Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)

September 5, 1997

Since I’ve been writing this column, I’ve been getting a lot of mail and telephone calls that need to be answered.  Tuesday, my mail-order certificate for completing a home-study course in Shamanism finally arrived.  As is documented by my genuine, gilt (guilt) edged diploma from the International Institute of Shamanism, I’ve become a full-fledged Shaman, D.D.—but I’m only going to work part-time ... it depends on how I feel.

Under my new title as Shaman, D.D., I want to thank the young lady in Cass Lake for calling to let me know she agreed with me, on the last column that Wub-e-ke-niew wrote.  There are a very few Ah­nish­i­nah­bæót­jib­way people left.  Thank you for calling.

Now, to the stack of mail:

Dear Shaman,

I grew up a Chippewa reservation with an Indian name, and there is no way I’m going to let anyone denigrate that upbringing.  Yes, the whole nine yards: the tar-paper shack, 11 brothers and sisters, cutting wood for heat and cooking, hauling water, outside toilets, spearing fish in the spring for food, hunting ducks and deer in the fall for winter food, trapping with the old man for needed cash items, etc.  When we went into town to spend our hard-earned money, the white folks were so glad to see us.  We never experienced any racism.  The BIA was always there to help us out when we needed it, and they gave us fine schooling, with scholarship opportunities to go to college so we could work as mid-level Token Indian bureaucrats for the Bureau and other white institutions.  So, why don’t you quit bitching and crying in your news column?

                Signed, Jean-Paul

Dear Wemetigozhens (translated into English, this means, “Little Burnt Stump”),

Yeah, I guess I should quit complaining.  Some of the descendants of the French fur traders, who got turned into Indians during the War of 1812 with England, got a pretty good deal.  Forty years ago, there were quite a few tarpaper shacks in the northwoods, and almost nobody had electricity or running water—a lot of the white people didn’t have it, either.  Back then, there were actually ducks and deer to hunt, and wood to cut.  Nobody had refrigerators, and the only way to keep fresh food was to share it.  Abe Lincoln was born in a log cabin, and so were a lot of other people.

Dear Charmin,

Indian Religion, doesn’t it have degrees?  How do I go about studying this religion, and getting some of these degrees?  Is it like Chemical Dependency certification?  And, do I have to learn the language so I can help my people?

                Signed, Wanna-be

Dear Helpful,

First of all, you spelled my name wrong.  It’s Shaman, with an “S.”  If you want Charmin, you’ll need to go see Roger Jourdain, Butch Brun, Bobby Whitefeather, Buggers McArthur, or former Tribal Chairman Chip Wadena.  Those are the official Indians you want to see; I’m not an IRA Indian, never have been, and never will be.

The idea of “degrees” is a historical accident.  There was a Frenchman trying to be a medicine man, and he didn’t speak English too well.  He couldn’t say “the,” he always said “de.”  He was talking to a blood quantum Indian about the seven Crees up in Canada, and what he said sounded like “de Crees” or “degrees.”  It’s time to start debunking this mythology of “degrees.”

If you want religion, there are still a lot of missionaries around who will be happy to give you a free Bible and save you.  And, if you want to help your people, it’s more useful to learn English.

Dear Shaman,

How do you make the wigwam shake?

                Signed, Curious

Dear Nosy,

Use a bungee cord, some of the Real Indian Traditionalists (especially those with college degrees in Indian Studies) spell it bangii.

Dear Shaman,

Some of your story-telling, some of your Wannaboozhoo stories, seem to be outdated.  Why don’t you get “with it,” and give up on all your useless old antiquated ideas?  I don’t know why you can’t be more like us.

                Signed, White Traditionalist

Dear White Liberal,

The fish are all gone and the deer are disappearing.  The forests are mostly clearcut or turned into sick agriculture called “tree farms.”  The buffalo are gone, and the passenger pigeons are extinct.  They’ve been tearing down piñon nut trees to make room for more cattle, and the spin doctors are creating public opinion to destroy the BWCA.  They want to “develop” the BWCA to make money.  In plain English, their Euroamerican motto is, “greed is good and exploitation is healthy.”

We’ve given up a lot, already.  Why don’t you try giving up something for awhile, like maybe quit stealing other people’s lands, stop giving other people different identities ... why don’t you give up your apartheid Constitution?  And, violence seems like a useless old antiquated idea to me.  As long as you’re talking about giving up worthless customs, why don’t you straighten out your language so it doesn’t lie so much?

Dear Shaman,

I wanted to know if there really was a Nanaboozhoo.

                Signed, Anthropologist

Dear Grave-Robber,

    I went and consulted a Real Indian Medicine Man, and then I went and talked to several Real Indian Traditionalists.  They informed me that, “It’s so sacred, we can’t talk about it.”  That’s what Real Indians always say when they don’t know, so I figured that they didn’t know.  I don’t know either, and I don’t really care.

That’s all for now.  Keep the mail coming.  My mailing address is P.O. Box 484, Bemidji, MN 56619, and my telephone number is (218) 679-3984.


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