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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 15, 2003 - Issue 100


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Nay-na-ong-gay-bee Speech and other info

From 'Chippewa's of Lake Superior' by Dr. Richard E. Morse, of Detroit, Michigan published by the Historical Society of Wisconsin in the Third Annual Report and Collections of the State, for the year 1856, Volume 3 (pages 338 -344):
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

It may be remembered that the payment to the Chippewa Indians at La Pointe, in August and September of 1855 necessarily deferred during several weeks, awaiting for the more remote bands to come in.

The Department had sent the express and timely orders to persons at La Pointe, to have the Indians gathered, and to be in waiting for the Commissioner or Agent, with goods and money for the payment, as per treaty, when arrived.  The persons failed to carry out the orders.

The officers of the Commission, and persons connected with the payments, had to remain from that time (11th August), until messengers could be dispatched for the Bands at a distance, to Grand Portage, North Shore, and over 200 miles inland towards the Mississippi and other directions.  Consequently the Indians from the interior were weeks in arriving.  The interval of time being occupied by the Agency in taking the Census of- and in holding Councils with the Chiefs in relation to affairs of unsettled business, directing in regard to the payment of their debts per appropriation from the Government of $90,000.00 for that purpose.  Many sittings and Councils were held, and speeches made between those of the Commission and the Chiefs.  A long time, it seemed, had transpired.

The Bands from the vicinity of Lac Courte Oreilles were yet to come.  Finally, news of their, arrival of some 200 of these Indians, upon the shore of the Bay, about 12 miles from La Pointe, had the evening before reached the Commissioner, who promptly employed three or four sail boats, the only craft at hand, to bring the Indians over.

It was at a Council on the green, during that forenoon, that Chief Waw-Be-Sha-She was speaking, although his remarks were not very important nor pertinent to any matter before the Council, and besides were some what prosy, and becoming tedious, when an Indian, who was not a Chief, interrupted him in a declamatory manner, creating a little merriment.  Said he, "Why are you taking up the time of our Great Father, Commissioner ManyPenny, in talking nonsense, which does no good to anyone? You know our brothers are at the bay, waiting to come over."

The Chief retorted with spirit, "Are you a fool?  You talk like a little child.  Do you think our Great Father is going to take a canoe and paddle it over the bay to bring the Indians?"  There was a general and hearty laughter among the Indians.

The day was bright and warm.  It was nearly noon when the three or four little sail boats which had been despatched to fetch these forest children across the bay to La Pointe hove in sight, and nearing the shore, laden almost to the water's edge with men, women and children, there was a general gathering on the shore to see them as they came in.  A scene of the likes of poverty and wretchedness, we hope we may never witness again.  Some of these poor creatures, especially the children were literally naked.

They had but shreds for blankets, birch bark baskets and birch bark dishes, were their chief wares - rude and untanned deer and other skins, their principal wardrobe and baggage.  Clothing they could not be said to have had.  Some of the men had what were once shirts -- some had not -- some, parts of leggings -- others none.  Most of the women had on them some kind of miserable excuse for a garment.

The children nearly, some quite naked, were, as if to hide them from sight, mostly inside a circle made of their effects, and what was a sad apology for baggage.

Several of these wretched were so feeble from hunger and sickness, that they needed supporting.  A number were lame, and others partial blind.  All had, for some time been on scanty rations of naught but wild rice, as they could neither fish nor hunt while hurrying with their sick and children and fearing their enemies would ambush -- to meet their Great Father.  Commissioner ManyPenny, General H. L. Stevens, and many others who were present and can bear testimony to these truths.

Of these interior Bands, Nay-Naw-Ong-Ga-Be was the Head.  They were from within 60 miles to 100 miles of the Mississippi on the opposite side of which is the country of their old and implacable enemies, the Sioux.  Between these tribes, deadly feuds and exterminating wars have existed for more than a century, defying all efforts from their white neighbors, and the means of which have been employed by the U. S. Government, to halt them.  Hence these people have good reasons to be in continual fear, and on the constant watch for their lives.

The warriors of these Bands, it was conceded, excelled those of any and all others at La Pointe, in their noble features and fine, erect statures, nor were they inferior in their sprightliness of mind; their Head Chief Nay-Naw-Ong-Ga-Be was the smartest orator on the grounds.  Not long after they arrived, the Commissioner sent a request for these Bands to meet him at the Council ground, for the purpose of receiving rations.  In two or three hours we saw some 80 to 100 stately warrior, Nay-Naw-Ong-Ga-Be at their head, marching in more regular order than those bands less accustomed to the war path, to meet the Commissioner.  These Indian came late last year also, and the goods mainly having been distributed, they receive but very little.

The Head Chief, Nay-Naw-Ong-Ga-Be, we should say had seen about fifty-five winters.  He is rather less than medium height and size, an intelligent face and mild expression, a very keen eye, and when animated in speaking, a sort of fiery look or twinkle.  Like most warriors, his face is highly colored with vermilion.  At the head of his warriors and in Council, he wore an elaborate turban of feathers over his head and shoulders -- giving a fuller appearance in person than he really had, an unique look even for an Indian.

It was not long after this Chief arrived, before he became the favorite Orator and Chief.  We saw and noticed much of him and his people.  We believe they have innate impulses as exalted as in the human bosom ever dwelt.  We saw tears of sympathy over the scene of misery before us, when these people landed at La Pointe.  On the ground, the day they arrived, by the side of Nay-Naw-Ong-Ga-Be stood Aw-Key-Wain-Ze, his principal, a tall and majestic Chief and a full head and neck above the red warriors seated around on the grass.  The Commissioner addressed them, John Johnson, of the Soo, a half Chippewa, and a man of unusual intelligence and character did the interpreting.

The Commissioner having said that he was very glad to see him and his people, though they come late; that they felt pained to see them in such sorrowful condition, looking so poverty strickened, et cetera.

Nay-Naw-Ong-Ga-Be, in a manner dignified and earnest, readily replied, "My Father, we too are very happy to see you.  We have reasons for not coming immediately after we heard your voice echoing through the wilderness.  We were all roused by the sound of your voice.  It created glad feelings and rejoicing among all my people.  I lost no time to give orders to all of my young men to collect before me.  I then informed them that your words had reached me, desiring us to come immediately, while we were busily engaged in collecting wild rice, to provide for our sick, aged, women and children who could not travel, with but four of my best warriors to defend them from my troublesome and dangerous neighbors the Sioux, and I and my people with me, hastened upon the pathway to the shores of Lake Chippewa (Superior).  I have obeyed your call and am now before you."

"You say, my Father, you are sorry to see us in our state of poverty.  No wonder, my Father, you see us in poverty and showing so much nakedness.  Five long winters have passed since I have received as much as a blanket for my children."

"My Father, what has become of your promise?  You probably have sent what you have promised to us, but, where has it gone, that is more than I am able to say.  Perhaps it has sunk in the deep waters of the Lake, or it may have evaporated in the heavens, like the rising of the mist, or perhaps it has blown over our heads, and gone towards the setting sun.  Last year I visited our Father (Indian Agent H. C. Gilbert) who came here, and gave goods to a portion of his red children, but I could not get here in time, I got nothing.  I turned around to some of our traders, no doubt standing among us here, and asked them for some clothing to take to my poor children, but they refused me.  Therefore I had to retrace my footsteps over a long road, with empty hands, to my home in the woods, just as I had come."

"In your words to me, you ask me not to use the fire-water, and after the traders refused me, as I said before, I do not intend to accept their fire-water in case they offer it to me."

"I returned to my home.  I endured the severity of the long cold winter with what nature had provided for me, relieved only by the skins I had taken from the beasts of the forest.  I had to sit nearer to my little fire for want of what I did not get from my Great Father and could not get from the traders; I am not like your red children that live on these shores of the Chippewa Lake, he desired you to bring him the irons to spear the fish, and small twine he uses in dropping his hook into the water.  I told you my Father, I live principally in traveling through my home in the forest, by carrying the iron on my shoulder, that, whenever I aim at the wild animal, he falls before me.  I have come with my young men, and we have brought most of our families on the strength of your promise last year, that you would give us good portions for our want this year.  And like all your children, my Father, after a hard day's labor, or a long walk, I am hungry and my people need something to give them strength and comfort.  It is so long since a gun was given us, we have only a few stubs, bound together by leather strings with which to kill our game, and to defend ourselves against our enemies."

"My Father, look around you, upon the faces of my poor people, sickness and hunger, whiskey and war, are killing us off fast.  We are dying and fading away; we drop to the ground like trees before the ax of the white man, we are weak, you are strong.  We are but foolish Indians, you have the knowledge and wisdom in your heads; we want your help and protection.  We have no homes, no cattle, no lands, and we will not long need them.  In a few short winters, my people will be no more.  The winds shall soon moan around the last lodge of your red children.  I grieve; but am powerless to turn our fate away.  The sun, the moon, the rivers, the forest, we love so well, we must leave.  We shall soon sleep in the ground, we will not awake again.  I have no more to say to you, my Father."

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