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The people of Red Lake developed the first modern indigenous democratic governance system in the United States, decades before any other tribe, but they also maintained their system of hereditary chiefs. The tribe never surrendered to state jurisdiction over crimes committed on its reservation. The reservation is also home to the highest number of Ojibwe-speaking people in the state.

Ojibwe historian and linguist Anton Treuer conducted oral histories with elders across the Red Lake reservation, learning the stories carried by the people. Treuer has also worked extensively with the Ojibwe language immersion efforts underway in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario. Anton Treuer is also widely known for his volunteer work at Ojibwe ceremonies, where he helps officiate at medicine dance and ceremonial drums in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Ojibwe maintain a vibrant musical and religious tradition, and Treuer is often acknowledged to be one of the youngest knowledgeable teachers and leaders of such ceremonies.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Minneapolis Star Tribune. Retrieved 5 December Minnesota Public Radio.

May 4, Minnesota Star Tribune. Tulalip News. He was raised as an Ojibwe and lived the rest of his years in the Red Lake village of Ponemah, taking an Ojibwe wife and having children. The adoption of this Dakota boy, this simple act of kindness, both enabled and symbolized a powerful change in the cultural and political configuration of the Ojibwe people at Red Lake.

New people migrated to Red Lake as well. He quickly rose to prominence at Red Lake.

Anna C. Gibbs, 72 of Red Lake - Indian Country News

Wild rice, game, berries, and fish were abundant throughout the region. Red Lake warriors ranged freely for a hundred miles in all directions, pressing their territorial claims, protecting their people, hunting, trapping, and fishing. Small villages and family enclaves were established at present-day Warren, Minnesota, then at Pembina, North Dakota, and eventually along the Red River of the North. Even today those Ojibwe communities claim Red Lake as their motherland.

In the late s and early s, more Ojibwe and even a few Ottawa and Cree families came from all over the Great Lakes to settle and live at Red Lake. The newcomers brought some new ideas and even some different ways of expressing them. The fabric of social life and political function at Red Lake was evolving, even while the seasons and cycle of the traditional harvest economy remained steadfast.

Some kinds of change were obvious, such as the creation of a new Ojibwe political nexus for the people at Red Lake. Other kinds of change, such as language and culture variation, are harder to identify.

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What made the Red Lake Ojibwe different from the Leech Lake Ojibwe and other communities in the same language group was more than physical location. Language, culture, customs, natural-resource harvest practices, political traditions, and relations with other tribes morphed into something entirely new.

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This metamorphosis was an ongoing process long before nonnative people came to the region or made an effort to change native people. The Red Lake Ojibwe were an ancient people, but they were something new at the same time. The contrast between cultural continuity and change was a defining feature in the emergence of the Red Lake Ojibwe as a distinct group, and it remains so today. But the things that made the Red Lake Ojibwe such a distinct and dynamic people had been developing for fifteen hundred years before their occupation of northwestern Minnesota.

The structure of chieftainship, the clan system, the unique positions of spiritual leaders, the role of women in society, and the relationships between the Ojibwe and the Dakota, the French, the British, and eventually the Americans all served to separate and distinguish the people of Red Lake from other Ojibwe communities and tribes. Those distinctions are what strengthened the people at Red Lake and enabled them to build a small collection of warriors and their families into one of the most powerful tribal nations in North America.

In , Johnson Loud was among hundreds who attended the one hundredth anniversary commemoration of the Nelson Act, an act of the U. Congress and subsequent negotiation with Red Lake tribal chiefs that ceded vast tracts of Red Lake land and converted the remaining unceded Red Lake lands into a reservation.

He had been commissioned to develop a new symbol for the Red Lake Nation, one that resonated with its rich history, tradition, and continued sovereignty. That symbol was officially adopted by the Red Lake government as its flag and seal in When Loud developed the Red Lake tribal flag, he studied clan representation on the reservation. Although he did not include every clan at Red Lake on the flag, he did include the clans of all hereditary chiefs and the largest and most common ones represented among the tribal population.

Seven original Red Lake clans were put on the flag: bear makwa , turtle mikinaak , bullhead owaazisii , otter nigig , eagle migizi , marten waabizheshi , and kingfisher ogiishkimanisii. Formally acknowledging these seven clans as primary symbols on the Red Lake Nation flag said a great deal about the culture, government, and history of Red Lake.

Although some of the research is contradictory, scholars who have studied Ojibwe clans all agree on one thing: the traditional Ojibwe leadership clans were loon maang and crane ajijaak. Red Lake had more than a dozen hereditary chiefs in Their lineage could be traced all the way back to the Ojibwe settlement of Red Lake. But not one of them was from the loon or crane clans. The people of Red Lake are quintessentially Ojibwe, as reflected in their language, culture, and customs.

Red Lake has one of the most intact chieftainship traditions of all Ojibwe communities anywhere. Many tribes do not know or keep records of important genealogical information, and almost none use that information to determine leadership responsibilities or for other political purposes other than tribal enrollment. But at Red Lake, genealogy is the primary determining factor in civil chieftainship even today.

Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

And though Red Lake also has adopted a democratic process for electing tribal representatives and the tribal chair, the chiefs are determined by heredity and participate in all political functions of the tribal council today as hereditary civil chiefs. The lack of traditional Ojibwe leadership clans among the Red Lake chieftainship reflects a dynamic that was introduced in the late s.

To understand it, we return again to the Dakota boy adopted and raised as an Ojibwe—White Thunderbird. When White Thunderbird was captured and adopted he was old enough to know who he was. Since the s, the Dakota clan system has become defunct—a thread pulled from their cultural tapestry that is no longer recoverable. Their kin system remains intact, as do many other critical features of Dakota culture, but clan is no more. All of this becomes very important in understanding Red Lake chiefs, clans, and governance today. When White Thunderbird was adopted, the adopting family had a choice: they could formally adopt White Thunderbird into the clan of the family patriarch, or they could adopt him without formally changing his clan.

They chose the latter. As a result, even though White Thunderbird was adopted as an Ojibwe he retained his Dakota clan, becoming the first Ojibwe person at Red Lake from the kingfisher clan. Even today his clan is emblazoned on the Red Lake Nation flag and on Red Lake Nation automobile license plates, and his clan is one of the most widely represented at Red Lake.


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In addition, as people from Red Lake established new villages at Turtle Mountain, North Dakota, and Roseau River, Manitoba, members of the kingfisher clan were among the settlers of the new Ojibwe communities there. Today the kingfisher clan is common at Red Lake, Roseau River, and Turtle Mountain, rare almost everywhere else, and virtually unheard of in the eastern reaches of Ojibwe country. White Thunderbird introduced the kingfisher clan to Red Lake. But his story was not completely anomalous. The wolf clan was also introduced to the Ojibwe through Dakota paternity.

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More common among the St. Croix, Mille Lacs, and White Earth bands, the wolf clan is also a large and important clan in Ojibwe culture. The Dakota exerted a profound influence and sparked many transformations in Ojibwe culture.


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The spiritual and political impacts reverberate to this day. Clans are vital to Ojibwe identity today, and in the s they were even more important. The nature of clans underwent significant changes, but many clan taboos and protocols were established early on and remain unchanged. Clan was central to Ojibwe spirituality. Clan protocol structured marriage and village life. Marriage between people of the same clan was one of the strongest taboos in Ojibwe culture and people could be killed for violating it.

Clans were a strictly patrilineal birthright and established a spiritual connection for the clan member with an animal, bird, or water creature. Even when Ojibwe married non-Indians, the patrilineal structure of the clan system was not altered. Instead, as a birthright not a ceremonial adoption , children with a nonnative father were automatically adopted into an existing clan. The eagle clan was the adopting clan at Red Lake. As Red Lake grew with new migrants from other parts of Ojibwe country and new additions like White Thunderbird, the number of clans there grew to more than twenty.

Red Lake was settled by warriors, and warrior clans dominate the membership of Red Lake even today, especially marten and bear. Because the Red Lake warrior clans found themselves occupying new territory without significant representation from the traditional chief clans, political duties had to be assumed by members of other clans. In , Ojibwe missionary George Copway wrote: The rulers of the Ojibways were inheritors of the power they held.

However, when new country was conquered, or new dominions annexed, the first rulers were elected to their offices. Afterwards, the descendants of these elected chiefs ruled the nation, or tribe, and thus power became hereditary. In , Trowbridge wrote:. The Chieftainship descends from father to son, and the women are always excluded, so that the line becomes extinct on the death of the last male of the old line.

When this happens to be the case but I believe it seldom happens , the vacancy is filled by election of the man most valiant, brave and powerful, or the most celebrated for wisdom and eloquence; and he inherits the title of chief together with all the honors of the last in power. This practice is never deviated from except by some daring fellow, who usurping the authority holds the tribe in awe by his ferocity or the influence of numerous relatives devoted to his interest.

Such a one however is soon disposed of by his enemies. The first chiefs at Red Lake were elected, but the succession of chieftainship lines afterward remained for the most part hereditary, passed on from father to son, much as it had been for centuries. The initial election of chiefs at Red Lake meant that hereditary leadership rights were dispersed among various warrior clans, primarily bear, marten, and kingfisher. Ironically, Dakota bloodlines and clans were well represented among the Ojibwe warriors and chiefs at Red Lake—including those who continued to fight and dispossess the Dakota.

The clans represented when chiefs were originally elected at Red Lake retained their leadership positions even when new waves of Ojibwe people from other clans settled there. The overwhelming majority of Red Lake Ojibwe today are of the bear, eagle, marten, bullhead, kingfisher, and turtle clans. Other clans include sturgeon name and caribou adik. Not all are represented on the tribal flag. Marriage with people from other tribal communities accounts for most of the expanding clan representation at Red Lake today.

At Red Lake many different people led in war, ceremony, and politics.