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When Everybody Called Me Gabe-bines,

Teachings from Paul Buffalo

Timothy G. Roufs (Ed.)
University of Minnesota Duluth

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"This project has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society."

"This publication was made  possible in  part by the  people of  Minnesota  through  a grant funded by an appropriation  to  the  Minnesota  Historical Society  from the  Minnesota  Arts and Cultural  Heritage  Fund. Any views,  findings,  opinions,  conclusions  or recommendations expressed in this publication  are those  of  the authors  and  do not necessarily represent those of the State of  Minnesota, the  Minnesota  Historical Society, or the  Minnesota  Historic Resources Advisory Committee."

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Power (1)

Paul Buffalo Meditating Medicine, Leech Lake, 1966.

Paul Buffalo Meditating Medicine, Leech Lake, 1966.
(See part of meditation below.)

Photographer: Timothy G. Roufs

There's a big log I go to . . .  an old maple . . .  a great big log . . .  a deadfall. When I'm sitting on that log I think of the Manidoo -- the Great Spirit -- and after an hour or a half-hour I feel better. I go out by myself and when I'm there I feel there is a guide on my body. I feel there is a guide in my spirit. We all know each and every one of us has a spirit; old Indians repeat over and over that your spirit is the one that's with you. And when you forget your spirit, your spirit can not be close to you and your spirit can not help you. But when you remember that your spirit is with you -- and that the Great Spirit is also with you -- they both come close to you and you're most generally not in danger. And if you are in danger they will try to help you. And they will help . . . somehow.

And after a while you just naturally feel better.

You can not see your personal spirit even when it's right there with you. And you can not see the Manidoo. But you believe in them and they are there, and you can feel them there. I don't see my guardian spirit animal -- another spirit -- like people sometimes do. Maybe the blessing I received from the priest keeps that away.(2) If I saw it I would have a right to tell about it . . . but that is mostly private.

I have been meditating like this most all my life. When we were young and coming into life we would go out into the woods and fast and things. Our folks were deep concerned on fasting when we came of age, and they told us when to fast and what to do . . . the boys. When a girl became "a different woman" -- about that same time in life -- her mother and relations took care of helping her passing through the change of life.(3) With the boys, the old men -- Medicine Men -- told us what to do. They told us, for example, that if when we're fasting we want to eat berries or something we should grab some charcoal and rub that on our neck. When you're fasting you can eat anything if you put charcoal on your neck. Before you go in the berries,(4) and before you hunt,(5) and before you do anything like that,(6) you take charcoal and rub some of that on you. That's needed. It's a sign that takes over the fasting and shows the spirits that you are there believing.

I fast. I still fast. Yes. Oh . . . at times I fast; at times I go without. When I fast I speak to the Great; I say, "Thanks; You have given me everything."

The old men told us when we went out to fast, "If He tries you . . . if the Great Spirit tries you when you've suffered and sacrificed . . . don't say anything; just say, 'Thank you.' You say 'thank you' because there may be better days coming. Everybody has to suffer, the same as you'll suffer. You're not suffering alone, each and every one has to suffer as they go into the world, and how a person takes his sufferings reflects to him -- and to his relations. When he takes his sufferings with a glad hand -- with both hands -- when he suffers and sacrifices with good will for one and all, the 'suffered' times one day turn to having a better life for happiness, for good."

When you are fasting and meditating you cannot only ask the Great for betterment all the time. NO. You have to suffer for it; you have to fast for it; you have to make sacrifice for it -- the same as I said before. And you have to work for the betterment -- for this world and for that great place in the next world that we're going in to. You have to work hard; you have to fast; you have to sacrifice; you have to pass the words on; you have to show the others how.

The old men told us, "Do that -- practice that -- and remember the great lectures from those that have been through life(7) and you will commence to help others for a betterment. And you will commence to feel there is power in doing that."

In our life we use ground up bark, powder, and a little wild roots for the betterment of others.(8) It's a mixture of natural things, but that's not all. The Medicine Doctor that empowers those natural things goes through something when he makes that mixture; he goes through some sacrifice. Indian doctors fast when they make medicine. They don't eat for two, three, days. They don't eat and that way they get out and talk with the spirit. They go through a ceremony like a priest would. A priest blesses everything, and that's what an Indian powerman will do too. Indians sing for power, they fast, and they talk to the birds and trees, telling them what their medicine's for. They talk to a tree, and before they take its medicine they put tobacco out to the tree -- a living tree like my big old maple that once lived a life.

Then they smoke their pipe.

The main part of getting medicines is to put tobacco on the ground as an offering for that brush or for that tree or for whatever you are asking to use. When you do that you say, "This is my offer for the healing of the next person that I'm going to doctor. You are a great power. I believe in You. And I'm sure that You believe in what I'm saying." We do not go out without the meditation from the bottom of our belief. We thank the Great Spirit, and give a little of what we have: We give a mouthful of bread to the animals, to the vegetation, to the sunlight, to everything that feeds in the resource growth of where we look for the medicine. We give what we ourselves use for our bodies.

For tobacco we use kinickinik, which we get from the red willow.(9) We always use red willow. In my day we never used any other leaves. We never did. We used just kinickinik of the red willow . . . but later on we mixed this with real tobacco -- white man's tobacco -- to cut the strength. We don't use any other leaves. Oh, some did -- if they got too hard up -- but it isn't too good. It doesn't work. When I have that white man's tobacco, I cut the tobacco by sharing it in with a mixture of kinickinik. The right mixture hits it.

And when we smoke that pipe we pray to the Great and talk to the plants. We say . . .(10)
 “I should thank all. I'm searching for some great medicine from this land and water. When I see it I wish, ‘I wish that You will help me with it.’“ 

“I hear the bird out in the water that answered. So I expect for the good. Good. We are searching for some great medicine that we used off from this lake. We are searching for all. So to do this I never let down the Great. ‘Thanks.’” 

Our tobacco is a great thing for peace in mind for all. We light a smoke with tobacco and then we offer any other thing we have.

"I have a sweetness here -- sweetened bread rolls. I cast it on to the water and land -- just a piece, a small piece of it -- just to show that I'm giving. The rest I eat. The rest we eat -- whoever enjoys it. This is for whoever will enjoy the bread cast upon the water.”

“And this other stuff that we have is a refreshment the people enjoy.(11) I pour it out into the water. I pour out on the land. And so I show great respect this way. I give great thanks for everybody! For us all. With that I'm happy to know that I remember what I have learned in the past from my old people. I know how they lived. And it was great peace in their time, when they lived. That's the only method they used, and that's the method we use today."

"It is wonderful."

"I thank Thee.”

That's the way we meditate and doctor. That's the way we do it, and that's the way I believe in it. I ask -- for the best. I show my appreciation so that I will be able to enjoy this medicine.

This is the first part of doctoring.

When you search for medicine you go all out and expect to find it. You will find it by first explaining to the Great Spirit why you leave home searching for it. And the answer will be there in good will. If you do good, the good will will be there. So when we search for medicine we expect something for the better to come out of it. We look forward to an answer by respecting the trees, by respecting the timber, by respecting the air we breathe, and by respecting the sun that shines and the moon that lights upon us.

So we do not worry.

It is a little hard to find -- to locate -- some of the medicine. It isn't all over, but there are spots where we find it. I don't always go to the same place to get plants and roots. I can go to any place I want, but, I usually don't go to the same place twice. I go any place to get the dope -- the medicine -- any place where it is growing. I use it from anywhere. With the meditation we have at the beginning of our searching we are bound to find it sooner or later. Medicine is a little hard to find sometimes, but in practicing my way of life and practicing searching out where it grows I just about know the nature of this growth and where it should be.

I have my weasel skin with me at all times. And I talk to it. He lived a life. He can help with whatever I ask, and I can ask him to help find medicine. This is the way of our life. I put tobacco out, for peace of mind, for good will. I take tobacco for enjoyment for all, for peace, for health, for betterment, and I re‑meditate for health. That meditation is what we look forward for. Without the meditation of each an individual -- which they each appreciate -- you might do wrong by taking vegetation without appreciation. Our meditation is the same -- it's just the same -- as saying, "We thank Thee when we find this." And then this medicine works for us as it works for the betterment of all. Everything is in it.

That's the way we use our method to show our appreciation, and to say, “Thank you.”

We have everything we need for our betterment. It has been proven in the past, all this. But still, we have to meditate before we go out to receive the medicine. We have a lot of crawlers in this area searching for food. Vitamins are in that soil. The requirements of life are in that soil. It's in this soil of this area. The hawks and the birds and the animals keep cool in this area. It's a beautiful woods. It's something that we have to respect and appreciate. We have to appreciate that we can come to take the best. And we do come for the best. What we wish for, it has.

If you don't put tobacco out when you're getting medicine -- in the spring of the year mostly, but also in late summer -- something bad may happen . . . and the medicine that you find doesn't want to work with you after that. When you are looking for that medicine sometimes you dig along on the bottom of a stump or tree or anything like that with your hand.

You know what?

Some of them dig a snake out when they do that. That isn't a good sign. It's a bad sign . . . a very bad sign.  That snake is curled up in there under the leaves. If Indians see that they'll say “Wh^^h$!!  No good!!  We might as well quit."

If someone finds a snake, treat them with some medicine that stops the effects of that snake. Use a liquid medicine. Wash your hand in Indian medicine. When you're through you can dump it away.

And . . . don't  . . . don't take that vegetation if you see a snake or any other crawler when you're out to get it.

And don't take those snake berries either -- kI-này-bi-gó-mi-n^n. They're a berry as big around as your small fingernail. And their flowers are blue, with three or four blue berries forming there on the end of a long stem. We have them here, but we most generally leave them alone. Some use them as dried berries. They grind them up. Snake berries are sort of poison . . . sort of a poison. I don't ever use them. We never use them because we're afraid of them -- in this area. We don't use them because there's supposed to be snake berries wherever there's snakes. And wherever there's snakes there's snake berries.

Snakes eat them. They're vegetation all right . . . but . . . I don't know . . . we let the snakes have that. We aren't supposed to eat those snake berries. We aren't supposed to bother them, for some reason. gI-này-bi-gó-mi-n^n. . . .  'Course the Siouxs and all them use that -- for some purpose -- probably.  But we don't do that. No; we don't. We don't bother that gI-này-bi-gó-mi-n^n. And we also leave enough other vegetation for the snakes to use. We're amongst the snake area here, so we don't want to take everything of nature that's given in this area.

The snakes might get mad if you use too much! They might! They might come to you in your sleep. They might come to you in a surprise. See, snakes can crawl. We don't bother the snakes because they can get to where you are. They can get in your clothes anywhere. It might be a poison snake. You never can tell . . . it might be the oó-gii-màa snake -- the old one. The oó-gii-maa . . . ya . . . they're big . . . and their scales are thicker. They’re the one's to watch out for. Ya; they're the ones sent out as messengers . . . bad messengers . . . very bad messengers.(12) The old ones are easy to disturb. Around here they're garter snakes -- gI-này-bIg. The oó-gii-maa gI-này-big may be the father or mother, you know. That's the leader of all snakes. Oh, and when you come upon a bunch of them balled together, that's something to see. 

You stay away from them. . . .

Snakes. . . .

Have you ever seen a "snake ball"? 

If you were in my area in the spring I'd take you to where there's balls of them, about a foot and a half big across. There are snake heads sticking out all over.

You know why they ball up like that? 

It's mating time. They're mating. They tie one another up into a ball when they mate. They do that in April. And you see them in the maple country, where there's dry leaves. "Snake-balls" we call them. But just that quick they can let go of one another and they're gone. They untie one another quick when you disturb them.

How can they do that?

That's part of their nature.

This whole world's nature, you know, and the trees and all of the things around them are living -- like the big old maple I visit. They can't talk, but there's something in a tree for you to use if you know how to use it. You talk to the trees, you talk to a bird, you talk to a dog. You learn. The dog'll understand you. A horse is smart, and he'll understand you too. Ya; talk to the trees. That's what it is you do, and it's almost then that your power commences. Then you got power. . . .

Our Medicine Doctors often send children out for medicines for their people -- like the old men sent us out to fast. When I was young the children were far advanced in reading nature when they were out fasting or when they were out practicing gathering medicine with their old people. When my friend Jimmy Jackson was in second grade he was already tailing his grandmother -- Ookomisan -- to the woods whenever she went to get medicine -- 'course, he says, he was in second grade four years straight.(13) Some of the children paid attention when they did that and that's why some of them started to learn about power pretty early on. I helped my folks -- my mother -- make medicine . . . even when I was a little boy. 

That's why I have it. That's why I know medicine. I know all -- pred'near all -- our medicines. I know all that. Well . . . I think I remember quite a bit of it. To know it all you really have to be right up there practicing regular. But I know some . . . ya . . . quite a few medicines, and I think I know how to use them too. I practiced a long time. And that's why I can tell you this stuff.

When I was still pretty young my mother told me what to get, and I went and got it. My mother was a Medicine Doctor.(14) She was a very good Medicine Doctor. A lot of Indian people came and asked her to help them with their troubles. Some whites too. She'd talk with them, then she’d fix up medicine for them. That's the way we'd do it before we went out and hunted medicine for our doctoring. After visiting with a patient we knew what to get and where to go -- even some of the kids. We knew most of this because we saw our fathers and mothers go on special trips to get medicine, and we often went with them. Sometimes we even camped out, gathering herbs and other things for the whole season.

August is the right time of the year to pick this stuff! -- for a lot of the medicines we used. But sometimes medicines can be ready by late in July. Some years in late July almost everything's ready, and after July, then she's good. They never allowed the Indian to go around picking herbs in the early stage of spring, because that is when it is acting -- you know, when it's in growth. It wants to be matured before it offers its full strength to the people, and sometimes there's crawlers and they may be around in it early on in the growing season. They're meditizing themselves through this herb and the other vegetation they live amongst. After they get their meditation from that medicine -- just by going by it, where they work -- then they probably have a new skin. We see signs of that. You see those snake hides lying on the ground sometimes. They grow throughout the area where the medicine plant stuff grows. What the crawlers need, they know. That's nature.

When I was just a boy my mother sent me out one time to cut hazelnuts and oak. I cut two of each of them, a nice size. When I cut the hazelnuts off they were about five feet long. So I put one end of it on my elbow and the other end of it in my fist -- in my hand -- and I marked it. I took that hatchet and I cut it where the mark was.

"That's one."

And I cut another one like it.

"That's two. Now I have to get two more, red oak."

I went along and got a young crop of red oak from some clusters. They grow in bunches. I cut a couple of sticks of that -- with no wastage. I measured that the same way.

I spoke to the Great before I approached that: "That's for the North and South, East and West. That's for the four ways." I put tobacco out and I said, "This is for the whole works. It's for the ailment of the people or the person that my mother is going to use it on. My mother offered to let me to come and get this. She's going to make it up, so I hope it's empowered."

I cut that red oak the same lengths as the other two. I got four of them in all. That's all she wanted.

"You did a good job, son," my mother told me.

She took the rough-bark off, then she peeled the second bark by scraping it off. She put those second bark scrapings in a little kettle and cooked that hazelnut and red oak together. That made the coloring. You could read the coloring of that medicine.(15) She didn't want to boil it too strong. It'll go back to weakness if you boil it too much. But she put it on the top of the range stove long enough to get the juice out of the second bark. When she was finished and it had cooled she strained it with a cloth and put that liquid in a jar. And they used that.

We use red oak because it is a solid wood. It's very strong. Red oak seeds are acorns, and these acorns go back to the earth. That's the nature of life. Squirrels and the chipmunks have a feast on that, also the persons. Indians roast that and the acorns pop open. Sometimes some of them eat the acorns raw, but not very often. And they are good when they are roasted. They open up when they're roasted; they get so hot and they open up. Acorns are substantial for the appetite.

The same way with hazelnuts. When they're ripe we pick them. That's the best remedy for health. And the hazelnut seeds go back to the wild nature. The seeds go back to the earth and the hazelnut brush starts coming back. They'll never wear out. And as long as the hazelnuts and red oak are there the people will never, never, be forgotten. That's the strength of life. And that's why we use them.

I got four sticks for my mother, two hazelnut and two red oak. But sometimes we use four different sticks -- for the four directions. In our medicine we use four sticks -- for North, South, East, and West.  When we use four all the spirits get together. We're talking to the North and South, East and West year 'round. We have North and South, East and West, the four masters of all.  And we have four sticks.  

To figure out how they work together you make a circle, and the rest is like cutting a pie into quarters. And each pair of quarters works together.

Medicine Circle with Four Halves.
Medicine Circle with Four Halves.

With two hazelnut and two red oak, the oak . . . mI-tIg-o-míss -- red oak -- stands for East.  East is the head-one of the daylight. That's strength. Yea.  And there's West, also oak -- in this case. The oak also goes on the west -- when you have two hazelnut and two red oak. The hazelnuts go North and South, so you have hazelnuts on both the North and the South sides. They're a little milder. Two oaks balance one another, and two hazelnuts balance.

So then the southeast and southwest are quartered and paired, and they work together -- the southwest and southeast. The quarters always work together. Southwest and northwest, they belong in another pair. So the four masters of all work together, and work together as pairs. And each one in each quarter works together with two others.

The north is cold, the south is warm and . . . see? . . . there's strength in warm and cold working together. That way there's a strength in the southern part of the medicine. There's more build-up there.

The East is daylight, and strong; the West is darkened, and unknown. And the southeast and southwest makes one pair working together.

We have signs for all of that. And we practice helping out where the weakness is. So, for example, if we compete to help the southwest quarter, we're favorizing that quarter -- the southwest quarter. And you have to use that quarter. But by pairing up -- by working in pairs -- you have to use that southeast quarter too.  That makes one -- one half . . . the southern half.  And there's strength in that. See?

And the southwest quarter and the northwest quarter also work together in the same way. That's the southwest-northwest -- or the western -- half.  They work together and there's strength in that.

Now . . . where the two lines of the four halfs of the circle meet is the center power of all, together. And that power holds everything firm. And it is that same power of the center that is transferred to the medicine liquid -- the mashkikiwaabo. Mashkikí, that's “medicine”; waaboo is "liquid."

Any where and any way you want to use it, this is working! And it works even better -- stronger -- when you use four different sticks -- four equal sticks from different kinds of trees -- but this time that I'm telling you about my mother asked me to get two hazelnut and two red oak. She probably decided on that mixture when she was visiting with the patient -- but I really can't say that part for sure.

And now you can see why I was so careful to measure all four branches in the same way -- so they were exactly the same strength, so they could work balanced together for full strength. And we try to pick it when it's ripe -- when it's ready -- for full strength too. But everything has to be just so much. You can overdo a lot of things in this world. There's a balance to everything that works! 

You can use any tree or shrub bush for medicine, but we often make medicine out of elm and three other trees. There are elm and ash, and the other two are yellow birch and ironwood. We use an ash -- some kind of an ash that you don't hardly see. But it's easy to identify it. I know where there's a lot of it. There are four kinds of trees that we mix together to make that medicine -- one for each direction of the circle. I could peel the top bark, take the scrapings of the inner bark, and put them in a big kettle full of water. We just make tea out of them -- a medicine tea. Then strain it good and put it in a jar. You could drink that for water. That's good for internal separation and healing.

Well, I know that stuff; I should know. There's no fooling the educational of Indian way of life. That Indian way of life belongs here. That belongs in this country. People from foreign countries study this, and we love to hear what their signs are. We love to learn about that, but we have our own way that we use.

The Great left us everything. The Great God gave the medicines. God is the one that selected Wenabozho -- the great man -- to give medicines to "The People."(16) The Manidoo told Wenabozho, "You show the the Anishinabe -- "The People" -- what that medicine's for."  And Wenabozho lived a long time. And there was another man next to Wenabozho, he was “The-One-That-Hollars-In-The-Woods.” So we can't say we didn't know it. He left us what to use. The Great Spirit Manidoo told Wenabozho, "And use it, and believe in it. If you don't believe in it, I won't be there. But if you do believe in Me, I'll help you." So we can't say we didn't know it. He left us what to use.

We use lots of other plants. I can show you a lot of them. Another little tree that is great and valuable to my tribe of Indians is ironwood. Years ago they were often off searching for a special kind of wood which is the one we call the iron wood. That's great medicine. We prepare that. We take the best out of it -- the best out of what's in the wood -- and we prepare that; we form that; we boil that. That's good for appetizing and rinsing the inside. And you mix that with other roots and plants' things. That mixing will make -- we think -- better medicine. We use this to give us an appetite, to rebuild our bloodstreams, and to rebuild our intestines.

It is still a valuable tree. It is not a very big tree, and it is hard to find. Without their leaves the trees all look alike; but this one young tree grows in the brush mostly. It's ironwood, and that ironwood builds you up. It is a great drink. And lots of the people like it for health. It rebuilds you when you're run down. It's a blood builder, and it's a builder for your body. It gives you strength. "Iron wood" we call it. It builds your blood. It clears you up. It goes through your veins. It goes through your water system. It's a flush-up that drives everything out that's ready to poison you. It flushes that slime from a cold. You have to flush your body system with natural growth every so often.

Fruit . . . that's what they also put fruit on earth for . . . to clear you up. That is seasonal. You have to have certain foods. You have to have certain vitamins. You have to have a certain kind of remedy for your body. You have to eat so much of the food that'll work in your brain. You have to eat so much of the food that'll work in your muscles. You have to speed that body motor up with energy -- at times when you need the energy.

So we use this ironwood remedy when we get a run-down feeling, when we have low resistance that we know. We use it when we're having a hard time to get rid of a cold. We use it to flush-up, to have the blood stream re‑build, to give us appetite. Ironwood is to give you an appetite -- most generally -- and to flush you up.

For tonic you can't beat ironwood. Ironwood is a great tonic -- a great liquid medicine. Maananoons . . . that's the Indian name of ironwood. Maananoons means ironwood. In Indian it sounds like it doesn't taste the best. When you get to swallow it really tastes mann-nan, man-nan nuss. That's the name of it. You can tell ironwood from the bark; you can tell on the top. It's hard to find it, but we have lots of it here. You can use it dead, or you can use it green. I think that green is the best.

We are to use and understand all this. We are to understand the way we live, the way my forefathers lived. They lived here very happy. They lived from natural resources: timber, woods, birch bark for their necessities, birch bark for their homes, wood for fire, wood for other things, and the vegetation. Ironwood grows from the spring of the year to the fall, and we know just about when to pick it.

It takes time to find ironwood. All this searching for medicine takes time. . . . but we search until we find it. And everything takes time to prepare. But it's good. It's a method that we have used for a long, long time. Through the meditation from the Indian ways of life, we are following the way we always used when we went out into the woods and picked our medicine. We pick what we need. All trees sometimes look alike. When you come to this part of the medicine it's hard to find. By experience I think I know what tree I need. And through experience the younger class may come to learn this too.

Yellow birch also makes great medicine. The prettiest birch you ever saw is the silver birch, but we're talking about medicine here. There are two other kinds of birch, white birch -- wiigwaas -- and yellow birch -- wiinizik -- but that yellow birch is a best for medicine.(17) And the wood of the yellow birch is one of the leading medicines to rebuild your system -- the same as ironwood. If there's no ironwood in a particular location where ironwoods sometimes grow, the yellow birch always stood there for us.

In some ways all these trees stand for all of us -- for all of the Indians. They stand in this country to use for a certain part of our living. Soft maple, white oak, red oak, all these hardwoods, all these birch mean something to the Indian. If you can live -- and study the way you should live -- it's there for you to handle it. And that's how the Indians live. They live with the woods, with the timber, with the vegetation that grows. They lived with the hay. They laid on the hay -- for their soft bed -- to rest. There's everything there that served the Indian. It was natural and the Indian knew where it was. They knew -- through their body -- what is served to them that they can use. They knew, by thinking, by wondering, "What is that for?"  It's there for them. And they know where to get it. It's nature that proves it. We all know that.

When I use ironwood I most generally pick something that goes with it, and one of the best plants for mixing is that nay-may-pin. I put nay-may-pin in with almost all medicine. Some of our medicine is really strong, but if you add something else with it, it makes a mild mild medicine tonic. It becomes good medicine when it is mixed. Many Indians used to use that nay-may-pin mixed. You can use it for anything. The people that left us dug this n^m-nay-pI'n many a-times.

When you make medicine this little plant goes with anything. It goes with anything that's heavy, with any food that you're afraid will come back on you. If your food won't set in, or if anything you eat won't set just right with the stomach, just take a little pinch of that -- when it's cleaned out -- and throw it in the cooking. Throw it in the cooking or just eat it before you eat the heavy food. If you get this part in your stomach it takes care of the whole deal!

But mostly I use it in tonic. I remember my mother meditating nay-may-pin for tonic: "This is for my people. This is for the ailment. This is for the women who are clogged up. This is for the men or anybody infected with disease. This tonic purifies. Everything goes on it." She talked to the Spirit that way.

You can get it. You can just go out by yourself and get it, but you wouldn't know how to meditate it. The Great Spirit will work with you if you meditate it properly, and . . . if you believe in Him. "I will do it if they believe in me," that's what He said -- putting it in English.

This "additional" to all medicine we prepare is simple to find. Ironwood is hard to find, but this "additional" of all medicine -- nay-may-pin -- is easy to find -- in my area. It's a certain growth, and in a certain area it grows. It has three big leaves on it and grows in amongst the hardwood trees, mostly. The Indian knows where to find it. It can not be found in a jackpine area. It can not be found in a light soil. It's always found in a heavy soil. The soil prepares everything that we have, and we have the best. The soil of the ground matures well the strength of the medicine that you receive. And heavy soil prepares this medicine well. Never bypass this kind of leaf when you're walking through heavy soil. This is one of the leading medicines for the Indians. It goes good mixed in with any kind of medicine. It goes with every kind of medicine because it's simple to find. It's easy to recognize. As you walk along there are spots -- there are places -- where there isn't any, and there are places you'll find it. When you want it, you'll see it. It's a great medicine.

It's a form of a cowslip, but it isn't a cowslip. N^m-nay-pI'n is a sort of a potato name; it's "in-the-ground-potato." n^-may-pI'n. . . . nah-may-pIn is “wild potato.“ That's "potato" on the end. OpIn is potato -- in Indian. We have different potatoes. wIn-dà-of$pI'n is the whiteman's potato. b^'g-o-ji-opín is a small and connected wild potato. N^m-nay-pI'n is long and it runs in roots, but it's soft. 

The may-pI'n is the kind of "potato" you put in with medicine. You dig it. Dig it out of the ground and then let it dry. Lots of stuff goes in there with it. And you grind that up. Grind it up, boil it a little, and then drink it. But strain it first.  It wouldn't hurt you if you didn't strain it, but it's better if you strain it first. 

When you eat it, it snaps like wíi-kay.

wíi-kay is a big root, about as big around as your finger. I don't know what they'd call that root in English. I never heard the whites call it anything but we call it "flat grass" when we call it in English -- which isn't very often. In Indian we call it the “big‑bitter‑flat‑grass“ -- but it's the root that we use.

We most generally just chew that wíi-kay root. We chew it and swallow the juice. You don't have to swallow the meat of it, but swallow the juice. It works just as good that way. It won't hurt you. And that other stuff, the wild potato -- wild nI-may-pIn -- that won't hurt you either. We eat that wíi-kay -- the juice of that -- when we have a cold, or a departure. It will cure a cold and regulate your internals. You take a little of that and it clears your throat. And when it snows we use that. All the Indians -- I think . . . well . . . at least the old timers -- remember that. When they got a cold, flu, or something, they'd say, "Oh, I wish I had wíi-kay." They just call it wíi-kay, ka$hn. Boy that's great medicine!(18) 

That is a great medicine! It goes with everything: it's for a colic, for eardrop -- eardrop and nose; it's the best! If you have it, oh, that's the best! It's even good for diphtheria. You take that home and keep it. Every time there's something in the family or anything, use it. It doesn't have to be meditized; it's powerful on its own. But of course it works much better if it is meditated.

When you're just chewing you can use wíi-kay by itself, without meditating it. But it has to be meditated when you meet it up with all the other dope that comes in there when you prepare a mixture medicine for a specific purpose. It'll have to be meditated then. You have to ask the Great and say what you want it for. Then you must pray for what it's to be used for. You must ask for health, and for luck or for good will or for happiness. Ask so that there's no danger of anything disturbing the mind. But when you take it out and use it unmixed, it's for everything.

Just think, huh?

How do they know that? 

Sometimes we soak that and we drink it -- a little bit. You can just scrape it a little, wash it, clear the dirt, and put a little of that in water. Do not make it too strong; dilute it. Then drink it once in a while. It's good for flush up. It grows in nature, and "The People" -- the Indians -- grow stronger when they flush up with it. The Indians in that area where I live know where it is, and when they get sick they know what it's for. It comes natural. They know what they want.

And it's simple to find it. You can get that after July -- after July. And about ricing time you find a lot of it. That's when it's ripe. When it's ripe it has a sharp little ball like a cactus on the top. It's sharp; the ball has little horns on it. Where it comes in to a ball the pickers are on it. That's the flat-grass-with-picker-balls-on-the-top-when-it's-ripe. For short we just call it a “big-root-water-root.“

That's flat grass, and sometimes we call it the “big‑bitter‑flat‑grass.“ And when you get into that you'll smell it as you go along. You smell wíi-kay when you walk through where it is. That root -- as big as my little finger -- is growing on the flat grass. It's a flat grass that grows along the rivers and it has a strong root. It floats, on kind of a floating bog.

You cut a chunk of that flat grass. It's in sod. We try to gather it from a whole sod -- which grows into a floating bog where it matures by nature. When I find a bigger and thicker sod of it, I expect the betterment is there because there's more strength in the sod that jointly grows together. You bring the cut sod piece out. Then you wash the roots good. It's jointed; the roots are jointly. And the roots are about as big as my little finger. You take those roots and string them out on a string to dry them. 

And you chew on that if you get a cold or any ailment. wíi-kay is strong . . . strong!!  It's very strong.  It's strong, but boy that's the best medicine there is.

My mother would most generally grind it up. Many Medicine Doctors grind that up into dust -- powder. That wíi-kay isn't used full strength unless you're just chewing on it. With other doctoring work it's most generally mixed with other medicines. It's one of the leading medicines here for the first ailment that is due to cold. It's internal and it goes with any medicine that we prepare for the sick. We put other stuff in there too, for other ailments. Like if you have an ailment, that flushes you out. That's the very leading medicine there is for that.

If you want the greatest Indian medicine that's here, analyze that medicine! I think I should gather all that stuff and show the University what that is, and tell them the name of it, and explain what it's for. And they could analyze it -- or send it in for analysis. A lot of our medicine has been analyzed. Everything's OK, they say. It was sent in quite a while ago now.

And it's been tested by the Siouxs -- the old-time Siouxs; boy they sure like that wíi-kay. That's why they come here. We have a lot of herbs that they haven't got. They haven't got wíi-kay but we have it here in Minnesota. And when they hear if anybody has wíi-kay$ they like to get a hold of that. The Siouxs will pay good money for it. If you have that wiK-kay$ they'll pay good for that. The Siouxs are great for that. Boy they like that! They use it. They boil that into a tonic and they see results.

The Siouxs . . . you know why else the Siouxs like it?

It keeps rattlesnakes away. They just take a string and tie it on their chest, and tie it on the children's chests, and the rattler will never go near. That's what they believe in. And that's been tested too. And they like that. They think a lot of that in South Dakotas because they have a lot of rattlers and a lot of other kinds of snakes. When they pick berries they use to wear that. The snakes go away.

When you hear there are vegetations snakes, those are water snakes, or garter snakes. We see them along the river. They crawl right by that wíi-kay$ and everything. That water there by the river -- the moisture -- holds the exposure of that medicine . . . I suppose. We figure that anyway, you know.

The Siouxs will pay for that wíi-kay$, but the whites most generally won't. And if you do give wíi-kay$ to the whites, they wonder about what you're telling them about using it. A lot of them call me in to help out. Others say, "go see him." But gee whiz, everybody wants everything for nothing from the Indian!! OK. When we buy something or when the white doctor tells us something we have to pay for it. We have to pay the white people because the white people approve it, and they don't approve the Indian doctoring.

I showed a lot of medicine to my white friends -- which they can use as well as I do . . . but they have to know how to use it. At first they don't know what to do with it, but by following directions they can learn how to use it. It's the same as on a bottle of whites’ medicine. They print everything on the bottle telling you how the medicine should be used. The medicine that we have has directions for each individual, and I think it's just about the same. If you use it right the faculties of the medicine are there. If an Indian doctor advises something for you, you have to use that right, the same as you use medicine from a white doctor. If we get Indian medicine for a person, he has to use it right. If you use too much medicine, the doctor will find out that you use too much. But if you use not enough, he'll know that by the function of your heart that's drumming your life. It's best just to pay attention and follow what the medicine bottle or what the Medicine Man tells you to do.

But speaking of a heart drumming, a lot of times whites ask me about “love medicine.” In the old days, yes, they used to make that. And they used to tell one another about it when they made it. And If the one using it does attract the one who he wants to use it on, and if he get's a little on the sour side with it -- and uses it pretty strong -- the one being affected will recognize that. And she will tell a friend that somebody’s using bad medicine.

Her friend says something like, "Your friend didn't care for you. He's high-hating you." 

And the old Indian that used that medicine says, "Regular!" He says, "Regular." 

They used to say that. 

They used to talk like that. 

Or the old Indian that used that would say, "I'll do what I do."

Or he might say, "I can make him cry . . ." or her, ". . . when I get ready. I don't have to be near her, but she will cry."

You meditate that medicine through the same method you use for other things -- with meditation and the drum and songs, with the hide, with the Spirit, and all that stuff. For that luck medicine they will meditate mah-zah-naa-tI'k -- the "sour‑thistle‑has‑a‑blossom" plant -- for whatever they want to use it for.

The story of that medicine is that the blossom showed itself to an Indian as he walked by, and seeing that cute little flower on there he studied that.

"What can that be?" he talked to himself.  And when he went through that little flower patch it was wicked. He felt it.

"There must be some medicine to it."

So he dug up the root of it and ground it up. Then he meditated it. He meditated it because the wickedness is on the growth. He meditated that by his belief. Then he put it in a dry bag and he called it his “luck medicine.“ In later versions of the story he sometimes calls it “love medicine.“ But really, he calls it whatever he wants to call it, and he uses that. He carries that. People attract to that. He attracts the people with that. He attracts the woman that he wants -- the girl. Somehow he's got it on him, and he's a great attraction. They like to talk to him. They like his way of means, because he uses a lot of stuff that is for good luck.

Maybe nature is hungry for that in life. And he can make it as strong as he wants, when he carries that.

But lots of them, nowadays, don't take time to make that, and it just drifts away. 

. . . Mah-zah-naa-tI'k . . . the sour‑thistle‑has‑a‑blossom. 

There's still some of that being used. And there's another special medicine just for attracting women. I could rub it on my face and I would attract them.

I do attract them. You can see that. But I don't rub anything on; no.

Those that use that luck medicine generally keep it private -- in a small bag.

Don’t ever touch anyone’s medicine bag!!


You don't know what he's got in there. You don't know what it's for. And when you don't know what it's for, it's the best to leave it alone. Most generally they put ground up medicine in there -- roots, ground-up bark, and everything. Everything's ground all to pieces in there. And that little bag -- a little buckskin pouch -- is supposed to bring power. And on the top of that they take it to a Medicine Man and he gives a blessing to that.

They grind the medicine so they can carry it in that little bag. They don't want to carry a big lump; and when they go to use it they only want a little bit of that. See? They put that little pouch in their vest. They used to wear vests years ago. That's what they put it in.

The size of the pouch doesn't make any difference here. The medicine works all the same -- big or small or tiny. A bigger pouch wouldn't give you any more power. That little one is given to a Medicine Man to give it the power to use for the purpose he's meditating, and that's all that is required. And that can be for a good or not-so-good purpose, or for strong or not-so-strong power. Sometimes that medicine pouch is meditated for something like luck in a moccasin game,(19) and sometime it is meditated to attract somebody. . . . It all depends.

The Medicine Man will also have a bigger bag that they open up and drop things in. That's bin-ji-gah-da and it has a draw string on the top of it. They keep their necessities in there. They keep what medicine they want to use in hunting -- and for all kinds of other stuff -- in there, and they keep it tied tight. They sometimes roll it up -- if it's small enough -- and it's in their pocket. They'd have -- probably have -- their own medicine in there . . . the medicine for them.  Like a white man takes aspirin the Indian takes something to help him. Maybe they had tobacco in there. They always had a tobacco with any medicine. And if they want to make tea, they maybe even had tea leaves in there. Anything they wanted they had there in that bag. They were always prepared. There's sometimes two, three different sections in the middle of that bag. They'd put a partition in there, half way across. One went one way and the other one went that other way. That's bin-di-gah-sa. "Bin-di-gah-san" is probably from a more western spot -- or even from up in Orr, from the Canadians. The Medicine bag is kus-ki-ba-da-ga, in our Ojibwa. 

The bag for their pipe is sometimes a different one yet, but it's pretty much like the one with the draw string.

It doesn't have to be a doctor that uses these medicines; Indian's teach one another what that's for and most of the Indians naturally know that stuff. When they walk through the woods, when they walk by natural vegetation, they say, "That's great medicine. That's great medicine, for that purpose, for this purpose. That's great medicine."

And we had it all over the woods. 

See, the Indians know nature. They get their full power through a fast and by paying attention to nature during that fast. The Manidoo put them on earth. Indians naturally recognize what's given to them to eat and utilize. They exercise their power by words, and by signs.

When you fast, pretty soon you begin to see things by signs.(20) Pretty soon through reading those signs you realize what has to be done while you're living. Pretty soon you realize your work. You realize you have to work for the future, because you're only living here for a while and then you go to the next world.

Where we going?

To the sun?(21) Did anybody ever go to the sun? Can anybody describe what the sun is? Where are the scientists who tell what the moon is? Why does that moon stay up there? Why does that sun stay up there? Who knows about the sun? Show me a piece of that sun in my hand. Who knows about it? That's the place to find after we're done on earth.

That sun's a big thing, and it gives light to the earth. The sun is a great thing, and we should leave it alone. We shouldn't meddle with that like they did with the moon one time. Our place is on earth. We should respect the earth and everybody on it.

Stars! Stars are great too.

Yeah, that's something. It's a great earth, and there's miles and miles of it. There's miles and miles of sun too. The Great Manidoo is back of the sun, and He'll take care of that sun. The earth goes 'round and 'round, still we see the sun and the moon and the stars.

That's something, eh . . .?

The Indian knows all that stuff, you know, and they know the signs of this earth too. They really know that! They really know the warning signs from nature, and the ones that pay attention to those unusual sights and unusual signs know when something's going to happen.

A bad warning sign sometimes comes when you're camping.(22) You'll have a camp somewhere, and all the once when you're sleeping somebody will holler out, just like a person, "Kah-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka. Huu. Hu."

That's an owl. It's a bad sign. Sure as heck that means bad news. It's a bad warning. After you hear an owl call out like that, it isn't long 'till you hear that something bad happened -- like death! Somebody's going to die. That owl warning means you'll hear that somebody died.

That owl is bad. It's bad. But then the fox is bad too. The fox will holler like a person, sometimes: "Gah-gah-kah-kay-yah." It sounds just like he's talking. "Bah-uu wuu. Wu. Wu." A wolf will do that too.

That's bad. . . .

Some signs mean sickness, and some mean death. Sickness is warned by a fireball, mostly.(23) Fireballs mostly mean sickness. Fireballs are unusual signs which mean sickness is coming. . . .

Sometimes you'll see a mole on the road, lying on his back. That isn't good neither. It's a bad sign to see a mole with the peaked nose lying on his back. Oh, that's a bad one. If you ever see a mole on his back, look out! What I say is true. You ask everybody. All these Indians believe that when a mole lies on his back that's unusual. If you see that, that's unusual. But when you touch him, that son-of-a-gun will go. He's just playing 'possum; he's playing he's dead.

Speaking about unusual signs, you got mah-wing-gway -- the crying eye -- too. If I don't feel good my eyes shake. A party that feels that in their eye will say, "Maybe I'm going to be sick. Maybe I'm going to see somebody sick, or maybe I'm going to see death." Don't cry. If you do cry maybe it will be cloudy again, and that means trouble in your life. You'll cry tears and then you can't see a brightening when it's there. When you don't cry you show appreciation to the sun and the moon that brightens up, gives you light, makes things grow -- like vegetation, and the stuff you eat. Indians know those warnings.

This morning I walked out behind the house and went about half-a-block, then I turned around and came back. As I stood there I heard a robin calling for rain. "I'll bet it'll be rain," I though. It's supposed to rain. It did rain a while -- sprinkle -- already. Those robins go "kik, kook, kook, kook," when they're calling for rain. We watch all that, and listen. "Kik, kook, kook, kook." They want rain. But maybe it could be something else that they're telling us. Robins get bad news too -- once in a while. When they give a warning for bad weather, somebody's going to feel it and see it, and know what to expect. 'Course robins aren't so bad, but they're bad enough -- sometimes. It seems just like they're talking to you sometimes. "ChI-koo-luk-luk-luk-luk," they talk like that.

All those animals have signs, and some of them really have bad ones. But the signs have to be something unusual. One springtime during mating season I heard an owl make a noise. It was in April during sugar time,(24) when I was just a boy. I said to the old timers, "I hear an owl making a bad noise, 'Chuk-kuk-kuk. Huu. Hu.'"

"Oh, that's nothing," they told me, "they're mating this time."

Indians know the habits of the animals, and they don't pay any attention to certain things. When animals are mating, for example, we don't pay attention. Same way with a wolf or a fox. When they're mating they make all kinds of noise.

A lot of times white people see all that stuff, but they don't take notice of it. Then, later on, when they need help, the answer is there, but they don't remember the warning.

We know those warnings. White people call it "superstitious" or something. They call a person that believes in signs and warnings "superstitious." The Indians are superstitious. Even the priest says that. If you ask the priest, "What is that animal sign for? What does that unusual sign mean?" he'll say, "oh, you're just superstitious." But the Indians says it the other way: "Ah . . . it isn't a very good sign. . . ."

It's scary. I get scared when I get to thinking about what I've seen -- and I've seen lots. I think lots about the power that comes to me through those signs. I think about power, and what power means. I think I know what it is and I use it, but you can't just explain what it is. When the Manidoo is working with you, and you're working together with the Manidoo, you have power. Power's just like magnets. When you have power it's just like your body is magnetized. It's almost the same as the gravity of the earth. Everything's got an electric form -- seeing, sight, vision, hearing, the earth, gravity, and the Spirit. When you use power, you call in as much of that form to you as you can. The more you call it, the easier it is to call, and the more you have of it. If you use your power for the good, that power will increase. But you have to take interest in things! You have to show that you`re interested in the things of this world. Then you'll begin to get power.

The power is will power, that's what I mean. If you have the will power, you can do anything. You can do anything when you have will power. If you exercise that will power enough and in the right way the Spirit will begin to work with you and you'll have real power. You'll be empowered. That's what I mean when I say power. You have to believe strong that there is somebody working with you. Then when you work with somebody for the good, you feel good.

When you work for somebody -- like when you work for the dead -- you'll end up with even more power because you're helping the dead‑that‑left‑this‑world through your words that they hear.(25) It isn't easy to get to heaven, and when we help the dead‑that‑left we gain power. When we die we have lots of places to go through. We're going to be checked on before we get to heaven. How wonderful it is up there! But . . . we have to be purified to get there. So when you work for the dead on earth as they leave, He'll give you power. In that way you'll gain a little power through your own will.

It takes a lot of will to get power. You expect that. But you know you can get an answer if you have the will power. If you want power you're willing to go without eating -- even if you get hungry. That isn't going to hurt you. But something else comes. He serves you -- you see -- He answers you. He gives you your power.

Once you have power it stays with you as long as you believe in that. If you join that belief in power, and, if you believe strong in that, you get so that your belief continues to get stronger. You commence to believe almost like Christian Science. Our belief is pretty near like Christian Science. We believe in the God -- the Manidoo -- but we also believe in trees. We believe in everything. We respect everything.

Believe and respect, and practice with that power, and after a while you'll commence to be a staff of the Indian belief, Midewiwin.(26) You believe in Grand Medicine when you're in the Midewiwin, and, when you believe strong, you're heading for a Midewiwin staff.

Grand Medicine's more a doctoring work, but to doctor with the Midewiwin you have to go through a special empowerment in a Midewiwin gathering.(27) Then, when you get to a certain staff degree of the Midewiwin, you are able to doctor in a big way. But first you have to go through the necessary training. You have to be a perfect man and go through signs, and fast, and show that you've worked up to that. Anybody can go after power, but only certain ones can doctor in the Midewiwin. If you lay Midewiwin power onto the hands of anybody who can't control their outrage and temper, they won't last long. I don't think someone like that would carry the power very long because it would back-work on him. If a person's temper is too rough they begin to lose respect for that power and before too long it starts to back-work on them.

Somebody that's well-considered has to be the one to exercise Midewiwin power. To be accepted into that you have to answer all views. You put your own view out, and if the view by others is that yours is good, they'll accept it.(28) But if your views are no good, others won't accept them, and you'll not be accepted with the Midewiwin. Your view is important to show your abilities, to show that you're able, that you're qualified.

Mide(29) throw their medicine.(30) Indian power lets you throw your medicine; that's our beliefs. And when the Mide are doctoring -- Indian doctoring -- they use the same medicine that I first spoke about. When a person's joining the Midewiwin, the Mide confirm him by throwing their power into him. When that medicine power hits the joiner you could see him flinge. Ohh, that's a great thing!! That's the way they'd confirm somebody. After a man's been confirmed, he's a higher staff Medicine Man and he belongs in a medicine group. He's a Mide -- a Grand Medicine man -- and he belongs to the Midewiwin -- the Grand Medicine Society.

Indians respect that.

Why do we want to have Grand Medicine and all that stuff?

With Grand Medicine you have to know how to handle yourself and handle your power. You believe in and you respect all animals. You respect all trees. You respect the waters. We use tobacco when we go across the waters to respect their power. When we do these things we get an answer, don't we? What we do will always get an answer -- sooner or later. When a hard winter comes and we're in danger, we talk with the Spirit. We practice like that and believe in it and the Manidoo and His power comes closer to us and keeps us out of danger. When you believe in the Manidoo and practice, you make perfect; that's what respecting the belief means.

Grand Medicine gives life to the Indians when they respect one another, respect the birds, respect the animals, respect the nature of the timber outdoors. It gives them life because these timbers and things are given to them for medicine. They use certain parts of the wood and bark for their medicine. That's natural; it's given to them; and it works.

They have power in that medicine, but they have to go through fasting, and they have to go through certain meditations to get that power into that medicine. When they do the necessary requirements called for by the question that arises for use of the medicine, they can empower the medicine. After it's empowered, the medicine is used by the Indian doctor, or by anybody he names. But to use the medicine you have to show that you believe in it. You have to show that you're looking forward for this medicine to act up. Without believing in anything, it's no use. If you don't believe in anything on earth, it's no use for you to use that medicine. You have to believe in all things for it to work for you.

Grand Medicine is just a part of our religion. Indians understand nature and believe by the nature of this earth. We study nature and we practice what we learn. And when we do that, we understand nature even more. The birds are given to us to clean out the insects. They clean up certain parts of the earth -- insects, vegetation, bugs, worms, and all that. The big animals are given to us to eat on. Nature -- that's what the Indian looks at!

Indians study the same things as the white man. We see that there is a Spirit somewhere, and we're looking forward to find that Spirit in our lives. And this Spirit that we wish to find someday will meet us again when we're through on this earth. When we get together at a Grand Medicine meeting -- or just for a lecture(31) -- we listen to a good sermon -- which is just the same -- pred'near the same -- as the sermon in any church we go to. They tell us to do good, and you'll be paid good. And if you do bad, it's bad for you. But the more good you do, the more well you feel. If you do a good turn for anybody, you'll feel good. If you do bad things, and don't do people right, well, there's something in your mind that starts working that isn't good for it.

You have to practice all of these things before you get to be perfect. If you don't practice, you can't exist. If you don't practice anything, you're not interested in life, and if there's no interest, there's no power. It's just like when somebody's talking to you while you're trying to talk to somebody else. There's no interest and no power in there. There's no satisfaction if there's no interest. But if you mean what you say, and say what you mean, and have your mind on what you're talking about, then . . . that's power. See? You empower that talk by paying attention and having interest. . . . And that's true with anything in life . . . you empower it by paying attention and having an interest and having your mind focus on what you're talking or thinking about.

Ya, I think the Great has given us a good way of life. That's the way Indians lived, years ago. Now-a-days, everybody does good terms in their own ways. You can see a person by their actions,(32) by the words they talk, by the language they use, and you know that in his ways he's sort of a nice person. Action speaks louder than words in this world, and you can tell a person according to what he believes in and how he lives. When action speaks louder, that means that you can see a guy by the way he acts, by the ways of life that he carries, by the life that he likes, by the way he's brought up, and by the way he takes interest in things.

If he's a very nice man and he's coming to you for doctoring, you can tell if he's looking forward for a nice life on earth. But if you don't feel well when he comes to you, there's something wrong with that person. His body may not be well. He might be illed by some disease, or by some germ, or he might have teeth trouble. He may be ailed, if he's not normal. Ailments disturb the minds of the people, and when you're ailing you don't take interest in life. Any ailment will disturb your mind.

If a person has no ailment, if he purifies and is active, if he acts normally, if he's trying to be perfect, and tries to carry his life, then he's happy in life and you can talk to him. You can talk sense to him if there's no ailment in the body that goes to his brain. If an ailment -- any ailment -- goes to the brain, it aggravates him and pains him, and he's thought‑less(33) and doesn't know what you're doing. But if he's thought‑full, that's where your medicine can work.

So when there's something wrong -- if you don't feel good, if you don't have the right function, if you don't have the right appetite, if you don't sleep good -- there's something wrong and you don't take interest in things. If you've overdone something, if you overdo in some parts of your life, it's time to regulate that. It's time to study that; it's time to go to a doctor. Whatever doctor you go to, he'll study your ailment and he'll know what's wrong with you. You'll find out what's wrong in your life, and he'll probably give you good advice, which will help you.

Ya, that's a wonderful thing. We still use that method, and they always used that method in the past. That was their law. You couldn't laugh at a Indian years ago, or poke fun at him, because they were so powerful. They had power, and they'd just look at you and whatever they thought about you, that's what would happen.(34) They didn't have to move; they'd just look at you.

Sometimes -- but not very often -- people try to overpower one another. So you overpower? Well, what good is it? If you overpower the other one, what good does it do? We all die anyhow. We just leave what we discover back of us. We just leave it to the next person, and it keeps a-going that way. Besides . . . it's dangerous to try to overpower someone; it might come back and work on you. . . . or . . . he might have more power. . . .

You can do just so much with your power; you can go just so far, and that's life. If we had continuous sunshine, what would happen? That's why when you are meditating you can not ask the Great for betterment all the time. And what would happen if we had cloudy days continue -- if it continued cloudy and cloudy day after day. I don't think that'll happen. I don't think that could happen. In places it might happen, but nature will take care of herself. Nature is a big thing. You have to study the nature. You have to figure out why things happen.

You have to appreciate what nature's doing for you. The spirits -- the Great Spirits -- take care of you and they are doing all these things during the rest hours at night too.(35) You have to rest. And some days there ought to be idlement . . . I'll say even a good vacation every so often. It doesn't take so much. But you have to take care of your life. You have to take care of yourself, and take care of others if you can. You have to take care of those who are with you in your group, and try to explain things so they'll all begin to see.

I have done my part to explain these things. I am able and not afraid -- I don't think I'm afraid -- to say any thing to prove . . . to explain . . . my Indian way of life. The American Indian way of life is solid; it's true. The American Indian way of life is braveness. We feel brave. We are ready to give the truth of our people for the next generation. 

Now it's up to the younger generation to hear these things, to recognize these things. I hope we never lose this. I hope the people in the next generation -- the people coming in back of me -- will teach their young people the Indian way of life. Their young people could be able to use this. They could learn about this great medicine that we use. In case they have to use it -- if there's no white doctor around -- it'll help them, right away on the spot. They'll have it when they need it far away from the white doctor.

I'm talking about the book of Indian medicine . . . medicine, meditation, medicine-doctoring, power. . . .  I'm thinking about the doctoring in Indian and I'm translating it in English -- from an Indian. This is the way we explain it in Indian . . . translated. This is the way we talk it, the way we practice it, the way we get it. These are the Indian words of it, and that's the way we view it. And this is the best I can do to translate it in English -- so you know what we mean when we're talking, when we go out and express in Indian the meaning of what purpose we want to use medicine for. I translate in English all of this form that I acted upon this day -- actions, ceremony, meditation . . . including why we do this. . . . It is supposed to be in Indian . . . in Indian. And when it is in Indian this is the way we explain it.

So now it is in English, and I'm glad to be able to translate it in English so that you'll not wonder what we said when we were talking Indian. And then, when it is in English . . . then you commence to begin to understand we mean it.

There are people along the road -- my own people -- who know that I carry this belief. And I know that they believe in that, and I respect them. They're very well‑th‑y. They have good health. I believe in them. And they believe in me. They're doing their best! There are lots of people nowadays -- lots of my people nowadays -- who would like to be able to translate this belief. Education is coming in too fast. They're forgetting the Indian words, the Indian preaching. They fear it's going to vanish, slowly.

I continue to speak to my people, to my friends. I speak to all, as whites live here too.(36) The color means nothing! The color doesn't mean anything! It doesn't mean any difference, no difference in life. The whites who live here live like Indians. They eat and drink and put clothes on the same -- when the weather permits them. The weather shows them the life.

We have everything in the woods that grows. For cuts and scratches and breaking bones and bleeding we use vegetation: we use the growth of trees, we use barks, we use roots. We have it! We use certain roots from the grass even, certain roots which grow amongst the grass. We use certain roots that we dig up.

That makes me wonder a lot of time, "How did the Indian get that?"

There are Indians way back that studied that, and they became informed about it and they made a practice of it. They came and learned. The doctors -- the Indian doctors -- know and use those things that grow. We all had to go by Indian doctors in my younger days, and they were good. They were great! Doctoring and doctors and Indian medicine is a great thing. With them we look forward for rightness. We look forward for the pureness of our health in this world. They used the Indian way of doctoring. They used the Indian herbs and roots and everything, and they made the Indian medicine. That is great medicine. We proved it in the past -- my past. We proved that the remedy has done great for us. We know!!  I've used it and it's very good. As we go along in this world we give the best we have. It's a great medicine and I'm handing it to you; it belongs to you when you're willing to receive it.

You're given life on this earth and it's up to you to go around and appreciate that life. You have to thank for what you have. You have to speak to yourself and your heart saying that you appreciate what has been done in the past. That's what I do. I do that. And the trees are living and birds are singing. Birds sing too, they sing, and talk amongst themselves. If we did hear them talk we couldn't understand them anyhow, but we know they're singing. It's nature . . . nature of all things!

Oh, this is a great world to study! And when you study it you'll find the answers to your life. And when you practice this with your friends you'll all see a good life.

And after a while you just naturally feel better.(37)


1. This chapter is a summary of many points of Volume II: Wenabozho and The Way We Think About the World. It is based on an earlier paper, "Mississippi and Lake Superior Ojibwa: Reflections of Paul Buffalo" (Roufs, 1978). The original paper was presented in memory of Paul Peter Buffalo who died 28 June 28 1977. This chapter preserves much of the original.

The original orientation noted, in part:

"Ojibwa of the Lake Superior area respected their land and lived in intimate spiritual contract with nature. Living and inanimate things shared the same life spirit, from which early Ojibwa inhabitants took their spiritual strength. They shared the land with the animals, mythological peoples, spirits, and deceased relatives and friends. Because of their beliefs Ojibwa peoples could communicate with the supernatural world through nature. In 1850 George Copway (Kay-Ge-Ga-Gah-Bowh), himself an Ojibwa and missionary working in the region south of Lake Superior, wrote of his people and their beliefs:

The skies were filled with the deities they worshiped and the whole forest awakened with their whispers. The lakes and streams were the places of their resort, and mountains and valleys alike their abode. All the remarkable spots in the country were considered their favorite resorts. These were the peaks of rocky cliffs; the clefts of craggy mounts. Waterfalls were thought to be their sporting scenes.

The sky was the home of the god who held a watchful care over every star. They heard him whisper in the gentle breeze, or howl in the tempest. . . .

The constellations of stars were council gatherings of the gods. The brightest were ruling spirits, appointed by the Great Spirit as guardians of the lesser ones. . . .

The earth teemed with all sorts of spirits, good and bad; Those of the forest clothed themselves with moss. During a shower of rain, thousands of them are sheltered in a flower.

The Ojibway, as he reclines beneath the shades of his forest trees, imagines these gods to be about him. He detects their tiny voices in the insect's hum. With half-closed eyes he beholds them sporting by thousand on a sunray. In the evening they are seen and heard. `Above, below, on every side. . . .' (Copway, 1850, pp. 147-149.)

"Ojibwa received their power and strength from nature, a personified life force. They observed natural signs and used medicines to maintain order, prolong life, and promote goodwill among friends and relatives. 'Powermen' -- more commonly referred to as Medicine Men or Medicine Doctors -- looked to the land for support. Ojibwa conceived power as a force supporting physical, psychological, and spiritual abilities. Individuals who earned respect and good reputations for wise use of power inevitably renewed that power by communicating with the land, its animals, and its plants."

"Vitalization and renewal of power through nature is, in the Ojibwa traditions, a very personal experience. . . ."

"The selections [here] yield no specific definitions, but rather tend only to foster the beginning of understanding. Paul Buffalo's 'definition' of power is elusive, particularly to persons in academia generally more accustomed to crisp statements of identity and classification. If, however, one were forced to classify and identify, it could be said that power is here viewed as a neutral, synergetic assisting-ability whose good use regenerates itself."

"Power is normal and natural, and available to everyone who takes interest in things of nature and life. But paying attention to and taking an interest in nature is not enough to actually obtain power. To 'receive' power one must consistently 'practice' that attention and interest. Power requires action, and is not passively received. Once obtained, one ought to continually use power for the good, thereby increasing it."

"To explain power, Mr. Buffalo himself eventually turns to the universal phenomenon of two persons who at a single moment have come to a co-empathetic understanding of each other through a genuine interest in communicating. Attention, interest, sincerity, honesty, and satisfaction combine to 'empower' that experience. We might alternatively say that the two people have 'tuned into each other's wave length' and have each achieved both an intellectual understanding of a message and a spiritual or emotional feeling towards the other. However described, the experience is one of spiritual fellowship. That which in such situations transcends simple communication and understanding is power. It is present, as Buffalo says, like magnetism, gravity, and electricity."

"He would go on to say that if you take interest in nature, pay attention to the signs of nature, and 'practice' your interest in nature, that same power generated in special interactions with friends is now again generated in you. That same power comes from talking to the trees and the birds, and the sun and the stars, and the owls and the robins, and the dogs and the moles, and all of those other things which Paul Buffalo and his people noticed and loved."

2. Paul is talking about being baptized Roman Catholic, by his grandfather, when he was very ill as a young child. Cf., Ch. 2, "Bena Childhood."

3. Cf., Ch. 25, "'Self-Houses,' Sweat Houses, and Blood-taking."

4. Cf., Ch. 10, "Blueberry Time."

5. Cf., Ch. 42, "Hunting and Snaring."

6. Cf., One might use charcoal, or other black mark, on one's face and/or neck if any sort of danger or uncertainty might be foreshadowed or experienced, in order to avoid or prevent what might be expected to happen; Cf., Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events," and Ch. 50, "Dying."

7. Cf., Ch. 11, "Campfire Talks," and Ch. 28, "What's Behind the Sun?: An Indian Sermon."

8. Cf., Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."

9. Kinickinik ("that which is mixed") in this area is the inner bark of the "red willow" (Cornus stolonifera, Red Osier Dogwood) generally mixed with other herbs and things, with mixtures varying but now-a-days generally including some "real" or "white man's tobacco." It is interesting here that Paul, somewhat reluctantly, acknowledges that some in the past may have used other combinations of leaves -- "if they got too hard up" -- but hastens to add, in his opinion of course, "but it isn't too good. It doesn't work." Paul's mixtures were generally the inner bark of the "red willow" and "white man's tobacco." For a legend on the discovery of kinickinik among Paul's people, see Ch. 20, "Tales of Wenabozho."

10. This is part of the invocation that Paul is giving when the picture at the beginning of this chapter was taken on this particular day we were collecting medicine. Much of this chapter is based on both the in situ audio recordings of the events of the day, and Paul's subsequent explanation of the events of the day.

As Paul will later note, in explaining these things he is thinking about them in the "Indian" language, and "translating" them linguistically and culturally, "as best [he] can," into "English." In Paul's mind "translating" also means explaining things, including their history and logic and meaning, and not simply translating from one language to another language. He is, in effect, trying to "translate" also the understandings of the behaviors underlying the translations of words.

11. At this particular event Paul is offering a little whiskey, which was a bit unusual and was a gift he had received a few days before. At other times he would simply offer some liquid beverage that he and others enjoyed, usually teas and soda, but occasionally -- when doctoring -- it could be an offering to the earth of a bit of the liquid medicine that was about to be used on or for the patient. I do not recall that Paul ever used wine as an offering -- although over the years he used almost everything else that "the people enjoyed" -- and that might relate to the fact that wine is a prominent offering of the Roman Catholic Church, and hence avoided in this "Indian" ceremony," but as Paul would say, "I really can't say that part for sure."

"The People" in the quotation is Paul's translation into English of "Anishinabe," as it is also elsewhere here in the books.

12. Cf., Ch. 29, "Midewiwin: Grand Medicine," and Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events."

13. Cf., Slabbaert-Norrgard, Lorraine. A Gift to One, a Gift to Many / James Jackson, Sr., a video by Lorraine Slabbaert-Norrgard (60 min., 1992).

14. Cf., Ch. 11, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."

15. You could tell a lot about the properties of the medicine by looking at its color.

16. For legends of medicine see Ch. 20, "Tales of Wenabozho." As mentioned above, "The People" in the quotations is Paul's translation into English of "Anishinabe."

17. White birch -- wiigwaas -- is Betula papyrifera; yellow birch -- wiinizik -- Betula alleghaniensis. Silver birch, Betula pendula, is not used for medicine, at least not by Paul and his family.

18. In the early 1970s Paul was telling about wíi-kay$ like this to one of the last of the great old-time country doctors, Dr. John J. Smyth (1918 - 1982) of Lester Prairie, Minnesota. Over the years they had become friends and discussed many aspects of medicine and their respective medical practices (which were similar in many ways). Early on in their friendship Paul prepared wíi-kay$ for Dr. Smyth, who offered it to those of his patients who would like to try it out -- and most who did were quite pleased with the results.

19. See Ch. 14, "Moccasin Game Gambling" for a discussion of an individual using luck medicine.

20. Cf., Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events," and Ch. 34, "Fireballs, and the 'Black-Shadow-Man.'"

21. Cf., Ch. 28, "What's Behind the Sun?: An Indian Sermon."

22. Paul is talking about camping in different places from one season to another (Cf., Volume 1), not recreational camping.

23. Cf., Ch. 34, "Fireballs, and the 'Black-Shadow-Man.'"

24. Cf., Ch. 7, "Skigamizigewin, Maple Sugar Time."

25. According to Paul's belief, when a person dies their spirit [their soul] remains in this world [that is, on this earth] for a short while, generally four days, and it is especially important for the living to help the spirit of the deceased get to the next world during those four days from the time they die until their spirit goes across the river to the next world. It is important to note that there are dead‑that‑left‑this‑world as well as people who have died who have not yet left this world. Many believe that the name of the spirit that is seeking to leave should not be mentioned by anyone during the time the person has died but whose spirit has not yet left this world because the spirit might hear its name and turn around and in that process get disoriented and not find its way into the next world, or at least not quickly. People can still see (as in a vision) the dead who have not left this world, but they cannot talk with them. Once a spirit has left this world they can at least sometimes return and talk with the spirit of one left behind in this world, but the ones left behind cannot see the returned spirit(s). And, significantly, the spirit returning from the next world can and does talk with the spirit of the one that is still living, and this usually happens at night, but it could also happen during a fast. After the spirits have left this world it is important for those remaining here to remember them from time to time, and to do things that honor them and make them happy. One should, for example, offer food to them at their little houses that are traditionally erected on their grave sites, with a place provided in the front of the house to do that, or they can honor the dead‑that‑left‑this‑world by their meditations, libations, thoughts, and behaviors, and particularly by upholding and living the "Indian way of life." If one does that, the ones who have left the world will in turn look after those who remain behind. Cf., Ch. 50, "Dying," Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events," and Ch. 34, "Fireballs, and the 'Black-Shadow-Man'" for details.

26. Cf., Ch. 29, "Midewiwin: Grand Medicine."

27. See a description of such a gathering in Ch. 35, "Boarding School Days"; and Cf., Ch. 29, "Midewiwin: Grand Medicine."

28. This refers to something like a general philosophy of life as it is believed and lived. To "answer all views" means that your beliefs and behaviors should be consistent, compatible with those of the others who also hold a "view," and able to withstand evaluation by others of the Midewiwin Society.

29. Mide is a member of the Midewiwin society.

30. This "throwing" is a spiritual throwing, a spiritual "throwing" or "shooting" of the power of the animal hide (or whatever else they may be using), not an actual throwing of the hide itself. The "throwing" process is more similar to shooting a ray gun, or shining a beam of light from a flashlight, than it is to shooting something where a material object flies out to a target.

31. Campfire talks and "lectures" are an important part of traditional culture. Cf., Ch. 11, "Campfire Talks," and Ch. 28, "What's Behind the Sun?: An Indian Sermon."

32. You can tell what a person is like by watching their actions.

33. One who is "thought‑less" does not think about things in nature and how things in nature work, and does not think about how people are supposed to behave, and is not interested in taking an interest in thinking about life in general.

34. People with power can use it for positive or negative purposes. In a sense the power is neutral, and is directed one way or the other by the person using it. So while a powerful medicine person could use jibik (negative power) to put something like a hex on you, they usually didn't like to do this if they didn't have to. They could, and did, use negative power, but usually when they did that publically it was for some common (community) good. What Paul Buffalo is saying here is that power, which is neutral, can also be used in a negative way, but it also can be so strong that if you did something like laugh at a power person the negative power might work on you even if he (or she) did not do anything consciously or specifically to activate that negative power. That is, a really powerful power person just has to think something and it happens; they do not actually have to go through an overt ceremony. In a sense, the other person actually activates negative power by performing an act that everyone in the community knows one shouldn't do; they themselves trigger the negative power, albeit that it is aided on by the Medicine Doctor just looking at the person and thinking about what that other person is doing. It would be something akin to what happens when a parent corrects a child just by looking at the child in a certain way, or like what happens when a pet owner corrects a misbehaving dog simply by staring at it.

"Misuse" of negative power eventually comes back to work on a person, and that serves as a deterrent to overuse of negative power -- especially by younger individuals. Control of all of this by the individual is something that Medicine Doctors are taught all along.

In legend, the story at the end of Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women," about the young thunderbirds not being able to control their power serves as a lesson about dangers inherent in this problem.

35. See footnote #25 above.

36. It should be noted in the context of Paul's description of how, especially for this chapter, he is thinking "in Indian" and translating the cultural and linguistic materials into "English" (cf., footnote #10 above), that the term for "white man" in Ojibwe is gichi-mookomaan, meaning "big" -- gichi -- "knife" -- mookomaan (The Ojibwe People's Dictionary, 2018). The term "long knives" or "big knives" was borrowed from Iroquois and Algonquian peoples to the east. Gichi-mookomaan is almost always translated as "white man" (rather than "big knife" or "long knife"), reportedly leading George Bonga (ca. 1802–1874), who is generally thought to be the first black man born in what later became the State of Minnesota, himself a translator, to at least occasionally quip that he was one of the first "white men" -- gichi-mookomaanag [but literally, "big-knife"] -- in northern Minnesota. George Bonga was born near Duluth about 1802, where Paul's great-grandfather Pezeke, Chief Buffalo, was an important figure in the treaties of 1837, 1842, 1847, and 1854. George Bonga is listed as translator on the 1867 treaty between whites and Ojibwe at White Earth. (cf. Weber, 2018) Gichi-mookomaan would more accurately be translated "non-Indian-person," that is, someone who is not one of "the people," the "Anishinabe."

37. When I finished this chapter, and before I read it for the last time prior to submitting it to publisher, I had a dream and in that dream my brother, Tommy, and I had arranged to rent a single-engine airplane, but when we went to pick it up it was a float plane. My private pilot's license (which I had long ago traded in for a marriage license) did not have an endorsement for legally flying an airplane on floats. In my dream my brother and I were going to fly to Grand Marais, MN, more specifically to some location on the Gunflint Trail, for coffee. As we were standing next to the plane my brother, younger in the dream, perhaps in his early twenties, was encouraging me to fly it anyway. We were discussing that proposition, speaking with one another but without actually saying any words to one another, when my service dog, Bentley, woke me up. I told of the dream to my Culture and Personality class when we met a few hours later (a class that eventually discusses dreams). Miigwitch Gabe-bines. Miigwitch.

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