Tag Archives: Chippewa

Making Sugar at Sugar Camps

Gathering Sap in Makuks

Gathering Sap in Makuks

When sugar camps were ready (see last post), tree tapping began as soon as the sap started running. Though only experts tapped trees, these could be either men or women, and an individual could make up to 300 tappings a day.

In the Chippewa method of making sugar, workers put down sap dishes in the early morning and gathered them when they were filled. After taking the sap back to camp, workers poured the liquid into kettles or into troughs at the door of the tipi used for making the syrup. Other workers heated the sap in small kettles before pouring it into larger kettles so that all the sap could be heated gradually. The sap in the large kettles would then be boiled until it thickened, which could take all night.

Mrs. Dick Gahbowh Boiling Sap, Mille Lacs, 1925, courtesy University of Minnesota Duluth

Mrs. Dick Gahbowh Boiling Sap, Mille Lacs, 1925, courtesy University of Minnesota Duluth

When it was thick enough, the sap was strained from a full kettle into an empty one through a mat woven of basswood bark. (In later days, burlap was used instead of the mat.) After the kettles were cleaned, the syrup was reheated; women placed small bits of deer tallow in with the syrup to keep the sugar soft. At the proper consistency, the syrup was transferred to a granulating trough and worked with a paddle to make sugar.

Chippewa Indians With Maple Sugar in Birchbark Containers, 1909, courtesy University of Minnesota Duluth

Chippewa Indians With Maple Sugar in Birchbark Containers, 1909, courtesy University of Minnesota Duluth

All of this was hard work, but everyone enjoyed the end product. Women stored sugar made from the last run of sap in makuks (birchbark containers) buried in the ground. This valuable product could last for a year if properly covered with bark and boughs to keep it fresh.

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Sugar Camps

Building a Birch Bark Tepee at a Maple Sugar Camp, Mille Lacs Reservation, courtesy firstpeople.us

Building a Birch Bark Tepee at a Maple Sugar Camp, Mille Lacs Reservation, courtesy firstpeople.us

Native peoples who had access to trees with sweet sap (such as the sugar maple) made sugar products just as later Europeans did in New England states like Vermont. In the spring,¬†Chippewa families or groups of two to three families enjoyed working together at sugar camps. The families worked their own sugar bushes, which were stands of maple trees measured by the number of “taps” available. Each tree, for instance, might have two or three taps, and a bush might have 900 taps.

Each sugar camp usually contained a permanent lodge, which would be cleared of snow and repaired each spring, sometime around March. Women went early to examine their sugar-making utensils, like bark dishes for gathering sap, makuks (birchbark containers) for storing sugar, syrup buckets, and troughs where the buckets of sap were poured. When the equipment was ready, women went back to their home camps to fetch large kettles for boiling the sap; they also got the rest of their family ready to move to the camp. Both men and women were involved in setting up these sugar camps.

Native Americans Making Maple Sugar, Cass Lake, 1905, courtesy University of Minnesota Duluth

Native Americans Making Maple Sugar, Cass Lake, 1905, courtesy University of Minnesota Duluth

My next post will explain the Chippewa’s sugar-making process.

Ojibwe Woman Tapping a Sugar Maple, 1908, courtesy Elder Nmenhs-Arthur McGregor of Whitefish River First Nation

Ojibwe Woman Tapping a Sugar Maple, 1908, courtesy Elder Nmenhs-Arthur McGregor of Whitefish River First Nation

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Natural Medicine

Woman Digging Roots

Woman Digging Roots

Before modern pharmaceuticals, people looked to nature for their cures. The Chippewa, for instance, used numerous plants to treat ailments, often in conjunction with special songs and music. Red baneberry treated the “diseases of women,” giant hyssop treated cough and pain in the chest, and jack-in-the-pulpit was useful for sore eyes. Other plants, like wild sarsaparilla and white mugwort, could be used for both medicine and as charms.

Medicine Man Preparing Medicine, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Medicine Man Preparing Medicine, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Isabelle Thing, a Kumeyaay Indian Traditional Healer

Isabelle Thing, a Kumeyaay Indian Traditional Healer

Chippewa plant names often indicated the appearance of the plant, the place where it grew, one of its properties, or its use. Blue cohosh was called becigodjibiguk; becig meant “one” and djibiguk meant “root,” thus “the plant having a tap root.” Often, one plant had several names, and individual gatherers often gave a plant a name, as well. Sometimes when a medicine man taught someone about a plant, he would show the person the plant without telling its name, in order to keep it secret.

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Tiny Steps

ield Matron and Assistants, 1905

Field Matron and Assistants, 1905

Most Europeans settlers believed that their respective cultures were superior to Native American ones, and set about imposing their own ideas upon native peoples as soon as they were able to do so. Continue reading

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Reports, Reports

Nurse and Patients at Fergus Falls State Hospital, 1900

Nurse and Patients at Fergus Falls State Hospital, 1900

With perhaps a very rare exception, all insane asylums were inspected on a reasonably regular basis, and inspectors visited the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians a number of times. Visits were usually routine, though the asylum received a number of special inspections brought on by complaints or allegations of misconduct that reached the Indian Office. Continue reading

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All in the Blood

Chippewa Medicine Man, circa 1900, courtesy University of Minnesota, Duluth

Chippewa Medicine Man, circa 1900, courtesy University of Minnesota, Duluth

Older methods of curing illness often included bloodletting, the practice of purposely lancing a patient’s flesh in order to get blood flowing. Quantities extracted could be quite small or surprisingly voluminous, depending upon the individual doctor’s beliefs about its effectiveness. Many doctors nearly bled their patients to death, and this type of aggressive, “heroic” medicine fell out of favor during the nineteenth century. Continue reading

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And More Statistics

Menominee Indian Family, 1931

The government always liked to gather statistics (see last post), and Dr. Hummer was forced to complete many reports for the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. A report from June 30, 1924 gives a good snapshot of the institution. There were 50 males and 47 females from 31 different tribes; six patients were of unknown tribal affiliation. At the time of the report, the Sioux and Chippewa tribes were disproportionally represented; 19 patients were Sioux, and 14 were Chippewa. Statistics since opening told the same story: 68 Sioux had been admitted since 1902, 40 Chippewa, and 20 Menominee.

Though Hummer continually advocated for an epileptic cottage, epilepsy did not seem to be his biggest problem. Before the asylum closed, an independent doctor from St. Elizabeths noted that Hummer had lumped patients with any kind of convulsions into “epileptic” status, even though they were not truly epileptic. What Hummer really needed were good protocols and staff to care for lung issues. By 1924, the asylum had had 143 deaths. Fifty-one of them were from tuberculosis, and another 17 from some type of pneumonia. Only 14 patients had died of epileptic convulsions, with another four dying from exhaustion following convulsions.

Chippewa Indians in Ceremonial Dress, courtesy University of Minnesota, Duluth

Calvin Coolidge Meets with Sioux Indians from Rosebud Reservation on Lawn of White House, 1925

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Who Came to Canton?

Canton, S. D., 1907, courtesy Library of Congress

Canton, S. D., 1907, courtesy Library of Congress

Patients began to trickle into the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians after it opened the last day of 1902. From January 1, 1903 to the end of the first fiscal year on June 30, 1903, ten males (all over 18 years of age) and six females (two of whom were under 18) were admitted to the asylum. During the fiscal year, one  patient died and two recovered.

An additional female was admitted in July, and by the time asylum superintendent O.S. Gifford (see previous posts) made his annual report at the end of August, 24 insane Indians had been ordered to the asylum. Nine tribes were represented among these patients: Cherokee, Comanche, Osage, Pawnee, Mission, Winnebago, Chippewa, Shoshone, and Sioux.

Coe Crawford, S.D. Governor, 1908

Coe Crawford, S.D. Governor, 1908

View of Big Sioux River (which flowed past the asylum) 1911

View of Big Sioux River (which flowed past the asylum) 1911

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And, What’s Not in a Name?

Dipsomania (craving for alcohol)

Dipsomania (craving for alcohol)

One of the great tragedies of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was that many of its patients were not actually insane. Sometimes Indian agents or reservation superintendents (almost always white men) sent a disruptive or rebellious Indian to the asylum simply for convenience. Sometimes they sent old, indigent, sick, or helpless people there because they didn’t know how else to care for them. Canton Asylum accepted them all. Here are a few suspect diagnoses for Canton Asylum patients:

Sam Black Buffalo (Sioux) – mutism

Peter Good Boy (Sioux) – constitutional inferiority

Robert Hayes (Chippewa) – imbecility

Two Teeth (Sioux) – old man

Alex Zimmerman (Cheyenne) – hemiplegia (paralysis on one side of the body, usually from disease or injury to the brain)

Imbecility Scale

Imbecility Scale

Moral Imbecile

Moral Imbecile, (later called "moron")

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