To Be the Main Leaders of Our People: A History of Minnesota Ojibwe Politics, 1825-1898

By Rebecca Kugel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
"They Show Their Disposition Pretty Plain": Civil and War Leadership in Symbiosis at Leech Lake, 1870-1900

T he people of White Earth attempted to maintain a core of valued behaviors and cultural traditions through the selective adaptations of Christian conversion and Euro-American farming technology, but foundered in political disputes. At Leech Lake a very different picture emerged, one all the more remarkable because superficially it resembled developments at White Earth. As early as the mid-1860s the Leech Lake civil leaders, echoing their fellows among the Mississippi villages, expressed an interest in Episcopalianism and agricultural technology "[W]e would like that you would establish a Mission in our country," eight civil leaders, identifying themselves as "chiefs of the Pillager Band," wrote to Episcopal Bishop Henry B. Whipple in 1866. Flat Mouth the Younger, the most influential of the Leech Lake civil leaders, also wrote personally to Whipple to assure him the Leech Lakers earnestly desired to "better our condition, and live as White people do." In both these activities, civil leaders were opposed by the warriors, a situation that seemingly resembled Hole-in-the-Day's coalition among the Mississippi Ojibwe in the 1860s and 1870s. As events at Leech Lake during the last thirty years of the nineteenth century reveal, however, the resemblance between the two situations was more apparent than real.1

The most obvious and striking difference involved the warriors themselves. The Leech Lake warriors had some ties to influential traders and bicultural Métis, and certainly shared the hostility of these groups toward the economic and social changes envisioned by Euro-American government officials and Indian reformers. However, they never formed an alliance with other persons committed to the older, hunting/gathering and trapping lifestyle, as happened among the Mississippi villagers. Instead, the Leech Lake warriors remained much more of an aboriginal war organization. In the words of the anthropologist Harold Hickerson, their relationship with the civil leaders continued to be "simultaneously one of solidarity and opposition." Youthful Leech Lake warriors both contested the elderly civil leaders

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