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.
Tag Archives: Lakota
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.
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.
In the last couple days, Dakota Goodhouse (his blog, which you’ll want to visit, linked here) and I have been hanging out in downtown Fargo, as he’s in town to expand on the Native tradition of winter counts. He crashed at my place for a couple nights, and last night we had dinner over here after his short talk at the Spirit Room (this was organized and funded through a collaboration between the Fargo-West Fargo Public Schools Indian Education program and the North Dakota Humanities Council). Dakota and I chatted more about winter counts, and about future prospects of scholarly interest and inquiry.
I’m thinking that winter counts, and the history of them, have become popular enough that I don’t really need to explain them. But just in case, a winter count is an annual pictograph painted onto the larger medium of buffalo or elk hides. In the latter part of the 19th century, they were painted onto canvas. These counts provided the owner or memory group with a traceable past, the pictograph often representative of a successful high-point of that year.
While Dakota explained the winter counts to the group at the Spirit Room last night, he pointed to one of his buffalo hides while expanding on how he saw something different in that particular account. This particular account is a symmetrical series of triangles running around the circumference of a circle. Some years ago, Dakota said he used to think of this as a war bonnet laid out on the floor. Today, though, he said it also looks like the plains indigene narrative attached to what we call “sun dogs.” One of the stories that he knows is that the sun dogs are thought more of as camp fires next to the sun.
These various stories got me thinking at least two related things that are slightly polemical. The first is something we deal with every now and then, and that’s one-dimensional thinkers who sometimes say, “Well, cultures with oral traditions don’t have a history, or if they do it’s impossible to trace.” This is always a fun question to respond to, but last night I was thinking more-so of how a person who reads a novel, or a good piece of history, are likely to walk away with a different perception about the same piece of scholarship within the span of two or more readings.
This is similar to the winter count. Dakota explained the difference in how one individual, when looking at the bison robe laid out, might see a native headdress while another might see sun dogs, parhelia, or what the Dakota call wi’aceti, this roughly translated and defined as “when the sun makes fires.” Dakota added that the winters on the northern Great Plains are so cold that the sun requires camp fires to keep it warm.
From here on out I decided to abandon the sun dog phrase and replace it with wi’aceti (pronounced, roughly, “we-ah-che-tee”). If anyone wants to join me on the northern Great Plains in this effort, by all means. If we hear someone say “sun dog,” please feel free to add wi’aceti to that, and with explanation.
Also, Dakota contributed heavily to a piece of winter count scholarship that yo might be interested, chapter 4 of Candace Greene and Russell Thornton, The Year the Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithsonian (Lincoln: U of Nebraska Press, 2007).
Before 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.
It 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.
In 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.
Last week I returned from the National Archives in DC, and over the weekend I attended and was one of the speakers for the 150th Whitestone Hill observances not too far south of Kulm, in Dickey County, southeastern North Dakota. There has been much said about Whitestone Hill (it is a piece of genocide in American history), and much more to be said too. I have a forthcoming article in The Public Historian (“Imagining a Battle at a Civil War Mistake: The Public History of Whitestone Hill, 1863-2013” Vol. 35, No. 3, August 2013) that concerns the remembrance of this site, and this induced me to note, at least to myself, how history is never final.
During the August 24, 2013 day of observances, I took some notes, photos, and video. Here is a link to the line-up. I thought I’d share some more notes from the day here, but they are not exhaustive (I tried to scribble when I could). Kevin Locke opened the observances around 9:00AM with a Native prayer, and he spoke to the temporality of life. He described this in Dakota and Lakota language, and also noted a word that defined something that was fleeting, a philosophical universal of life. Also, the essence of the word “Dakota” means peace, ally, friend.
Also: Frogs were everywhere at the site that morning. With every couple steps, a couple little jumps would happen in the grass below. Upon closer inspection, you could see the little frogs. This, of course, provided untold of amusement for youngsters and biologists, and basically any of us city types who don’t regularly get to see frogs in this kind of battalion strength.
I caught up with a good friend, Dakota Goodhouse, and he said he arrived a little late because his son asked him to have breakfast. Note: having breakfast with your son is a good idea, especially if your son wants to.
One of the coolest things ever, especially at these sites and on our northern Great Plains, is coming upon a tipi. Even better, coming upon more than one tipi. And even better-better, coming upon one tipi, and the raising of another. Here is a short video of that. There is a charcoal marker on the top of the last tipi pole, the one where the canvas is fixed to and hoisted up (in pre-canvas days, before Euro-American industrialization nearly wiped out every last bison, these bison hides would be used). Notice the kind of community that simply “happens” with the raising of a tipi.
It’s akin to the pre-Industrial raising of a barn, or relocating a Mongolian ger from one pasture to the next: everyone gets involved, either directly or in supportive spirit. There are smiles everywhere as well. Architecturally the tipi is so fascinating because its verticality rises right out of the horizontal landscape that is the Great Plains. It gets your attention for sure. The new east-facing elevation of the State Historical Society of North Dakota has a brilliant entryway with, impressionistically, a tipi-looking piece of modern art. I think it is excellent.
I’ve decided that very few people know the location of Whitestone Hill in southeastern North Dakota. This decision came to me after hearing the “Where is that?” response to my remark, “Whitestone Hill…” It is now 2013. This location, Whitestone Hill, is important since it is a site where the U.S. Army brought total war to a domestic encampment of northern Great Plains indigenes in early September of 1863. We are almost upon the 150th year of remembrance. So we need to make ourselves more aware of these sites, primarily because our history — whether we know or like it or not — informs us about how things are today. It is also the stuff that disparate groups identify with. This is why we sometimes hear things like, “History is about identity.” This is true. If we don’t know about Whitestone Hill, then we don’t know why things are the way they are today.
So people can more readily find Whitestone Hill, over the lunch hour I decided to scribble out a map, and also scan a DeLorme topo map of the location specifics. I’m blogging about it now, and I figure that if folks ask me, “Where is that?” instead of me gesturing in the air about the relative location of Whitestone Hill to Jamestown, Aberdeen, Edgeley or Ellendale, I can just send them this link. Above is a rough sketch of the approximate location of Whitestone Hill that I prepared while eating squash and cauliflower curry soup over the lunch hour.
If you’re on Eisenhower’s Interstate 94, just head south from Jamestown, North Dakota on Highway 281. If you’re in Aberdeen, South Dakota, head north on Highway 281.
If coming from Jamestown, drive about 40 or 50 minutes south until you hit Edgeley, North Dakota. From Edgeley, head west on ND Highway 13, and this eventually turns into south-bound Highway 56. Travel south of Kulm about 10 or 11 miles to 88th Street SE. Travel east on 88th Street SE for four miles, and then turn north (by this point you’ll see “Whitestone Hill” signage to direct you to the site).
If coming from Aberdeen, South Dakota, drive north to Ellendale, North Dakota, and head west on ND Highway 11. Travel west on Hwy 11 for about 20 miles, and turn north onto ND Highway 56. Drive 10 miles north on Highway 56, and turn east on to 88th Street SE. Drive the four miles east, and turn north at the Whitestone Hill signage.
Note: even though the signage on the DeLorme map reads “Battlefield,” and even though during your approach you will start seeing “Whitestone Hill Battlefield” signage, do not be tempted to call it that unless you are ready to define what is meant by that. Even then, it is not a good idea.
Where some see a prairie-scape of oblivion, others see a culinary buffet. Just last night I was cruising around in some old digital photos on the desktop, and I came across a couple shots of prairie turnips. I photographed them a couple years ago in the kitchen of a downtown Bismarck apartment I used to live in (the historic Mason Building), I think around 2008 or 2009.
During those summers, Tim Mentz, Jr., of Standing Rock, showed me on the northern Great Plains how to identify the prairie turnip. You can read the landscape for prairie turnips in July. This is when the vegetation sprouts above ground, making them visible. They also grow in certain areas on a hill (it may or may not have something to do with the ph levels of the soil — I’m in the humanities, folks). This, of course, leads to the idea that if you have two different people look at the same landscape, they will see it in a variety of different ways. I like listening to what others have to say about the landscape. Tim Mentz, Jr. always had my ear. We would often joke, too — when a bull was once staring at us and uprooting the topsoil with his front hoof, I asked Tim, “What does that mean?” Tim responded with, “That means we give him distance.”
It is customary to braid the turnips by the root ends, and then hang them to dry. Just like mushrooms (and other dried goods), they will reconstitute in liquid or water. I made turnip soup out of this batch.
Here on the northern Great Plains, we are increasingly considering what the Dakota Wars from 150 years ago meant then and what it means today. A piece of scholarship I stumbled across while visiting the bookstore of Pompey’s Pillar in eastern Montana (where, famously, an Anglo-American incised his graffiti on some tall rock) is Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Harvard University Press, 2006). Lear uses the historical documents from Plenty Coups, a Crow leader who helped his people navigate the turn of the 19th century. What makes Lear’s monograph interesting is how he uses his training in philosophy and ethics to approach a previously unexplored topic of the Crow.
Throughout this book, the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota are mentioned, and how they and the Crow were ferocious enemies in the 19th century. Lear looks at this philosophically, though, and says,
One of the ironies that comes to light is that groups of people can be bitterest of enemies in real life, yet ontologically they are on the same side; and a real-life ally can turn out to be one’s ontological nemesis. The Crow and Sioux were bitterest of enemies… Still, their standoff sustained a world in which battles, planting coup-sticks, and counting coups all made sense. One has only to read Chief Sitting Bull’s pictorial autobiography to see that he was every bit as much concerned with counting coups as Plenty Coups was. And yet, with the United States as an ally — a questionable and unfaithful one to be sure, but still an ally in many ways — the Crow moved into a position in which their world fell apart. (Lear, 2006: 50-51)
The rearrangement of this way of life came to an end due to the advanced encroachment of Euro-Americans who, among other things, obliterated the bison food source of the Plains indigenes. Lear doesn’t just stop with the known history of how the bison were wiped out, though. Instead, he expands and explains how the bison food source was a serious component of the Crow’s cultural and ethical telos. Bison had been incorporated into nearly every element of the Crow way of life, and Lear gives excellent examples by unpacking phrases that Crow used for dinner. For example, Lear notes that there was no such thing as simply cooking a meal. Instead, the cooking of a meal had a greater social-psychology behind it. The phrase cooking and eating dinner was inextricably bound to “the cooking-of-a-meal-so-that-those-who-ate-it-would-be-healthy-to-hunt-and-fight.” (Lear, 2006: 40) See how the telos — the psychological extension of an immediate act providing a base for the future — is connected to the food, and that the food comes largely from the bison? Yes, of course. And so when Euro-Americans — whether Sully at Whitestone Hill, or Euro-American riflemen — obliterated the bison, it struck not only at that food source, but at the very culture of Plains indigenes. In short, read this book.