Megwa Se Ode Atsokan.

Our old people tell of many humorous things that happened to the Neshnabek when the whites sent them away from their own tribespeople to attend schools in the east, and other places they had established for the early people. The missionaries operated “mission schools” for the Neshnabek and other tribal groups during the early colonization period of this country. The following is an account of when several young people were sent away from their tribe to one of these schools at Carlisle, PA.

Two young men were simultaneously sent to the same school from one of the reservation areas. After being there for some time, they were finally allowed to go home for a brief time to visit their people. Upon arriving at their home reservation, they were warmly greeted, but with some reserve, as they had been away for some time and they were dressed in strange clothes, with new habits of speaking and short hair.

They were told to separate themselves from the common people until such time as they addressed a “grand council” of elders and their people. A place was fixed for them to sleep until the next day when they were told they would speak to the common folk of their tribe. They were told what the elders wanted to know. One of them was to speak in the foreign tongue, English, while the other translated into Neshnabemwen so the elders and others could understand what they said.

The things they wanted to know were what they were being taught, how many of the “kchemokmanek” there were, what kinds of ways the whites had about them, and what they thought their intents were toward the Neshnabek. They would also be subjected to individual queries about themselves from various members of their own people, and they would ultimately be “smudged” with the sacred herbs that were used in the “smudging ceremony.” Then, and only then, would they be allowed to mingle at large with all of their own people once again, and be permitted to go anywhere among them they chose to go.

They spent a restless night communicating among themselves as to what they would say to their people and who would speak English and who would speak Neshnabemwen. After deciding on these few things they retired for the night. Upon arising, they immediately went to the “council grounds” and waited for the people to begin assembling themselves for their presentation.

Some elders arrived first and told them where they would be seated and how they would begin addressing the people. The young men took their places and awaited the rest of the people to come forth from their various dwellings. When the moment arrived for them to start speaking, the elder who was in charge told the people, their relatives were back for a visit and would be telling them much about the whites and where they were going to school. He then turned the meeting over to the young men.

The young man who was to speak in English had thought much on how he was to greet the people, and wanting to impress them with his learning, he started out like one of the teachers he admired at his school. “Well, well, well! Here we are today!”

The other young man was to translate into Neshnabemwen and he used the only words he knew in their language to tell them what his companion had said.

“Tkep, tkep, tkep, eje mawjeshnoyak ngom!”

Everyone looked quizzically at one another wondering why the young man was talking about a well or waterhole/spring, to greet his people. So you can see how these young people had been influenced by the white man’s educational system even back then.

There are more stories of this type. Iw, enajmoyan odo pi.


Back to Neaseno Eyajmot

Ode se atsokan…

  A long time ago it was told by some of the elders that a certain

    young woman took a white man for her husband and this man was very devoted to her and the people she grew up with. It was said that he took her ways unto himself, learning the language and he even attended the ceremonies of her people until the day she died and left him alone among her people.

After her death, some of the people wondered what he would do; would he go back to his own people, or would he stay among the people of his deceased wife?

He answered the queries of the people by continuing to show up at the ceremonies of the Neshnabek and praying with them. He also stayed on at the dwelling place they had made together during the time of her sojourn with her people and took loving care of their garden and other things they had shared as husband and wife, including a little dog she had loved.

Now this little dog was a little rascal of a fellow and he followed the man everywhere, as he missed ‘the woman who was his mistress very much. One day a Neshnabe stopped by and gave the man some tobacco/sema to come to a song service that evening. He was told to make sure this dog did not follow him as the spirits didn’t take kindly to animals around a ceremony. They

might think you want to sacrifice this little dog to them if you allow him to follow you, the Neshnabe told him, with a twinkle in his eye. He assured his guest the little dog would be locked up for the night inside his house where he would not be able to follow anyone.

When it was time to leave, the man locked the little dog inside the house, but he had forgotten to close the window in his bedroom, so the little pet sneaked out and followed his master to the drum doings. The song service lasted until about 10 PM and the people gathered in the kitchen of the home they had met in for some refreshments before returning to their homes. The Shkabewes of the drum also gave the men sema for the next doings and debated with one of the others as to whether or not to give the white man some. They assured him the man was all right and he gave him plenty of sema with the admonition not to give it all away to the night spirits, should they decide to follow him.

Some of the other men joked with the man and told him about one of the spirits of the forest who liked to follow folks at night just so he could get tobacco/sema from them. They cautioned him

to give any spirit an offering of tobacco whenever he heard any distinct sounds in the woods. With a final friendly warning not to give all his tobacco away to the spirits, they all departed in various directions. The man visited with his hosts for a little while before departing for his home again, not knowing his little dog was waiting in the woods for him, so he could secretly follow him again.

Upon exiting the home of his hosts, he followed his favorite trail toward his home. Presently he heard some sounds behind him which he took to be that spirit they had told him about, and he quickly squatted down and gave a small offering of sema to the forest spirit. He began to walk with a faster gait toward his home thinking of his little dog he had left there.

After walking for a few more minutes, he heard a louder noise behind him. Thinking it was the spirit of the forest the men had warned him about, he quickly squatted and put down a bigger offering of tobacco this time. He was to walk only a few more minutes and he again heard the same sound behind him. I must have done something to displease this spirit he thought, and he quickly placed a larger offering of tobacco beside the trail, this time praying even; “Oh Spirit of the Woods,” he prayed, “Don’t hurt me, I mean you no harm and I’ve given you a large offering of tobacco, as you can see.” “I’ll give you even a larger offering if you would like, even the whole bag of tobacco, should you insist,” he further stated.

After getting back on his feet and moving as swiftly as he could, he again heard a rather loud sound coming from the woods. He quickly dumped out the remaining tobacco he had in his bag and then took off running toward his home. As he ran toward his house, the little dog sped past him in an attempt to reach the house before him. Realizing his “spirit of the woods” was none other than his own dog, he quickly stopped, puffing hard, but laughing at himself for being so foolish and becoming frightened as he had. This will make a good story to tell the others when we meet again he thought to himself as he scolded the little dog for following him yet again.

There are many stories like this among the Neshnabek which we shall be sharing with you from time to time. The period of time when they first met the white people was an especially good time with many humorous happenings among them, learning the English language.

Ahau, iw enajmoyan,

Gwi yayajmomen mine ngotek. Neaseno.

Making a monkey of oneself…

When I was a boy we would often gather for a “song service” with the Big Drum. It is a ceremony in and of itself. One might say it is a smaller version of the Big Drum ceremonies that are held seasonally by the Neshnabek. This type of ceremony would usually be held mid week and could last for several hours, 2-4 hours generally.

We would meet at someone’s home, usually the “keeper of one of drums” we had in our extended families at that time. They would usually serve a simple pot luck style of supper for the members, and then would start the song service around 6-7 PM in the early evening. During those days, we had quite an active group that would gather, around 9-10 families, that meant about 30-35 people, normally. With a crowd like that, that also meant the bathroom did some overtime, but many of the people in those days also had an “outhouse” that could serve as an overflow for the guests.

On one such an evening, our family attended a song service and participated. There was the usual crowd of people who came for each session and there was a line for the bathroom, when I asked my mother if I could go “relieve myself.” She told me to go outdoors to the “outhouse” so I didn’t have to wait too long. I went outdoors to the “privy,” not stopping to ask if someone might be in there first. I opened the door to find one of my older female relatives sitting on the potty. I quickly excused myself and ran from the scene, greatly embarrassed.

I must point out that this relative’s name was Zaga. Now Zaga sounds a lot like the word Zago too, which means ape or monkey, to the Prairie Potawatomi people I was part of. During those days, we usually went by our Indian names, and Zaga was my cousin’s name.

I went running back into the song service and breathlessly told my mother I couldn’t use the outhouse as there had been someone already in it. She asked me who was there and I answered, ” Zago gi bidget se zhe anwe bwamshe ebyayan.” Her husband overheard my remark and the whole room burst into laughter when he announced he had apparently married an ape/monkey. Both Zaga and I were the brunt of a lot of teasing for the rest of the evening and for some time to come at gatherings of our people.

Iw enajmoyan—-Neaseno ndesh ne kas.

Author: neaseno

I was born on Powers Bluff in Wood County, Wisconsin, into a traditional community of Neshnabek. I was raised speaking only native languages, and learned to speak English upon entering school at the age of 6. As of this writing, I am one of 5 remaining Heritage Fluent Speakers of Potawatomi.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: