The man on the phone said simply, “We want you to help our tribe start a weekly newspaper.”
The man on the line was Richard J. “Jiggers” LaFramboise, then chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and the year was 1992.
I flew up to the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota not too long after that call and met with Jiggers and his staff. We discussed the ways and means of starting a newspaper, set a price and got down to the business of starting a newspaper in Belcourt, the main community on the reservation.
Turtle Mountain is in the Northeastern part of North Dakota right on the Canadian border. In fact you can cross into Canada from Turtle Mountain.
Back in the old days when the French Canadians and the Metis played an important role on many of the Northern Indian reservations, one of their favorite things was a fiddle and a dance known as the jig. In his youth Richard LaFramboise was quite handy at doing the jig, and hence the nickname “Jiggers.”
Well, Jiggers had his mind set on economic development. He secured a contract with the federal government using a closed military plant to construct trailers. The contract brought 200 new jobs to Turtle Mountain where the unemployment rate hovered at 50 percent. With money left over from the block grant, he built the Heritage Center. He also built the community bowling alley and added new businesses to the tribal mall. Jiggers brought the tribe’s gross income from $23 million in 1992 to $200 million in 1994.
The tribe’s schools, community college and the reservations roads and highways all saw considerable improvements during Jiggers’ terms in office. But in 1992 he wanted to improve communications on the reservation. He already had a radio station, KEYA-FM, but now Jiggers wanted a newspaper because he was a firm believer in the power of the press.
I told him that he had to choose a strong editor because knowing tribal politics as both of us did, the time would come when politicians would find a reason to interfere with the freedom of the press. Jiggers chose Robin Poitra Powell as his editor and then he picked Shirley Belgarde and Logan Davis as staff members.
The training took several weeks. Powell, Belgarde and Davis flew down to Rapid City and started working daily at Indian Country Today, the paper I owned back then. Powell dug into the editorial side of the paper working diligently with our writers, proof readers and editors. Davis worked with my then sales manager Lynette Two Bulls and the advertising sales staff, and Belgarde worked every day with Christy Tibbetts and the bookkeeping and office crew. We figured we would then have an editor to put out the newspaper every week, a sales manager to bring advertising dollars to the paper, and an office manager to handle all of the accounts payable and receivable. That would give the paper a strong nucleus.
Our next step was to find a location at Turtle Mountain and to purchase the equipment necessary for a start-up. I talked Rick Musser, a professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, to join our efforts. Musser and I, plus several of our staff members, drove up to Turtle Mountain to complete this next step. The Tribe offered one of the newly constructed homes to house the new venture and we got on the phone to order desks, file cabinets, chairs and, of course, computers. Musser worked with the team that had just returned from Rapid City in organizing the office and staff and to prepare for the first issue of the paper that would be named The Turtle Mountain Times.
After all of the phones and other electronic equipment was in place, the Turtle Mountain Times hit the streets in June of 1993. Next year the newspaper will be celebrating its 20th anniversary and of all of the employees who trained in those beginning days, Shirley Belgarde is still working at the paper. Others have moved on, but the newspaper is still hitting the streets every Wednesday.
Belgarde said, “We still have to survive every new administration change and each time this happens we are often threatened with having our funding reduced or cut altogether, but that’s tribal politics and we are about to face another administration change.”
I know how that goes because after “Jiggers” left office the new administration decided that the debt he incurred in starting the Turtle Mountain Times was no longer relevant, and my company was left holding the bag. It was a lesson learned and life goes on as does the newspaper that we got off of the ground.
I am still very proud of the Turtle Mountain Times because it survived for nearly 20 years in the face of economic downturns and the ever-changing tribal administrations. “Jiggers” had a dream and that dream became a reality. To Shirley Belgarde and those early newspaper pioneers, I say congratulations, good luck, and keep the presses rolling.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is President of Unity South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1990. His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. He was the founder of The Lakota Times, Indian Country Today, Lakota Journal and Native Sun News. He can be reached at UnitySoDak1@knology.net
The Chairmen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa since the establishment of the Tribe under the constitution of 1932:
- 1932-1940 Kanick (Walking with Thunder)
- 1940, 1941, 1943, and 1944 Louis Marion
- 1942, 1947 Frank Vondal
- 1945, 1946, 1948, 1950-1953, Edward (Chick) Jollie
- 1949 Norbert Davis
- 1954-58, Patrick Gourneau
- 1959-61 Louis LaFountain
- 1962-1963 Francis Cree
- 1964-1965 Andrew Turcotte replaced by Reginald (Tiny) Brien
- 1966-1967 Mary Cornelius replaced by Russell Davis, who was then replaced by Reginald (Tiny) Brien
- 1968-1969 Mary Cornelius replaced by Peter Marcellais
- 1970-1971 Edwin James Henry succeeded by Gregory LaVallie
- 1972-78, 1980-1982, Edwin James Henry
- 1978-1980 Wayne Keplin
- 1982-88, 1992-1994, 1998-2000 Richard (Jiggers) LaFromboise
- 1988-1992, 1994-1996, Twila Martin-Kekahbah
- 1996-1998 Melvin Lenoir (Senior) succeeded by Raphael DeCoteau
- 2000-2002 Richard Monette replaced by Melvin Mike Lenoir
- 2002-2004 Richard Monette succeeded by Leon Morin
- 2004-2006 Kenneth W. Davis
- 2006-2008 David (Doc) Brien
- 2008-2010 Richard Marcellais
- 2010 to present Merle St.Claire
Merle St Claire, Current Chairman
Louis Marion 2nd Chairman
Patrick Gourneau, 6th Chairman
Tobacco is the first plant that the Creator gave to the Anishinabe people. Three other plants: sage, cedar and sweetgrass are held sacred by the people. Together they are referred to as the four sacred medicines (Muskiiki). The four sacred medicines are used in everyday life and in all of our ceremonies. All of them can be used to smudge with, though sage, cedar and sweetgrass also have many other uses. It is said that tobacco sits in the eastern door, sweetgrass in the southern door, sage in the west and cedar in the north. Elders say that the spirits like the aroma produced when the other sacred medicines are burned.
Sacred tobacco was given to the Anishinabe so that we can communicate with the Spirit world. Tobacco is always offered before picking other medicines. When you offer tobacco to a plant and explain your reasons for being there, the plant will let all the plants in the area know your intentions and why you are picking them. Tobacco is used as an offering, a gift, and is an important part of Anishinabe ceremonies.
Sage is used to prepare our people for ceremonies and teachings. Because it is more medicinal and stronger than sweetgrass, sage is used more often in ceremonies. Sage is used for releasing what is troubling the mind and for removing negative energy. It is also used for cleansing homes and sacred bundles carried by people. It also has other medicinal uses.
Sweetgrass is the sacred hair of Mother Earth. Its sweet aroma reminds our people of the gentleness, love and kindness she has for the people. When sweetgrass is used in a healing circle it has a calming effect. Like sage and cedar, sweetgrass is used for smudging and purification.
Like Sage and Sweet grass, cedar is used to purify the home, it also has many restorative medicinal use. When mixed with sage for a tea, it cleans the body of all infections, cedar baths are also very healing. When cedar mixed with tobacco is put in the fire it crackles, this is said to call the attention of the Spirits (manitous) to the offering that is being made. Cedar is used in sweat lodge and fasting ceremonies for protection, cedar branches cover the floor of many sweat lodges and some people make a circle of cedar when they are fasting. It is a guardian spirit and chases away the bad spirits.
The above information was originally produced for the Turtle Mountain Children's Christmas Dreams calendar. The calendar is produced annually as a way to raise money for children's Christmas gifts for needy children in our community.
Red River Carts - by Kade Ferris
The Red River cart used by the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Metis was capable of carrying nearly a thousand pounds of cargo. It could transport this weight faster and several times more efficiently than a horse travois, especially when linked together into a wagon train of several dozen carts. A historical example describes the amazing construction and capacity of the Red River cart:
"The carts composing the train were of uniform make, and of a species called “Red River carts”. They are constructed entirely of wood, without any iron whatever, the axels and rims of the wheels forming no exception to the rule. Although this might at first sight appear a disadvantage, as denoting a want of strength, yet it is really the reverse, because in the country traversed by these vehicles, wood is abundant and always to be obtained in quantities sufficient to mend any breakages which might take place. The only tool necessary, not only to mend but to construct a cart, are an axe, a saw, a screw-auger, and a draw knife. . .Each cart is drawn by an ox, and in cases where speed is an object, a horse is substituted. . .[with] the wiry little “Indian ponies”, one of which, with a load of four or five hundred pounds in the cart behind him, will overtake from fifty to sixty miles a day in a measured, but by no means hurried, jog trot. The common rate of progress made by heavy [ox] freight carts is about twenty miles a day, of traveling ten hours, the load averaging about eight hundred pounds per cart." (Hargrave 1871: 58-59)
Red River Carts at St. Paul, MN
Red River Cart
This new technology allowed the Chippewa and Metis to carry massive amounts of buffalo meat and hides, which was not previously possible. With the Red River cart the Turtle Mountain Chippewa were able to rise above the loss of the beaver trade of the early 1800s and were no longer confined to hunting for mere subsistence with the extras serving as trade fodder. Instead, a cultural revolution had begun.
In terms of sheer yield, the buffalo hunts that followed were almost beyond reason in terms of the amounts of meat and hides taken by the Chippewa and Métis, and the economic ramifications were astounding in terms of human organization. Unlike tribal-level organization, the cart-driven buffalo hunts were coordinated to include hundreds of people to maximize yield:
"The operations connected with these buffalo hunts give employment to somewhat over one thousand men and twelve hundred Red River carts. The people go to them with their families, who are employed in preparing the meat after the animals have been killed. The whole of those connected with the [hunting] business may be divided into two sections, of which one leaves the [Red River] settlement by the road leading to Pembina, and the other. . .[on] White Horse Plain." (Hargrave 1871: 169)
Fort Pembina Attacked
The fort at Pembina was attacked by a party of 200 Sioux at midnight of July 22, 1808. There were then twenty-two men bearing arms, fifty women and many children encamped in the vicinity. Alexander Henry defended the fort with the men encamped outside, nine men inside, and a mortar loaded with one pound of powder and thirty balls, which had recently been added to the equipment.
At the hour of attack the Chippewas had been drinking heavily, and were generally asleep in their tents. Their arms were in the fort and the gates were closed, but when roused they clambered over the stockade and secured their arms, hurrying the women and children into the fort.
The piece when in action was aimed in the direction where the Sioux could be plainly heard addressing their men, and no such noise as its roar had ever been heard on the Red River before. The balls clattered through the tree tops and some took effect, for the lamentations of the Sioux for their fallen comrades could be distinctly heard. For a few moments only the firing continued and the Sioux were next heard at some distance, then farther off, farther and farther. About sunrise they could be dimly discerned filing away to the southward.
Fort at Pembina
Their pursuers found the stain of blood where the Sioux were first heard, and evidence of a hasty retreat. On the spot where they put on their war bonnets and adjusted their accoutrements, making ready for the assault, upwards of one hundred old shoes were found; also some scalps, remnants of leather and buffalo robes, saddle cloths, pieces of old saddles, paunches and bladders of water for their journey—and a lone grave on the prairie where one of their dead had been left. The loss at the fort was one dog killed by the Sioux shots.
Early history of North Dakota: essential outlines of American history, By Clement Augustus Lounsberry (1919)
In regard as to how the Red River received its name, Rev. E. G. Wright of Oberlin, who came to Red Lake in 1843, and was a missionary for forty years among the Chippewa Indians of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, states that the Indians informed him that under the water was another world, and that long ago there was a desperate battle there and a great many of the people and animals were killed, their blood causing the water to turn red. Others of the Indians on the Red River banks attributed its name to the bloody battles fought between the Sioux and Chippewas in canoes on the river, the blood of the slain coloring the water.
The Red River of the North
At about the middle of September, the Red Lake bands of Chippewa assembled at the Red Lake River to await a delegation of American officials led by Alexander Ramsey.
Ramsey arrived on the 21st under escort by a small detachment of soldiers. On the 23rd, the Pembina band arrived and the first session of the treaty council was held that day.
Both of the bands were encamped on a beautiful, grassy lowland only a short distance from the ford or "Old Crossing“ that allowed safe passage across the river. The white men encamped on a small hillock between the two Indian bands.
For about two weeks the chiefs and headmen bargained and discussed the terms of the treaty, always seeking better terms and conditions for their respective bands. On October 1st, all of the chiefs had agreed to the terms of the treaty except for Chief May-dwa-gun-on-ind of the Red Lake band who opposed the terms.
The following day (October 2nd) the council assembled again without May-dwa-gun-on-ind, and after some further discussion lasting about three and one-half hours, Red Lake Chief, Mons-o-Mo signed on behalf of the Red Lake people (along with other sub-chiefs, warriors and headmen). Pembina chiefs Misko-mukwa (Red Bear), Aisanse (Little Shell II), and their headmen followed in signing – as did commissioners Alexander Ramsey and A.C. Morril (and their witnesses).
On October 3rd treaty goods, gifts, flags, and annuities (provisions) were distributed to the Red Lake and Pembina bands. The treaty meeting at the Old Crossing ended on October 14th when Ramsey and his delegation finally left.
Kade M. Ferris M.S.
Treaty Monument at Huot, MN
The use of plants for medicine was a specialty of the Chippewa and much of the knowledge of plants gathering and medicinal properties is passed down generation to generation. The myriad of plants and their uses would encompass its own book. Those discussed in this section are but a few of the more common historically used plants.
Cedar was used by the Chippewa as fragrant incense during ceremonies to invoke good feelings and to encourage spirits to enter the ceremony. Both Red Cedar (called Mis-kwaw-wauk) and White Cedar (Ke-zhik) were used by the Chippewa. Generally, cedar was sprinkled on burning cinders so as to release the incense during ceremony. Cedar was normally gathered where it could be found. Red Cedar was more common in western climates, while White Cedar was found in the eastern tribal areas.
Choke Cherry (Sus-suh-way-meen-ne-gah-wunje) was used as a food source for making Pemmican and as an additive to soups. Arrowhead (also known as Swan Potato) was also used as a food source. Its tubers are edible raw or cooked, and can be dried and stored for months. Various other plants were used to supplement the Chippewa diet.
Medicinal plants, such as New Jersey Tea (Ke-teg-ge-manito
) had useful applications. This plant’s roots were used by the Chippewa for pulmonary troubles and for constipation coupled with shortness of breath and bloating. Bitterroot, a plant common in Montana, was used as a physic by the Chippewa. Some of the other commonly used plants are provided below:
- Bear Berry (Sa-zah-ko-me-nah ga-wa-zheen): The leaves were mixed with tobacco to make the common blend used for ceremonial purposes by the Chippewa and other Great Plains tribes. Used to make Kanikinick.
- Wild Carrot (Pe-zhe-ke-wush): Used as buffalo medicine for bundles.
- Avens Root (Be-se-kwunk): Used as an astringent blood stopper by the Chippewa when applied to wounds.
- Common Yarrow (Waw-be-no-wusk): Used in the Wabeno (or Wabanowin) ceremony. It was rubbed on the skin and used to protect the ceremonial snatching of meat from a boiling pot of water.
It is well-known that the Chippewa and Métis were trading and hunting in the more western regions of North Dakota and into points in Montana by the early part of the nineteenth century. After 1830, largely, the Chippewa had become more focused on hunting in the areas west of the Sheyenne River—especially in the region between the Mouse and Missouri River—probably due to a drop in the number of bison in eastern North Dakota. One description of a hunt to the Missouri River shows to what lengths such hunts would go to reach the fertile buffalo grounds of this region:
Turtle Mountain Metis hunting family
Early on June 21, 1840, they left Pembina after the priest had performed mass and the camp flag raised. The picturesque procession stretched some five or six miles, along the trail to the southwest. With a brief rest at noon, they traveled until five or six o’clock for night encampment. On this day they traveled twenty miles. After camping, a council meeting was held on the grass outside the circle of carts.
The next day the march was cancelled because some of the horses and oxen strayed away and had to be rounded up. On June 23rd the march resumed and they were now seeking the buffalo herds. After nine days out of Pembina, they reached the Chienne [Cheyenne] River, about one hundred and fifty miles from Pembina, and had not seen a herd of buffalo. On July 3, nineteen days out of, and more than two hundred and fifty miles from the Settlement, they came in sight of the hunting ground and the following day had the first buffalo ‘race’.
Hunting from horseback
Four hundred mounted huntsmen awaited the signal from the senior captain and at eight o’clock in the morning moved toward the herd, which was about one and one-half miles away. The runners approached to within four or five hundred yards before the herd took flight, as the hunters moved in. Then shooting, yelling, noise, dust and general pandemonium broke loose and the earth trembled, as the thundering herd stampeded. In a short time the tumult died away in the distance, leaving the slain buffalo on the plain. A perilous but glorious adventure, yet sometimes fatal to both man and horse.
The carts then moved forward to garner the meat. The hunters skinned and cut up the carcasses. The women began work on the skins, as well as the meat in the preparation of pemmican. The meat had to be processed immediately to prevent spoiling. In this ‘race’, thirteen hundred and seventy-five buffalo were killed.
The expedition followed the buffalo herds west and reached the banks of the Missouri River on July 16. They spent a week there in forays after buffalo. On July 25, on their return trip home they were in the vicinity of the Chienne River. They passed through Pembina and on to the Settlement at Fort Garry, where they arrived on August 17, after a hunt lasting two months and two days.
There were sixteen hundred and thirty persons and twelve hundred and ten Red River carts in this expedition. It was estimated that a total of 1,089,000 pounds of meat were obtained on this hunt. During the spring or summer hunts, an expedition averaged about ten to twelve general races, that is when all the hunters ‘run’ at once. On these hunts there was great wastage of the spoils and scarcely one-third of the buffalo slain were turned into account.
Kade M. Ferris M.S.
Brehaut, Harry B. and P. Eng
1971 The Red River Cart and Trails: The Fur Trade. MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 28.
RISING SUN - Se-gon-ake-skung
Rising Sun (Se-gon-ake-skung) was a notable headman and visionary of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. He was one of the original signers of the Red Lake and Pembina Chippewa Treaty at the Old Crossing 1863.
Rising Sun’s village was located near Dunseith, North Dakota, at the western edge of Lake Schutte near the present-day Little Shell Pow Wow grounds.
This picture was taken in 1907 when Rising Sun and his wife Simiquan (Comes from above) were in their early 90s.
In 2011, the Turtle Mountain Department of Natural Resources developed a traditional pow wow arbor at Sky Chief Park. The 1st annual Red Thunder memorial pow wow was held on July 4th.
The descendants of Red Thunder still live on the Turtle Mountain Reservation, including current Tribal Chairman Merle St. Claire.