Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 3, 2004 - Issue 110


pictograph divider


The Indian Priest
Father Philip B. Gordon
Chapter 4 - Life on the Reservation

by Paula Delfeld
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

It was June 1897, when William Gordon arrived with his family at the Bad River Reservation. Tall, straight pines with their solid canopy of branches sill shaded the soft, deep carpet of needles, the accumulation of centuries, but they were rapidly disappearing. The beaver too, which had been the standard by which the value of goods was rated, were also being depleted due to over trapping, lack of their favorite food, the birch and aspen, and also from disease.

Philip Gordon and Joe Mesabi would be separated for the first time. They would miss each other but both were busy learning many skills from indulgent parents, sisters, brothers and respected older members of the tribe.

The boys were encouraged to fast while still young and to reveal their dreams so that they would know what to look for when the time came for their trial when they would find a spirit to guide them through life.

Mesabi had taken his vision quest and Philip had been conditioned by an occasional fast so when late that summer, he went into the forest, he was ready for his manhood trial. Fasting had supposedly cleared his mind and Philip pondered the possibility of Mesabi one day becoming a chief of the tribe. Although his mind was receptive, his visions were confused.

He dreamed of many things out there in the lonely forest, but his dreams had no significance. Mesabi knew he was designated to follow Osawati; but when Phil returned home after four days, his quest was unresolved. He had found no spirit to guide him through life. The Christian faith of his grandfather was in conflict with the old Indian tradition.

The hot summer was passing with many things to do and now it was August. Soon the harvest moon would be shining over the Bad River and ricing time would be here. Rice was one of the most important items of food among the Chippewas, and so a good harvest was important to them.

When the top of the grass began to turn yellow, the Indian women would go out to bind the stalks into the sheaves. A-te-ge-kwe had prepared basswood fiber from the inner bark of the tree to be used for tying. She split the long strips, tied them together and rolled them into a ball. When she went into the rice fields in her canoe, she wore a special waist with a birchbark basket behind her back to hold the ball of twine. The fiber was passed through the little birchbark rings on her shoulder so it was always ready and would not become tangled.

With a 'rice hoop,' a branch curved and secured with strips of fiber, A-te-ge-kwe would draw clusters of rice stalks towards her and wind the fiber around them, bending the tip of the bundle down. This would protect the rice from the birds, wind, and floods until the tops turned purple. Then it would be time for harvesting

Phil eagerly anticipated the rice harvest. It was a time of festivities. Entire family groups established camps for several weeks and all helped during the process.

In the meantime, there were geese and ducks to be shot or snared before they migrated south. A-te-ge-kwe and the other women prepared the green deer hide, placing it over a log and scraping the hair from it.

A-te-ge-kwe was a small woman. When Philip was grown, she only reached to his shoulder. He was a full head taller, but she had the strength and agility of her ancestors and worked right along with the other women.

Phil liked to watch the women as they cut the hide into strips wove them into nets and placed them in the rice fields. They sometimes caught forty geese at one time. These they prepared and smoked for winter use.

When the rice was ready, usually a man and a woman went out in a canoe. The man had the strenuous job of slowly poling the canoe through the water with a forked pole, skillfully guiding it between the rows of tied bundles. The woman sat in the stern of the canoe and rhythmically beat the stalks on each side to knock off the rice kernels.

When the canoe was filled, they brought it to the camp. First they picked out by had the pieces of dried stalks and debris that had fallen in with the rice. Then they spread the rice on large blankets to dry, being careful not to put it directly in the sun where it could overheat.

These were good times for Phil and his friends. In later years he returned at every opportunity for the ricing.

The next step, parching, was a critical one. One of the women put a few pounds of rice at a time in a big kettle over the fire. She had propped the kettle in a slightly slanting position so she could sit on a rush mat and stir the rice with a slender paddle. The fire had to be well regulated and the rice constantly stirred so it would not burn.

Many family camps were processing rice at the same time. Phil would always remember the rich, zesty aroma that hung over the area when the parching fires blended with the maple-sugar flavored meat stewing for the evening meal.

Parching loosened husks, cured the rice, and gave a nutlike flavor. It was a slow and tedious process but it was the best method. Another method was producing what was known as 'hard rice,' which was greenish black, much darker than parched rice and required longer to cook. This method was similar to drying berries. A layer of hay was placed on a rack and the rice spread on it and dried over a slow fire.

During the parching, the women had winnowing trays beside the fire into which they emptied the parched rice. Others would take it to a spot where there was a breeze to blow the chaff when they poured the rice onto a sheet of birchbark on the ground. The next step known as pounding the rice, was not really pounding, which would destroy the kernels, in a barrel or wooden container of rice, a wooden pestle about five and a half feet long was dropped carefully around the outer edge of the container to free the husk from the kernel.

This year, Phil would help with 'dancing the rice.' He put on the moccasins that had been made for the purpose and tied them tightly around his ankles while A-te-ge-kwe placed some rice in the barrel, which was sunk into the ground. Leaning on the diagonal poles on each side, Phil preformed a sort of dance, which would dislodge the last fragments of husks without harming the kernels. The chaff was also saved and cooked into the rice. The Indians took pride in carrying out each step of the ricing process.

There would be rice seasoned with maple sugar, for the evening meal, along with fish the women had caught in their nets that morning and the rabbits the boys had hunted, already stewing over the campfire.

After a long day of hard work, there was dancing and drumming on the sore at night when all the families, who had not seen each other in months, got together. These events would forever be burned into Phil's memory and were an influence later in his life.

Many preparations were made for the long, severe winter months. All during the summer the Indian families had been gathering berries, fruits, and herbs to preserve and dry for the winter. Later they would travel to the cranberry bogs to harvest the berries to dry. These, or sometimes blueberries, were used to make pemmican. They were mixed with chopped venison and smoked, the stomach of a deer being used as a casing. This would keep a long time and was handy to take along on a trip.

Most of the garden vegetables, -- corn, squash, and potatoes - were already stored away. The Indians lacked many luxuries but they were festivities to enjoy and good food when the harvest was plentiful.

pictograph divider

Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!