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Did you know?

The term ”crossing over” is common among Native people today to refer to those who died or who are dying.

”Alaska” is a Native word that means ”the great country”.

For many Native American tribes, certain colors hold specific and sacred meanings. For example, to the Cherokee, red and black are two Cardinal Colors worn at many ceremonies and dances. Red represents the east, and black the west. White is for south, while blue symbolizes north.

Before the European arrived in the Americas, more than 500 tribes (a collective group of 22 million people) inhabited what is now United States.

The following 26 states are named after Native American words: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missisippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

A mixture called ”kinnikinnick” is typically smoked in peace pipes by Native People. Kinnikinnick is a mixture of various plants and herbs, including sage, white clover, bearberry leaves, and mullein leaves.

Traditionally, Native American heritage is handed down from the mother’s side, even if both parents are Native American. If only the father is Native American, the Native American lineage is still followed. Some children today, though, follow both parent’s lineage.

The word ”Shaman” originated in Siberia, but today some Native tribes and many non-Natives, especially anthropologists, use this term to describe a Native American healer who dwells with the underworld, the supernatural, and the spirits. Individuals who are true shamans will not write a book or make a public appearance about their work, nor will they advertise their practice or speak of it in public. A shaman can only be found by word of mouth, and those who practice ancient customs are rare. They differ from Native healers, who often mix traditional medicine with unconventional methods and act more as a physician to the community.

Many archaeologists are scholars claim that Native people may have inhabited the Americans as long as 70.000 years prior to non-Natives.

A medicine pipe is a sacred tool of Native tradition used to bring one closer to the Greator. The smoke acts as a communication device, bridging the two worlds.

The largest reservation in the United States is the Navajo Indian Reservation (Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona) with nearly 3.5 million acres of land.

The first Native American newspaper, published in 1828, was the Cherokee Phoenix.

Annie Dodge Wauneka, Navajo, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award  in 1963 from President John F. Kennedy. The medal, granted to those who make outstanding contributions to peace, is the country’s highest peacetime honor.

Through the centuries – and even today – there have been many female chieftains of various Native American tribal communities.

To many Native Americans, the term ”bad medicine” means having a streak of bad luck, or that the spirits are working against them.

A coup stick is a device used by Native Americans to strike an enemy, and it was a great achievement to strike the enemy without wounding them or without their knowledge of the presence of the person couping.

The drum is one of the most important instruments used by the Native people. Often referred to as the ”heartbeat of the people”, the drum keeps order through rhythm, especially when dancing.

The portrait on the U.S. buffalo nickels, sculpted in 1911, is said to be the composite of three Native Americans: Iron Tail, Big Tree, and Two Moons.

In 1774, Thomas Paine studied the Iroquois Confederacy, culture, and language in order to further his education in democratic goverment.

There are many common foods that are of Native American origin. A few are pumpkin, zucchini, squash, sweet potatoes, peanuts, maple syrup, and hot chocolate.

A Shaman is generally a person who uses healing practices to treat and prevent illnesses associated with negative spirits, while medicine men and medicine women treat illnesses caused by both natural and supernatural forces.

Several games were played by Native people prior to 1492, including badminton, field hockey, cat’s cradle, darts, lacrosse, and spinning tops.

The totem pole has been a part of the Alaskan tribes’ history for centuries. Carved from a column of wood, the pole depicts various animal and mythological symbols important to the individual, family, and/or tribe.

In 1744 Benjamin Franklin sought the advice of Chief Canassatego on how to unite the American colonies into one confederacy.

A medicine bag, or medicine bundle, is carried by many Native people to hold sacred objects – such as stones, animal talons, totem, sacred herbs, or other prized possessions. It is worn on their body and kept close to them at all times. These items protect the individual and are used during sacred ceremonies or events. A ”tomem” is an object (animal, plant, etc.) that an individual is intimately related to. The person has a bond with this item, and uses it for prayer or to draw strength from during times of need.

To the Haudenosaunee, the symbol of arrows bundled together signifies unity and brotherhood among Native nations.

There are hundreds of words in the American English language borrowed from or influenced by indigenous languages. Here are just a few: chocolate, tomato, llama, carbou, moose, persimmon, opossum, raccoon, muskrat, skunk, pecan, puma, caucus, kayak, toboggan, hickory, squash, hooch, chipmunk, woodchuck, and bayou.

A Native to Know

Sitting Bull, known as Tantanka-Iyotanka by his people, was a Hunkpapa Sioux holy man and follower of the Ghost Dance Religion who united his people and fought for survival on the northern plains. His courage was legendary and his tribal convictions made him a beloved and well-respected Native leader.

Will Rogers, humorist/writer/actor, was born in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in 1879. Speaking of his Native American heritage, he said, ”My folks were Indian. Both my mother and father had Cherokee blood in them. [I was] born and raised in Indian Territory. ’Course we’re not the American whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower, but they met ’em at the boat when they landed.”

Famous for his commentaries and writings, he was known as the ”Indian Cowboy” from the Cherokee Nation, and was one of the most popular entertainers of his time. In 1918 he went to Hollywood and starred in many features, becoming such a box office sensation that by 1934 he was voted the most popular male actor in Hollywood. Will Rogers also served as mayor of Beverly Hills, was instrumental in the presidential election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and even rejected a nomination for goverment of Oklahoma. He died in 1935 in a plane crash in Alaska.

Chief Joseph was a major celebrity during his lifetime. Born in what is now northeastern Oregon in 1840, he was the son of one of the first Nez Perce Christian converts, also named Joseph, who raised Chief Joseph to support peace with whites – until the goverment betrayed the elder Joseph and the Nez Perce. Chief Joseph succeeded his father’s position in 1871. After several skirmishes and difficulties with the U.S. goverment, he became an inequality, and spoke in support of the freedom of the Native People.

Jay Silverheels was born May 26, 1912, on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, Canada, to a Mohawk Chief. Silverheels first worked as a stuntman in Hollywood films, and then as an actor in such movies as Key Largo (1948). In 1949, Silverheels landed his famous role as Tonto on the hit television show The Lone Ranger, which ran for eight years. In 1979, he became the first Native American awarded a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Silverheels was included into the Hall of Honor of the First Americans in the Arts in 1998, 18 years after his death.

Kiowa chief Satanta (Set’-tain-te) devoted himself to the preservation of the Kiowa way of life. He was an eloquent speaker whom the whites called the Orator of the Plains.

Wovoka woke the Native nations when he originated the Ghost Dance Religion in 1889. A prophet and spiritual leader, Wovoka believed there would one day be a time when all Indian people – those living and those who had died – would be reunited. In early 1890, the Ghost Dance Religion spread to many tribes throughout the West. Also in 1890, the Office of Indian Affairs outlawed the religion, arresting those who participated. After the death of Sitting Bull (arrested for suspicion of being a Ghost Dance leader), Big Foot and his band traveled  to Wounded Knee where he and 300 other men, women, and children were killed. Despite the prohibitory law, practice of the Ghost Dance continued in secret until 1978.

Novelist and poet N. Scott Momaday, born 1934 is considered one of the premier writers in the United States today. His books have achieved much literary success, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1969 novel, House Made of Dawn. Momaday is a Kiowa and was raised on various Native reservations, and his writings reflect his love of his people, his culture, and his land. A graduate of Stanford University (with both a master’s and doctoral degree), he created the Indian literature program at the University of California, in Berkeley.

There are many well-known Hollywood celebrities with claims to Native American lineage.

A few examples include A. Martinez, Brian Austin Green, Burt Raynolds, Carmen Electra, Cher, Chuck Norris, Della Reese, Elvis Presley, Heather Locklear, Hunter Tylo, James Earl Jones, James Garner, Johnny Cash, Johnny Depp, Jon Leguizamo, Kim Basinger, Bill Maher, Stephanie Kramer, Tommy Lee Jones, and Val Kilmer.

Simon Ortiz, Pueblo, won the Pushcart Prize for Poetry in 1981 for his collection entitled From Sand Creek. Ortiz holds a master’s degree of fine arts and taught writing and literature at a number of colleges and universities.

Black Elk was born in 1863 on the Little Powder River. When he was nine years old he received a vision that gave him a ”special power”, a power instrumental in his later becoming a prominent member of his tribe. A religious medicine man, he traveled the world and spoke to many about his beliefs and spirituality. In 1950, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, he crossed over.

Montezuma (II) is probably the most familiar figure in Aztec history. He led his people during the time of the Spanish conquest and was held hostage by Herman Cortés for ransom until the 1520 Aztec revolt. Montezuma was stoned while talking to his people and died three days later.

Notah Begay III, born in New Mexico, 1972, is the first Native American Indian to join the PGA Tour. Begay is Navajo, San Felipe, and Isleta – all Tribes from the southwestern United States. Former teammate Tiger Woods said Begay  is ”happy to represent the Native American people, and is some regards, be a role model.”

Pushmataha was a Choctaw chief who kept peace with the U.S. government, even when it meant siding againts such influential men as Tecumseh. His services to the government earned him the rank of U.S. brigadier general, and when he died in 1824, he was buried with full U.S. military honors.

There are few personal details known about Black Kettle, a Southern Cheyenne chief, but what is known about him is legendary. He was an eloquent speaker, a dedicated leader, and a consistent champion of his people.

Norval Morrisseau (Copper Thunderbird) was born on March 14, 1932, on Sant Point Ojibway Reserve in Ontario. An accomplished artist, he founded an art school in Canada, the Woodland School, has exhibited more than 40 one-man shows (many in France), received the prestigious Order of Canada Medal in 1978, and was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts. In 1989 he became the only Canadian painter asked to exhibit in the Paris French Revolution Bicentennial.

Cochise was chief of the Chiricahua Apache and known for his intelligence and strategic strength. U.S. Cavalry soldiers referred to him as ”The Serpent”.

Poet and novelist Sherman Alexie, born in 1966 and brought up on a Spokane Indian Reservation, has won several awards for his writing, including the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1992. With more than 200 published poems and stories, he is best known for the book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993).

Cory Witherill (born 1971), Navajo, holds the distinction of being the most successfull Native American race car driver in history. Witherill has rased several times in the PPG Dayton Indy Lights Championship, and in 2001 races his first Indianapolis 500.

On This Date in Native American History

January 25, 1968: The Mescalero Apaches were awarded $8.5 million from the United State Indian Claims Commission as compensation for land illegally ceded in the 1800s.

Ferbruary 8, 1887: The Dawes Act, which caused American Indian groups to lose a collected 90 million acres of reservation land, was passed.

February 10, 1763: France ceded the North American territory to England in the Treaty of Paris, ending the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

February 11, 1978: American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks organized a five-month trek from California to Native American issues. Thousands of people, represending 80 tribes, joined the walk, and they were met in Washington by thousands of supporters lining the city streets and sidewalks.

February 13, 1991: Graham Greene, Oneida, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his role in the 1990 movie Dances with Wolves. He later appeared in Thunderheart and The Green Mile.

February 14, 1986: The Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of National History agreed to return skeletal remains of American Indians to those tribes with a verifiable lineage. The indigenous people have a burial custom and certain beliefs associated with those who passed on, and holding their ancestral remains is considered sacrilegious.

February 16, 1835: Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, initiating the relocation of thousands of people.

February 18, 1944: In an efford to introduce the beauty of the Native American culture to the people of New York City, and to raise funds for Native American charities, the Indian Conferedation of American Indians staged a colorful powwow with dancers and participants representing more than 15 American Indian tribes.

February 27, 1973: Wounded Knee II erupted in South Dakota.

March 7, 1934: Douglas Joseph Cardinal, Blackfoot, was born in Alberta, Canada. He is well known as a celebrated architect, and was commissioned in 1983 to design the Canadian Museum of Civilization building – a project worth over $90 million. In 1985 he was the chief architect of the National Museum of the American Indians project.

March 10, 1861: Famed Mohawk poet E. Pauline Johnson was born to an English mother and a Mohawk father in Ontario at the Six Nations Reserve. She later published many works of poetry and novels including The White Wampum (1895) and Canadian Born (1903). She toured England, North America, and Canada reading her poetry in front of live audiences, and became highly acclaimed for her writing.

March 12, 1880: Judge Elmer Dundy resolved that Native Americans are indeed ”persons within the meaning of the law” and have the same rights as any other person. Until then, it was debated whether an Indian was a real person or an animal.

March 19, 1827: Cherokee author, journalist, and activist John Rillin Ridge was born.

March 26, 1839: The Trail of Tears ended.

March 27, 1973: At the Academy Awards presentation, Marlon Brando protested the mistreatment of American Indians.

April 3, 1994: In New Mexico, artist Charlene Teters closed her controversial exhibit ”It Was Only an Indian: Native American Stereotypes”.

April 4, 1991: According to the U.S. census, 1,959,234 American Indians live in the United States.

In Remembrance

Of the Shoshone Indians who crossed over in the Battle of Bear River, January 27, 1863.

Of Geronimo, who died on February 17, 1909.

Of Walt Bresette, Red Cliff Chippewa, who died February 21, 1999, at the age of 51. Bresette cofounded the Midwest Treaty Network and cowrote the book, Walleye Warriors: An Effective Alliance Against Racism and for the Earth.

Of Quanah Parker, known as the last free chief of the Comanche, who crossed over today in 1911. He never lost a battle to white troops and fought passionately for the rights of his people.

Of those who died on February 25, 1643, in what is known as ”The Slaughter of the Innocents.” Considered one of the worst Native American slaughters in United States history, the massacre was the result of an order given by the directorgeneral of New Netherlands to rid his territory of Indians. Several bands of tribes were exterminated and thousands of women, men and children died.

Of the 90 innocent Christian Delaware Indians killed on March 9, 1782, in Gnadenhutten, Ohio.

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