What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving? The Wampanoag Side of the Tale

When you hear about the Pilgrims and “the Indians” harmoniously sharing the “first Thanksgiving” meal in 1621, the Indians referred to so generically are the ancestors of the contemporary members of the Wampanoag Nation. As the story commonly goes, the Pilgrims who sailed from England on the Mayflower and landed at what became Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 had a good harvest the next year. So Plymouth Gov. William Bradford organized a feast to celebrate the harvest and invited a group of “Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit” to the party. The feast lasted three days and, according to chronicler Edward Winslow, Bradford sent four men on a “fowling mission” to prepare for the feast and the Wampanoag guests brought five deer to the party. And ever since then, the story goes, Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. Not exactly, Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer told Indian Country Today Media Network in a conversation on the day before Thanksgiving 2012—391 years since that mythological “first Thanksgiving.”

We know what we’re taught in mainstream media and in schools is made up. What’s the Wampanoag version of what happened?

Yeah, it was made up. It was Abraham Lincoln who used the theme of Pilgrims and Indians eating happily together. He was trying to calm things down during the Civil War when people were divided. It was like a nice unity story.

So it was a political thing?

Yes, it was public relations. It’s kind of genius, in a way, to get people to sit down and eat dinner together. Families were divided during the Civil War.

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So what really happened?

We made a treaty. The leader of our nation at the time—Yellow Feather Oasmeequin [Massasoit] made a treaty with (John) Carver [the first governor of the colony]. They elected an official while they were still on the boat. They had their charter. They were still under the jurisdiction of the king [of England]—at least that’s what they told us. So they couldn’t make a treaty for a boatload of people so they made a treaty between two nations—England and the Wampanoag Nation.

What did the treaty say?

It basically said we’d let them be there and we would protect them against any enemies and they would protect us from any of ours. [The 2011 Native American $1 coin commemorates the 1621 treaty between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims of Plymouth colony.] It was basically an I’ll watch your back, you watch mine’ agreement. Later on we collaborated on jurisdictions and creating a system so that we could live together.

What’s the Mashpee version of the 1621 meal?

You’ve probably heard the story of how Squanto assisted in their planting of corn? So this was their first successful harvest and they were celebrating that harvest and planning a day of their own thanksgiving. And it’s kind of like what some of the Arab nations do when they celebrate by shooting guns in the air. So this is what was going on over there at Plymouth. They were shooting guns and canons as a celebration, which alerted us because we didn’t know who they were shooting at. So Massasoit gathered up some 90 warriors and showed up at Plymouth prepared to engage, if that was what was happening, if they were taking any of our people. They didn’t know. It was a fact-finding mission.

When they arrived it was explained through a translator that they were celebrating the harvest, so we decided to stay and make sure that was true, because we’d seen in the other landings—[Captain John] Smith, even the Vikings had been here—so we wanted to make sure so we decided to camp nearby for a few days. During those few days, the men went out to hunt and gather food—deer, ducks, geese, and fish. There are 90 men here and at the time I think there are only 23 survivors of that boat, the Mayflower, so you can imagine the fear. You have armed Natives who are camping nearby. They [the colonists] were always vulnerable to the new land, new creatures, even the trees—there were no such trees in England at that time. People forget they had just landed here and this coastline looked very different from what it looks like now. And their culture—new foods, they were afraid to eat a lot of things. So they were very vulnerable and we did protect them, not just support them, we protected them. You can see throughout their journals that they were always nervous and, unfortunately, when they were nervous they were very aggressive.

So the Pilgrims didn’t invite the Wampanoags to sit down and eat turkey and drink some beer?

[laughs] Ah, no. Well, let’s put it this way. People did eat together [but not in what is portrayed as “the first Thanksgiving]. It was our homeland and our territory and we walked all through their villages all the time. The differences in how they behaved, how they ate, how they prepared things was a lot for both cultures to work with each other. But in those days, it was sort of like today when you go out on a boat in the open sea and you see another boat and everyone is waving and very friendly—it’s because they’re vulnerable and need to rely on each other if something happens. In those days, the English really needed to rely on us and, yes, they were polite as best they could be, but they regarded us as savages nonetheless.

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So you did eat together sometimes, but not at the legendary Thanksgiving meal.

No. We were there for days. And this is another thing: We give thanks more than once a year in formal ceremony for different season, for the green corn thanksgiving, for the arrival of certain fish species, whales, the first snow, our new year in May—there are so many ceremonies and I think most cultures have similar traditions. It’s not a foreign concept and I think human beings who recognize greater spirit then they would have to say thank you in some formal way.

What are Mashpee Wampanoags taught about Thanksgiving now?

Most of us are taught about the friendly Indians and the friendly Pilgrims and people sitting down and eating together. They really don’t go into any depth about that time period and what was going on in 1620. It was a whole different mindset. There was always focus on food because people had to work hard to go out and forage for food, not the way it is now. I can remember being in Oklahoma amongst a lot of different tribal people when I was in junior college and Thanksgiving was coming around and I couldn’t come home—it was too far and too expensive—and people were talking about, Thanksgiving, and, yeah, the Indians! And I said, yeah, we’re the Wampanoags. They didn’t know! We’re not even taught what kind of Indians, Hopefully, in the future, at least for Americans, we do need to get a lot brighter about other people.

So, basically, today the Wampanoag celebrate Thanksgiving the way Americans celebrate it, or celebrate it as Americans?

Yes, but there’s another element to this that needs to be noted as well. The Puritans believed in Jehovah and they were listening for Jehovah’s directions on a daily basis and trying to figure out what would please their God. So for Americans, for the most part there’s a Christian element to Thanksgiving so formal prayer and some families will go around the table and ask what are you thankful for this year. In Mashpee families we make offerings of tobacco. For traditionalists, we give thanks to our first mother, our human mother, and to Mother Earth. Then, because there’s no real time to it you embrace your thanks in passing them into the tobacco without necessarily speaking out loud, but to actually give your mind and spirit together thankful for so many things… Unfortunately, because we’re trapped in this cash economy and this 9-to-5 [schedule], we can’t spend the normal amount of time on ceremonies, which would last four days for a proper Thanksgiving.

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Do you regard Thanksgiving as a positive thing?

As a concept, a heartfelt Thanksgiving is very important to me as a person. It’s important that we give thanks. For me, it’s a state of being. You want to live in a state of thanksgiving, meaning that you use the creativity that the Creator gave you. You use your talents. You find out what those are and you cultivate them and that gives thanks in action.

And will your family do something for Thanksgiving?

Yes, we’ll do the rounds, make sure we contact family members, eat with friends and then we’ll all celebrate on Saturday at the social and dance together with the drum.

This story was originally published November 23, 2012. 

Related articles:

Latest $1 Coin Celebrates 1621 Wampanoag Treaty

The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

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Thanksgiving Poem: For This I Am Grateful

For this I am grateful

Ho Great Spirit!

I give thanks for this day.

This precious gift of another day.

Another growing.

Another opportunity for growth.

Another opportunity to grow and develop from my experiences.

Another opportunity to be of service.

Another opportunity to love and know

and respect and accept myself just as I am.

Another opportunity to be happy,

to pursue happiness,

seek happiness and to share happiness.

Another opportunity to enter into the womb of our Sacred Earth Mother.

To enter the womb of love,

To enter the womb of peace.

To enter the Great Mystery,

To enter the Great Silence.

For this I am grateful

I give thanks for this sacred ceremony that helps me to recognize,

acknowledge, accept and to give thanks for what I am.

A creation of Great Creator. A human being,

a Wulustukyeg, guardian of our Sacred Earth Mother

and in this recognition I am able to recognize my oneness

My oneness with Great Creator

I am one with Great Creator

I am one with Creation, I am one with the universe,

I am one with the universal mind, I am one with Mother Earth,

I am one with the Great Mystery,

I am one with the Great Silence.

All My Relations,

Dan Ennis

Daniel Ennis is a former Grand Chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseet. His son Jim Ennis submitted this poem to ICTMN.

This story was originally published November 24, 2016.

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Top Civil Rights Organizations Urge Media Not to Use Washington NFL Team’s R-word Name on Thanksgiving

A coalition of the country’s most prominent advocacy and civil rights organizations today called on media organizations to refrain from using the offensive R-word name of the Washington NFL team during their Thanksgiving Day coverage. The Washington NFL franchise will take on the New York Giants in a high-profile, nationally broadcast game on Thursday.

Endorsees of the just-released letter include: NAACP, National Urban League, Advancement Project, Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Demos, PICO National Network, Race Forward, UnidosUS, National Congress of American Indians, Oneida Indian Nation and Change the Mascot.

“Thanksgiving is often the only major American holiday that brings Native people and their history into the national conversation. Using the holiday to promote the Washington team’s derogatory name will further marginalize Native Americans who have already experienced histories of oppression and violence,” the letter states.

“Media organizations can do their jobs by reporting on the team, but also refrain from using the slur and denigrating Native people.”

The letter goes on to highlight the substantial and tangible destruction caused by the use of the R-word. It points to social science research proving that such mascots and slurs lower self-esteem and mood among Native American youth, and also increase negative attitudes towards Native Americans among other races.

“In light of all of the evidence of destruction caused by the R-word’s use, we are hopeful that you will pledge to honor this modest request,” the letter continues. “At a time when our political debate is so polarized, media organizations should be able to agree to not explicitly promote a racial slur.”

Today’s plea to media organizations is part of Change the Mascot’s grassroots movement to educate the public about the damaging effects on Native Americans arising from the continued use of the R-word. This civil and human rights movement has helped reshape the debate surrounding the Washington team’s name and brought the issue to the forefront of social consciousness.

Since its launch, the campaign has continually garnered support from a diverse coalition of prominent advocates including elected officials from both parties, Native American tribes, sports icons, leading journalists and news publications, civil and human rights organizations and religious leaders.

A full list of Change the Mascot supporters can be found at:

The full text of today’s letter to media organizations can read below or accessed online at:

Dear [News Organization],

On Thanksgiving Day, the National Football League has scheduled a high-profile game between the New York Giants and Washington, D.C.’s professional football team. In advance of that event, we are asking that you honor the spirit of the holiday by pledging to refrain from using the Washington team’s R-word name in your coverage of the game.

Thanksgiving is often the only major American holiday that brings Native people and their history into the national conversation. Using the holiday to promote the Washington team’s derogatory name will further marginalize Native Americans who have already experienced a history of oppression and violence. Repeating the Washington football team’s name on Thanksgiving Day encourages people across the country to perpetuate this painful racial slur.

While the Washington franchise’s management has claimed the team name honors Native Americans, nothing could be further from the truth. The name is a dictionary-defined racial slur that was screamed at Native Americans as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands. The owner who gave the team this dishonorable name was George Preston Marshall – an infamous segregationist who played a leading role in trying to stop the NFL from integrating.

Despite what some suggest, the use of this slur is not a victimless crime. Social science research has proven that the promotion of the R-word has significantly harmed Native Americans, especially Native youth.

In a 2013 report summarizing existing research, psychologist Michael Friedman noted that the presence of Native American mascots results directly in lower self-esteem and lower mood among both Native American adolescents and young adults, as well as increases negative attitudes towards Native Americans among non-Native Americans. His report added that “the Washington mascot is uniquely destructive because it not only perpetuates the stereotypical and outdated caricature portrayed by many Native American mascots, but also promotes and justifies the use of a dictionary-defined racial slur, thus increasing risk for discriminatory experiences against Native Americans.”

In recent years, a wide array of civil rights organizations, religious leaders, civic groups and Members of Congress from both parties have called for the Washington team to change its name. To date, the team has refused to make any changes – but that insensitive intransigence does not mean that media organizations covering the team must also continue to promote this racial slur and perpetuate the problems caused by its use.

To be clear, we are not asking that you stop covering the Washington team – we are simply asking that you respect Native Americans by not using the team name. Indeed, media organizations can do their jobs by reporting on the team, but also refrain from using the slur and denigrating Native people.

In light of all of the evidence of destruction caused by the R-word’s use, we are hopeful that you will pledge to honor this modest request. At a time when our political debate is so polarized, media organizations should be able to agree to not explicitly promote a racial slur.


Advancement Project
Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum
Change the Mascot
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Congress of American Indians
National Urban League
Oneida Indian Nation
PICO National Network
Race Forward


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Keystone Pipeline Spills 210,000 Gallons of Oil in Amherst, South Dakota

On Thursday November 15th, 2017, approximately 210,000 gallons or 5,000 barrels of oil spilled from the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline in a northeast part of South Dakota.

The spill in Amherst, S.D. happened a few days before regulators in Nebraska were to decide whether to grant a final permit to begin construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline in that state.

According to a statement from TransCanada, “[C]rews safely shut down its Keystone pipeline at approximately 6 a.m. CST (5 a.m. MST) after a drop in pressure was detected in its operating system resulting from an oil leak that is under investigation. The estimated volume of the leak is approximately 5,000 barrels.”

Kim McIntosh, an environmental scientist with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, who gave a statement to the New York Times said, no livestock or drinking water sources appeared to be threatened. However, she stated, “This is not a little spill from any perspective.”

Courtesy Longhouse Media/Vimeo

Yankton Sioux elder and water protector Faith Spotted Eagle.

Faith Spotted Eagle is an activist and a member of the Yankton Sioux Nation who has long fought against development of the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. Spotted Eagle told Indian Country Today that the spill, though tragic, was not surprising.

“I think that this is no surprise. Seriously if these people do not take this little nudge from the Great Mystery, they are going to go to that place that starts with a ‘H.’ If they don’t have a grandchild that they are not concerned about, then they do not have a heart.”

Spotted Eagle says she and other tribal leaders in Lower Brule will be delivering formal remarks on Monday about the Keystone XL Pipeline at the Golden Buffalo Casino Conference Center.

“The Nebraska permit decision is being announced on Monday. Following that we are going to have a press conference at 11:15 am with tribal leaders and other leaders,” she said.

A photograph of the spill was posted to the TransCanada Twitter account, which shows a large circular oil spill by the Keystone Pipeline. The Keystone is a nearly 2,700 mile pipeline that carries crude from Alberta to the U.S.

Image of Amherst incident taken earlier today by aerial patrol as part of our initial response. For more updates, visit

— TransCanada (@TransCanada) November 16, 2017

The S.D. environmental official McIntosh also told the NY Times that the leak of 210,000 gallons was not substantial and that the area was rural, which is “very positive.”

Spotted Eagle said regardless of its location, it isn’t positive. ”Everywhere on Mother Earth is not remote, it is all connected to the entire ecosystem.”

Tribal chairman Dave Flute of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate learned Thursday about a leak in the pipeline. In a statement, Chairman Flute said, “We are monitoring the situation as this leak is adjacent to our reservation. We do not know the impact this has on our environment at this time but we are aware of the leak.”

John Dossett, who serves as General Counsel at the National Congress of the American Indians told Indian Country Today that such disasters are unfortunately more a matter of ‘when’ as opposed to ‘if.’

“Tribes in the Missouri River basin have spent a lot of time studying the risks of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” said Dossett.

“The bottom line is that pipeline spills are inevitable, it is not a question of if but when. Where lands or waters are affected by a federal decision, the trust duty requires that the government must protect tribal interests. Tribes are not opposed to development, they often welcome it. But this most recent spill underscores the need for tribal rights to be fully considered and protected by the federal trustee.”


Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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Center For Native American Youth Releases 2nd Annual ‘State of Native Youth’ Report

On November 15th, the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute (CNAY) released its second annual State of Native Youth report and also celebrated Native American Heritage Month with a panel event in Washington, DC.

Native youth panelists included Kayleigh Warren, Co-Chairwoman of the Santa Clara Pueblo Youth Tribal Council; Anthony Tamez, Co-President of Chi-Nations Youth Council; and Samuel Schimmel, 2017 CNAY Champion for Change.

“As a Native youth you should be strong in your values and doing what you should in support of your people,” said Native youth panelist Kayleigh Warren. Warren said she was also empowered by the strength of her culture in the face of any struggle. “My love for my people is stronger than anyone’s hate.”

Anthony Tamez stated he was proud to be Native and Black, yet sometimes faced pre-conceived stereotypes. “I am Native and Black, so that is who I am. But the idea of what Natives look like can be connected to things like the mascot issue. People tell me I don’t look like how people see Indians.”

Samuel Schimmel shared that he also battled with stereotypes, referencing a time when he told his teacher that not all Indians lived in tipi’s and all Eskimos did not live in igloo’s. The statement got him suspended from school.

Chrissie Castro, Vice Chairwoman of the Los Angeles City-County Native American Indian Commission also joined the youth panel discussion alongside CNAY Founder Senator Byron Dorgan (ret.) and CNAY Executive Director Erik Stegman.

They discussed the State of Native Youth report, put out for the second year by the Center for Native American Youth.

Courtesy CNAY

On November 15th, the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute (CNAY) released its second annual State of Native Youth report. The report is now available online.

“Our State of Native Youth report combines survey data, research, program highlights, and the stories of Native youth to give us a clear picture of the resources our young people need,” said Stegman in a release. “We strive to make this report a platform and road-map for building opportunity for Native youth across the country.”

Each year, the State of Native Youth report highlights priorities shared by Native youth in round-table meetings with CNAY and through virtual participation in the Gen-I Online Round-table Survey.

This year, survey participants identified culture and language, education, and employment as their top three priorities. In addition to sharing these findings, the report examines data indicators of Native youth success, as well as the policies that impact their lives.

In closing Dorgan said the Native youth gave him a great sense of hope and that the continued purpose of the CNAY was ‘to continue to find the good news to give us all great hopes for the future.”

Powerful stuff from the #NativeYouth panel at 2017 State of Native Youth Report Release Event.

Thanks to @Center4Native and @genindigenous for continuing to lift these voices that inspire us all!

Check out the report here:

— Youth & Engagement (@AspenInstYouth) November 15, 2017

Visit to access the live-stream in archives.

Click here to read the 2017 State of Native Youth report online.

Click here for a print-friendly version of the report.

The Center for Native American Youth believes Native American youth should lead full and healthy lives, have equal access to opportunity, and draw strength from their culture and one another. CNAY focuses on the resilience of Native youth and supports them through youth recognition, inspiration, and leadership; research, advocacy, and policy change; serving as a national resource exchange; and by developing strengths-based Native youth media opportunities. Learn more at


Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter –

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Video: Man on the Street—Ever Heard of Native American Heritage Month?

As part of Indian Country Today’s ‘Man on the Street” video series with correspondent Vincent Schilling, we thought we would ask about the month of November.

In this video, Schilling asks unsuspecting folks about the month of November and if they know it is Native American Heritage Month. Some answers are funny, if a bit disappointing, some are telling and some are just plain fun.

You might be surprised at some of the answers.

Do you have a question for ICTMN’s ‘Man on the Street?” Tweet us at @IndianCountry or @VinceSchilling and use the hashtag #ManOnTheStreet.

Follow Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling on Twitter – @VinceSchilling.

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6 Thanksgiving Myths and the Wampanoag Side of the Story

Considering Indian Country Today has published its fair share of the true history of Thanksgiving, in which 90 Wampanoag shared provisions with the Pilgrims in 1621, we thought we would take a bit of time delving into some of the most common misconceptions about the November holiday, especially since many Americans think it’s the only thing happening in November.

RELATED: Video: Man on the Street—Do You Know What November Is?

The Thanksgiving Day Celebration Originated From a Massacre

In 1621, though Pilgrims celebrated a feast, it was not repeated in the years to follow. In 1636, a murdered white man was found in his boat and the Pequot were blamed. In retaliation settlers burned Pequot villages.

Additionally, English Major John Mason rallied his troops to further burn Pequot wigwams and then attacked and killed hundreds more men, women and children. According to Mason’s reports of the massacre, “We must burn them! Such a dreadful terror let the Almighty fall upon their spirits that they would flee from us and run into the very flames. Thus did the Lord judge the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies.”

The Governor of Plymouth William Bradford wrote: “Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.”

The day after the massacre, William Bradford who was also the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote that from that day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanks giving for subduing the Pequots and “For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”

Native Americans and the Pilgrims Were “Besties”

The above statement is straight from the mouth of a fifth-grader at Long Elementary School in Ohio, who stated the Indians (Wampanoag) and Pilgrims were not “besties” or best friends. True to this statement, the pilgrims in Massachusetts were far from friendly. Soon after arriving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Pilgrims went into Indians’ dwellings and cornfields and took whatever they wanted leaving beads behind. But that isn’t the picture that is painted by many accounts of the first Thanksgiving.

According to one colonist’s account in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen: “The next morning we found a place like a grave. We decided to dig it up. We found first a mat, and under that a fine bow… We also found bowls, trays, dishes, and things like that. We took several of the prettiest things to carry away with us, and covered the body up again.”

The Pilgrims settled in an area that was once Patuxet, a Wampanoag village, but it had been abandoned four years prior because of a deadly outbreak of a plague brought by European traders. Before 1616, the Wampanoag numbered 50,000 to 100,000, occupying 69 villages scattered throughout southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island. The plague, however, killed thousands, up to two-thirds, of them. Many also had been captured and sold as slaves.

This is a popular image of the first Thanksgiving, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. But this is definitely NOT what happened.

Native Americans and Pilgrims Came Together to Give Thanks and Celebrate

In 1621, when the Pilgrims were celebrating a successful harvest, they were shooting guns and cannons into the air. The Wampanoag chief and 90 warriors made their way to the settlement in full warrior mode—in response to the gunfire. As the Huffington Post’s Richard Schiffman puts it, “It remains an open question, however, whether the Wampanoag were actually invited, or if they crashed the party.”

The Pilgrims were most likely nervous—the Wampanoag outnumbered the Pilgrims two to one, but it certainly wasn’t the happy picture put forth in many history books. According to Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Ramona Peters, “It was Abraham Lincoln who used the theme of Pilgrims and Indians eating happily together. He was trying to calm things down during the Civil War when people were divided. It was like a nice unity story.”

RELATED: The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

They Ate Turkey, Sweet Potatoes and Cranberry Sauce at the First Thanksgiving

According to many historical accounts, there is no proof of turkey gobbling at the 1621 meal, but there was wild fowl (most likely geese or duck). Sweet potatoes were not yet grown in North American and cranberries are not a likely dessert food because sugar was an unaffordable luxury. Other items on the table included such things as venison, pumpkin, succotash and Indian corn.

A typical Thanksgiving dinner today includes turkey, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes. But this could not have been what was served traditionally.

RELATED: 1621: The Original Surf & Turf Meal

Europeans Appreciated Squanto’s Help

Many have heard the story of the friendly Indian Squanto who learned English from fishermen and later taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and other vegetables. But what many history books don’t share is that Squanto was kidnapped as a boy and sold into slavery in Spain. After several years, Squanto struggled to get back to Cape Cod.

When he returned to his village, he discovered he was the only member of his tribe that remained—the rest were either killed in battle or died of disease during his absence.

Another myth here would be to note that Squanto did not learn English solely to help the colonists—it was a necessity to facilitate his escape so he could return home.

This 1911 illustration shows Squanto or Tisquantum teaching the Plymouth colonists to plant corn with fish. Bricker, Garland Armor. The Teaching of Agriculture in the High School. New York: Macmillan, 1911/Wikimedia Commons

Pilgrims Taught Indians About Thanksgiving

The Pilgrims did not introduce the sentiment of Thanksgiving to the Indians. According to Loewen, “Thanksgiving is full of embarrassing facts. The Pilgrims did not introduce the Native Americans to the tradition; Eastern Indians had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries. Our modern celebrations date back only to 1863; not until the 1890s did the Pilgrims get included in the tradition; no one even called them ‘Pilgrims’ until the 1870s.”


This article was originally published on 11/28/13.

Follow Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling on Twitter at @VinceSchilling.

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American Indian Movement Co-Founder Dennis Banks Dies at 80 Years of Age

American Indian Movement co-founder, activist, author and teacher Dennis Banks has died at 80 years of age. Banks died from complications of pneumonia he had contracted following open heart surgery.

According to a recent post on his Facebook page by his family, Dennis Banks passed away at 10:10 pm on October 29, 2017 amidst family, friends and traditional song.

Our father Dennis J. Banks started his journey to the spirit world at 10:10 pm on October 29, 2017. As he took his last breaths, Minoh sang him four songs for his journey. All the family who were present prayed over him and said our individual goodbyes. Then we proudly sang him the AIM song as his final send off. Our father will be laid to rest in his home community of Leech Lake, MN. Presiding over traditional services will be Terry Nelson. We welcome all who would like to pay respects. As soon as arrangements are finalized, we will post details.Still Humbly Yours, The children and grandchildren of Nowacumig.”

In response to the announcement of his death, Facebook and Twitter have already been flooded with comments.

Lonn Duncan condolences to the family, our hearts, thoughts and prayers always. rest in peace brother. a true and great warrior.

Michael Mitchell Condolences to your family. A great leader to all Indigenous peoples.

Dennis Banks (Leech Lake Reservation, Minnesota Ojibwa / Anishinabe) is well-known for his role in co-founding the American Indian Movement (AIM) alongside George Mitchell and Clyde Bellecourt.

Banks is also infamous for his interactions with fellow AIM activist Russell Means at the Wounded Knee occupation. At the Wounded Knee uprising, federal agents fought against Native occupiers for 71 days resulting in the loss of life of two tribal members and serious wounds to a federal agent.

Means and Banks were charged in 1974 for their participation in the occupation, however, a judge in federal court threw out the charges on the grounds of federal misconduct.

On April 12, 2012, Banks received a Living Legends Award in Washington D.C. for his ‘contributions as a co-founder of the American Indian Movement and his ‘commitment to the well being of the American Indian community.’

As a teacher, Dennis Banks taught at Deganawida Quetzecoatl University in the 80’s but later was incarcerated for 1973 charges at the infamous ‘Custer riot.’ After an 18-month term, Banks continued to work for the rights of Native people both as a drug and alcohol counselor on the Pine Ridge Reservation and as an activist fighting for Native gravesite protections and repatriation, and legislation to protect these sites.

In 1978, Banks initiated “The Longest Walk” a traditional and spiritual journey from San Francisco to Washington DC. Aspects of the longest walk are still celebrated annually.

In addition to his activism, Dennis Banks acted in movies such as War Party (1988), The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Thunderheart (1992), and Older Than America (2008). As a musician he released Still Strong (1993) and teamed up with Peter Gabriel on Les Musiques du Monde and with Golden Globe and Grammy Award-winning artist Kitaro on the CD Let Mother Earth Speak.

He also got into politics and in August 2016, Banks was the vice presidential nominee on the Peace and Freedom Party, a socialist political party with ballot access in California with presidential nominee Gloria La Riva.

As Dennis Banks once told Indian Country Today in a 2013 interview, there will always be a place for activism and change.

“There’s always going to be a need for change whether it’s the American Indian Movement or Idle No More. Whether it’s now or 10 years from now, we’re always going to need those people to go out and confront the issues and take a stand even if we all become doctors and lawyers and senators and congressmen, even if we all become millionaires. There will still be a need to tell America that there are some very important contracts that were made in the 1700s and 1800s that deal with our land.”

The family has stated Dennis Banks will be buried in Leech Lake, Minnesota with traditional services.

Vincent Schilling is on Twitter – @VinceSchilling

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8 Myths and Atrocities About Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day

On the second Monday of October each year, Native Americans cringe at the thought of honoring Christopher Columbus, a man who committed atrocities against Indigenous Peoples.

Columbus Day was conceived by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Fraternal organization, in the 1930s because they wanted a Catholic hero. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the day into law as a federal holiday in 1937, the rest has been history.

In an attempt to further thwart the celebration of this “holiday,” we at ICTMN have outlined eight misnomers and bloody, greedy, sexually perverse and horrendous atrocities committed by Columbus and his men.

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FULL BIBLIOGRAPHY AND SOURCES  USED FOR THIS ARTICLE HERE – Christopher Columbus’s Top Atrocities: The Annotated List 

On the Way—Christopher Columbus Stole a Sailor’s Reward

After obtaining funding for his explorations to reach Asia from the seizure and sale of properties from Spanish Jews and Muslims by order of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Columbus headed out to explore a new world with money and ships.

Brimming with the excitement of discovering new land, Columbus offered a reward of 10,000 maravedis or about $540 (a sailor’s yearly salary) for the first person to discover such land. Though another sailor saw the land in October 1492, Columbus retracted the reward he had previously offered because he claimed he had seen a dim light in the west.

Andrews, E. Benjamin. History of the United States, volume V. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1912/Wikimedia

Replicas of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria in the North River, New York. They crossed from Spain to be present at the World’s Fair at Chicago.

Columbus Never Landed on American Soil—Not in 1492, Not Ever

We’re not talking about the Leif Ericson Viking explorer story.  We mean Columbus didn’t land on the higher 48—ever. Columbus quite literally landed in what is now known as the Bahamas and later Hispaniola, present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Upon arrival, Columbus and his expedition of weapon laden Spaniards met the Arawaks, Tainos and Lucayans—all friendly, according to Columbus’ writings. Soon after arriving, Columbus wrecked the Santa Maria and the Arawaks worked for hours to save the crew and cargo.

Impressed with the friendliness of the native people, Columbus seized control of the land in the name of Spain. He also helped himself to some locals. In his journal he wrote:

“As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.”

RELATED: American History Myths Debunked: Columbus Discovered America

Wikimedia Commons

The four voyages of Columbus are shown here.

Columbus Painted a Horrible Picture of Peaceful Natives

When Columbus first saw the Native Arawaks that came to greet him and his crew he spoke with a peaceful and admiring tone.

“They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things… They willingly traded everything they owned…  They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

After several months in the Caribbean, on January 13, 1493 two Natives were murdered during trading. Columbus, who had otherwise described the Natives as gentle people wrote “(they are) evil and I believe they are from the island of Caribe, and that they eat men.” He also described them as “savage cannibals, with dog-like noses that drink the blood of their victims.”

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The cannibal story is taught as fact in some of today’s schools.

Columbus’ Men Were Rapists and Murderers

On Columbus’s first trip to the Caribbean, he later returned to Spain and left behind 39 men who went ahead and helped themselves to Native women. Upon his return the men were all dead.With 1,200 more soldiers at his disposal, rape and pillaging became rampant as well as tolerated by Columbus.

This is supported by a reported close friend of Columbus, Michele de Cuneo who wrote the first disturbing account of a relation between himself and a Native female gift given to him by Columbus.

“While I was in the boat I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me, and with whom, having taken her into my cabin, she being naked according to their custom, I conceived desire to take pleasure. I wanted to put my desire into execution but she did not want it and treated me with her finger nails in such a manner that I wished I had never begun. But seeing that (to tell you the end of it all), I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams that you would not have believed your ears. Finally we came to an agreement in such manner that I can tell you that she seemed to have been brought up in a school of harlots.”

Several accounts of cruelty and murder include Spaniards testing the sharpness of blades on Native people by cutting them in half, beheading them in contests and throwing Natives into vats of boiling soap. There are also accounts of suckling infants being lifted from their mother’s breasts by Spaniards, only to be dashed headfirst into large rocks.

Bartolome De Las Casas, a former slave owner who became Bishop of Chiapas, described these exploits. “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel,” he wrote. “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”

Christopher Columbus Enslaved the Native People for Gold

Because Columbus reported a plethora of Natives for slaves, rivers of gold and fertile pastures to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, Columbus was given 17 ships and more than 1,200 men on his next expedition. However, Columbus had to deliver. In the next few years, Columbus was desperate to fulfill those promises—hundreds of Native slaves died on their way back to Spain and gold was not as bountiful as expected.

Christopher Columbus presents Native Americans to Queen Isabella.

Columbus forced the Natives to work in gold mines until exhaustion. Those who opposed were beheaded or had their ears cut off.

In the provinces of Cicao all persons over 14 had to supply at least a thimble of gold dust every three months and were given copper necklaces as proof of their compliance. Those who did not fulfill their obligation had their hands cut off, which were tied around their necks while they bled to death—some 10,000 died handless.

In two years’ time, approximately 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead. Many deaths included mass suicides or intentional poisonings or mothers killing their babies to avoid persecution.

According to Columbus, in a few years before his death, “Gold is the most precious of all commodities; gold constitutes treasure, and he who possesses it has all he needs in the world, as also the means of rescuing souls from purgatory, and restoring them to the enjoyment of paradise.”

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Columbus Provided Native Sex Slaves to His Men

In addition to putting the Natives to work as slaves in his gold mines, Columbus also sold sex slaves to his men—some as young as 9. Columbus and his men also raided villages for sex and sport.

In the year 1500, Columbus wrote: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”

Columbus’ Men Used Native People as Dog Food

In the early years of Columbus’ conquests there were butcher shops throughout the Caribbean where Indian bodies were sold as dog food. There was also a practice known as the montería infernal, the infernal chase, or manhunt, in which Indians were hunted by war-dogs.

These dogs—who also wore armor and had been fed human flesh, were a fierce match for the Indians. Live babies were also fed to these war dogs as sport, sometimes in front of horrified parents.

Christopher Columbus Returned to Spain in Shackles—But Was Pardoned

After a multitude of complaints against Columbus about his mismanagement of the island of Hispaniola, a royal commissioner arrested Columbus in 1500 and brought him back to Spain in chains.

Though he was stripped of his governor title, he was pardoned by King Ferdinand, who then subsidized a fourth voyage.

RELATED: Christopher Columbus, The Myths Behind the Man

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This story was originally published October 14, 2013.

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Prepare for Hard Times, Rebuild Yourself, Be Stewards: Turtle Lodge’s Dave Courchene

Editor’s note: This week Turtle Lodge, the spiritual center in Sagkeeng First Nation in what is today Manitoba, hosted a gathering for the First Nations falling under Treaties One through 11.

Turtle Lodge founder and spiritual leader Dave Courchene Jr. spoke of climate change, and of difficult times ahead, and of the futility of trying to dissuade those who are set on environmental destruction. Focus instead, he said, on becoming strong, both for oneself and in order to be strong for others when the time comes.

RELATED: Indigenous People Must Lead World to Sustainability

“Prepare for the hard times that are coming,” Courchene said. “Don’t waste time in trying to fight a system that will not change. Rebuild yourself, your families and your nation, with your way of life the Creator has given you.

“Stop thinking negatively and fill your mind with positive thoughts,” he continued. “Depend on the land again, for all that you will need to survive. Prepare for the times when people will come looking for help. Prepare to receive the land with your leadership as the true stewards of the land.”

Below is his full statement.

Nii Gaani Aki Inini (Dave Courchene) Presentation at Treaties 1-11 Gathering at Brandon, Manitoba—August 30, 2016

Boozhoo, Aniin, Dinaymakinatook!

Nii Gaani Aki Inini Ndishnikaaz, Kinew Nindoodem, Sagkeeng Nindoonjibaa.

(Anishnabemowin language being spoken)

Our allegiance has always been with the land. This must not change.

We must not be drawn into a world that supports man’s self-importance, through his ideologies, and his concepts of owning and controlling the land through his politics.   His ideologies work to ensure his dominance and control over continued exploitation of the land for the sake of his economy.

In their world, they will not listen to reason. They will continue to rationalize their position of exploitation, and no one will get in the way of their understanding of progress.

Recently, I sat alone by the river surrounded by the trees, with the sounds of the geese, the seagulls and the crows. I felt the peace of the land, and I reflected…

What have we done to ourselves? What have we done to the land?

And I ask myself with a sense of hopelessness, what can I do? What can I do to help change the current path of destruction??

Then the land tells me: it begins with me.

Then it dawns on me. I remember the teachings I was given from the Knowledge Keepers of our nations, the teachings that came from the lodges, that were filled with sacred songs from the drum.   They always reminded me to stay true to my spirit. I was told, “Through your spirit you will find yourself. You will find your true identity that will define your true purpose and meaning to life.”

Through the lodges we are encouraged to stay in alignment with nature’s laws and not to leave the sacred fires of our lodges.

The spirit and the land advise us to stay true to our alignment and allegiance to the earth. They remind us it will be the power of the earth that will stop the invasion of the earth.

The day will come… No one can beat you, when you show kindness and respect.

So when that day comes, and it will come, we can stand without shame that we have stayed true and loyal to the ancestral ways.

We need to reflect on our own history beginning with knowing our own creation, and knowing our beginning.

We need to remember how our ancestors lived so close to the land without destroying her.

We need to acknowledge those that helped us survive the dark times of colonization.

In the beginning we were given instructions on how to be a human being—a human being that would take care of the land, and love the land. We were given teachings to act as a foundation to having a good life. These teachings would be connected to a sacred relationship with the land. These teachings would support the natural laws of Mother Earth. For thousands and thousands of years, our ancestors lived by those teachings and original instructions.

Then the invasion began. What is important for us to realize today is to acknowledge what helped us endure and survive these dark times, and still today we must continue to endure.   Colonization is very much a continued imposition in our lives.

During the darkest times of our history, it was our way of life that helped us survive to this day.

It was the ones who remained loyal and true to the original instructions we were given as a people by our Creator…

Those who kept the ceremonies going underground…

Those that kept the sacred fires burning…

Those that continue to speak the languages of our people…

Those that sang the songs of the land, of the ancestors.

And so it is today, that we must rely on those who have kept the sacred fires burning…

Those that keep our lodges going…

Those that speak the languages of our people…

The language is really the language of the land itself.

We need to reflect on what has always helped us to survive, and it has always been our way of life. It has kept us closely connected to the land, and as long as we maintain that alliance, that closeness to the land, we will survive the changes that are coming.

What we should be concerned about is carrying out our duties and responsibilities and being stewards of the land. We cannot live out that stewardship without understanding, that knowing and understanding the stewardship that comes with responsibility.

Our efforts should be put into preserving this knowledge, protecting the Knowledge Keepers of our nations, offering support to our Knowledge Keepers who take care of the knowledge in our lodges.

Trying to convince those that are destroying the earth is a wasted effort, when our efforts should be in restoring and reviving our way of life.

As we do this, we must put full effort in teaching our children, our youth about this way of life, that carries duties and responsibilities.

We are told that it will be the forces of nature herself, that will stop the abuse that is inflicted on her.

With the earth wants are messengers to share her laws, to share and to teach the youth, of all nations.

What Mother Earth wants is to have her children to love her and to respect her, and to be instruments of peace.

So many of our young people are lost, and we continue to encourage them to accept a way of life that is destroying their beautiful little spirits.

And how they deal with this is that they resist; they rebel, some with anger, addiction, and at worst, suicide.

We have failed the youth. But we can still do them proud.

Bring them back to the lodges, to the land for the healing that will help them find themselves… find their dreams again. Heal the hearts that have been broken. Give the spirit and the land the opportunity to guide our people again. She will never betray us, as she has consistently shown us over and over again.

Nature’s laws are self-enforcing. No law of man can prevent or have power over the power of nature. Allow the earth to take its natural course in correcting those that have put themselves above the natural laws.

Let us work with Mother Earth again, beginning with our children. There should be no doubt that the earth with its power will bring balance and harmony to the earth again.

No one has the human power, the political power, to overrule the forces of nature and her laws.

The future should be one that invests in our children by making access to the traditional knowledge and the lodges of the nations – preparing them to be the leaders of their people.

I often ask myself, what would the ancestors think of what is happening to our world being destroyed, and what would they have advised us to do to deal with all of this?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the politics and the confusion and the anger, that we lose sight of the truth. Feeling helpless and hopeless only makes things worse, making us numb and wanting to withdraw from all this madness, this insanity, and you want to escape. And some have chosen drugs in this escape. Some have chosen just to leave this world; suicide has become too common in our communities.

There I hear the voice of the ancestors:

“Come home, come home now, follow and we will take you home. What you look for is right in front of you, it is right inside of you. It is just that you have strayed from the path of your ancestors, the path your ancestors have left you.”

The ancestors say, “We will help you get on the path again, follow us through your dreams, through your heart, through your spirit. Follow those that have not strayed, those that have kept the ceremonies alive, the Knowledge Keepers of our nations.”

Years ago an elder said to me:

“Go home and start your sacred fire, and don’t ever leave it. Through the fire you will be guided, through the fire you will learn about the sun.   Through the fire you will be given many teachings. Dreams will be sent to you to guide you towards your own awakening and healing. There will be dreams of ceremonies you must do. Follow these dreams, have faith in the spirit, and have faith in yourself.”

As I reflect on what the elder had said, it all came to be true. And his advice applies today more than ever:

Light the sacred fires. This is part of coming home. This is what will help us to awaken from this nightmare. The warmth of the fire will comfort us.   Guide us. The fire will strengthen our spirit. We will see our ancestors in the fire. The fire will lead us into the lodges, into the ceremonies, and onto the land, to the sacred sites that have been left for us.

When we have done this, we will be given guidance and direction. And we will become strong again in our faith. We will know what to do in any given situation, because we will be connected to the spirit.

In any confusion or doubt, all we need to do is return back to the lodges for direction.

The answers we are looking for today have already been given, and they are held within the hearts of the Knowledge Keepers of our nations. Seek them out, find them and they will guide you to find yourselves. Then you will know your destiny and your gifts. Then you will be in a position to help fulfil the prophecy of your ancestors. You will be one of the few who believed, who follow the ancestors – to claim our rightful place in our homeland, to be the true leaders of our homeland.

It will be the forces of the land that will secure our leadership, simply because we have stayed aligned with her and her natural laws. She in the end will bring a halt to all of this insanity. All we have to do is stay close to the sacred fires, go to the lodges, learn more from the spirit, and spend more time on the land.

Prepare for the hard times that are coming. Don’t waste time in trying to fight a system that will not change. Rebuild yourself, your families and your nation, with your way of life the Creator has given you.

Stop thinking negatively and fill your mind with positive thoughts. Depend on the land again, for all that you will need to survive. Prepare for the times when people will come looking for help. Prepare to receive the land with your leadership as the true stewards of the land.

The real significance and meaning of the treaties was to allow us to claim our true identity as a people. And we have survived some really hard times, but it has made us stronger, and now we are ready to restore and rebuild our nations. As we do, help them to join us in our efforts and taking care of the land, for we must teach them to love the land as we do.

As we do all of this, it will be in alignment with nature.   She will prepare us, take care of us, and love us as she always has. And no one can prevent this alliance – it is only ourselves who may lose faith and continue to rely on a system that does not honour spirit or the land.

We have a choice. Let’s make that choice now…

The longer we engage in their politics, the more time that we have wasted, when we could have put more effort in reclaiming and restoring our identity as a people.

And we go to the land who is the real force of change.

I remember being in the ceremony when the question was asked, how can we stop the pulp and paper mill that is destroying the environment, the land, the water and the air?

Through the elder, the spirit responded, “Don’t worry about the mill—we will take care of it.   All you need to do is concern yourselves with living the way of life that the Creator has given. Continue to show gratitude for all that nature has to offer. Talk to the spirit of the water, the trees and the animals. All your survival and direction will come from the land.”

During a recent ceremony of blessing of the land, this message came from the spirit of the Thunderbirds:

“Don’t worry yourselves on what man is doing destroying the earth, because we will help put a stop to this. As the Thunderbirds we will use the fire, the wind and the water. Stay true to your way of life as real stewards of the land. And stay close to us, with your offerings. ”

In the 60s, there was this resurgence across the country and I was fortunate to be within the presence of those leaders at that time – George Manuel from BC, Harold Cardinal from Alberta, Walter Dieter from Saskatchewan, Andrew Delisle from Quebec, and of course my own father.

I witnessed and heard their discussions as they struggle to take us out of the imposition and colonial structures we were living in. What I remember the most was their passion to claim a right to live our sovereignty as a people. They spoke of removing the barriers that prevented us as people to live our true identity as a people.

Through all of their efforts, they opened the door for future generations to claim their right of identity. Unfortunately not many returned to the ancestral way of life of their people.

Assimilation continued to be the norm, education became the continued tool to assimilate. It was easy to be distracted from claiming our own right to define the true education that our children deserve. Today our children suffer from an identity crisis that has created many negative symptoms, for example, children in foster care, suicide, incarcerations, and many other health problems of our people. We did not seize on the opportunities created by those leaders of that time, even though our leaders of that time open the doors for us to reclaim our right of identity.

It was not easy. Our people have been like birds, cage for so long, that even once the doors were opened, it was as though these birds had forgotten how to fly. What has held them back and held our people back has been the fear to be themselves; to follow our beautiful and ancient way of life, because of the fear that was instilled into their minds.

Once again we are forced to reflect on deciding on what direction we should work on to claim our right of identity, our rights of sovereignty, our right of leadership in our homeland.

When our ancestor signed the treaties, they did it in the fullness of their identity, which was reflected in the gift of the pipe, the rattle and the drum. And through their great wisdom they saw that the reserves we live on would be reserved for us to retreat, to rebuild, and to continue to live the ancestral ways of our people, with no interference from the colonizer.

Our struggle to break free from the colonizer and his structures is still our current struggle. Decolonization is very much a challenge.

When we refer to the treaties we must first of all understand clearly who we are, beginning with our own creation stories, complete with our own history, and our duties and responsibilities that our Great Creator gave to us.

One of these responsibilities is to be caretakers of our homeland.

To reflect stewardship.

To live our way of life as a people.

To speak our languages.

To follow the fullness of our culture.

Why are we not embracing that opportunity our leaders of the past have opened?

The laws that prevented us from living our identity have been removed.   There is nothing that can stop us from living our culture and our identity as a people now. All we need is the faith and courage to do so. Within the territories, granted as limited as they are, we must regroup and rebuild the spirit of our nations. Putting up our lodges is paramount in claiming our right of sovereignty.

Our sovereignty comes through our relationship with the Great Spirit and Mother Earth. That is something no one can take away from us.

When we are living our way of life we are not bound by colonial laws or structures. Our way of life is not defined by political influences. We simply be who we are – a kind, caring, loving and humble people.

Our way of life defines our original instructions that we were given by our great Creator, how to be Anishnabe. We were given duties and responsibilities in taking care of our children, our families and our elders. We were given instructions and responsibilities in taking care of the land.

This is what we should be concentrating on, and giving more support to—our way of life.

There has to be an investment in securing our culture, which includes our languages, our teachings, our songs, and our ceremonies.

Our treaties have secured that for us, and the colonizer will never and should never be in a position of teaching us our way of life. Their concern is to assimilate us, and it is working quite well for them. But it will never work completely, as long as we have those amongst our nations who continue to be faithful and loyal to our way of life. These are whom we must turn to, for their help to return to our way of life our ancestors have left us. Support those lodges that have kept our way of life alive.

Within the sacred lodges of our nations, wait for our ancestors, to help guide us, to help us remember, to help heal us, and to decolonize our minds.

With the colonizer, we encourage them to help support our autonomy that defines our solutions, our resolve to finding ourselves again. They have a shared responsibility to help bring back what they took away. That would be real reconciliation.

As an autonomous, self-determining people, it will be our elders and our Knowledge Keepers that we will depend upon to bring back that knowledge, that understanding of our identity.

What is treaty? To me, it is how we treat ourselves, our children, our mothers, and fathers, our elders, our friends and neighbours, and how we treat the land. A treaty is a covenant – it is a commitment. This is what our ancestors, I believe, meant, that defined our identity and relationship.

That relationship has also included the newcomers. We would share not only the land, we would share the values, the teachings, the protocols in taking care of the land. It is never too late for them to change – to join us in taking care of the land.

We must teach the youth, as much as we must teach our own.   Our survival depends on everyone. And we must express our leadership and making welcome to those who want to learn.

And finally, I am going to humbly propose that we set up a group or Knowledge Keepers Council, because they are the ones that we need the help from the most. Because they are the ones that hold the knowledge, they hold the protocols, they hold the closeness to the ancestors through ceremony.

When the treaties were signed, when our people could not understand the language that was being spoken, what did they do? They went to the elders, to go into ceremony to seek guidance on what they must do. Should they sign those documents that they call treaties? And for days they gathered, waiting for the answer that would come through ceremony.

And it was the spirit itself that gave the approval for the leaders at that time to sign the documents. They saw something that maybe we don’t see today, but they saw the future. And it was only through the spirit that the future is revealed.

We need to call our Knowledge Keepers back. I propose that from every treaty area, that we select those Knowledge Keepers, and that we call a gathering as soon as possible. I am prepared to host this gathering at the Turtle Lodge, and we must do it from our own efforts. It cannot be done through applying for a grant, or assistance from the government, from the colonizer. It has to come from ourselves. That each treaty area take the responsibility to support their elders, and that the elders go for the guidance and the direction that we need today more than ever.

Our young people deserve the right to be guided by the Knowledge Keepers. So many of our young people have become angry, and as a result they have become very politicized. Through the lodges of our people we are told that we are a peaceful people; that our strength comes from being a kind, caring, humble and giving people.

It is through the connection to our ancestors and the spirit that we will move beyond this current world, a world that does not understand who we are, that we still continue to live marginalized in our homeland and not understood.

So many of our young people today do not know who they are. That is our responsibility, no one else’s. No one can come to heal us. No one can give us that life that we all want and expect. Only the Creator can give us that. That is what you will hear in the lodges of our people.

If we are serious about loving our children, then please consider what I am proposing, to call upon the elders and the Knowledge Keepers of our nations – the opportunity to come together so they can seek guidance and direction for all of us through ceremony itself.

Thank you so much for showing patience as I shared my own thoughts and feelings. In keeping with the spirit of the lodges, we are told:

“May your life be filled with the fullness that your life deserves, that your life be filled with all the love and all the respect and all the kindness, and all the love that the land continues to give to us.”

May we feel that love.


Nii Gaani Aki Inini – Leading Earth Man (Dave Courchene), Anishnabe Nation, Eagle Clan is the Founder of Turtle Lodge.

The story was originally published on September 2, 2016.

The post Prepare for Hard Times, Rebuild Yourself, Be Stewards: Turtle Lodge’s Dave Courchene appeared first on Indian Country Media Network.

How Mormons Assimilated Native Children

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series about the Indian Student Placement Program, a foster-care and education program for Native youths administered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints between 1947 and 2000.

Veronica Wallace pressed her face against the bus window and stared into the darkness.

At 13, Wallace was en route from her home in Shawnee, Oklahoma, to Lakewood, Colorado, to live with a family she’d never met. The bus cut across the darkened countryside during the wee hours of the August morning as its passengers slept, talked quietly, listened to Motown music or cried, Wallace says.

“It was a very lonely, very sad trip. It was 2 or 3 in the morning, and I had no idea where I was going.”

It was 1970 and Wallace, who is Sac & Fox, had agreed to spend the next nine months in the Indian Student Placement Program. Run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the program matched Native youths with white Mormon host families who took care of them during the school year and returned them to their reservations for the summer.

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For the half-century the program was in operation (from 1947 to 2000), an estimated 40,000 Native youths from 60 tribes left their homes in favor of a better education and a brighter future. But the program had a secondary goal: bringing Indian students in contact with the morals and cultural practices of the Mormon Church.

Wallace, who was baptized as a Mormon at age 8, was accustomed to the principles of the church, which is known for its high moral standards and emphasis on the family. When her host parents welcomed the “little Indian girl” into their home, Wallace readily adopted this second family.

Cultural and religious clashes were inevitable, however, Wallace says. Her birth parents divorced when she was young and a grandmother raised her, introduced her to the church and encouraged her to go on the placement program. During a visit to Colorado, Wallace’s birth mother sat in the host family’s house and smoked a cigarette.

“That was bad,” Wallace says. “Her lifestyle was not keeping with the standards, and so I knew I had to choose.”

Wallace’s choice, though difficult, was common for placement students. The program, founded on principles of assimilation, forced some students to choose between birth parents and foster families, and between Native tradition and the church’s “higher law.” And the stakes were high: students who failed to meet the church’s standards were sent home.

The Business of Saving Souls

At its start in 1947, the Indian Student Placement Program saw church leaders fussing about how to meet the needs of one Navajo student. Yet by the end of its first decade, the program was beginning to look more like an industry.

Full-time missionaries and paid recruiters visited Indian reservations looking for students. Parents, seeing the economic and educational benefits of the program, sometimes enrolled all their qualifying children. In the fall, students arrived by the busload at reception centers in Utah and surrounding states, where they received food, medical exams, baths, shampoos and disinfectants before going home with foster families.

Problems arose with logistics and the sheer number of students and families involved, said Jessie Embry, a research professor at the church-owned Brigham Young University.

“There were rules about what students were supposed to be,” she said. “They were supposed to be academically up with their class, physically fit and emotionally stable.”

Above all, once the program was officially recognized, students were required to be at least 8 years old—the age of accountability—and be baptized into the Mormon Church. But if ritual was the only thing that stood between a youth and opportunity, baptism was easy enough to accomplish, Embry said.

“There are some examples of people getting baptized just to go on placement,” she said. “Host families would joke that children came with wet hair, that they were baptized just before getting on the bus. There are other stories about children not even knowing they were being baptized. The missionaries said, ‘Come with me and I’ll buy you a hamburger,’ and then they were baptized.”

Other problems arose as the program grew. At its height, more than 5,000 students were on the program, which had expanded to Arizona, Canada, California, Colorado, Idaho, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota and Georgia. Administration became difficult and the number of participants put social and financial strains on the church.

Caseworkers, the program’s only paid employees, were charged with making regular visits to all foster families and helping to iron out everything from familial disputes to cultural clashes. But the program had too many students and too little oversight, Embry said.

In the 1966-67 school year, there were 1,569 students on the program and only 19 caseworkers. That was 85 students for every professional, Embry said. The following year, 46 caseworkers supervised 3,123 students—or 67 students per worker.

“The program was set up so the caseworker had a presence in every student’s life,” she said. “Some students were on the program for years and never saw one.”

Kinks in the program led to breakdowns in communication, in oversight and, ultimately, in the welfare of students and foster families, said James Allen, a former historian for the Mormon Church. Individual students’ success depended on many factors, including their own preparation, the stability of foster families, support from birth families and individual interpretations of the program.

“There were numerous stresses and strains, usually connected with the problem of crossing cultural barriers,” Allen said. “Some foster families gave up in just a few months, others after the first year. Some never fully understood their foster children.”

But problems were bigger than disagreements or cultural clashes in individual homes, said Elise Boxer, a professor of history and Native American Studies at the University of South Dakota. An enrolled citizen of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Boxer also is an active member of the Mormon Church. She completed her dissertation on the Mormon concepts of whiteness and indigenous identity.

“From the Mormon perspective, the program is seen as a success, as something that provided cultural, educational and economic opportunity the students wouldn’t have otherwise,” Boxer said. “But if you start looking at the language, it’s problematic. Mormon homes became a tool to aid in the assimilation of Indian children.”

A System of Racism

Originally called the Lamanite Student Placement Program, the project was riddled with ethical and philosophical problems, Boxer said. The term “Lamanite,” used for America’s indigenous people, carries with it a “religiously racialized identity,” she said.

“American Indian people as Lamanites are a promised people, but also a fallen people,” Boxer said. “The traditions of their forefathers, or the traditions they hold onto today are perversions or half-truths. So their conversion to Mormonism, to the ‘true gospel,’ is going to play a part in the civilization of Indians.”

The Book of Mormon, viewed as sacred text by church members, promises that Lamanites, who were cursed with dark skin, will become “white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome.” That promise, Boxer said, leads to a damaging cognitive dissonance, especially for Native youth.

“They are physically different from white Mormons, but they buy into the promise and internalize that identity,” she said. “The program is suddenly about privileging their Mormon identity at the expense of their indigenous identity.”

Rules distributed to students mandated they put aside their Native traditions in favor of Mormon customs. A 1973 student guide published by the church instructs them to “try to learn the accepted ways of behavior in the society in which you live. Be anxious to accept those ways of the church which will help you fit into the modern society of today.”

The guide prohibits students from speaking in their Native languages “when there is someone present who does not understand.” Students also are instructed to “show interest in the experiences of others,” be cheerful and friendly and “achieve and not fail.” Even at home during the summer, students were prohibited from practicing their Native religions or ceremonies. Failure to follow the rules could have resulted in expulsion from the program.

“Remember, the people with whom you associate at home, at church, at school or wherever you will be may judge all Indian people according to what you do and say,” the guide states.

Foster families were selected on the basis of strong marital relationships, high moral standards, activity in the church, financial circumstances and a desire to help “a Lamanite child gain an education.” Families were promised Native children “free from communicable diseases” and “comparatively free from serious emotional disturbances,” states a 1965 guide for foster parents.

The program also came with a prophetic promise. In a 1960 speech to the church, Mormon Apostle Spencer W. Kimball remarked on the “progress of the Indian people” in the Indian Student Placement Program. Students’ skin, he said, was growing “as light as Anglos.” Children living in foster homes were “several shades lighter” than their dark fathers and mothers.

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“The day of the Lamanites is nigh,” he said. “For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised.”

Courtesy LDS Church History Collection

Elder Spencer W. Kimball, President George Albert Smith, Elder Anthony W. Ivins standing) and Elder Matthew Cowley meeting with group of Lamanites and others soon after the three brethren were called to serve on the Church Indian Affairs Committee.

Living in Two Worlds

The Indian Student Placement Program was not designed to fully assimilate Native children into the white culture, Boxer said. Rather, its goal was to take Native children and turn them into “agents of change.”

“They were supposed to go to school, go to college, but they were also supposed to go home to their reservations and help uplift and convert people,” she said. “One of the tenets of Mormonism requires its members, non-Indians, to save Indian people. One solution would be to convert Indian children who would also aid in the process from within their own communities.”

But that logic was flawed, Embry said. Students who embraced the Mormon faith and succeeded academically often felt out of place on their reservations or among traditional Native practices. Such was the case for Wallace, who left the program and her foster family in Colorado after ninth grade.

“Over the summer, I went back to my life,” she says. “I went to powwows, hung out with my family. It was more difficult because we dealt with alcoholism and poverty, but it was home and I realized I wanted to be there.”

Wallace subsequently fell away from the church and was inactive for 15 years. Now 57 and again an active member of the church, she said her biggest regret is not completing the program.

“That’s where I got my foundation—in life and in the church. The church was everything to me and I left it because it was too hard.”

RELATED: Assimilation Tool or a Blessing? Inside the Mormon Indian Student Placement Program

The story was originally posted on Jan 11, 2016.

The post How Mormons Assimilated Native Children appeared first on Indian Country Media Network.

The Power of Cherokee Women

In February of 1757, the great Cherokee leader Attakullakulla came to South Carolina to negotiate trade agreements with the governor and was shocked to find that no white women were present. “Since the white man as well as the red was born of woman, did not the white man admit women to their council?” Attakullakulla asked the governor. Carolyn Johnston, professor at Eckerd College and author of Cherokee Women in Crisis; Trail of Tears, Civil War, and Allotment, 1838-1907, says in her book that the governor was so taken aback by the question that he took two or three days to come up with this milquetoast response: “The white men do place confidence in their women and share their councils with them when they know their hearts are good.”

Europeans were astonished to see that Cherokee women were the equals of men—politically, economically and theologically. “Women had autonomy and sexual freedom, could obtain divorce easily, rarely experienced rape or domestic violence, worked as producers/farmers, owned their own homes and fields, possessed a cosmology that contains female supernatural figures, and had significant political and economic power,” she writes. “Cherokee women’s close association with nature, as mothers and producers, served as a basis of their power within the tribe, not as a basis of oppression. Their position as ‘the other’ led to gender equivalence, not hierarchy.”

One of the hardest things for the colonists to comprehend was the Cherokee kinship system. It was based on the matrilineal structure—the oldest social organization known to man (woman?) in which lineage is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors. The most important male relative in a Cherokee child’s life was his mother’s brother, not his father. In fact, the father was not formally related to his offspring. According to Theda Perdue, professor at the University of North Carolina and author of Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835, white men who married Indian women were shocked to discover that the Cherokees did not consider them to be related to their children, and that mothers, not fathers, had control over children and property.

Women owned the houses where the extended family lived, and daughters inherited the property from their mothers. In order to prevent white men from marrying Indian women for profit–as the Cherokee land was coveted by white colonists–the husband’s Cherokee citizenship was revoked if he decided to leave. “Should a white man abandon his Cherokee wife without good reason, he forfeited Cherokee citizenship and paid a settlement determined by the Cherokee Committee and Council for breach of marriage,” writes Fay Yarbrough, associate professor at the University of Oklahoma in Race and the Cherokee Nation: Sovereignty in the Nineteenth Century.

Johnston points out that in the traditional Cherokee culture, men and women had different roles, different ritual spaces and different ceremonies. Men were hunters, and women were farmers who controlled the household. Both were responsible for putting food on the table. In the winter, when men traveled hundreds of miles to hunt bear, deer, turkey and other game, women stayed at home. They kept the fires burning in the winter-houses, made baskets, pottery, clothing and other things the family needed, cared for the children, and performed the chores for the household. “Perhaps because women were so important in the family and in the economy, they also had a voice in government,” Perdue writes in Tar Heel Junior Historian, a magazine published by North Carolina Museum of History (Spring 1984) “The Cherokees made decisions only after they discussed an issue for a long time and agreed on what they should do. The council meetings at which decisions were made were open to everyone including women. Women participated actively. Sometimes they urged the men to go to war to avenge an earlier enemy attack. At other times they advised peace. Occasionally women even fought in battles beside the men. The Cherokees called these women ‘War Women’, and all the people respected and honored them for their bravery.”

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Johnston says that both men and women were sexually liberated, and unions were typically based on mutual attraction. The concept of being ashamed of one’s body or physical desires was foreign to the Cherokee mind-set. Even though married men and women were expected to be faithful to one another, adultery was not considered a grand crime, and divorce based on loss of attraction was not uncommon: “Sometimes they will live together till they have five or six children and then part as unconcernedly as if they had never known one another, the men taking the male children and the women the female and so each marry with contrary parties.” Cherokee couples going through divorce did not seem to experience the same level of emotional or financial trauma that is almost expected for modern day Euro-American couples dealing with separation and divorce. According to Johnston, traditional Cherokee “singles’ mixers” were charged with sexual energy, although they were strictly regulated through ceremony. The ritual dance performed publicly by young Cherokees at such events culminated in moves that imitated a sexual act—something that appalled the prudish white Americans (Elvis was yet to be born and crowned a king). In general, physical relations between consenting adults were viewed as most natural and even divine, and not as a source of shame, fear or sin.

Cherokees strictly obeyed individual taboos on food and sex, but those taboos were specific to one’s circumstances and usually temporary. It is not at all surprising that the joyless, rigid, sex-negative, and guilt-intensive view of life, pitched to the Cherokees by the European missionaries in the early 18th century, was initially met with very little enthusiasm. “Because the Cherokees did not believe in the depravity of human nature, the majority of the Nation continued to resist this new view of themselves,” Johnston writes. In 1840 Daniel Butrick, a missionary in the Cherokee land, wrote a letter “complaining about the morals of the Cherokee women: ‘One Mrs. Safford, it is said, uses profane language, one Mrs. Glass, it is said, attends dances, and the other Mrs. Broken Canoe, I believe, has never been at meeting here since she was baptized in May 1836.’ ” Several years earlier, Butrick noted with horror that actors in a ball play (a traditional Cherokee game similar to lacrosse) he witnessed were naked. According to Johnston, Butrick “forbade any student in his school to go to a ball play or an all night dance. He despaired, however, that ‘the young women who have been educated at a mission schools and by great expense and labor taught to read and understand the Bible, are the first victims of these emissaries of darkness.’” Sophia Sawyer, a female Christian missionary in the Indian Country, reportedly chased a local woman into her “chimney corner” trying to convince her to send her child into the missionary school. The Native woman’s response was that she would “as soon see her child in hell as in the mission classroom.”

Sadly, with the advent of Native American boarding schools where “savage-born” children were, in the words of Richard Henry Pratt, trained in “civilized language and habit” (a part of his notorious “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” campaign), the two became nearly equivalent. In 1825, a hired white girl named Mary had a “criminal intercourse with a young Cherokee, Robert Sanders, at Carmel mission in Georgia. Here is how Moody Hall, a missionary at ABCFM, described the incident: “We burned their beds and cabin. Cherokee take such ‘abominable crimes’ lightly.” Johnston notes that this incident “sheds light on the battle being waged over Indians’ land, mind and bodies. For the Cherokees, becoming ‘civilized’ increasingly came to mean nothing less than a radical alteration of gender roles.”

“The U.S. government and missionaries made a concerted effort to transform Cherokee gender roles and attitudes towards sexuality and the body,” says Johnston. “They sought to inculcate Euro-American values of true womanhood and confine Cherokee women to the domestic sphere. They met with resistance from the traditional Cherokees, but, over the course of contact, wealthier members of that society, often of mixed ancestry, readily accepted both Christianity and the ideals of true womanhood. This gender inequality intersected with class inequality because more affluent women were freed from most domestic labor by hired help of slaves, and they had the means to acquire education and gentility. By the end of the 18th century, Cherokee women no longer agreed among themselves what it meant to be a woman.” “A wife! What a sacred name, what a responsible office!” wrote missionary Elias Boudinot (Buck Watie) in an article entitled Who is a Beautiful Woman? “She must be an unspotted sanctuary to which wearied men flow from the crimes of the world, and feel that no sin dare enter there. A wife! She must be the guardian angel of his footsteps on earth, and guide him to Heaven.” Nothing in that description reminded the reader of the once powerful, uninhibited, breadwinning Cherokee woman.

By mid-18th century, many Cherokees started to realize that their sovereignty and possibly their survival depended on being viewed as civilized. Being civilized meant wearing European clothes, denouncing their centuries-old religious practices and art, converting to Christianity and adopting a patriarchal, agrarian way of life. Men would no longer hunt, and women would no longer farm. “The civilization program, the loss of hunting lands, missionary efforts, and slavery destabilized gender relations within the Cherokee Nation,” says Johnston. “Men’s roles were more disrupted than women’s because the men lost their ability to be hunters and warriors. Because farming was considered ‘women’s work’. The men would have had to radically alter their views of masculinity had they chosen to become farmers.”

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According to Wilma Dunaway, professor of sociology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and author of Rethinking Cherokee Acculturation; Agrarian Capitalism and Women’s Resistance to Cult of Domesticity, 1800-1838, “shortly before removal, the Cherokees had learned new survival strategies in a world economy; their agricultural production equaled or surpassed that of their white neighbors.” Dunaway points out that “historically, agrarian capitalism has shifted control of household, land, and means of production to men; has stimulated public policies that disempowered women; and has fostered the ‘cult of domesticity’ in order to justify the inequitable treatment of wives… Because the Cherokee elite believed that tribal sovereignty depended on being recognized as “civilized,” they also selectively accepted some aspects of patriarchal roles.” “Many of the legal changes within the Cherokee nation in the early nineteenth century excluded women from the formal political process, weakened the power of the clans and diminished women’s autonomy,” Johnston notes. “With the passage of Cherokee Constitution in 1827, Cherokee women became politically disenfranchised and could no longer vote or hold public office.

The loss of formal political power was dramatic. The Cherokee Constitution, modeled after the U.S. Constitution, created a three-branch government with a Supreme Court, a legislature and a principle chief as executive.” The Cherokees hoped that this demonstration of sovereignty would prevent their forced removal from their ancestors’ land. “By the 1800s the Cherokees had lost their independence and had become dominated by white Americans,” said Johnston. “At this time white Americans did not believe that it was proper for women to fight wars, vote, speak in public, work outside the home or even control their own children. The Cherokees began to imitate whites, and Cherokee women lost much of their power and prestige. In the 20th century, they had to struggle along with other women to acquire many of the rights that Cherokee women once freely enjoyed.”

This story was originally published on January 10, 2011.

The post The Power of Cherokee Women appeared first on Indian Country Media Network.

Top 5 Cities in Canada With the Most Indigenous People

Some Canadians seem to think Indigenous Peoples mostly dwell in far-flung remote reserves.

But in fact the majority of indigenous people live in Canada’s cities, and according to the latest census, off-reserve First Nations, Métis and Inuit are the fastest-booming populations in the whole country.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 56 percent of aboriginal people live in the country’s urban areas. Indian Country Today Media Network took a look at the top five cities for indigenous people. Just as in the U.S., there were some surprises.

RELATED: Top 5 Cities With the Most Native Americans

Number 5: Calgary, Alberta

Photo: Thinkstock

Calgary, Alberta

For more than 100 years, the Calgary Stampede has made the one-million-resident city famous each July with its annual rodeo festival. But from the launch of the Stampede in 1912, First Nations have always been a prominent feature of the celebrations, particularly through the event’s Indian Village, which sees Treaty 7 First Nations—the Nakoda, Kainai, Siksika, Peigan, Piikani and Tsuu Tina—raise tipis on-site and showcase dances, games and other cultural celebrations for a million visitors a year.

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Today Calgary is home to 33,370 aboriginal people, according to the 2011 census, with a particularly high population of Métis, aboriginal people with mixed settler and First Nations ancestry. The Métis have their own language, heritage and cultural identity. In fact the province of Alberta has the highest population of Métis people in all of Canada.

Number 4: Toronto, Ontario

Photo: Thinkstock


On the shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto is Canada’s largest city, the fourth largest in North America. It’s the capital of Ontario, a sprawling province with the highest total number of aboriginal people in the country—more than 300,000.

Nearly 37,000 aboriginal people call Toronto their home. The 2.4-million inhabitant city is located on the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, a confederacy of five Iroquoian-speaking communities who were renowned as extensive traders and farmers, and relied on fish, squash, corn and beans for their livelihood. There were up to a dozen villages in the Greater Toronto area before colonization in the 17th century.

The name “Toronto” is believed to be from a Mohawk word meaning “trees standing in water.” Likewise, “Ontario” is likely from a Huron word meaning “beautiful lake.”

Number 3: Vancouver, British Columbia 

Photo: Thinkstock

Vancouver, British Columbia

More than 52,000 people of Métis, First Nations or Inuit ancestry call this rainy West Coast city home, and it’s hard to ignore the major impact and presence of indigenous culture in the area. British Columbia has more First Nations than any other province, but nonetheless almost none of the province is covered by historic treaties with the government to share the land.

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Download our free report, Intergenerational Trauma: Understanding Natives’ Inherited Pain, to understand this fascinating concept.

As a result, B.C., made up of more than five percent aboriginal residents, has historically been on the frontline in the fight to protect indigenous territories and land title, including a recent landmark victory in the Supreme Court of Canada.

RELATED: Major Victory: Canadian Supreme Court Hands Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal Title

In June the leadership of the 600,000-inhabitant City of Vancouver passed a declaration that it “was founded on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations and that these territories were never ceded through treaty, war or surrender.”

The resolution was part of a Year of Reconciliation marked by City Hall, which at its apex drew 70,000 people to the streets to support indigenous rights.

Number 2: Edmonton, Alberta 

Photo: Doug Edgar/Thinkstock

Edmonton, Alberta

In second place for the largest population of First Nations, Métis and Inuit is another Alberta city, Edmonton, the provincial capital. The 800,000-resident city has an aboriginal population of 61,765 according to the 2011 census.

It’s also the celebrated home of the enormous West Edmonton Mall, which was the site of a complete pow wow Grand Entry ceremony at the height of the Idle No More movement explosion last year.

RELATED: Idle No More Conducts Pow Wow Grand Entry in Continent’s Largest Mall

The city is also headquarters to the country’s largest aboriginal-run newspaper franchise, the Aboriginal Multi Media Society of Alberta, including Windspeaker newspaper. The city passed an Edmonton Urban Aboriginal Accord in hopes of strengthening historically strained relationships with indigenous people, including an acknowledgement that “we reside on Treaty Six territory.”

But before it was called Edmonton, the area was known by the Cree people as Amiskwaciy, or Beaver Hills. A central meeting place for treaty making, ceremonies and trade, the site was also called Pehonan, which translates as “the gathering or waiting place.”

Number 1: Winnipeg, Manitoba

Photo: Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Located close to the very heart of Canada’s landmass, the prairie city of Winnipeg is home to both the total highest aboriginal population in the country—78,420 out of the city’s 663,617 people—and also the highest per capita proportion indigenous residents, or nearly 12 percent of the population.

“Winnipeg” means “muddy water” in Cree, and as a whole the province of Manitoba is nearly 17 percent indigenous. That is the highest percentage indigenous of any Canadian province, although it is dwarfed by the high concentrations of aboriginal people in the northern territories of Nunavut, Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

More people with First Nations status—25,970 in total—live in Winnipeg than in any other Canadian city. The town is headquarters of the influential Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), which launched in 1992 and today has spread to cover indigenous news nationwide.

Winnipeg is also home to the highest concentration of Métis people in the country, making up roughly 6.3 percent of the urban population. It’s the site of the newly opened Canadian Museum of Human Rights, which features exhibits on aboriginal history and indigenous rights, though it has come under fire for refusing to label Canada’s policies as “genocide.” The museum’s opening was met with a boycott by the award-winning electronic band A Tribe Called Red and criticism from Buffy Sainte-Marie—not to mention a nearby First Nation declaring its substandard living conditions a “Canadian Museum of Human Rights Violations.

RELATED: ATCR Tells Museum: We Won’t Play Until You Use the Word ‘Genocide’

Manitoba is the home and final resting place of 19th century Métis leader Louis Riel, who helped launch several armed rebellions and is today called the “founder of Manitoba.” His execution by Canada sparked angry protests across the country and hero status among many aboriginal people—and in 2007 Manitoba declared a new provincial holiday “Riel Day” in his honor.


This story was originally published on November 4, 2014. 

The post Top 5 Cities in Canada With the Most Indigenous People appeared first on Indian Country Media Network.

From Beads to Bounty: How Wampum Became America’s First Currency—And Lost Its Power

When Prince Philip of the Pokanokets (later known as the Wampanoags) proudly wore his wampum—decorative beads made from whelk and clam shells—he was proudly declaring several things about himself: his station, his value (and obligation) to his people, as well as the spiritual message conveyed by the design of those shells. The Englishmen he encountered, however, could only see the commercial value of that wampum, and 20 pounds sterling meant Philip was wearing some very pricey bling.

How wampum changed from bling to money is a complicated story. The colonists back then did not have printed currency, so their trade economy was mostly based on the barter of commodities such as corn and pelts. When wampum became a prime commodity in the Northeast corner of North America in 1630, it forever altered the Native systems of reciprocity and balance in life, labor and trade.

Wampum had a short run, but a long tail. It was a coin of the realm for just 30 years but wampum was commonly used as slang for money well into the second half of 20th century, along with other colorful terms such as moolah, loot, lucre and—more relevant to this discussion—clams. Even today, wampum usually is the answer to this crossword puzzle clue: used as Indian money in the Northeast, even though Natives did not traditionally use wampum as money, in part because they did not use money at all.

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RELATED: Wampanoag Historian on Surviving Almost 400 Years of Thanksgivings
RELATED: Native History: First Wampanoag-Pilgrim Treaty Signed on April Fools’

Purple Beads of Death
Wampum was white or purple beads and discs fashioned from two shells: the white beads from the whelk, a sea snail with a spiral shape, and the quahog, a clam with purple and white coloring.

Quahogs are found in the waters from Cape Cod south to New York, with a great abundance in Long Island Sound.

The clams were harvested in the summer, their meat consumed, and the shells were then worked into beads. Wampum beads were difficult to make back then. Drilling (with stones) could shatter the clam and the dust from the drilling contained silica that cut up lungs if inhaled. Water was used to limit the dust. The shells were ground and polished into small tubes with a stone drill called a puckwhegonnautick. They were placed on strings made of plant fiber or animal tendon and woven into belts, necklaces, headpieces, bracelets, earrings—a variety of adornments depending on the status of the wearer.

King Philip, with his wampum belt (AP)

The color of the beads had meaning. For the Algonquians, white beads represented purity, light and brightness, and would be used as gifts to mark events that invoked those characteristics, such as the birth of a child. Purple beads represented solemn things like war, grieving and death. The combination of white and purple represented the duality of the world; light and dark, sun and moon, women and man, life and death. Wampum was given as a gift for many occasions: births, marriages, the signing of treaties, occasions for condolence and remembrance. In his book, Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value; The False Coin of Our Own Dreams, David Graeber says the Iroquois believed wampum was so spiritually powerful it could bring back the spirit of dead loved ones. He includes a Jesuit account of the Huron practice of hanging wampum around a captive Native’s neck; if the captive accepted the necklace, he became the living embodiment of a deceased loved one.

Early English accounts of wampum in the coastal Native nations report that huge strings of wampum were hung from the rafters at days-long games that were similar to rugby and soccer. These games were watched and wagered on by hundreds and sometimes thousands of Natives, and the winning side received the wampum bounty. In Debt: The First 5000 Years, Graeber writes that “[wampum] was a representation of a value that could only be realized through its exchange.”

It took Europeans some time to realize how important wampum was to indigenous cultures. Fur pelts were the globally desired commodities in those early days. Beaver fur in particular was the prime choice for coats and hats—castor gras (greasy beaver) was especially prized. (In possibly history’s only instance of an item preworn by indigenous people being more valuable, castor gras was beaver fur that had been worn by Natives for 12 to 18 months, by which time the long hairs had been rubbed off through wear and tear so the fur was shiny and pliable.)

The white man’s indifference to wampum changed in 1622, when a Dutch West India Company trader named Jacques Elekens took a Pequot sachem hostage and threatened to behead him if he did not receive a large ransom. When more than 280 yards of wampum were handed over, the light bulb above Elekens’s head exploded. The Dutch had been using Venetian glass beads for centuries to trade with Indigenous Peoples in Africa, India and—more recently—North America. (Recall the well-known but probably fictional story of Peter Minuit’s purchase of Manhattan Island for $24 worth of glass, multicolored beads.) Note, however that the long strings of wampum given to Elekens were not, strictly speaking, a “cash payment.” It represented the symbolic value or status of a sachem. As Graeber writes, “there’s no evidence that even the Indians living in the closest proximity to Europeans used wampum to buy and sell things to one another.” The Pequots had traded with the Dutch and knew they sometimes used glass beads and perhaps thought they would appreciate wampum.

The Dutch start trading furs acquired along the Hudson River for wampum from the coastal nations. They then used the wampum for their transactions with Native fur traders. This influx of wampum piqued the interest of the more northern Native fur-trading nations that normally conducted business with the French hunters and traders. (The French had no wampum, so they suddenly found it hard to compete with the Dutch for the furs.)

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Now that they were using wampum as currency, the pragmatic and profit-minded Dutch knew it would be cheaper and easier to manufacture beads in the New World. Graeber says, “English and Dutch colonists apparently found it a relatively simple matter to force [the Narragansetts and Pequots] to mass-produce the wampum beads, stringing the them together in belts of pure white or pure purple and setting fixed rates of exchange with the Indians of the interior; so many fathoms of wampum for such and such a pelt.” The Narragansetts and Pequots and their tribute nations and tribes saw the advantage of becoming integral players in a lucrative trade market with a rare local commodity they could control. These powerful neighboring nations were the favored trade partners of the Dutch, and within a few years, wampum production became the primary occupation for both. The Pequots made an alliance through marriage with the Mohegans and their influence increased. The Dutch, meanwhile, expanded their operations up the coast into Narragansett Bay and set up a trading post in 1627 near present-day Warren, Rhode Island. This incursion prompted the Plymouth colonists to demand that the Dutch stop trading with their Native allies, and the Dutch and English soon reached an agreement to stay off each other’s trade turf.

Tribes boxed out of this trading loop—such as the Montauks and Shinnecocks—paid tribute to the larger nations with wampum. Neal Salisbury explains the consequences of that dynamic in his book, Manitou and Providence: “In order to trade, the disadvantaged bands paid tribute.… Thus, the ceremonial exchange of goods which had once reinforced equality among bands became a source of inequality.”

Using beaver pelts to trade with white traders (AP)

William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Colony, recorded that the Natives the English dealt with were initially hesitant to use wampum as currency, but Salisbury says, “After two years of trader persistence, wampum became an item of mass consumption, and Plymouth had effectively eliminated most of its small-scale competitors.… [Once] a symbol of prestige, wampum had become a medium of exchange and communication available to all, leading Indians through-out New England toward greater dependence on their ties with Europeans.”

In 1630, great numbers of English Puritans landed in America, ready to acquire land and make a living. They brought fake wampum beads to present to the “squaw sachem” of the Massachuset tribe in exchange for land. Now there were two English colonies competing for economic success. Both were using wampum to trade.

As wampum production was ramped up in the south, hunting and trapping was ramped up in the north. The Abenaki were so focused on supplying large amounts of furs and pelts in order to acquire more wampum that mass depletions of fur-producing animals resulted. The beaver and marten populations were hardest hit.

A War Started by Hope
With Dutch traders and two English colonies vying for financial success, and two Native nations producing wampum, there was bound to be a violent collision. In fact, there were several.

Dutch traders decided to start a trading post along the Connecticut River at what is now Hartford, Connecticut. The post, known as The House of Hope, allowed the Dutch to beat out other European competitors trading with the northern nations along the Hudson River, and allowed the Dutch to trade with formerly disenfranchised smaller bands and tribes. The Hope was a place, the Dutch proclaimed, where “all tribes of Indians shall be permitted to come freely…to trade with us; and [where] the enemies of the one or the other nation shall not molest each other.”

This was a problem for the Pequot, who no longer controlled the river trade and were no longer the primary trading partners of the Dutch. So they start attacking other Natives trading at the Hope. The Dutch retaliated, killing the Pequot sachem Tatobem and his followers.

There was now a complicated and dangerous chess game going on between the two English settlements, the new English arrivals, the Dutch, the large Native nations and small tribes—all of them angling to gain access to the trade networks along the Connecticut River. After some bogus provocations about the murder of a British man, the Pequots skirmished with some English settlers. In a predawn attack of the Pequot’s Mystic River village, the English then slaughtered between 300 and 700 men, women and children. The English won this war decisively—in 1638, the Treaty of Hartford dissolved the Pequot nation. Stepping into the void, the Narragansetts became the primary producers of wampum.

The 1652 Pine Tree shilling (AP)

Meanwhile, the Dutch abandoned southern New England and concentrated on trading with the Iroquois nations to the north that still had access to quality furs. Information as well as wampum flowed north and the Iroquois recognized the need for a strong unified front of Native nations to meet the threat of the white traders and their guns. They knew they needed an empire to deal with empires.

The Iroquois forged alliances and their access to the Dutch wampum increased their power. Graeber writes that “wampum…came to play a central role in their political life, even, one might argue, in the constitution of Iroquois society itself.… Wampum was the essential medium of all peacemaking. Every act of diplomacy, both within the League and outside it, had to be carried out through the giving and receiving of wampum. If a message had to be sent, it would be spoken into belts or strings of wampum, which the messenger would present to the recipient. Such belts were referred to as words; beads were woven into mnemonic patterns bearing on the import of the message. Without them, no message stood a chance of being taken seriously by its recipient.”

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The Iroquois nations continued to use wampum to convey important messages during turbulent times, such as the French and Indian War—a string of white brought by messenger meant the sender spoke words of peace, a string of dark purple meant words of war. If the receivers agreed with the message, they kept the belt; if not, the belt was cut up.

Bead of the Realm
The value of wampum was volatile in English hands. Just 10 months before the Pequots were officially “dissolved” as a sovereign nation, the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s General Court declared that white wampum beads would pass at six to a penny as lawful payment. No mention is made of the purple beads, which were always worth more than the white ones.

Wampum was officially recognized as a currency by Massachusetts Bay Colony on October 18, 1650, and rates of exchange were formalized. Strings of eight, 24, 96 and 480 beads were valued, respectively, at one, three and 12 pence and five shillings. Purple beads were worth twice as much as the white ones. For the next 10 years the standard exchange rates for wampum was very stable.
Then, suddenly, everything changed. Trade with the West Indies grew to be more lucrative than the fur trade and European coins were being used as currency in the islands. Many of those coins eventually found their way north and into New England purses. In 1652, the Bay Colony opened the Boston Mint and in 1661 the wampum valuation law was repealed; wampum was designated as random species (value would be arbitrary dependent on individual agreement). The “triangle trade”—slaves from Africa; sugar cane, tobacco and indigo in the West Indies; cloth and other goods from Europe—became the dominant profit dynamic. The English colonial merchants shifted from the fur trade to timber and shipbuilding. The colonies manufactured molasses and rum from imported cane sugar and ironworks. Native nations, like the Pequots and Narragansetts, which were now reliant on the wampum business, had no trade good on which to fall back. The fur market was depleted and wampum lost most of its trade value.

Mass Production, After the Fact
There is scant information on who was producing wampum for the next 150 years. There is mention of an outfit in Albany, New York but no description of who was making the wampum or of how long the group was in business.

The next blip of mass production happened in 1812. John W. Campbell, son of an Irish immigrant, started the Campbell Brothers Wampum Mill in New Jersey, around 1775. His two sons and four grandsons inherited the business. Initially the family farmed during the summer and produced wampum during the winter. They purchased shells from the fish market in New York City and used West Indian conches brought in on ships as ballast. The Campbell mill sponsored quahog-shucking contests in Rockaway on Long Island in which the contestants got to keep the meat and the Campbells kept the shells. One grandson invented a drill in 1812 that quickly and precisely drilled a hole in the wampum, then used a grindstone to fashion the shape. This made production quicker than traditional hand-drilling and the mill was operating full-time and became the largest employer in the area. The mill sold strings of 50 beads, 20 strings carried 1,000 beads; 20 strings of purple equaled $5 and 20 strings of white were $2.50. The mill specialized in crafting wampum “hair pipes” that could be strung together to form breastplates and necklaces; Comanches favored the breastplates.

Fur magnate John Jacob Astor purchased wampum from the Campbell mill to use in trade with Natives around Montreal, where his American Fur Company acquired most of its lush furs. Other clients were federal Indian Agents. Between 1835 and 1866, the Campbell mill produced a million purple beads a year. Production dropped during the Civil War. By 1890 most Native nations had been placed on reservations, and the wampum boom was over.

In an ironic evolution of contemporary globalized economics, wampum beads are now being mass-produced in China. Acrylic reproduction beads sell the most—one website on Native beading explains that real wampum beads are too expensive at $5 per bead. However, indigenous artists in the Northeast are still crafting wampum jewelry from the quahog and abalone on a small scale. It’s hard not to marvel at the incredible journey of a bead made from the shell of a stationary bivalve—from sacred object to commodity to cultural icon, crossing the continent and the world, and finally returning to its starting point.

This story was originally published on  January 14, 2013.

The post From Beads to Bounty: How Wampum Became America’s First Currency—And Lost Its Power appeared first on Indian Country Media Network.

Oneida Nation to Donate Indian Country Today Media Network Assets to NCAI

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) today announced that it is assuming control of the assets of Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN), the result of a donation to the organization by the Oneida Indian Nation.

“NCAI’s Executive Officers and I are humbled by this donation from ICTMN and the Oneida Indian Nation,” said NCAI President Brian Cladoosby. “Their love for Indian country carries through their every word and has inspired our tribal communities to tell their own stories. This is an immense responsibility; NCAI will approach this responsibility thoughtfully and deliberately with an eye towards strengthening Indian country’s voice.”

ICTMN recently halted operations to evaluate its next steps in the face of unprecedented changes in the publishing industry, changes that have presented complicated challenges for every media organization across the country.

“ICTMN has been the flagship publication producing unique and original reporting about Indian country—and the Oneida Indian Nation has played a pivotal role in forging that legacy,” said NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata. “After years of strong investments, we appreciate the Oneida Nation now turning over ICTMN’s assets to our organization, and we look forward to convening meetings with key stakeholders over the next several months to construct a blueprint for how to best respectfully carry on ICTMN’s mission.”

Over the past four decades the ICTMN has evolved from a local weekly print newsletter, to a national magazine, and now an online news syndicate reporting on the ground from— and for—Indian country about the critical issues impacting Native nations and peoples in the United States and around the globe.

“When the Oneida Indian Nation decided to purchase Indian Country Today Media Network, we had a singular goal in mind: we wanted to create award-winning journalism that gives voice to Native Americans, wherever they lived. ICTMN clearly achieved that goal,” said Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter. “We know that when we leave our stories to be told only by other media outlets, those stories too often go untold—or aren’t told accurately. ICTMN proved that we do not have to sit idly by while that happens. We are very happy to be able to donate ICTMN’s assets to NCAI—an organization whose entire mission is to advocate for tribal sovereignty and treaty rights and advance a common understanding of who Native nations and peoples are today.”

During its years being supported by the Oneida Indian Nation, the organization was recognized for its groundbreaking journalism spotlighting the complex issues facing Native nations and communities, earning several prestigious awards—30 alone in 2017 from the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA); multiple Clarion Awards; and individual awards and grants to contributors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Herb Block Prize for cartooning, USC’s Annenberg Center, and the Playboy Foundation.

Additional information will be shared as we move forward in the coming months on both ICTMN and NCAI platforms. For questions email NCAI at

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Nammy 2017 Special Performances Include Gary Farmer and Joseph FireCrow Tribute

There will be a great selection of special performances and celebrations this year when Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino hosts the 17th Annual Native American Music Awards on Saturday, October 14th.

The Native American Music Awards (Nammys) is the world’s largest awards show dedicated to Native American musicians, and this year, special performances on the schedule include Shakopee Sioux vocalist Josh Halverson, who made serious waves on The Voice television show.

In addition to Halverson, actor and musician Gary Farmer will be given a lifetime achievement award as well as perform on the Nammys’ stage live as Gary Farmer and the Troublemakers.

There will also be a special musical tribute to the late GRAMMY winning Native artist Joseph FireCrow.


The Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino is hosting the 17th Annual Native American Music Awards on Saturday, October 14th.


Joseph Firecrow and band at the 6th Native American Music Awards in 2003

The 2017  Native American Music Awards will be hosted by Ernie Stevens, Jr. the Chairman and national spokesperson for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) in Washington, D.C.

The awards show is put on by the Native American Music Association, which started the Native American Music Awards to promote greater cultural understanding and a revival of Native American music and culture.

Courtesy Native American Music Awards

The stars will shine when Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino hosts the 17th Annual Native American Music Awards on Saturday, October 14th.

According to organizer Ellen Bello on the Nammy’s website, “Our recordings span from historical initiatives to present-day questions for the great leaders, and [to] Native youth speaking louder than ever with their powerful raps about their poignant plights, armed with a spirit of undaunted perseverance. No other organization can reflect such an impressive and diverse array of talent and soundscapes from all ages and tribal nations throughout the Americas.” For complete details and show information, visit

Tickets are now on sale. Look for the special “Me Plus 3 Offer” available at  If you buy 3 tickets, you get one free. Tickets start at $15.

Follow the Nammy’s on Twitter @NativeAwards

Visit their Facebook page at

Visit their YouTube Channel at

The Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino.

About The Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino

The Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino is just minutes from the world-famous Niagara Falls in Western New York, near the Canadian border. The property is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Guests can enjoy 147,000 square feet of gaming space with more than 3,600 slot machines and 90 table games, the all new Pulse Arena/STIR-the area’s ultimate high-energy electronic table games, Blackjack Party Pit, and feature bar with live entertainment, signature cocktails, and a stunning 43-foot high-definition video wall.

The property also has 10 restaurants, live entertainment, a AAA Four Diamond Award-winning, 26-story hotel that has 604 deluxe rooms and suites, a spa and salon, fitness center and an indoor pool.

More info is available at 1-877-8-SENECA (1-877-873-6322) or

Facebook: Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino

Twitter: @SenecaCasinos


Download our mobile app, view us on YouTube and use the hashtag #SenecaNiagara to connect with us on social media.

Follow Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) – ICMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wows and Sports Editor Follow @VinceSchilling

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Trauma May Be Woven Into DNA of Native Americans

Trauma is big news these days. Mainstream media is full of stories about the dramatic improvements allowing science to see more clearly how trauma affects our bodies, minds and even our genes. Much of the coverage hails the scientific connection between trauma and illness as a breakthrough for modern medicine. The next breakthrough will be how trauma affects our offspring.

The science of epigenetics, literally “above the gene,” proposes that we pass along more than DNA in our genes; it suggests that our genes can carry memories of trauma experienced by our ancestors and can influence how we react to trauma and stress. The Academy of Pediatrics reports that the way genes work in our bodies determines neuroendocrine structure and is strongly influenced by experience. [Neuroendocrine cells help the nervous and endocrine (hormonal) system work together to produce substances such as adrenaline (the hormone associated with the fight or flight response.] Trauma experienced by earlier generations can influence the structure of our genes, making them more likely to “switch on” negative responses to stress and trauma.

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Download our free report, Intergenerational Trauma: Understanding Natives’ Inherited Pain, to understand this fascinating concept.

In light of this emerging science and how it works with the way we react to trauma, the AAP stated in its publication, Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Lifelong Consequences of Trauma, “Never before in the history of medicine have we had better insight into the factors that determine the health of an individual from infancy to adulthood, which is part of the life course perspective—a way of looking at life not as disconnected stages but as integrated across time,” according to the AAP in their recent publication examining the role of Adverse Childhood Experience (ACES) on our development and health. The now famous 1998 ACES study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente showed that such adverse experiences could contribute to mental and physical illness.

“Native healers, medicine people and elders have always known this and it is common knowledge in Native oral traditions,” according to LeManuel “Lee” Bitsoi, Navajo, PhD Research Associate in Genetics at Harvard University. (Courtesy SACNAS)

Folks in Indian country wonder what took science so long to catch up with traditional Native knowledge. “Native healers, medicine people and elders have always known this and it is common knowledge in Native oral traditions,” according to LeManuel “Lee” Bitsoi, Navajo, PhD Research Associate in Genetics at Harvard University during his presentation at the Gateway to Discovery conference in 2013.

According to Bitsoi, epigenetics is beginning to uncover scientific proof that intergenerational trauma is real. Historical trauma, therefore, can be seen as a contributing cause in the development of illnesses such as PTSD, depression and type 2 diabetes.

What exactly is historical or intergenerational trauma? Michelle M. Sotero, an instructor in Health Care Administration and Policy at the University of Nevada, offers a three-fold definition. In the initial phase, the dominant culture perpetrates mass trauma on a population in the form of colonialism, slavery, war or genocide. In the second phase the affected population shows physical and psychological symptoms in response to the trauma. In the final phase, the initial population passes these responses to trauma to subsequent generations, who in turn display similar symptoms.

According to researchers, high rates of addiction, suicide, mental illness, sexual violence and other ills among Native peoples might be, at least in part, influenced by historical trauma. Bonnie Duran, associate professor in the Department of Health Services at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Director for Indigenous Health Research at the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute says, “Many present-day health disparities can be traced back through epigenetics to a “colonial health deficit,” the result of colonization and its aftermath.”

According to the American Indian and Alaska Native Genetics Research Guide created by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), studies have shown that various behavior and health conditions are due to inherited epigenetic changes.

Authors of the guide refer to a 2008 study by Moshe Szyf at McGill University in Montreal that examined the brains of suicide victims. Szyf and his team found that genes governing stress response in the victim’s hippocampus had been methylated or switched off. Excessive trauma causes us to produce hormones called glucocorticoids which can alter gene expression. Chronic exposure to this hormone can inhibit genes in the hippocampus ability to regulate glucocorticoids. Szyf suggested that the genes were switched off in response to a series of events, such as abuse during childhood. All victims in the study were abused as children.

Nature or Nurture? It’s Both!

Szyf, in collaboration with another scientist at McGill, Neurobiologist Michael Meaney, did research showing a significant difference in the hippocampus between adults rats raised by attentive and inattentive mothers. Adult offspring of inattentive rat mothers showed genes regulating sensitivity to stress to be highly methylated. The rats with attentive moms did not.

To test their research they switched the parents for rat babies born to bad and good mothers. The babies born to attentive moms but given to inattentive moms also developed highly methylated genes and grew to be skittish adults. The opposite proved true for babies born to bad moms but given to good moms. As adults the rat babies born to bad moms but raised by good mothers appeared calm.

This research seems to combine the historically polarizing theory of nature versus nurture in determining behavior. Nature is that which is inherited while nurture is the environmental influences.

Native researcher Teresa Brockie PhD, Research Nurse Specialist at the National Institute of Health suggests that such gene methylation is linked to health disparities among Native Americans. In her article in Nursing and Research and Practice, she and her research colleagues note that high ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experience) scores have been linked to methylation of genes that regulate the stress response. They further noted that endocrine and immune disorders are also linked to methylation of such genes.

The researchers found that Native peoples have high rates of ACE’s and health problems such as posttraumatic stress, depression and substance abuse, diabetes all linked with methylation of genes regulating the body’s response to stress. “The persistence of stress associated with discrimination and historical trauma converges to add immeasurably to these challenges,” the researchers wrote.

Since there is a dearth of studies examining these findings, the researchers stated they were unable to conclude a direct cause between epigenetics and high rates of certain diseases among Native Americans.

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Download our free report, Intergenerational Trauma: Understanding Natives’ Inherited Pain, to understand this fascinating concept.

One of researchers, Dr. Jessica Gill, Principal Investigator, Brain Injury Unit, Division of Intramural Research, National Institute of Nursing Research wrote in response to questions to the NIH’s public affairs office, “Epigenetic studies provide a unique opportunity to characterize the long-term impact of stressors including historical trauma on the function of genes. The modification of gene function through epigenetic modifications can greatly impact the health of the individual and may underlie some of the health disparities that we observe in populations including Native Americans. This line of research is of great promise for nurse scientists, as it will be instrumental in the promotion of the health and well-being of patients impacted by trauma and stress.”

Although epigenetics offers the hope of creating better and more specific medicines and interventions for mental health problems, it also suggests the notion that Native peoples and other ethnic groups may be genetically inferior.

Researchers such as Shannon Sullivan, professor of philosophy at UNC Charlotte, suggests in her article “Inheriting Racist Disparities in Health: Epigenetics and the Transgenerational Effects of White Racism,” that the science has faint echoes of eugenics, the social movement claiming to improve genetic features of humans through selective breeding and sterilization.

Inherited Resilience

Epigenetics is indeed a hot topic, and pharmaceutical companies are actively searching for epigenetic compounds that will help with learning and memory and help treat depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Many researchers caution, however, that the new science may be getting ahead of itself. “There is a lot of research that needs to be done before we will understand whether and how these processes work,” says Joseph Gone, professor at the University of Michigan and member of the Gros Ventre tribe of Montana.

Scientific developments such as epigenetics can offer exciting new insights not only into how our bodies react not only to trauma but also how we manage to survive it.

Native peoples ability to maintain culture and sense of who they are in the face of such a traumatic history suggests an inherited resilience that bears scientific examination as well, according to Gone.

Isolating and nurturing a resilience gene may well be on the horizon.

This project is made possible by support from The Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism and Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, University of Southern California;  the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism.

This story was originally published on May 28, 2015.

The post Trauma May Be Woven Into DNA of Native Americans appeared first on Indian Country Media Network.

Scalping In America

Scalping has long been a sensitive topic in the history of this country. The books, newspapers, magazines and films about Indians have almost always said Indians scalped their victims, but almost never did the whites scalp Indians. The opposite is true; both sides killed and scalped each other. After digging into it for my next book, “Indian Massacres in the U.S.,” I have found something much closer to the truth; both Indians and whites scalped each other, but whites got paid for it. Whites also did it to help the colonial legislature achieve their goal to exterminate all Indians and control their land in the budding United States.

Scalping was over 2,000 years old in Europe. Herodotus wrote in 440 B.C. that the Scythian soldiers scalped their dead enemies, softened them, and used them as napkins. The Scyths lived in the Black Sea area of Europe.

Scalping in England preceded the settlement of North America by at least four centuries. The Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwine, scalped his enemies as early as the 11th century, bringing the scalps back from battle to prove they were dead.

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Gov. Charles Lawrence of Canada issued a resolution calling for scalping in 1756 against the Micmac and other Indians. His proclamation said:

And, we do hereby promise, by and with the consent of His Majesty’s Council, a reward of 30 pounds for every live male Indian prisoner, above the age of sixteen years, brought in alive; or for a scalp of such male Indian twenty-five pounds, and twenty-five pounds for every Indian woman or child brought in alive: Such rewards to be paid by the Officer commanding at any of His Majesty’s Forts in this Province, immediately upon receiving the Prisoners or Scalps above mentioned, according to the intent and meaning of this Proclamation.

This proclamation is still on the books. A motion in 2008 to reverse it did not pass. However, the Canadian government says it is not in effect.

Hannah Dustin, the first woman in the United States honored with a statue, was honored for scalping Indians. The statue shows her holding Indian scalps in her left hand and can be seen in Boscawen, New Hampshire.

Craig Michaud/Wikipedia Commons

This statue of Hannah Dustin (or Duston, Dustan or Durstan) stands on the island in Boscawen, New Hampshire. She was honored for scalping Native Americans.

The Dutch governor of Manhattan, Willem Kieft, offered the first bounty in North America for Indian scalps in 1641, only 21 years after the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock. The Massachusetts Bay Colony first offered $60 per Indian scalp in 1703. The English and the French introduced scalping to Indians. The governors of the colonies instituted scalping as a way for one Indian tribe to help them eliminate another tribe, and to have colonists eliminate as many Indians as possible. In an article for The American Historical Review, Benjamin Madley wrote in 2015, “Policymakers offered bounties for Native American heads or scalps in at least twenty-three states of their colonial, territorial, or Mexican antecedents.”

The New Hampshire legislature authorized scalping Indians in 1724, paying 100 pounds for each male scalp turned in. Women’s scalps typically brought half of what men’s scalps did, and children’s scalps brought half of women’s. But white men got paid for bringing in the scalp of a 10-year-old Indian child. As the most racist killers, Col. John Chivington, said before ordering the attack on peaceful Cheyenne on the banks of Sand Creek: “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians. Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”

It was better to kill an Indian child than to let him grow up and kill you.

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The infamous Paxton Boys killed and scalped 20 Indians in Pennsylvania in 1763. Even though Benjamin Franklin wrote a broadside attacking them, nothing was ever done to punish the killers. They had killed the last living members of the Conestoga Tribe. Colonials also killed and scalped Indians in Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, California, New Mexico, and other states. Indians returned the favor, killing and scalping white people in as many states.

Mexico had its own bounty laws on Indian scalps. In 1837, the Mexican state of Chihuahua passed a law offering a bounty on Indian scalps. Indian men brought $100, Indian women brought $50, and Indian children brought $25. A hard working plainsman might work all year and not make $100, so the reward for Indian scalps was high. Apache and Comanche Indians were both popular with scalp hunters. One bounty hunter in 1847 claimed 487 Apache scalps, according to Madley’s article.

John Glanton, an outlaw who made a fortune scalping Indians in Mexico, was caught turning in scalps and ran back to the U.S. before he was caught. He and his outlaw gang had collected over 500 scalps, which in today’s money would make them almost millionaires. The Yuma Indians killed him in 1850, and ironically scalped him.

In 1814, Indians killed seven members of the Moore family in Illinois and scalped all of them. Miner John James Johnson and his companions killed and scalped 20 Apache Indians in 1837 during the Johnson Arizona Massacre. The Mimbres Apache chief Juan Jose Compa was one of those killed. The great Apache chief Mangas Coloradas (“Red Sleeves”) may have been present and it turned his heart against the Americans for the next 30 years. He was captured and placed on a fort in New Mexico and shot and killed when he tried to escape.

John Hart, one of the Fannin County Rangers determined to take Texas from Mexico and make it part of the U.S., killed and scalped three Caddo Indians in Texas in 1838. Major Mark Lewis and his men killed and scalped four Comanche Indians on the Llano River in 1841 and collected the bounty on them from the state of Texas. Indians killed and scalped three men in Kansas during the Fort Mann Massacre in 1847.

Kit Carson, perhaps one of the most famous guides and mountain men, also scalped several Indians in his career, which took him all over the West. He scalped his first Indian when he was 19 years old. But he also married an Arapaho Indian woman, Singing Grass, and had a daughter with her before she died.

My book has dozens of instances of scalping recorded in it, and the book is not yet complete. I estimate it will have information about 2,200 to 2,300 massacres when it is done.

Altogether, the record shows that there were more Indians who scalped white people than there were white people who scalped Indians. But the abomination lies on both sides. There is still a question in my mind about who originated it in the U.S., but I believe it was Europeans who brought it with them.

Dr. Dean Chavers is Director of Catching the Dream, a national scholarship organization for Native American college students. The organization’s most successful student last year won 65 scholarships to attend Stanford University without any loans. His last book was “Reading for College,” an annotated bibliography of books students should read to prepare them for college. Contact him at

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