Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)

March 14, 1993

Dear Tony Blake,

Thank you for your letter, although I can not be of much help to you in tracing your lineage.

My great-grandfather on the patrilineal line was Bah-se-noss, who was a full-blooded Anishinabe Ojibway.  Bah-se-noss was a Midewiwin title, and he also had a personal name, but he had neither a Christian name nor a “surname.”  His wife was Nay-bah-nay-cumig-oke—not “Mrs. Bah-se-noss.”  She married into his Bear Dodem, but she kept her own name.  Their son was Bah-wah-we-nind, my patrilineal grandfather.  His son, my father, Wub-e-ke-niew, who was given the Christian name “Francis Blake” [I am a “junior”] by the Priest when he was forced into the Mission School (draconian compulsory-education laws) in the early 1900’s.

My father’s older half-sister, Lizette, had the same mother (Ke-niew-e-gwon-e-beak) and a different father.  When she was compelled to go to school, she attended under the name of Lizette Blake, which was given to her by the Priest.  Her father was Kah-ke-gay-yah-be-ge-tah, and since he was a mixed-blood not Aboriginally from Red Lake, there is the remote possibility that he was descended from John Blake (born about 1826 in Maine), who was a lumberman and later an “Indian Agent” in Northern Minnesota.  There was another family of Blakes at Red Lake, patrilineally descended from Kah-ke-zhe-baush (born around 1820) and my great-grandfather’s sister or cousin, Quay-ke-ke-zhig-oke; all of these people had been killed by the time I was born, although I remember seeing a picture of their grandson, Robert Blake, which had been taken in the early 1900’s.

The Christian names which were given to the Red Lake Anishinabe Ojibway were intended to obscure our identity—and some of them were given with apparent cynicism on the part of the Indian Agents and Missionaries who did the naming.  For example, one of my great-aunts (my grandfather’s sister) was given the name “Mrs. Blackjack” although there was never a “Mr. Blackjack.”  (There was also a “Mrs. Joker.”)  Around the turn of the century, there was a great emphasis on both baptism and the giving of “Christian” names as a part of the process of trying to destroy Anishinabe Ojibway culture and my grandfather Bah-wah-we-nind, although he never gave up his Anishinabe Ojibway language nor religion, appears in the Catholic baptismal records as “George Bahwahwenind,” and then, after his step-daughter was named Lizette Blake in school, he shows up on the B.I.A. records as “George Blake.”

The United States tried to destroy the identity of the surviving Aboriginal Indigenous people here in several ways.  One of them was by taking away our names and forbidding us to speak our language—and trying to give us a “Chippewa Indian” identity.  According to many United States documents, from a time period extending over more than a century (including U.S. Senate documents from 1977), the ultimate goal of U.S. “Indian” policy was the Final Solution of annihilating Aboriginal Indigenous Peoples completely.  Among the strategies discussed openly in U.S. documents of the 1800’s, and documentably employed at Red Lake, was a genetic engineering of destroying the Sovereignty of Anishinabe Ojibway people by eliminating Anishinabe Ojibway patrilines—the U.S. Government brought in Whites who they called “squaw men” with that intent.

Anishinabe Ojibway group membership, identity, land and Sovereignty are held through the Dodems of the Midewiwin, inherited from father to son, i.e. patrilineally.  As a consequence of U.S. policy, only about a quarter of one percent of the eight thousand “Red Lake Chippewa Indians” enrolled by the U.S. Government on the Red Lake “Indian Rolls” are Anishinabe Ojibway.  The rest of them are “Chippewa Indians;” patrilineally White.  In plain English, these people are European subject people, with European values, traditions, and customs.  In other words, they are history—which is sad, but that’s the way it is.  (If the United States had not done their social and genetic engineering; if they had not engaged in genocide, the ratio of mixed-blood people with Anishinabe Ojibway patrilines and with European patrilines would be 50:50, instead of 1:400.)

I wish you luck in your search for your ancestors.  If you have not already looked into the Latter Day Saints’ Ancestral File, I highly recommend it.  It is computerized records which encompass at least half of the population of the United States prior to 1900.  These records are open to the public without fee—contact the nearest L.D.S. (“Mormon”) Temple for more information.  We did not look through the “Blakes” in the Ancestral File (there was no reason to, because I am only the second generation with the name “Blake”), but had good luck with more than half of the Métis families we were looking for, finding some of compiled genealogies extending into pre-Colombian Europe.

The sources which we have used in compiling a genealogy of the Red Lake Anishinabe Ojibway and Métis include Bureau of Indian Affairs records: particularly the “Indian Enrollments” (1885 - 1940), the “Annuity Payment Records,” allotment records, probate records, B.I.A. correspondence (particularly from the 1800’s), Indian Claims Commission Reports, Treaties and Agreements and the papers associated with them, B.I.A. reports, and other U.S. Government records.  Some of these records (for example, the “Indian Enrollments” and some of the correspondence) are available from the National Archives on microfilm; some of them have been microfilmed by other parties (for example, some of the Annuity payrolls by the Minnesota Historical Society), and some of them exist only as original documents in the National Archives in Washington D.C. and various regional depositories.  Because the Mohawks’ primary White-Government relationship is with the State of New York on the U.S. side of the border, rather than the U.S. Government, there would probably not be the same huge mass of information in the U.S. Archives.  You would probably find more than you might expect in the New York State Archives/Historical Society, as well as in the Canadian Archives.

The records relating to this area were deliberately scrambled up—it took two computers, several years, knowledge of the Ojibway language, and correlation with Anishinabe Ojibway oral genealogies (much of what we were looking for was documentation of what the older Anishinabe Ojibway People already knew) to straighten the records out.  There were some terrible things which were done here, and the records were intended to obscure that: Anishinabe Ojibway names were stolen; the Catholic cemetery was bulldozed (the Priest wanted to hide that the French Métis buried in the Catholic cemetery had stolen names—the Anishinabe Ojibway were buried close to our houses); the names were spelled almost every possible way that they could be, etc..  The 19th-Century record-keepers never dreamed that a multi-lingual Anishinabe Ojibway person would be going through their records with a computer!  There are almost certainly extensive records on the Apache, which you might find helpful.  The National Archives publishes guides to “Indian Records” and also to genealogical records.  These guides are in most public libraries; microfilms can be purchased through the mail.

We also used many of the more standard genealogical sources: church records, census records, obituaries and “community affairs” reports in old newspapers, incidental genealogical information in history books and anthropological reports, etc.  The Minnesota Historical Society has a wealth of documents which include useful genealogical information about both the Anishinabe Ojibway and the Métis, including some compiled genealogies in donated personal papers, as well as a surprising amount of information in such sources as fur trade records.  I assume that the New York Historical Society has at least as good a collection.

Good luck with your search.

a.k.a. Francis Blake, Jr.

Dennis Smith and Red Pemberton at courthouse archives
Dennis Smith and Donald Pemberton at courthouse archives doing genealogical research

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