Day marks bitter loss: Ojibwe remember Old Crossing Treaty, 150 years later
HUOT — Fabian Strong couldn’t join the others. His 82-year-old legs wouldn’t allow it.
So, he pulled his walker backward as fellow veterans representing all branches of the armed forces and decades of service danced around a freshly raised Red Lake Nation Flag on Wednesday, commemorating a new tribal holiday.
"Come on. Let’s go," Earl Fairbanks said as he led the others in a circle, their feet bending blades and flattening the grass.
One hundred fifty years ago on Oct. 2, the Pembina and Red Lake Bands of Ojibwe signed a treaty ceding 11 million acres of land to the federal government.
Strong would not allow that act to go unnoticed. Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. said Strong brought up the topic repeatedly, until a resolution established Oct. 2, 2013 as the first Old Crossing Treaty Day. The Red Lake tribal council voted unanimously Sept. 10 to pass a resolution making the date a Red Lake Nation tribal holiday.
Members of the tribe gathered Wednesday at the Old Crossing Treaty State Park on Wednesday to raise the flag, which was later taken down and folded crisply under the arm of Fairbanks for safe-keeping.
The holiday began earlier in Red Lake with a vocal and drumming invocation song followed by an introduction presented by Jourdain.
"It’s a bitter pill to swallow, looking back at our own history," Jourdain said. "But it’s also a healing process."
Jourdain acknowledged Strong, among many other contributing members and chiefs. Strong was presented with a quilt in honor of his perseverance and determination.
"We must keep in our hearts and in our minds that we come from good people," Jourdain said.
Brenda Child, University of Minnesota associate professor of American Studies, spoke of the history of the Red Lake Nation including the Sandy Lake tragedy in which the United States pressured American Indians to travel in the late fall and winter months to Minnesota from Wisconsin with a promise of an annuity.
Twelve percent of Wisconsin’s Native American population died when no food or annuity was delivered, Child said.
"It was about lack of concern for humanity," Child said.
Child said Minnesota was the fastest growing region in the United States in the 1860s.
"In just a few short years, Indian people would be outnumbered in their own land," Child said. She added that the time of treaties was one of terrible violence.
As Jourdain addressed the crowd Wednesday afternoon he pointed across the Red Lake River to a bluff that was once home to the encampment of the United States Army. It was filled with soldiers 150 years ago as members of the tribe made the decision to hand over their land to the U.S.
A song was played for Strong, Fairbanks, John Barrett, Alexander Gillespie, Jim Loud and Eugene Standingcloud — all veterans of military service to a country that once threatened their ancestors — and the men danced while Strong sat quietly.
The bluff across the river was empty.