Mohawk Code Talkers

I apologize for the long blog silence—and shame myself for it. These posts are a way of putting something new I have learned or deciphered into memory. They’re recordings of my own life lessons. And I’ve been lazy for weeks.

Enough of philosophy: an article in Wednesday’s New York Times—and a book I am reading—are, together, responsible for returning me to the blogs. The Times piece was about a Mohawk WW 2 veteran:

“Louis Levi Oakes, the last of the Mohawk code talkers, who helped American soldiers triumph in the Pacific Theater during World War II, along with code talkers from other tribes, died on May 28 at a care facility near his home on the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation in Quebec. He was 94.”

The book I’m reading is David Treuer’s The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee. Treuer’s contention is that American historians and the American public have, for the most part, stopped Indian history at 1891, at Wounded Read The Article

The Shadow Catcher


The name came to Edward S. Curtis from Indians, who were the subject of his life work—a twenty volume study in words and pictures of The North American Indian. The title of Tim Egan’s fascinating new biography is Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: the Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.

It must have been easier for the ones with firm beliefs and intentions, the purists: the original Europeans who thought the indigenous peoples on the new continents were less than human and best used as slaves, and, if worked to death or killed, of no moral consequence; the northern Europeans who started on the Atlantic seaboard and drove Indians west with diseases and superior weapons, duplicity, and sometimes savagery; and those on all fronts who thought and said that the best Indians were dead Indians.  Col. John Milton Chivington, who engineered the Sand Creek Massacre of friendly
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More thoughts on Walter Littlemoon & Indian Boarding Schools

 
I am still haunted by the “Thick Dark Fog” that Walter Littlemoon described in the video I saw on Public Television last week. Walter was born the same year that I was, 1942, in Wounded Knee, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I was born in Fosston, Minnesota, just 600 miles east and north of Wounded Knee. Walter was taken from his parents and shipped to an Indian boarding school when he was five.  I didn’t go to school when I was five, because Fosston didn’t have a kindergarten. And there weren’t any Indians in our school when I did go, although the White Earth Reservation was fewer than ten miles away from Fosston. I have vague recollections of asking where the Indians went to school as we traveled through the rez to get to my Uncle Al’s resort—a few cabins and boats on Island Lake, which must have been
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The romantic side of assimilation

 

Relationships between European immigrants and indigenous people in the Americas have been complicated from the beginning.  Columbus and his henchmen squeezed the Caribbeans of gold, enslaved them, annihilated some tribes, and took the case of indigenous people’s “humanity” back to the Old World, where churchmen determined that the Americans had souls and were in need of Christian conversion.

The northern Europeans, coming out of the little ice age, started to get well on American potatoes, and the ones who made it to “New England” shores, still often scrawny and unfit, found corn and squash and beans and big strong looking Indians—the Indians who had escaped the diseases which had decimated the coast before the arrival of actual settlers.

A few of these strong good looking Indians were brought back to Europe, and they and stories of the Iroquois Confederation –the “civilized tribes”—reached philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau and others to fuel a vision of “noble savages” and feed the Enlightenment.
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The assimilationists

 


I’m again reading a book I read years ago—and again finding new meaning. Caroline Wasson Thomason was born in 1887 somewhere else, but grew up “Between the Sheeps” in Wallowa County. She married a teacher and lived for years in New York, where she wrote children’s plays and stories.  And she wrote a couple of novels, one that dealt with American blacks and civil rights, and one historical novel: In the Wallowas.  

My recollection was of a syrupy story involving settlers and their teenage children, but with accurate accounts of Chief Joseph’s last visit to the Wallowas and a famous runaway horse incident. I also vaguely remembered a love story that crossed racial lines, and the purple prose. I was right on that: “’My princess! My beautiful flower!’ Imna knelt beside the bed and took her in his arms. A spasm of pain flushed her lovely face, and he held her more closely.” 

The action begins in 1899,
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A reflection on Winona LaDuke’s visit to Fishtrap

Small world—and invisible Indians

Winona LaDuke was at Winter Fishtrap this weekend. She is an enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabeg on the White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota and a global activist on behalf of Indian rights and sustainable natural resource use.

Winona is not bitter or self-pitying, but straight forward, proud, realistic, rational, and spiritual all-together. Seven of the eight million dollars spent on food on her reservation go immediately off-reservation, she said. Some huge percentage of electrical energy is spent in the mining and transportation of fuels and the transmission across far distances. On her reservation they will grow and produce more of their own food; they will build wind turbines and develop wind energy.

People hovered after her talk. I approached slowly and introduced myself as having been born and partially raised in Fosston, Minnesota, at the edge of the White Earth Reservation. “My father was born in Fosston, in 1929,” she said. (He

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