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.

Father Genin, 1888

To the Editor of the Journal:

It is now too late that I may have time to look for the official report I had to make in June, 1888, about the deplorable state of affairs and the intolerable suffering of the Turtle Mountain Indians, and send it to you.

Yet, reading in your columns the statements of a United States marshal to the effect that he had to pay out of his own pocket funds to the amount of $1,000 for arresting alive, or without killing outright, nine persons—two Indians and seven half-breeds—destitute and starved almost unto death, and that too, with such a terrific posse of assistants as he mentions he had spread about, cautioning them carefully, like old Granny McDonald used to caution her grandchildren, not to go too near the fire, for it was hot and their flesh tender. I cannot refrain from stating that the actual condition of the Turtle Mountain Indian people is about the same today as it was in the spring of 1888.

In the winter of 1887 to 1888 there were counted 151 persons, big and small, who died there of starvation. I buried a number of them myself, taking three, the mother and two grown children out of one single family. The Sisters of Mercy, who support there a large number of orphans and destitute boys and girls, deprived their house of all they could in order to help me to carry pork, flour, sugar, tea, bread, etc., to all those we could reach. There were lots of young mothers who, after giving birth to their children, had to wait patiently for a meal until their husbands would return home from the hunt with a gopher or two, nothing else being found.

I state facts, remember. I do not put up stories.

You will ask: Why did not the lazy creatures provide themselves with provisions by cultivating the land? Why did not they?

In the first place they had no seed of any kind: and where the United States government was made to believe so many bushels of wheat, corn and potatoes had been distributed. If you had been there you might have found that so many things never reached the unfortunate; or, if any at all was obtained, it was only by a few favorites, while the others were rebuked and sent to do for themselves. One of the pleas was that so many Indians did not belong to that reservation, but had come from Manitoba and the northwest. It is no wonder that the starving people would not consider the magical cage line, called the international boundary, but would look for fish, game, etc., even if they had to cross that great line. I have seen in some instances, and have handled myself, hoes and other handmade wooden instruments of agriculture the natives were using so they could plant something, being refused assistance at the agency. I will cite one instance especially, that of old Joseph Wallet, over 80 years of age, who, unable to get as much as a hoe at the agency, made himself one of oak wood, with which, before my eyes, he planted a garden with his children, having procured some garden seed from a humane disposed storekeeper in the neighborhood, thus showing his earnest desire to work to help himself, if there was any way to do so.

Misko-Benais - Red Thunder
Father Genin
Are the people better today? No, no. Why, then, did not our heroic marshal go forth with his mighty posse to distribute that $1,000 of his to the poor, suffering creatures, who, alas! were trying to save their starving children from the jaws of death. The marshal's action would be blessed today, and he would appear a much greater and nobler citizen of a Christian country.

The lands of the Turtle mountains are yet unceded, and while the poor Indians are so long waiting for the good pleasure of our government officials to settle the affairs of the cession of their property, is it a wonder that they would try to keep themselves by cutting and selling some of the timber?  We believe it to be a true maxim that necessity has no law. In this, their extremity, the Indians had hardly a chance to hesitate; and who will blame them?

We read now the report that the marshal's life was in danger; that Red Thunder was hot. Should not Red Thunder be at least as hot as our marshal? It is good enough for the marshal that Thunder was alone and that there was no lightning. I do hope the marshal and his men will see to it that the children of their captives are not let die of hunger, while the law will take its course and a faithful investigation justify the marshal's victims.
Click on the picture to see the full-scale state seal of Massachusetts with Little Shell on it.
As you probably know, the picture of Chief Little Shell graces the official Tribal logo of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.  You can see it on official Tribal letters, on the wall next to the entrance to the Indian Health Service hospital, and elsewhere.  What you may not know is that it also is the basis for the official state seal of Massachusetts.

The head used for the official Massachusetts seal comes from the famous portrait of Little Shell (Es-ence) which was furnished to the designers of the seal by the Bureau of American Ethnology. 

Little Shell's picture was selected to be the model for the seal (to quote the designers) “not only because he [Little Shell] was a fine specimen of an Indian, but also because his tribe, the Ojibwas, belong to the great Algonquin family of which the Massachusetts were also members”.  As he stands on the shield, Little Shell is clothed in a shirt, leggings and moccasins.

The legislature of Massachusetts approved the state seal with Little Shell’s image on June 4, 1885. The Massachusetts Little Shell inspired seal also graces the State Flag.

Kade M. Ferris M.S.
Tribal Historian/THPO

After the general failure to remove the Pembina Chippewas to Minnesota, the government was forced to review the validity of the Chippewa claim to the area north and west of Devils Lake.  The Chippewa claimed their right to this land was derived from the several treaties.  The government commission in charge of reviewing these claims concluded that, as nearly as they could ascertain, the Pembina Chippewa title to these lands, totaling between 8,000,000 and 10,000,000 acres, had never been ceded to the government, and their claim was recognized by neighboring tribes. The Commission was therefore forced to report that the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa Indians had “as valid an original Indian title to the entire tract of land as any Indian tribe ever had to any tract”.

A commission was established in 1891 to work with a hand-selected committee of sixteen mixed and sixteen full bloods to represent the tribe and to undertake a process to eliminate people from the tribal rolls.  This committee was composed of many of the oldest inhabitants of the Turtle Mountains and persons who were thought to be fully acquainted with most of the people who were truly affiliated with the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. These committee members were supplied by the commission with payment for their services.

This committee of 32 struck some 522 names from the tribal rolls almost immediately. The commission then went over the list of names remaining after this number had been stricken off, and with the entire committee first struck off all those whose American tribal relations were considered by any member of the committee as being in the least questionable. It then went over the remaining names carefully, making full inquiries concerning the relations, birthplace, former living and present location and all other matters pertaining to the question of their tribal relations, and made a complete list of those who were deemed by the commission to be both of American origin and authentic members of the Turtle Mountain Indians.
Little Shell and his council
A list was then made of all persons whose names were stricken off the rolls, whether by the committee or this Commission, and copies of these lists were posted in conspicuous places throughout the reservation and also read at the churches at the Belcourt Mission and St. John.  Special notices were also sent through the Indian police to individuals who had not been present at these places. With these lists was a notification that the Commission would proceed on a given day to hear the application of any who desired his or her name reinstated. A large number of cases were heard and with a few exceptions their claims were rejected. The Commission then went over the names of those who had been rejected, or had not responded to the notice, and completed their census in 1892.

The true intent of the commission in working with the committee of 32 to strike members from the rolls was clear.  The Turtle Mountain Reservation was too small to accommodate allotment for all of the Indians, and the government was worried about having to settle claims due to a lack of land at Turtle Mountain, coupled with the fact that it had allowed too many white settlers into the Turtle Mountain region before legally settling all matters with the tribe.  Ultimately, the commission was working to cover their mistake in creating a situation that could not now be changed; that it was impossible for a large number of Turtle Mountain Indians to take allotments within the two townships of the reservation. 
J.B. Bottineau - Tribal Attorney in 1892
The committee of 32 was left having to face a certain reality as well.  There were only 13,000 acres of tillable land on the reservation, and Congress could not be induced under any circumstances to increase the size of that reservation due to rampant white settlement surrounding the reservation. The committee was asked to lay aside once and for all any hope of having the two township reservation increased to its 1882 limits again.

An attempt was made to purchase land for the Chippewa near the White Earth River at Fort Berthold, but no amount of persuasion could induce the Fort Berthold Indians to consider the subject of disposing of any of their reservation or receiving their neighbors, the Chippewas. 

A faction headed by Little Shell, Red Thunder, Yellow Bird, Young Man, and others, complained bitterly of the action of the committee of thirty-two and the commission in cutting down the membership roll.

Little Shell 1892
Kakenwash (chairman of the committee),  Beaver, Yellow Day, Foggy Cloud, Offers-the-Pipe, Circling Hawk, Elevated, Red Bear, and many others also objected to the treatment that the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, a friendly band, had received from the hands of the Government, as compared with its treatment of the tribes concerned in the Minnesota massacre of 1862. Kakenwash asked the commission:

 “Have we or our ancestors ever ceded the lands we claim? If we have, there must be some record of it on the flies in Washington, and if there is, we ask the commission to show it to us. If we have ceded this land we will no longer make a claim to it, but if we have not, we ask the Government to deal rightly with us. The Government has not taken the lands of other Indians, even its worst enemies, without securing the Indian title. What right, then, has the Government to reduce us to two townships? We are unlearned and cannot read or write, and we ask the commission not to deceive us, but to inform us truly whether or not this land has ever been ceded to the Government.”

The commission replied that it agreed that there was no relinquishment of the territory from them, but that there had been a question as to the location of the boundary line between them and the Sioux and also as to whether a part of this land claimed had not been the ancient home of the Assiniboines, but whether their claim was well founded or not, it was of no consequence.  The Government was prepared to pay them a ‘reasonable price’ to extinguish their claims.  Kakenwash replied that the government, powerful as it was, should be ashamed to take the lands from them when they were defenseless to protect it.  The Chippewa could only appeal to the integrity of the Government. He stated: “Through all the Indian wars we have been the friend of the white man, and though often provoked by injustice and imposition, we have never resented. And yet we have noticed that every time the Sioux tribes have risen against the Government and killed white settlers, the Government has gone down into its pockets and increased their provisions, and paid them well for their lands, while it arbitrarily seeks to deprive us, who have at all times been its friend, of our homes.”

Others reiterated the tribe’s claim for the reservation to be returned to the 1882 limits and pleaded their love for their ancestral home at Turtle Mountain.

The commission again announced that it was not possible to increase the size of the reservation at Turtle Mountain, and that discussion of the matter was pointless. Little Shell and his delegation grew angry at the immovable stance of the commission and declared that unless their claims were met with some compromise, further discussion was indeed useless and they would leave and never consent to any treaty which would not give the tribe a reservation at the Turtle Mountains.

Members of the committee of thirty-two, with Little Shell abstaining, finally agreed to the proposal of the commission, but were unsatisfied.  The one-million dollar settlement was viewed as but a meager sum as compared with what the Government has paid for the relinquishment of the Indian title to other tracts, the Indians argued that the government was, in fact, paying only 10-cents an acre for land, a large portion of which was classed among the best agricultural land in the State, while the government paid other Indians for similar lands $2.50 per acre (at Fort Totten and Sisseton/Wahpeton).  This led to the agreement being derisively named the “Ten Cent Treaty”.

by Kade M. Ferris - THPO

__What thoughts ran through Louis Riel's mind as he stood on the scaffold, waiting for the trap door to open to his death? Perhaps he thought about the turmoil that surrounded him, a turmoil that still surrounds the controversial Métis leader today. Even now, Louis Riel is a hero to many, a visionary, the fiery leader of a downtrodden people. To others he is a madman, a traitor, or a misguided zealot.

Riel was born in the Red River Colony of what is now Manitoba, the son of a prominent Métis leader and a French Canadian mother. He was educated as a lawyer in Montréal, but he returned to his home at the age of 24, just as Canada was preparing to acquire the vast territory called Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company. Since the Red River Colony was part of Rupert's Land, the Métis people feared that they would lose control of their own homeland.

The Métis are the proud descendants of French Canadian coureurs de bois and voyageurs and native mothers. They were great buffalo hunters of the plains who saw their way of life threatened by the arrival of English-speaking Canadians from the East.

Riel gathered others around him to stop Canadian representatives from entering the settlement. They formed a "provisional government" to negotiate with the Canadian government. Their actions, known as the Red River Rebellion, led to the creation of the province of Manitoba in 1870.

Though there was also no bloodshed in the Rebellion, the provisional government did execute one unruly prisoner named Thomas Scott. The heated reaction the execution created in Ontario forced Riel to flee for his safety. He spent years in Québec, New England and in the American Midwest. Though he was twice elected a member of Parliament, he did not dare take his seat in Ottawa.

It was during these confusing years that Riel's religious feelings, which had always been strong, grew to a steadfast conviction that he was sent by God as the prophet of a new North American Catholicism.

In 1884, Riel was teaching school in Montana when some Métis from Saskatchewan asked for his help in their difficulties with the Canadian government. Like the Red River Métis, they feared that their lands would be taken. Riel wrote petitions and letters to Ottawa. Then in 1885 the Métis lost patience and claimed a provisional government of their own. On March 26, about 300 Métis, led by Riel, clashed with about 100 North West Mounted Police and volunteers, touching off the Northwest Rebellion.

The Canadian government responded quickly with a force of 8,000 men. The armies met on May 9, 1885 at Batoche, and by May 12, the overpowered Métis were defeated, and Riel surrendered.
Black Duck (Mug-a-dishib) was a brave warrior and sub-chief of the Pembina (Turtle Mountain) Chippewa.  He was considered a great warrior and the defender of the frontier.  He made his village near Stump Lake, ND and also camped and hunted near Fargo, ND. 

Around 1807 Black Duck raised a considerable war-party and proceeded south of Pembina deep into Sioux territory – somewhere near Lake Traverse or Big Stone Lake, SD.  After failing to find the village they were looking for, the majority of the war party abandoned the quest and returned north to Pembina.  Forty warriors stayed with Black Duck and they continued the search for the enemy Sioux.  They eventually found and attacked a large village – killing many Sioux.  It seemed that they would kill everyone, but a friendly Assiniboine travelling with them warned them that reinforcements were coming from a nearby Sioux village. Because they had exhausted their ammunition, Black Duck and his party reluctantly retreated. The Chippewas had not proceeded far, when, on traversing a wide prairie, clouds of dust coming from the direction of their recent massacre told them that their enemy was approaching. Rather than have the entire party killed by the overwhelming Sioux war party, it was decided that the Chippewa would separate and each group try to escape.  Knowing that escape was futile, Black Duck and the remaining handful of warriors who stayed with him decided to meet death together so that the other group could escape.  They seated themselves on the prairie and began smoking their pipes, quietly awaiting the enemy.  Three hundred mounted Sioux warriors dashed up and surrounded them.  The Chippewa engaged the Sioux and the struggle was with knives, tomahawks, and spears.  It was a short and bloody battle. Only one Chippewa escaped to tell the tale.

This final battle happened at the Wild Rice River south of Fargo, ND.  During the middle 1800s Father Genin, a Catholic Priest who served the Chippewa and Metis erected a cross at the site where Black Duck and twelve of his followers fell in their supreme sacrifice.  This location is where the Milwaukee Railroad crosses the Wild Rice River.  Black Duck is almost forgotten today, but his descendants can still be found among the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. 
The Black Duck was a great warrior

The Wild Rice River (ND)
Sasswain Poitra was a member of the Marten clan. He served as a sub-chief to Little Shell III during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Crane Clan was one of the leadership clans that served the Turtle Mountain Chippewa people.
The Chippewa people were divided into a number of doodem (clans) named for animals. This clan system served as a semi-formal structure of organization as well as a means of dividing labor in some cases. The five main totems among the Chippewa were Crane, Catfish, Loon, Bear and Marten.

There were at least twenty-one totems and sub-totems in all, recorded by William Whipple Warren: Crane, Catfish, Loon, Bear, Marten, Wolf, Reindeer, Merman, Pike, Lynx, Eagle, Rattlesnake, Moose, Black Duck, Sucker, Goose, Sturgeon, White Fish, Beaver, Gull, and Hawk. Some totems indicate non-Chippewa origins, such as the Wolf Clan for Dakota or Eagle Clan for American. There are other totems considered rare today among the Chippewa people because the totems have migrated to other tribes, such as the Merman Clan, which shows up as the Water-spirits Clan of the Ho Chunk people (Winnebago).

Each clan was ascribed different characteristics, and members of those clans were thought to exemplify these characteristic.  For example, the Crane and the Loon Clans were given the power of Chieftainship. By working together, these two clans gave the people a balanced government with each serving as a check on the other.  The people of the Catfish Clan were thought of as teachers and scholars. They helped children develop skills and healthy spirits. They also drew on their knowledge to solve disputes between the leaders of the Crane and Loon Clans.  Members of the Bear Clan were reputed to be strong and steady police and legal guardians. Bear Clan members spent a lot of time patrolling the land surrounding the village, and in so doing, they learned which roots, bark, and plants could be used for medicines to treat the ailments of their people.  The people of the Marten Clan were hunters, food gathers and warriors of the people. Long ago, warriors fought to defend their village or hunting territory. They became known as master strategists in planning the defense of their people.

Do you know your clan?

Start blogging by creating a new post. You can edit or delete me by clicking under the comments. You can also customize your sidebar by dragging in elements from the top bar.


    Content is provided by Kade M. Ferris M.S.  Kade has a B.A. in anthropology and history from University of North Dakota, and a M.S. degree in anthropology from North Dakota State University.  Kade serves as the Historical Society board Vice President and is a professional historian and anthropologist with over 18 years of experience.  He serves as the THPO and Director of Natural Resources for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and is the Vice President of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Historical Society Board.


    June 2012
    March 2012