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When Everybody Called Me Gabe-bines,

Teachings from Paul Buffalo

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

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

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"Uprise in the Indian Office"

Ojibway Indians protesting the proposed move of the consolidated Chippewa Agency headquarters from Cass Lake to Duluth, 1938.

Ojibway Indians protesting the proposed move of the consolidated Chippewa Agency headquarters from Cass Lake to Duluth, 1938.

Photograph Collection 1938
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. E97.7L p24 Negative no. 62742
His name was Balsam. He was the Indian Agent. I don't know his first name.(1) His name was Balsam, anyhow. He was an Indian Agent in Cass Lake. The women actually got ahold of him, I guess, but the men-folks stopped them. They didn't hurt him. What I heard was that they got ahold of him because he wasn't telling the women-folks anything.(2) They were mad over the fact that the Indian Office would be moved from Cass Lake to Duluth.

The Cass Lake Times read, "The Indian Office at Cass Lake is to be moved to Duluth, recommended by the Indian Agent Mr. Balsam, approved by Mr. Ed Wilson." It's in the paper, the Cass Lake Times.

We were getting the Cass Lake Times at Bena at the time. I got the Cass Lake Times from the publisher in Cass Lake, Utly, Grant Utly. His name I know. I was reading that paper about that uprise in the Indian Office. They took their agents and they were going to move the office from Cass Lake to Duluth. It was in '39, I guess; 1939.(3)

It stated in the Cass Lake Times, "Mr. Balsam recommended the Indian Office be moved." It read: "Mr. Balsam, the Indian Agent, recommends the Indian Office be moved from Cass Lake to Duluth."

So, there was an uprise at Cass Lake because the Indian Office was to be moved. The Indians said that they figured that Balsam had too much power for them to stop the move, and that whatever he said went.

You know . . . they were wrong!

Leech Lake Map.
Leech Lake.
Source: Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

"Recommend," that's a big word, for me. The paper stated that Mr. Wilson(4) signed the recommendation. So I looked at that paper; “Mr. Balsam isn't to blame. Mr. Wilson is to blame for signing without the approvement of the Local Council. He was supposed to be the Chief but now he had to go under the new law.(5) Under the law he now has to work with the Local Council. That's the law now. Besides, no “chief” will work without the Local Council."

R.F. Lee, Assistant Director, National Park Services; Don Foster, Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs; Dale Doty, Assistant Secretary of the Interior; Ed Wilson, Chief of Chippewas; and John Flatt, Chief of Grand Portage Band at Grand Portage national historic site dedication, 1951.

R.F. Lee, Assistant Director, National Park Services; Don Foster, Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs; Dale Doty, Assistant Secretary of the Interior; Ed Wilson, Chief of Chippewas; and John Flatt, Chief of Grand Portage Band at Grand Portage national historic site dedication, 1951.

Photographer: Abbie Rowe

Photograph Collection 8/9/1951
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. SD4G p35 Negative no. 38776

xxx for dup CHS. 47 and 49, in 49

Well, I thought of that. I thought that "Mr. Balsam recommends" meant that he just asked, you might as well say, he just pointed out that it would be a good thing for the Indian Office to move to Duluth. That's the way I understood "recommended." He just suggested -- advised -- that the Indian Office should be moved to Duluth. Then Wilson signed the recommendation. That's all the Cass Lake Times said.

Gee I got mad about that. And right away the Indians were saying, "Oh, the Indian Office is going to be moved now."

“Ya, I supposed. Our chief signed it. He signed the recommendation.”

Well, I went up to the Indian Office in Cass Lake to see for myself what they wanted.

They wanted the Indian Office cleared out of Cass Lake.


Right now we had a big Local Council meeting again in Bena. They called a big meeting -- a special general meeting -- of the Bena Council. Then the Indians said, "You know what we’re gonna work on now? We want that Indian Office to stay right there in Cass Lake! That's the main thing. We don't want it to be moved. We got money there. We don't want to have to go to Duluth to get our money. We can get it here at Cass Lake. We live here. It's in the old treaty that the local Indian Office would be right where we could put in our claim. And that's the only law that applies. Ya."

The Indians said that mostly in Chippewa.

"Ya. Ya. Ya. I know. But what we can do and what we can't do are two different things, too," I said. "It looks like we have to vote on that. We have to fight it. We have to go exercise our voice at the General Council and find out what they're planning to do."

"Well," one of the advisory Indians said, "you better go over there and find out what this is all about. Try hard anyhow. See if we still want it here."


In those days I helped the Indians along as much as I could on this New Deal.(6) I represented the Indians at that time, and . . . all braggin' aside . . . they thought a lot of me. I talked to them, and I read letters and wrote for them as much as I could. I talked with them and signed for them when they complained and made their petitions. Ya, I understood English and I read the petitions. I signed the petition; yes. I helped them when they were having hardships with their petition. I would stand for them. After all of that they voted me in as their Representative for the Bena Council.

So I was again on the Council in Bena. And after I got on the Local Council, they got me to be a delegate to the General Council in Cass Lake. We had a General Council those days, and that was in Cass Lake.

The local Council asked, "Who should we send? We need two to go as delegates to the General Council."

"Well, we'll get Buffalo to run. We'll run Buffalo and Humphrey, George Humphrey."

So, well, they voted me in for a delegate and they voted Humphrey in for a delegate from the Bena area, to represent the Bena Council. We got lots of help from the people as individuals. We got lots of backing. They helped by attending to the council, attending to the meetings. We got help on votes. And they trust me. They'd say, "You talk Indian so that we could understand you.” They’d ask, “When we couldn’t understand you in English, did you say anything?" And they’d say, “You talk Indian, and show that you are an Indian. I think we'll back you."

How'd they back me? Because they recognize the meetings! We had good meetings! We had a lot of them, at times. We had enough Indians in there at the halls to represent that area of Bena.

We would discuss our ideas and problems. That was during WPA days.(7) We'd discuss jobs, good jobs; we'd discuss welfare, medical care, doctors, glasses, eyes, health, and other stuff. Things would come to a vote, just the way they do it now. The majority put it up to a vote . . . if they want. They spoke; they all spoke up good . . . if they wanted to. They spoke for betterment. That was a good Council, those days. And they knew when it was Council. There were other things that the Local Council brought up, like our rights, living, housing, lumber work. And then we brought what we discussed at the Local Council up to the Chairman of the Leech Lake Executive Council, the Chairman of the Board of the Leech Lake General Council. At that time that was Wilson -- Ed Wilson. Later on it was Frank Broker.

At that time we had two delegates to the General Council in each area, so I had a man that was a delegate with me. There were two of us, from our area. There were twelve of us on the Leech Lake Executive Committee in those days. The Executive Committee members came from all these small councils. The General Council was in Cass Lake. All small Councils, village members, went to Cass Lake on just a little money, like four or five dollars. That was hardship for the delegates. Ya.

So there were two delegates from each district of Leech Lake.(8) I was from Bena. I lived at Bena at that time. I was a delegate for the Bena Local Council on the Leech Lake Committee with Humphrey. That was George Humphrey. He was from Squaw Lake.(9) That was Humphrey-that-belonged-to-Squaw-Lake -- George Humphrey.

So, in the meantime, the Older Class was trying out this New Deal. They could see how much power this state’s law had available to use, so they used it. The Indian's vote helped pass it, but some of them wouldn't have much to do with The New Deal.(10) But there were enough of us in favor of it to go to the General Council as a delegation and talk about it.

Well, in the resolutions from that Bena Council meeting that I’m talking about here there was something we didn't care much about. That was that Balsam wanted to move the Indian Office at Cass Lake. He wanted to move the Indian Office from Cass Lake to Duluth.

It was quite a while there before I went as a delegate to appear in the General Council. They had that General Council only every so often. That was more a committee Council. They had committees that would report in to the General Council from time to time.

At that same time as I went there they were going to elect new committees on that General Council. Oh, we had so much work to do in Council! At that time I was learning that New Deal, too. I was reading that, studying that. I would read it myself, and they would explain it to me at times. I had to read it over and over and over. I just read it over and over, and it came natural that I knew what's supposed to be done.

Well, one of the main points of that Local Council resolution was that the problem of the Indian Office would be taken care of. On the resolution there were other claims about how they felt on other matters. We made resolutions first on the local Council level, and then we'd have to go up there to Cass Lake to the General Council and push those resolutions and exercise them with the other committees. At the General Council in Cass Lake we'd compare resolutions and decide how things should be done.

I got a letter ten days before the meeting to discuss moving the Indian Office. It's the law that you have to give ten days' notice. So that's how we got there.

Anyhow, I went up there to the General Council in Cass Lake. As part of a delegation I went up to Cass Lake to a General Council. Wilson was on as a tribal leader at the time, and we were all digging into Wilson. I took the Cass Lake Times, stuck it in my pocket, and went up there to discuss the proposal that was made to move the old Indian Office. Well, the first day -- the first day -- I just sat there and listened. There were white people in there, trying to help the Indians. There were some good representatives there. One was the owner of that hat shop, Larson. She ran the garment shop in Cass Lake; Larson. She was a very good talker. Oh, ho! The delegates and the Chairman of the General Council told her, "You can't talk in here. This is Tribal matters. No white people have a voice." The businessmen favored to keep the Indian Office in Cass Lake, and wanted to speak up. Well, nevertheless, they put the whites out of there.


Vogue Hat Shop, Cass Lake, ca. 1920.

Vogue Hat Shop, Cass Lake, ca. 1920.

Photograph Collection ca. 1920
Location no. HF4.2 p48
Minnesota Historical Society
Negative no. 48847

Well, in the meantime I was seeing how everybody talked there at that meeting.

"Well, Mr. Wilson, it's about time you speak up," they told him.

They told Wilson that he was slow, a little bit slow at speaking up.

They told Mr. Wilson, Mr. Ed Wilson, "Mr. Wilson, you're the fault of that. Without the consideration of your Local Council you approved of that plan to move the Indian Office to Duluth. You didn't consider the Local Council. You went overhead. You went beyond the law to sign that without a consent of the Tribe. Well, you're the fault of the moving the Indian Office."

Wilson had the Tribal attorney there. And the Tribal attorney would jump up in favor of all these guys who were big deals, big fellows. The lawyers right there with him tried to explain it.

But the people kept on talking, "You're the fault they moved that Indian Office."

Oh, I listened to all them for a while, you know, and they all blamed him.

So I start to perp up a little, and I said to Humphrey, "Well, it's time for me to say something."

I wondered why my delegation partner was sitting in the back of me so close. I found out he couldn't hear. So he'd ask me what they said. I'd tell him. He wouldn't get it straight because he was so hard of hearing. Humphrey was hard of hearing. I thought he was a perfect man, to hear. And then his sights were poor too. George's eyes were bothering him and he couldn't read much. He had pretty good English and he was a good talker in Indian when he was along, but he couldn't talk before a crowd. He got too shook up. I felt that he didn't go to school enough. I don't know what grade he was in, but he talked mostly Indian to me all the time. He had a good line, but when it came to a business meeting he wouldn't say anything. I went with him to the Council meetings, but when I was speaking for the Leech Lake area and was looking for his help to bring on his area where he lived, Squaw Lake, he wouldn't say a word. When I was speaking about what we should have, about what my local Council wanted, and when his local Council come up for discussion, he wouldn't say anything.

When we were talking about something like the welfare board, the welfare division, or the land division, or what we were representing, or whatever the minutes said we were supposed to be talking about, he'd poke me and ask me, "What did he say?" Well, that would offset me. I'm supposed to be listening to what's going on.

That was my drawback right there! If I had a good man to work with me, a key partner, and if I was a little wrong, he'd pull his trigger and clear it up. But I had to do it all alone, with the others on the board. That was my drawback, you know. You have to have two good representatives for the Local Council. You have to have a good delegation, one that will help one another explain the problems of your area. That's what you're there for. But very seldom you'll see that, when two can fire.

I had a good board on with me though. They understood me. I wasn't the best, you know, but I tried. I think I got along good.

When Wilson finally got up he said -- I think he said it in Indian . . . or English . . . or both -- anyhow he got up there, and I remember he said, "Don't blame me for moving the Indian Office. The Government does anything the government wants to do. You know very well that that's the Government's privileges." I think he said in Indian, "The Government does anything they want to do, and I left my part of moving the Indian Office to the Government official. They did it. So don't blame me for moving the Indian Office."

"He couldn't see what wrong he had done," I thought.

Boy, it struck me! And I saw some others looking around at one another.

"Don't blame me. The Government does anything it wishes with the Indian matters."


When he sat down, he said, "Leech Lake didn't do that."

The General Council meeting went on and somebody said, "The Bena delegates ain't said nothing yet."

Of course, the Bena area had a meeting before we came to the General Council. So we were ready to speak up. Ya.

"Buffalo, what you got?"

So, well, I got up.

I pulled the article out of the paper that discussed the move of the Indian Office to Duluth. "I think you read this Cass Lake Times, most of you. I have it here. Mr. Wilson, Chairman, I understand that you have denied to the people that you have had a part in moving the Indian Office to Duluth, and that you say you are not to be blamed on the deal. Let me read this because I believe it's your fault for moving the Indian Office without the consent of the Local Council, without considering consent from them. You're supposed to work with the local councils, according to the Bylaws. I understand the Chairman for the Council, the General Council, is supposed to work for the local people and not for Mr. Balsam. I have here an article from the Cass Lake Times, dated a certain date. Here it is, from the Cass Lake Times: 'The Indian Office to be Moved. Mr. Balsam recommended the Indian Office to be moved to Duluth from Cass Lake’ -- Mr. Balsam recommended the Indian Office should be moved to Duluth from Cass Lake -- ‘and Mr. Ed Wilson approved -- SIGNED! -- the recommendation!!'”

"How does that sound? Whose fault is it? It's signed by the Chairman. You're the Chairman of the General Council. You signed the recommendation without the consideration of the delegates. You're supposed to have a delegate speak on that but you signed ahead of them."

The secretary started in firing on the minutes as soon as I talked.

"We didn't know nothing about it. All we knew about it was just what we learned from this Cass Lake Times.”

"Well, who's the blame?"

I looked around. Boy, they went after him!!

"That's the way we all read that paper," I said, "you're to blame."

He blew up.

I busted the Council; you might as well say I busted it up. They decided they were going to have another session. The next day they were going to have another council, a re‑election for chairman. When they got around to electing, Mr. Wilson said, "Oh, I done all I kin for you. I done everything right. I done this for you."

"You done mischief there."

They were also going to have a vote for a sort of a committee of the General Council that would be looking into the matter of moving the Indian Office. They were going to vote the next day, I guess, or the same day in the afternoon. They wanted me to stay there for that too, but I wanted to go home. I didn't care much about sticking around there for those things. I told what I thought, and was ready to go home. Finally I figured I had to stay. I had to vote for a committee, to decide who was going to be on that committee of the General Council.

Wilson, Ed Wilson, was on that committee for the Leech Lake at the time. You know what? By gosh, all these Indians in that General Council -- from Cass Lake and all over -- said “we'll put Buffalo to run against Ed Wilson.”

"I nominate Buffalo to run against Wilson."

When the vote came in I beat Wilson. I went in because I flashed that Wilson was crooked -- that what he did was crooked. He didn't know that was crooked, probably, but if he didn't know that was crooked he didn't know what he was doing.

They call that "slippery work." If he would have stopped and considered his Local Council, he'd a-been a good man. But he didn't recognize his Local Council before he signed it.

So I beat Wilson.


Endion Hotel, Cass Lake, ca. 1910.

Endion Hotel, Cass Lake, ca. 1910.

Photograph Collection, Postcard ca. 1910
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. MC3.9 CL3.1 r2; YR1937.3848

Afterwards we went in the Endion Hotel. "My Boy," he said, "you got some job now. You got a hard job in your hands now."

"Probably it was hard for you," I said, "but it ain't hard for me. Before I sign anything, I read first."

He didn't say anymore. He was washing up for dinner there.

I kept quiet after that too. I wouldn't argue with him. I meant well. So that's how I got in to represent Leech Lake on the Tribal Council.

I was just a committeeman on the Executive Committee of the Tribe, and on a committee of their General Council. In the whole Tribe there are twelve Executive Committeemen, twelve of them, with two for each area. There were two of us that represented the Leech Lake area, two that represented Mille Lacs, two that represented Fond du Lac, and two that represented Grand Marais. And besides that there were two for White Earth and two for Nett Lake. There were local representatives from, Zimmerman, Mille Lacs, Grand Marais, Pine River, and the Nett Lake bunch. They came to the meetings from all over. There were about twelve of us. Boy, I tell you we used to have some good arguments! That was in the '40s, I think.

I was at first just elected by the Local Council to be a delegate of Bena. When I went to the General Council in Cass Lake, then I had to be a delegate from Leech Lake for the Tribal Council. I won that at Cass Lake by arguing through the old delegation. They changed votes right there.

The other Leech Lake guy on the Tribal Council . . . was Broker, I guess; Frank Broker. I think he was originally from Pine Point or someplace up by Pine River. I think he was a Pillager.(11) At the time we were on the Tribal Council he was from the Cass Lake area. He was working for the lumber company up there. He used to be a foreman for the woods in the north, working in the lumber camps. He was a good speaker. He could talk Indian. He could talk English. I think he was one of them that used to help go to Washington. He was a good talker. He was a good man until he was voted out. There was always somebody that wanted to go in to help on the Council. And sometimes the local members out‑voted one party; then another man goes in. It was just the same way it is now. When we get a good man on, even if he's doing good, he's there just so long. If somebody wants to get in they'll say, "Well, he's got faults," even though he may be good.

So we were the representatives from Leech Lake. All the time that I went down to these Tribal meetings we'd talk business. These good talkers were right here at Leech Lake. See, we had our meetings of the surrounding areas here at Leech Lake. We most often couldn't take our meetings anywhere, so we'd generally have them right here at Leech Lake.

But one time, later on, I got another letter from the Chairman of the General Tribal Council. The Chairman said, "Mr. Buffalo, you're a delegate to the Tribal Committee from Leech Lake. We'll have our Executive Committee meeting at Duluth. You're to come. There'll be a meeting for three days to discuss the Indian Office moving back to Cass Lake, and we have to discuss the other Tribal claims." That's all it said. The Indian Office was already moved. It was up there at Duluth. We found that out when we got the "Minutes."

"We have to discuss the Tribal claims and the welfare of the Indians." That was a good letter.


They had to have a meeting again and this time they had it in Duluth. I went there. And I went after the Indian Office again. Well, of course, you know how they work that. That guy up there wears out the meetings by talking. They talk and talk, and argue, and point out points.

"I understand you," they'll say.


U.S. Post Office, Duluth, ca. 1910.

U.S. Post Office, Duluth, ca. 1910.

Photographer: Charles P. Gibson

Photograph Collection ca. 1910
Location no. MS2.9 DU8 p25
Minnesota Historical Society
Negative no. 29008

They had a meeting up there at the Post Office in Duluth, on the second floor. The meeting took place and when I got in there the room was just filled. Lots of people came from all over. They had the Welfare Department there and everything.

They talked so much about the welfare of the Indian that I had to go there again on the second day to talk about the Indian Office. But we went back again because we would never give up on that. "When I'm on track once, I want that track to be answered before I take another one."

That's the way I answered: "I want my answer."

Well, I stayed there all morning and 'till about three, four o'clock in the afternoon.

You know what they were discussing?

They were still discussing the welfare of the Indians. They were discussing what my letter said -- the letter I received -- but they were doing it backwards. They were discussing the welfare of the Indians first, trying to get improvements. They were trying to get better roads, better welfare workers, better equipment for the welfare workers, and more flour and more clothes and more money.

Well, I got up. I said, "I got a letter from this Council here. They called me to speak for Leech Lake and we haven't said nothing yet." I got up in the meeting and I said, "I have a letter here inviting me to this Council. I've been listening to these aloof committees. It sounds to me like they're talking about certain points on welfare. Is it?"


"Well, do these committees have a letter like I have? I want to know. Please, could you tell me?"


"Well, listen, that letter says your Committee invited the representatives of Leech Lake to attend this Duluth meeting of a General Council -- the Duluth General Council -- to discuss our Indian Office being moved back to Cass Lake.”

“Now, I haven't heard a word about the Indian Office. That's the first point I came here for. When that's discussed and you give a satisfactory point on this, then I'm interested in discussing the other problem areas. In the condition that the meeting is in now, the way I understand it, I would rather say nothing just to hear somebody say something about the Indian Office. I'd rather hear somebody say something about the Indian Office in Duluth here moving back to Cass Lake than talk. I wish to hear that, or something about what they're going to do about the Indian Office, or whatever else they got on it. I think this move of the office should be pending, but you already took action -- there in Cass Lake. I don't know what the point is when this Chairman says we'll be discussing it in Duluth. Well, I haven't heard a word about this Indian Office, and Leech Lake wants to know."

Oh, right now the Chairman of Leech Lake got up. "That's right! That's right!" the Chairman said.

"We're working too fast," he said. "We want to discuss the Indian Office to be moved back."

Then they started to mumble amongst themselves, "What we gonna do? We're working backwards on this letter. We're working up."

That's tricky, and sometimes the government officials do that on purpose. They were probably on payroll, at least that's what I thought. I don't know why, but I thought we should take care of the Indian Office first and then go along with other claims for three days. I wanted to get some satisfaction on this Indian Office matter because until then there were not many satisfaction points.

So while the Chairman, the Secretary, and the other officials there were mumbling amongst themselves, I saw the attorney stooped over and talk to them. During the "Minutes" of the meeting they announced, "Mr. Buffalo and Mr. Broker, the Committee from Leech Lake, you go in a separate room with our Tribal attorney."

"Is our meeting going to take effect so we don't miss any points here in the big meeting? I want to hear the ‘Minutes’ of this other meeting."

"We could give you the ‘Minutes’ of it."

"But what good will that do if I'm not there?"

"We’ll recess the meeting."

So they recessed. The Tribal Chairman said, "We won't take long."

A Tribal attorney from Minneapolis -- I think it was Art Hagan -- called me right in. The attorneys up there, boy, they want to get everything clear.

"Oh, ha," he said, "that's a pretty good point you brought up. That's right. I'll walk out there right now and I'll get the Chairman to sign that you want the Indian Office up at Cass Lake."

"Here are the ‘Minutes’ of our Leech Lake Council that have to be answered," I said. "We have to discuss that first, otherwise I can't discuss anything. I don't have the authority to go ahead on these other claims until we discuss that. I have to go back in that meeting later on and pick up what the people want in claims. We want to work in the other claims; yes. But I have a claim here, on this Indian Office, which this Council didn't even announce here yet."

"Well, I'm filing this claim on the Indian Office in the Council yet today,” the Tribal attorney from Minneapolis told us. “I'll take action right now."

He tap‑writed that paper, signed it, and took it to the Chairman. The Council voted upon it, and the Chairman signed it.

A week or ten days later a big letter came. It said, "Mr. Buffalo, in regards to the Cass Lake Indian Office, the Chairman of the Office in Washington says your Indian Office is to be moved to Cass Lake within ten days."

The Indian Office went right back to Cass Lake. We moved it back to Cass Lake when I was on the board. Yup, we got 'er back in Cass Lake! Boy, we had an even bigger office then. It stayed in Cass Lake quite a number of years. But they moved it to Bemidji since that time. From there on I don't know what they did. I didn't pay much attention to that because I didn't work on the Indian Office after that.

I talked to that chief clerk of the Indian Office after they moved back to Cass Lake. I was well acquainted with him, the chief clerk. I know him well. He was the chief clerk, next to the Indian Agent. He was the chief of clerks. He and I used to travel together, and often we'd sit and visit. I saw him in Cass Lake. He lived in Cass Lake, but he isn't up there now. I said, "How come is that?" I said, "How come they moved the Indian Office back to Cass Lake? How did that go?"

"Well, it was moved to Duluth through the Tribal Council action," he said. “Some wanted it and some didn't. I guess Duluth could have had it if they wanted it, but they pretty much didn't pay any attention. We favored the employees of Cass Lake staying in Cass Lake.”

He was an employee.

"How come they moved it in the first place? Isn't Cass Lake your regular place? Isn't this a regular place for the office, since there are Indians around here?"

"Ya," he said, "but they'd come in too often. There was too much disturbment in the office. On the other hand, if we moved to Bemidji the people in the business district would give the Indians credit, and if those Indians didn't pay they'd want us to pay. They want the Indian Office to pay. And the prices of everything were high. The business area didn't appreciate what the Indian Office was doing for the Indians. They'd get the Indians drunk and throw 'em in jail. Then probably they'd ask us to pay the fine. Oh, it was just too much trouble up there. We got enough work without that trouble. We got enough to do. That's why we decided to move up there to Duluth that time."

That's what he told me; "Business people and the Indians that lived in the area disturbed the office."

He got agitated by them, too. They didn't want this to be done and they wanted that to be done -- which you have to do. But after a while you can't do everything they ask. You can do so much, that's all. Besides, you have somebody else telling you what to do, like your boss.

Ya, that's one thing. You can't overthrow the government. If the government says that's it, then you have to work with them. When the people of the government ask you to work with them, you have to work with them.

I used to see them Indians loaf around by the office door waiting and waiting. Well, the Indian Agent naturally got sick of that afterwards. See? So they had to put them out of their reach. See, there was too much loafing around.

That's a logical reason.

I told my friend, the chief clerk, that by that time I didn't care about it any more. I said, "I think that I'm getting so that I'm capable to take care of myself now. And I don't care what they do, but I am just wondering how I can get up to Duluth if I have to. If I have money coming I think I can get up there and get it. I think everybody else could, too. I can walk up there -- almost . . . if I have to," I said; "I could hitchhike anyway."

"Ya," he said. "If they were like you it wouldn't-a been too bad. You're willing to make a hardship and go anywhere. It wouldn't-a been a bad place if they were like you."

One of the drawbacks I had on the Council was that there were too many claims to look after. There were too many claims from other people and from other divisions. Other people had claims too. Sure, other divisions had other claims. They had different ones that wanted to go one way in the area they live in. So . . . too many representatives got in the way of working for my area.

I think each area we live in should be recognized. The man that represents an area can explain what the claims are in his area, in his district. In my times, when I was on the board, certain different districts were not interested in the problems of my area. They were not interested in what I was talking about.

But those guys, those Indians, heard from the representative of the Grand Marais delegation. We heard them too, I know. We felt that they had suffered too. We felt that when we'd hear one another.

After the Tribal Council heard everybody, they'd make appropriations. When we had to have the appropriations for our area, we had to ask for the appropriations. But sometimes we didn't have enough delegation support. These delegations, some of them delegations, didn't say a word. They don't talk, just like the local people do now.

I remember one time in Duluth our Indian Agent told that delegation from Mille Lacs, "Why didn't you vote when the $45,000 was arranged for this tribe, for this area? Now, it's too late to say anything." When Leech Lake voted for this $45,000 to be spent Mille Lacs didn't understand that. So they just sat there and didn't say anything. When there was a vote, they would have a chance to say something about that money. But they didn't understand it.

Mille Lacs didn't understand it because they didn't have the education. They were just sitting up there. At that meeting they didn't interpret that discussion on the money into Indian. There was no interpretation, no translation, and the Mille Lacs delegation were uncomfortable. They probably thought that action being proposed was the By-laws.

At Mille Lacs they talk their language when they have their own councils. When they come up here we most generally had two men in there to interpret. Well, they'd transfer it all right. At least they did the best they could to translate it in Indian. But they just don't make it sound exactly the same. It is hard to transfer that in Indian and English. If they had interpreted that money discussion a little different in Indian maybe Mille Lacs would have had something to say. I think Frank Broker interpreted a little of it. He was the Councilman from Pine River.


Ojibwe Indians receiving government checks, Minneapolis, 1931.

Ojibwe Indians receiving government checks, Minneapolis, 1931.

Subjects: Elizabeth Bement, Frank Broker, and Gertrude Gurneau

Photograph Collection 1/1/1931
Location no. E97.52 p2
Minnesota Historical Society
Negative no. 23384
Primary Subject: Indians. Ojibway. Government and Relations with United States Government. Annuity Payments and Land Allotments.
Subject: Bement, Elizabeth
Subject: Broker, Frank
Subject: Gurneau, Gertrude

I'm talking about this different delegation, when I went to Duluth another time. Sometimes these delegations misunderstood. And sometimes, when they didn't get it clear, they were afraid to ask. So they'd leave it go. And when you miss one word in that business and just leave it go, that was wrong. You have to get everything clear. You should say, "Could I ask again on that point?" When you get it clear, then you're good. But if you're just afraid to talk you aren't doing your part on the delegation.

Do you know why they're afraid to talk?

They were afraid to talk because they thought that other ones would laugh or something. They felt that they'd say too much. They felt that someone’d say, "There's some good ones on that delegation."

After the Tribal Council heard that one delegation had a good point and that the other one had a good point, or that the other one had problems, the Chairman of the Board would bring it up for a vote. And when a delegation didn't hear and understand what they were voting on -- when they didn't get it clearly interpreted -- they would get lost and just let it slip. That's why the agent jumped up to Mille Lacs and said, "Why didn't you vote?"

Why, they didn't know what they were going to vote on. They didn't know they were voting for that money to be appropriated.

But Leech Lake voted. We voted for the better, to take something back home. We were looking out for Leech Lake. Our Leech Lake delegation was always alert.

But the Mille Lacs delegation didn't handle it that way. They didn't say much. Of course they were good men. If the discussion was in Indian, if everything was in Indian, I think they would have been brave enough to talk, because they talk their own languages up there in their Council. They would have discussed this for their organization.

When Indians those days were looking at their leader they figured in his speaking. They figured the way he carried his life. They figured that when he was capable -- when he was able -- he was willing to go to work for others. The leader was a friend to people, and he had good advisors. He carried a life as a good person, and trusted people. He respected individuals; he respected the group. He wanted to hear people and the people were glad to hear him talk. He was noticed, and he became the leader as he ran against other votes.(12)

When the votes came he could make it. If he's a good man, well-educated, well-experienced in life, and good at speaking, they decide, "I think he would be a good man." That's how he got in . . . in those days. And that was good.

They didn't pick anybody up as leader just because he wanted to get in. No! He had an awful time getting in. He had to show himself by practicing a good way of living. He had to show himself good at practicing as part of a delegation for the area when he was a delegate. A good leader became a delegate of that Local Council and when he went up before the Grand Delegation and fired at the Grand Council he fired for his area.

Then if he'd come back and the people'd feel results, they'd say, "He's a good man." The result, the request, is coming to that man if he's a good leader. When somebody gets results, that's the guy they hold. But if there's no result on what they file for in that Local Council, then they say he's not doing anything. They say, he had no power.

Where did he get his power?(13) He got his power from the people of the area that he lived in. He got his power by his education, by the experiences he had, through the views he had. If he had power he was able to talk. He was able to talk with the Council. He understood what was going on in the Council. He had education enough to understand. If he had power, he understood enough about the area he lived in, and he knew what he was talking about. And when they all agreed that he knew what he was talking about, when they could see by his expression that he knew what he was talking about, then he got more power. Then he's a good man.

That's why he gained power.


I went along for one year as representative to the Tribal Council, but then I let it go. I think I got along good as representative. The only drawback I had was that I didn't have the finance to continue. That's the only drawback I had -- I didn't have the finance. There was no money in it, them days. In fact, I was spending my own money going around to places. Now they finance the cost of the living for the Tribal Council members. I didn't get anything for going around. When I was on the Council we paid our own way out of what little mileage money we got. I was getting more money by working out in the woods by myself. I was making more by working out in Bena. And it was a suffer‑age to my people -- my family -- that I left home. So finally I had to stay home and work.

Of course, the locals helped me a lot. They helped me a lot. But after a while I got so that I didn't care for it because I just spent too much time writing and answering. I had to work for my family, too. I'd leave my family too long and go to Duluth and go here and go there; and besides, I didn't have a car. I lost too much time working for the Tribe, working for my area -- working for the Tribe of my area. I had to go to Cass Lake to hear the Council. And when I got up there I had to go here and go there with the others on the Council. I had to go with the Council.

I just got tired of it.

So the next time they were going to elect officers, Broker, our chairman, came to me and said, "Well, be sure and come now. We have a good Council. We're getting somewhere. We're getting roads. We're getting approve‑ments. Everything is approved pretty good. We're getting everything we want, machinery, and everything. We want you to come because we need good talkers. We need the ones that talk right out about the feelings of the people."

That was a good point.

"Yays," I said, "but I think we got Indians with a better education coming up because they talk pretty good when I see them. Let them try it. The way I feel now, I think that we got a good set up. If they'll work with it, we'll get somewhere. I don't want it no more. Tell them I don't want it no more. Tell them to get somebody else. When they vote, tell them to vote for somebody else."

So I got out of there. I resigned from that deal. Of course, I wasn't in any office there. I was no chairman or anything, only a councilman.

"Go ahead," I said at the meeting, “vote for somebody else.”

See, I was dropping it.

They did vote somebody else in as representative. I didn't know who, because I didn't pay attention to that any more.

No. . . .

I don’t even know his name.


1. The name of the Indian Agent in Cass Lake was Louis Balsam.

2. A contemporary newspaper article reported on the event (Cf., footnote #9 below.):


The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah)
Thursday, March 31, 1938, p. 6.

“Solemn elders of the Chippewa tribes, concerned by angry mutterings among impatient, braves, warned the great white fathers in Washington today that removal of their tribal agent is necessary for peace on the Cass Lake reservation. They asked John Collier, commissioner of Indian affairs, to replace Louis Balsam, superintendent of the consolidated Chippewa agency, because, they said he has been unfair in dealing with the Red men. 500 ATTEND POW-WOW. The chiefs summoned nearly 500 tribesmen last night to a pow-wow in the Indian cooperative building to protest transfer of their agency headquarters from the Cass Lake reservation to Duluth, 200 miles away. The Indians believed they would not get proper consideration from an office so far away. The pow-wow -presented a more peaceful picture than was seen on the reservation Tuesday when the braves streaked their faces with war paint, donned ceremonial regalia and danced in the streets to the beat of tom- toms and encouraging cries of their squaws. They were calm when they filed into the hall and seated themselves before their chiefs. There was no war paint and no yelling. Speaking in their native tongue, the Indians voiced disapproval of Balsam's administration and said he was not their friend. ATTACKED BY SQUAWS When Balsam began to read the order to transfer the office, a dozen squaws attacked him. He beat off his assailants and retreated to his office, where he was cooped up for several hours while hostile tribesmen whooped outside. Finally he made his way from the building and left hastily for Duluth. Adopting the white man's strategy, 200 Indians swarmed into his quarters and began a sit-down. They squatted on desks filing cabinets and chairs. They left only after receiving personal assurances from Chief Clerk Walter J. Clark that efforts to carry out the removal had been abandoned until further notice. Five braves remained to watch for any change in plans.”

3. The date was 30 March 1938. The "Indian Office" (the "Indian Agency") was formally known as "The Consolidated Chippewa Agency."

From: Hill, Edward E. 1965. "Preliminary Inventory (PI 163) of the Records of The Bureau of Indian Affairs (RG 75), Washington, D.C. Area. Accessed 5 November 2018. (Cf. Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, 2018.)

Records of the Consolidated Chippewa Agency

The Consolidated Chippewa Agency was established on July 1, 1922. It was responsible for the Chippewa Indians living on the Cass Lake, White Earth, Leech Lake, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, and Nett Late (Bois Fort) Reservations in northern Minnesota. These Indians previously had been assigned to the White Earth, Leech Lake, and Red Lake Agencies. The White Earth and Leech Lake Agencies were abolished; but the Red Lake Agency continued to be responsible for the Red Lake Chippewa. The Consolidated Chippewa Agency was located on the Cass Lake Reservation throughout the period covered by the records described in entries 1060-1064. More recently it has been replaced by the Minnesota Agency.

Since the Indians of the agency were scattered over a wide area, agency field employees on the several reservations often acted as subagents - although they were not usually officially designated as subagents. There are no records of the Consolidated Chippewa Agency now in the National Archives, but there are records of several of the agency's field employees. In some cases there are records antedating the establishment of the agency.

See also the records of the White Earth, Leech Lake, and Nett Lake Agencies.

4. Edward “The-Lone-Eagle-Flies” Wilson (-1960), Leech Lake; Allen James Wilson (1928-1998), his son, of Ball Club, later on ". . . was the youngest member to serve as President of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe."

5. “Supposed to be chief” refers to the fact that before the Indian Reorganization Act chieftainships were sometimes hereditary; the law now, after the Indian Reorganization Act (the Wheeler-Howard Act), provided that the leaders be elected. Cf., Ch. 5, "Chiefs and Councils."

Treaties creating Minnesota Indian Reservations were begun in 1854. The Nelson Act of 1889 in Minnesota, and the Dawes Act of 1887 (General Allotment Act) nationally, subsequently mandated allotting tribal lands to individual households. The Nelson Act of 1889 was essentially Minnesota's version of the Dawes Act of 1887 and was intended to relocate the Anishinabe people of Minnesota to individual allotments on the White Earth Indian Reservation in order to "expropriate" their vacated "surplus" lands for transfer to companies and non-Indian homesteaders. (See also footnote #10 below.) This practice was slowed by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, part of "The Indian New Deal." The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 also provided for self-government.

From: "History." Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Accessed 30 October 2018.

Nelson Act 1889

Congress passes the Dawes Act in 1887, which, combined with the Nelson Act two years later, allots 80 acres of non‑pine land, within the boundaries of the reservation, to each tribal family. The remainder of the non‑allotted Indian lands were then opened up and sold or granted to timber companies, railroads and settlers. With the passage of the Nelson Act, loggers were able to move onto the land, and within a couple of years clear cutting was in full progress.

It should be noted, that with the passage of the Nelson Act, the state of Minnesota now claimed that tribal members were now subject to state hunting and fishing laws. No longer could tribal members hunt, fish, or gather on the Leech Lake Reservation as promised by the numerous treaties they had previously negotiated.

Another unforeseen problem was, allotments were to be held in trust for twenty-five (25) years, upon which, Indians were then given a fee patent. As a result, most Indians lost their allotments through tax forfeitures, sales and/or fraud.

Meriam Report

In the mid 1920’s the U.S. government commissioned a study of the American Indians. This report documented the deplorable conditions of Indian people across the United States, the devastation of the Nelson Act, and the failure of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to do anything about it.

In response, legislation was enacted called the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The Indian Reorganization Act put a stop to the sale of allotments, authorized tribes to establish their own governments, and restored all surplus lands (the Restoration Act) to the tribes that land not been sold under the Nelson Act.

Indian Reorganization Act of 1934

Under the Reorganization Act the federal government decided that the six (6) Ojibwe bands in Minnesota (not including Red Lake) would be recognized as the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and all lands that were restored on Leech Lake were in the name of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MTC). The MCT adopted a constitution in 1937.

The 1964 Constitution vested political power in the Reservation Business Committees (RBCs) made up of a chairman, secretary treasurer, and one to three district representatives. In practice it became a five-member governing body on all six reservations.

The chairman and secretary-treasurer of each reservation are automatically seated on the 12-member Tribal Executive Committee (TEC).

6. The New Deal was a series of government programs carried out between 1933 and 1936, during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, intended to relieve problems brought on by the Great Depression of the 1930s which began with the stock market crash of 1929. (See also footnote #5 above.)

7. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was established in 1935 as part of the New Deal. (See also footnote #6 above.) It was renamed Work Projects Administration in 1939, and disbanded in 1943.

8. "Reservation Business Committees (RBCs) [are now] made up of a chairman, secretary treasurer, and one to three district representatives. In practice it became a five-member governing body on all six reservations. The chairman and secretary-treasurer of each reservation are automatically seated on the 12-member Tribal Executive Committee (TEC)" of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. The six reservations include Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, and White Earth. (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, 2018.)

9. In 1995 there was a move on to change all "Squaw _____" geographic place names in Minnesota to something else. "Squaw Point" near Cass Lake, for example, was changed to "Oak Point." The Duluth News-Tribune of 9 April 1995 reported that on 6 April 1995 both "White and Indian parents have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to change the name of Squaw Lake School. . ." (p. 4B), "expressing the view that the term was offensive only when used in a derogatory manner." As of this writing, 17 April 1995, the matter is under discussion in the Minnesota State Legislature. Cf., Steve Kuchera, "An Identity Crisis? Squaw Lake Isn't Caught up in Minnesota Name-change Initiative," Duluth News-Tribune, Monday, April 17, 1995, pp. 1A, 4A. The name change issue was again raised in 2001 (Tom Robertson, Squaw Lake Resists Name Change, Minnesota Public Radio, 30 August 2001. Accessed 8 August 2018. In 2018 discussion continues intermittently. See Paul Buffalo's discussion of the word "squaw" in Ch. 23, "Niimi'idiwin: 'Come and Dance, Come and Sing--Living and Spirits Alike.'"

10. Cf., Ch. 45, "Treaties, Allotments, and Self-Government."

11. As a result of the 1855 Treaty with the Chippewa (Treaty of Washington) the members of the Pillager Band of Chippewa Indians (Makandwewininiwag) were resettled on Cass Lake, Leech Lake, and Lake Winnibigoshish reservations; these were further consolidated by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Some members of the band re-located earlier, when the White Earth Reservation was created in 1867. (See also footnote #5 above.)

12. Cf., Ch. 5, "Chiefs and Councils."

13. Cf., Ch. 27, "Power."

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