Local Briefs
Indians Who Rock
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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Indians who rocked

Here’s something uplifting and fun, unlike most of this column’s usual fare.

“Rumble,” a new documentary that opened Sept. 1 at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis, explores a little known aspect of popular music: the contribution of American Indians.

The film’s subtitle is “The Indians Who Rocked the World,” and directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana feature interviews with a variety of American Indian musicians. I didn’t connect some of the musicians featured here with their Native roots; for example, many New Orleans-based artists, like the Neville brothers, claim Choctaw ancestry.

The film’s title comes from the Link Wray song. He was Shawnee, from North Carolina. You likely have heard Wray’s distinctive guitar sound on “Rumble” and “Apache” (he also wrote “Shawnee” and “Comanche”). A host of famous rockers, from Robbie Robertson to Iggy Pop, testify in the film to Wray’s influence on their musical direction.

The documentary lingers over certain figures. For example, there’s the late AIM leader and poet John Trudell, who hooked up with rock guitarist Jesse Ed Davis (Comanche and Kiowa) for his first words and music album, “AKA Graffiti Man.” In “Rumble,” Trudell talks about his friend Jesse Ed, who was a beloved and influential rock guitarist. Davis first gained widespread notice from his work on Taj Mahal’s “Giant Step” album. He played sessions with John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne and other stars in the rock pantheon, and recorded his own albums. Davis, who battled drugs and alcohol for many years, died in 1988, at the age of 43.

“Rumble” also delves into jazz and folk music. Mildred Bailey (1900-1951), who grew up on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Idaho, was an influential jazz singer. In the film, the legendary Tony Bennett says that for a span of his formative years he only listened to Bailey. In 1938, Bailey had two No. 1 hits (“Please Be Kind” and “Says My Heart”), with Red Norvo and His Orchestra.

And Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree) discusses her role in the American folk revival of the ’60s, and how her activism for Native causes led to her being cast aside by the ruling titans of TV and other pop culture outlets.

“Rumble” is a very entertaining film; and it fills a gap in the history of popular music, which thus far has minimized or totally neglected the important role of American Indians.


Menace to society

I was out of the country in July and too jet-lagged to write a column for the August edition. It was good to be 5,000 miles away from this country and the nonstop catastrophe of the Trump administration for a couple of weeks. But I’m back and, like everybody, forced to confront the horrifying debacle that is U.S. politics.

In my June column, I noted that Trump professed his concern about American Indians, in a White House meeting with tribal leaders. Of course, you can’t believe everything that Donald Trump says.

When Trump’s not totally delusional, he’s a profligate liar. Clearly there’s something wrong with this guy, and we’re in peril as long as he commands the U.S. military arsenal. In August, Trump offered his “fire and fury” remarks, vis-à-vis North Korea.

His threat to start a nuclear war was mainly forgotten after the white supremacist chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Aug. 12, the KKK and neo-Nazis staged their largest demonstrations in recent years, ostensibly to protest the campaign to remove a statue of Civil War general Robert E. Lee. After a series of brawls, a young neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters killing Heather Heyer, and injuring a dozen other people. The driver, James A. Fields, has been charged with murder.

In response to the shocking events, Trump condemned the violence “on many sides” – suggesting an equivalence between the racists and anti-Semites and those who showed up to protest them. He later alleged that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the confrontation in Charlottesville.

And the president continues to defend those supporting monuments to Confederate leaders and the benighted cause of upholding chattel slavery in the South. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump tweeted.

With a president who threatens to destroy human life on the planet, and then supports white supremacists on the march, we’re in dangerous and uncharted waters. Trump should be impeached, or removed through provisions of the 25th Amendment. When this lunatic is out of power, we can deal with the new threat posed by President Pence.

The colonization of Asemaa
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Suzanne Nash,
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The summer months are ending and the fall harvest begins. This is a time when we gather the things we need to make it through the winter. We start with our asemaa (tobacco) and make an offering for the season and for the blessings to come – the animals, water, moon and the sun that always rises up and a time to be thankful for these gifts.

The creator has given us these gifts and the first gift was asemaa. It was given as a way to communicate with the creator and send our prayers, thoughts, blessings and the four directions. Today tobacco has become many things and made in different forms and flavors and used in a non-ceremonial way. This has caused great harm to our people.

Since 1884 it was illegal for us to practice our religion. It was then that we begin to use commercial tobacco; it was the only way for us to pray without getting arrested. Asemaa has been colonized and taken from us, and altered to fit into the western world by adding chemicals and additives to enhance the flavor for the purpose of profit and gain.  

Since then tobacco companies have targeted and exploited different populations and vulnerable adults by offering free products and marketing campaigns.

During World War II (1939-1945), cigarette sales were at an all time high. Cigarettes were included in a soldier’s C-Rations (like food). Tobacco companies sent millions of cigarettes to the soldiers for free, and when these soldiers came home, the companies had a steady stream of loyal customers. In 1956 R.J. Reynolds introduced the Salem Brand, which was the first filter-tipped menthol cigarette, altering the flavor to mask the flavor of tobacco. Since then more brands have been introduced such as Kool and Camel menthol.

Tobacco use is much higher in some communities and populations such as American Indians and Alaska Natives, and in subsets of certain populations, including Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Certain types of tobacco products also are used at higher rates in certain populations.

It wasn’t until 1964 that the Surgeon Generals report on “Smoking and Health” came out.

“Today there are 5 million people around the world dying each year from tobacco use. It’s going to grow to 10 million a year by 2020 and 7 million of those deaths will be in developing countries,” said Kathy Mulvey, international policy director for Corporate Accountability International. The group works with the World Health Organization to curb smoking abroad.

This year, farmers are expected to sell more than 700 million pounds of tobacco leafs.

Let’s reclaim (Asemaa) and keep it sacred.

Suzanne Nash
Indigenous Peoples Task Force

“A Bag Worth A Pony” is a well-illustrated study of bandolier bags
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Deborah Locke,
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 Beadworkers Batiste Sam and Maude Kegg pause to relax with Fred Benjamin at Mille Lacs. c. 1994. (All photos courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.)A Bag Worth a Pony: The Art of the Ojibwe Bandolier Bag Paperback
By Marcia G. Anderson
Published May 15, 2017
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Paperback: 272 pages

For students of American Indian history in general – and of niche Ojibwe history in particular – “A Bag Worth a Pony” is for you. Or if you’re a fabric and textile wonk or College of Design instructor or student at the University of Minnesota, “A Bag Worth a Pony” is for you. Or if Ojibwe family names like Kegg, Sam, LeGarde, Hole in the Day, LaFave, Moos, Benjamin, Posey, King, Smith, and a dozen others mean something to you, read this book.

“A Bag Worth A Pony: The Art of the Ojibwe Bandolier Bag” is a meticulous and exceptionally well-illustrated study of the history of beaded Ojibwe bandolier bags, or gashkibidaaganag (which loosely translates in Ojibwe as an item that is enclosed, attached and tied).

The author, Marcia G. Anderson, is a retired collections curator at the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) who stumbled over a storage box of beaded bags in 1981. The discovery whetted Anderson’s fascination for fabric, crafts and women’s work and presented challenging questions. Who were the women who created the exquisitely beautiful designs? What were the bags used for and for whom were they created? How old are the earliest bags? Why status did they confer to the wearer?

Those questions and more prompted countless trips to museums, archives and Ojibwe reservations to learn the history and artistry of the prestigious gashkibidaaganag.

Batiste Sam with her gashkibidaagan, 1995.In the first half of the book Anderson’s findings give a tremendous amount of detail about the evolution of the form, structure and motif of the bags. The book’s title is explained here – in the 1800s the Dakota found the Ojibwe gashkibidaaganag so valuable that they traded a pony for an bag. Hence the bags – that appear to be dated back to about 1870 – became a form of commerce and of cultural identity, Anderson wrote. Even if the Ojibwe dressed like “Christianized Indian farmers,” the addition of a bag over that clothing was symbolic to Indians and non-Indians of a proud Ojibwe heritage.

The sheer volume of information gives the first half of the book a textbook-like feel. Anderson goes into detail on bead types, thread types, border differences, tassels, fringes, and the disappearance of pockets.

You can easily imagine Anderson with gloved hands cautiously exploring the size and details of all 123 full bags in the MHS collection, and then the dozens of bags she examined off-site. The Society’s photo collection enhanced the study of gashkibidaaganag for Anderson as she ably identified the earlier loom-woven bags and their evolution to the later year spot-stitch applique bags.

In the book’s photos, Ojibwe men displayed full regalia which included the wearing of at least one bag. The published photos give an intriguing pictorial history of the Ojibwe in the 1800s and 1900s. In short, the reader wants to learn more about the bag wearers. Some were part of a treaty delegation, some posed for studio photographers, some posed in family portraits.

The heart of the book, however, is its second half where artistry comes to life through the stories of Ojibwe women (and a few men) from each Minnesota Ojibwe reservation who created the bags. In mid-book, two of the country’s premier bag creators and respected elders from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Batiste Sam and Maude Kegg, are pictured with Fred Benjamin. (Fred is misidentified in the photo as Kenny Weyaus.) The photo of these two beloved grandmas depicts pure exuberance and joy, and you’d just like to give each of them a hug.

Maude and Baptiste have passed away, but their amazing talent lives on in the applique bags stored at the Mille Lacs Museum near Onamia. Anderson wrote that the Ojibwe favored floral designs in general, but unique flourishes emerged at each reservation. Distinctive Mille Lacs designs included the cornucopia, the trumpet flower and the seed pod. Anderson wrote: “Maude’s bag was, like most Ojibwe gashkibidaaganag, filled with the fluidity, enthusiasm, and the unique signature of the individual bead artist.”

Gashkibidaagan made by Maude Kegg, 1982.That kind of conclusion arrives after careful study, but in addition to her research skill, Anderson demonstrates cultural sensitivity and an affection and respect for the women who created these objects of beauty. She pointed out the many decisions a beader made before picking up bead and thread, such as the taste of the man who would wear it. The beader considered the best of what was old and new in bag creation, what beads, thread and fabric were available, and colors and patterns.

Anderson wrote: “And she did all this, with the simplest of resources, while struggling with political oppression that amounted to cultural genocide – forced assimilation, outlawing of traditional religious practices, forced removal of children to boarding schools – and, often, severe poverty.”

Gashkibidaaganag became wildly popular throughout North America especially through the Arts and Crafts period of the 1920s. The women beaders of Minnesota were viewed as the best in the world and the money they earned from bag production was critical to their households.

Again, the book is not for everyone as its detail can be overwhelming at times. But the photographs of gashkibidaaganag are gorgeous, and the portion with personal accounts from master beaders is invaluable. If you are a serious student of Ojibwe history, you’ll want to know what is in this book.



Indian Horse Relay showcases Native American horse athletes
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Photos &text courtesy of Shakopee mdewakanton sioux community,
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High-speed American Indian bareback relay racing was on display at Canterbury Park August 24-26 in Shakopee, Minn. The event was presented by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC).

Relay teams consisted of three horses and four warriors. Riders in full regalia raced bareback down the track and exchanged horses at high speeds.

The Indian Horse Relay at Canterbury Park began in 2013 when the SMSC was invited to the Apsaalooke Crow Nation to see their Native American horse racing event. The SMSC’s Mystic Lake Casino Hotel partnered with Canterbury Park in 2012, bringing the sport to life in the area’s largest horse racing venue.

Native American music and dancing was held between races each night. Performances included SMSC Royalty, a traditional Native American drum group, and others.

For more information on Indian Horse Relay races, visit: 


orses are often painted for Indian Horse Relays to match the teams’ colors.  The horse is an important part of Native American culture. Referred to as the Horse Nation,  horses have a way of bringing Native people from all walks of life together. In an Indian Horse Relay race, riders make exchanges with the help of their teammates. But with so many  variables, plenty can go wrong--from flipped riders to loose horses running the track. Rider Dani Buffalo Jr., representing Holds the Enemy from the Crow Nation, executes a smooth exchange during the race.

The rain and drizzle didn't slow down JT Longfeather, rider for the Long Feather team from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The team showed talent and determination and placed fourth in the consolation relay. The championship race on Saturday night finished in dramatic fashion, with a video replay between Brew Crew, from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and Tissidimit, from the  Sho-Ban Tribes. While Brew Crew (middle) appeared to have claimed the title, pulling ahead of Tissidimit by inches on the last stretch, the team was disqualified due to a rider infraction, leaving the crown to the Tissimidit team (left).

White Earth tribe holds high hopes for hemp
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Dan Gunderson/MPR News,
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hempstory2.jpgThere’s a lot of expectation invested in a few acres of hemp growing on a hill overlooking the small town of Callaway on the edge of the White Earth Reservation.

“I’m kinda nervous,” says tribal secretary-treasurer Tara Mason. “I don’t think I’ve been this concerned about how a crop is doing on White Earth until we planted these.”

Mason is nervous because the tribe has nearly $100,000 invested in this project and because she sees so much potential for economic development on this remote reservation.

“I think we’ve got a whole micro-economy that can be surrounded by hemp,” she said. “You know, this could really be the start of a lot of great things we can build on in the future.”

Hemp is grown for seeds or fiber. The seeds and the oil produced by crushing the seeds are a growing part of the food market.

“We are seeing growth in domestic hemp sales of 10-15 percent a year steadily as people discover that this is one of few grains that has complete protein,” said University of Minnesota professor George Weiblen, who has been studying hemp genetics for more than a decade. “It also has an excellent fatty acid profile, omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids that are popular for heart health.”

It’s also genetically related to marijuana, a connection that’s made widespread legal production in the United States nearly impossible. While hemp plants hold only a small amount of THC, the compound that gives marijuana it’s narcotic effect, the federal government still considers hemp a controlled substance, an illegal drug.

hempstorypeople.jpgThree years ago, Congress legalized industrial hemp for research purposes, but only under the watch of a university or a state agriculture department.

Last year, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency gave the Minnesota Department of Agriculture permission to start a hemp pilot project without running afoul of federal drug laws. It required the hemp seed be imported under permits from the state Agriculture Department. Six participants grew 40 acres.

This year, Minnesota ag officials received 42 applications for more than 2,000 acres. That included the tract at White Earth, which used seed imported from Canada and Europe. Although White Earth is a sovereign nation, tribal officials say they are following all state and federal regulations related to hemp.

Weiblen is overseeing hemp variety trials around the state including on the White Earth Reservation where there are 12 varieties of hemp bred for seed production. He’s certain hemp can be successfully grown across Minnesota.

“It’s ready to go. It’s suited to our region. We are halfway through our trial in Minnesota and we’re seeing plants doing very well,” said Weiblen. “Right now the main limiting step for hemp cultivation in Minnesota is the processing.”

Processing requires mills to chop plant stocks and extract fibers, and squeeze oil from the seeds.

White Earth is considering buying a press to crush seeds for hemp oil, but they see perhaps more potential in the taller, more robust plants growing next to the seed test plot.

“We have five varieties,” explains White Earth food sovereignty coordinator Zachary Paige, standing next to hemp plants that are about 7 feet tall. “It’s amazing. I’ve heard there’s 22,000 products you can make from hemp, so it’s pretty limitless.”

The hemp stalk has long fibers a bit like wool on the outside and a woody material inside. The long fibers are commonly used to make rope and fabric.

Right now, most of that market demand is filled with cheap Chinese imports. And those long fibers are difficult to extract

“So we’re going to start with the easier products, the hempcrete, the fiber board,” said Paige.

Hempcrete is concrete made with chopped-up hemp fibers. It’s lighter and stronger than traditional concrete. Fiber board combines wood chips and hemp in a plywood-like panel.

The challenges of processing hemp have tribal officials cautious about the payoff from hemp, but they envision making construction materials and creating much needed jobs.

“If you can integrate the hemp industry along with the building industry, mankind is always building,” said Douglas Lee, a student at the White Earth tribal college who’s helping create a hemp industry economic development plan. “That’s one need that’s never going to run out is building material.”

Hemp also fits well with the White Earth Nation vision for sustainable food production, said food sovereignty coordinator Paige. These hemp plots have had no added fertilizer or pesticides so it would fit well with an organic crop rotation.

“Edible beans, native corn, hemp, alfalfa. This kind of rotation is an organic rotation that would be profitable in a value added market,” said Paige.

White Earth chair Terry Tibbetts says creating industry around hemp would be a good way for White Earth to use its limited resources. He says because land is a renewable resource the tribe can use it to build a sustainable economy.

“The only thing that we have is gaming. So you know, we’re taking a look right now and diversifying,” Tibbetts said. “Because we don’t know how long Indian gaming is going to be around.”

Minnesota Public Radio News can be heard on MPR’s statewide radio network or online at:

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