2017-11-09 / Voices

History and Native American Heritage Month


This month, the U.S. is supposed to honor American Indians, or Native Americans. If we look at the Culture area we are in, we are in the Great Plains Culture Area according to an amazing book titled, American Indian Contributions to the World: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations by Emory D. Keoke and Kay M. Porterfield, published in 2003.

As we think about how the U.S. can honor us; whether we want to admit it or not, the U.S. colonized us, the way the English colonized India or Africa. The same European methods were used on us. We are still colonized. If you look at the B.I.A. system, the same way that the English put brown-skinned people they handselected, to continue their system of government, the same is done to us.

We talk about “decolonizing” ourselves; what does it really mean? Maybe a start is to remember our cultural contributions. The biggest contribution is land. We have managed to keep small areas, but nothing compared to our original homelands.

In their book Keoke and Porterfield show a cultural map where the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people had occupied the territory from Lake Superior to the Big Horn Mountains.

The foods in the eastern part of this area were not just buffalo, but wild rice for the Dakota, who harvested only what they needed and left the rest to seed. Some even weeded their rice fields to increase the yield. A quarter of their diet was wild rice.

The Dakota would compete with the Anishinabe for control of the wild rice in the lakes in Minnesota. The Dakota women harvested the rice using canoes. They were known to carry their canoes as easily as the Lakota relied on the horse. The way they harvested the rice was to tie it into sheaves two weeks before; then they cut the sheaves and knocked the rice grains from them.

They sometimes ate the green rice, but dried the rest in a frame over a lowburning fire. The rice was parched so that the husk could be removed. For the Dakota women, it was labor intensive but their intent was to dry it for storage. So they placed it in a wooden container and pounded it with long handle wood poles to remove the husks; then they put it into birch-bark trays and tossed it into the air. It was then stored for future use.

Once, non-Indians discovered wild rice as a “gourmet” food, they overharvested it. Today, only traditional American Indian methods of harvesting wild rice are allowed. What you see in stores today is farmed commercially by farmers who flood the rice fields and harvest them using flotation combines.

For the Dakota, since 1862, when they were removed west of the Missouri; away from their homeland “Mnisota”, reclaiming wild-rice harvesting is important. In 1862, the Santee leader Little Crow led rebellion against the Indian agent who said, “Let them eat grass” when the Dakota people were starving; annuities had not been paid for land taken from them in Mni-sota. This resulted in the deaths of more than 700 whites in the area; it was then that President Abraham Lincoln sentenced 38 Dakota to be hanged on December 26, 1862 in Mankato, MN. It was the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

As a people, the territory from the Great Lakes to the Big Horn mountains required that our ancestors adapt to the many environments that they sustained themselves in. For us to learn more,we need to continually ask about our original territories and not the small reservations we were put in. That requires a decolonized mindset. We must encourage it in ourselves and for our youth so that they know, what a national heritage their people represent when all is said and done.

Delphine Red Shirt:

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