|Tim Roufs||extended search|
When Everybody Called
Timothy G. Roufs (Ed.)
Treaties, Allotments, and Self‑Government
As I, Buffalo, am getting along around seventy-five years, I had time -- lots of time -- to think over the treaties and programs which my folks acted upon. When I was a boy I used to listen in on the meetings of the older class and the discussions in their councils.(1) I was born in 1900(2) and I've been through councils -- lots of councils -- and I've listened to the older class when they were unsatisfied with their government. They had government programs in those days pred'near the same as they have now. And just like now they went by the rulings, and they discussed their problems in open council. And with the new rulings and all that stuff that the Ojibwa had amongst the whites, they were willing to work with the whites as far as they were recognized to do so by the people. So the great chiefs, the leaders, the old-timers, discussed with the younger ones, and the younger ones discussed different things with the old folks. They were all interested to hear one another talk: the great leaders, the old folks. That's the way they learned. And I've heard the old-time Indians talk to me in my boyhood days after the councils. They were real old councils, before the New Deal came in.(3) And in those days they had councils, and they had councils, and councils!
In the councils and after the councils and almost anytime they got together they would talk of even older times and older treaties. In the very old days The Council of the Ojibways asked the great President for certain things. The group of The Council, which they called "The Council of Ojibway," was from the State of Minnesota, and that Council was recognized by the Indian people who lived here.
I heard that those way-back councils were good for the Indians. They made a go of it. The Council of the Ojibways took good care of the Indians, but then the government took over. The councils them days had a voice. They would send three men they trusted to do their business. Sometimes they picked the right man, sometimes they'd pick the wrong man.
There was nothing secret in their discussion. I've never seen anything secret in our council discussions. Their councils were well noticed.(4) They notify one another that at that date we were all supposed to be there -- those in the surrounding reservation. The posts and the scouts gave notices(5); the young men were sent out: "We're gonna have a meeting." So we had these meetings, and through the meetings we discussed the problems.
We recognized visitors when they listened in to our council business. We let them listen in. And those who listened in enjoyed hearing points from the Indians.
We always were respected by the ones coming to our meetings. Those with education have to hear what this area is asking for. And if we don't say a word the education can't do much. And then they'll go and discuss what they've heard at the Big House in Washington. They'll discuss that with our Representatives of the area. We had good Congressmen. We had Congressmen that understood the people by going to the meetings and listening in. And through the meetings -- which they went to with the Indians -- they tried hard to help us. Well, the main thing . . . they always look upon the Indians for better education and better understanding.
In my time we always had some of our people educated enough to understand English. We had government schools in my time, and those government schools sent out Indians that knew how to write. We had some that knew how to write shorthand too. We had some good men in them days.
Take Morrell -- Bill Morrell. He got a position, I think in the Indian Bureau at Washington.(6) I think he was up there in a higher position and he did the best he could with the people in Washington and with the people in this area. And I think things went along very well. Bill Morrell worked for the Indian Bureau at the time. He understood the Indian. He talked Indian with the Indians and they understood him. By translating what he knew in English, and what he read out in translating and writing, I think he had a big trust from the Indians. Ya; they trust him.
We had other boys too that had an education. They were looking for a betterment of our area, which was kind of hard too, you know. We had comers, far and near, that would want to ring out(7) their problems. So we listened both to the ones with education and the ones with experience: With education we helped the Indians, and the old class helped them with their experience too. Well the older class had the experience, and they had laws -- rulings -- which were set up earlier by the tribe.
There are treaties that lie before the national American Indian. Treaties were made way back, and out of those treaties the old experienced Indians knew what to do, where to respect the area they live in. I hear(8) they discussed many treaties way back. About 1814 the Indians had meetings. That's what I understand anyway; I never looked deep enough for the actual treaties, but I know there were treaties and that there are treaty books that have the numbers of these treaties that were made with the Indian. They all have a number -- certain treaties; all these treaties have numbers from way back. I know those treaties exist. They were made to help improve the area we live in. There was in the olden days a set‑up agreement for a program with the Indians -- and the friends that came here to live with the Indians -- to make our country strong and firm. I think these programs were well set up . . . from what I hear.
With education coming in we can figure that stuff out. And the treaties read what rights we had under those treaties. They're from 1847. And they're also from way back, around the neighborhood of the 1800s. All along that time there were treaties. All along solid and strong treaties were handed down to our Federal War Department(9) to stand by and administer. These treaties were made for peace, years ago. Those days treaties were made so the Indian would lay down his war bonnet, lay down his guns, and make peace with friends.
We made peace with our friends in America, way back in years. Now this is peacetime. We want peace in America. And when we made peace, the whites all started living the Indian way of life -- hunting and fishing. The whites had legal hunting and fishing after that. And they moved on to our lands.
After we made peace the Constitution and Bylaws of the whole State of Minnesota(10) reads that the Indian is to be restricted by a law, and that the Indians are to be instructed what the law will be. So they taught us in school. And they tried to teach us the white way of living, but still, even after we made peace, the Bylaws of our own national Indians, which were made with the Federal and State, were administered by the War Department.
It was kind of hard for the Indian to understand some of the things the government was doing, but the government always listened to the Indians if they could get the right group, the tribe, together. There was a group of Indians that was against a lot of things we worked on, but the majority of the Tribe usually passed our Resolutions. I think when we went to Washington and asked for payments we got them because we worked properly as a group to approve certain acts.
I think there was nothing wrong with what we did: Everything was done well by the majority vote of the majority of the people; that's what we worked by. In those days we worked by the votes and the majority of the people.
Things were OK if we got a good man in there in Washington to work with us. You have to have a good man there; you have to have a good Congress; you have to have a good Representative. But it is hard for a Representative to go before other Representatives in Washington that don't understand this Representative from that Indian area. Now they understand, mostly, because we have write‑ups. The Representatives now have read about different tribes, different claims, and they know the state laws they're using to develop their areas. But earlier on, the other Representatives didn't understand the different tribes.
And it was also a little hard for the Representatives to work because it took such a long time before anything got to the House of Congress; they had congresses in those days.
And it seems to me that later on, when they were dealing with the whites, there were . . . you might as well say . . . tricks‑or‑treat up there in Washington. Our Representatives go up there to the House to make a fact of their promises, but when they get up there they run into snags. It's pretty hard to know what you're gonna run into up there. There's other people up there at the House. There's people coming from all over. It's a hard situation. Then when you tell them your story, they don't know whether to trust you neither. See? I always remember that. I represented the Tribe one time, but it was in Duluth not Washington.(11)
The Treaty of 1889(12) was the last treaty . . . or close to the last treaty. The treaty reads, "As long as the river flows and the sun will shine, these treaties will stand for my children." The chief said that years ago. They have the numbers of the treaty in Washington.
Our chiefs signed the treaty. But how could they sign that deal over when the treaties before them lied? A treaty should be followed by all parties. The chiefs had the power to sign alright but the other treaties that came before still lied. And besides that, this treaty read, "Until you are educated we will help you handle your affairs. After fifty years(13) you'll be ready to support yourself and to handle your own affairs. That's when we hope to be ready to give you a settlement." Well, there should be a share in handling the affairs anyhow -- according to the by‑laws -- even if the chiefs did sign the treaty. But when some of them signed those treaties it was just like the government representatives were holding candy up for them if they signed. If that candy looks good, you're going to take it.
But those treaties were never filled anyway and that's what's stirring the people up. These treaties were un‑finished. The Tribe's Legal Services(14) now wants to search that and find that. They want to find the truth of life. And they must be finding it in the Capitol at Washington because they have the numbers of the treaty. They have the numbers, so they must be finding it.
The government issued the land in the 1889 treaty . . . or they said they were going to issue land.(15) The treaty of 1889 was a big promise regarding the land, and the people waited, and waited, and waited for the treaty of 1889 to be settled. There was always something coming before the Indian. There were problems with the Indian situation which we were told we should live with. They promised eighty acres apiece, for each individual, but some of them only got forty acres . . . and that became a big problem for some of us.
Very early on I began to wonder why some of them got forty acres and some of them got eighty. This eighty acres of land was promised in the Treaty. There was a treaty man right with the War Department and the Minister who came and told the Indians that. When they were still talking about the Treaty the government sent men to walk through this area -- this area of the Mississippi Indians -- to visit the Indians and promise the Indians what they would do for them. They were standing forward before the Indian promising them that they shall receive the land to be allowed to them. But they didn't have the time to pour it all out -- to explain to the Indians why some of them got only forty acres. I think they did do quite a bit for quite a few others while they were here. But they left when their time was up, when their journey was up. Probably their situation was that their funds ran out. That's what I always figured to myself.
So I asked my folks, years ago when I was still pretty young -- when I was six, seven years old: "Folks, I heard a lot about a treaty at the meetings. When will that treaty be settled?"
I took interest for the Indian.
I've asked them many‑a times since then about the land situation. The government gave my sister who is a few years older than I am -- maybe four, five years older than I am -- forty acres of land. She got forty acres of land, which I know of. The government shared it out for allotment. And those that were born after this happened wouldn't get any land. In 1900, when I was born, it was too late to get in on this land which was issued out to the Indians by that treaty.
This was the way it was supposed to be according to that treaty. My sister Mary got forty acres, and of course I wasn't born in that era. After I was born, in 1900, they weren't giving out land anymore. This treaty was signed in 1889, and my sister was old enough to receive land from the federal government allotted to them by that treaty. Some of them were supposed to get a hundred and sixty acres. The treaty wasn't quite clear. I don't know why they didn't get all their land. Well, I think they were supposed to get a hundred and sixty acres. But there was too much land given out because the Indians, at that time, didn't want to farm. They wanted to hunt, so they gave them a lot of room to hunt, really . . . they gave them the reservation. But these allotments were held in trust for the Indians. My sister got a nice piece of ground somewhere around Cass Lake but it was held in trust.
My mother got a little land too. She got a very good allotment. I think she got eighty acres, which was on Leech Lake, but that was held in trust too. So I listened very closely because these allotments were held in trust for the Indians and I wanted to find out what that meant.
In Indian we talk about o‑n^‑kii; that’s your allotment. o‑n^‑kii means the earth -- that piece of ground -- is yours to settle on. You're supposed to settle on your allotment, not own it. Ya, if you got an allotment, I'll say, "gi‑gii‑w^‑n^‑kii" -- jii‑w^‑n^‑kii, that's what it is. I was too young to be o‑n^‑kii, but the rest got an allotment. maa‑ma‑o‑n^‑kii‑wIn means there's all‑together-ownership of the tribe. maa‑ma‑o‑n^‑kii‑wIn is a tribal land to settle on -- Indian land . . . a reservation.
That was altogether different in English. I found out that a “trust patent” is for “trust land” where the federal government is still holding it. The trust patent reads, "Your land is held by the Federal Indian Department, by the Bureau of Indian Affairs." And the letter they received continued, "So if you want to cut any timber you have to go to the Indian Office and point out your land. There's a surveyor in the Indian Office and he will go show you the land." So in English you could own the land but not use it, and in our Indian language you could use it but not own it. That was confusing to us.
But the part about the Indian Land Office showing us where it is was very well done. They had a blaze(16) all along the forest, and inside of that were their tracts of land with individual ownership -- trust ownership. And that was very well done.
But with trust patent land they have to report to the government what they're doing to that land. That's how much the federal hangs onto it yet.
After they were allotted land the big question was "Where is that land? Is it surveyed? Are the boundaries marked? Who owns it? What can they do with it?” At first they didn't know where their land was. But sooner or later they found out where it was. They got that letter telling them where their tract of land was, and the surveyor in the Indian Office showed them where their land was . . . if they wanted to know. So that was very well done too.
But it took time to handle Indian affairs in those days. We had good agents, but it still took an awful lot of time. We had people that were willing to work for the Indians, which I appreciated. They did well for us, but the government workings were slow.
The allotments to the Indians were held in trust so that the Indians would work and live on them. They were supposed to clear land to plant a garden and everything. They always had timber enough to build log cabins, which they learnt to build, and which they had done before. There were a lot of log cabins those days. They built these log cabins because the logs were free and the price of lumber -- sawed lumber -- wasn't so high. They were able to buy log cabin lumber, so they built homes, they built places for their families, and they did very well. They even got horses. The even got chickens. They even got home necessities for their home farms. And they took care of their stock very well.
But the timber situation began to act up before the Indian. In this area they began cutting pulp. And they'd cut eight-foot boards for lumber. They were cutting on land which belonged to the individual Indians through allotments, but the allotments were still held in trust by the government. But still, they all got busy logging.
By working in the woods they received money off of the trust land in wages. They were living on their allotments at that time, so they also received money for their timber. They received money for their timber, and they received money for logging in the woods. A lot of those people who had timber and who worked in the woods had three, four hundred dollars saved up in the bank and reserved for them. They made almost all of their money from the logging. These timber cutting people did very well -- to them -- but people still began to wonder about the land.
All this time -- up to when I was about seven years old -- there was no action being taken about giving additional land to the Indians that only got forty acres. I went to school when I was six years old. I went away to school and I came back. When I came back from school I understood English pretty well -- at least I picked up enough English so I could understand enough to get by. I read a little bit too, and that helped me to understand.(17) When I came back from school I said to my folks, "Why is it that Mary got only forty acres of land and some of them got eighty acres?”
I began to wonder a lot about the promises of the Government. "Why were there some who got only forty acres? Is it that they were short of land? Is it that they were short of issuing out land in the allotment division of the land department?" I never asked the government officials questions about that, but I've asked the Indians. The Indians were always waiting for the other forty acres, and they were always talking about that question. They were waiting to get their full eighty acres. Some of them got eighty acres -- which they were entitled to -- but some of them complained because they still only had forty acres. So they began to get alarmed.
Later in years -- when I got to be twelve years old -- the rest of them still hadn't received that other forty acres of land by the time I came home from the Tower Indian School. Some of them still only had forty acres. There were some who got eighty acres, but these were a married couple. Some couples got eighty acres apiece. So by having two of them in the family like that they got a hundred and sixty acres. That's a big track of land, with timber. That was very well. It was all very well if they got eighty acres. But if they didn't -- and there were some that didn't -- this was still a big question to them. "Why? Is it that they were running short of tracts of land?"
“But allotment wasn't meant to be for a land acquisition for the Indians,” that’s what the government told us along the way. The whites, of course, were getting land . . . they were working to get homesteads. For the Indian . . . we were told . . . allotment was for the purpose of health and welfare. Indians were given land -- trust land -- to build houses of their own to keep warm in -- which were mostly log buildings. Some of them had money enough to buy lumber. They were getting along good. They bought necessities. They bought food in the olden days. They also could get the food that they needed from natural resources. They had wild berries, wild rice, maple sugar and all that -- besides receiving money for other people cutting timber on “their” lands and money for working cutting pulp. Considering all points, I think the administrator did very well administrating, in those days.
Well most generally Indians thought they had interest out of this timber and out of the minerals. But one old Indian said, "As far as the land you sell, all you own is the top eighteen inches, the depth of the plow. That's all you own. The federal has the rest. The federal says the rest is mine, children, underneath." That's a pretty good view there that the chief had. The chiefs knew something. They knew what's under there, and they knew that the lower soil -- the minerals and anything down there -- belongs to all. That's the way they read it.
But most Indians thought they had the timber rights and mineral rights and that a certain percentage was supposed to go to that tribe of the people of the area. They felt that's why that was a “trust.” The government administration took over management of Indian lands, and every year they're supposed to give the tribe a certain percentage from the resources. A certain percentage of that timber and mineral rights was supposed to go to the tribe for the Indian, and part of that was supposed to go to run the tribal government of our area -- the governing body of our reservation. And they had that certain percentage included in the Treaty -- or at least that’s what the Indians thought.
That trust was in the hands of the Government. But how much did they put in there for the Tribe? How much did they give to the individual Indians? They gave two dollars, at times, to each and every individual -- and there were a lot of Indians. I remember, about 1920, two dollar payments. Sometimes we got fifty‑dollar payments, each and every one. . . . And sometimes, about 1930, we got twenty‑five. So we never got payments all the same, every other year like that. We got a payment out of that bucket -- what I call the interest -- from the mineral claims. A certain part was put in, a certain percentage -- ten maybe -- I don't know, but they had a certain percentage to put in. That's the way I was told. I think that's the way they run it. So that money “is in trust” too.
And besides that, the land is valued, and the government sells a lot of stuff off this land, like mineral rights and everything. The land which was not lost in the allotment program will never be settled; and it will never be sold. This is the Indians' land. There's lots of money in this country, and lots of people are spending lots of money coming in here to this area, but the lands we still have will always be ours.
And who's getting the money spent by the visitors coming in here -- the tourists? We aren't getting it. White people come through here to visit us and ask us, "I thought you guys had a lot of money. This is your land. What do you call that then? This is your house. You're supposed to be rich. You're supposed to be one of the richest Indian tribes there is. We read across the ocean that you're well-off here. The way they announce it is that they say, 'Our Indians up there, we take care of them.' Yeah, that’s what they say. But where is the money? Who's doing it? Who knows about that? What can you call that?"
“We still live in wiigwaams."
"Who's taking care of you?"
"The Federal Government switched it over and told the taxpayer, 'you take care of 'em, here!' So the taxpayer's taking care of me here. This country right around here takes care of the Indians here. My neighbor next door says, ‘that Indian's hungry over here, but that government administration is so damn slow it takes six months to a year before they give 'im a piece of bread.' He says, 'he's gotta eat right now. It's cold!' My friend, my neighbor over here, he's the one feeding me, and he's paying taxes for me besides. He's feeding me and paying taxes at the same time, and the government sets up there and says, 'I'm handling his affairs. I'm handling his security. I'm doing everything. I even got his mind.’"
"What do you call that? Is that fair? Is that educational?"
"It's a deep, deep cut, we call it. Ya. All the time, all the way through, we've been treated like that."
They give us a few dollars, sure. We use it up. That's our money, so it's up to us how we use it. See? Don't think for a minute we don't know that. We see that, and everybody else sees it. Ya, tourists that come from across the ocean see it too. "My gracious," they say, "you ought to see the way they live!"
There were quite a few Indians in those days, scattered here and there. Some of them moved from different reservations to Leech Lake. Leech Lake allowed people to move in, so the in-comers had valuable land by the lakeshore. Some of them selected their land by the lakeshore. But some of them selected their land in the woods -- which they called a "commissary." The Indians called the woods a commissary. A commissary is where they get their food. The woods had natural wild life, natural resources, and that was a pretty good deal.
But somewhere around 1912, 1914 -- after I left Tower Indian School anyway -- the government called a lot of these Indian people in our area capable of taking care of their own business and their own land situation -- which they were(18). See, before that the government was saying that the Indian didn’t know enough to handle their own affairs. But by then the government thought the Indian had education enough to handle their problems. That was very well. So a lot of them finally got a fee patent on whatever land they had.
A fee patent is a big thing. When they got a trust patent -- which they did early on -- they could do anything they wanted to with it, most generally, but the land was held in trust for them by the Federal Indian Department and they have to report on what they do with the land. But with the fee patent you're on your own. Sooner or later they passed the law giving out fee patents. You don't have to pay tax on land held with a trust patent, but if you get a fee patent you have to pay taxes on it. I first noticed fee patents coming in about 1912 or '14 -- about the time I came home from Tower Indian School.
So it crawled up into 1914. We were at home on the Leech-Mississippi Forks.(19) My step-dad had lots of land there, which was deceased land.(20) His wife died and he had a big tract of land, which he was logging. He was cutting the timber on that land. He bought a team of horses, and bought things that he needed for their logging camp. He had a camp there, and that camp was very well done. So we all lived off of that land, out of that land of his. By then the land was in ownership, private ownership. It was fee patent land.
First he got a trust patent. I said, "Dad," I said, "are you going to take that trust patent?"
"Well I have to. It was sent to me."
"Who called for that? I never heard that in the Council, but maybe I missed it."
So it went along in years that way and finally his land became fee patent land. My step‑dad eventually got a fee patent for all the land he owned.
"You know what a fee patent is?" he asked me one time.
So I said, "A fee patent means that you have to pay taxes on it when the taxes are due."
So he started to pay taxes on it. And the taxes kept going up and kept going up, until he couldn't hardly keep up. But anyhow, eventually he had to sell the land.
Fisher bought it.
I had some of that deceased land from my father and mother. And since my father and mother had a fee patent, I had to take it in fee patent. So I got a letter, "Your land is willing to be bought back by the Federal Forestry. We'll give you a dollar and a quarter an acre for that forty that you fell in heirship to from your folks."
All of this land was going through land acquisition -- which at that time we didn't know they were doing. The Forestry began to pick up all of the Indian lands that they could -- the total Indian lands -- and the problems from that action are not settled yet. . . .(21)
After that action of getting the letter from the Forestry I took notice and saw that they were picking up a lot of this reservation’s lands. And it was all underpaid land. That's the way they got it.
"It's underpaid land." I said, "How come? Is there any money for that?"
"Yes, we got a lot of money."
Well what could I say? But anyhow I thought a lot about the Forestry buying our land. Well, a dollar and a quarter an acre was what most of them were paying for that land at that time. The value of the land was so low and a dollar was valuable to those who were thinking about selling their land. They had to live, and so a lot of them took the money. OK. Very well. So when they signed the check they let the land go. See, that's the way that worked.
So I asked a lot of them one time, I said, "What do you think about the fee patent?"
"Is that fee patent land? Is that where we'd owe taxes? Was that productive land?"
Productive land continues to produce every year. Forestry land doesn't. On productive land you are supposed to produce a crop on that land every year. If productive land is valuable, you should get higher than a dollar and a quarter an acre.
I remember one time talking to this guy at a meeting in North Dakota. I think he is living yet. At that time we had land, and they had land. He told me, "I got land, and all this land in the River Valley(22) belonged to the Indians. At one time they got seven cents an acre for it, because there were no trees on it. But the land turned out to be productive and the ones that bought it turned around and sold it for twenty dollars an acre," he said, "because it was now productive land."
That's the way that land business goes. So what can the poor guy say? He hasn't got enough money to kick about it. Anyhow, in those days we always had the welfare and rations to live on. We always had to have work and everything, which maybe cost money to the State. The Indian already signed the check for their land. And it went along again and again that way . . . so far . . . so when . . . so where. . . .
But the money situation in '18, '19 was not too good. People began to have a hardship, and it became difficult to get money. So that's why a lot of them sold their land at that time. But a lot of them -- those that could -- got wise and kept their land. Pretty soon they said to one another, "let's keep that land." They knew they had productive land. There was a lot of maple in that land, if you wanted to cut it. There's a lot of soil -- rich soil, very rich soils -- on some of that land. Some of them still have their rich soils at this present time. That's up near Winnibigosh Dam.
From there on I began to realize that this land value began to pick up because people who bought the land wouldn't sell for what they bought it for. It was valuable land. It was productive. It was good on natural resources, and if you used it for planting garden it would produce. You could raise nice potatoes on it. They didn't have to use fertilizer for many years on that land. It was natural.
In the twenties they began to work heavy to try to thresh out the land questions for the betterment of the Indians. But the Indian wasn't -- we weren't -- educated enough to settle the land claims . . . or our administrators favored a job for their own self over settling the land problems. Maybe they did, but they still tried to help us.
“Well . . . so if they're having a good time, let ‘em alone,” they’d tell them. “Even a little boozing doesn't go at the House. There should be no fooling around along the road. If you're boozing and fooling around, pretty soon they'll lose faith in you."
They'd tell these guys to be careful on that road because they're going up there to Washington to see the big wheel.
Well, some of them failed on it. That's our weakness. The ones that went up there got the trip, and they got the enjoyment of the expenses, and they enjoyed themselves up there, but when they came back they didn't have anything else. Oh, some of the representatives of the tribe were going up there all the time – or at least it seemed that way to some of us.
Sometimes before you go to Washington you have to go through St. Paul. Our local representatives that were trying to find out about the Reservation problem started to go up there to Washington but I think they only got up there as far as St. Paul when they came back. They didn't even go to Washington, to which they were supposed to go. The representatives were older fellows; I mean older guys. They're dead now. A near neighbor of mine told me what happened. He wouldn't have told me but I found out because a letter was sent to the Bena Council. It was a Council letter -- a letter to the Council.
One of my neighbors who stopped by my place in Bena said, "We're having a council meeting. We're gathering at the hall."
"You going?" they asked.
"No. I ain't going to council,” I said. “I'm busy working. Whatever they decide, that's good enough. If they brought back something for us that's good enough for me because the majority already voted on it. And besides, I got enough here anyway."
"Well ah . . ." the guy said to me, "well . . . you gotta come."
I walked back out to the garden with him and was then busy working for myself again in the garden. That's what I had to do. I had to work, not too hard, but I had to do garden stuff.
"Ahnn. . . . What's this council for?" I asked some of the other by‑passers who were on their way to the meeting later on.
"They're gonna read a letter. You can read a little bit, can’t you?"
"Oh, a little bit; ya. I could understand a little bit," I said, "but I got stock to take care of, and I got chickens to feed, and I got too much work to do. I don't think there'll be much going on there anyway. There'll be enough of them there to handle the business. It's just a letter they want to read anyhow."
"These guys went to Washington; they were supposed to go to Washington, but I think they only went as far as St. Paul. For some reason they came back. I heard that’s what that letter’s about."
I didn't say any more and that guy I was mostly talking with went on to the council meeting. They held council just across the road and after a short while I saw somebody coming from there to the house.
I went in the house and took off my hat. Pretty soon a messenger came running in, "You're supposed to go to the meeting."
"Oh? What for?" I said, "What do they want me for?"
He said, "There's a letter there that they can't read. Nobody can explain it very plain to the Indians."
"Well, how the heck am I going to explain it to them? You got enough there already who can explain it. You have a high school boy there that's reading it."
"Well, maybe they don't trust him. Maybe he'll translate it different. And some of the others say they couldn't translate it either."
"Well, I'll go and try anyhow."
They had some people in there who I respected, so I went along anyhow.
I got in the council and the Chairman of the Council handed me a letter. I think it was from some Governor of the State of Minnesota addressed to the Chairman of the Local Bena Council. It was from the Governor at the time. I forgot his name. Anyhow, I read the letter.
The letter was just a short typed note. It said in that letter, "I'm sorry, my friend, that your visit was interrupted. I'm sorry that you had an interruption in my office, and I hope we'll do better next time you visit me."
I looked up at them: "Interruption?"
I laid the letter down. Those Indians were all looking at me, waiting to see what I was going to say about those short words. I laid the letter down. I just laughed, "Ya . . . " I said. I was sitting right next to the Chairman; I picked up my hat, and I said, "Ya . . . 'interruption.'"
Well, I turned to these Indians and said, "'Interruption,' that's a pretty big word. The nearest I can figure it, is that our representative most probably went to the Governor first, to get a full backing from him before going to Washington. The governor doesn't state that in the letter, but . . . ," I said, "ah, that is why they went . . . to get a full backing from the Governor -- which is a proper way to do it. You should go to the Governor before you go to Washington."
"It also states in that letter, 'These delegates from this area were going to Washington to represent the Tribe. They represent the delegation up there.' It looks to me like somebody went in there and bothered the visit between the Governor and these representatives. Ah, I believe . . . ah . . . the way I'd put it . . . was there anybody drunk in there?"
I looked at that party that I had in mind who might know, the Indian that went with the representative and the Chairman. He was sitting there takin’ it all in, but he wouldn't say a word.
"Was there anybody in there drunk?"
"Yes!" somebody sitting there came out aloud with the answer.
Right away this guy I was looking at said, "Yes. . . .”
And then he continued right on about it, “You ought‑a seen that woman that was up there! That delegate took his wife. He shouldn't have taken his wife along, but she wanted to go up there on expenses. She went and got drunk and came in and told the Governor right out! You oughta‑a seen her finger stick right out as she was telling the Governor off. The Governor closed the door. He told them, 'Well, the next time you feel better, you can come, but you're not feeling so good now.'"
"Ya, she's the one that was drunk," he said.
"Well, that's the nearest I could put this," I said.
That was a good man that did that. He was an awful smart Indian, well educated. I think he was a graduate of high school. He often handled the Indian problems for the Indians, and he represented the Indian on a lot of occasions. But all the further he got that time was as far as the Governor's office. His wife got drunk . . . and he was feeling pretty good too they said later on.
I suppose she jumped right in to help her husband, which is probably why she told the Governor off there. But finally the doors were closed.
Then they ran out of money after that and they came back home.
That's how they broke up that meeting. That was the drawback.
Ya, "interruption." I remember that word. I remember those last three, four, lines of that short letter to that Council -- to the Chairman of the Council, to that representative.
That was at Bena.
"I'm sorry that you had a little interruption in my office. I hope you do better the next time."
When I first looked at that letter I was figuring around, trying to find out what interruptions they had. I thought, "Somebody might‑a started a fight; or did they fight?; or did they get drunk?; or was anybody interfering?"(23) Then I asked that question in Chippewa to the one delegate that could verify what happened.
"Ya," he said, "his wife was drunk right now. We told her not to drink, and we told him not to drink. Sure; they were drinking somewhere in St. Paul."
John Bobolink came to me outside after I got through reading the letter. When we got outside he said, "I read it like that."
That Bobolink -- John Bobolink -- said, "Well," he said, "I tried to read that letter and explain it that same way to them. I went through high school. I translated it just the way you did, but they wouldn't believe me. They were bound to go get you," he said. "I explained it the same way. I told them somebody was drunk."
"So, ya," I said.
"You, they believe in you. They wouldn't believe me."
"Noh, noh, that ain't the way that letter reads," one of them at the meeting figured. "He ain't reading it right, because that Governor was good to us when we were down there," this other Indian said.
So they came and got me to settle it.
"How do I know about it?" I said.
See, I read it the same way Bobolink read it. I just read the letter, that's all. After I read that then they told right there what happened, and they all heard that.
Bobolink is about the same age as I am. We went to the same school, but he finished high school. He and his wife finished high school. He's a good man, but they wouldn't trust him. They wouldn't believe him.
"They wouldn't believe me," he said. "I read it like that too."
When he told me that I started to laugh. Well, maybe they thought I'd be getting on higher ground there. Maybe they thought I'd tell the Indians something different.
So I just laughed.
This guy that got the letter -- the Chairman -- was supposed to be one of the greatest chiefs too. He had been a great chief, and this was just to verify to him, to show that everything was still OK with the Indians and the Governor. He was the chief of the Council. He was chief of that Council. George Martin -- Martin . . . George Martin. He was a neighbor to me, and after that meeting I went over to his place to get the straight facts of it. So they told me there, "Yas," he says, "we had an awful time with that woman. They both drink. If I'd‑a known they were gonna do that, I wouldn't‑a went with them. When they got in St. Paul they got drunk and they went and seen the Governor. That's no good. You have to be perfect to go over there. You have to go without liquor." That George Martin was a good man; honest.
See, it came out what happened. And after that most everybody got out of the Local Council and they wouldn't recognize the Council anymore. So I came out too. I learnt there that there was no use to having the Council. I felt like quitting, so I quit right there and I wouldn't do anything more with the Council. You couldn't get a good man to accept a position for quite a while after that. I wouldn't go behind that one guy anymore if they sent him for a representative. Everybody quit there then. That's how the Bena Council busted up that time.
Lots of the Indians didn't like the New Deal because they didn't understand it. It took a lawyer to read that stuff and explain those laws and rulings and everything. The Indians weren't educated enough to understand that. We had leaders, we had education -- in our Indian language -- to help along, but the Indians were so far disturbed on that fifty-year treaty that they didn't trust the New Deal.
We had an awful time to bring those old timers -- the Old Indians -- to understand the New Deal. They feared(24) -- they didn't trust -- the younger class. They didn't trust us educationally.
"They don't explain that little right," they'd say.
They didn't like the New Deal because they didn't understand it, but mostly they didn't want to take it because the time for that final settlement was expired and their land claims were still not settled.
I heard Indians talk about that lots when I was on the board in Bena. I told them, "Well this part of the New Deal, I think it's a pretty good thing. But maybe we're not educated enough to figure out all of what's going on."
“If we'd get our claims settled by the New Deal -- all the land claims and everything -- and they throw us out on our own in our area, I think it would take quite a while yet before we'd be better off. And then maybe, what I think, we should have a little more education in our tribe."
And then right away after that, in the middle of the 30's -- before they even settled the New Deal -- they came along with what they called a "self‑government body." They had some kind of a plan for self‑government. It seemed to me -- it looked like to me -- that the government employees or officials or somebody in the government were the ones that drew it up. So instead of getting together and getting ready for the fifty-year period to end, I don't know why, but there was some kind of settlement put forth where we were to govern ourselfs and go out as citizens. That came in 1936.(25)
The Indians just didn't want to go to those self‑government meetings when they explained self‑government. When they went in to those meetings they didn't understand the law. And a lot of them were not interested in it anyway. They were just looking for that fifty-year final settlement which we were supposed to get.
The majority of the Indians didn't like to take that self-government plan either, but on certain votes -- by just thirty percent -- they had it passed. By just a third of the votes they got it in anyhow. They made laws that they could do that by a thirty percent vote.
We were interfered with by that self‑government plan, which, you might as well say, was forced on the Indians. The Indians didn't like that. They didn't like the new organized way because they had too much overhead to pay as a tribe. They had too many employees and it cost the government too much. Then, in addition, it seemed like they wanted us to take over the tribal matters. So when the self-government set in the Indian fought against it. They didn't want it.
When it became ‘36, ’35 there was a Constitution and Bylaws made up by the State -- with the State, and by the State. The new Constitution and Bylaws was turned down by the Indians. The Indian said, "The treaty was never filled and we have not come to the end of the fifty years. Does the new Constitution and Bylaws make a difference with the treaty?"
They always said -- the officials said, "The treaties will stand forever."
That’s what they said.
"Why didn't the treaties stand before you handed down the Constitution and Bylaws?" the Indians asked the government representative.
"The Constitution and Bylaws read according to the law,” the officials told us. “There will be enforcements coming on for the treaties, and they will be rising before the Americans."
Under the Constitution and Bylaws it reads, "You have to do the things that the Constitution reads." These Constitution and Bylaws were explained many times before the Indian. Still they didn't approve it. The only way they could get it approved was on a thirty percent vote. The Constitution and Bylaws of the national American Indian reads, "It should be the majority of the Indians that approves this." But the majority of the Indians were against that! They didn't like it because the treaty was never taken care of. "We have treaties," they said. "We have treaties, and the Constitution and Bylaws say the treaties will stand. But will they?”
The white Government figured in fifty years’ time the Indian would have school enough and be advanced enough to have his own land and housing and everything, and live in the white way. The government said that by then the Indians would have education enough so that the younger class could help themselves along. And they said that at the end of that fifty years a final settlement will be handed to the Indian. And that's one claim they still have.
But before the fifty years came up the idea of that self‑government came along. The employees’ forces, you might as well say, helped on the government side to bring on that self‑government. They had claims, which were recognized as one‑sided, but then the Indian didn't say anything at first. 'Course the Indian knew what was going on; he lived here. Well sooner or later he had a voice and the Indians were against that.
Because the Indian knew if we take that self‑government and approve it we're handing over our rights. They knew that later on we'll be just like a white man in law enforcement, and would be pressed upon. They thought there wouldn't be any reservations later on.(26) Later on we wouldn't have to be just like white men, but still the government would be there holding one hand. We're not let go as a citizen.
We're not let go as free Americans and then if we’re self-government besides who's going to work with us on treaty rights? They're still holding our hand, and we're still looking for that final settlement. How are they going to use us? And what's that “citizenship” they're going to give us?
They never brought that up because the government employees always said you can't abolish the government or the Indian Bureau. The government employees said the Indians are not ready for a final settlement on the treaty. When that Treaty of 1889 was signed the Indians were told that they would be taught to handle their own affairs as an Indian, and they were told that when that fifty-year period was over they would be eligible to handle their own affairs. So that treaty's down.
We know the treaty's down, but who can overthrow the government operators that made the laws that put it down? It gets so that we don't believe in nothing in America, because the treaty lies. It said that they were going to settle -- that's the treaty of 1889. The last time a government treaty official went through here was when they were talking about self-government.
But during the meantime, during that first fifty years they said, "We give you enough, a certain percent of this iron ore mineral and timber rights.(27) You get a certain percentage of that." Well, that was okay. But a certain percentage of that went to the government officials and government employees, for the tribe. We were supposed to get a certain amount -- a certain percentage -- from the time that this land was filled with white settlers. The government officials wanted to administrate the Indian for at least fifty years, and they did.
At the time the people had jobs in the woods. They had jobs in the mines. They were busy working in the mines and the woods, and they didn't have time to go to meetings. And the Federal and State were supposed to put a percentage of the outcome of timber and iron ore monies into the tribe's funds. The Federal was supposed to put in so much.
"But where is that money?" they eventually said.
So they finally decided that they were going to take it into their hands to find out how much money was coming out of the natural resources which were supposed to belong to the tribe. They wanted to find out how much money they had, and how to make a good account of where it's going to be spent. They wanted to know how much money we can make out of natural resources with more employment. All they're interested in now is jobs. But there were the old treaties to think about. And they started to ask, “Where's the mineral rights? Where's that money that we were supposed to get from the mineral rights? Where's the report of that money. How much did it take to run our government from a‑way back?”
They don't know how much it takes to run the government. They want to know how much it takes to run the Indian reservation. Who's spending that money? And if the local Indians see that money going some other place they aren't going to recognize their Local Council. If their money's coming to their reservation and all they hear is that it cost money to run the reservation government, to pay for our service -- civil service -- then they'll be drawing back from the Local Council. Well, maybe they’ll see that it does cost money to run the reservation. It really costs money all over, now. Everything's so high. 'Specially when the cars are coming in high priced. We use machinery and everything for the reservation and the Local Council, and all that stuff cost money.
And they began to wonder how much does it take to give each and every individual the money he's supposed to get? Is there any interest building on what we're supposed to receive? How much interest was there? How much did they take out in this certain year? For four or five years they never heard anything about the treaties in the Local Council. Where is that money? For many years there's been no money. How much is already spent? How much belongs in this area? See, it's the money that is a drawback. They don't know how much they're supposed to get or where it is.
And they started thinking that maybe the government administrators wore out the natural resources.
In the meantime we were suffering. The Indian was out in the cold. Many of them had suffered in this hard snow and long winter. They didn't have enough to eat. They go out amongst the woods and nature to find food. It is like wild life is still our own way of life. They would sneak out there because they already were afraid the government had a control of them.(28) xxx_old_29 Now they say that we have the rights for legal hunting and fishing, which is in the book. It never was thought so before.
They were shy. Yes. They feared the state was coming in. When that self‑government came in on the reservation the self‑government had a hold. Both the State and those out of state(29) xxx_old_30 had a hold. There wasn't a final settlement of the 1889 treaty. This wasn't finally settled. The Indians still have interest in it, even without the treaty recognized.
Sooner or later they put it all up to a vote.
"Well, that'd be up to the vote," they decided.
So I think on a thirty percent vote all of that stuff went through. We were out‑voted. Now that we have a right to vote, we're out-voted anyway. So we have no power . . . no power. We lost out. They accepted it on a thirty percent vote and we went along as a self‑governing body of the Reservation. So . . . well . . . we went along . . . yes . . . but it was on that thirty percent vote. That was in '38, '36; ya -- the time that Roosevelt was on there. Roosevelt was a Democrat, wasn't he? Ya; that went in when the Democrats were in.
So for a while everything then looked brighter, you know. I think they worked along pretty . . . fairly . . . good. That is, we got lots of help out of that session when Roosevelt was in. We got a lot out of that administration. We were recognized. And they showed Indians how they're going to help them. Well, anyhow, some of them got houses after that. That's how my mother's house was built, the one I’m living in now. And at that time we had help from the government for building the other houses like it.
But still . . . they went ahead to work and shoved that New Deal and the self-government on us without the support of the Indians. That came in about 1935 and it took effect in 1936 -- about 1936. We didn't understand it. We still don't understand a lot of it. But we understand the old treaty. We understand the old treaty and we expect that it would be honored. We look forward to that. But the white Government still said, no, we were not capable of handling money. They said the Indians were not capable.
Anybody is not capable of handling money when he's hungry. Anybody's not capable when they come into your country and rebuild it without your permission. We have foreigners in this country that don't know how to read and write, and when they get in this country they make a good living. They make a business place of all the things they’re interested in. They take interest in life. Why? Because the government helps them along. The government gives them big loans, and they appreciate that. Sure; they're willing to return those loans, and they work hard to do that. But the Indian, well, they make him a promise of that loan and he's still waiting for it.
Maybe the land is worn out. When we have a Council trying to look into questions like that something else always comes up. We're still waiting. We can't make the laws; we can't make laws. We can make a request for different forms of help -- and we do, and they tell us that after this, and after that the settlement is coming. "This settlement is coming." That’s all we hear.
When we get an answer to that, then we can go ahead and organize. Then we can go ahead and make requests on changing the laws. I think the lawyers worked both sides according to their law that the whites are protected with. Well, we use the law too – at least we try to use the law. There's no one above that law. But there is someone smarter, who in a smarter way still holds the Indian's honest hand down.
They pushed the New Deal on us and this New Deal . . . well . . . it took a lot more out of us than we got from it. So finally when relief was ordered and all of the government workers came in -- after we were signing on to the New Deal -- well, then we dropped our hands. Because we were hungry we had to go along with the whites, even though we are a nation of our own.
We're not citizens, some people tell us, but we try to join with the whites to learn a better way of life. We are trying awful hard. That's what hurts, because the whites didn't go by the treaties awful hard. That's what hurts, because they didn't go by the treaties -- which lied beforehand. There are a lot of treaties in Washington and we know we are covered there. But it'd take money, it'd take time, to look for those treaties and sections of that law that the government originally made to get this nation moving, to get the ball going.
We know that. We know there are books on it. I've always told my Indians,(30) xxx_old_28 "You know, this is dangerous what we're going into, because the government is waiting for that treaty-settlement period to come. When that period comes, it's up to him to talk, to tell us. But it's up to us to maybe keep working to get a settlement."
When the time for that settlement period was about to expire I think I was still on the board at Bena -- I was still active in the Bena Council anyway. And at that time the government asked for an extension of time to settle the treaty. We were in time of war and they wanted to use that money to help out with the expenses of the war.(31) xxx_old_29 So they called for an extension of so many years and somewhere around '39 they got a twenty-year extension.
When WWII broke out we had a lot of problems. These problems were hard on the Indian, and hard for the Indian to understand. I don't say I understood it all, but I took pity on the people going across the ocean to stand and fight for their country -- to stand for me and others. I shouldn't care what went on or how much it was costing, because we still had a job, and others were still able to get a job at that time. But because of the production for our war cost the government a lot of money we had to delay our treaty payments. We did that to help the others across the ocean. We did it to help the poor kids sleeping out there in the cold. War is something to think about. So after a while we commence to be stronger by helping one another. And after while we slowly got peace. But a lot of our boys, I'm sorry to say, had a hardship from the war. If anyone realized what we have to go through to keep this beautiful country and to keep peace in this beautiful world, if they realized what we have to do to help one another, they just had to join them. And we did. At anytime, anywhere, we have to join in for friendship. That's what I believe in, and I think churches and all of the people(32) xxx_old_31 believe in that too.
So the land and treaty questions went along for years, and in 1950 they were still going on. "You're going to get a settlement, total settlement," they told us. In the Council meeting I even heard them ask, "When is that total settlement about the land coming? When are we going to get the rest of the money for the value of the land?" And the land dealer -- or the representative from the federal government office -- told us, "It's pred'near due. In 1950 you shall receive the money that's held in the land trust. In 1950 there'll be enough for everybody. Everybody will have additional money." Even when I walked in to that meeting in Duluth they told me, "You're gonna get lots of money pretty soon."(33)xxx_old_32
We were all glad to hear that, and at that time we all thought the treaty might come due and be settled in the 1950s. We thought that was in the treaty.
But before the extension expired and they even got close to giving us a settlement they came along and asked for another extension. In 1950 they asked us -- asked the Indian, "We're in war time . . ." -- that was in 1950(34) xxx_old_33 -- " . . . we have to use that money for the War Department. Will you give us another twenty years extension on the treaty payment?" It was approved, and we gave them a twenty‑year extension, to 1970, '72. They approved the second twenty‑years extension because they said we were in time of war again and the money still wasn't there.
In the meantime, of course, the new Constitution and Bylaws were thrown over the top of the people in the thirties. The majority eventually went for the Constitution and Bylaws because they were interested in welfare and all that, and the Constitution and Bylaws had tried to serve the people.
The Indians voted for the State to take over some things, like the welfare, but not housing. When it came to housing, after Roosevelt, the government forgot the nationals of America; they forgot these poor people living here in tar‑paper shacks. So in the early ‘60s the RBC(35) xxx_old_34 got together with the BIA(36) xxx_old_35 to talk about housing. They got their heads together. The officials got together and they planned a housing for all. They planned everything. And by the mid-‘60s they gave us that housing . . . but we have to pay that back. It's sort of a loan.
They took our land as security for the houses. It's a ten‑year contract . . . I think. They didn't give us that housing. We have to pay that back. We know we have to. But that could be difficult because we don't have any work in our area. We have no industries. The Reservation Business Committees have been calling for industries to be set up. They planned an industry one time, but some group wouldn't let them in for some reason. We would like to have some industries come in to help the Indians but most of the Indians are uneducated and only experienced with common labor and the industries now-a-days need trained labor. That industry they planned for was a good thing but it didn’t work out.
With that industry they could have had a chance to put some money in for schooling. They could have helped their children with schooling. But instead, they had to go on welfare, which they didn't like, but they had to go. The welfare is all right, but they keep us down with that. We have no industries . . . but now we have housing. Sure; they moved us into housing. But how are we going to pay for that? Welfare now pays big money for housing, but who is responsible for the extra costs of the new houses? Who? Why? Here I am. I try to make it easier for the taxpayer by living in an old house -- my mother’s old house. The new housing rulings that they have here now are fouling things up. It seems to me that there are two sets of rulings that we have to go by, the Indian and the State. We need to work to have a clear understanding of those rulings.
Then there was a tax reform, a tax issue. At about the same time they were talking about the housing -- and even earlier than that in some places -- they wanted the State to tax everybody the same. They wanted to tax the Indian. We are paying taxes on everything but we're exempted from property taxes in the reservation. We feel hurt that our white friends and neighborhoods have to come in this country to live with us on our reservation and then ask us to pay taxes on our land. They have jobs which they understand. Maybe they got jobs they're trained for. We're not trained for their kinds of jobs. We're just trained for hard‑work labor. They know how to operate machinery. They make big money, and they're paying big taxes on their properties and on their income. Yes. But it hurts the one that couldn't pay to ask them to do the same. It hurts us.
Along in these years when they were asking us to pay property taxes we didn't know what to do. Already in 1950 we asked, "What about our treaty which is supposed to be settled in 1950?" It was 1950 that we were supposed to be settled and turned loose as citizens of America and until that time it was certain that we were exempt from some taxes: If we’re not turned loose by the treaty then taxes shouldn’t be an issue.
Many a-times I went along with the government and spoke to the government as a representative of my people. One time -- in 1945 or '50 -- when I was speaking in a session I was told . . . in one of those years . . . "You're not a citizen."(37) xxx_old_36
That struck me hard.
"What am I?"
"You are a national. Did you ever file for citizenship? All these that filed can prove their citizenship, and have become citizens."
"I never filed for that. I'm a national."
But in action -- acted upon me by the Constitution and Bylaws of the new State law -- I became a citizen. They told me . . . they told the Indians, "You automatically became a citizen." That's true. We became a citizen without papers, with no identification, no proof. By words they just made us citizens -- even before the New Deal, when I was still living in Bena. I didn't like that, but I gave up hopes of changing that. I'm out‑numbered on that issue.
So even when it comes to the tax issue I've asked over and over, "What about our treaty?"
Now, I think, the treaty issue is also picked up by education and Christianity -- the churches. They both say, "Do right in America. Do right. Fill the promises. Fill the treaty with the poor or whoever has a problem. Do right for them." So that's coming. This rightness, this truth of life, shall make a great America, if we do right.
We're trying to be neighborly. But no one group can do it alone. In life we have to form together in the majority. We have to work together, and by working together we trust one another. Now we don't trust. We're such a small group working together that we don't always trust one another nowadays. We don't know how to vote for State representatives to help work together with us. We don't know who's going to do right. Even our white neighbors have told me that they feel the same way.
And so I began to wonder, "I think I don't know anything now." I trusted many of them many years. It's not getting better; it's getting worse. Now we're outnumbered. Now, here we are; here it is.
I was on the Council here a few years back when we had a land dealer session . . . or maybe it was a speaker from tribal land acquisition. I asked one Indian land dealer, I said, "In 1950 we were supposed to get our land settlement. In 1970 we were supposed to get it. They moved it up to 1970. Now lady, would you please tell me when we are going to get settled with that money that we've been promised?"
"Very soon. It may be 1972, '74, '75. You'll get so much,” and she mentioned the amount.
I said, "Does that include the land in Duluth? Does that include this boundary that marked off Nett Lake and Two Harbors?"
"Ya. The boundary goes to Two Harbors, then turns."
"OK; that sounds good. That'll be a lot of money. That'll include iron ore?”
"Ya, you have iron ore on this."
“Does that include White Earth?”
She didn’t answer so quick with that White Earth question.
White Earth is different. At one time the government tried to move all Indians of this area to White Earth. Some went; some didn’t. Some of the Indians that went over there got their own farms later on, but they rented their farms to the Germans. I think they did better by renting the land out because the Germans knew how to break ground. They had the equipment and knew how to prepare the ground for planting. And if the ground was all rocks, well then you had to fight with those rocks too. But sooner or later the renters started to talk them out of their farms. That's when they sold their farms.
I've heard that one of the old chiefs on White Earth would go out and tell the people not to plant anything on their land. There's a reason why I could see that. He probably told them not to plant anything until they got a settlement -- a trust patent or a fee patent. That's probably why he told them not to improve their land. Improved land is easier to sell than dis‑improved land. And if they didn't raise anything the government would give them something to eat, and if they raised something then the government would cut that off. Naturally they would. See, that's what he was probably saying.
A lot of the traders made good money at White Earth. The traders tried to help the Indians by giving them money, but a lot of the Indians didn't realize how to handle it. Maybe the traders gave them money and maybe they would stop in a place for a good spend until the money was gone. So maybe the traders helped them, maybe they didn’t. You never can tell sometimes.
Nobody was surprised when -- in spite of what the land acquisition lady told us -- nothing happened in 1972. And continually nothing happened. Nothing happened with the State either. And all this time they were very careful about how much information they gave the Indians. It was a slow down with information from the government. It was hard work keeping track of what was happening. It was hard work just thinking about it.
And it was hard work trying to get the people cooperating. Everybody was for himself it seemed like. Everybody kept his mouth shut. They didn't say anything at the meetings. They didn't say much anyway, but they’d sit and visit and talk amongst themselves and ask, "Why? Why are they doin' this?" They were always asking and wondering . . . wondering “Why this?” and “Why that?”
And then they would tell one another an encouragement story: "Well, we might get a final settlement. We might at this certain date get the help from the government." They always looked forward to that good story. That'd make them feel good, see? Well then, sometimes it comes through, sometimes it don't.
You know . . . we didn't know -- they didn't know -- what laws had to go through Congress before we got a payment. But our Congressman in those days knew that the Indian up here in the north was really struggling in severe weather. They did all they could, but still at the same time they had other work to do for others too. They were all coming in with their requests, along with all the government employees.
Well things began to brighten up. The Indian was never turned down in the Forestry Division, because the Forestry Division wanted timber‑wood for the people of the State that needed wood. They didn't treat the Indian bad on that.
It looks to me that in 1972 the Legal Services of the Reservation took the treaty matter in their hands. When all the Business Committees of the Reservation got together -- when they got their heads together -- when all the officials heard what that old testament of the Constitution and Bylaws really said, it seemed that there was something under there that was very loose. Very loose! By then the treaty could be pulled out, and the Legal Services of the Reservation could show people in government the number on the treaty. Then, after that, the Constitution and Bylaws was doing all right. The Constitution and Bylaws now dictates and presses the law on the people. In 1972, some Indians didn't like that.
Well I kept quiet about what I heard on the radio, but they were discussing about that money in the Council. Nothing's happened yet! But it came over the radio that we're supposed to get a bunch of money. You know what I heard? On the radio they announced that we're supposed to get $276 in January! You see how much money has been eaten up by paying those employees from a‑way back? It wears out over time, and it’s now worn down to $276.
And the more you spend time on getting that money, the more money you spend. Otherwise, if you had that money, you could have spent it in our area and made it easier for the neighbors we live with. They might want to sell potatoes. They may sell fruit. Maybe they want to sell something else. With this money sitting wherever it has been sitting there's been no community action whatever with it. It was supposed to be “community action” to help the others, regardless of who they are. You're supposed to help others with that money they're going to give you. So, well, what's the $276 doing?
A guy who listened to that same radio announcement told me, “You're gonna get some money!"
"Well. . . . I think it was $275."
But the Pillagers(38) xxx_old_37 got $400. They got three, four hundred, and they got it two years ago. We never got ours yet. The Pillagers includes Leech Lakers too. Of course they had a different boundary. And they got good men in there for the Council.
So there I am yet, waiting for that settlement.
This is something to think about.
One time I told an attorney down at the Court of Claims, "You know, it's a rough deal. I don't know if I should go along and listen to that stuff about our Treaty settlement. We were waiting for that fifty‑year period to be up. That fifty‑year period's almost up now, and they haven't done anything about settling our treaty claims. It states right in the book what they're supposed to do. The government's supposed to make the move, but they haven't moved yet. Now they want to reorganize us and give us a New Deal over that old treaty that hasn’t been settled yet.”
"What I mean to say is that they won't pull together. There's a big jealousy there. If I try to do something to improve my situation, there's jealousy for me -- on‑day‑In‑Mm -- because I'm trying. There is some jealousy in there, and that isn't safe. If you get too far advance, some crooked guy'll do something to dis‑appoint you or to dis‑appoint the Council."
"Well," he said, "I'll tell ya, if they're re‑organizing, let 'em go ahead. If they can make it good, all right. But if they don't, all right too. If you don't like any meeting held by the Council, you don't have to go to it. Let them re‑organize if they wanna. You can be neutral. It don't hurt nobody to be neutral. A lot of people like to be neutral. They just get tired of talking about it and they wanna rest. They wanna be neutral."
So that's the advice I took. I didn't know where to follow or where to hang back, so I just remained neutral. Now if I want to go to Council and talk about it, I'll go; if I don't, I won't.
There's no harm in that. That doesn't hurt us. That's your business. By God I liked to hear that attorney. And he convinced me that you don't have to accept any responsibility of any position. Give the responsibility to the better educational, to the better man than you are. Maybe there's better men than I am, with better education than I have. I would be glad to give it to them and let them have the responsibility and the positions. They understand a little better and see better.
So we're looking forward for a better education to straighten this matter up. Without better education, I don't think we'll make it. We have good education -- better education -- coming. When some of my people get educated enough so that they can handle our problems, then we can trust in what they find out. When a white man goes along and understands our troubles in our drawback, that helps too.
Up to now when they get our people in the Council meetings the leaders often can't get them to act together in cooperation. And until they get the people together the government can't go ahead to work with the Council. Without the community working together, learning to get together, I think it's not going to brighten up in the area. One government official tried and tried but he probably knows that they'll never get together. It's been tried; yes . . . many times, but we can`t get together and we're failing all the time on some things. Our farms are still there . . . the way they were years ago. We tried the self‑government but our farms are there still idle.
Now Community Development(39) xxx_old_38 is set up and they want to find out how to fix those things. I think Community Development is going to do a lot. I think this community work is going to make a betterment and re‑develop the areas they're interested in working in. And as far as I can see, the RBC, and all them -- the social workers, the VISTAS, those who are working for hunting and fishing rights, the Conservation and Forestry and others -- will find and see that the Indian is also going to try and help himself . . . if they give him a chance.
But for now, you might as well say our business has slowed up. The businessmen of this area like to see things go well amongst their people -- among their customers -- and when their business slows up they do something to fix it. What can we do to fix our slowdown? What's holding us back? We haven't gone anywhere because we never had a chance to learn how to fix things, and sometimes we feel nobody's siding in with us to help out.
It could be that there are too many whites coming in and they're coming too fast.
With the people moving in they're growing faster than we are already. We just have enough people to go around and live. I think that's the way it looks. I heard some of the the Indians remark that they think that's the way the government wants us, and they think they'll keep us there too. Why? Because we're Indians, a nation of our own. As I said before, I heard white people talk: "I'm sorry, you are a nation of your own. You're not even a citizen until you get approval by the government."
“So who's the government?” I asked.
“That's the U.S.”
“Who's the U.S.? Who's running the U.S.?”
“So that's a drawback. The officials are running it instead of the people.”
Well, you see, the self‑government came and the Indian was supposed to govern their own reservation. The government finally decided that maybe we can handle it on our own. They thought we would make a boundary, not to discriminate anybody, but just to have the authority to say the word on who's going to run the Reservation, the Indian or the State. There was a long discussion to plan how they were going to run it, but the Indians were eventually given that power under the State law to decide that. And when they're given that power by State law they see that they can use this law of the State of Minnesota, or whatever state they belong in. Then they ask: "Is that State law going to affect the treaties?"
I don't think the treaties would ever be affected by the State law. They use that State law on the old treaties. So the old Indians always felt that these claims would be upheld by the State . . . sooner or later. But maybe the young Indians don't listen to them treaties anymore because they have better education. So maybe it's a good thing that the State doesn't file on those treaties anymore.
But our Local Council still has a right to file on those treaties. And if they file on them -- if these younger class Indians would know those set ups and file on those treaties when they see fit -- I think they would continue to get someplace. I think that the re‑development and everything that was done to help our younger generation is going along well . . . up until so far. They have schooling, trades, and they can go anywhere amongst the whites and work with the whites. Now they have better roads, better housing, better homes, better food. The food is inspected by the government itself -- by government men. You can see that already in my time. The younger class Indians know the educational system and recognize betterment. They also believe in the white councils, and in the clubs(40) xxx_old_39 of the area they live in right now. They believe in the law enforcements and the forestry re-grazing and all that, and maybe in their long run that will help them to work for the betterment of all the people of this area.
So maybe that's why the young educationals are commencing to see what is the best way to clarify the minds of the people our area.
So whatever we leave -- whatever I leave -- I hope the young people will use it. I hope they consider what is discussed here for the betterment of their family. Children are coming forth behind them, and they'll want to learn it. We all want to learn it.
The biggest deal is to help the children learn how to live from our past and have a good home. Plant a good garden. Plant, and work hard while your eyebrows are dripping with sweat at times. The only way to make peace at home is through cooperation with friends. There's no one group that can do it alone. We have to join together. We have to tell them what we need. We have to tell them what we wish for.
If we do it right, by the Constitution of the State laws, I think we'll get results. We will get results if we handle it good. In the past we have seen lots of results by trying to help the guy who is trying to clarify the problems that the people have. If we join in and discuss our problems with him in the meetings, I think we'll all find a better way of life. True love of our country gets stronger in that way.
So by working in love and by minding my own business -- which I've always tried to do -- I think I feel good about my work in life.
3. The New Deal was a series of government programs carried out between 1933 and 1936, during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, intended to relieve problems brought on by the Great Depression of the 1930s which began with the stock market crash of 1929.
5. "Posts" are people who are "well-posted" about what is happening. They can be elders, and they can be those generally keeping a eye out in given areas, i.e., those who keep track of what is happening in an area. "Scouts" on the other hand are young men who sometimes serve as "runners." Cf., Ch. 4, "Siouxs and Scouts."
6. For detailed information on Bill Morrell see materials collected by Pat Houlihan, available from the University of South Dakota American Indian Oral History Project (Sanford N.C.: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1979).
7. People from far and near would want to sound off ("ring out") and talk about their problems.
8. Paul indicated that he knows this because he heard it rather than knowing it from personal first-hand experience. It is very common for native-speaking individuals of Paul's age to distinguish whether they have actually heard or seen or done things, whether they heard about something, or whether they know something to be true just because what they are talking about is part of the very nature or essence of the action or thing that they are talking about. That information would be conveyed linguistically when they were speaking Anishinabe. Paul Buffalo often clarifies that by saying something like, "I have seen that," or "I was told," or "I have done that lots of times," or "I was there," or "I know that."
10. The Minnesota Constitution was initially approved 13 October 1857, by non-Indian residents of the Territory of Minnesota in a special election. The general area was officially the "Territory of Minnesota" from 3 March 1849, until 11 May 1858. Minnesota became the 32nd State of the Union on 11 May 1858 with the ratification of the Constitution on that date.
12. The Nelson Act of 1889 was essentially Minnesota's version of the Dawes Act of 1887 (General Allotment Act) and was intended to relocate the Anishinabe people of Minnesota to individual allotments on the White Earth Indian Reservation in order to "expropriate" their vacated "surplus" lands for transfer to companies and non-Indian homesteaders. "These actions were illegal and violated the treaties which the US had made with the tribes, but the government proceeded anyway" (Wikipedia). See also footnote #15 below.
From: "History." Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Accessed 30 October 2018. http://www.llojibwe.org/aboutUs/history.html:
13. As the materials from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwa point out above (footnote #12 above.), "allotments were to be held in trust for twenty-five (25) years, upon which, Indians were then given a fee patent." Paul was still away at the Tower Indian Boarding School at the beginning of 1912, when the twenty-five years were up on the Dawes Act of 1887, and he began to pay closer attention to treaty matters when he returned from school to the Leech-Mississippi Forks at the end of the 1912 school year. His interpretation that the trust period for the Dawes Act of 1887 and the Nelson Act of 1889 ("Minnesota's version of Dawes Act") was extended for "another twenty-five years" is essentially reckoned from 1889. So what Paul refers to as "the fifty-year" period (25 years plus 25 years) ends in 1939, at the beginning of WWII.
Paul generally reckons the passage of time by events rather than dates. When he does give a date he most generally is first thinking of the event and then "translating" that into a date. Significant events for him include his first recollections at Leech Lake and in Bena, first going off to school, his years at Tower Indian Boarding School, joining his newly-remarried mother at the Leech-Mississippi Forks when he returned from the Tower Indian School (after being there for three years), WWI (beginning and end), the arrival of the Finnish loggers (ca. 1918), the arrival of the railroad and highways, his working for J. Neils Company in Cass Lake, the events of the Great Depression (including when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office), WWII (beginning and end), his time working in North Dakota, his times working in other locations away from Bena-Ball Club, and the various major treaty-related and community events, and other significant personal events of his lifetime (including serious medical events). Paul also sometimes remembers events primarily in terms of where he was living at the time of the event (even though he may then continue on to correlate where he was lilving with one or more of the other events listed). Cf., Ch. 2, "Bena Childhood," Ch. 35, "Boarding School Days," Ch. 36, "Jack Nason, 'My Dad. My Step-Dad,'" Ch. 37, "Finns, 'The Sweatbath-Men,'" Ch. 38, "Timber Days," Ch. 39, "Leech and Mississippi Forks," Ch. 44, "Churches and Missionaries," Ch. 46, Out There in North Dakota," and Ch. 48, "White Medicine."
14. The Legal Department of The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe is "empowered to oversee the Tribe’s legal affairs, provides legal analysis, legal representation, and represents the tribe’s legal positions." The Legal Department, "works most directly with Tribal Executive, Council and indirectly with Administration. The Legal Department's mission is to provide legal representation, support and advice in connection with tribal government administration, program development and tribal business for Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe." Anishinaabe Legal Services (ALS), a separate entity originally organized in 1967 as Anishinaabe Legal Services (ALS), was the first independent Native American legal services office in the country. The Regional Native Public Defense Corporation is a separate corporation funded through the Minnesota State Board of Public Defense and is partially funded by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the White Earth Reservation.
15. Treaties creating Minnesota Indian Reservations were begun in 1854. The Nelson Act of 1889 in Minnesota, and the Dawes Act of 1887 (General Allotment Act) nationally, subsequently mandated allotting tribal lands to individual households. This practice was slowed by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, part of "The Indian New Deal." The Indian Reorganization Act is sometimes known also as the Wheeler-Howard Act. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 also provided for self-government. See also footnote #12 above.
16. As in former days they "blazed" a trail by knocking part of a tree down and peeling it.
18. Franklin Knight Lane, United States Secretary of the Interior (1913-1920), established "competency commissions" to determine which Indians "were competent to manage their own affairs," and individuals who were deemed competent were issued fee patents on their land as provided under the terms of the Burke Act of 1906. According to one analyst, Janet A. McDonnell, ". . . the policy led to the pauperization of the Indians and the disintegration of the Indian estate." (1980, p. 21.)
20. What Paul calls "deceased land" is land that one inherits from a deceased individual (usually one or both of their parents).
21. The pattern of mixed ownership of land known as “checkerboarding” continues to be a problem on most reservations in Minnesota. In Minnesota the Nelson Act of 1889 and the Dawes Act of 1887 (General Allotment Act) (see footnote #12 above) created much of the problem. Various land acquisition and restoration programs have operated over the years: the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (Cf., footnote #15 above) authorized the United States Secretary of the Interior to acquire lands to provide land for Indians, and in modern times the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe's Land Department operates a Fee to Trust program whose priority is "to increase the Reservation trust land base, through land acquisition by purchase or exchange." Lands were also acquired in the creation of what is today the Chippewa National Forest.
23. ". . . Or was anybody interfering?" is a reference to the possibility that someone could possibly have been using negative power (jibik) for some unknown reason. Cf., Ch. 27, "Power," and Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women." While that was not all that likely to happen it is occasionally suggested or hinted at as an explanation when something significant and out of the ordinary does not go well. And sometimes simply raising the question, as here, is enough to send the message than some unknown factor might be involved.
24. In this case "They feared -- they didn't trust -- the younger class," relates to the fact that the old timers did not always trust "the educational," most likely because they did not always understand what education in schools was all about, and especially when the young children being educated in the government boarding schools were in many cases returning home having been (intentionally) acculturated into white ways, including speaking the English language. Paul's elderly neighbors, for example, expressed great surprise when he could still talk "Indian" upon his return from his three-year stay at the Tower Indian School: "When I came back I started to talk to my folks in Indian. They were surprised. Everybody told them, 'All he'll hear is English. You won't be able to understand your children.'" Cf., Ch. 35, "Boarding School Days."
25. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 provided for self-government. See also footnote #14 and footnote #12 above. There is, of course, a lag between the time a law is passed and when it begins to be implemented on the various reservations.
26. After the announced intentions of the government to relocate the Anishinabe people of Minnesota to White Earth (see footnote #12 and footnote #15 above) many feared that the reservations would disappear altogether. The Indian Termination Policies of the 1940s to 1960s heightened that fear and confirmed in peoples' minds that the earlier fears and suspicions of federal intents to get rid of reservations and force assimilation were justified.
27. Iron ore mining was an important feature of life in Ball Club and Deer River, and northern Minnesota in general, and several people in the area worked in the iron ore mines on "The Range," principally on the western Mesabe Iron Range.
28. "They would sneak out there because they already were afraid the government had a control of them," refers to the fact that for a long time the State of Minnesota did not recognize the rights of tribal members to hunt and fish on tribal territory and individuals felt they needed to be secretive about hunting and fishing "out of season" and when "poaching deer." Quite a number of years ago Paul was arrested by a State of Minnesota conservation officer for "attempting to fish without a license." He was insulted by the characterization of his activities as "attempting" as he says he had some "pretty nice ones" lying there on the ice. "Your honor," he reported saying to the judge, "if I didn't have the $10 for a license how am I going to get $10 for a fine? I'll take the 10 days." He served his time in Grand Rapids.
29. ". . . Those out of state," refers principally to the federal government, but it also includes some out-of-state companies operating in northern Minnesota in the logging, mining, and transportation industries.
30. "My Indians" refers to the particular group of Indians to which Paul belongs.
31. The Second World War (WW II), which lasted from 1939 to 1945.
32. When Paul talks about "the people" he is most often 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.
35. "Reservation Business Committees (RBCs) [are] made up of a chairman, secretary treasurer, and one to three district representatives. In practice it became a five-member governing body on all six reservations. The chairman and secretary-treasurer of each reservation are automatically seated on the 12-member Tribal Executive Committee (TEC)" of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. The six reservations include Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, and White Earth.
38. As a result of the 1855 Treaty with the Chippewa (Treaty of Washington) the members of the Pillager Band of Chippewa Indians (Makandwewininiwag) were resettled on Cass Lake, Leech Lake, and Lake Winnibigoshish reservations; these were further consolidated by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (Cf., footnote #15). Some members of the band re-located earlier, when the White Earth Reservation was created in 1867.
39. "Community development" includes programs like the Community Action Program (CAP), The Headstart Program, the Mutual Help housing programs on the Leech Lake Reservation, and the arrival of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) [now AmeriCorps VISTA].
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