Saturday, November 30, 2013

News story on my painting: 'Our Crops' tells 'a wonderful story'

Story about my painting in the Des Moines Register today.

'Our Crops' tells 'a wonderful story'

Artist's tribute to first farmers hangs in Iowa Gallery at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates

'Wamanje Hintewi' ('Our Crops') is an acrylic painting by Lance Foster. / Michael Morain/the Register

Written by
Michael Morain

Visit the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates
Admission to the Hall of Laureates, 100 Locust St., [Des Moines, Iowa], is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. most Tuesdays and Saturdays.


In the traditional account of the first Thanksgiving, the Wampanoag Indians usually take a back seat to the English colonists. They help the newcomers put food on the table and then quietly go their separate way, leaving the white settlers to their prayers and nation-building.

But a fresh reminder of Native America’s ongoing story now hangs in the Iowa Gallery at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates. It’s a painting of an Ioway woman tending to sunflowers and the so-called “three sisters” — the corn, beans and squash that would have filled out that first Thanksgiving feast. The painting’s Ioway title is “Wamanje Hintewi” (“Our Crops”), which sounds a lot more Ioway than the artist’s decidedly un-Ioway name, Lance Foster.

But Foster is, in fact, a member of the Iowa Nation. He grew up in Montana, studied at Iowa State University and moved recently to a reservation in Kansas, where many members of the tribe now live. (The tribe’s northern branch calls itself the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, while the southern branch is the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma.)

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, who leads the World Food Prize Foundation, tracked him down a few years ago when Quinn was looking for the Ioway words for “prairie” (Tanji) and “corn” (Waduje), which were the titles of two other paintings at the Hall of Laureates. Quinn called Foster in Montana, out of the blue, and left it at that.

A couple of years passed before Quinn bumped into professor David Gradwohl, co-founder of Iowa State’s American Indian Studies Program. He mentioned that Foster was both a former student and a gifted artist.

So Quinn called Foster again and commissioned the new painting for the World Food Prize Foundation’s permanent collection. It arrived this fall.

“I just thought it would be a wonderful story” for the Hall of Laureates, Quinn said. “If you’re going to walk visitors through the history of agriculture in Iowa, let’s start them at the beginning.”

The artist explained his work this way: “This scene is set at the height of summer, with clouds bringing needed rain, and the moon regulating the rhythms of growth. The sun also indicates the passage of time, marking the past and the future, both contained in the present.”

And time rolls on. Foster painted four John Deere tractors around the painting’s border, each kicking up a plume of dust and seed corn.

“So many of the crops we depend on now — not just for food but fuel and clothing and all these other things — they’re based on crops we developed in the New World,” Foster said. “There’s a saying that the first seven feet of Iowa soil is made up of our bones.”

Lance Foster

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013: The River of Thought

The river of thought.
A time, a place, but more,
A moment so perfect and clear.
People I knew and loved,
no, love still.

Now all long gone,
Tossed about 
in the undertow unseen.

Bobbing up to the surface unbidden,
like the river's drowned and lost,
Their souls laughing gently.

Moving like cloud shadows scudding,
across the glowing plains.

Around the river's bend,
Playing like ghost otters, 
not looking back,
But diving back down,
Back into the dark current.

-Lance M. Foster, © 2013

= = = = = = = = =

Mono no aware (物の哀れ?), literally "the pathos of things", and also translated as "an empathy toward things", or "a sensitivity to ephemera", is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence (無常 mujō?), or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life. (Wikipedia)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Useful Plants of the Nemaha Country (List in Progress)

A working list in progress of "top 5/10/etc. most useful plants" from various sources. I will be working on this list and reposting it as I complete different sections of it).

If you are learning to identify and use plants, or find new uses for kitchen spices, these are plants to look for. If you have an issue about so-called "weeds," and this is a big thing in agricultural areas, please realize some "weeds" can be even more nutritious and medicinally useful than most of your pretty garden plants.

Warning: Be aware that plants are spiritual beings as well, and proper gathering and careful stewardship is needed for treatment and use to be efficacious (to work well and properly). Grow the plants that can be grown in your garden (g) and freely gather (but with respect) those marked as invasives or weeds (i). But take special care not to gather too many of the natives (n) as many are threatened and people have wiped out patches in their greed. Plants are spiritual beings and this must be remembered and accounted for. They can harm as well as heal.

n = native to Nemaha (the far northeastern corner of Kansas and southeastern corner of Nebraska, as well as just across the Missouri River in the Platte Purchase lands of my tribe).
i = "weedy"/nonnative/introduced invasive plant, grows here on their own but many regard them as "bad" or as weeds
g = desirable garden/cultivated plant, can be grown here (?= possibly, not known for sure)
s = will not grow outside here, wrong climate entirely, must be bought in store

The Ten Plants with the greatest number of uses by Native Americans overall, and uses for medicinal, food, dye, fiber, and other (Moerman 1998: 11)

Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) = g? perhaps
Common chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) = n
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) = n
Banana yucca (Yucca baccata) = ? (I have seen yucca here but Yucca glauca)
Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) = n
Common cowparsnip (Heracleum maximum) = n
Skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata) = n
Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) = g? perhaps
Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) = g? perhaps
Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) = g

The Ten Plants with the greatest number of uses by Native Americans for medicines (Moerman 1998: 12)

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) = i
Calamus (Acorus calamus) aka Sweet flag = n
Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), aka Grandfather Sage = g? perhaps
Fernleaf biscuitroot (Lomatium dissectum) = g? perhaps
Common chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) = n
Louisiana sagewort (Artemisia ludoviciana), aka White Sage, Prairie Sage, Man Sage = n
Devil's club (Oplopanax horridus) = g? perhaps
Common juniper (Juniperus communis) = n
Canada mint (Mentha canadensis) = n
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) = n

The Ten Plants with the greatest number of uses by Native Americans for food (Moerman 1998: 15)

Common chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) = n
Banana yucca (Yucca baccata) = g?
Corn (Zea mays) = g
Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) = g?
Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) = g? (probably too humid here)
American red raspberry (Rubus idaeus) = n
Saguaro cactus (Carnegia gigantea) = 0 (too humid)
Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) = g?
Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) = g?
Broadleaf cattail (Typha latifolia) = n

There are also top ten lists in Moerman for dyes, fiber, and "other" (this last category is for things like toys, fuels, tools, or ceremonial, etc.). I might add these later.

Note also that the original plant lists were derived from selected sources and are only a starting point for further investigation.

Common Plants used to treat kids 
when they have simple, day-to-day, first aid type ailments

Chickweed (Stellaria media) - i (
Violet (Viola spp.)  - n (
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) - i (
Plantain weed (Plantago spp.) - i (
Chamomile - g (certain species from the Family Asteraceae) (
Calendula - g (Calendula spp., pot marigold, not the common marigold) (
Marshmallow - g (Althea officinalis) (
Burdock - i (Arctium spp.) (
Elder/elderberry - n (Sambucus spp.) (
Pine - g (Pinus spp.)
Rose - g, n

Herbals Medicines for your Medicine Chest (general, adults/children)

Peppermint - w, g
Lemon balm
Eucalyptus - s
Echinacea - n
Licorice root
Tea tree
Calendula - g
St. Johnswort - w
Arnica - n
Plantain (weed, not the food) - w
Aloe vera - s
Clove - s
Slippery elm - ?s
Mullein - w
Garlic - g

= = = = = = =

Learning Herbs.
Moerman, Daniel. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland: Timber Press.

I first posted this on my Montana blog a few years back, and thought I would revisit it now that I have relocated to the Nemaha country.

Look for the Messengers

Here, in an area variously characterized as "rural," or "an outlying district" in "flyover country," the power often goes out for various lengths of time. It could be a series of flickers or waves, or perhaps a couple of hours, or even a matter of days. And it doesn't take a thunderstorm or ice storm for this to happen. Sometimes, like early this morning, there is no apparent reason at all. I woke up at 4:25 am to a very dark apartment which was beginning to get quite cool. Luckily the bed was still warm, and my wife stayed sleeping soundly. You never know how many gizmos you have, with little lights that glow and illuminate the apartment, until the power goes off. Then you see the gizmos that have battery backups, as those are the only ones with lights in them. I looked outside and all the streets were dark. I began wondering about people with C-PAP machines they relied on to sleep, and refrigerators and the fact the heat here is electric too. I began to think more about increasing poverty for all and the ongoing collapse of our society. Then power came back on about half an hour later, and I was already awake so I thought I might as well post something.

Power going off and storms and things make me think about those things, the way small ailments can make one think about death as one gets older. I never used to think about collapse before when I was younger, when the power went out. But I never used to think about death when I was younger, when I or someone else close to me got sick. It reminds me of one of my favorite stories from Grimm, less famous than some others, but pertinent.

Death's Messengers

By Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

In ancient times a giant was wandering along the highway when suddenly a stranger jumped toward him and shouted, "Stop! Not one step further!"

"What?" said the giant. "You, a creature that I could crush between my fingers, you want to block my way? Who are you that you dare to speak so boldly?"

"I am Death," answered the other one. "No one resists me, and you too must obey my orders."

But the giant refused, and began to wrestle with Death. It was a long, violent battle, and finally the giant got the upper hand, and knocked Death down with his fist, causing him to collapse by a stone. The giant went on his way, and Death lay there conquered, so weak that he could not get up again.

"What is to come of this?" he said. "If I stay lying here in a corner, no one will die in the world, and it will become so filled with people that they won't have room to stand beside one another."

Meanwhile a young man came down the road. Vigorous and healthy, he was singing a song and looking this way and that. Seeing the half-conscious individual, he approached him with compassion, raised him up, gave him a refreshing drink from his flask, and waited until he regained his strength.

"Do you know," asked the stranger, as he stood up, "who I am, and whom you have helped onto his legs again?"

"No," answered the youth, "I do not know you."

"I am Death," he said. "I spare no one, nor can make an exception with you. However, so you may see that I am grateful, I promise you that I will not attack you without warning, but instead will send my messengers to you before I come and take you away."

"Good," said the youth. "It is to my benefit that I shall know when you are coming, and that I will be safe from you until then."

Then he went on his way, and was cheerful and carefree, and lived one day at a time. However, youth and good health did not last long. Soon came sickness and pain, which tormented him by day and deprived him of his rest by night.

"I shall not die," he said to himself, "for Death will first send his messengers, but I do wish that these wicked days of sickness were over."

Regaining his health, he began once more to live cheerfully. Then one day someone tapped on his shoulder.

He looked around, and death was standing behind him, who said, "Follow me. The hour of your departure from this world has come."

"What?" replied the man. "Are you breaking your word? Did you not promise me that you would send your messengers to me before you yourself would come? I have not seen a one of them."

"Be still!" answered Death. "Have I not sent you one messenger after another? Did not fever come and strike you, and shake you, and throw you down? Has not dizziness numbed your head? Has not gout pinched your limbs? Did your ears not buzz? Did toothache not bite into your cheeks? Did your eyes not darken? And furthermore, has not my own brother Sleep reminded you every night of me? During the night did you not lie there as if you were already dead?"

The man did not know how to answer, so he surrendered to his fate and went away with Death.


The images are from a German book with English and German versions, Die Boten des Todes.

So look then for the Messengers... 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bird Poop = Good Luck

I am due for some good luck. I sat outside this morning to enjoy the sun and the birds in the woods. I heard some plopping sounds and felt one on my head. I scratched my head and a little brown poop was there. I looked up and Robin (Ioway: wayinye mange shuje, "red breast bird") was looking down at me. Some might take this as an insult. But according to some old superstitions, it's good luck (#1). I took in good humor so that was good. Didn't get mad, just chuckled. I like Robin. Luckily, too, as see #6.
  1. If a bird poops on your head it is a sign of good luck.
  2. Don’t become a sailor if you kill an albatross, as superstition states you will get lost at sea (we just think you shouldn’t on principle).
  3. It is good luck if a blackbird makes a nest on your house.
  4. If you see 5 crows, sickness will follow; see 6 crows and death will follow.
  5. To avoid bad luck tip your hat if you see a magpie.
  6. Whatever you do to a robin will happen to you, so be nice!
  7. It is bad luck to see an owl during the day.
  8. A kingfisher is a very lucky bird.
  9. Three seagulls flying together, directly overhead, are a warning of death soon to come.
  10. Sparrows carry the souls of the dead, it’s unlucky to kill one (again, we think killing any birds is wrong).
  11. When a swan lays its head and neck back over its body during the daytime it means a storm is coming.
  12. Having a wren around will prevent one from drowning.
  13. A bird that flies into a house foretells an important message. However, if the bird dies, or is white, this foretells death.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Back From the Field

This week I went to several places for consultation on how to best preserve ancestral sites of my people. I went to Blood Run and Good Earth, and then to a nameless ridge that rises out of the plains, and on which mounds and ceremonial sites marked the sacredness of the land. I am back now.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dupuis Hollow "Pond"

A little about Dupuis Hollow (aka today as the Pauline Fee place). The place's real historical name is Dupuis Hollow, named after Frank Dupuis who lived there when he and Betsy Cedar (later Betsy Story) were married and lived there in the late 1800s.

People mention now and again the big pond or "lake" they remember being there but which has now dried up. Usually these folks are in their 40s or under.

This photo was taken on September 25, 1997, when the big pond was still there in Dupuis Hollow. The man is Uncle Dick Murphy, my grandmother's younger brother. He lives in Oklahoma now.

Originally those were freshwater springs, that were plugged up/dammed up by some renters in the 1970s-80s to make a pond for fish, according to Aunt Pauline, who owned it last. Dupuis Hollow was our family's allotment/home, from at last 1892 up until 1992, when she sold it to the tribe.

According to my dad, those springs once had the best-tasting water he ever had, when he lived there back for a few years as a kid in the WWII era. The dam/plug ruined the springs, and they soon turned stagnant.

This last decade or so, the pond dried up anyways because of the lowering of the water table due to drought and heavy agriculture use. Now there's neither springs nor a pond. Just dried up remnants and stains.

So don't feel bad about the dried-up pond too much because it made the springs stagnant and undrinkable anyways. In our old ways, springs were living and holy. Ideally, the plug would be removed, so that the springs have a chance to return…if the drought ever ceases.

The Old River Road and the Bluffs

The old River Road, that runs along the Missouri, was built on a route cut for a railroad in the 1800s. It runs along the edge of the loess bluffs and the Missouri floodplain. Sometimes it floods. It had a reputation as being a haunted road, from at least the early 1900s. There is a hitchhiking ghost which takes the form of an elderly man with a suitcase, for example. It still has that reputation as a haunted road.

Along this road there are dark hollows in the bluff faces, ranging from the size of ravines to small valleys, between hills and bluffs. When I brought my grandparents back for a final visit, back in about 1983 I think, we drove along the road and they told me the names of many of the hollows. Our family place was in Dupuis Hollow, where Betsy Story had her allotment. She was my grandmother's great-grandmother. I'll do a post on Dupuis Hollow sometime. Other hollows were named Happy Hollow and Sleepy Hollow (yes, really). There were others as well. My grandmother's grandfather on her mother's side, William Barada, was said to have known not only all the names of the people who lived in all those hollows, but the names of the hollows in both English and Ioway.

Today, most of that has been forgotten. No one knows which one is Sleepy Hollow. Dupuis Hollow is now known by the younger generation as the Pauline Fee place. Aunt Pauline was my grandmother's sister, and she was the one who sold Dupuis Hollow to the tribe. At least the tribe still owns one part of the bluffs, within our reservation. Most of our reservation lands were eventually lost through the Allotment Act of 1887.

Happy Hollow is in the process of losing its name too. The road leading up through Happy Hollow near the Missouri bottoms, up the hills to the tribal headquarters, was named after it, and was known as Happy Hollow Road.

However, some kind of state project re-named many of the roads here. Happy Hollow Road was renamed Thrasher Road. It is said there was a pool of road names suggested by schoolchildren across the state. I don't know why a historically known and beautiful name like Happy Hollow Road was changed to Thrasher Road. It's not like there are lots of brown thrashers here.  And the old Roys Creek Road (along Roy's Creek) was renamed Sagebrush Road, though not a sagebrush can be found. The wonders of "well-intentioned" bureaucracy I guess.

I also recently learned that the Nature Conservancy owns and manages 444 acres of land within the Iowa Reservation. They call it Rulo Bluffs, oddly enough, though it looks closer to White Cloud, and they could have at least named it for the Ioway people whose reservation it lies within. I am glad they take care of it, instead of it being developed, no doubt. It is, however, ironic to me how little of "our land" on our small reservation we Ioway actually own.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


I remember in high school I would most often read in the library during lunch. A way to keep from being bullied for an artsy quiet kid.

Then I discovered the room. No one went there that I ever saw. There was a stereo in there, and a cabinet full of LP albums. Most were not popular artists. Most were world music, classical music, and just weird stuff. I got the librarian to let me in there to listen to it all.

I'd put on some music from some foreign land, maybe Chinese or Indonesian or West African or Native American or Latin American. I'd put on those old big headphones, turn off the light, and travel in the dark to far away places. Or I'd listen to some classical music from Beethoven or Mozart or Bach or some Gregorian chants. And for an hour, I'd travel in the dark, to someplace else.

A wise woman once said, "Midlife: when you realize your fantasies aren't going to happen and instead you're going to die."

Another wise woman said, "Yeah. I look around my house and I see lots of books on my shelves that I've never read, thinking I'll get to them some day. And more and more often I think I may never get to them at all, nor all the books on my list of books to read, nor will I probably ever see most of the movies on my movie list. There are lots of places I will never get a chance to go and see."

Midlife. A real chance to embrace reality or run from it. It's an interesting place to come to, isn't it?  If it just takes you into self-pity or depression, it was a waste to get here. If it carves away the excess, if it makes you leaner and cleaner in your thinking, and more compassionate…THAT's it, that's where to be.

Migration of Blackbirds and Robins

2013, Nov. 9, Sat. First post to this new blog.

This afternoon, an awesome sight. Wave after wave of flocks of blackbirds and robins swept overhead in migratory flight. Some paused in the branches of the cottonwood above me. The air was full of life, the sounds of wing-winds surrounding me, with the squeaky hinges call of the blackbirds (the majority) and chirry-ups of the robins who joined them. I lay back under the tree, immersed in the living world.

ibrixdo: blackbird (Agelaius sp.)

wayinye mangeshuje: American robin ("red-breast bird") (Turdus migratorius)

The blackbirds were in the majority, but the robins were not shy, with both kinds of birds chasing each other and perching together. There is some kind of relationship between the robin and blackbird I do not yet understand. The flocks swept in from the west and southwest. Some would rest for a few minutes in the branches overhead, tilting their heads to look down at me, or resting in the trees beyond the house.

I watched the flocks come in and move onward for a half hour, in the direction of the Nemaha bluffs.