Tag Archives: Dakota

The World is a Classroom: Stone Circles and Cairns

I’ve been asked (and privileged) to give a brief, short talk tomorrow in northwestern North Dakota on how to identify stone circles (often called tipi rings) and stone cairns. I will open by chatting about what meaning stone circles and cairns have to my friends, and I’ll probably mention a great friend Dakota Goodhouse, and one of his great-great uncles, Rain-in-the-Face (this is a magnificent attention getter by the way). Unsolicited universal observation: one doesn’t have to be within the halls of the academy or in a college or university to learn and teach. I kind of think of the world as a conversational classroom and lectern. It is only formalized when we’re in said classroom. Okay. That’s all. Carry on.


Three Dakota Words

Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon I sit in on and learn a bit more of the Dakota language with Dr. Clifford Canku (pronounced “chan-ku”), Dakota elder and professor of Dakota language at North Dakota State University (NDSU). The classroom setting is both structured and informal, and it has been incredible thus far. By this I mean eye-opening, as in language is the epitome of culture. It is the way we perceive of and describe our world. To understand a culture and its history requires us to understand the language. It’s a basic rule but it bears repeating.

On Tuesday Canku instructed our small student squad to select 10 Dakota words in which non-Dakota/Lakota/Nakota speakers have difficulty enunciating. Here are three from my selection, all of which begin with the letter č. This is a hard c, making a kind of “ch” noise. Also, you can always consult and listen to Canku going through the Dakota alphabet at this link here, too.

čáǧa (v.n.), to freeze, or become ice.

čantiŋ’za (v.n.), to be of good courage. — side note: this might be required to endure the season of čáǧa.

čanza’ni (v.n), to be well in heart; to be tranquil; or of good cheer. — again, see side note above.


Welk Homestead and German-Russian Interest

The spike in blog visits resulted from a post on the State Historical Society of North Dakota's acquisition of the German-Russian Lawrence Welk homestead in Emmons County, North Dakota.

The spike in visits to my personal blog resulted from a post on the German-Russian Lawrence Welk homestead in Emmons County, North Dakota.

Just a couple days ago I looked at the blogging stats for a short piece I did on the Welk Homestead, this posted on January 21, 2014. I know that I’m interested in local history the world over, meaning that wherever I go, I want to know what happened before. But I also know that just because I’m interested in something doesn’t mean others are interested in it too. In the case of the Welk Homestead, though, and in the case of this blog (which, at this point in time, has a regular audience of 46), the number of views skyrocketed when I made some historical links between Welk and the German-Russians, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota acquiring the homestead.

Over at NDSU’s Center for Heritage Renewal and the Heritage Trails Facebook page, we’ve been chatting about the styles of various German-Russian vernacular architecture in North Dakota. On January 21, I posted my Welk/German-Russian blog to the Heritage Trails Facebook page, and this generated some feedback. It went like this, a comparative conversation between a German-Russian home north of Kulm, LaMoure County, southeastern North Dakota and that of the Hutmacher Complex just southwest of Killdeer, Dunn County, west-central North Dakota.

Janinne Paulson: “Great photo, Aaron!”

Suzzanne Kelley: “Interesting that this [Kulm] family added the L-porch, as did the Hutmachers [near Killdeer]. We’ve found that the porch corners created problems for maintaining the roof structure; here, they have TWO places for problems with erosion from convergent lines of run-off. Just wondering how that worked for them.”

Aaron Barth: “Was the L-porch used as a separate mud room, and perhaps as the initial entry to keep the cold out of the main home in the winter?”

Suzzanne Kelley: “Yes, which I suppose is what made the addition not only viable but necessary, despite the pitfalls of seaming an addition onto the original structure.”

Aaron Barth: “Not freezing to death is probably better than a leaky roof.”

Tom Isern: “OK, I just now studied this photo, and it’s evident this [Kulm] dwelling has an earthen roof, like the Hutmacher house, except this one uses some milled lumber for rafters. Also, it appears to me the earthen roof is composed of sods. This is different from what we tried with restoration of the Hutmacher roof. Recently we acquired evidence indicating that sods indeed were used in the Hutmacher case. So now we have to explore that further, and, I suspect, recalibrate. Also, I think Suzzanne is being kind, as usual. I think the L built onto the long house is a design mistake, vernacular though it may be, sure to cause water problems eventually.”

Aaron Barth: “We need an NSF grant to let someone live in the Hutmacher and a German-Russian east Missouri River home for a year and a half. I’m only 23% kidding…”

Richard Rothaus: “TV series.”

The temps in North Dakota, while we were (and still are) blogging and social-media-ing about this, have been sustained sub-zero, described by international meteorologists as some kind of Polar Vortexing. We don’t let the weather discourage us. But it does make us think about how 19th century inhabitants of the northern Great Plains survived, perceived of, described and thrived during the winters. Earthen homes are excellent for this, though, whether Dakota, Lakota, Nakota, Mandan-Hidatsa, or German-Russian. Want to learn how folks survived in pre-industrial times? Listen to the local history.


Dakota for Blizzard: Icamnatanka

Since it is snowing now and we’re bracing for a blizzard on the northern Steppes of North America, it seems appropriate to look at and unpack the Dakota word for these storm systems. Dakota, after all, was one of the original languages of the Dakotas and Minnesota.

Blizzard in Dakota is icamnatanka, prounced roughly as ih-cha-mnah-tan-ka. In the case of icamnatanka, the word is a combination of two slightly smaller Dakota words. The first is icamna, which means “to blow, bluster, storm, drive, as wind and snow.” Mna in the word icamna is related to yumna. The yu in yumna expresses causation in some way. Thus the entire word yumna denotes a causation that means to rip a seam with scissors, or to rip a seam in anyway by pulling.

The second word in icamnatanka might be a bit more familiar. The word tanka means large or great. It is easy by now to see how icamnatanka comes to denote blizzard. It is a large or great blowing, blustering storm driven by wind. And mna is a word also connected to ripping at the seams. If we use our historical imaginations, we can envision a Dakota, Lakota or Nakota on the northern Great Plains in what we know today as early December. When an icamnatanka would strike, this blizzard would indeed bluster and blow snow through or rip at any kind of seam, whether in a tipi, earth lodge or through the seam of a hide-garment.

I posted a short version of this to social media the other day and a good friend, Dakota Goodhouse, texted me and said, “The Lakota use ichamna for snow storm or blizzard too, but use Iwoblu for severe blizzard.” The variations in language are mind-blowing. In the paraphrased words of John K. Cox at North Dakota State University, to learn a second language means that one learns to grow the other half of their brain. This is true.

Anyhow, as I continue the joyous struggle to learn second languages, it has always seemed to make more sense to me when individual words are unpacked. And by “joyous struggle” I mean just that: learning languages, at least for myself, is difficult. But I’m up for the task. To understand another word and language is to begin to understand another culture. Language is so very connected to culture, and is the way a culture describes itself, immediate surroundings, and the world. When one opens a language they open up a new way of seeing yesteryear, today, and even tomorrow.

The unpacking of icamnatanka came by way of help from one of Clifford Canku‘s Dakota Language I worksheets, and A Dakota-English Dictionary by Stephen R. Riggs (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992). Riggs started developing the dictionary in the 1830s with Samuel W. and Gideon H. Pond, and Thomas S. Williamson. They worked directly with Michael Renville, David Grey Cloud, James Garvie, and Walking Elk, a Yankton tribal leader.

This blog entry has been cross-posted at North Dakota State University’s Center for Heritage Renewal here and here.


Memory and Remembrance in New Zealand

Explaining the various locations of the Dakota, Nakota and Lakota on the northern Great Plains, North America, to the Kiwi and Aussie attendees at the New Zealand Historical Association biennial conference on November 21, 2013, at University of Otago, Dunedin, south island New Zealand. A New Zealand scholar later said he was fascinated by this because he'd never seen such a map. This meant to me that another global knowledge-transfer had been achieved. This map comes from Mark Diedrich, "Mni Wakan Oyate (Spirit Lake Nation): A History of the Sisituwan, Wahpeton, Pabaska, and Other Dakota That Settled at Spirit Lake, North Dakota" (Fort Totten, North Dakota: Cankdeska Cikana College Publishing, 2007), 47.

Explaining the various locations of the Dakota, Nakota and Lakota on the northern Great Plains, North America at the New Zealand Historical Association biennial conference on November 21, 2013, at University of Otago, New Zealand.

Before I head off to another day of conference papers this morning, I thought I’d do a short recap of the session I attended and presented in yesterday afternoon, representing North Dakota State University and the Center for Heritage Renewal here at the University of Otago, the southern-most university in all the world.

Each presenter has 10-15 minutes to work with, and this is always the challenge of presenting: it’s how to communicate a rather complex idea to an audience — in this case on the other side of the world — using the allotted time parameters. My talk must have resonated with the other attendees and presenters, including George Davis and John Moremon (we chatted a bit after the talk).

I got what I came for, too: my goal was two-fold, the first to present a case-study history on one US-Dakota site of memory and mourning on the northern Great Plains (complete with the history of “official” and counter-official remembrance), and then ask Maori and Kiwi scholars to direct me to various sites of remembrance that resulted from the 19th century British-Maori wars. Of the latter, these conversations are continuing, so I’ll round out this blog post so I can get to those said conversations today.

My presentation was followed by George Davis, who considered the remembrance of ANZAC Day memorials, or how memory groups conceive of the physical and mental landscapes, in this case relative to the First World War. And the final presenter came from Aussie John Moremon, who considered how the Aussie and New Zealand government helped (or didn’t help) WWII veteran Calvin Coghill’s relatives through the grieving processes after finding out that Calvin had been killed in action in the European Theatre. Geoff Watson chaired our panel discussion, dutifully keeping all of us within our time limits.

George Davis explains the symbolism of the memorial wreath of ANZAC day.

George Davis explains the symbolism of the memorial wreath of ANZAC day.


Humanities Updates from the Northern Great Plains

CHRBefore this morning gets away from me, I thought I’d provide two humanities updates taking place in the great state of North Dakota, central North America. The first is a link-reference to the progress of our Punk Archaeology manuscript; and the second concerns the official press release from NDSU’s Center for Heritage Renewal on our continued Dakota book discussions. Of this latter, the discussions bring together the public and scholars to consider the Dakota Conflict and the subsequent punitive campaigns from 1862-1864, and where we, Native and non-Native relations, are today.

For more details, check out the uploaded hand-bill image to the left. Of this, the most recent discussion took place this Sunday past at the Opera House in Ellendale, Dickey County, North Dakota. This brought out a variety of topics, and the most attentive-grabbing and engaging at all of these events is that of Native historians and knowledge-keepers and scholars. After Tamara St. John, a Native historian and genealogist, spoke at this event, an attendee remarked on how (and I’m paraphrasing) they are starved for this kind of information.

For those of us up to our elbows in the history and historiography of the US-Dakota Conflict and Wars, we understand and often wrestle with accurate and precise and appropriate terminology, definitions, and so on. When we chat about this stuff with non-specialists, one of the most common remarks I have heard is this: “How come we weren’t taught any of this — attempted genocide, attempts at cultural destruction, attempts at forced assimilation — in our public education here in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota?” I’m uncertain. But I do always insist on using attempts and attempted when talking about genocide, cultural destruction and assimilation. I do this because the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota, the Seven Council Fires, are alive and well today. We are pushing ahead as well with these discussions, and every time we have another conversation and chance to talk about this, legitimate history is happening. And if that is happening, so is that large, amorphous thing we call culture and the humanities.

When it comes to the public school systems, I’m sure there are plenty of politics behind all of the curriculum decisions from yesteryear and now. Perhaps that is something we in the future can consider, and perhaps in the future bring before various departments of public instruction in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. That would be at least one long-range goal to consider.

Nonetheless, the next discussion will be held at 2:00PM (CST) on November 10, 2013, at Sitting Bull College,  in the Science and Technology Center Room 120/101, Fort Yates, Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota. And here is a photo from the discussion from last Sunday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Traditional Native Food Systems

Sahnish AgricultureIt has been a couple years now that I have served on the board of the North Dakota Humanities Council. It is incredible in the sense that a board member is brought within range of all that this NEH-funded council does. While great ideas abound, sometimes we are only logistically able to make it to a sampling of the events around the state. If it was somehow possible for the council to be funded where board members could quit their day-jobs, we indeed would be present at each and every event. But unfortunately my landlord, cell phone provider, and the bill issuers in general refuse to accept my historical articles, papers and daily blogs as payment for their services. Thus, I have to keep at my day job to keep the lights on around here which in turn keeps me from some of the great NDHC programs.

A couple days ago, I received a thank you from Dr. Wanda Agnew of United Tribes Technical College (an institution that has one of the most renowned global pow-wows every year). Dr. Agnew said the “funds provided by the North Dakota Humanities Council gave us the opportunity to make the Key Ingredient American By Food Exhibit and Special event OUTSTANDING!” The goal of this event was to connect the UTTC campus populace, Tribal Sovereign Nations, and folks in the Bismarck-Mandan area with ideas about traditional Native food systems, deepening the understanding of how pre-Industrial agriculture, farming and gardening worked. It has only been in the last 125 years or so (out of at least 6,000) that homo sapiens have increasingly industrialized what we shovel into our mouths. I have thought about and acted on this in recent years.

Lakota AgricultureIn any case, within this blog are the three hand-bill diagrams Dr. Agnew sent along with the thank-you that point to how food, culture and humanity intersect with three different tribal systems (oyate) on the northern Great Plains. They are the Anishinaabe, Lakota, and Sahnish. We are leaving September and heading into October, so note how the traditional calendars describe the seasons: for the Lakota, September-October is the time when trading with other tribes occurs, when buffalo berries are gathered, and when the earth experienced its hard frost and went into hibernation. For the Anishinaabe, chokecherries and wild potatoes and cranberries would be gathered, and deer would be hunted (which also coincides with our modern deer hunting season). For the Sahnish, this time of year marked the corn and harvest ceremonies. Okay, off to start the charcoal grill. Happy weekend to you.

Anishinaabe Agriculture