My Hero In Red Lake
I have many heroes in Red Lake, some great, some small, but I would like to write about the one who I think exemplifies the best qualities found in true Red Lakers.
Maydwaygwanonind or He Who Is Spoken To
His Anishinabe name was Mādwāgwănōnĭnd. His translated name is “He Who Is Spoken To”. The funny thing is, non-Indians could never get his Indian name right. I came across quite a few different--and strange--spellings for it in my web search.
There is not much in print about Maydwaygwanonind --two or three pages at best as far as I know, and most of that is from Episcopal Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple who was his spiritual contemporary. However, aside from the following facts, we can infer much from what was written about the character of this great “old chief”.
Maydwaygwanonind was born about 1806.1
He was about 92 years old when he died in the winter of 18982.
He was the principle head chief of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians.
He had a flag with 38 Stars on it that Abraham Lincoln gave him.
One of his greatest achievements was keeping Red Lake Reservation from allotment.
Bishop Whipple described him as being,
“Six feet and four inches in height, straight as an arrow, with flashing eyes, frank, open countenance, and as dignified in bearing as one of a kingly race.”
J Maurice Farrar said:
“He [was] of immense stature, and [had]… a head which might have been the model for Michael Angelo's Moses, with its grand mane of iron-grey locks and powerfully marked intellectual features”3
He could speak:
“...in a voice of thunder, and with a majesty of diction and action which might have become one of the old Homeric heroes in council”,3
“...with all the grace and dignity of a Roman senator,”
Maydwaygwanonind was a man of many virtues.
He was humble and teachable. Once during a conversation with Bishop Whipple he said,
“I will now talk to you about my people. We have never sold any land to white men. They will come some day and ask us to make a treaty. Will you tell me what to say to them?”
Maydwaygwanonind knew that in these circumstances he was ignorant, but he was willing to ask someone he trusted to look after his best interests and follow their advice.
One hallmark of a wise person is that they learn from the mistakes of others. Maydwaygwanonind illustrated his wisdom when he said, “The Indians to the East have sold their land and have perished. I want my people to live”.
Maydwaygwanonind was true, and by that I mean undeviating.
“Mr. Kittson, one of the oldest of the traders of the Northwest, said… He is a man that no money could swerve from the truth”.
“The Old Chief” was dedicated. In the winter of 1863-4, he walked to get Bishop Whipple’s advice.
“…when the lakes were frozen, Madwaganonint walked one hundred and fifty miles to see me.”
This was no easy feat as any Minnesotan who has survived a winter can tell you. Maydwaygwanonind was about 57 years old when he made the journey and at our age the cold feels painful. In addition, being the frontier, Indian-White relations were strained; and being a tall Indian man, he probably didn’t get an offer to ride in the rare passing settler’s wagon or sled—if any were out at that time.
Maydwaygwanonind was astute. He showed this when he spoke to Bishop Whipple about another chief.
“The white men say they have bought my land. There are four principal chiefs. One-half the Indians are in my band and nearly one-fourth are in Ase-ne-wub's band. Asenewub says he has signed no treaty. Whether he has or not the Indians will believe him. I did not sign because there were no houses, cattle, nor schools in the treaty. The game will be gone, and there is a place for my people's graves. Will you help me? "
… I asked him why he spoke as he did about Asenewub. ‘He had a horse given him,’ was the answer; ‘and white men do not give Indians horses for nothing.’ I afterward learned that the horse was a return for signing a paper.”
He was also faithful.
“Madwaganonint became from the first a regular attendant upon public worship. After due instruction, he was baptized and confirmed and from that time to the day of his death, he faithfully kept the "Praying day" and sought to lead his people to the Savior.”
“The old chief” was composed and considerate, even when under pressure. Bishop Whipple recounts this story of him.
“Many of the clergy and laity of the diocese will remember the speech which Madwaganonint made at the council at Duluth in 1886. I was presiding, and seeing the old chief standing at the door, and knowing that he had made the journey of two hundred miles to see me, I beckoned to him to come forward. Turning to the council, I said: ‘I want to introduce to you the head chief of the Red Lake Indians, our brother in the Church of Christ, whose village is the only one I know in Minnesota where every man, woman, and child is a Christian.’ Judge Wilder and Judge Atwater instantly rose, and the rest of the council followed.
With perfect composure Madwaganonint turned to me and asked, "Do they expect me to speak to them?"
"I think they will be very glad to hear you", I answered.
Dropping his blanket from one shoulder, he stood with all the grace and dignity of a Roman senator, and said: "My friends, I am glad that when you chose a man to be your father, you chose one whose heart was large enough to have room for my people. I thank you that with all the work you had for him to do, you permitted him to come and tell me and my people that we have a Savior. I am an old man and almost home. Will you pray for me? Good-by. I have done."
He Who Is Spoken To was the epitome of a spiritual and tribal leader. He,
“…sought to lead his people to the Savior… As their chief, he considered it his duty to see that the young men fulfilled their promises. He more truly represented the patriarchal chieftain and counselor than any Indian I have known.”
In addition, according to Bishop Whipple, his was the village,
“…whose village is the only one I know in Minnesota where every man, woman, and child is a Christian."
Indians and Whites respected Maydwaygwanonind. When he entered a room to speak:
“…Judge Wilder and Judge Atwater instantly rose, and the rest of the council followed.”
Of his death Bishop Whipple wrote:
"In memory of Madwaganonint, Head Chief of the Red Lake Indians, always faithful and true. He has gone to his reward."
“Only a few months ago, in the winter of 1898, I received a letter from the Rev. Francis Willis, at Red Lake, telling me that Madwaganonint had entered into rest. For a moment my heart was overwhelmed with sorrow, for I loved this noble red man, one of the truest souls I have ever known. He had seen great sorrows, and felt keenly the wrongs which his people had suffered, but I do not recall a word of murmuring from the brave heart. Over his grave near the little log church which, stands in the Red Lake forest, I placed a marble cross representing the rough trunk of the oak tree, at the base of which was inscribed: ‘In memory of Madwaganonint, Head Chief of the Red Lake Indians, always faithful and true. He has gone to his reward.’"
1. 1895 Minnesota State Census
2. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from: Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate, Being Reminiscences and Recollections of the Right Reverend Henry Benjamin Whipple, D.D., LL.D., Bishop of Minnesota, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1899. Chapter XIII, http://archive.org/details/lightsshadowsoflwhip
3. Five years in Minnesota: sketches of life in a western state, J Maurice Farrar, Minnesota, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1880, Page 139