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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 14, 2002 - Issue 76


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The Twins - Part 1 of 3

by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

WajiwanonjiomashkodeMy greatest joy is trying to figure out how a story fits together. To see the human face again put on our history, rather than the propaganda born from the conscience of the past. In delving into the history and stories of our corner of this continent, there is one story, from the Ojibwa that has jumped out at me, for it is not often that one runs into what can only be described as a Shakespearean Tragedy.

We must step back to a period when the Ojibwa and Dakota were in the midst of their 'time of conflict.' Many tend to think that there was a constant state of fighting between them over this land, but that is not correct. There was ebb and flow to that history, just as there was seasonality to their wars. These were times of war and times of peace and there is a much greater story in this than the mere story of two men of this region and their families. For this is just one rock in the great fieldstone wall of heritage left for us to live with.

In 1795 a chief of the Mdewakotan band Dakota was killed by a war party of Ojibwa from the Rice Lake area, for they were again living in a 'time of fear and war'. The next year his widow initiated a war party of retribution against the Ojibwa. William W. Warren, in his 1852 book (not published until 1885) History of the Ojibway (a book now on the shelves of the Calhoun Library) wrote down the next part of the story as follows:

"In the year 1796, several wigwams under the guidance of the war-chief, "Yellow Head," collected at Prairie Rice Lake, to gather wild rice, and as usual in those days of danger, they located themselves on the island. Early one morning the chief called the men of the camp into his lodge, to take a social smoke, when he informed them that he had been visited during the night by his guardian spirit in a dream, and he knew that the Dakotas must be lurking near. He bade them not to go on their usual day's hunt, and sent two young men to go and scout the shores of the lake, to discover some fresh signs of the enemy. The scouts, embarking in a canoe, immediately started on their errand. They had not arrived more than half a mile from the camp, when, approaching the shore, they were fired at by an ambuscade of the enemy. One was killed, and the other, though severely wounded, succeeded, amid volleys of bullets, in pushing his canoe out of their reach."

"The men of the Ojibways, hearing the firing, all that were able to bear arms grasped their weapons, and to the number of twenty-five, many of whom were old men and mere boys, embarked in their canoes, and paddled towards the scene of action, to join the fight. The Dakotas, perceiving this movement, sent a body of their warriors to lie in ambush at; the spot where they supposed the Ojibways would attempt a landing. The women of the camp, however, seeing the enemy collecting in large numbers to intercept their men, hollered to them, and informing them of the ambuscade, the Ojibways turned about, and landed on the main shore, immediately opposite the island. Intending to attack the Dakotas by land, they sent the canoes back by some women who had come with them for the purpose. Yellow Head, then heading the party, led them through a thicket of underbrush towards the point where the enemy were still firing at the scouts."

"In passing through these thickets, Yellow Head discovered a Dakota woman, holding in her arms a young boy, about two years old, covered, with a profuse quantity of wampum and silver ornaments. She was the wife, and the child a son, of a noted Dakota war-chief who had been lately killed by the Ojibways; and she had followed the war party of her people, raised to revenge his death, in order to initiate her little son, and wipe the paint of mourning from her face. In expectation of a fight, the Dakotas had bade her to hide in these thickets, little thinking that they would he the first victims whose scalps would grace the belts of the Ojibways. Yellow Head, on perceiving the woman and child, yelled his fierce war-whoop, and rushing up to her he snatched the boy from her arms, and throwing him with all his force behind him, he bade his aged father (who was following his footsteps) to dispatch it. He then pursued the woman, who had arisen, and now fled with great swiftness towards her friends, uttering piercing shrieks for help. The Dakotas, having heard the Ojibway war-yell, and now hearing the cries of their woman, ran, to the number of near one hundred men, to her rescue. A younger warrior of the Ojibways had passed his war-chief, and though seeing the advance of the enemy, he followed up the chase, till, catching up with her, he stabbed her in the back, and was stooping over her body to cut off her head, when his chief called on him to fly, for the Dakotas were on him. Not a moment too soon did the young warrior obey this call, for the spears of the enemy almost reached his back as he turned to fly, and being laden with the bloody head, which he would not drop, the foremost of the Dakotas fast gained on him; but not till he felt the end of a spear point entering his back did he call on his chief to turn and help him."

"Yellow Head, who was noted for his great courage, instantly obeyed the call, and throwing himself behind a pine tree, he shot down the Dakota who had caught up with him, and was almost dispatching his comrade. The fallen warrior was dressed in a white shirt, wore a silver medal on his breast, and silver ornaments on his arms. He carried nothing but a spear in his hand, denoting him to be a chief, and the leader of the Dakota war party. He was the uncle of the boy who had just been dispatched, which accounts for the eagerness with which he pursued the Ojibway warrior, keeping so close to his back that his warriors dared not discharge their firearms, for fear of hitting him."

"The moment the Dakota leader fell, his fellows took cover behind the trees, and Yellow Head, having saved his comrade, who now stood panting by his side, called on his people, "if they were men, to turn and follow his example." But ten out of the twenty-five were brave enough to obey his call, and these, taking cover behind trees and bushes, fought by his side all day. Though the Dakotas ten times outnumbered them, the Ojibways caused them to retreat at nightfall, leaving seven of their warriors dead on the field. The Ojibways lost but three men, besides the scout who had been killed by the ambuscade. Some days after the fight, the Ojibways discovered a number of bodies which the enemy, to conceal their loss, had hid in a swamp adjacent to the battlefield."

Within a year, they again made peace and in order to make amends for the loss of a chief's line, Yellow Head did something that awes me. He had twin sons about the same age as the child that had been slain and he gave the younger of the twins to the Dakota's as a way of making amends, something he felt deeply was necessary if there was to be a good and lasting peace. The boy he gave to the Dakota became known to us as Shakopee (The Six 1794-1868) Chief of the Mdewakotan Band of the Dakota and the older brother is today known to us as Chief Nenaangebi (1794-1855 Beautifying Bird - this name describes what a bird like the male grouse does when it is on it's drumming log) of the Ojibwa Man-Fish and Cat Fish clans of the Rice Lake (Long Lake to Prairie Lake) region of the Red Cedar River.

Nenaangebi signed three treaties. First at Fond du Lac (Duluth, MN) on August 5, 1826 he signed as the third name representing the St. Croix Chippewa, the treaty makers recorded his name as Nagwunabee. This treaty is called the Copper Treaty and is the one that allowed the United States to gain the mineral wealth of this land. He signed as the senior member of the delegation from Lac Courte Oreilles on the Timber Treaty of La Pointe on October 4, 1842. This was followed with the Reservation Treaty of La Pointe on September 30, 1854 where his name is recorded under the Lac Courte Oreilles delegation as Nay-naw-ong-gay-be, or the Dressing Bird.

In late July or early August of 1855 he was notified by Indian Commissioner Manypenny that his people were to gather at La Pointe and receive their goods and money as they were entitled to under the treaty he had signed more than a year before. The previous late fall he had taken his people to La Pointe to receive their annual payment. It took them longer to get there than they planned and there was very little left when they got there. His people had suffered from many years of poor harvest and game was becoming harder to find. He had to be on constant guard against raids by the Sioux. His people had received nothing from the Indian Agents for over five years. The message could not have come at a worse time. The harvest of the wild rice was about to begin. There was much to do. He did not know if there was going to be enough rice. He was not optimistic about it. Now Commissioner Manypenny wanted him to take his people to La Pointe for their payments. He would not come immediately; to leave now meant starvation that winter for his people. He knew he had to go, so he called a Council. With the help of others he came to a decision. They decided to leave their four best warriors with the older women, the sick and some of the children. It was a risk that didn't set well with any of them and it would mean a lot of work for the older women. Those that stayed behind would not receive payment. If someone didn't stay and gather the rice there would not be enough to eat the coming winter. If everything worked out like they hoped they could gather most of the rice and most of the payment. The majority of his people then traveled by overland trial to La Pointe. The other clans of the area met up with them on this trip.

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