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Flying Bird Image

When Everybody Called Me Gah-bay-bi-nayss,
"Forever-Flying-Bird":
An Ethnographic Biography of
Paul Peter Buffalo

Timothy G. Roufs
University of Minnesota Duluth

a note on tenses
a note on style

orignal tapes information

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Buffalo Image

Excerpts from Paul Buffalo Tape 82 -- VC 266B:

An Interview with Paul Buffalo,
Leech Lake, Anishinabe

(18 min., 1971)

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Excerpt A
TR: Paul, you have a few things here that you brought along today. Would you explain what these are, and why you carry them with you?
PB:

Ya, Mr. Roufs, I've always carried these. The Indian[s] believe in their Indian way of life. They believe in a Spirit, on earth, in their personal [lives].

And I have a weasel hide that I went along with all the time. And I show [it to] my friends in my hometown, and they ask me a lot of things.

This is tobacco that's falling out. This is tobacco that's falling out, here.

These weasel hides we carry, they lived one time on this earth -- maybe [a] hard life -- and they died. So, for luck, we carry them. Then we use them as a [part of our] Grand Medicine [religion]; when we go to a Grand Medicine dance we use them, [we] operate with them, and [we] dance with them. They dance with them. And that's what they do. The Grand Medicine [followers] are a strong . . . higher [i.e., are of higher power] than the beliefers [believers, i.e., those who believe in the Indian religion or way of life, but who do not belong to the Grand Medicine Society]. The beliefers are either side, either they go to church [as well as believing in the Indian way, or they do not], but they believe in God. But the Grand Medicine is really higher staff [i.e. higher position or rank]! [It's] strong, and they got a lot more power.

TR: In a ceremony how would you use one of those hides?
PB: Well, in a ceremony we take them hides out, We carry them. They got medicine in there that's supposed to give you health, that's supposed to give the others health, that's supposed to show you the better way of life. They're supposed to help you in your life. You believe in that and you work [meditate] for that. You [meditate] all kinds of medicine, ground [up medicine], and then you put that [medicine] in there [in that hide]. And they carry them [hides]. And this you respect. You respect the other one [other people since] they might have the same thing [spiritual power] too. So by respecting the others you are normal, you are normal [i.e., you are doing what you are supposed to do; you fit in well with others and with nature.] Do right, [if] you do right, you'll never be hurt, see. The other may do right [too], they'll never hurt [either].

But we got some destructors [who] hurt, or people that destructs [i.e. destroys] this [Indian] belief [by] trying to tear [it] down. We find that any where, in any church or any religion. [So] we don't laugh [at peoples' beliefs]. We don't pay no attention to little spots [i.e. peoples' shortcomings] you know.

But when it comes to religion the Indian had believed in their religion full in mind. And they believe in seeing things. They dream of things. They see things. And by this, by seeing things, they get results. Just as I said today [in a class], we get warnings. We get. . . . [When] we see something unusual that comes before us that's a bad sign. You notice in the books, you notice in shows, [that] when you hear a hoot-owl that's trouble. When he comes and hoots [its] trouble, [the] hoot-owl. We know now that when he squeals -- we have a screech-owl [and] when they squeal -- its' death. Bad sign. And [when] a dog howls in front of you, that's another thing. [Those all are] bad warnings. Everything has got a warning. That means [there's] something ahead that's coming. How do they know? How does them warnings come?

TR: Would you tell us about the warnings that you had in connection with the drum that you made a few months ago?
PB:

I have a drum down home. And they [the people of the community have] been asking me for two years -- [those that go to] the community hall, our community center -- to make a drum. So I answered them [finally, by making a drum]. I waited for them to give me a hide, but they didn't give me a hide. So I run into a boy that had a hide. He has cattle. So he says, I'll give you hide if you want a drum." So I says, "No." I said, "I'll give you two dollars for that hide." And it was a calf hide, [a] bull hide, you know. I don't know how . . . [big it is in feet and inches, but] it's pretty good size you know. So I took the hair off of there, and I made the drum. And [I] strapped it over [i.e., tied the two drum heads together by lacing], and dried it. And the day I made the drum it was [a] clear day. That drum, I took that drum, and [said], "This drum is for good purpose. Good for weather, good for people, good for health [and] peace on earth." I call it the thunderbird [drum, so I say,] "Thunderbird please help us. Thunders of all please help me.'' I was talking to it on the porch. And when I took that thunderbird, the drum, in the house, that cloud came up in a little bit, [and] about twenty-five [or] thirty feet away my tree was split by the thunder. That's the answer. Where did the lightning come from [that] split that tree? So I took and hit that tree three times [and] I answered, ''OK. That's what it will be." Then I had a thunder-bird drawed up [on the drum head] and [now] there's a thunderbird on my drum. That's the way we believe in things, ya.

 

   
Excerpt B
TR: Paul, another one of the signs that people frequently see, or used to see, are fireballs.

PB: Yes, fireballs.
TR: Could you tell us about fireballs and what they signify?
PB: Fireballs signify [that] sickness or death, or, [an] epidemic or something [is] coming. A fireball is another thing that they use. The Indians have a messenger [and they] send it off. They send a fireball off [as a messenger], it ain't a . . . . it's an animal stuffing. That messenger goes to visit this party [i.e., person]. Just think. They go visit. But when this [second] party sees this fireball [they know] it ain't good for him.

So . . . , I met one fireball one time, [and] this guy [my friend] said to me, "If you don't shoot that fireball," he said, "one of us is going to have trouble."

"Well, it's only a fireball,'' I says. "Why I don't believe in that," I says, "I'm young you know. I'm stucked. I don't believe in that."

"Yes!," he says. He's an Indian boy.

So I pulled up [my gun] and I shot it.

So [after I shot the fireball I says to my friend,] "I'll go there in the morning to see this. [I'll go to see] if there's any bones or anything, [like] feathers.

There was nothing but bark, you know. But this fireball came down the road and lit before us. And then [it] lit on a tree, on a Norway [pine]. And then [when it was] about forty feet [away] I shot it. [The] fireball come, [but because I shot it] nothing happened. I cured it. I stopped the [bad] message [so it] couldn't get to me. We seen a lot of them.

FLU: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

But there was a little sickness around, you know, that flu, ya. There was lots of them [fireballs] that year [that the flu killed lots of people.] Sometimes there's a lot of fireballs.

TR: What other kind of messengers do you have?
PB: Birds, owls, frogs, maybe, something that flies, mosquitoes. Anykind [of animal can be a messenger].
TR: How do you use these messengers?
PB: They use these messengers; they bring 'em in and they use their drum [to meditate the messenger]. And they drum for two [or] three days maybe. They talk to it. By talking to it [they meditate it. And] they fast for it too. They don't eat afterward and that gives them the[spiritual] power. And then they sent it [the messenger] out. That's all [done solidly]. A lot of things they used to do, [the] Indians.
   
Excerpt C:
TR: Paul, sometimes people are interested in listening to or hearing the Indian language. [P.B. understood the term "the Indian language" more easily than "the Ojibwa," or "Chippewa," or "Anishinabe" language".] Do you suppose that you could speak a little Indian for us, and perhaps do a little prayer and use your weasel skin [as] you might . . . if you were, for example, meditating your drum?

PB: Ya. I'll meditate this university. [I do that recognizing] that you have used me good [and are] trying to learn, a better way of life [by living] with the Indians [and learning,] as [an] American way, their American way of life. I thank you for asking me to help along, which I am old enough [to do because I'm able] to tell you what I could tell you.

There's many more behind me [i.e, in addition to me who] could talk the same as I do, but a lot of them won't say a word. They've [i.e., many have] told me they've tried [to get] a lot of them [to talk, but] they won't say a word. But a lot of them don't know what to say. Even I don't know what to say [sometimes]. But [after working with you all this time] I always got it figured out what you want to know.

Now I'm here to help you learn this [lndian way of life, I'm here] to help, [to] do all I can, to get a betterment for our people of the area.

I will pray with my own belief. I will pray [along] with the [words of] Christianity [to the] God, the Great Spirit on earth that loves us, that gives use the world for peace and happiness on earth. Oh!. . . . I'll pray for it.

[Paul Buffalo meditates UMD with a prayer in the Anishinabe language. The prayer lasts just under two minutes.]

Excerpt D
TR:

O.K., Paul, I'd like to ask you just one more question, if I may. And that is if you that is, if you could explain to us what the meaning of power is, and how it's used among your people?

PB:

[You want me to] explain the power [and] how it's used? The power is used by what you believe in. And if you believe in that power you fast for it, so many days. You got to fast for it and talk to your bird, pick out the birds, the trees, or they got namesakes of the birds a do-daym [i.e., totem]. And you . . . you believe in that some of them's got a bear for their namesake. It's a false namesake, ya. And then that way why they . . . they fast for these three days and they fast, they hang out clothes [symbiotic items of clothing], they give out food and everything, set it out and they give. And then they pound the drum for [a] cert[ain time, for] so many days. And they go through a lot of method before they empower. Then it becomes empower.

TR: How do they use that power, say for example, for somebody or even against somebody?
PB:

They just mention name, that's all. Mention name.

[PB does not want to answer this question.]

TR: What happens to a person who uses a lot of this, and misuses it?
PB: Well, if he use it if he don't use it right, it backfire on him . So that's why a people afraid of this. I wouldn't want to us it (power in a bad way) because I'm young yet. The old people they don't care, see, after they get old they just go right ahead with it. But the younger people they don't … they don't want no part of it, see? Because it's so strong that it may kick back and it may if it kick back it kicks back on you. See? It's taken up . . . it's . . . it's if you don't . . . if he's (the one you're trying to work against) got more power than you have, it'll kick back. When he kick back he'll overpower you then.
TR: In the community does using power cause a lot of jealousy and that type of thing?
PB: Oh yea, that's . . . there's a lot of jealousy like representatives in Congress and all that stuff you know. (PB does not want to answer this question on videotape.) We send out guys and they don't . . . things just don't go right. See? That's what they use. (If) they use that . . . never be a . . . never make 'er, that's . . . all they say. So (?) everything goes haywire. That's what they used to do.
   
Excerpt E
TR: Could you tell us how you ask for a piece of blueberry pie in Chippewa?
PB:

You know I had a lot of laughs over that. One time I says ah . . . I said to my . . . the next table I says, “pass that baa-tay . . .” , it's ah . . . apple pie, “Pass that baa - tay - mi - shi - mi - ni - /\ - bii - tu - sI - jay - g/\n - i - bash - kI - mI - /\ - ssay - g - /\/ - d/\ - b/\ - kway - \ii - g/\n - sI - gu - bun.” And everybody looked at me. “What happened to you?”

[Laughs]

I said . . . I said “Pass the pie over there.”

[Laughs]

ji - gay - tay - uu - zo - mi - nI - bi/\sh - k/\mI - /\ - ssi - g/\ - d/\ - b/\ - kway - jii - g/\n - i - ssI - gu - b/\n, that's “the pie” in Indian, blueberry pie and apple pie.

Gee.

[Laughs]

That's how it's made, the sauce and all that stuff you know, how . . . how it's prepared. And a lot of the jaw-breakers

[laughs]

[pause]

Anything else?

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