University of Minnesota Duluth
MyU | Search | People | Departments | Events | News

Envelope: E-mail Tim Roufs

extended search

Flying Bird Image

When Everybody Called Me Gabe-bines,

Teachings from Paul Buffalo

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

 TR HomePage 

a note on tenses
  a note on style

orignal tapes information

Table of Contents

"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."

Search the site

(all TR courses and web pages)

Buffalo Image

Messengers(1) and Unusual Events

Now-a-days they say the Indian is superstitious. In fact, some of us are superstitious . . . but not all. Most of us believe that unusual things we see are a warning.

But you see that the whites too are superstitious. They have to be superstitious because when they see something unusual, something happens. And they wonder about that. When they see some unusual thing -- and then something happens afterwards -- other religions wonder, "Maybe that could be it." A lot of 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 have it because they don't remember the warning.

We know those warnings. The white people call those warnings superstitious or something. And they call a person that believes in them "superstitious."

The Indians are superstitious. Even the priest says that. If you ask the priest, "What is that sign for? What does that unusual sign mean?" he'll say, "Oh, you're just superstitious." And he doesn't mean that to be good.

But the way we look at it, it is good. In Indian "superstitious" is o-day-bwày-In-d^n. kI'-ni-gay-gó, and that means "He-believes-in-everything-he sees." kí-nI-gay-gó o-day-bwày-In-dahn means he believes in everything he sees, whether it's true, whether it's right. But, he should know what is right. He should know what he sees is right.(2) So when the Indian sees an unusual sign, he doesn't say, "It's just superstitious." The Indian says it the other way: "Ah . . . it isn't a very good sign."

Any time you see something unusual, it's a warning. It means trouble. It's a message. The Indian believes it's a message. So beware of something unusual. The Indian always says something unusual is a bad sign, most generally. Maybe a death is coming, maybe sickness. Something unusual like that, something that floats in the air, that you never see, is a warning. You can't try to figure it out or catch it. It's something unusual. But it's just a warning, a message. Everything unusual has a warning that means something's ahead, that's something's coming.

How do they know?

How do those warnings come?

From who?

You don't know from who.(3) That's something that we were always careful about. We had signs. We had messengers. And from the messengers we get warnings. We see something unusual that comes before us as a warning for bad times ahead.

You notice in the books and you notice in shows that when you hear a hoot-owl that means trouble. When the hoot-owl comes and hoots there's going to be trouble. We also have a screech-owl and we know now that when he squeals it's a bad sign.

There generally are not different messengers -- different kinds of bad warnings -- for different kinds of trouble. They're just about the same. But the owl, kù-ku-kù-uu, is a bad thing. In Indian we call an owl kù-ku-ku-uùu. We call him that because that's the sound he makes, that's the way he sounds, kù-ku-ku-uùu. All of those animals have signs. Some of them really have bad ones. But the signs have to be something unusual. The hoot-owl as a bad warning sometimes comes when you're camping.(4) You'll have a camp somewhere, and you'll be camping. All the once when you're sleeping, somebody will holler out, just like a person, "Kaayi-kay-kayi-kaay-iaay. Hay-ay-hay-ay. Hu. Hu. Hu. . . . Kah-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka. Huu. Hu. Hu." That's an owl, a hoot-owl. It's a bad sign. When you hear a hoot-owl's "hoot-hoo," well, that's a warning. Maybe it's going to storm. Maybe something's coming. He's another unusual sign. He usually howled, but at certain times an owl un-usually hoots. It's not very good to hear either. 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 until you hear that something bad happened.

The screech owl is another bad signal that we don't like. A screech owl is worse, when they screech. The worst signal that an owl ever gives is a screeching sign. He can make all kinds of noises, but when he cackles or screeches, that's a bad sign; screeching's especially bad. The Indians don't like to hear that. It's something coming ahead of something bad . . . it means death!(5) Somebody's going to die. That screech owl warning means you'll hear that somebody died.

   Mêstaáe. Eastern Screech Owl.


Eastern Screech owl.
(Megascops asio.)

  Source: The Raptor Center, College of Veterinary Medicine
© 2018 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.

 Original file

There's a lot of this stuff that the Indian studies. They know about that. Unusual things that happen in your life -- unusual -- are bad signs for you. The animals you see aren't very good when they make an act out.(6) A lot of Indians -- the old timers -- would say that's something unusual.

Not every Indian interprets that, but most of the Indians understand that. Most of the Indians understand that -- the older class anyway. But the younger class, now-a-days, they don't think much of it, you know.(7)

One time when I was a little boy we used to have church songs -- hymns -- that we sing to the Great Spirit. Oh, we had wonderful gatherings! Everything was just fine. The air was just fresh and nice.

After one session, a session we were at, we left. A lot of them wanted to be excused to go outside, and the womenfolks, they went out. Everything was just quiet!! I was a little boy and I was in the house.

One of the neighbors -- a guy living up the river, at the next place up the Leech River -- walked by. He walked up to them, then he just turned right around and walked through the night. Here it was the guy that died the week before!(8) The women that were out there didn't want to move.

"Sit down," I heard one of the women say.

I went outside.

Then one of them women said, "Did you hear that?"


"Where was that?"

"That was right up on the tree there."

There was a big Norway there, and way up, I saw an owl.

And then the rest of the people asked, "What did you hear?"

A couple of them said, "We heard that scream! We heard the warning. We heard that screech."

Boy they all got the chills then!

This is true. But . . . I don't know what they heard. They heard some spirit. It's an old history. It's true. That's spiritual.

If an old Indian hears a screech owl, they sometimes will go talk with a Spiritual Man.(9) Oh yes! They do that. Ya, if they hear that, they tell some spirituals, some spirit in high position(10): "Is there a warning? Do I have a warning?"

And the spirit will say, "Well, the warning is before you."

"Ah . . . what could I do about it?"

"Well," the Spiritual will say, "you may have to give out something. Put a gift out." Or you may have to fast. Or put a black mark on your forehead. Or you may have to do this . . . whatever the Spiritual man tells you. You may have to suffer a little, suffer yourself a little bit, showing that you're trying to avoid whatever you might have been warned about. Then it clears up.


Because of your lack of something, you see these warnings. You're lacking of something. But if you get ahead of it, then you can avoid it, by using the Indian method. The Spiritual man will tell you just what to do, most generally. The spiritualist that reads it -- spiritualist Indian -- will tell you about almost anything.(11) He'll tell you what to do for signals, for signs, for messengers. They're good at it! There's always a meditation that you can use on that. There is some way to try to avoid that message. Those that understand the signs should try to have a feast over it, and talk it over, and get the message to go away. The sign is just a warning. If you recognize that warning, it may help you. But sometimes you get such a short notice that you don't have time to get there ahead of what is coming. You don't always have time to talk with a spiritual doctor. So the best thing is to take interest to those warnings all along.

If you don't understand a warning have somebody re‑interpret that . . . like some of them old timers. That way you can avoid problems, most generally. You go to him and then he figures out things -- like whether the season makes a difference or not.

One springtime during mating season I heard an owl make that noise. It was in April during sugar time. I said to the old timers, "I hear an owl making a bad noise, 'Chuk-kouk-kuk-kuk.'" I asked my folks, I said, "Why are those hoot-owls making all kinds of screeches?"

They said, "Don't worry about it. The birds are active now. They're mating in the spring. It's just a mating time, or maybe they have their own problems. That's nothing now. That's nothing. They're mating this time."

"Just forget it."

They're mating in the certain time of the year, in the spring, so in April don't worry about that sign. Don't worry about the sign of an owl in the spring, because they mate at that time. See? Don't pay any attention then. But after that season for them, when the leaves are off, then watch out. Don't worry 'till fall. If you hear that in the fall, it's a bad warning."

And then, later on, I find that the white people have those same signs too. There's quite a few of them that I've heard white people use. Like now-a-days, you see, I watch the Western show or some jungle traveling and journey in TV, and if they're coming into trouble they always put a hoot-owl or something there: "huwiii-yàk." They squeak, "kriaok-ko." That's a bad sign when they squelch -- when they screech out like that. It's like you almost think that he's talking. Then towards the last, on the end, he'll holler, "huu huu huu." Well you're so surprised to hear that in TV that you begin to wonder why the one that made show has to come and put that signal there.

It's a warning. That screeching and "huu huu" is a warning. There's certain times a year the Indian overlooks that, especially when the birds are mating. But there are times of the year that they know it's a bad bad warning. So I see in the TV they also use animal messengers when they're coming into troubles on their journey. When they do, then something's arising. I heard that. I saw that. In the TV an owl makes a "whuuu whuuu whuu," and then the people look at one another. If there's a breed in there -- a mixer-Indian -- in the TV, the Indian will say, "Bad to hear that." They get ready for some action. Then there's an action before them. See?

It usually means war. It means trouble. It may mean war on their journey -- on their journey like in the Western stories. It means trouble ahead, even on TV: "Whuu Whuu Whuu!!"

On TV they also show that the whites believe in another sign -- a howling dog. I was thinking about dogs. We study a lot of that unusual stuff. The Indian knows that stuff. Those 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 any attention. Same way with a wolf or a fox. When they're mating they make all kinds of noise. But a dog, when he howls, look! When a dog howls in the front of you, that's another bad warning. If a dog sitting by the door all at once jumps up and he howls -- cries -- in front of you, that's another dirty warning.

And then you may have a dog, and the dog is lying there. He'll get up and he'll howl -- cry. It's just a howl-cry. And generally he'll run away. He'll run off a distance. That's unusual for a dog. That's a warning too. That's bad! . . . It means the same thing as with the owl: there's trouble ahead, or there's a bad sign before you -- a bad warning. There may be death; there may be trouble; there may be somebody injured. So that's why they used to get alarmed when they heard that.

I'm going to tell you something.

I was sleeping at my neighbor Joe Barnes' when I said, "Joe, did you hear that dog howl last night? That isn't a very good sign."

Joe's a white neighbor I grew up with.

"Yea, I heard it. They howl. There's a dog over there running around. He was just howling at another dog. It's lonesome, brokenhearted." Sometimes animals get lonesome and brokenhearted. Animals get brokenhearted too. They get lonesome for their master. If their master's gone a day or so, they'll cry for their master. But that's nothing; they're just crying for a master. You have to realize what he's crying for. If his master went away and he cries, that's nothing."

But if that dog cries when the master is here with the dog, or if he's sleeping, something will happen.

I said, "I don't think he was howling at another dog. He didn't sound very good. He howled and everything. Once or twice he howled, and then he didn't howl anymore."

"Still bet he heard another dog somewhere. That's the answer on there, Buffwo."

Joe always called me "Buffwo."

I kept thinking, "That isn't very good either."

I think it was night time, that same night, when a car wrecked. Somebody in the neighborhood had a bad accident. . . .

Another time a dog howled by our door and the owner of the dog passed away. His dog howled right by our place. Oh boy! He let one cry out and his owner told him to shut up. That's a bad warning. . . . It wasn't a week later when the owner passed on. You know how husky he was? He was a good able-bodied man.

That's why I say, when the Great calls you, you can't say, "I'm going to get my cap." No! Right here you're going!

A lot of that stuff is signs or warnings -- at least that's the Indians' thinking. A white man, white people, generally don't believe in that. A white doctor might say that the dreaming like we do is from eating too heavy before you go to bed. That could be. There could be a disturbment of your stomach in your sleep that could cause that. Meat will do that too. That's true. But . . . when I say we believe in signs, I mean unusual signs, unusual warnings, unusual sights.

Howling dogs is unusual. They howl every night too, sometimes. There's something unusual around, and the dog knows this. There's a warning that something's going to happen in that area.

That owl is bad. It's bad.

And then the fox -- waagosh, is bad too. Waagosh, that's a fox. He cries a lot like a dog. The fox goes "kù-ku-ku-kù-kuu-kuuu ku wùuuuuuuuu whù$ whu$ whu$ whu$ whùuu whùuuuuu whùuuuuuuu whu$ whu$ ba^k da^k dàu." The fox will holler like a person too, sometimes: "Gah-gah-kah-kay-yah-ah-kah-way-ga." It sounds just like he's talking. "Bah-uu wuu. Wu u. Wu. Wu." A wolf will do that too. In Indian a wolf is ma'iingan. A wolf will cry that way too. "Wuuùuuuuu"; it's a sad cry.

That's bad.

We listen for the coyotes too. Coyotes howl only at a certain time, but when they howl, we all say there's going to be a storm -- and it does storm. I don't believe many Indians will deny that.

And not many Indians will deny another of our most important signs: a mole lying on its back. Sometimes you'll see these moles on the road, on their back. That isn't good neither. It's a bad sign to see those moles with their peaked nose lying on their back. Oh! That's a bad one!! If you ever see him on his back, look out!!

What I say is true. You ask everybody. All these Indians believe that when those moles lay on their back, that's unusual. And if you see them, that's unusual. He's just playing opossum. He's playing he's dead. The mole playing dead is the worst thing. And if you touch that mole with a stick or anything, he'll roll over right on his four and he'll slip away from you. When you touch him, that son-of-a-gun will go.

Mole in Indian is nenaapaajinikesi. His arms are this way -- sticking out to the side. Ya, "crooked-arms . . . and-crooked-legs," we call him. They're opposite. This arm is supposed to be on that side, and that arm is supposed to be on the other side. That's what nenaapaajinikesi is.

There are stories on how the arms got to be on the wrong side. They're about Wenabozho and all that.(12)

You know about what he did?

He kicked it . . . I guess.

But you aren't supposed to touch them.

Seeing that is the worst! Just as sure as heck something will happen when you see that. If you see one of those moles on his back there'll be another sickness or dead person. There'll be sickness amongst the people. There'll be an epidemic of sickness amongst the people of some kind . . . or maybe a death. A sign from a mole is the worst thing. The "crooked-man-opposite-from-his-left-leg-and-on-the-right-leg" is the worst thing. He's not very big, but he's got big signs!

A sign like that is o-nó$-waa-chi-gày. Unusual signs are gàa-way-kàag-waych gaa-wíin-gwàytch. That means, "they don't do that very often, and that what is done is reversed into signs." gaa-wíin-gwàytch chI-gày-si-yu, gaa-wíin-gwàytch chI-gày-si-yu a-wày-sii, that's pretty hard for whites to write. gaa-wíin-gwàytch, "not-very-often-he-does-that," that's what it means. chI-gày-si-yu, well, that's "he-doesn't-do-that-very-often."

It's scary. I get scared too. I get to thinking about what I've seen, and I've seen lots. The Indian is very careful about something unusual that happens. Sometimes you have to smile over it, but something unusual that you see is just a warning. So that's why we study fireballs and all that. And the fireball is another thing, but I'll get to that later on.(13)

When you see a walking-mole, with his short legs and crooked arms and peaked nose, that's a bad sign. That's a "flash."(14) In Indian that's wha-sày. waa-say-sày, waa-sày, it means a flash. wàa-say is a flash of lightning; it's a flash of word; it's a flash of writing. When you get a letter and she makes -- or he makes -- a flash to you, you know what he means. It's a flash, a sharp flash. Flash is wàah-say-sày. waa-sày-nI-mah waa-say-sày. It's made two or three ways. waa-say-màa. Ya. You could see a flash. Or you could say a flash. When you have a word flash that means you said something, and it's coming back to you. Then you think to yourself, "I shouldn't-a said that." That's a word flash. waa-say-gíi, waa-say-gíi-way, waa-say-say, is a flash and means that you shouldn't have said this. You're flashed a lot if you're a loud speaker, if you're too loud. That's a flash.

When you pull out money to show off that's a flash too. Your money is a sin, and that money is supposed to be concealed.(15) gI-zi-waa-say, means you're showing your money off, see, and that's a sin. 'Course it's all right to pull it out where you have to. You can pull out money where you have to pay, but don't flash it. You can't flash it around.

Waa-say-sày, that's the after-flash of your wrong word. If you have a flash, and where you're wrong, you'll see things. You'll see a star fall, or you'll see a crawler in the front of you, or you'll see a mole. Like I say, a mole -- with that crooked arm -- is the worse thing to sign you.

Coming pretty close to that dirty mole sign would be a crawler. We believe in unusual signs, like those snakes. We used to have the doors open, and when a crawler -- like a snake -- crawls into the house, that's a dirty bad sign -- a bad sign! Before the year is over -- sometimes before six months is up -- there's a minus in that family where the crawler appeared. That's the history of crawlers, and that's why I don't want to tell anyone about crawlers when they see one. I just keep quiet. I don't want to get them worried, because that crawler is not a very good sign.

I saw a case like that too. A woman, Charlie Michaude's first wife, happened to be sleeping early in the morning and when she woke up she found one of those crawlers lying beside her under the blanket.


That's unusual.

I got the creeps when they told me that. I don't know what they did for her. I never asked any questions. I just walked out.

Well, she didn't last long. Shortly after that she died; they say from cirrhosis of the liver.

Another time, not too long ago, one of my white friends(16) was getting into his truck and he saw a snake sitting there coiled and looking at him -- right there in the driver's seat. It was a little one, a little garter snake. And it was setting there staring at him, whipping his tongue. I was climbing in the other side of the truck when I saw it too. It just turned me sick to see that snake setting there looking at my friend. Geeze, that was a bad sign too! I kept quiet about it, pretty much. I didn't say much about it because I didn't want to shake my friend up. But when I see a snake sitting in a car seat like that -- or in some other unusual place -- I generally reach in my stove for something black, and put a black mark on my face. That's a sign of mourning, a sign of respect, and that will help -- if the person the message is aimed at hasn't gone too far. So when I got home later that afternoon I put the black mark on my face. But it was too late. My friend's dad died a few days later. I heard one of the white guys talking about it. He said, "he died suddenly, without warning." I didn't say anything, but I knew the warning was there. There were other warnings too, probably, and maybe he just didn't take notice of it.

That's clear. That's as clear as you can get it.

There were things like that.

Lots of things.

We have another thing -- speaking about unusual signs -- the crying-eye, mah-wIng-gway. We have a crying-eye. If I don't feel good, my eyes shake. That's called mah-wIng-gwày -- "crying-eye"; or you can call it in English, "tear-in-your-eye."

If you feel the nerves in your left eye, down toward the bottom, by the top cheek bone, you're going to see something very bad. You're going to hear something bad. It happens when you're nervous and jumpy. Sometimes your nerves jump, and it's kind of a surprise. A bad surprise is by the left eye. A glad surprise is by the right eye.

A party that feels that in their eye will say, "Maybe I'm gonna be sick. Maybe I'm gonna see somebody sick, or maybe I'm gonna see death." That's mah-wIng-gway$.

Nii-mah-wIng-gway$, with the Nii- on it, that means you're going to see a storm or something that isn't good. It's good all right, but you may not like to see it. The answer is that it means it's going to rain or something. Nii-mah-wIng-gway$.

They know those warnings. That's clear.

And someday, when your eye twitters, or your mind twitters, there's a surprise coming. And if your face twitters -- on top of your right lip, if that moves like a twitter -- you're going to eat something or drink something that's unusual for you. And if your nerves act up by the top of your left lip, you're going to see a drunk.

And listen! If your face twitters all the time, you're going to get hurt -- in your future, or maybe sooner or later. That's what I believe in, and that belief's an outcome of my life because I've seen it.(17)

Now listen again!

m^-wí-In-gway -- that's "tear-in-your-eye" -- generally isn't very good. And another thing that isn't very good is when you cry for nothing! That's one thing they didn't like in the old days. That's gaachimo -- crying for nothing . . . or crying very easy. Ya. Crying for something that happened is m^-wIn-dàhn, o-gíi-m^-wIn-dàhn -dào that's past. "He cried for that" is o-gíi-m^-wIn-dàhn. ooo-gii-mah-wIn-dan is crying for something that happened. That's OK.

But they stopped the children from crying for nothing. I'm talking about the younger class -- the younger class. The children cry awful easy, and if they cry too easy -- if they're crying for nothing -- the old people would talk to them. And the old people said, "You shouldn't cry like that. If there was anything that happened, we wouldn't realize it. If anything happened that called for a cry, we wouldn't know the difference."(18)

It's not good for a child, to cry easy, for nothing! That's bad. That's a bad mood. When you see a kid crying for nothing, that's a bad sign . . . because it reads that if they do that there's death coming out of the same family. Somebody might die with disease, or of too old an age. If they do, then he's got something to cry for!

So be careful. Don't let them cry for nothing. If he does, he's crying to let -- probably -- his own relation die.

Gaachimo that's crying for nothing and being touchy. "That's-easy-for-him-to-cry," that's what gaachimo means. The kids do that to attract their mother and father. It means they want to be held, or they want to be noticed, or they want to be looked after. They want to know that their father or their mother -- or anybody -- is taking care of them. If their feelings are hurt, they cry for that too. So it's gaachimo, "easy-to-cry."

It could be a sign of something if they cry too much. Once in a great while you find that. But generally crying's just a habit of the child. Naturally their lungs are exercise when they cry. They need more air, fresh air. Fresh air is wonderful for growing. They're growing too fast.(19) They eat well. OK. They love their father and mother so they want to be noticed by a visitor. They want them to see that they have a father and mother that's very good to them. And they want to be held, to hear the notices(20) of this company they have.

But, there's another point! When a kid cries easy they call them "crybaby." And, when it comes to crying for nothing, you should take a little switch and switch them.

This morning I walked out behind my house and went about half-a-block; then I turned around and came back. As I stood there this morning I heard
opichi, a robin, calling for rain. In Indian we call robin opichi. When the robins give a warning for bad weather they go "ch^k$ . . . kook, ch^k, that's all. ch^k, ch^k." This morning that's what I heard.

"I'll bet it'll be rain," I thought to myself.

It's supposed to rain. It did rain already -- it sprinkled a while. Those robins go "kIk, kook, kook, kook," when they're calling for rain. We watch all that, and listen. "ChI-kook. Chi-kook." They want rain.

But maybe it could be something else that they're telling us. Robins have bad news too, once in a while. Whey they give a warning for bad weather, somebody's going to feel it and see it, and know what to expect. Of course a robin isn't so bad, but they're bad enough . . . sometimes: "ChI-koo-luk-luk-luk-luk-luk-look"; when they talk like that look out! All of those animals have signs, and some of them really have bad ones. But the signs have to be something unusual -- gah-wIn-gwaytch-chI-gay-si-u.

You also know it's going to rain when the loons holler in a certain way.

"Well, are we gonna have a storm here, Paul?" one guy asked me one time.

"Ya. We're gonna have a storm. Ya. We're gonna have a storm, and not very long from now neither."

"How do you know?"

"The loon," I said.

"And we're gonna have five of them in row. We're gonna have five of them in a row, not too close apart, but pretty well apart. Five of these storms are gonna come through."

"How do you know?"

"How do I know?"

"Well," I said, "the loon went by and five times he hollered in a certain way."

I think we pred'near had the five of them storms already.

One day last fall, long after ricing time, I woke up with a sore back. I couldn't hardly get up. "Ah!" I thought, "maybe it's raining. Maybe it's snowing." I was sleeping good, but I couldn't sleep any more. I wanted to sleep, but I couldn't sleep. Something new was coming on earth, something unusual. It was usual all right, but something new, some new stuff was coming in. See, that's what I figured. I figured something was happening. So I pulled the curtain strings wide open. There it was! It was snowing. I felt that right across my back. I never feel it like that but once in a great while.

And there we are.

Not all our signs are bad signs; some of them are pretty good. We go by good signs too. When a dog licks your hand in an unusual or strange way, that's something good. That's good luck. That means you'll receive something good. That's why a dog likes you. They like something good. Licking you in an unusual way is the only way they can tell you some unusual thing.

Another thing, when we put our clothes on wrong, that is considered a good sign. We go by these good signs too. If you were in a hurry, if you have to go on a trip, you might say, "Whoop, I got my shirt on inside out." The old people said, I heard them say, "That's a good sign. Keep it on that way." And when you keep it on like that, it's luck.

If a rabbit bites you, that's unusual, and the Indian says that means long life.

I was fourteen years old when a rabbit bit me on my hand. And I went home and told my folks, "A rabbit bit me."

"That's all right," they said. "That's for a long life. That's unusual. That's luck."

There were a lot of things that I saw like that, and when I asked about them my folks said, "That's signals. They give you signals."

A snapping turtle gives signals too. A snapping turtle is a messenger too. He'll sneak up on you. A snapping turtle could lay right beside you and you wouldn't know it. And sometime he comes from somebody in Grand Medicine -- he's a messenger. He comes and leaves you something -- gives Grand Medicine to you -- then he goes, and you never know it. A turtle comes like a snake in the grass. Turtles sneak up on you. A beaver sneaks up on you once in a while too. All of those animals are signs. All of them are messengers. All of them are warnings.

We have lots of warnings. We have those dog howls which are warnings. And a bird flying in the house isn't good either. Sometimes those martins fly in the house. That isn't too good. And when a partridge flies in the house, that isn't good. It's a message. It's something that's unusual and you have to be aware about it.

Another thing, if a bird hit a window and cracked the window, or hit the window and gets knocked out, that's a message, a warning, and that isn't very good.

And if a woodpecker pecks a big hole in your house, that's unusual. And that's not good. Strong not good. You see that happen once in a while. It's unusual. Something is going to happen when that happens.

I'm telling you that we went about by signs. Oh we have all kinds of messages!!! We have birds, owls, frogs . . . maybe . . . something that flies . . . maybe even mosquitoes sometimes; we have any kind. All these things are signs, warnings -- just like our dreams. The Indian believes in their dreams too(21) and the outcome shows up later on. When you dream heavy it just reminds you to be careful of what's coming.

Those dreams that you see are bah-waa-zji-g^'n. bah-waa-zji-g^'n, translated, is "the one you dream of." The one you dream of may be a bird. Or you may dream of a religious staff that comes to you. Maybe the one you dream of has passed away. Someone who has passed away may come to you in a dream because he likes to speak to you, but if he does, he shows you his whole body in your dream. He'll talk to you and you'll commence to see what he practiced, and you'll understand what he was professional in. Then through him you get that power. Then you have to go and practice that. And through that experience and through your practicing and through following the rulings of the Spiritual Medicine Man you'll commence to have your own power.

The-one-you-dream-of could give you anything. If he's professional at something and if he didn't give his power away, he'll come and give it to you in your dream. And your dream will tell you that you are qualified. Your qualification comes to you through that dream. Through that qualification you're capable to begin practicing. You have to practice with the power. Through the power, and your practice, and your experience, you'll become even more experienced. Then you will have a little more power. The more you practice, the more professional you're going to be in what you're practicing in.

You see, that Indian has so much power because he believes in the Great and he believes in dreams and in messengers and signs. And he's so powerful because he fasts for that. He believes in that, and that's his religion. If he wants to send a message out he just gets that certain bird and tells that bird to go. He can tell a bird or anything to go. He can tell one of these moth-flies too. They're really active. That's bad too. Or he can send something else that travels in the air.

Sometimes people ask, "What happens if a party doesn't receive the message that was sent out?"

I'll tell you what happens.

Sometimes -- sometimes -- there's something else going through at the same time. Sometimes there's some other message going through and it's just like they cross and you don't get the message that was aiming for you. If there's another message going through your message won't cross that other message. But if my message doesn't get through, I'll know it, and if it's your message, you'll know it. Someday we both know it. It's just like electricity, lightning, and everything.

Sometimes I get another party's messages. Oh ya. . . . Ya. I heard that from others too. It happens to them too. I've seen it. If you get another party's message, lay low; don't say anything. Don't mention it. That's truth. I've seen it. I know it. This message, that's a big thing. I'm glad to have that! I'm glad to know that! Otherwise if it didn't work, what's the use to have it?

I can send a message out at a certain time -- about midnight -- and that way it's working all night. I wait until twelve o'clock. That's when sending messages works good. Twelve o'clock works. Then the night's young and the day is old. The night's young at midnight. Specially in summer. Then the messenger goes. Everything's there. They have a few hours before that sun rises before they have to be there. When I sent him out I said, "You tell them before that sun rises." It works better if they get the message with that light above the trees. She goes faster then, just like lightning; just like lightning -- huiit.

We bring these messengers in using the drum.(22) And sometimes we then drum for two or three days -- maybe. We talk to the messenger. By talking to it we give it power. We fast for it too. We don't eat until after we talk with it, and that gives it the power. Then we sent it out. That's all.

There are a lot of things the Indians used to do. And they use that stuff, that medicine: a lot of just herbs and vegetation ground up. Or, they simply smoke tobacco. They had power! They still have it . . . in the area.

It's true!! That's why they tell one another -- from here to Canada -- "Be careful. Be careful who you're talking to. That Indian, he might know that. And he might know more than you do. He might not say anything, but he knows more."


He practiced with that power, that's why.

I practice that. I get results. And if it don't work I know where the drawback is. You have to fast for it. You have to go without water all night. You have to lose sleep on that. You have to lose sleep on lots of things. You have to walk outside in the dark to prove yourself. Prove yourself, and prove what you want to use your power for.

You can't just get up and take it, and send a message. NO! There are lots of things you have to go through. You have to put a gift out to the Great. Put it out, and ask the Creator of All for what results you're looking for. Recognize the Great. Let Him know you're there believing in Him. Put some tobacco out. Tobacco is a great thing. Kinnickinik. And food is good to use too. Any-thing you like you can put out. Lunching out is good too.(23) That's why I camp up there by Mud Lake. When I build that campfire you're going to learn lots. Use that food for offering. You eat it, sure, but offer some of it, and it goes out to the Great.

And sometimes you go without food, without water. When you go out in the dark you prove yourself.(24) There's lots of them spirits out there looking at you in the dark. You'll see them someday. I mean it. No fooling. Some day you're going to see those spirits again. When you're done on this earth you'll see them. You'll say, "I've been there. I'm ready." I can't drive this method in anyone's head, but I know it does work that way. By going out in the dark with those spirits you prove that you're fasting for what you're exercising. You're fasting for what you're using your power for. You'll see things there in the dark, and you'll see things in your dream -- later on. That pure air hits you, then your mind starts to work. What are you here on earth for? That's what you'll see. Then you'll start adding up what you see there with what you see in daylight.

On the other hand, if you want to live a fast life, go ahead. Forget it all! If you think you can get by with just a better education only -- go ahead! See how far you get . . . !

Take your time boy.

What are you living here for? Why is that pure air given to you?

Think about it.(25)

But, if you listen to the experience of life, when you're done, you made it across to the end of that full road.(26) You'll see those guys there that were looking at you when you were alone in the dark. You'll see those spirits again. That means when you're dead you'll meet them. They're ready for you. They can't speak to you now, but, if you believe in them, they're working with you. They're working with you. They're working for you, because you believe in it. Nobody'll work with you until you believe in it. That's what the spirit does. He tells you in your thinking -- without talking -- "I will not work with you until you believe in me. Who thou does believe in me, I shall be with them." Don't we say that? Don't the Indians say that? If I don't believe in Him, I won't work with Him. If I believe in Him, I'll work with Him. But I have to do penance. I have to suffer. I have to go to work with my hands and feet and mind on this precious earth. That is mine. That is yours as well as mine. Thanks . . . Migwtch!

Even though the spirits can't talk to you at this point, you can send somebody a message when they're done here on this earth. You have relatives. You have ancestors. They're done on earth. But you're on earth -- you're working on earth and they're crying. You have the power to send a message to them. They're done. They can't give you a message, but you know the message is there, with you, by thinking. They're thinking of you. You know just what they're thinking if you're empowered. If you're empowered enough, you know just what they're thinking of: "Help." So you're empowered on earth to help them. You know just what they want -- if you have power; if you use it. And there are a lot of things that help them in the way that you're thinking of. But think of them.

What do they want?

They left something, maybe children. You have to go to their children. You'll know it. You go to their children and you tell them, "Father and mother are gone. All right. Take care of yourself. Watch. They're still there -- on the other side of that River.(27) You are on this other side. You're working on earth yet. You work hard on this earth for your mother, father, sister, brother. How are you gonna work? You work hard for them because you believe that you're gonna get to where they are."

You just tell the children that they work for their folks when they believe they're going to get to be with them by traveling on the same trail as their folks. Tell them, "You remember how your folks lived. Try to live the same way."

Tell those kids that, so they know -- if they don't already know. You remember how their folks lived; tell the kids. If they were good people, they were entitled for the good, later. So work with them.

You have the Spirit, send a message to your relatives that are done on this earth. Ask, "Great Spirit come to us. Help us." You can do the same -- if you're the one who'll try to help them. You know that message. You're thinking of them. You know just what they want. You're empowered. You can say, "I'm able." If you get results, turn around and help them. Tell them, "You're past. I'm on earth." If he can get above you -- if your relative can get to the next world -- then he can turn around and help you while you're still here.

I send messages to my mother.


She says, "Never quit."

She says, "Never quit. The very words I said, they stand."

I know those words. They come in to the different parts of my brain.

She said, "The very words I said still hold your hand. They stand up there."

And I say, "Well, you have done your work."

I almost saw her recently . . . again. She's worried about some of her other children. That's why she comes back to see me. And I know who's weakening too. I know who has an ailment. They don't believe in anything, that's why they're ailing. She's worried about that. She told me when she left, she said, "You're the oldest. Look after them. Look after them." And when she comes to me now she tells me that again.

In my life I watched signs as I went along and I studied everything to myself. I picked up stuff as my spirit went out with messages. I listened to others and their talking, and studied their expression and their way of life and experience. I listened time and again to old people tell their experience of life. And when they give lectures to Indians in the Indian way, I know they mean it. I know it proves out: they have lived to an old age.(28) I listen to old people and never talk back or interrupt them in lecture.

I was interested.

I am interested.

And with this method that I think helped me know messages in life, the main idea is that we be careful . . . with all things. These signs we go by are just the same as the signs they have now to stop, look, or listen. Well . . . that is the same thing as in Indian. All the signs -- Indian and white -- are telling us to be more careful with this life because there's a lot of tag-alders and thorns on the trail we're going through.

And looking backward on a long trail, I know now what the old Indians mean about life.


1. Cf. Coleman, Sister Bernard, O.S.B. "The Religion of the Ojibwa of Northern Minnesota," Primitive Man [now Anthropological Quarterly], 10 (1937), pp. 3-4, 33-57, A. Irving Hallowell, 1938, "Fear and Anxiety as Cultural and individual Variables in a Primitive Society." Journal of Social Psychology, 9:25-47 (Reprinted in A. I. Hallowell, 1955a, pp. 250-265), and A. Irving Hallowell, 1940, "Aggression in Saulteaux Society," Psychiatry, 3:395-407 (Reprinted in Personality in Nature, Society and Culture, 2nd ed., Ed. by Clyde Kluckhohn, H. A. Murray, and David M. Schneider. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953, pp. 260-275; and in A. I. Hallowell, 1955a, pp. 277-290.)

2. If you actually see something yourself you know whether it is right or not. Anything you see yourself, you thus know. So, what you see you know, and what you know, you believe. Therefore, you believe in everything you see. "Superstition" to Paul Buffalo, in Anishinabe, is "believing in everything you see" -- which is what everyone should do. It was actually hard for Paul Buffalo to understand how someone could not believe in what they saw -- in how that could not be "superstitious." Thus, above, he argues that whites ". . . have to be superstitious . . ." because they see unusual things. He essentially concludes that the only reason whites may not be superstitious is that they "don't take notice of" or remember what unusual things they see.

3. That is, with the messengers, they don't always know the individual spiritual doctor or medicine person that sent them, but often they will know that someone sent the messenger or message. Cf., Ch. 31, "Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi Shaking, and Bone-Swallowing Specialists."

4. This is Indian camping in the different seasonal locations, not recreational camping as in tents and trailers and back-packing.

5. This is a fairly common motif. Cf., for e.g., the book and video I Heard the Owl Call My Name.

6. That is, when they act out something in an unusual way. It can be anything that is not considered normal for the season and/or time of day.

7. The younger class does not spend much time thinking about things like that.

8. Cf., Hallowell, A. Irving. "Spirits of the Dead in Saulteaux Life and Thought," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland," 70 (1940), pp. 29-51.

9. See Ch. 31, "Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking and Bone-Swallowing Specialists."

10. With "Spiritual Doctors," traditional Indians do not always distinguish between talking to the doctor and talking to the spirit. Cf., Ch. 31, "Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking and Bone-Swallowing Specialists."

11. The Spiritual Doctor Interprets the warning sign, and it could be about almost anything.

12. For other stories about Wenabozho see Ch. 19, "Wenabozho and The Creation of the Current World."

13. See Ch. 34, "Fireballs, and The Shadow Man."

14. A "flash" is a prominent thing or exaggerated thing or action that you quickly recognize as being prominent. It's something you recognize as being important. It's a realization of the importance of what's going on. It is sort of an "Aha!" experience, or a "Eureka moment."

15. Bragging is one of the least liked qualities among many, and showing off that you have a lot of money is considered much like bragging. Just like you're not supposed to brag, you're not supposed to go around "flashing" money around. The flashing of money is a "sin," not the money itself, just like bragging about having a nice boat might be considered a "sin," not the mere possession of a nice boat. Not living in accordance with community expectations usually results in some kind of sanction or bad action coming your way. That is, if you "sin," you will be punished. Believers will be warned about this through the messengers and unusual events.

16. This happened to Tim Roufs. This is a true story. The snake appeared sitting right in the middle of the driver's seat, facing me when I opened the door, and that happened shortly before my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly in August 1968. As of August 2018 -- fifty years later -- that is the only snake I have ever seen like that, or even close to like that. At the time my father was living in Winsted, MN, about two hundred miles from Ball Club. When this incident with the snake in the car happened, and Paul saw the snake sitting there on the driver's seat as he describes in his narrative, he literally froze on the spot, and was virtually speechless for much of the rest of the afternoon. An interesting thing was that at the time I lived on a houseboat on Cut Foot Sioux Lake, by Lake Winnibigoshish. One evening, late in the evening not long after the snake-on-the-driver's-seat event, I noticed a friend who I would often see around there coming towards our boat anchored out on the lake, and before he arrived at the boat with the news of father's death I knew he was to deliver bad news to me. There were three of us on the houseboat at the time. Paul and I, obviously, talked about that series of events often over the years. Paul's comments about the events generally focused on the theme of, "See, now you know how it works."

17. I came to that belief through living the life that I have lived and seeing all of these things firsthand.

18. It is a version of telling the children "not to cry wolf."

19. They're growing very fast.

20. They want to hear and listen in to the news, discussion, gossip, etc., of the visitors and others in the family.

21. Cf., Ch. 26, "Dreams and Visions."

22. Cf., Ch. 22, "Drums," and Ch. 29, "Midewiwin: Grand Medicine."

23. Eating outside, with a campfire, offering food and tobacco and drink to the Spirit, and having a campfire talk, is one of the best ways/conditions for offering things. Cf., Ch. 11, "Campfire Talks."

24. Paul is here describing part of what is sometimes called a "vision quest," which was often part of a young man's initiation ceremony, which is part of what is sometimes known as his "rites of passage." This could occur when a young man was entering adulthood, or when he was advancing to any of the higher grades of power use, or before any special ceremony that he was about to perform. Cf., Ch. 25, "'Self-Houses,' Sweat Houses, and Blood-taking," and Ch. 27, "Power."

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

26. For a discussion of "The Road of Life," and other references to the full road you are traveling on, see Ch. 11, "Campfire Talks."

27. To get to the next world you have to cross over a river: "On the way to the next world you'll walk to the bridge. The bridge is evil, and the evil is a wild creature. . . . If you're clean, you can walk on him. But if you're a sinner, it'll sink before you get to the other shore. . . . The better life you live the easier it will be to get across." Cf., Ch. 30, "An Indian Curing Ceremony",

28. Living to an old age is proof in and of itself that you are living a good life.

to top of page / A/Z index   to top of page / A-Z index

This site is under construction. Comments are welcome!

Envelope: E-mail
E-mail comments to 

The University of Minnesota  is an equal opportunity educator and employer.>
Copyright: © 1997 - 2021 Timothy G. Roufs 

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author .
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.

Page URL: /cla/faculty/troufs/Buffalo/PB34.html
Last Modified Friday, 17-Aug-2018 19:28:53 CDT

Department of Studies in Justice, Culture, & Social Change 
College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Science
215 Cina Hall
University of Minnesota Duluth (maps)
Duluth, MN 55812 - 2496 (maps)

Gitchee-Gumee Live 

to top of page / A/Z index   to top of page / A-Z index

View Stats 

© 2022 University of Minnesota Duluth
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
Last modified on 08/17/18 07:28 PM
University of Minnesota Campuses
Crookston | Duluth | Morris
Rochester | Twin Cities