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Ancestral Lands
Peter Nabokov

Catlin's Contribution

But Catlin was also a person of history, coming in at a historical time. So all the Indians of the far West that he met were relatively, and I use that word carefully, relatively untouched and in their original homelands. Peoples of the Southeastern United States, however, such as the Seminole—and he drew Osceola, the Chief of the Seminole—and other tribes were undergoing strains of removal, of forced removal by the United States government, of combat with the United States government.

So he was encountering Indians in many different degrees of what sometimes is called assimilation into Euro-American society; resistance to Euro-American society. Still and all, we are so fortunate that his pictures of Indian apparel, his paintings of ball games with hundreds of players on the field, his depictions of the earth lodge communities along the middle Missouri, of the Mandan people, give us a glimpse of many different lifestyles that we would never have otherwise.

Encounter of Indians and Whites: Neighborliness

Indians and Whites from the East Coast to the West have shared a number of role relationships. And although I'm the last person to try to generalize about Indian experiences, we do see a sequence of role relationships unfolding over time in the East Coast and we see a repeat of that unfolding in the Prairie–Plains area. We see it happening in the Southwest all the way to California. And the sequence can be seen as something, as the following.

Their Indian prophecies, which may be retroactive prophecies created after the contact with Euro-Americans, made so as to rationalize and make understandable the coming of Whites. We see brief periods of neighborliness, which often involved trade relations, in which, initially—and this is not adequately appreciated—Indian society really benefits. It benefited from the horse, benefits from glass beads, benefits from metals, there is a window of time when it looks as if many of the technological aspirations and dreams of Indian society are actually getting a boost, and Indian creativity in the arts and crafts surges.

Encounter of Indians and Whites: Contested Lands

Fairly soon after that in the Colonial Period, the might of Europe shows itself in competing for Indian resources, for land, for animals, and for souls, and so whether you have missionaries, or whether you have traders or whether you have diplomats starting colonies, suddenly the pressure now is on tribes and their backs are against the wall. And they are starting to see danger in the offing. With the completion of the colonial wars and the ascendance of the fledgling United States of America, there's one power, an aggressive power. And you have populations beginning to develop in the states, pushing Indians out of their homelands.

And this begins another set of role relationships. Indians and the military; that is, the sort of arm that is providing muscle for removals of various sorts. Some tribes on the East Coast undergo 150 years of removal. The Delaware, for example, ending up in Oklahoma, after 150 years of push and tug. The Kickapoo of Wisconsin ultimately ending up in Old Mexico, which ironically in the kind of flip side of the Pilgrims' Drama, beseeched Mexico for religious freedom. And then we have a period of time of antagonism and warfare. The role relationship is that of warrior to warrior. And whether it's for a brief period of time or for an extended period of time, the net result is generally the same—conquest.

Enounter of Indians and Whites: Transformation

And following conquest, the question in the mind of the United States government is whether to exterminate them, or whether to allow some sort of assimilation or transformation, to transform them into good little White men and women who are farming, who are going to church, who have short hair, and who organize themselves around nuclear families and in townships. No longer in tribes, no longer wearing buckskins; no longer wearing long hair, no longer hunting and farming in their old traditional styles; no longer living in their traditional houses; no longer speaking their own languages; no longer praying to their own gods; no longer utilizing their own homelands. And this is a major shock to the cultural system. And I actually should say to the cultural systems of American Indian peoples.

Pipestone Quarry: A Sacred Site

We think that prior to the sort of takeover of the Minnesota area by the rather powerful nations of the Lakota and Dakota peoples, that a number of tribes had access to this place. George Catlin tells us that it was a neutral area. That it was an area where there was no fighting. It was supposed to be a zone of peace. After— in the latter years of the 1700s, the Sioux did seem to claim exclusive dominion here at the site, and we know that when Minnesota Territory was created in 1849, shortly thereafter there was a concern for the United States government to have treaties with Indians in the region.

At that time the Yanktons claimed this part of the state, of southwestern Minnesota, and the Treaty of 1851 was to cede lands, to acquire lands from the local Indian peoples, which would include the quarry. But the Yankton tribe did not go along with this treaty and actually refused a lot of money in the form of presents for this land. Finally in 1858, the reservation, Pipestone Reservation, was created. But the Yanktons were to retain the rights to use this place. However, as often happens in the history of Indian locations, squatters come in illegally squatting on the land, and not only squatters, but as you often find, and I've known this to happen in other parts of Indian America, the railroad comes in. And the railroad is not going to be stopped. So in 1884, we have the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Falls, and Northwestern Railway Company building a railway across this reservation without any permit, and while squatters are removed by the U.S. Government, still there's a concern by the Indians to recover damage from the railroad company; to get exclusive right to be able to use the quarry; and in the courts, the battle rages for a number of years all the way up until 1926 when the Supreme Court holds the government liable, finally, to compensate the Yankton people for the lands that were illegally taken from them. Now mind you, not to return the lands, because Pipestone has an Indian school by this time, which is flourishing from the 1880s roughly until 1952, actually, so there's that that exists. It's not going to be returned, but the Yankton people will be compensated for it. Any time, of course, any of this enters the courts, we learn a lot in terms of background information, and so I'd like to read you what some of the Yankton people said in 1926 when they testified about the importance of this place.

Philip Deloria on Pipestone, 1926

I am reading to you from the deposition of Philip Deloria, who would be the grandfather of Vine Deloria, the writer.

"Question. What was the Indian ritual or ceremony that they performed when they went [to Pipestone]?

"Answer. Our forefathers, when they went to the Pipestone Quarry, would pray in their own way. They would meet at this Pipestone Quarry and would pray to God and while there they would take various valuables, probably rings, looking glasses, and various kinds of things and leave them there as an offering.

"Question. What was the mythology about the Pipestone Quarry that endeared it to the Yanktons? . . . What did the Yanktons think made the stone red?

"Answer. I heard a story about that. Once upon a time there was a big war and the Indians all over the country fought, and there was much blood shed, and it is believed that all this blood sunk into the ground and flowed and united there at this Pipestone Quarry and made this rock red and that is the reason they value it very much.

"Question. Is it not true that when the Yanktons' lips touched the pipestone they feel it is a sacred thing because it is the blood of these departed people?

"Answer. Yes, that was the only thing that kept the Indians straight. And that was really something like their Bible. If I would ask you to throw away your Bible what would you do?"

(From the Supreme Court Brief for the United States (October Term, 1926), The Yankton Sioux Tribe of Indians, Petitioner, v. The United States, pp. 147–49)

And I think that — and there are many quotes in this magnificent set of affidavits — suggests the deep profound emotional tie to particular locations like Pipestone. There are rocks here which stand for two old women who are wise and guided the tribe. There are locations that are gone now that referred to other aspects of Indian oral narrative. And probably there are stories that we have that are competing stories because in this unusual location we have the interests of multiple tribes who found this stone that could be so easily carved into this lovely burnished rock pipe bowls. Then you make a long stem for that bowl. Then you smoke. Let us say you want to establish a moment of equal feeling, equal standing between antagonists, between enemies. You smoke the pipe. The smoke combines the prayers and goodwill of both parties. One watches the smoke rise to heaven. You're collaborating and communicating spiritually on the horizontal level and then, of course, as the smoke rises you're communicating on the vertical level with the powers that be, establishes a powerful aura, mood, and sense of sanctity and the potential for building a new kind of relationship. And I think that relationship is what Indians use these pipes for. In the photographs we have, and in the paintings of George Catlin, again and again we see men—dignitaries, people of importance—carrying their pipes, holding their pipe bags, picking their tobacco very carefully, blending tobacco. There's even a suggestion that the very ingredients of the tobacco or ingredients from different countries, different parts of the landscape that are also combined in the smoke. So this is a place of extreme sanctity and when we think about the peace pipe, which has become a bit of a stereotype and a cliché where Indians are concerned, and when we hear again and again of the requirement that American Indian diplomats, when they're going to have a meeting with white commissioners, require that the affair begin by smoking the pipe, maybe now we have a little better understanding of how that created a evident sacral atmosphere so that the best could happen out of the meeting. And the ingredients for that encounter happened here.

Forced Removal and the Trail of Tears

In the 1830s came the climax to a building momentum in the southeastern United States for the wholesale eviction of Indian peoples from the region. The finding of gold in Georgia, the desire, the hunger, the lust of planters for more and more land for cotton, meant that the Indians who had established themselves and their farms and who were emulating the Euro-American way of life, who had established schools, who had established printing presses, who had established their own courts, who had established their own constitutions so that they could live in harmony in the American way in the Southeast, their hopes were dashed as the removal laws were signed by President Andrew Jackson. And wholesale, tribes like the Creek, and the Cherokee, and the Choctaw, and the Chickasaw and the Yuchi and the Seminole were moved West. Not all of them. Some hid out. Some resisted by other means, but the bulk of those tribes crossed the Mississippi and were given lands in today's Oklahoma.

For peoples who had been living in the region for thousands of years, who are the descendants of the Mound Builder cultures that were encountered by De Soto in the sixteenth century, this was a heartbreak beyond belief. And the story that you mentioned — the story I actually found from a Choctaw writer, a Mr. Dickinson, who described in one village — this story was passed on in his family of the women before they departed walking around the village, caressing the leaves of the trees, as if they were saying goodbye to their own relatives. We have many stories like this. The Cherokee tell many stories of the anguish that they suffered leaving their homelands east of the Mississippi, undertaking the long treks, the Trail of Tears, the place where they cried in their language, losing members along the way, a Creek boat, capsizing in the Mississippi, three hundred people dying or more. This was a terrible time.

And I should add, by the way, that we often times associate the story of removal with the Southeastern tribes, but that's a little bit of an error because they're not the only American Indian peoples who endured removal. I live in Southern California. Indians were removed in Southern California as well. Indians were removed in central California. Indians were removed in Oregon. Indians were removed in Montana. Indians were removed in New Mexico and Arizona. We know the Navajo, virtually the entire tribe, were removed for four years, lost a quarter of their number in the process. So the sort of theme of forced removal from a homeland and the inability to return to that homeland is a repeated story again and again from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

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