Friday, June 27, 2014

From Native America To Iceland

The sunrise behind Mount Hekla. 
From The Land Of Sky And Wind
To One Of Ice And Fire

By Dakota Wind
SELFOSS, ICELAND - The preconception of Iceland I have is probably much the same that some people have about North Dakota, which is to say, cold, snow, and wind. I had passed through Reykjavik once before ten years ago in January and found the thick powder covering the terrain somewhat resembled the rolling hills of western North Dakota in deep winter.

I arrived on a brisk early Sunday morning. A red sun kissed the eastern horizon before lift off and red golden light poured onto the land and ignited the frost. The land glistened with fire and ice, and my steamy breath glowed with a little rainbow of its own.

Thelma, an educator at Laugalandsskóli in Holt, greeted me at the airport and graciously took me into Reykjavik for breakfast, a walk around town, and to Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church and national landmark, for one of the most memorable services I can remember. My new friend then took me to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a modest hotdog stand known throughout the world for its hotdogs; and finally an early afternoon at the National Museum of Iceland before a drive on the lonely winding road to Holt.

Laugalandsskóli, the school I visited, lays quietly nestled along a clear bubbling stream. The surrounding hills roll into mountains, whose summits climb into the sky. Generations of hardy Icelandic farmers have gradually cleared fields, and ranchers have broken trails in the stony earth for their sturdy Icelandic horses.

My host, Sigurjón, the headmaster of Laugalandsskóli, offered me a bed for the duration of my visit. His ranch style home lay in the shadow of Mount Hekla, along a black sand creek of cold clear water. A few lonely trees stood out on his land, twisted and gnarled by the elements, but made beautiful because of it.

Icelanders refer to volcanoes as “she” and mountains as “he,” geysers as “he,” roads and fences as “he,” and rivers as “he” and lakes as “she.” They find humor in America’s fascination with Bigfoot, but many Icelanders hold to the lore of fairies, trolls, and elves, going so far as to build roads and other development around significant cultural resource properties. And like the Lakȟóta of the Great Plains, far removed from the land of ice and fire, they have many words for the wind.

I brought my winter count, a pictographic record of the history of the Lakȟóta people, and shared stories about life before and after the horse, of conflicts a world away to them, and tragic love stories and songs of the plains; I was introduced to the Saga of the Volsungs.

I shared stories of the Wanági, the Little People of the plains, of Wazíya, the giant of the north, of Uŋktéği, giant serpents of the waters; students shared stories of elves, giants, and dragons.

My most powerful experience came when we exchanged names. I gave my everyday “American” name, followed by my Lakȟóta name and interpreted my name to each class. For the Lakȟóta, names carry a story, a song, and a lineage. For the Icelanders, names also carry lineage. Everyone carries their last name as a marker indicating that he or she is the son or daughter of their fathers, sometimes their mothers. Students interpreted their names and meanings into English for me. Many names could easily have been heard on the Great Plains.

A tree that fights an ever present wind, grows in a fantastic swirl, like something out of a Tim Burton movie.

I made contact with students in grades four through ten most often. I interpreted the pictograph “language” of the Plains Indians through storytelling using my winter count as an example. Over the course of the week, we created pictograph narrative examples so that students could create their own winter count.

For homework, I assigned students to ask their parents about the year they were born and the first five to six years of their lives. One student got a late start on the creation of his pictograph narrative. I learned that he was born in Russia, adopted out of country, and was now in foster care. He didn’t remember much of his childhood and didn’t know his parents. I asked him how old he was, and then asked him if he liked Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, which came out around the time he was born. From there we constructed a pictograph narrative of his life using pop culture to create his life story.

By the end of the school week, about forty-three students had created their picture stories from as few as ten stories (this would be the fourth grade) to as many as sixteen (tenth grade).

For the younger students, grades K-3, we constructed parfleche envelopes. Parfleche, in the Plains Indian tradition, is basically anything constructed out of rawhide, from boxes and cylinder cases to envelopes, to protect personal belongings or even food. At the end of the week, about twenty students had constructed their own parfleche envelopes.

During breaks I played chess, soccer, and ping-pong with students, and though I couldn’t speak Icelandic, many spoke English, and for those who didn’t, we had fun playing common games and laughed in our efforts at play.

After hours, my guide Thelma, took me to see Gulfoss, a roaring waterfall that drops into wild rapids. I saw Geyser, a privately owned and managed national Icelandic landmark. Beautiful. Lastly, I saw Þingvellir, where the Norsemen gathered annually to recount their laws. It’s also where Iceland is divided between the North American and European continent. There’s a stream of water several feet deep, that flows above the fault line, there passersby throughout the centuries offered coins to the elves, and many still do, in fact, my guide gave me a few coins to leave an offering.

Iceland is divided here at Þingvellir. On the right is the European continent, and on the left is North America. Coins from passersby lie aglitter beneath the icy water.

My visit to Iceland concluded. I left on a cloudy cool spring morning. Thelma drove me to Reykjavik. She bought me a Malt Extract, a non-alcoholic beverage that tasted something between a carbonated soft drink and a beer. I don't drink, I've a had a few long ago, but I tried this and I suggest that if one were to drink anything there on one's visit, one must have one of these.

I got airborne on Saturday afternoon. Security was really talkative when they discovered I was native. I saw Iceland from the window, then from the sky, and then just the ocean.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Origin Of Stone Arrowheads

An artist's representation of early North American Indians knapping flint, others work to quarry the stone from the earth. 
The Origin Of Stone Arrowheads
Trickster, Little People Crafted Stone Utensils
By Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS, N.D. & S.D. – Educators in North Dakota cover North Dakota history in the fourth and eighth grades. In the fourth grade it’s called North Dakota Studies, and in the eighth grade it’s called North Dakota History. Whether it’s called studies or history, students, at least In Fort Yates where I went to school, usually take in a field trip to the North Dakota Heritage Center.

On my field trip, I remember seeing at the ol’ Heritage Center a big collection of arrowheads, and it was explained that the Paleo Indians made the early clovis points and other cultures which have come and gone in the ten millennia occupation of the Great Plains have made various style of arrowheads. I was supposed to accept this, because someone, probably a Ph.D. or a think-tank of experts somewhere, came to this conclusion, and that conclusion was fact.

In a related story, my Lalá (Grandfather) took my uncle Kenny, my younger brother, and me to the Klein Museum in Mobridge, S.D., for no other purpose than to see some old stuff. There we beheld a motley collection of various two-headed preserved animals like snakes and calves, but what captured my attention while there was a huge collection of arrow heads.

Meanwhile, in Carrington, N.D., there’s the Chieftain Inn. The Chieftain is known for a comically large two-story red Indian caricature outside the inn with its right hand jutted out, palm up and out in the frequently parodied Plains Indian sign for greetings made popular in old black and white westerns. Inside the carpeted halls of the convention center, the walls are decorated with custom cases filled with arrowheads, granite grinding stones, manos, and metates. It really is a wonderful display.

At any museum across the Great Plains, city, county, or state, someone has donated collection of arrowheads. 

So, the arrowheads come from some where, and there are stories about that. 

Colonel Alfred Burton Welch was determined to find an answer to the origin of the stone arrow heads. On September 23, 1923, Welch met with Chasing Fly, then about seventy years old. Chasing Fly had this to say to Welch’s question, “We did not make them. We picked them up when we wanted them. No one made the stone points. The Pȟadáni [Arikara] picked them up like we did. Iŋktómi Nation made them. Or some animal made them. No Dakȟóta ever made good ones. Some Dakȟóta prayed at it. There were many of them then. The wild plums grow on trees. The stone arrows lay on the ground. We picked the plums. We picked the points. Iŋktómi is wakȟáŋ. The stone points are wakȟáŋ. The plums were placed there for us to eat. We ate them. The stone points were put there for us to use. We used them in arrows. I cannot talk much about that thing. [Chasing Fly’s medicine was an animal, and he didn’t feel comfortable or obligated to answer further questions about stones especially stones that he felt were wakȟáŋ.] I cannot talk of stones much. Some other man can. The stone arrow point is wakȟáŋ. It is not my medicine. So I could pick them up when I found them. But I cannot talk much about them.”

On Oct. 6, 1926, Welch sat down with tribal elder Mrs. Grey Bull and asked her about the origin of arrowheads. This was her response, “Iŋktómi made the stone arrow points.  We had iron for a long time and made them.  The Dakȟóta never made them.  We say many of these stone rings and pictures on the ground on the high hills.  Someone made them.  I do not know who these people were.  They were not our people.  They were wakȟáŋ.”

In an undated conversation Welch had with Bull Bear, Welch approached Bull Bear with a flint-knapped turtle effigy. Bull Bear was moved to say, “This is a turtle. Sometimes in the past good boys and girls wore such things in a bag which was tied to their hair for good luck. Iŋktómi made it like he made all the arrow heads. Some people have heard him at work, but could never see him. I have, myself, heard him at work, chipping stones. It was a small hole south of Fort Yates where I heard him working. He went slow [chip chip]. We got within a few feet of the hole, when he would stop and we could not find him then. When we went away he worked again.”

On May 11, 1933, Welch interviewed Mrs. Crow Ghost about some artifacts exhumed from Crying Hill in Mandan, ND. Welch showed her bone and metal tools, and she told Welch that the tools were made by a woman’s hand, but the stone tools, Mrs. Crow Ghost said, were not made by human hands. “these stone knives and scrapers and arrow heads,” said Mrs. Crow Ghost, “Iŋktómi made them and put them where that woman could find them to use.”

A few years later, an unidentified Dakȟóta man had picked a flint arrow head and approached Welch with the offer to part with it for a nickel. Welch took the opportunity to ask if the arrowhead was made by Iŋktómi. The man’s answer, “I do not think so. Most of us say that he made them, but I think the Little People [Wanáği] made them.”

This is the cultural origin of the old stone arrowheads, made by Iŋktómi, the Wanáği, or perhaps even some early people, and scatted across the land. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Great White Father Visits Standing Rock

The President sits next to Chairman Archambault at the Cannonball Flag Day Pow-wow in Cannon Ball, N.D. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast. 
Tȟuŋkášilayapi Yuhá Hí
Whom They Have For A Grandfather Came Here
Or, The Great White Father Visits Standing Rock
By Dakota Wind
CANNONBALL, N.D. – The morning was just like any other summer morning, only this particular morning I awoke before the meadowlarks and mourning doves could fill the backyard with songs.

I hit the road with my youngest son, Lij, at 7:30. Destination: Cannonball.

The road follows the river south, and meanders back and forth along the bluffs and banks of the river through hills and even a small badlands formation near Huff. A few cars, one loaded with dancers, passed us by as if I was driving in reverse, the woman in the passenger seat was busy wrapping her hair, others in the backseat plaiting their hair, their destination the same as ours.

Traffic steadily increased as we reached Cannonball. The junction was a swarm of activity. Shiny cars and bright lights, matched by the crisp blue uniforms of B.I.A. cops and matte black of the Secret Service, a few vehicles were positioned to block the road already, as a few cars – probably residents – squeaked by through police officers ushering traffic on foot.

Prairie Knights Casino. I saw Journey play here, back when they got small after Steve Perry, but before they got big again with Arnel Pineda. 

Elders, singers, dancers, and other guests were directed to Prairie Knights Casino, a few miles south, where all would be shuttled to the Cannonball pow-wow grounds at 11:15. Early arrivals had already formed a long line, which only grew over the next few hours, but it was a jovial crowd full of flashing smiles and raucous laughter.

The bus ride in itself was filled with a hum of growing anticipation, oddly juxtaposed with Billie Idol’s “White Wedding” playing rather obnoxiously on the radio, followed by Mötley Cruë’s “Girls Girls Girls,” and finished with Billy Squier’s “Everybody Wants You,” by the time we pulled into Cannonball.

"Waiting to host President Obama at Cannonball Flag Day Celebration," Chase Iron Eyes, Last Real Indians.

The wačípi (pow-wow) ground was flanked by proud lodges at the west side of the bowery representing the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (The Seven Council Fires, commonly known as the Great Sioux Nation) and the First Nations, their doors open and facing the direction of the new day.

Security at the pow-wow. The Secret Service removed knives and other potential weapons. Photo by Mark Holman.

An odd site was a great tent, under which waited the Secret Service. They herded everyone like cattle to walk through fencing and metal detectors, some participants were taken aside and patted down. A few dancers brought knives, which were part of their regalia, but which were removed from them. I didn’t find out if those individuals got their knives back, but I felt oddly comforted that I didn’t bring mine, and out of sorts that I didn’t wear mine. A few dancers, familiar faces on the pow-wow trail, noted the absence of my sword, and jested that I looked strange without it.

Dancers were directed into the arena. Veterans had raised the flags with the voices of singers in the light of the rising sun, in pride and memory of our relatives who served our people and country. There was a light wind that blew out of the south that picked up as morning became noon, which lifted the flags, some a little worn and faded, others brilliant and new, but all rippled and snapped proudly in the wind.

The biggest flag I've ever seen fly on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation.

In the center of the bowery a large American flag roared in the wind and flew above all others, a diminutive flag of the Standing Rock Nation hummed below it at times in the shadow of the American flag.

Cannonball Flag Day Pow-wow is an annual event. Without regard to the President’s visit, a prayer was invoked by respected Standing Rock community leader Cedric Good House, and the Grand Entry commenced shortly thereafter, followed by inter tribal dances.

The announcer, Mr. Tony Bobtail Bear Sr., kept the crowd entertained with humorous quips, “Is it okay to ask what the President is doing over there? We’ve been waiting for twenty minutes now,” to, “Who wants to see the Secret Service dance?” Bobtail Bear introduced honored visitors and guests, tribal chairs rose as he called their name. Seemingly random visitors were also asked to rise but whom the Bobtail Bear knew personally and could share a personal story about.

Governor Dalrymple greets the President with a warm North Dakota handshake as he disembarks Airforce 1 at the Bismarck Airport. 

Eventually, he announced North Dakota Governor, the honorable Jack Dalrymple.

Ms. Marcella LaBeau, Wígmuŋke Wašté Wiŋ (Pretty Rainbow Woman) in uniform. Is honored by the crowd for her service to the people and country. 

Among the many honored guests was Marcella LaBeau, a ninety-four year old WWII nursing vet. She was honored with song by the people, and brought with her a medal awarded to her from the President of France; a gleaming silver and glass medal which contained sand where the D-Day assault landed in France.

The President arrived by helicopter, under escort of four other helicopters then he and the First Lady spent an hour listening to the concerns of the youth of Standing Rock. In recent history, the youth on Standing Rock and on many other reservations deal with living in poverty, broken homes, alcoholism, chemical dependence, gang violence, and suicide (which is 70% higher in the reservations; youth suicide is even higher).

Reservations across the country and into Canada face a high unemployment rate, a lack of housing, poor access to health care, and little assistance in pursuits of post-high school education. During Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, many American Indians moved to the big cities in the Indian Relocation Act, for employment, and often found poor paying blue collar jobs no one else wanted; the greatest cost the “city Indians” lay in the sacrifice of culture and language, in order to provide for their families.

Photo by Mark Holman.

The President entered the arena sometime after four o’clock in the afternoon, and was greeted with an encouragement song by the Grand River Singers. By this time, the dancers were wind-blasted and cooked, but neither the sun nor the wind could dampen the people’s enthusiasm.

The dancers performed a men’s exposition, that is, all the male dancers in every category and from every age were asked to go out to enter the arena and share their dance. My son and I entered the open arena and took up a spot to start from on the west end, in an open area near the President.

Lij asked, “Where’s the President?” I looked westerly and saw the First Lady, the President was talking with Mr. Dave Archambault Jr., Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. My son stood behind me and peaked from around my leg towards the President and the First Lady, and waved. She waved back, then gently nudged the President in his side and pointed in our direction. They both waved, and it seemed to me that this would be as close as I would get.

There I am, on the far left and out of focus. Probably the only picture I'll be in with the Great White Father. Incidentally, if I met him, I would have addressed him with a straight face as "The Great White Father," just to see his reaction.

The song began and my son and I parted. He one way, and I another.

When next I saw my son, at the end of the song, after the men dancers left the arena and the women took our places, he said, “I met the President,” in a simple, matter-of-fact tone.

During the downtime, Lij had drawn a picture of the sun shining down upon a pile of rocks, and signed it, “To Presidunut, From *Lij**.” I couldn’t, in my doubt, believe that he’d be able to give it to him, and suggested that perhaps we could mail it, but, in his innocent resolve, said to me, “No.” And took his drawing into his own small hands with quiet deliberation.

After the women’s exposition, the Tiny Tots (a category for the youngest children dancers, boys and girls) were called forward to a last dance in the arena. Afterward, Chairman Archambault introduced the President, who offered greetings in Lakȟóta, and kept his speech mercifully short. His speech is online.

Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast.

Then the President stepped out into the bowery and offered to take pictures with the dancers. Lij had become fast friends with another young traditional dancer there, and shared his seat in the very front row. When the bar was raised, Lij raced out to the President and I lost sight of my little boy.

He returned a few minutes later empty handed, and said to me in all nonchalance, “Let’s go get some fries.” I asked him if he met the President and shook his hand, his response, “Sure.” I said, “I didn’t get to meet him,” and he said simply to me with no hint mockery, that innocence shining in his liquid brown eyes, “You can shake my hand.” And I did.

Photo by Mark Holman.

The President left in a caravan. A trail of dust rose up in swirls, a dance in itself, in a field of native grasses, shorn for the occasion. The dust drifted away to nothingness, but the sun shone golden on the prairie steppe, and the invisible wind remained. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

My Bow And Arrow Story

George Catlin's "Game Of The Arrow."
Wičhóȟ’aŋ Itázipayata
The Tradition Of The Bow
By Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS, N.D. & S.D. – In my young boyhood days, my mother took me and my younger brother to live on the east coast in the city of Boston. I remember the longest most boring ride in my life from the prairie to the city. My mother had gotten a job there at the Boston Indian Council, nowadays, the North American Indian Center of Boston, but I’ll always remember it as the B.I.C.

I had long hair and wore it in braids. The American Indian population in an urban area is on the order of one percent of the population of Boston, about 6000 today, but I always felt – outside the B.I.C. – like the only Indian, and at school, I probably was.

I remember one time my mother taking us to a sports shop of some kind. There she bought a compound bow for herself and some wonderfully sharp arrowheads for hunting that my brother and I were fond of getting into no matter how many times we were warned. She bought us a bow too to keep us occupied, but probably so we could learn how to shoot.

One day, early morning, we caught a bus to New Hampshire, and then a ride out to a dirt road that lead us to a cabin along a creek there. I don’t remember much about the cabin other than it had two rooms. But outside there my mother put her bow and arrows to use. She also practiced throwing knives too and could stick a tree from perhaps fifty feet away, though my young perspective wants to magnify that distance to a hundred.

There in a cabin tucked away in the eastern woodlands my brother and I learned how to shoot a bow.

We moved back after a year or so. We lived outdoors along the Missouri River for a while there, then into the Episcopal Church, before my mother found us a place to live on Golf Hill. We practiced the bow off and on during this time, but it was after we got a place to live that we practiced most often. My mom got us a square bail of hay to hit that we set up behind the house.

Karl Bodmer's "Bison Hunt." The Plains Indian draw method is not clearly seen in this image (its a variation of what's called a pinch draw, at least what I was taught), but the hunter looks pretty cool hunting from astride a horse.

One day, my Lekší (uncle) Cedric called my brother and I into my lalá’s (grandfather’s) garage. There he had finished some ash bows. He had even rolled the sinew to make the bowstring too. He gave us instruction on how to care for the bow, and even how to draw it.

It followed then, that we should bring our arrows with us the next time we went to our grandmother’s. That day came soon, and my Lekší wasn’t home, but my other other Lekší, Jimmy, was. Uncle Jimmy saw that we had brought our arrows and urged us to take up those bows in the garage.

Later that afternoon Uncle Jimmy saw us shooting into the empty lot next door, and he came out to encourage us in our progress. He nodded many times and told us about an archery game in which we should shoot the arrow up as high as possible, and that the bravest soul would be the one who didn’t move from whence he shot.

Inspired by this revelation, but downplaying my growing anticipation I continued to fire into the empty lot with exaggerated nonchalance until my uncle grew either bored of my play or tired of the sun, I couldn’t tell. Assured of his absence when I heard the weather door slam pitifully shut. I reached for an arrow, nocked it with unconcealed expectation, aimed straight up into the heart of the sky and carelessly drew and released.

I saw it go up and vanish into the blue. My eyes burned with the afterimage of a green circle from following the arrow’s flight past the sun. And I waited.

Faster than I ever thought to anticipate, the arrow cut through the sky and quietly stuck into the earth perhaps a pace or two from where I stood. I could only look at the arrow. I didn’t know what to expect to feel. Relief that I didn’t hurt myself? Bravery that I stood stock still? Fear? If anything, I felt curious for a moment. I wondered what the arrow “saw” so far up. Was the arrow I shot the same as the one that fell?

I used to wonder things like that.

And I ran out of the way after shooting an arrow into the sky.