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Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe By Anton Treuer

Book Launch Celebration Held at Red Lake Nation College


Leo Soukup, center, historian and former teacher at Red Lake now retired had five books to be signed

"The tribal council at Red Lake wanted Warrior Nation to identify and document the evolution of Red Lake's political culture. They want their tribal citizens to have a new and powerful tool for understanding their political patrimony, history and culture. They also wanted to document not just stories of loss and trauma, but the collective achievements of their people." ~Anton Treuer in Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe

An estimated 125 to 150 Red Lake members, neighbors, and friends of all ages attended a book launch celebration for "Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe" held at the new Red Lake Nation College on Tuesday, October 27, 2015, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The Minnesota Historical Society publishes the book authored by Dr.Anton Treuer, professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University at the request of the Red Lake Tribal Council. The project was funded with a Bush Foundation grant.

Red Lake Nation College is easy to find, "look toward the lake for the two beautiful buildings that look like eagles, it's the one on the left." After parking in the roomy lot, folks streamed into the Bremer Student Union. A wall of windows overlooks Red Lake. College personnel kept setting up more tables and bringing in more chairs as the cafeteria began to fill to near capacity.

Attendees came from all four corners of the reservation plus many friends from Red Lake's south border town which bears the name given it by Red Lakers hundreds of years ago, Bemijigamaag. Friends and relatives chatted. Some helped them selves to soft drinks and snacks set out for the occasion, while others walked the short distance to the College Bookstore to purchase copies of the book of celebration, Warrior Nation.

About a quarter past 7, Red Lake College President Dan King greeted the crowd receiving enthusiastic applause when he asked how everyone liked the beautiful campus. After a few announcements and recognition of dignitaries, King introduced the book's author who had been busying himself at the front of the room setting up his computer for a short PowerPoint presentation on the book's contents.

Treuer began with a little background on how the book came to be, as well as a bit about the area before the Ojibwe (later to be known as Red Lakers) migrated to the area as early as 1650 and who were well established by 1750. The Ojibwe were migrating west long before the whites came in accordance with prophecies. Interestingly, Red Lake was called Red Lake by the Dakota as well as the French and finally the Ojibwe, though the meaning changed over time. The people lived well. The woods were filled with woodland caribou, moose and even buffalo, and of course a huge lake full of fish.

"Some things here are ancient and some are new," said Treuer. "With a high degree of spiritual empowerment, Red Lakers were very tolerant of people's ways but not of being told what to do. Consequently it's tough to lead here. There are no loon or crane clans who traditionally were the leadership clans." Treuer added that although the seven largest clans are celebrated today, there are more than 20 clans at Red Lake.

Treuer also discussed how the prevention of allotment kept the lands more pure than other reservations, and how past leaders fought to keep and regain the lakes. Both of the lakes in their entirety were understood by Red Lake Chiefs to be part of the reservation, but through apparent skullduggery, a third of upper Red Lake wound up in state hands. This is a source of continued concern for Red Lake leaders and members who continue efforts to see the return of the lakes.

"I learned so much about this place and the families here," Treuer said. "People in Red Lake have an awful lot to be proud of."

Treuer then went on to speak of the book using the same outline with which the book is written. The story is a political history organized in seven main chapters each a biography of an important Red Lake leader at a different point in time. "There were many great leaders and concentrating on the seven is not meant to diminish the others," said Treuer. "The leaders should be looked at as not the most important but rather as a window into the evolving political culture of Red Lake Nation."

Book Chapters and Highlights

The Spark: White Thunderbird and the Seven Clans; The Strategist: Moose Dung and the Old Crossing Treaty; The Nation Builder: He Who is Spoken To and the Nelson Act; The Uniter: Noodin Wind and the War on Culture; The Reformer: Peter Graves and the Modernization of Red Lake Politics; The Revolutionary: Roger Jourdain and Self-Determination; and The Dreamer: Anna Gibbs and Red Lake Shaping Indian Country.

Warrior Nation covers four centuries of the Red Lake Nation's forceful and assertive tenure on its land. Treuer conducted oral histories with elders across the Red Lake reservation, learning the stories carried by the people. And the Red Lake band had, for the first time, made available its archival collections, including the personal papers of Peter Graves, the brilliant political strategist and tribal leader of the first half of the twentieth century, which tell a startling story about the negotiations over reservation boundaries.

"The Red Lake Nation of Ojibwe is a nation of warriors who hold their land in common, maintain their system of hereditary chiefs and retain their cultural identity and traditional ways of life, despite centuries of disputes over their land and sovereignty by fending off those repeated assaults on their land and governance," said Treuer. "The reservation is home to the highest number of Ojibwe-speaking people in the state."

The Red Lake Nation has a unique and deeply important history. Unlike every other reservation in Minnesota, Red Lake holds its land in common-and, consequently, the tribe retains its entire reservation land base. The people of Red Lake developed the first modern American Indian 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.

Tommy J. Stillday, Jr.

Treuer's 7th Chapter entitled "The Dreamer: Anna Gibbs and Red Lake Shaping Indian Country" has several anecdotes about Thomas J. Stillday, a person who played a role in the life of Anna Gibbs and a person who is remembered by many both on and off the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Tom was an often-humorous fellow who got a kick out of "pulling peoples legs" especially of White folks.

Thomas J. Stillday, Jr., 2/20/34 to 10/14/08 Wezaawibiitang (Yellow Water) was hard for people to forget. Tom claimed no title, that would be presumptuous less than humble, but people kept asking him to bless their homes, give Indian names, to say a prayer or officiate at an event or ceremony. Normally spiritual knowledge was closely guarded and kept in families, Tommy J., according to Treuer, reached out to all who would learn.

Do You Live in Teepees?

In the Minneapolis airport on his way to Toronto, Tom and an entourage were getting a ride across the airport in one of those electric carts. The woman driver asked Tom if he and his friends were Indian. Tom says, "yeah." She follows with, "do you live in teepees?" (What followed was classic Tommy J. who said similar outrageous things to the press in St. Paul when he became the first non-Judeo/Christian to hold the position of Senate Chaplain.) Tom answered, "yeah, this morning we got up in our teepees, and we walked two miles to where the horses were stabled. Then we rode the horses 12 miles to the canoes and paddled 23 miles to the train station. Then we took the train here." The woman soaked it all in and said, "wow!" Tom never cracked a smile.

Tom the Keynote Speaker

Every year the American Indian Resource Center at BSU has a banquet to honor graduating Indian seniors and academic achievement. The keynote speaker is usually an academician, politician or educational leader. In 2001 however Tom Stillday got the honors. The Beaux Arts Ballroom was packed with graduating seniors and their families, deans, professors, tribal leaders, and university presidents. Tom broke every rule about graduation banquet speeches (which are supposed to be short and focused on the students). He spoke for an hour and a half about Ojibwe culture-all in Ojibwe. When he was done he said only one thing in English: "All you people who study Indians, study that." Ojibwe speakers in the audience were laughing to themselves about the glazed eyes of the university dignitaries, but in reflection on the contents of his speech and his eloquent language many thinking, "that's' advice we should all take."

Future warriors of the Warrior Nation

A book signing followed Treuer's discussion. Red Lake Spiritual Leader Anna Gibbs joined Treuer at the signing table. Attendees lined up the length of the room, some with as many as five books for friends and relatives for the book signings. Some sought photographs as well.

The book, published by Minnesota Historical Society, was released in early October. "Warrior Nation" can be purchased through, through the Minnesota Historical Society Press, at the BSU Bookstore, Bemidji Woolen Mills, most other bookstores, and the Red Lake Nation College Bookstore.

Dr. Anton Treuer is a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University and is a fluent speaker of the Ojibwe language. The 6 x 9 paperback book sells for $19.95, has 456 pages, 30 black & white photos, notes, index, appendices, and bibliography. It's also available in E-Book at $9.99.


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