Friday, January 31, 2014


A "Hanwe Pi!" from our little brother Thinye (THEE-nyey) this cold snowy morning. (...TH as in think, not the TH in that).

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Wakanda and Alfreka

Land that is torn up by human action becomes alfreka (a Norse term) and whatever land spirits might be there would be disturbed. That would be linked to odd events and a sense of unease. These are not spirits of the human dead, but spirits of the land itself, which the old-time Ioways called wakanda (mysterious powers).

Wakanda which was were especially noted in the water, in the bluffs, and in odd places. Most of these were only "bad" if disturbed. But some were just dangerous all the time. Water spirits which sometimes drowned people were called in Ioway, ischexi (water panther), one of the wakanda piskunyi (bad spirit).

There are still some stories I've heard from people who were warned to keep away from the river, and even particular places in the river, because those places had a bad reputation, and a person may have drowned there, and it could happen again.

But this isn't just in the water, some places on the land could be disturbed and then become hostile. The old-time people usually made offerings at such places to keep things from happening, like tobacco or food. In the old days, they offered dogs, as substitutes for human lives. Some people have had better luck if damaged land is repaired, like through planting native plants and fruit trees.

If you are on Facebook, we explore some of these legends and folklore at:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Shunka Warak'in and Being "Indian"

Looks like I'm going to be interviewed for a television program in a few weeks. It's about the Ioway legend of the Shunka Warak'in, an animal that is kind of a cross between a wolf and a hyena. The name means "it-carries-off-dogs-in-its-mouth." After the Ioways discovered dogs were missing from camp, they tracked down this animal and killed it. It was tough to kill, so they made its skin into war bundle amulets, which would impart that ability to warriors who wore the amulets.

There's a long involvement I have had with this story, since the 1990s, and I have written about it and been interviewed about it before. I will post information about the program later, if and when it is broadcast. But you can see an interview I did on the same legend for a student project at a Montana university a few years ago here.

The lady who asked me to do the interview is located in one of those coastal areas I referred to in my art a few posts ago, Flyover Country. She told me that people have the same kind of ideas about how Indians live that many of the people do who only know Indians from books and movies. They wanted some shots around the area which showed an Indian flavor.

I couldn't offer much in the way of tipis, buffalo, or horses, or even people in braids and beads, but I had a few suggestions about landscapes, old buildings, artifacts, and eagles one might be able to see here. Given I don't "look Indian" to a lot of folks who are't used to the realities of a lot of tribes these days, I expect some confusion and having to explain yet again how things are these days when they arrive as well. Our little community doesn't seem to differ that much in manny ways from any of the other rural communities in these parts.

The situation reminds me of an "extra scene" on the Wampanoag documentary DVD about how they are trying to revive their language. There is a mixed race Wampanoag man, who looks black to about the same extent that I look white, that is, quite a bit. I like what he says.

He says that people look at him and say, "So you're Indian?"
He says, "Yes."
They say, "But you're black."
He says, "Yes."
They say, "But you're Indian?"
He says, "Yes."
They say, "But you're black?"
He says, "Yes."

Anyone who doesn't see the utter "Indianness" in this man's story, needs to rethink their ideas about what being an Indian is, because his response is totally Indian.

"So you're Indian?"
"But you're white."
"But you're Indian?"
"But you're white."

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Good Day

I connect Ecclesiastes and the other biblical wisdom books in many ways with the Stoics, and for some reason, both click with me. That unwavering acceptance of reality, of doing one's duty in the face of death or whatever comes. it is not negative, but joyful in a deep sense. It feels very much like a part of the Japanese ethic of "mono no aware", or of the Native American code made famous in Crazy Horse's "It is a good day to die." It is not an embrace of death, but a recognition that we will die, it is inevitable, and so the sweetness of the day is all the sweeter in its brevity and purity and transience. It is a good day to die…it is as good as any other possible day, for all of the perfection of existence is here, now, at this place and in this moment. It is not negative, but so positive in the face of annihilation.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Flyover Country

We live in what some people call "flyover country." That is, country they fly over to go to or from "important places" like LA or New York. We are therefore dismissed from "importance." Just like our ancestors were. But to us, -these- are the places that matter, and the "important" people and places do not exist for us, anymore than we exist for them, not really, although they are certainly in the media more than we and flyover country is. That was the inspiration for this series I am having fun playing with. What I am really getting at are two things.

1. These people, our ancestors, in portrait shots in studios, we see only as images and "types." But they were ever bit as real and individual as people as any of us are. So I want to put them in settings that are "regular" and recognizable to us.

2. Too many people have no sense of the depth and complexity of history. There is "now" and "history." I am shocked at how some people, especially younger ones, blend WWII with the Civil War, or how some think Columbus discovered America in the 1700s. To some, history is a big mishmash. So okay, in this series, "back then" is all blended together somehow, in a time of black and white photos…

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Learning about the Land

I often tell people looking to understand the spiritual side of nature to connect with the Land where they are, and to learn about how the tribes where they live, and what they thought about the Land and its animals and plants and weather. Too often people live in someplace like New York or Iowa and focus on the Navajo or Apache culture, while they would be better off learning what the Six Nations (Iroquois) (if in New York) or Ioway or Meskwaki (if in Iowa) people thought about there, where they live. When I was in school in Santa Fe, although I was an Ioway, I wanted to learn what the Pueblo, Apache, or Navajo thought about the Land there in New Mexico.

Learning about the Land is one thing, or about the history and the people there. But one should not copy the religion or ceremonies of another people, because those represent a particular "contract" (way of life) between that tribe and the Land. People from another culture or place can learn about the Land and its Beings, but they have to develop new "contracts" with the Land and its ways themselves, not copy someone else's.

You can admire someone's Driver's License and learn what one must do to take the test and pass, but you can't use someone else's Driver's License. You have to study yourself, take the test, and pass yourself, before you can drive a car.

Heck, I was raised in Montana, so I know a lot more about Montana as a Place than I do here in Kansas about this place, the country of the Nemaha. If I woke up from a coma in my old home in Montana and looked out the window, I could tell what direction I was facing, what time of day and what time of year it was, and how the Land was doing. I can't do that here in Kansas yet. I haven't lived here long enough. So I am studying it here, learning from Ioway people, from the other tribes here, from the white farmers and hunters, and from the land itself  Bit by bit, step by step...

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Woodpecker and Apple

I didn't know woodpeckers eat apples if it is cold enough. You need fuel to keep warm. My backyard on subzero Monday. Ioway: togregredhe (toh-gray-gray-thay, with the "th" sound as in "that")

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Pete Dupeé [Dupuis] and the Ghosts

Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts {Pete Dupuis]
the story of an Ioway as told by a Hočąk

from the collection of W. C. McKern [source: Richard Dieterle's Hočąk webpages]

(207) He told this himself. When he was young, he was for a time in Kansas. He had a friend of the same age. His father died when he was a small boy. His father's brother married Pete's mother. Pete was raised by this step-father. He treated him like his own boy. In those days, they did not wear white man's clothes or blankets. They used to sport together, the two young men, going around and sharing their good times together. One time they said to each other, "Let us go after some women tonight." This they decided to do. Towards evening, they caught horses. They went towards the house of a certain young woman. It was quite a distance they had to go. They went for a way, and saw a black cloud coming from the west, but they kept on going. Still the cloud came closer. "Storm coming," they said. "Let's try to get to an empty house before it gets here," they said. Just before they got to the empty house, a great wind came. They tied the horses east of the house. The the rain started. They opened one window and went in. Then it rained hard. A big storm (208) with wind and rain was upon them. This storm did not last long. Before it quit raining, they heard someone making a noise upstairs. "Someone is there," said one. "No, it must be a ghost." So they went outdoors. The rain stopped and it was moonlight. When one tried to go out the window, the other pulled him back and tried himself, only to be pulled back in turn. They were afraid of the ghost. So it took quite awhile for them to escape from the house. Finally, one managed to get out. Then they got their horses and continued their journey.

In those days, they had sheds in front of lodges, with a stepped pole ascending to the top. This young woman was sleeping on top of the shed. Before they got there, they passed a graveyard. In the moonlight, they saw a new grave. They they went to where the girl and her sister slept on the shed. The girls knew these young men, and were very sociable with them. Then one girl said, "It's too bad that you came down here. We have had bad luck. Our younger sister died. So we should not do this; the old folks wouldn't like it. So you will have to go back at once. So they went home before daylight came. When they passed the graveyard, they were riding side by side. They heard someone right behind them talking to them. They didn't see anyone but they heard the voice. It said, (209) "I was going to ask you something last night, but you were afraid of us. That's why I did not speak last night." Then they both speeded up their horses, but one ran faster than the other. Still they heard the talking. "I was going to ask you to tell my people to dig me out. I came to life again, and if they do not soon dig me out, I shall be really dead. So notify my people to dig me out," said the woman. His friend left him behind, so he was left alone with the ghost. Then he thought of an old saying that to escape from a ghost one must cross a creek. Then he tried to reach a nearby creek as soon as possible. When he crossed the creek, the voice stopped and was heard no more. He could not find his friend anywhere. He got home at sunrise. Then he drove the horse into the pasture. Then he went into the lodge of his people. The old people were not up yet. He tried to sleep, but couldn't. After awhile his uncle said to him, "My son, something must have happened to you. You are not like your old self." "No," said Pete, "nothing has happened." "Surely something has happened to you," said the old man. Then he told him what he had heard. "We must notify these people, get your horse," said his uncle. The young man did not like to do this, but he went after the pony. Then they went to the girl's people, the young man and his uncle. (210) When they arrived, the uncle told them about it. That family consisted of the two girls, one brother, and their mother and father. The father then became angry. He went to take his gun to shoot them, but his son and daughters prevented him. "This may be so, we must try and see," they said. So they dug up the body of the dead girl. They found that she was alive. Then her father said, "Well, this is going to be your wife, because you caused her to live again." so he spoke to Pete. Pete said, "No! I don't want her to be my wife. I would rather that she should be my sister." "All right," said the father. "Call her 'sister'." Then he gave some horses and clothing to Pete. He said that he did something like this four times. Three times it was as above. The fourth time it was different.

The second time, he had been sporting around with his friend, playing the moccasin game. He hardly got any sleep. One time one said to the other, "Let's go to the store and get some tobacco." So they went to the store. Before they got there, they passed between two grave yards, one on either side of the road. There were some platform burials in these graveyards. When they were opposite the grave yards, they heard someone shouting. Turning, they saw one corpse sitting on top of a platform. He said, "Whoever you are, go tell my people that I am alive, but that I am too weak to get up." So they went to tell her folks. (211) They notified them. Her folks returned and found the woman alive again. So she went home. Both went along with her. They then received ponies and goods from her people.

Another time it happened. An old man died. He was pretty well off, with much property. He had three race horses. He had one son. They gave a feast of four nights. On the fourth night everyone was invited, for they were going to give away his property. The three ponies were also to be given away. Towards evening of the fourth day, at sunset, all gathered to this feast. These two went too. Before they got there, they said, "Let us swim, because we have to sit up all night." So they swam. After dark they arrived at the place. The old man was right by the road at the grave. They heard him shouting, "My son, tell my people that I am alive again, but I am too weak to get out of here." Then they saw that he was out from the waist up, with tobacco in hand. So they went and told the old man's son. He got mad and tried to kill them, thinking they made fun of him. People stopped him. Finally, they persuaded him to go down and see. They went over there and found him alive. Then they brought him home. The two young men received much goods and the three racing ponies.

Finally, Pete went to Oklahoma. Before (212) he left, his friend died. Then Pete married a Tongaway woman. They had four children. He became a well to do farmer. Finally, his wife died. After awhile the two oldest children died. Then the smallest children were hard for him to care for, since he was alone. The children had a little dog to play with. After awhile, both children died. Only the dog was left to him. The Tongaway woman ate peyote, and Pete did too. After eating peyote, he heard someone call, "Say, my friend, come out. So he went out. He saw that it was his dead friend. There he was on horseback. So he told him, "Get on behind me and we will go someplace." So he did. Towards the west they went. Along a road they traveled when they came there, they saw a dead tree at the end of the road. It was a dry elm tree. All the bark was lying on the ground around the tree. His friend said, "Friend, get down there and move that bark away. Our road is in there. That is where we are going." When he moved the bark, he saw the road going on. On they went until they came to a river. The water was too swift for them to cross. Only by means of a large rock would it be crossed. "Don't look down in the water and don't think that you will fall (213) off," said the ghost. This instruction he followed, and they crossed the stream. All this time the little dog followed them. "Now my friend," said his friend, "I am going to tell you where we are headed for. We are going to that place where your wife and children are, in the village of the ghosts. As soon as we get there, you will see your family in a big round lodge. Go in there. Your wife will be cooking something for you. Don't eat it all, because you will be eating at other places. After you have finished eating, two men on horseback will call you outside. Then you will go to another place with them. They again will offer you food. Don't eat it all, because you will have to eat yet again. When you finish in there, three men on horseback will call you out. They will all call you 'friend.' They will take you to still another place. When you go in there, they will offer you food. Do not eat it all. When you have finished, four men on horseback will call you out. They will take you somewhere and feed you again. Do not eat it all. When you are not quite finished, four more men on horseback will come. That is not our party. They will beg you to come (214) with them to another ghost village. I don't want you to do that. I'll be there, too, and you can get behind me on my horse again. Then we will sure do it. If you have bad luck and we don't do as I have said, something will happen to you. When I come, I shall bring four moccasins which I have filled with ashes. Then, when I hand these to you, we will begin to run. The others will be after us. When they come near and threaten to throw you down, throw ashes back and they will quit. When they catch up again, throw ashes out again. They will then fall behind again. Do the same the third time. The fourth time will be hard. Throw the whole business at them, moccasins and all. Then you will be safe, if you have done everything right. Otherwise, you will have bad luck. Something is going to happen to you." So his friend said. When they came to the village, he pointed out the lodge of his family. The dog still followed. Then they went in. His wife directed him to go to the right and sit opposite her. The children were in the back of the lodge. The dog went in too. Then the children began to play with him. What the food was to be was not said. She placed the food before him. He ate only a little of it. Then came two men on horseback and called for him. He went (215) with them, and it went as before.

When he went into the fourth place, when he had finished eating, four horsemen came in, two young men and two women, very well dressed. They were very nice looking. The horses were also nicely fixed up. They were painted well too. They called him out. They said, "Come home with us. This is pretty quiet where you are staying, but where we are going, listen." He heard the drumming, then he knew there was a lot of dancing going on somewhere. Still more horsemen were coming, going towards this place. All were well dressed and fine looking people. "Come with us," they said. "Let's go down there." But he would not go. Then his friend came on horseback. "Get on, let's go," he said. So he did. Then his friend handed him the moccasins. Then the other party said, "They are gone, let's get him and throw him down!" So they pursued. A great many joined in the pursuit. When they came too near, he threw ashes back. This stopped them for awhile. When again they came near, he threw ashes back again. Again they dropped behind. A third time they came, and a third time he threw ashes back. They dropped back again. The fourth time, they (216) nearly got him down. Then he threw moccasins and all behind him. Then they stopped their pursuit of him. So on they went. Back they came to the dead tree. "Well my friend, if I had not dared it this way, we would have had bad luck, but you did well. If the others had gotten you, then something would have happened to you, but you did as I told you to, so all is well." Soon they were home. When he entered the house, he saw his body sitting where it had been all the while. Only his spirit had gone. He had a place fixed in the corner where the little dog could sit. So he went to see the dog, but it was dead.

Then, after awhile, he married another woman. She was of the same tribe. She had a boy already (about seven years old). That is why he had such good luck, because everywhere he went he saw ghosts. That is why he was always successful. "Well brother, I am going to ask you something, something you heard from the Winnebago, something that you would tell me." Where he lived, there are woods around there. There was one large tree with one big branch to one side.
(217) "This is my question. I had to live with something. You see that tree right in the hollow, with one big branch leaning down from the main part of the tree? I want to ask you what the old Winnebago say about this. There is in that tree an animal, a spirit animal like a cat. That is why I am having good luck. All these good things he had given to me. My brother, don't be afraid to tell me what you have heard from the old people about this one." "All right," I said, "I have heard something about this. I don't want you to feel hurt, but I am going to tell you the truth about what I heard, because you have asked me to. I am going to tell about what our old people used to do in the old times. They used to black their faces and make themselves pitiable so as to dream of a good spirit. They well understood their old customs. Two things they did not want to dream of: one was the grizzly bear, and the other was the little animal you mentioned. Grizzly bears give true promises, but the dreamer will surely be murdered. This other animal asks for four dogs. The old people know that it doesn't mean 'dog', it means children. So (218) if one dreams of this animal in summertime, the west side of the tree, where the animal is, is marked out. Then the thunder will come and lightning will strike and kill this animal. So our old people did not take this dream. That's all I could tell you about what you ask me."

That is all.1


Commentary. "Pete" — on the first page, his last name is spelled phonetically as dupī́, so although the name is French, it is pronounced in accord with English spelling conventions. [Pete Dupuis]

"moccasin game" — Radin describes how this game was played.

One of the favorite games of the Winnebago. Five men took position directly opposite their opponents. Between the two rows of players, in front of each man was a receptacle, generally a moccasin, in which a small object was secreted. The sides in turn guessed in which moccasin it was secreted. The guesser pointed in turn with a long stick to each moccasin, all the time carefully scrutinizing the expression on the face of each man whose moccasin he touched. The bystanders and the other players on his side meanwhile sang songs and made all sorts of remarks and allusions in an attempt to catch off his guard the man in whose moccasin the object was secreted, so that he might disclose the fact by some gesture or expression. The person guessing had the right to touch each moccasin without forfeiting his chance. As soon as he wished to guess he overturned with his stick the moccasin in which he thought the object was hidden.2

"peyote" — a psychedelic drug (mescaline) derived from the buds of a cactus. It is used in the Christian rites of the Native American Church.

"west" — this is the direction in which the land of the dead lies, no doubt because the west is where the sun goes to "die."

"a dry elm tree" and "bark" — the tree is homologous to human beings, and in this context is a symbol of death and the gateway to the land of the dead. A man's descendants are said to be his "roots" (rejų́), and a distant family relation was called a "branch or twig" (wáixa). The word ha means, "bark, rind, hide, pelt, skin." The tree has lost its "flesh," and therefore stands as a counterpart to the bones. That the tree is dry indicates that the mucilaginous inner bark, which was used as a medicine, is gone.3 The inner bark when dried could become phosphorescent and glow in the dark, rather like the nocturnally active ghost.

"throw ashes" — ghosts are averse to ashes. In order to destroy a revenant or an material avatar of a spirit being, it is necessary to burn its body completely to ashes. Once this is accomplished, they cannot return to the living. So ashes are the means by which ghosts are kept in their own land and out of the land of the living. This is why the ashes are put in moccasins, since moccasins are the means of travel, and the ashes are the force by which travel from Spiritland is neutralized. See the Commentary to "Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads."

"dancing" — in other stories in which the living visit Spiritland, they are under strict instructions not to join in the dancing of the ghost, otherwise they will never return to the living.

"it was dead" — probably because it had played with the ghosts of the children.

"a spirit animal like a cat" — this is the creature conventionally called in translation, a "Wood Spirit." In Hočąk they are called Wakąčųna or Wakaįčųna, "Those Possessed of Waką́ (Spiritual Power)." Even this is elliptic, and it is clear from the present story that the author is unwilling to refer to them directly at all, even by this elliptic name. To dream of these creatures is dangerous; indeed, even to think about them can lead to trouble. They look rather like cats, but they have two little horns on their heads. Their eyes glow in the dark.

"I said" — the text has "said the informant."

"true promises" — bad spirits are usually characterized by the propensity to lie to the dreamer.

"children" — it may be recalled that Pete lost all four of his children.

"the west side of the tree" — the west is where the Thunderbirds live.

"the thunder will come" — this seems to imply that the Thunderbirds are inimical to the Wood Spirits. Given how often trees are struck by lightning, it is a reasonable conclusion to draw. This makes the Wood Spirit akin in some way to the Waterspirit, another archenemy of the Thunders.

"did not take this dream" — young people who are seeking visions will tell them to their parents who advise them on whether they should accept what the spirit offers in the way of blessings. If in their judgment, the blessing was from a bad spirit, then the dreamer has the right to refuse it, and is encouraged to do so.