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When Everybody Called
Timothy G. Roufs (Ed.)
Midewiwin religious ceremony being held in the special lodge known as the Midewigan.
Source: Timothy G. Roufs, 1975, pp. 10-11.
I believe in the mI-dày-way.
I wasn't really baptized through the priest. I wasn't. I was baptized from an individual person, my grandpa, John S. Smith, without a ministering. I was baptized from an individual who believes in the Book. There was a Bible there and so he read it, but he wasn't a full-power priest. See, the Bible reads that the first stage of Baptism can be given by a believer. When anyone's going to die, and if it's too late to call in a priest, and you want to be a Catholic, he'll throw holy water. So as a Catholic my grandpa just put a stamp on. It reads in the Bible that that's a Baptism part.(1) But he's not a priest. We figured that he was not a priest. He just read the book. He just read the Bible to me. That shouldn't count; he has no empowerment. And so I went(2) to the Grand Medicine.(3) I went back to m^-da-way. I came back as mI-dày-way, and I believe of the Indian way of life.
I don't think you'll get anybody as close as I am with that stuff(4) talking about it. There are a lot of others who practiced more on that than I do. They(5) won't tell you anything until you want to join them, and want to be initiated in an Indian belief. A lot of them know what I'm talking about. They're scared of it. I'm scared of it too, but I know I'm getting old; I can talk about it.(6) If you know all about it, that's all right. But if you're told, that's another question there.(7) See, we have a lot of points in the Indian way of life. I know what happened. I can pass it on. And by passing it on I will meditate it so it's in the book.(8)
A lot of them ask me about that.
So I feel good about that. I tell what I know to the ones that are interested to know what went on. Maybe that's why the Great Spirit blesses me for the good work I do, for the translation(9) I do from the Indian to English.
But a lot of times the Indian says to me, "You shouldn't tell a white man nothing!"
"You know what they've done," he said. "They've taken everything -- blueberries, game, wild life, flowers, even the land. We haven't any of that now. They're even trying to take away our religion -- even our belief! After they've taken it away, you don't know what they're going to do with us and this country."
"Well," I told him, "that remains to be seen."
So that's why you can't get a word out of the Indian. I'm brave enough to tell you what's happening, so I do know all about it.(10) That's why I talk to you. That's why I'm glad you're asking those questions. They're not foolish questions. That's just the way the Indian lives, and that's just the style we try to live with.
Well, I wouldn't say much about some things.(11) That stuff would back-fire. I wouldn't say much about it, but I'll say a few things trying to tell you about it. But there is just so far that we go. And if they know too much, and then pass it on to the other, that's un-legal.(12)
I don't want to get myself in a jam. Sure, I work with you, to a certain extent. I do. But I don't want to give you dope that I feel is lying around idle.(13) So I'm telling you why we believe what we do. After a while you'll see it.
Regardless of how anybody feels, it's not easy for me to tell you this. I'm exercising the faculties of my life, and trying to live the way I'm supposed to live. And you're supposed to live the same way.
But it seems to me the more I tell you, the more you want. You want more, more, more. You think we can go right ahead too fast. Take your time, old boy. The more you learn, the more experience you have, the more you will begin to understand this world. Sooner or later you know how to pick up one more stem, then pretty soon you'll have a bouquet. That's true.
I want it that way.
That's why my mother and dad told me, "Be careful. Don't go too fast."
That's a big word. . . .
I want to help, but I don't want to go too fast.(14)
I know what I'm doing -- well I should know. Well, that's my business. That's the way I do it. See, you aren't coaching me; no. You don't have to; no. But I put my foot down on certain spots. I have a right to.
So that's all right to tell you now. That's the way we believe it.(15)
Grand Medicine is more a doctoring work. It gives life to the Indians when they respect one another, and 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.(16)
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 medications to get that power into that medicine. When they do the requirement for the question that arises for this medicine,(17) they empower the medicine. After it's empowered, the medicine is used by this man,(18) or by anybody. But to use the medicine, you have to show that you believe in that. You have to show that you're looking forward for this medicine to act up.
Without believing in anything, it's no use to even try that. 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.
Everybody does their own ways on good terms. You can see a person by their action, by the words they talk, buy 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.
Midewiwin stays with you as long as you believe in that. You join that belief, and if you believe strong in that, you get so that your belief continues to get stronger. Then you commence to believe almost like Christian Science; then after a while you'll commence to be a staff(19) of that belief, Midewiwin.(20) When you believe strong, you're heading for an even higher Midewiwin staff. You believe in that medicine when you're in the Mide. When you belong to the Midewiwin you go to meetings wherever there's a bunch gathering. Now-a-days they generally have a bunch get together at Inger.(21)
That belief is pretty near like Christian Science, but they believe in trees, and they believe in the God, the Manidoo.(22) They believe in everything. They respect everything.
Midewiwin staff maa-mósh-m^sh-ka-w^-zíiz . . . maa-mo-m^'sh-k^-wI-zíi, is "in the head, strong good will." I'm talking about good will, not bad will. The good will is the one that helps you along in this great world we have from God who put it here.
Bad will, that's easy. The devil's working on that. If you believe in the devil you'll do anything. You're in trouble. You won't last long. If you believe in the Manido, you'll get old.(23) He wants to take care of you. He's going to take care of you. So that's God's word.
How often they get together all depends on what they call on,(24) the same as a powwow.(25 I think they generally had one meeting in the fall and one in the spring. Sometimes at other times. It all depends on who calls it on. In the spring, when the leaves were coming out, it was a good time of the year. Maybe there's something to that natural season we go by. But in the spring they generally had a big doings. We called that spring meeting maa-wIn-jíi-i-dI-wI'n, that's "get together." That's in the springtime, when you're able to have a lot of room to speak.
When we get together at a Grand Medicine meeting we listen to a good sermon -- which is just the same, predn'near the same, as the sermon in any church we go to: "If you do good, 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."(26)
Generally every spring they had a special meeting thanking God. That's what they call a Grand Medicine dance. In that dance some of these young Indians are ready to go into Grand Medicine. It's just the same as an initiation. In Grand Medicine they have a re‑meditation every spring. Re‑meditation in the spring of the year is called mi-naa-wàa mi-day wi-w^g; mi-naa-wàa mi-day-I-wày. That's the second issue of meditating of life, empowering it more in a second stage.
They probably have one in the fall of the year as well as one in the spring.(27) There they also re‑meditate to more empower a guy that's going for a higher staff. They meditate. That's called mI-day-wi-àah.
The ones up for initiation learned what the higher staff Mide taught them, and they were ready to be a Grand Medicine believer. These Grand Medicine believers put on a big dinner, with rice, meats, and maple sugar. They put a big panful right out there for you to help yourself, with a dish. It was like a cafeteria restaurant where you just take what you want. You can have all you want to.
Grand Medicine believers generally gather according to
the area they lived in. They gather in their bunch. It could be a campsite
of about three hundred people -- two- three- hundred people. But there
never were that many in a bunch lately, in the last few years.
But there still is in the family affairs -- in the family itself -- one that talks to the Great.(28) There is usually one in a family who is higher staff. See, in Grand Medicine, there's a higher staff in power that they call "the highest." Well, we would say in English, "the sacrament, the last(29) sacrament."
There are about three high staff now in our area.(30) In the olden days there were more, in different areas. They got branched off.(31) They got branched off of the reservation in the old history of the Indians. One history(32) tells where the tribe is, and that they go visit one another, and that they have a feast and gathering, and talk about the power of the spirit of some thing.(33)
They gather over and over to prove it -- to prove power of the Midewiwin.
The highest staff is chi-mI-dày-wi, "Big,
big Grande." "Big, big -- big -- Grand Medicine person," is chi-mI-dày-way.
He's the spiritual leader-of-all.
His medicine has the most power. This most powerful medicine is not to speak about, anywhere!! It's so respected and powerful. They use that in the end.(34) This medicine is something made, in part, out of a tree. It's out of a tree, the heart of a tree. I think it's more or less from down by the root of a tree. It's the highest herb of natural resources. They use paint rock too. Sometimes they mix in three colors of that paint rock. I know the name of it, but I wouldn't know the name of it in English. In Indian it's ohn-naa-màn. It's a highest power of the natural resources. It's the highest medicine there is. Ya. That's only for the high staff. To the Indian, that's the most respected and powerful thing to carry. There are very few who want to carry that. And there are quite a few who don't like to have that on them. It's so powerful that you have to know how to handle it. That's the highest I know. It's respected.
And when anybody carries that, they have the power of the highest staff of the spiritual doctoring of Grande.(35) When you have that, you have something to carry. And that's a great thing. When anybody carries that, look out! You know -- you should know -- if he's got it.(36) They're nothing to fool with. If they carry that, whatever they say, that's what will happen. But there are very few that carry that ohn-naa-màn! That's the highest.
Oh, the Mide could carry that, but it all depends on how much of it they have to give out. They give it out when they have a session.(37) It's just like palms. You're supposed to take that palm on Palm Sunday. If you're Catholic, you're supposed to take that palm on Palm Sunday. You're supposed to take that palm home and respect it.
Well, that's pred'near the same as in any religion. Most religions will say to you, "You're supposed to take this and respect it. When it's time to use it, you use it. If you fear something's going to happen, you use that." That's supposed to take care of you.
Next to the spiritual leader-of-all would be another spiritual medicine doctor in Grand Medicine. There are six or seven staffs.(38) The higher you go, the more you see.(39) There are different names for the staffs, but I don't know the names for them all. That's secretive.(40) There are a lot of different names for them; most of them are names of herbs.
They grind up herbs. Yea. They grind them up and they put them in a small buckskin bag -- a "medicine" or "luck" bag.(41) Some people call it a "luck bag," in English. In Indian, it's b^ss-kwày-gIn-^-m^'ss-kIn-móed. m^sh-kay-moed that's "bag," b^ss-kwày-gIn, that's "buckskin." If you just say b^ss-kwày-gIn m^sh-kay-moed, "buckskin bag," everybody knows it's a medicine bag. It's either way, either way you want it -- for luck or for medicine. If you want luck, good luck medicine, you got it. It's all combined in one. Just the way you handle it for good or bad, that's what will happen.(42)
That's what God put on earth. They're meditated. See, these herbs are meditated. The Indian doctors could take any medicine, herbs, roots, and grind them up and meditate them for what it's going to be used for. It could be that they put some tobacco in it too -- kinnickinik(43) -- and maybe some pipe tobacco,(44) and maybe some medicine. They put some stone, something beautiful, in there. They put in whatever they pick up.
It's all blessed by the powerman. They have a drum and they drum and sing. They sing for empowerment and everything. Once in a while, when they feel like it, at a certain time, they go through a lot of things.(45)
The powerful spiritual man will meditate that mixture. It's the same as a priest blessing that. He's given the power to do that. The Indian that wants to carry that medicine keeps it for that purpose, the purpose for which it was meditated.
That was held lately here too. See . . . oh . . . they
still go for that.(48) Four, five years
ago, I remember, they were having Grand Medicine dances.(49) That's their belief, Grand Medicine, and maybe that's still going on.(50) I'll tell you how it looks. They had their big meeting
in May; I guess it's May on the calendar, when the leaves are coming
out. When the leaves are coming out they had a meeting in a great big
fence church.(51) The place where they
had their meeting was just like it was fenced. Oh, that fence was about
six feet, seven, eight feet high, and about sixty to a hundred feet long.
The fence is there year 'round -- it's made there, and stays there -- with little poles driven
in the ground that are tied together at the top. Maybe the fence is sixty to a hundred feet. It's sixty
to a hundred feet long, and it's twenty or so feet wide. There's room
enough for all. Then they put a bigger pole across the top, the long way,
down the middle. And this mI-dày-wIn -- this fence church --
is curved, curved on the top. And there's a door on either end of it -- on the short ends.
That's where you keep out, unless you believe in it. You aren't supposed to step in there unless you believe in it, unless you're willing to be initiated by their good will.
But whoever wants to join, whoever wants to dance, they can go in.
Onlookers can stand outside the fence. But you can't go in there unless you want to join in their medicine. You're supposed to join their group to go in there. That's just like going to church. They dance for happiness, good will, and good summer.(52)
There's a wiigwaam sitting a little ways from the fence church, with a door on it. The spiritual men sweat in there before a doings.(53) There's a wiigwaam, but it's on the narrow end, not in the center.(54) The wiigwaam was just a regular small wiigwaam, but it was used for the sweat. There is no fence around that wiigwaam. There's just the wiigwaam at the one end. And that's where the Mide sweat before the ceremonies.
They don't mind the children running in and out of that area because they're young in mind. And they don't mind because when the children jump in they're training with their father and mother or the old people. The children dance too. They never say anything to the children. But they clear them away when they're throwing the wishes of the best power and good will to all.(55) When the children are cleared out, then they can talk to the God.
There'd be quite a few people inside of there -- inside
of that fence church -- quite a few. Some drop off, some keep right on going.
Hoh! There would be about thirty, forty, sometimes sixty. They have room
enough to dance with their medicine. The more dancers they have, the bigger
they make it.
They dance with animal skins,(56) and the medicine dance has a different language from the Indian language of the world. The language of the Midewiwin is mI-dày wi-gaa-gií-i$-do-wI'n. The Indian language of the world the Mide live in has a certain way to it, now này-kaa-n^-g^-n^-gay-nao whàyay-hùu; này-kaa-n^-g^-n^-gay-n^. They kind-a chant it. They keep time when they sing that.
That's medicine songs. The old medicine Indian sits right there(57) singing, and they all sing and dance with joy and happiness. There's a man sitting there. He's got power to do good, bad, or anything he wants. And he knows the history of life. He's an old man setting there. And he sings a song. Then they pound the drums and sing, just like the songs I sang for you. They pound a drum and they dance. They have medicine and they dance around carrying their medicine in their fur hides: mink hides, skunk hides, beaver hides. They use anything they get. They dry them hides and put medicine in those dried hides.
They have special songs for that. They sing a spiritual song. There's an answer to everything. When this guy sings the song, he sees he will get an answer. It's a spiritual song. It's a medicine song. Medicine Men use that in Grand Medicine. If I had a drum, I'd beat that drum, bang! Rrrrrrrrrrrr; it's just like a rattlesnake. There's dope(58) in there too. That sound at the end of the song is when they get answers. It's a medicine song. They're talking to the spirits. It's a spiritual song. Those songs are nothing to fool with either. The Medicine Men get an answer(59) by them. Birds carry the message.(60) Birds carry these songs. When you see the bird around, he's answering. Something's going to happen.
Birds are a good sign. Unless they're black. Crawlers are a bad sign. It isn't good to see a crawler. You don't like them. A lot of Indians don't like snakes because you don't know what that snake is, because in the medicine of the Indians' Grand Medicine they use a lot of crawlers for messengers. In Grand Medicine they'll send crawlers out into the world, if they want to.
Crawlers are given to you to clean out the food and the bugs and all that. And the bugs feed your frogs and the snakes; that's all vegetation what crawls. I mean to say all vegetation has crawlers. In Indian you have to be careful as you walk. It's all vegetation that grows there, and you're liable to meet something there in the vegetation. A crawler might come to you in mild weather, like summer.
Indians use all this stuff, even butterflies, for messengers. And, of course, they use mii-gis. mii-gis is a sea shell. They use that for sending messages. It's good. It's big.(61) It's power. They don't talk about mii-giss. The old Indians know that mii-gis. That's why the younger class respected the old class -- because they had lots of power, lots of belief; they had will power.(62) And they use that will power. When they say something to this animal, when they send it off with a certain meditation which they believe in, it goes there, it gets there to where it is going, and you'll see things happen.
And they all have a medicine bag like I carry. In the olden days you'd see them dancing with a hide on their belt. And that hide on their belt could be a weasel hide, mink hide, skunk hide, or any hide. And they purify that hide through processing. They'd get the meat off and use just the hide. They'd wash it and dry it, wash it and dry it, and wash and dry it. So when they dried it the last time, it became clean. Then when they dried it the last time, they'd stretch it out. With the sun they cured it. And when it's cured, they meditated it for what it's for. That hide is full of medicine. It's empowered by the Great of which they believe. That's the first religion that the Indian had, and it was good! It worked!
The old people already know what that hide's for. They aren't scared. But the young people, if they see that hide, if they find that, they jerk their hand away because it might be good or it might be bad.
I've always carried these animal hides. The Indian believes in their Indian way of life. They believe in a spirit on earth which is in their person.(63) And I have a weasel hide that I went along with all the time. I have my weasel skin at all times. I have my weasel skin which is meditated by me. It's already approved by my Indians way back. And I carry it when I get serious, very serious, about things. And I have it with me now. It usually goes with me. I ask this weasel skin a question. I ask this skin of mine, "What could I do? What shall it be?"
"What do I expect?"
I just tell this weasel skin what I expect, and I see it. In not very long time the answer is there.
It never fails! And I respect it. If it fails a little at first, it doesn't bother me. If it fails there's something on my side that I forgot. Maybe I forgot to do something. Maybe I forgot to recognize(64) something.
That's the way it works. With me it's been working, and I expect it will work always. I believe in that. We all carry that in our Indian way of life. Grandes and believers(65) all carry hides.
Grand Medicine has lots of them hides. But they go through a different method with their hides. They go through fasting. They go through meditation. They go through their drums.(66) They go through a doctoring of their own methods.
So this is what an animal hide is for. And I show this to my friends in my home town, and they ask me about a lot of things. And they ask me to do a lot of things. These weasel hides we carry lived one time on this earth. Maybe they lived a hard life. And they died. So, for luck, we carry them, and then we use them as a Grand Medicine helper. When we go to a Grand Medicine dance we use them, we operate with them. We dance with them. That's what we do. The Grand Medicine Indians are stronger and higher power than the believers.
"Believers" are those who believe in the Indian religion or way of life, but are not Mide. The believers are on either side. Either they go to church or they don't, but they believe in God.(67) But the Grand Medicine is really higher staff, and it's stronger. And they have a lot more power.
In a ceremony we take those hides out. We carry them because they have 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. These hides are supposed to help you in your life. We believe in that and we work for that. We use all kinds of medicine, ground up, and then we put a selected portion of that medicine in there. And we carry them.
And this you respect. You respect the other one, the other person -- they might have the same thing too! So by respecting the others you are normal; you are normal. Do right. If you do right, you'll never be hurt. The others may do right, and they'll never hurt.
But we have some who destruct, who are destructors. We have some people that destruct this belief by trying to tear it down. We find that anywhere, in any church, or any religion. We don't laugh. We don't pay any attention to little spots. Of course we have people that get beyond their personal power. They come in there with just bad talking. A little of that don't hurt them. But watch out if they go too far!
You had it. When we went there to Inger you had a whole heart for that.(68) You felt it. Otherwise, if you didn't believe it, if you didn't want to hear it, it wouldn't work.(69) If you're willing to learn about it, then it does you good. You see things. But if you didn't carry it, if you think it is a joke, maybe you'll run into a big problem with your life. You have to be careful if you go. You have to agree with it, for the best.
That's the way we live. We live that. Almost what we think comes true, if we're deep enough on it.
I think they all feel good about it, those that carry these hides. They're happy. They're good-hearted. These Indians are good-hearted. They're kind to others. And they're respected. They're too good-hearted, sometimes. We carry that hide for getting help to others. That hide is your reminder as you go. That's your reminder as you go, when you're out into the world. It's the same as a medal,(70) only this was living in life. It's nothing to fool with! It's nothing foolish. It's something you go by. You feel good about it. It makes you happy that you're able,(71) time and time, year after year. It makes me feel good. You feel good when you respect that. You feel good when you respect one another.
Maybe, maybe you take a weasel hide now, at a certain point in time, but it doesn't stop here. A weasel hide does good as long as you carry it. The heavier you take it, the more you get braver. When you take it, that's when you'll have braveness in you. After a while you don't care for anything else but the Great. A weasel hide will do that to you.
It's the same thing when you carry that hide. All this happens when you carry that hide. Don't swear with that on you. It's the same thing. Watch your life! Be alert! And when you speak to your weasel, you'll be heard. That power's there.
But the power of your hide stops on you. When you find a weasel skin that belongs to somebody else, that's his power. The hides have power, and the hide he carries gives him power. Even if you lose your weasel hide it's yours. When it's found, sure, it's still yours.
Some of them in town ask me, "Could someone take your hide and work on you with it? With your own hide? Could they take it and do that?"
But if you use anybody else's hide, that will come back to affect you.(72) If people steal these, it don't benefit them. Somebody's going to get sick if he isn't protected -- if he touches that hide of the other or tries to keep it. That's bad stuff for him.
I lost another hide that I carry. My other hide will come back to me some day.(73) Somebody probably tried to pull that weasel skin out of my pocket. That thing crawls out anytime. I've lost two or three in the last year. Somebody's watching me. Maybe they're thinking, "We'll weaken him if we pull that weasel skin out."
That's why I also got a medal this time.(74)
Sometimes they're probably just fooling around. Bud Tibbetts had my weasel skin in his hand one time too. "Hay, hay," he joked as he showed it to everybody. And I said, "Bud, that's going to work-back against you." He threw it to me.
You aren't supposed to touch somebody else's hide!
But if I recommend that he could use it, it'll work. If you give a hide to somebody they have to re‑mediate it -- have it re‑blessed -- the way he wants it, if he wants to use that.
Some people ask me how do I
Nooh! He isn't. Because he doesn't use it,(75) he just puts it up in the house, to protect his house. That's what he believes in. But how do I know that he's not using it? He wouldn't use that on anybody! His personality speaks louder than his words.
When we initiate the next one(77) we inject that power into him. When they get a person that's joining the Midewiwin they confirm him by throwing their power into him. They throw(78) it at one another. When you're injected with power you slump, you drop everything.
Shooting with the hide is mI-day-we-aàhh. They have power to throw their medicine. Indian power lets you throw your medicine. That's their beliefs. And when they're doctoring -- that's Indian doctoring -- they use the same medicine. But in the initiation they throw it at the one who wants to be Grand Medicine. The Medicine Man throws medicine:
And when we throw the injection at him, it'll go six feet. They go like that!(79) They "throw" the power out with all the fingers heading straight for the mark. They feel it. It'll go six feet. But if you want to do wrong and backlash somebody else, that would go farther. That's dangerous too.
How often they throw power like that all depends. The older class would do that more often. The older class would do that more often, but I don't think they do that much now. They're scared of it.
You know why?
It's very dangerous!
So that's why we generally leave it alone -- most of us. We leave it just the way it lays. That's nothing to monkey with. You could feel that power injection in your arms. You could feel the electricity there.
The Mide throw it out with those animal skins. It will reach
about six or eight feet. The ones joining slump over when they get hit. That's infection.
They're infected. You don't get infected like with germs; they drill it
in you. And when they fall over they just liy down and rest, then get
up again. That shows what power the Indians have. Most generally the one
who gets hit will get
That's what they say when they throw their medicine.
When that medicine power hits the one being initiated, you could see him flinge.(82) Ohh!!, that's a great thing to see! Well, that's the way they confirm(83) him. After he's been confirmed, he's a 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.
Confirming is going to a high staff, a high staff of Indian religion. Confirm, maa-mào m^'sh-ka-way-zíi, that's "he's got the power." màa-mo, that's "all together," m^sh-k^-waa-dI-zíz, strong, health, and everything. And he's the leader, he's màa-mo m^'ss-k^-wàa, "strong-with-good-will medicine man."
Every time there's a problem he's used as a Medicine Man. If anybody has a problem they drag that person in to him. They drag the person in sickly and they use the Medicine Man for him to get well. They use the words, and they use a mixture of medicines that he prepares.
We call that disease of stricken by the nature of life, wii-à-o ka-pi-tàks-k^n wii-ù, "he didn't believe." He didn't believe anything! bI-tàks-ka-go, bI-tà-ko-sk^'n, that means he ran into something wrong, of his own will. That's a disease you run into.
In Old John Smith's(85) time they all understood the Midewiwin. But there gradually got to be less and less who did. When they started drifting away from the Indian belief I was a young man. There were places where I stopped and saw the Indian way when I was a young man. Ya, I saw the way the Indians believe. So I was brought up in the Indian way when I was up to six and seven years old.
My folks said, "Be careful where you go amongst people."
I said, "Why?"
"Those Indians have beliefs. They have beliefs and they respect their beliefs. They have marks that they use in words."
"What . . . what do you mean, ma?"
"Well they have services. They meditate when you go to higher staff from the bottom up. And when you practice, when you practice as you go older, you get staffed. You know that. Then your power, your will power, commences to act. You know. You have to be very careful."
That's the way they'd use one another. And they respected one another in my time.
I was pretty small when I first followed that . . . . I was about eight, nine years old. I used to go to the Midewiwin meetings. I used to also go to them up to Tower, Minnesota. I was about nine or ten years old, and I was up in the north. I was going to school at Tower.(86) There's a big government school there, and when we were there a bunch of us boys and girls would go watch the Midewiwin medicine dance.
We had a lot of Canadian Indians there that we called "Ojibway." Some of them were from Canada; some were from pretty close to the Canadian boarder.
There was a session of Grand Medicine there every so often. Grand Medicine men had a special session there in the spring of the year. They had a feast to re‑meditate, to help the sick, to help the needy, to help problem-solving. That's where I first really took notice of Grand Medicine. All the school children and employees went and looked at them.
They didn't mind; the old class didn't mind. They didn't mind us at all. They didn't pay any attention to the younger class, because they knew we were going to school those days. They knew we had a government school there.
It was quite interesting how they performed.
You couldn't understand Midewiwin in English, but you could by sitting by the ring and listening in Indian.(87) They knew that before they let the young person go to the Midewiwin, and set in and listen to what he hears from the Grand Medicine Man, he had to be seven years old. He could understand what it is for after he was seven years old.(88) He could understand it by talking Indian.
There was one Indian on the lead, and he was talking. They got some kind of a sling(91) that they understand in Grand Medicine. The Indian on the lead is high-staffed(92) with his practice. He practiced that Grand Medicine for many years.
He had a medicine hide. As I remember, it looked to me like it was a mink hide. They worked meditating. You might as well say it was about the same as baptizing.(93) "Re‑meditation" they call this practice in the spring of the year. Everybody has trouble: problems, ailments, and everything. That's why they re‑meditate one another.
The leader would dance around with that hide, and "throw" the power of that hide a certain distance.(94) He'd point that hide at the person being meditated, and, the way it reads, in Indian belief, it "shoots" him. But there's nothing there, no noise. It seemed to me that he was blowing at the same time. But he had nothing in his mouth.
Then they kept dancing on the ring. Each of the great behind-scouts had hides. But they were just candy hides(95); they didn't throw their hides, only the chief throwed. The last time they came around the ring they were drumming, same as in the powwow; they were drumming.
Oh, it was so nice looking! I was wondering about their practice. I thought to myself, "That's their rites, and that's the belief of the Indians. That's why(96) they respect one another, and that's why they were careful‑ly to one another -- careful what they say."
That's the way I picked it out. That's why they didn't allow us too close. They forbid us to get too close to their ring made of poles tied together.(97) They'd tell us, "Stay away. You can go just so far. Do not get too close." Just those that were joining(98) could go and dance there. At the Tower Indian school many believe in another religion and they knew it. Maybe we were Catholic, Methodist, or something. They didn't want to have these kids too close. But they let us look on.
But in spite of their warnings we always had some boys go in there by the ring. They didn't know any better. They thought it was a powwow, and they'd join the dance. The old folks would call them out: "This is a special doings. It's special."
And while the Mide were dancing you see a big campfire on the side of the fence church; all the women, most of the women, were there with three or four of them cooking around the big fire. There were men there too, and they had great big dishes with handles. When it came to meal time, they had big dishes -- big dish pans, old-time dish pans with two handles -- full of crackers, and cookies, and maple sugar and wild rice. They had big stews with wild pickings and raisins(99) and everything put in there. Meat, wild rice -- everything -- they put in the stew. It had wild rice, meat, maple sugar, all kinds of berries -- dried berries they boiled over.(100)
Boy it looked good!
We were hungry!
Oh it was a big feast!
I was just set for that, and I was just going to eat some of that food when I found out that it was just for the comers that visited that area.(101) Well, we had plenty to eat in that government school, and my sister told me, "No, that's for these people that are coming to visit this area. Don't eat."
In those days they believed in eating dogs. That was a great offer to them. And I've seen them. Gee that looked good when they cooked up a dog. I was going to eat a dog too, but my sister stopped me. She said, "That's a Medicine Man offering. You're a Catholic." She said I was already baptized. But I knew that I wasn't baptized through the priest.
You didn't ever trust a dog, and in those days there were so many dogs. a-n-mush, "dog," -- that isn't a very good word. That's the low, too low to the ground. Ya. But they eat them. The Indians most generally eat them -- used to eat them. You didn't have to eat a dog them days,(102) but they did that as a gift to their Spirit. That's what those Indian believers use. They made wild rice dog soup, putting maple sugar with it.
I pred'near dug into that too, once, but my sister called me back. I was going to join everybody to eat. I was hungry. I was going to sit down there, when my sister, Mary Buffalo, called me back: "You don't eat there. You ate your dinner. You don't belong in that religion."
"What difference does that make?"
"You're a Catholic. You're a Catholic!"
"But I'd like to go back to that religion."
"No, you can't right now. You have to be re‑meditated."
They wouldn't let me eat the food that the Grand Medicines use, because I had a sister and I had folks who were Catholic. They said, "You're mixed."
So I stopped. We did stop, but it was late in the afternoon when we went there on the weekend, and I was hungry. So I looked at them eat.
After they ate, they went in the ring again, and did just the same thing. Different ones ha d a re‑meditation this time. Those getting re‑meditated were sitting on each end of the ring.
There was a big crowd of Indians on Lake Vermillion. I couldn't say just how many, but there were a lot of us onlookers, and there were a lot of Indians there. I asked where these Indians, most of them, came from. "Some of 'em live here, but some of 'em come from far and near. This is a special occasion."
I couldn't say how many people were dancing. I would judge about, anyhow, 30 or 40. They would dance around single-file behind one another. There's a leader, a master, and a drummer. If this drummer is great, he knows how to order(103) the leader by signals, by songs.
The women-folk were dancing too, but some of them were also busy keeping the children far enough away to look on. The children all sat or played outside of the ring, far enough away.
Well, that's just the way they lived. That's their rite. I always remember that. It's a wonderful picture. I've seen it. I think I went along pretty good.
That happened about 1909, '10, '11. Ya. That happened in Tower, Minnesota. Ya. They use Grand Medicine up there. They were meditating and re‑meditating people from time to time up there. Whenever they had a doings we all stood around and looked at it. But we didn't get too close, because the old chief always said, "Stay back a little." That thing that they "throw"(104) flies about six or seven feet, maybe. It all depends on how much power he's putting on it.
I don't remember if I saw power shot like that anywhere else since. A time before I saw one -- before I saw this at Tower Indian School. I haven't seen this practiced very often since because they don't have it very often anymore.
But they do have curing ceremonies whenever somebody needs it. I think they have them like we saw in Inger more often.(105) I know an aunt -- my dad's sister -- that went to one of these places.(106) She had to go back three times before she was ready for Grand Medicine curing. She had become a Catholic. When she went back to the Grand Medicine they had to have a special duty on that, a special session on that. She had to be re‑initiated in that belief.
I think this Grand Medicine leader-of-all has a strong mind. Because my aunt went to church, probably got baptized, he felt that he didn't want to destroy anybody's mind. He felt that this lady -- my aunt -- had been baptized, and before he operated(107) on her, he wanted to make sure she was strong-willed. And he wanted to know that she had changed for the betterment of all.
The Grand Medicine leader-of-all, can almost read your mind. They almost know what you're thinking of. A person might come there to the Grand Medicine when he comes back from another church. He might have gone from religion to religion.
But . . . I think jumping around from one church to another might show weakness in there somewhere, and that weakness might take effect. It's hard to convince the Midewiwin leaders to change, or that you changed. When you were baptized you promised to stay with that religion.(108) The more you stay with that religion, the more power you can have. The Spiritual will then be with you at all times. It's all the same, to tell the truth about it.(109) The same principle is working for the next world. He(110) pointed that out. Over there at Ryan's Village they just take that peyot.(111) They drink that. And sometimes, I believe, the Grandes feel that it may be dope. They go beyond the truth of life, they overdone it, just like Holy Rollers.
At Ryan's Village they were affected by outsiders coming into this area.(112) You see, the Indian told there'll be a different denomination coming in: "There'll be different religious people coming, many of them, researching for God, searching for God, searching for the future. And there'll be a lot of dictators where they'll tell you what to believe."
"But stay with one religion and do right. That's all you have to do, the right thing to others. When you jump around from one church to another, although you believe in the Great, you start to believe everything, and it kind of destroys you. What are you going to believe? You get confused and it destroys your mind. But it's a good thing to research and find where the best lie."
You can change and get into Grand Medicine, but most generally they don't like to do anything to harm anybody, or to draw people's attention from their own belief.
You see, that's the trouble: people are easily dictated to by outsiders disturbing what they wish to do. The Indian always said they don't want to be dictated to. They wish to do what's right, and if they do what's right, I think they feel as though they get results. They get results when they do what's right, on earth, and in the future, and in the past. There's truth in the good words.
Maybe we should understand clearly by looking. We all have to go through life. That life is coming; there's no way out of it. The Great's truth is one thing you can't say "no" to.
A lot of the younger class -- the younger generation -- had a little schooling and they didn't bother with Indian medicine. But most of the Midewe -- those that believe in the Indian way of life -- they still believe in Indian medicine and in the Indian spiritual way. "I live here, and I took this religion when I began. Maybe I should stay with it." That's what a lot of them think.
I think that's right.
The Indians around here don't all believe that Midewiwin. Some of them are Catholic.(113) The Catholic priest came in and also told them there's a God. So wherever you see people, there will always be somebody who will come in there and tell them different.
That's where your religious comes in. The white man brightens up, tries to civilize, using the method of the "religious." But the Indians have "religious" of their own. Indians have a religion of their own, and that's medicine. The Medicine Men have used this power and have shown that this power works.(114) All the medicine has shown and proven itself. The Indians studied their own means of doctoring and lots of them get results out of this method -- which proves it. They get secure about it, serious about it. They get serious about medicine; the whole group of Indians gets serious about medicine. They've got grand medicine -- and that's Grand Medicine.
You couldn't go into a service, a Grand Medicine service, just bust in, and joke and say the things you want to, because you don't know how the medicine doctor felt. He was so serious about the Great Spirit that he felt like It.(115)
These Indians here years ago had the Midewiwin, that's all they had. It was their only belief. To get it clear here -- and there's lots to that -- let me tell you something. This was a good book(116) I read today, and I took notice that some things were already written out about the Midewiwin, and that's why I said here that I saw that ceremony.
Midewiwin is grand Medicine. Midewe is individual. Midewiwin is the group that's in Grand Medicine. Mide-we-win is a group of Grand Medicine. Midewiwin. They use it like that all the time.
MI-dày-wi-wIn is good or bad, but m^j-i-mI-dày-wîns, that's bad. ni-miss-kan, that's a real bad the-last-track-dirt-language that you could use against anybody. With that he throws you the whole deal(117) as if you were low as a dog.(118) He throws you the whole works. He takes all his fingers and throws them toward you, all at once. And when he does that to you, you can feel it. That's how much power they have. They use a dog because they're low. That's why they use that. Ya, that's ni-nish-k^m, that's the worst sign in Indian. That's the worst sign we have.
They don't have words that go with that sign, but they can think anything they want to. They could think you're a devil, or that you're going back to the devil, or that you're too mean and you're drifting without searching for help.(119) They can think that you're no good. But they don't say that. No! Just their mind works when they do that. They have words that are just prayed in the mind. They keep it to themselves why they do that. But they might call you a son-of-a-gun at that. They might say that you aren't going to last long. They give you the whole works right there.(120) That's all they've got. That's the last sacrament they give you, then you're done.(121) They go to work like that.
I used to see them quarrel over that hand movement -- the hand movement! The old ladies are worse on it. Ya, they go "yayh-aay-oi ôe-yhh!!" See? "You're not worth it." uaay$ aay$ is "you're not worthwhile to talk to." "uoe-y$!!." See, that's when they're really mad. You better get the heck out of there when they do that.
I heard them say you should say nothing about them. That's the way it's supposed to be. That's the way we want it.
To interpret those birch bark writings you have to be in their session when they make them. A lot of stuff backfires on a lot of people when they don't stop, look, listen! A lot of them aren't here because they didn't respect that fence at the Midewiwin gatherings. And they didn't respect where it's fenced on those writings.(123) The Indians said that fence is a stop sign. Don't go against it, in any way! That's what I believe in.
I've asked my brother-in-law that question. I said, "What about that birch bark?(124) When you write that, can you read that then?"
"I used to be able to read it when I practiced that, but it's been so long since I've practiced. Then when we mixed with the whites and their religious people I just let that down. It's hard to come back, to pick it up and come back. But there's a lot of meaning to that."(125)
Yes, I believe he is a typical(126) Indian. He doesn't know how to talk English, much. Oh, he could if he wanted to talk to somebody, but he's kind of broken in the way he talks English, and he's kind of backward about it. He is a nice fellow. He's interested.(127) He knows those old Indian ways. He's up in a leisure home in Grand Rapids now -- an old-age home. Oh, they like him up there. They adopted him up there. There were some girl scouts that adopted him last year. Somebody was telling me they saw his picture in the paper when they adopted him.
Oh, he's a great old man. He's a gentleman. He's a real Indian, from Mille Lacs. Oh, everybody likes old Jim. I have a good brother-in-law. Ya. He was a good provider. Hunt!! Oh! He could hunt deer, that guy! As soon as you hit that track of that deer, it was just as good as the deer'd be dead. He'd circle, and he'd circle. And when the deer's slowing down, in his tracks, Jim'll stop and look. Then he'll look up and check which way the wind's blowing, and he'll look for a big cluster of trees. If he figures that the deer might be lying in that cluster of trees, he'll circle 'round that, then he'll sneak up there. Most generally he finds them jumping up, standing up on their feet. Oh he's a quick shot.
But Jim is chI-mI-dày-wi$!, so one should expect that.
And as chI-mI-dày-wi$ -- a main one that goes to the Grand Medicine doings -- he's big. He's higher staff(128) and the one that tends to the mI-dày-wi$. He's right on the ball. Sometimes he calls in the people for a ceremony.(129)
Jim wouldn't say anything about birch bark writing. We just don't say much about those birch barks, to anybody! And anyhow, reading of the Indian birch bark writing is pretty hard. I should take it over. I should. Boy you guys(130) would see more things, and understand it more. But first I've got to get ahold of some bark writings and other things that have the readings of it; and I need to work with someone who was there in the sessions when they were made. The readings are on bark; they're on wooden dolls; they're on birch clippings.(131) All of those birch barks have "faces" and knots, and you can write words on them.(132) There's sometimes a mark in there -- a writing -- on the birch bark, in the Indian way of writing language, that means the devil. Watch out . . . with this guy here -- the devil. If you're not careful you'll be caught with it -- with the devil.(133) And if you're caught with it, you'll suffer.(134)
The Grand Medicine is just a part of our religion. The Indian understands nature and believes by the nature of this earth. They study nature and they practice what they learn. And when they practice they 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. And the big animals are given to us to eat on. Nature -- that's what the Indian looks at!
Now you have it from a speaker who's holding with you.(135) That's God's word. He gave you the tools to use, and if you use them right you'll be happy.
Years ago a lot of people from Ball Club married people from Inger. But now-a-days the generation coming behind isn't marrying up there so much anymore. Years ago they were all following suit. Ya, they were all following the same belief in those days. That's the only means they had. The ones from Ball Club sat right in with them there at Inger. That's the only means they had in life. Now some are using that Indian medicine, but many aren't. They're swinging around now. They are using that marijuana. They don't want to go with this Indian outfit. They think they have a channel of their own, which they have. But they still ask me a lot of stuff about Grand Medicine.
I talked to them.
I ask them, "Aren't you following the medicine, Grand Medicine, anymore?"
"No. Heck, there's too much responsibility in that," they tell me.
So, I don't bother them.
They want to be left alone.
1. It is alright and "according to the Bible" for a layperson to baptize someone under certain circumstances; that is a sanctioned part of the sacrament of Baptism in the Roman Catholic Church. But according to Paul's Indian belief the person that baptized him, his Grandfather, was not really authorized to impart the full part of Baptism because he was not really a priest or power man.
2. Paul returned to Midewiwin.
3. For further information on the Midewiwin see the following: A. Balikci, 1956, "Note sur le midewiwin," Anthropological, 2: 165-217; Victor Barnouw, 1954, "Reminiscences of a Chippewa Mide Priest," Wisconsin Archaeologist, 35:4:83-112; Robert C. Dailey, 1958, "The Midewiwin, Ontario's First Medical Society," Ontario History, 50:3:133-138; Frances Densmore, 1929, Chippewa Customs, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institutes, Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 86:1-204; A. Irving Hallowell, 1936a, "The Passing of the Midewiwin in the Lake Winnipeg Region," American Anthropologist, 38:1:32-51; Harold Hickerson, 1962a, "Notes on the Post-Contact Origin of the Midewiwin," Ethnohistory, 9:4:404-423; Harold Hickerson, 1962b, "The Southwestern Chippewa: An Ethnohistorical Study," American Anthropologist, 64:3:(Part 2), Memoir 92; Harold Hickerson, "The Sociohistorical Significance of Two Chippewa Ceremonials," American Anthropologist, 65:1:67-85; Harold Hickerson, 1970, The Chippewa and Their Neighbors: A Study in Ethnohistory, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston; Hoffman, Walter James. "The Midewiwin; or 'Grand Medicine Society' of the Ojibwa," in Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Seventh Annual Report, 1885-1886, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1891), pp. 143-300; Basil H. Johnson, Ojibwa Ceremonies, (Toronto: McClelland and Steward, 1982); Basil Johnston, Ojibwa Heritage, (N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 1976), pp. 80-93; L.J. Lafleur, 1940, "On the Mide of the Ojibway," American Anthropologist, 42:4:706-708; Ruth Landes, 1937b, Ojibwa Sociology. Columbia Contributions to Anthropology, 29:1-144. NY: Columbia University Press (reprinted, NY: AMS Press, 1969); Landes, Ruth. The Ojibwa Woman, Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology, 31:1-247, (1938; reprinted, NY: AMS Press, 1969; reprinted NY: W.W. Norton, 1971); Ruth Landes, 1968, Ojibwa Religion and the Midewiwin, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press (reprinted, NY: AMS Press, 1969); Jean-Louis Michon, 1964, "La Grande Medecine des Ojibways," Societe Suisse des Americanistes, Bulletin, 27:33-34, 28: 13-14; Jean-Louis Michon, 1972, "La Grande Medecine des Ojibways," Societe Suisse des Americanistes, Bulletin, 36:37-72; Jordan Paper, 1980, "From Shaman to Mystic in Ojibwa Religion," Studies in Religion, 9:2:185-199; Ruth B. Phillips, 1984, "Zigzag and Spiral: Geometric Motifs in Great Lakes Indian Costume," Papers of the Fifteenth Algonquian Conference, 1983, ed. by William Cowan, (Ottawa: Carleton University, pp. 409-424; Vivian J. Rohrl, 1967, "A Chippewa Funeral," Wisconsin Archaeologist, 48:2:137-140; S.C. Simms, 1906a, "The Metawin Society of the Bungees or Swampy Indians of Lake Winnipeg," Journal of American Folklore, 19:330-333; Christopher Vecsey, 1983, Traditional Ojibwa Religion and its Historical Changes, Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, pp. 174-190; Christopher Vecsey, "Midewiwin Myths of Origin," Papers of the Fifteenth Algonquian Conference, Ed. by William Cowan (Ottawa: Carleton University, 1983), pp. 445-467; Winchell, Newton H. (ed.), The Aborigines of Minnesota. . . ., (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1911).
4. "That stuff" includes Midewiwin as well as the other religious and spiritual and medical beliefs of Paul's group.
5. The people in the Midewiwin and other practitioners "in the Indian way of life."
6. Old people are privileged to talk about some things that younger people may not, or should not. This includes matters relating to Indian beliefs.
7. An important distinction is usually made between things that you are told and things that you know because you have participated in them. Psychologically these two things have different realities. If you act on something that you are told about Midewiwin that might be dangerous. In the next sentences Paul Buffalo verified that he actually "knows" what happened and therefore can pass it on, i.e., he has that knowledge from participation not from being told about it. The difference amounts to something like the difference between hearsay evidence and evidence one witnesses personally.
8. Paul Buffalo specially meditates the information on Midewiwin and other matters pertaining to "the Indian way of life" so that it will be alright to include them in this series.
9. Paul Buffalo considered explaining and interpreting Indian customs and ways to non-Indians as "translating" that information to them. He is talking about "translating" in a much wider sense than simply translating from Anishinabe language to English.
10. He knows the information from experience rather than by hearsay, and the fact that he is willing to talk about it shows that he knows about it. NOTE: He is not saying that he knows "all" about it, he is just saying that of the things that he talks about he knows all of that from experience.
11. Even though Paul Buffalo is able and willing to talk about the Midewiwin -- and do it from experience rather than from just hearing about it -- there are still some things that he will not discuss. He is just calling that fact to our attention. For example, Paul Buffalo and others will not talk about are someone else's Midewiwin birch bark scrolls (see his discussion towards the end of this chapter), or about the actual names of the Grand Medicine staffs, or about the powerful medicine of the most powerful Medicine Man, or about the sacred Megis (Mii-giss) shell.
12. If you know something about Midewiwin, but you're not trained to handle the knowledge, then "you know too much." And if you tell what you know about but can't handle, that's a violation. And dangerous!
13. He doesn't want to give either hearsay information, or information about using power from someone who isn't using the belief, or information to someone who isn't going to use it, and use it properly. He wants to give firsthand information from a practicing individual, to someone who wants to use the information -- but not to someone who is simply curious about it.
15. Paul Buffalo has established that much of what he will say is secret, especially from whites, but that whether or not to tell it for the book is his own personal business. He has also established that he will not tell everything that he knows, and he will set the limits. He has also established that he will tell the information at the rate he wants to, viz., slowly. In fact, he recorded parts of this chapter, then waited a long time (in some cases longer than a year) to see what would happen, then continued on recording further information. He continued that pattern from 1967 - 1977, thus testing his decision to talk about this matter. In his introduction he also establishes that individuals have been critical of him talking to a white person about this matter. He also notes that he knows what he is talking about -- as opposed to some who talk about things, including about Midewiwin, when they have little or no first-hand personal knowledge of the subject. His initial willingness to consider talking about the matter on record came from the dream that his mother had that someone would come to record these matters, and her recommendation that when that person arrived he should talk about all of the Indian beliefs. And when he saw the book by Hoffman ("The Midewiwin; or 'Grand Medicine Society' of the Ojibwa," Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1891), he was willing to talk about many aspects of Midewiwin. See also footnote #117 below.
16. Cf., Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women," and Ch. 31, "Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking, and Bone-Swallowing Specialists."
17. If someone comes to a medicine doctor with a problem, for example, the medicine doctor will go through a ritual and a curing ceremony which involves, in part, meditating or praying over the medicine that s/he will use to try to solve the original problem of the patient. That meditation is one main part of "the requirement for the question that arises for this medicine. . . ." In meditating the mixture the medicine doctor empowers it so that it can be used to help cure the problem.
18. The patient.
19. A Midewiwin "staff" is an initiated person of rank. A "staff" is more or less like a priest, although there are different "staff" levels.
20. Mide is the individual person who believe in Grand Medicine, Midewiwin is the organization of those who believe in Grand Medicine.
22. Frances Densmore, 1929, Chippewa Customs, p. 87, notes that "the highest conception of the Midewiwin was of a deity called Mide manido ("Grand Medicine spirit)," and that none of the individuals she worked with used the more common term Gitchi manido ("great spirit"), or the term Gijië' manido' ("kind spirit"). She continues, "Subordinate to this were four manido, one at each of the cardinal points, and a multitude of lesser manido who assumed the forms of animals. The manido in the form of a bear and of animals who live in the water were most closely connected with the Midewiwin."
23. Living to be an old person is a strong sign that you are living the right kind of life. Frances Densmore, 1929, Chippewa Customs, pp. 86-87, quotes a member of the Midewiwin, Gage-win: "The Midewiwin is not so much to worship anything as to preserve the knowledge of herbs for use in prolonging life. The principal idea of the Midewiwin is that life is prolonged by right living, and by the use of herbs which were intended for this purpose by the Mide manido ["Grand Medicine spirit"]." She continues, "The ethics of the Midewiwin are simple but sound. They teach that rectitude of conduct produces length of life, and that evil inevitably reacts on the offender. Membership in the midewiwin does not exempt a man from the consequences of his sins. Respect toward the Midewiwin is emphasized and respect toward women is enjoined upon the men. . . . Lying, stealing, and the use of liquor are strictly forbidden. . . . Men were taught to be moderate in speech and quiet in manner, and not hasty in action."
24. How often they meet depends on how often they call for a session, but it is generally at least twice a year.
25. See Ch. 23,"Niimi'idiwin: 'Come and Dance, Come and Sing--Living and Spirits Alike,'" for powwows.
27. It is usual that they would also have a gathering in the fall.
28. In a multigenerational patrilineal extended family there is still a higher-staff person who talks directly to the Great.
29. "Last" in the sense of being the highest, or ultimate, not necessarily "last" in the sense of the old Catholic "Last Sacrament" rite of the dying ("Extreme Unction") now referred to in the Roman Catholic Church as the "Sacrament of the Sick."
30. According to Paul, there were about three high staff individuals living and practicing in his area at the time.
31. They gradually spread out, as the people spread out.
32. For a classic version of "the old history of the Indian" see William W. Warren, 1885, The History of the Ojibwa Nation, St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society.
33. Paul Buffalo is here probably making reference to them talking about the power of the spirit of the sacred Megis, which is generally not talked about much, and especially not with non-Indian people.34. They use that as the ultimate medicine. Paul, later on, says that in their medicine they use "paint rock too." The medicine Paul is talking about here, like almost all medicines, is a mixture. Mixtures are most often compounded on each occasion for a specific individual and/or for a specific purpose. Cf., Belcourt, Christi. Onaman Collective. [Red Ochre paint.] Accessed 7 August 2018. http://christibelcourt.com/the-onamin-collective/.
35. They have the highest power of the Midewiwin, Grand Medicine.
36. Phrases like "he's got it," or "that's where we get it," usually refer to Indian power and/or Indian medicine. See also Ch. 27, "Power." Generally speaking, everyone knows, or "should know," who the powerful individuals are and who would be powerful enough to carry things like ohn-naa-màn.
37. They give the medicine out when they have a Grand Medicine session.
38. In the print literature usually four to eight staffs or degrees of membership are mentioned, the number depending on local custom. More often there are either four or eight.
39. The higher you go with the "staffs" the more information on the Grand Medicine society and its practices you see.
40. Paul Buffalo probably knows most, if not all, of the names of the stages of Midewiwin staff. In this case he's simply not telling, noting explicitly that it's "secretive." Also, as noted next, the names of the staffs are different in different regions. See also Paul's introduction to this chapter.
41. That is, they grind up the herbs, then mix them together, usually in a small leather pouch, but the mixture could be put into anything, well, almost anything. For further information on medicine bags/bundles see the following: Fred K. Blessing, Jr., 1969, "Medicine Bags and Bundles of Midewiwin,: Minnesota Archaeologist, 30:4:79-121; Frances Densmore, 1929, Chippewa Customs, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institutes, Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 86:1-204 (see esp. pp. 93-94); Richard Nelson, 1984, "Midewiwin Medicine Bags of the Ojibwa," Papers of the Fifteenth Algonquian Conference, 1983, ed. by William Cowan, (Ottawa: Carleton University, pp. 397-408).
42. The power of the medicine itself is neutral. One can use it for a good purpose or for one that is not good. Either way, if you handle the medicine "properly," whatever you ask for will happen.
44. This is pipe tobacco purchased from the store, like Prince Albert tobacco or Union Leader tobacco. Typically "pipe tobacco" is mixed with kinnickinik in order to "cut" it and reduce the strength.
45. They go through other things, like fasting and self-sacrifice.
46. They're guards and lookouts stationed around the area of the ceremony. At casual glance they appear to be guarding the ceremony to keep intruders out. However, they are there to help insure that no one unintentionally gets harmed by what's happening in the ceremony by accidentally coming upon it. In other words they're there to help protect the outsiders rather than to protect against them. See also footnote #134 below.
47. Other fraternal societies, like, for example, the Knights of Columbus, the Masons, The Holy Name Society. . . .
48. There is some hesitancy about talking about the fact that it is still going on. In fact Paul Buffalo was at a Grand Medicine healing ceremony just days before this was taped in July of 1966. See Ch. 30, "An Indian Curing Ceremony" for a description of that event. Talking about it happening "four, five years ago" is an acceptable way of talking about it still going on. The events in Ch. 30 also were not in any way discussable until after five years had passed. Very shortly (just days) after the ceremony described in Ch. 30 the person being cured told Paul Buffalo and Tim Roufs, "This doesn't go on any more. The last ceremony was about ten years ago; wasn't it."
49. Taped July 1966.
50. This is Paul Buffalo's way of saying that it is going on, without actually saying that it is going on.
51. The "fence church" is a special lodge known as the midewigan. It looked similar to a long, narrow Quonset hut made of saplings, with the high point of the roof about six feet. It was usually about fifteen feet wide and from eighty to 200 feet long. Inasmuch as the mide mythology gave east significance, members entered on that side. Unless inclement weather threatened, they placed no covering over the lodge. See Timothy G. Roufs, 1975, The Anishinabe of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Phoenix: Indian Tribal Series; Reprinted, Cass Lake, MN: Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, 2013, pp. 8-11 (photos on pp. 10-11), Frances Densmore, 1929, Chippewa Customs, reprinted 1970, Minneapolis, MN, Ross and Haines, pp. 92-93 and Plate 35a-b, and W. J. Hoffman, The Mide'wiwin or "Grand Medicine Society" of the Ojibway, 1891, Washington, DC: Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Seventh Annual Report, 1885-1886, pp. 1187-189, and Figs. 10-11.
52. For information on Midewiwin songs and music and dance see the following: Victor Barnouw, 1960, "A Chippewa Mide Priest's Description of the Medicine Dance," Wisconsin Archaeologist, 41:4:77-97; William E. Culkin, 1915, "Tribal Dance of the Ojibway Indians," Minnesota History Bulletin, 1:3:83-93; Frances Densmore, 1910, Chippewa Music, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institutes, Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 45:1-209 (reprinted 2017); Frances Densmore, 1913, Chippewa Music--II, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institutes, Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 53:1-334 (reprinted 2017); Frances Densmore, 1950, Songs of the Chippewa, Washington, DC: U.S. Library of Congress, Music Division, Archive of American Folk Song (Recording) AAFS L22; W. Chatfield, 1954, "The Midewiwin Songs of Fine-Day," South Dakota University, William H. Over Museum, Museum News, 15:10:1-2; Gertrude P. Kurath, 1954, "Chippewa Sacred Songs in Religious Metamorphis," Scientific Monthly, 79:5:311-317; Albert B. Reagan, 1922, "Medicine Songs of George Farmer," American Anthropologist, 24:3:332-369; Albert B. Reagan, 1934, "The O-ge-che-dah or Head-Men Dance of the Bois Forte Indians," Americana, 28:302-306; Thomas Vennum, Jr., 1973, "Constructing the Ojibwa Dance Drum," Wisconsin Archaeologist, 54:4:162-174; Thomas Vennum, Jr., 1978, "Ojibwa Origin-Migration Songs of the Mitewiwin," Journal of American Folklore, 91:36:753-791.
53. For further descriptions of the Midewiwin sweat lodge, called "purification lodge" by Basil Johnson (1976), see Densmore, 1929, Chippewa Customs, pp. 94-95 and Plate 37b; and Hoffman, 1891, Midewiwin, p. 204; Basil Johnston, Ojibwa Heritage, (N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 1976), pp. 85-93; Cf. Ch. 25, "'Self-Houses,' Sweat Houses, and Blood-taking," and Ch. 37, "Finns, 'The Sweatbath-Men.'"
54. The sweat lodge wiigwaam associated with the mide'wigân at White Earth, MN, was described by W. J. Hoffman, "The Midewiwin; or 'Grand Medicine Society' of the Ojibwa," 1891, p. 189:
"About a hundred yards east of the main entrance is constructed a wig'iwam or sweat lodge, to be used by the candidate, both to take his vapor baths and to receive final instructions from his preceptor."
"This wig'iwam is dome-shaped measures about 10 feet in diameter and 6 feet in height in the middle, with an opening at the top which can be readily covered with a piece of bark. The framework of the structure consists of saplings stuck into the ground, the tops being bent over to meet others from the opposite side. Other thin saplings are then lashed horizontally to the upright ones so as to appear like hoops, decreasing in size as the summit is reached. They are secured by using strands of basswood bark. The whole is then covered with pieces of birch bark--frequently the bark of the pine is used -- leaving a narrow opening on the side facing the Midé'[should be flat line over last e]igân, which may be closed with an adjustable flap of bark or blankets."
"The space between the Midé [line]'wigân and the sweat lodge must be kept clear of other temporary shelters, which might be placed there by some of the numerous visitors attending the ceremonies."
56. See below and et passim for a discussion on the importance of animal hides.
58. There's medicine that has been meditated in the drum.
59. They get a message back from the messenger animal, and also they get an answer to what they asked [prayed] for when they see that what they asked for happens.
61. The shell itself is small in physical size, but the spiritual effect it has is big.
63. The belief is that the spirit of a believer is actually in them.
64. To "recognize" something means to acknowledge it, and/or to call out a special gratitute, or thanks, or honor to it. This forgetting to recognize something could be, for e.g., that in the meditation prayer that is part of the asking the Spirit to do something, one or more of these items was inadvertently omitted.
65. "Believers" are people who believe in the Indian way, but who are not necessarily members of the Midewiwin. But in some contexts "believers" can include the Mide.
66. They use special drums to meditate their hides.
67. Some Indian people believe in God and go to a Christian church, while some believe in God and believe in an Indian religion but are not in the Midewiwin.
69. The cure was successful and this was proof that one believed in it and wanted to hear it.
70. A medal like some Roman Catholics wear, like a St. Christopher medal. With Paul Buffalo the most important part of the metal is not the image on it, but the fact that it was once an integral part of the earth when it was still metal in the ground.
71. It makes you happy that you are healthy and able to do things.
72. What you try to do to them or to anyone else will eventually come back and harm you.
73. It will be returned someday, because people who know about how hides work will know that it is only useful to the rightful owner, and others who try to use it will find bad luck in store for them and will eventually want to get rid of it.
74. Paul has a large medal with the head of an Indian on it.
75. This person that Paul gave a hide to doesn't actively use it in ceremony and belief rituals. He does believe in it and has it around for protection. That's not uncommon. It's also dangerous to use it if you aren't qualified. See below.
76. The hide that they use in the Midewiwin is special in that it is "loaded" with power; that is, it is much stronger than other hides, and it is very effective when you ask it to do something.
77. The newcomers joining the Midewiwin.
78. They throw the power, wishes . . . into the person. There is no material object (hide, plants-medicine. . . .) actually thrown as part of the Midewiwin initiation ceremony. This is a ceremonial "throwing" of spiritual medicine. They do not physically throw the medicine itself.
79. Paul demonstrates a five-finger throw.
80. The medicine doctor that sends the medicine, the injection, through the air, might have a family.
81. "Hooked" means to get jibek-ed, which is something like being hexed. It is getting hooked by the power that is being thrown out.
82. The one that gets hit with the spiritual force recoils -- jerks back and slumps down -- as a reaction to the power of the hit.
83. That's the way they initiate the individual into the Midewiwin. Often Paul suggests that the reasons for doing this are sort of like those underlying the sacrament of Confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church.
84. Although Paul Buffalo's mother was a powerful Medicine Woman she couldn't do or say anything to make it better. Typically native medicine doctors cannot cure or effectively treat their own "blood" relatives.
86. See Ch. 35, "School." Cf., also Linda LeGarde Grover. "The Vermillion Lake Indian School: From Assimilation to Termination." Minnesota History, 2002, pp. 224-240. Accessed 7 August 2018. http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/58/v58i04p224-240.pdf.
87. You could sit by the ring and listen in, in Indian, but the young children listening in did not understand much because the Mide have a special language for their ceremonies.
88. This "seven year old" statement probably actually came from the older Catholic teaching that you attained "the age of reason" when you were seven years old.
89. Everyone's spirit is part of a general life spirit. All living things are related.
90. The Mide practiced their own belief and it was not aimed against any other religion, Indian or non-Indian.
91. The Mide have a slang, an accent, a dialect that was difficult for those not in the Midewiwin to understand.
92. The one who is leading the ceremony and talking was a person toward the top of the hierarchy of Midewiwin practitioners.
93. It is more like the Christian practice of Confirmation than Christian Baptism, which Paul would point out on other occasions.
94. As mentioned before, but it should be repeated and emphasized, this "throwing" is a spiritual throwing, a spiritual "throwing" or "shooting" of the power of the hide, 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. In a related area, some traditional Indians refuse to get an x-ray when they understand that the x-ray shoots or throws something in the same way as a Midewiwin doctor "throws" his own power and the power of his animal hide.
95. The hides of the "behind-scouts," those others of the Midewiwin that were also part of the session, were not very powerful by comparison to the hides of the higher staff. And, as Paul points out, the others did not throw or shoot theirs as part of the ceremony.
96. They respect one another in part because they know the others have power. Cf., Ch. 27, "Power," and Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women." They were careful of what they said to avoid irritating someone who could use jibik. (More or less jibik can be though of as "black magic," although it is more like uncolored magic used for a not-so-good purpose. Jibik can also be used for good purposes, for example, getting rid or subduing a person in the community who is or is creating a public nuisance.)
97. Their "ring" is the "fence church." In writings on Midewiwin birch bark scrolls, the fence also appears. One should not "go beyond the fence" when interpreting the scrolls either -- if you don't know what you're doing. Physical harm, even death, can be the penalty for violating either fence boundary.
98. Only those who were part of the Midewiwin or who were joining the Midewiwin could go in or close to the "ring" and dance.
100. They generally would boil the dried blueberries to rehydrate them.
101. The food at the ceremony was just for "the comers," that is, it was only for the people that came for the ceremony. This was probably just a practical matter as there were at the time about 120 Indian students at The Vermillion Lake Indian School (Grover, 2002, p. 227).
102. That is, there was enough other food; you didn't have to eat dogs for food.
103. A good drummer is able to direct the "master" of the ceremony and communicate with him using songs and signals.
104. The power that was "thrown" would fly six or seven (or more) feet, depending on how much strength the Mide used when throwing it. See also notes above on "throwing" power.
106. One of the places where they have Grand Medicine curing ceremonies.
107. Performed a re‑meditation ceremony, not a physical medical operation.
108. Many are not fond of converts to another religion changing a second or third time, if they converted originally as adults. Keeping one's word is generally considered one of the most important things in life. Likewise, to go back on one's word is considered one of the great failures in life, or at least a very serious major weakness. Hence, to promise to change to follow another religion and then not do it is a fundamental violation of the sacredness of one's word, and a person who does that is often not favored by others -- not because of the change of religion so much as because one didn't keep one's word. See also Paul's discussion of "jump[ing] around from one church to another" and how that "kind of destroys you," or at least "destroys your mind."
Elsewhere Paul Buffalo tells how early on Indian people severely mocked whites by saying to one another, "They even need Notary Publics!" and, "The whites have to verify, certify, and notarize everything!" For many, that is perhaps the ultimate insult -- that you need someone to verify that you are telling the truth. Elsewhere Paul Buffalo says that at first the Indians of his area found it difficult to even understand what a Notary Public was.
109. That is to say, in terms of being true to your word, all religions work basically the same way.
110. The Grand Medicine leader.
111. In the neighboring village outside of Bena, MN, people take peyote as part of their religious ceremonies. See Barbara D. Jackson, 1980. Paul is suggesting that "they just take that peyot," that is, that they take peyote in place of working with the local Indian medicine traditions. See also note below.
112. "In 1922 a Native American Church (NAC) was established at Ryan's Village just outside of Bena, bringing the syncretic peyote religion from the plains to the north woods. Different times were on the move in Bena during the first half of the twentieth century and Indians both benefited from and were dispossed by the economic order initiated by the Nelson Act. (It depends on which Indians we're talking about.) As for religious expression, Bena had all kinds: NAC peyotists, Catholics, Episcopalians, sinners of various stripes, and participants in Mike Rabbit's Midewiwin lodge, which eventually went dormant during the 1940s." (Lyons, 2010, p. 14; Cf., Barbara D. Jackson, 1980.)
115. That is, he actually felt like the spirit itself.
116. Walter J. Hoffman, 1891, The Midewiwin; or 'Grand Medicine Society' of the Ojibwa. Washington, DC: Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Seventh Annual Report, 1885-1886, pp. 143-300. After Paul saw that there already was something written on the Midewiwin he thought it was alright to tell about the ceremonies here. See also footnote #15 above.
117. That is, he throws all the power he can muster up, even if it is more power than he can control himself. It is much like a hex.
118. It is said that in Chippewa/Ojibwa the worst thing that you can call someone is a dog. Usually people will at the same time note that there is no cursing or swearing in Chippewa/Ojibwa, and that the worst comment you can make has to do with dogs.
119. "Drifting without searching for help" is considered an extremely bad trait. "Drifting without searching for help" is akin to selling your soul to the devil. Not caring about things is also considered a very bad trait.
120. They give you the five-finger sign (sometimes even a double five-finger sign) along with a shot of all of the power that they can generate.
121. If they are powerful enough you die of the hex. Medically speaking, from the point of view of western medicine, what happens is that the power person is strong enough to generate self-induced shock in the victim, and the victim dies of medical shock much the same as one might die of shock in a car accident. Cf., Walter B. Cannon's interesting classic paper on psychophysiological stress, “'Vodoo' death." American Anthropologist, 1942; 44:169–181.
122. For information on Anishinabe birch bark writings see: Fred K. Blessing, Jr., 1963, "Birchbark Mide Scrolls from Minnesota," Minnesota Archaeologist, 25:3:89-142; Donald A. Cadzow, 1926, "Bark Records of the Bungi Midewin Society," Indian Notes, 3:123-134; Michael P. Closs, 1986, "Tallies and the Ritual Use of Number in Ojibway Pictography," in Native American Mathematics, edited by Michael P. Closs, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, pp. 181-211; W.J. Hoffman, 1888, "Pictography and Shamanistic Rites of the Ojibwa," American Anthropologist, 1:3:209-229 (reprinted in Native North American Art History, ed. by Zena P. Mathews and Aldona Jonaitis, Palo Alto, CA, 1982); Vernon W. Kinietz, 1940a, "Birch Bark Records Among the Chippewa," Indiana Academy of Science, Proceedings, 49:38-40; Richard Nelson, "Inscribed Birch Bark Scrolls and Other Objects of the Midewiwin," Papers of the Fourteenth Algonquian Conference, 1982, ed. by William Cowan, (Ottawa: Carleton University, 1983), pp. 219-235); Howard Norman, 1971, "Ojibwa Pictures and Song-Pictures," Alcheringa, 3:64-67; Albert B. Reagan, 1927, "Picture Writings of the Chippewa Indians," Wisconsin Archaeologist, 6:80-83; Albert B. Reagan, 1935, "A Ritual Parchment and Certain Historical Charts of the Bois Fort Chippewa of Minnesota," Americana, 29:228-244; Joan M. Vastokas, 1984, "Interpreting Birch Bark Scrolls," Papers of the Fifteenth Algonquian Conference, 1983, ed. by William Cowan, (Ottawa: Carleton University, pp. 425-444.123. They went beyond the Midewiwin fence, either literally, at the Midewiwin ceremony, or figuratively, by trying to pry into the meaning of the Midewiwin birchbark writings. Some of the birch bark writings Paul Buffalo saw earlier in the day had schematic fences on them. Cf., W. J. Hoffman, 1891, Pl. III (following p. 166), Pl. IV (following p. 170), and Pl. VIII (following p. 182). Paul Buffalo was also looking at some photographs of Midewiwin scrolls set to us by Pat Houlihan of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ.
125. It is quite common, instead of affirming or denying something, or explaining it, to say that it doesn't happen anymore and that it happened so long ago that you don't remember the details. See also Ch.14, "Moccasin Game Gambling," for a brief description about what happened when Paul's sister accidentally came upon her husband's small medicine pouch -- the same brother-in-law that Paul is talking about here.
When one wants to avoid talking about a certain subject, it is also very common to make a brief statement about the certain subject, and then change the topic almost immediately to some neutral or more public topic. This is what is happening here and in the following passage.
126. "Typical Indian" is a term used with the highest respect. It means that he is, in a very honored way, a very "traditional Indian."
127. Being interested in things is a very positive trait, and to say someone is "interested" is a very high-level compliment -- and especially when they say it about a brother-in-law. Cf. also Ch. 24, "Courtship, Marriage, and Living in with the In-Laws."
128. Higher in the hierarchy of Midewiwin members and medicine doctors.
129. "Sometimes he calls in the people for a ceremony" means that he's sometimes the leader to announce a ceremony, when and where it will be held, and invites others to come to it. This is an important responsibility.
131. The "writings" are sometimes on little figures and designs made out of birch bark.
132. Sometimes the knots, and natural markings that look like "faces," and other natural features of the birch bark (on these items and on the larger "scrolls") are incorporated into the "writings." Incorporating those features apparently adds to the power of the message, and, seemingly, in some cases, doing that disguises them somewhat.
133. The devil is often conceptualized as an "it."
134. It is also fairly typical, when you are dealing with a topic that is secret or very private, to give a warning to the questioner, indicating how dangerous the topic is, and to be careful of it. In this case, the penalty for not heeding the warning, and going ahead without knowing what you're doing, is suffering and maybe even death. It is interesting in that the warnings, when given, are most often given as helpful information intended to help you avoid getting into trouble. The warning are not so much given with the tone or intent to forbid you to do something as they are given with the intent to help protect you from getting into a potentially harmful situation. See also footnote #46 above.
135. Who is staying and upholding his word.
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