Tag Archives: White Earth Reservation

Your Land is Our Land

Ojibwe Girls in a Classroom at the St. Benedict's Mission School, White Earth Reservation, circa 1900

Ojibwe Girls in a Classroom at the St. Benedict’s Mission School, White Earth Reservation, circa 1900

The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ mission was always to “manage” Indian relations, but its mission changed over time until “civilizing” Indians through the reservation system became its primary one. Part of the Indian Office’s (which the agency was more generally known by) policy included dismantling traditional tribal governments and assimilating native peoples into the broader white culture.

The Chicago Daily News, 1901

The Chicago Daily News, 1901

As it did so, the Indian Office allowed disservice after disservice to Native Americans. In 1903, a Washington dispatch to the Chicago Daily News discussed an emerging scandal which the paper then covered. The Interior Department and the Justice Department had become interested in companies trying to acquire Indian land at “ridiculously low figures and selling them at their actual values.” Bad in itself, the article also reported that: “Members of the Dawes commission are said to be implicated in the alleged efforts ‘to fleece the Indians.'”

Cartoon of Indian Agent, courtesy Library of Congress

Cartoon of Indian Agent, courtesy Library of Congress

The irony, as the paper put it, was that “in several instances the very men who are now implicated in the effort to fleece the Indians came to Washington to consult with the heads of the departments (Interior and Justice) here in devising a plan for the Indians’ protection.”

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Precedent for Asylum Care

Smallpox Prevention Poster Distributed by the Minnesota Department of Health, circa 1924

Smallpox Prevention Poster Distributed by the Minnesota Department of Health, circa 1924

In its treaties, the federal government routinely promised many material goods to Native Americans, as well as less tangible goods such as health care and education. Much of the government’s early health care consisted more of record-keeping than anything else: what illnesses were striking Indians in what regions, how many had died, and from what causes? Often, the precipitating factor for providing even minimal health care stemmed from concern for whites: when epidemics (like smallpox) among Indians threatened to spill over into white settlements, federal doctors often gave vaccines and provided what preventative care was available to native populations. Civilian physicians and missionaries sometimes took up the slack, but health care was primarily a federal obligation.

Though that medical care was inadequate in the extreme, the moral obligation to provide it was clear. In 1831, the Supreme Court had described the federal government’s responsibility to Indians when Chief Justice John Marshall wrote: “Their (Native American) relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian.”

Though many argued over it at the time, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians did not represent anything outside the bounds of what the government might have been expected to provide. Clearly, provision for mental health fell under a guardian/ward relationship just as physical care did. The problem lay in whether or not a separate facility only for Indians was the answer. For the patients who traveled hundreds of miles to the asylum when they might otherwise have been admitted to a closer state hospital, the answer would probably be a resounding “No!”

Medicine Man Outside His Tepee, 19th Century, courtesy National Institutes of Health

Medicine Man Outside His Tepee, 19th Century, courtesy National Institutes of Health

 

Medicine Lodge on the White Earth Reservation, Date Unknown

Medicine Lodge on the White Earth Reservation, Date Unknown

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Payments on Reservations

Waiting for Rations, circa 1905, couresty Wannamker Collection, Mathers Museum Indiana University

Waiting for Rations, circa 1905, courtesy Wanamaker Collection, Mathers Museum Indiana University

Treaties between the U.S. government and Native Americans almost always stipulated annual payments of money and/or goods to tribes which had signed the treaties. On most reservations, one day was set aside for these annuity payments, and that specific day became known as “payment day” for money annuities and “ration day” for annuities paid in goods. Payment Day could become quite an event. Almost every Indian on a reservation came to the payment place, usually the Indian agency. The agency consisted of an office building, employee housing, storage, barns, etc.; it was also (usually) under military protection and so included troop quarters and military storage buildings.

Knowing that Indians would have money on Payment Day, traders in all sorts of goods flocked to the agency and displayed their merchandise. Sometimes as many as 100 traders showed up, and their wares were geared toward merchandise they knew their customers wanted. Grains, cooking pots and pans, washtubs, coffee mills, calico and muslin, blankets, saddles, bridles, jewelry, and so on were offered, and the exchange sometimes became a festive, two-to-four day event. Unfortunately, rum and whiskey peddlers set up their stations close by as well, and many Indians fell prey to intoxicants that perhaps led them to spending extravagances.

Mille Lacs Trading Post, circa 1920, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Mille Lacs Trading Post, circa 1920, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Issuing Flour to Ojibway Woman, White Earth Reservation

Issuing Flour to Ojibway Woman, White Earth Reservation

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More Food Changes

Issuing Flour to Ojibway Woman, White Earth Reservation, 1896, courtesy University of Minnesota, Duluth

Issuing Flour to Ojibway Woman, White Earth Reservation, 1896, courtesy University of Minnesota, Duluth

As Native Americans were forced onto reservations, they were also forced to abandon their healthy diets of fresh meat and produce in favor of canned goods and poor-quality staples. Their experience has ultimately been echoed throughout the country as people nearly everywhere have drifted away from home-grown food in proper quantities and introduced processed and/or GM (genetically modified) food into into their diets.

Corn has been hybridized so much that it is no longer the same product that Native Americans and European immigrants ate; modern genetic modifications have made this food a poor nutritional choice. A study from the Permaculture Research Institute on non-GM corn and Roundup-Ready corn, found that the GM corn contained glyphosate and formaldehyde at toxic levels. This corn was also seriously deficient in nutrients: non-GM corn had over 6,000 ppm (parts per million) of calcium, while the GM corn had 14; other nutrient levels were similarly affected.

Native Americans and other concerned consumers are trying to introduce non-GM corn back into the food system. Heirloom varieties like White Flint Hominy (also known as Seneca Hominy or Ha-Go-Wa) are hundreds of years old; Ha-Go-Wa was recently harvested by tribal seed savers associated with the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. Many heirloom varieties produce colorful, intensely flavorful corn–just not as abundantly as the hybridized type which replaced it.

Hopi Indian Farming

Hopi Indian Farming

Indian Woman Working in Cornfield, 1906, Edward S. Curtis

Indian Woman Working in Cornfield, 1906, Edward S. Curtis

 

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Employees at Canton Asylum

Settlers Wait to Enter Surplus Lands at Fort Hall Reservation,1902, courtesy Library of Congress

When the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians first opened, employees took on a variety of tasks not necessarily in their job descriptions. Dr. Turner, the assistant superintendent and the only doctor at the asylum, often traveled out-of-state to escort new patients to the asylum.

On February 4, 1905, the Sioux Valley News reported that Turner and an employee named Hans Loe, had just returned from Fort Hall in Idaho with two Shoshone patients. That week, the financial clerk also returned from a trip to bring back an Apache patient. Turner was scheduled to go to Indian Territory to pick up an insane woman at Union Agency, while O. S. Gifford was set to go to Minnesota to get a patient from White Earth reservation.

Though this may have been an especially busy week, employees obviously could not give patients their full attention.

Indians Making Maple Sugar at Cass Lake, 1905, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

White Settlers in Indian Territory, 1883, courtesy Robert E. Cunningham Oklahoma History Collection

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Progress, Of Sorts

Indian Children on Flathead Reservation, 1907, courtesy Library of Congress

Indian Children on Flathead Reservation, 1907, courtesy Library of Congress

1910, this first decade of the new century, came in the middle of the Progressive Era. Reformers fought to limit child labor, break up monopolies, and help working men earn a fair wage.

The Indian Bureau tried to make a few strides, as well. It began inspecting homes on reservations, beginning with the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.* Two special physicians visited more than 200 homes and examined 1,266 people. Of this number, 690 had trachoma and 164 had some form of tuberculosis. This dismaying state of affairs undoubtedly played out on most other reservations.

The Indian Bureau’s medical supervisor pushed to have schools inspected for sanitation, hygiene, and ventilation. Three reservations with a high number of day schools (Cheyenne River, Pine Ridge, and Rosebud) had a physician assigned to them. He made regular visits to check on the health of pupils and inspect the schools.

Indian Schoolchildren, Mt. Pleasant, MI

Indian Schoolchildren, Mt. Pleasant, MI

*Statistics are taken from the 1910 “Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior.” (Fiscal year ending June 30, 1910).

Indian Children, Mescalero Reservation, N.M., circa 1936, courtesty Library of Congress

Indian Children, Mescalero Reservation, N.M., circa 1936, courtesty Library of Congress

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