright . . . maybe. But the Indian considers that when you go out and do the same thing over again, you never know whether you're forgiven or not. See?
And then, on top of that, 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(54) 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.(55) 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 happiness.(56)
All these things that came to pass went away, and then some new deal -- some other new religion -- comes up.(58) These new religions all sound 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 are 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 alright.
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
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. Paul's older sister, Mary Buffalo, was baptized Catholic.
If and when asked about his birthday/birthdate, Paul would say that he was likely born on the Fourth of July, 1900. The "Application of Maggie Nason for the Enrollment of Paul Buffalo in the Indian School at Tower, Minnesota" in 1910 lists Paul Buffalo's birthday as 5 July 1902. See., Ch. 35, "Boarding School Days" for a reproduction of the application and health checkup documents. See Ch. 2, "Bena Childhood" for a description of how Paul's "older brother [Nah-gáh-nab] died because 'it was not time' for his soul to remain in this world," and how "The older brother's soul came back again . . . and the soul [spirit] became Paul Buffalo's." They could have gone to the high-level spiritual doctor to find out for sure, but chose not to, because Paul's mother was "satisfied" that it was: "It's up to a jessokid, a tipi-shaker to find that out for sure. But we never went to the tipi-shaker to find out. So anyhow, my mother was satisfied."
So Paul was born twice, once in 1900 and once in 1902, and it is interesting that he would normally give 1900 as his date of birth. In this work we will use Paul's preferred birthdate, although the physical birth described at White Oak Point probably occurred in 1902, and is the one Maggie Buffalo, his mother, used on the government application for the Tower Indian School.
6. A half-brother.
7. Sic. Paul sang tenor, or, as he always put it, "tanner."
8. Church songs have a lot of words compared with some of the Indian songs which are basically chants with few or no words. Church hymns translated into the Ojibwe language have been around for a long time. Cf., Densmore 1910 and 1913, and Hulbert, 1846.
9. Paul generally uses the word "book" in the sense that it also includes the oral traditions and the commonly accepted Anishinabe ways of doing things. He does not necessarily mean a printed book, although a printed book is included in his term "book." When Paul specifically is referring to a printed book he generally says something like, "They had a book -- a real book. . ." or "I read in that book this morning. . . ." Or (as later on, below) he talks about religion and "the Book," in which case he means The Bible. Occasionally, when referring to the Bible, he will specifically say "the Good Book."
10. "You Are My Sunshine" and other similar sing-along songs were popular in the early 1960s, inspired by TV shows and albums like Mitch Miller's Sing Along with Mitch, and by Karaoke and Hootenannies.
11. Conceptually, for Paul, there are the "missionaries," people who come in to proselytize and then move on (sort of like an "itinerant preacher"), and "priests" and "preachers," religious people who come and live among the Indian peoples on a long-term basis.
13. "Father Simon Lampe [O.S.B.] built the first [Catholic] church at Leech Lake in 1896, at a cost of $200.00. The log church at Ball Club was also built by him in 1906 at a cost of $400.00, exclusive of furniture. The church bell cost $60.00. Leech Lake Indians were attended from Red Lake by Father Simon from 1892 till 1896, from White Earth and Beaulieu from March, 1896, to 1903 when Father Felix Nellis, O.S.B., took charge. When the Diocese of Duluth was divided in 1910, the Indian Reservations of Red Lake, White Earth, Beaulieu, and Ponsford were included in the new Diocese of Crookston." (Acta Et Dicta, Volume 5, p. 282; Cf., Fruth, 1958, p. 79.)
14. The psychological importance of the church as meeting hall was a major factor in the community's self-identity. The role of the church as a meeting hall for the community was to play a significant role in the later development of the Ball Club Local Indian Council. Cf., Roufs, 1967 and 1980, and footnote #18 below.
15. Father Felix Nellis, O.S.B., "attended" Leech Lake, Bena, Ball Club, and Cass Lake. Priests in northern Minnesota often served, and continue to serve, two or more communities and parishes. As mentioned above, Father Felix "took charge" of the Leech Lake settlements in 1903. Father Felix earlier came to the Red Lake Indian Reservation in 1898 "to help take care of the outlying missions, making his headquarters here [at Red Lake] til 1900. . . . After he left in 1903 Father Felix was again here for a short time." (Fruth, 1958, p. 47.)
16. Father Athanase Fuchs, O.S.B. it is uncertain whether is it Father Morse or Father Morris.
17. "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 1965]: Father [Dennis] and the lieutenant governor of the state." [Roufs, in Paredes, 1980, p. 228.]
18. 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." (Roufs, in Paredes, 1980, pp. 228-229.)
19. Paul felt that some of the Indian people "were hurt" when the priest "outright" told people what was wrong with their behavior.
20. Paul Buffalo explained that the word "superstitious" in Ojibwa means, essentially, "one who believes in everything he sees." Paul's argument with the priests about superstition went something like this: If you actually see something yourself you know whether it is right or not. Anything you see yourself, you thus know. So, what you see, you know, and what you know, you believe. Therefore, you believe in everything you see. "Superstition" to Paul, in Anishinabe, is "believing in everything you see" -- which is what everyone should do. It was actually hard for Paul to understand how someone could not believe in what they saw -- in how that could not be "superstitious." Thus, he argues that whites ". . . have to be superstitious . . . " because they see unusual things. He essentially concludes that the only reason whites may not be superstitious is that they "don't take notice of" or remember what unusual things they see. Cf., Ch. 26, "Dreams and Visions," Ch. 27, "Power," Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events," and Ch. 34, "Fireballs, and the 'Black-Shadow-Man.'"
21. In 1966, 81.8% of the Indian household heads and spouses in Ball Club said they were Catholic. Of the randomly sampled individuals 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. (Roufs in Paredes, 1980, p. 216).
23. The "blackrobe," the priest.
24. What he is implying here is that in the church they are collecting money from one poor group, the Indians, to send off to another poor group -- and that the locals are getting the poorer end of the deal.
25. Catholic churches typically have a "holy water font" at their entrance which contains "holy water" that members use to bless themselves, generally by making the "sign of the cross" by crossing themselves after dipping one or more fingers (often three) into the blessed water. Using holy water in that manner, or sprinkling holy water on other occasions, is a common "sacramental" of the Catholic Church and a few other Christian denominations, which serves as a reminder of baptism.
26. For e.g., Allen James Wilson, Sr., a longtime member of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Ball Club and President of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, was reader in church in traditional dress in late 1960s. Traditional dress is worn by many who attend and dance at powwows, for e.g., and is often referred to by participants as one's "costume" or "dance costume." Cf., Ch. 23, "Niimi'idiwin: 'Come and Dance, Come and Sing--Living and Spirits Alike.'"
27. Cf., Roufs, 1967.
28. "Out in the field" means out in the neighborhood and other areas where people actually work and live, and in this case it is contrasted with helping someone at the church. The criticism here is that the help is centered around activities at the church building in Ball Club, 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 with the Indians outside of the church grounds. The Episcopals and "Full Gospel" church members in other communities were probably different. See also footnote #18 above.
29. Sic.; Paul does say, "Catholics and Episcopals were the main protestants," but he is probably thinking (in Indian) that they are the main religions that are not Indian religions. Paul thinks of the neighboring Native American Church members, for e.g., as practicing an "Indian" religion. For breakdown of church membership in Ball Club see footnote #21 above. Cf., Ch. 29, "Midewiwin: Grand Medicine," and Jackson, in Paredes, 1980.
32. 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., Miller, 1967). 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 -- in this case all one has to do is stand outside and look around to know that. From that point of view it is 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 -- that you can not 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 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 white man would do -- and it is 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 at the time 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.
33. One of the reasons why traditionals did not think much of a person who converted from one religion to another was that changing one's fundamental beliefs did harm to the individual. 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 is also a reason they were not too keen on letting whites "convert" to the Midewiwin.
And if you are changing from one religion to another, you are doing wrong. And since wrongdoing and the effects of wrongdoing are contagious, those who are more traditional sometimes avoid those who have converted. And since wrongdoing in general starts negatively working on your mind, it is hence "doing something wrong for yourself."
34. "The second class" is the second or younger generation that is coming along.
35. "The first class" is the older generation, basically the first ones to encounter the Christian churches in the Ball Club and Bena area that are discussed here.
36. "The first class" basically listened to but did not in the end pay all that much attention to what the early preachers were saying; they "didn't mind" them, they didn't obey them, they didn't follow what they were told to do by these preachers.
37. Generally Indian traditional religious practitioners do not ask for money. They accept gifts, and usually give those gifts away. Cf., Ch. 29, "Mi-de-wi-win: Grand Medicine," Ch. 30, "An Indian Curing Ceremony," Ch. 31, "Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking and Bone-Swallowing Specialists," and Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."
39. Many traditional individuals carry an animal hide and/or something else from nature as part of their spiritual belief. Paul carried a weasel hide, and often also a mineral (metal) of some kind; he also wore a single bear claw, with sea shells. See discussions of weasel hides and other spiritual things-that-lived-a-life that help one "exercise power," in Ch. 28, "Power," Ch. 29, "Midewiwin: Grand Medicine," and Ch. 22, "Drums." Many simply refer to something like a weasel hide as "my hide."
40. What they are saying is that somewhere in all of what Paul said about the statues and images just being reminders there might be some truth, although it is not necessarily evident to them just exactly what that might be.
41. There must have been at least a place to eat and sleep somewhere out by the barn.
43. Your duty as a member of "the Indian nation."
44. Paul did not like to leave Ball Club, the place where he now lives . . . even though he frequently does. But whenever he would go, for e.g., to Duluth or Superior, he generally would not stay long . . . pretty much like Old John Smith himself. Cf., Ch. 40, "John Smith 'Wrinkle Meat.'"
45. "My Indians" refers to the particular group of Indians to which Paul belongs.
46. That was The Christian and Missionary Alliance Church and School at "The Mission" at Cass Lake. The Mokahum Indian Bible School closed in 1978. (Haskins, 1998.)
47. In part Paul was not able to "spend a little time there on Sunday" because of physical difficulties associated with his childhood paralysis that made walking a bit difficult, and in part because Paul felt he did not have the right clothes to go to church there on Sunday.
48. Whenever Paul talks about "the people" he is talking about Anishinabe, which would be his personal first choice of a term to identify his group. When he says "the people" in English he is most likely simply translating the term from his primary language.
50. This is a reference to the distaste many Indians have about taking up collections in the churches. See Paul's comments earlier in this chapter.
51. Note that for Paul, and at least for the individuals of his generation, the "word" of God is spoken in the Ojibwe language.
52. "Confession" and "Penance" are the common terms for the Roman Catholic Church's Sacrament of Penance which is also known as "The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation." It is one of seven Sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church "in which the faithful obtain absolution for the sins committed against God and neighbor and are reconciled with the community of the Church. . . . By this sacrament Christians believe they are freed from sins committed after Baptism." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1422, §1446.) Penitents "confess" their sins to a priest and, if certain conditions are met, the sins are absolved or "forgiven" (by God, not the priest, as Paul points out). One of the conditions is that the penitent firmly and genuinely resolves not to commit the sin(s) again.
53.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, above all else. And if you cannot keep your word, you cannot be trusted. And if you cannot be trusted you are not welcome in the group, any group.
56. And perhaps eternal happiness as well.
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