The Ojibwe Dance Drum: “It’s History” and Construction

Guest blogger: Becky Howard, Circle of Life Academy, White Earth

Thomas Vennum’s book was written only four years after it was “legal” for us as Anishinaabe people to openly practice our religious rights and customs up until then, we illegally practiced pow-wows and our ceremonial rights.  Up until1978 when a federal law and a joint resolution of Congress the United States passed the, “Religious Freedom Act”, in 1978. Even though it was illegal, our communities practiced our own religion and drum ceremonies; we had our own homes and places we did them. My grandmother told me every day is a ceremony as Giizis or the sun rises and you put your asema or tobacco out by a tree the ceremony begins. I remember as a small child attending many ceremonies my grandma had at the house and also traveling to neighboring Minnesota Ojibwe reservations to go to attend others.  Our ceremonies were illegal, but never impossible. This book captured many events in my life and early childhood. Most of the illustrations are very sacred and I chose not to include them, but there are a few in which sacred ceremonial aspects are not prevalent.

“According to its etiological legend, the “Drum” movement began probably in the 1870’s with the vision of Tailfeather Woman, a Dakota woman who received spiritual instructions about how to stop the massacre of her people by United States soldiers.”

Growing up and being raised in Chachabahning or Bowstring in Ojibwe, also known as Inger, Minnesota, my grandmother told us many stories I have read in my adult higher education life in which I already knew most of them through her narratives.  My grandmother, Rose Howard, told me of this account and with even more details the author, Thomas Vennum never received.  My grandmother told me as Tailfeather Woman was breathing through the tubes of cattails while hiding in the water she was told by Gichi Manido or Great Spirit, “I will give you time to get out and get over to the men tell them to kill a horse right away and take the hide for the drum there is no time to hang, dry or scrape it and they should just wrap it around the hollowed out drum frame.  Everything was made rapidly as many Anishinaabe were being hunted down and killed. So the people along with Tailfeather Woman’s instruction made the drum with the hide taken right off the horse and began to beat it as Gichi Manido instructed, “It will still be wet beat on it anyway.”  So as they did the soldiers and Anishinaabe stopped everything, they stopped running, they stopped fighting and warfare; they stopped and began to listen, they just stopped and listened.

Like the rest of the story said, back in the late 18th century to modern day, the Chimookomaanag or Caucasians want to hear the powwows, even when they were illegal many communities of Caucasians still sought after them for various holiday events throughout the year.

Referred to as the “heartbeat of Mother Earth”, the drum used at pow wow’s and ceremonies has been utilized by every nation throughout Anishinaabe Country. There is tremendous emotion involved through the drum it can move one’s spirit, as they dance in the circle with many emotions involved at various times, sorrow, gratitude, and joy.

There are many songs given and composed by singers at the drum, and those who are the caretakers of the drum.  The drum is the heartbeat of our Anishinaabe Nations it brings humility and honor as well as spiritual guidance.

We believe as Anishinaabe people and know to be true; the drum has a powerful spirit and it was a gift from the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people who also shared their songs of the drum with other first nations.

This book for is a great resource for young students to hear about the history of the drum and its connection to the Anishinaabe people, they will realize its history of long ago and its significance to today’s Anishinaabe.  Also it will assist teachers  on how to honor and to reach there Anishinaabe and non-native students and bring them a moral topic of the drum today. Let’s not take for granted students know this history or were told it because they are Anishinaabe because many have not been told and do not grow up traditional. Many Anishinaabe people find their way back to the circle in various times in their lives. It will provide a rich history about the drum and will have a good impact on those who would like to know more about a pow-wow and ceremonies where they honor the drum.

I grew up with my grandfather Ernest Howard Sr. being our singer who sang Ojibwe songs that lullabied us to sleep and he was also our alarm clock in the mornings to jump up and get ready for the day so it is very sacred watching singers and being at the drum and knowing how natural the songs have come to the singers just as the corresponding ceremonies. As Anishinaabe, we feel the drum and connect with it as though it was our own heart, a feeling of belonging. You’ll know it when you feel it, it will be like no other feeling you have ever felt in your life an enigmatic connection that for some, is a long meaningful journey back to themselves, minobimaadiziwin.

Mino bimaadiziwin is an Anishinaabe phrase – it means to “live the good life.”



Vennum, T. (1982). Ojibwa Dance Drum: Its History and Construction. doi:10.5479/si.folklife.2

Images from Vennum’s book: 4289_001

Changing the Stereotypes and Mixconceptions of the American Indians

Guest Blogger: Jen Hansen, Willow Creek Intermediate School, Owatonna Minnesota.

I grew up in Iowa and moved to Minnesota the summer of my third grade year.  My grandparents lived in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  My knowledge of Native American people was very stereotypical.  I remember watching Saturday morning cartoons (10 Little Indians) and seeing images by Walt Disney of American Indians (Little Hiawatha).  I grew up thinking that all Native Americans lived in tepees, wore headdresses and leather clothing, hunted with tomahawks, bows and arrows, traveled in birch bark canoes and built totem poles.  This was what I saw on television, this is what I saw when I traveled with my family to visit my grandparents.  This is what I saw when we traveled in our home state of Minnesota and these images molded my view of the American Indian.

I am ashamed to say that my parents bought me many of those stereotypical souvenirs as a child at road side tourist shops on summer vacations.  I played with them and even dressed up as an “Indian” for Halloween.  Then as I entered high school, our mascot was the Owatonna Indian.  Again, as youth, we portrayed the American Indian Warrior as we went to sporting events and activities.  As a teenager I didn’t think about the impact this would have on the Native People and disappointingly the adult educators and parents did nothing to change these stereotypes.

I had no idea of the atrocities that the Native American people had suffered.  I had no knowledge of the beauty of their culture and language for the most part the American Indian was eradicated from the history classes in the 70’s and 80’s.  I had no idea that the American Indians had lived on the very soil that I now lived, hundreds of years before me.  I had no idea about their way of life, until I was much older and studying American Indian History at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire (1982-1987).   And I had no idea that many of the stereotypes about Native American people still existed today, until I started teaching sixth grade Minnesota Studies back in my hometown of Owatonna in 1992.   I have spent the last 25 years trying to change the stereotypical thinking of my students with all the misconceptions that they see around them, and to share with them the truth about the Native American People of Minnesota:  The Dakota and Ojibwe.

It was then that I vowed to change these images of American Indians and educate my students about the rich culture of the Native People that call Minnesota home.  I needed to share my story of ignorance with them to shed a light on the change that needed to happen.  I was fortunate enough to have a district that purchased the Northern Lights Curriculum from the Minnesota Historical Society and a one that was supportive in educating their staff.  I was part of the Teachers of American History Cohort:  Blufflands and Prairies (2006-2010) that focused on using primary sources in the social studies classrooms.  I was able to visit the Upper Sioux Agency and Lower Sioux Agencies, Jeffers Petroglyphs,  as well as the Millie Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post.  We traveled to Traverse des SiouxFort Ridgely, and Reconciliation Park in Mankato.   The Cohort had an opportunity to talk to Dakota and Ojibwe elders, to take photographs, and to hear the stories of their journey and history as a people.

Native American Political Cartoon

I need my students to know that the Ojibwe and Dakota people are still here, their story continues.  Their culture and language have been preserved by their resilience and strength. In 1994, I worked with a group of students to change the name of the Owatonna mascot from Indian to Huskie.  My students took their case to the Owatonna School Board and argued the need to change the name.  They worked together to educate the men and women of the Owatonna community about the history of the Dakota people that once lived in this part of Minnesota.  They explained that by using the name “Indian” we were not honoring them, but rather disrespecting the original people of Minnesota.  They recommended a student competition to rename the Owatonna mascot.  They captured the attention of not only the school board and community members but also many of their fellow students.  These young people saw the wrong and worked to make it right.

I am proud of the work I have done over the past 25 years, but I tell you there is still much to do.  I appreciate the opportunity to work with educators from around the state and I especially appreciate the candid comments my American Indian colleagues have shared.  I know I still have much to learn and I am anxious to do so, so that I can share this with my students.

General Resources:

Northern Lights:  The Stories of Minnesota’s Past

The Story of Minnesota’s Past by Rhoda R. Gilman

Minnesota Humanities Center

Minnesota Center for Social Studies Education

Dakota & Ojiwbe Resources:   (Bdote Memory Map) (Why Treaties Matter) (The Good Path by Thomas Peacock and Marlene Wisuri) – Ojibwe

(In a Good Way:  American Indian Studies in the Classroom)

(Lone Dog’s Winter Count) – Dakota

(A Live in Beads:  The Stories a Plains Dress Can Tell) – Dakota & Ojibwe

(American Indian View on Thanksgiving)



Adding Depth and Questioning Stereotypes

Guest blogger: Gabe Meerts, Prairie Creek Community School, Northfield

I teach a class of 4th and 5th graders. I have been hesitant to approach American Indian History because I knew how I didn’t want to teach it: Battles, treaties, and impediments to the U.S.’s Manifest Destiny plus a paragraph each about Pocahontas and Sacajawea. This is how I was taught in school which also means that I don’t have much more of a background to comfortably do better.

My goals for this unit were for students to have a general understanding of American Indian History and culture but I also wanted to be more active in addressing stereotypes and misconceptions.

I was struck by a quote in A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who said, “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” I had seen her TED talk that this quote came from years ago but, like so many things, I needed to hear it again to give me perspective on how to approach this unit.

I had gone in wanting to fight stereotypes but realized what I needed to do was broaden understanding and show the diversity and complexity when considering American Indian History so that the students would see for themselves the shallowness of certain stereotypes.

This gave me stronger focus and confidence to address this subject. We started the unit with what questions the students had and what they were interested in learning. It gave me a good sense of their questions and current understanding that I could return to as we progressed. It also helps show the students that they are active participants in this learning and hopefully gain their buy-in. The questions created were in line with my expectations and helped me know their vocabulary in the area.

I wanted the students to understand that we aren’t just talking about something that started in 1492 then mostly ended in the 1800’s. I chose Fatty Legs by Christy Jordon-Fenton as a read-aloud book for the class. It takes place in the 1940’s from the perspective of an Inuvialuit girl who dreams of learning to read and doesn’t understand why the rest of her family doesn’t want her to go to the Canadian residential school. It’s a true story of her experience (it’s Jordon-Fenton’s mother-in-law) and very accessible to my students in explaining the harsh realities of Canada’s (and easily applied to the United State’s) role in actively erasing native culture and language. It describes her traditional living and how it had adjusted to take their goods to the trading post by schooner, how she noticed differences between hers and other tribes in that region, and how her family responded to nature in more realistic examples than I have found in other student-level literature. My class has a good foundation of Ojibwe knowledge so it is also a great source to compare the Inuvialuit and Ojibwe.

I wanted to also help the students understand that American Indian culture (and American Indians!) isn’t only in the past. I had an early assignment be for the students to draw a picture of an American Indian family. I shared with the students Matika Wilbur’s Project 562 and they LOVED all the pictures. There were surprises and good discussions based on the different pictures. This was helpful for their understanding but, I realized, it was also a great format to let the students become more comfortable discussing stereotypes and sensitive topics. Too often, we shy away or learn to not talk about racism, stereotypes, and expectations. Later in the unit, I had the students draw a second American Indian family with an emphasis on differences between it and their first drawing including either labels or a paragraph explaining them.

We have integrated a beading project and learned different games both in P.E. and in the classroom.

The last piece I wanted to share with the students was a perspective of time. I made an effort to balance out battles with cultural events but still most of our known history is after European immigration. I decided I would try to let them understand this by emphasizing the physical space of the timeline. I gave the students pieces of paper with times and dates of major events in American Indian history (it was sad but not unexpected to see one of the first Google hits for my search had the first date as 1492). In partners, they taped the events onto the walls of the classroom to create a timeline as well as wrote questions they had about the events. We had discussions about the events but also considered the scale. The students eventually calculated that if they had a scale of 200 years for each meter. European interaction easily fit along one wall of our classroom but the timeline continued out of the room, down the stairs and down that hallway all the way to the edge of our gym to represent 10,000 BCE. We are still constructing this as well as our understanding but I will make sure to let them know that is the shortest estimated time period and that it could be as much as twice that (with a walk out into our field with a metric measuring wheel).

This is my first time teaching American Indian History. I’ve felt empowered with this approach. The students have stayed interested and enthusiastically tied in what they’ve learned from a Birchbark House reading group or the stories and lessons from the 5th grade trip to Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. My hope is that it’s a sign they will continue to take in the information around them to create a rich understanding of American Indian History and not let one story become the only story.


Intergenerational Trauma

Guest blogger: Jessica Mohn-Johnsen, Many Rivers Montessori

During a study of World Colonization, my middle school students came across the term “historical trauma” in a seminar reading.  One student in particular had a difficult time grasping its meaning.  “That can’t happen.  It can’t be real,” he said. “Can it?”  I encouraged him to investigate further as we began our study of Migrations and Invasions in the Americas.  He collected articles and did his own research and finally brought it back to me when he requested we read Chapter Three from The Trauma of History by Bonnie Duran, Eduardo Duran, and Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart (1998).  The students had one week to read the chapter, find an accompanying reading, write three probing questions, identify and define two or more vocabulary words, and highlight one profound passage.  This reading so engaged the students that all students completed their prep work within three days.

The seminar began with the leader’s selected passage. “Historical trauma and its effects are complex, multigenerational, and cumulative.  A constellation of features that occur in reaction to multigenerational, collective, historical, and cumulative psychic wounding over time–over the lifespan and across generations–historical trauma is characterized as incomplete mourning and the resulting depression absorbed by children from birth onward.  Unresolved trauma is intergenerationally cumulative, thus compounding the mental health problems of succeeding generations” (64).  He chose to follow this text with support from multiple articles about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and epigenetics that link trauma to genetic expression.  The students generated a list of the traumatic events experienced by Native People in this region and I added a few others that they were unfamiliar with.

The students were most fascinated with the cultural losses experienced through removal from ancestral land and the boarding school program.  They considered what dominant white culture continues to do today that compounds this trauma.  Finally, they discussed what their responsibility is as members of the dominant culture.  They determined that first they must acknowledge history by learning about it and talking about it.  Next they must seek to understand through the eyes of Native People rather than presuming to know best as their white ancestors did.  They decided they must engage with a diverse group of people and “keep an eye out for trauma happening NOW before its effects are felt by generations.”

I felt as though this chapter was a great seminar for my students because it was prompted by the interest of a student, because they had already learned about Colonization and its effects on various groups around the world, and because they are well versed in the seminar process.  This would have been a difficult reading to do at this level if those three conditions had not been met.  Also, this book is nearly twenty years old so the students were asked to come up with more current research.  I felt that the epigenetics articles that students discovered helped those who required “proof” that the effects of trauma could be passed to the next generation.

Seven Grandfather Teachings

Guest blogger: Patty Graves, Cass Lake Bena School

My first chance to visit the local High School, I had to stop and admire the beautiful posters they had tacked to the wall out in one of the hallways. Was it positioned there for a reason, had any of these students really stopped and read this poster. But how could they have, stopped and viewed the poster of the Seven Grandfather teachings? They had maybe five minutes to their next class. Even I had to stand their for better than five minutes to read the description of the Wolf, given the Ojibwe word for “Dabbadenidiiwin-humility and the Ojbwe word for wolf, Maiigian. 

This is oral history that should be shared with Anishanaabe students. There are insights that teach them what the Seven Teaching’s are all about. I have seen sights that have made curriculum especially for the Seven Grandfather teachings. History of these oral teachings are
what the children should not only be exposed to but have as lesson, so they to are aware of these teachings.
It says that humility is represented by the Maiigian, and that the Maiigian,  lives for his pack, knowing that the ultimate shame is to be an outcast. And to know your own self as part of the sacred creation. The Maiigian represents loyalty, intuition and perseverance. To recognize and acknowledge their is a power greater than ourselves. These teachings are meant to work together, thats why they are in a circle. What they do represent is teachings that help find balance. There are seven animals that represent these teachings, and the Ojibwe language should be used when talking about them.                            
You could offer tobacco before you teach these and ask that you give them the needed attention they deserve. Or get an elder to come to the class room and give the teachings to the students. 
The Seven Teachings:
Love (Zaagidiwin) is represented by the Miigizi (Eagle), Respect  (Mnaadenidmowin) is represented by Mashkode-Bishiki (Buffalo), Honest (Gwekwaadiziwin), is represented by Misabe-(Big-foot), Bravery (Aakwaodeewin) is represented by Mukwa (Bear), Truth (Debwewin) is represented by the Minkinak (Turtle), and the last one Wisdom (Nbwaakaawin) is represented by the Amik (Beaver).

A Useful Book


Guest blogger: Nicohlas Thornton, Fond du Lac Ojibwe School

As I was thinking about what to write my blog post about, I was not really coming up with any good ideas.  Then, finally I remembered a book that I read in a college class on Native American History.  The book is called Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940, by Brenda J. Child.  As you can probably tell by the title this book, it gives a brief history and real life experience of federal boarding school life in the Midwest.  I found it to be very interesting so I will do my blog post by giving a brief summary of the book and discuss its usefulness in the classroom.

As much as I am embarrassed to say it, prior to reading this book, I barely knew anything about the federal boarding school chapter of Native American and American history and I don’t think we ever even covered it in any of my high school classes.  That is why I found it so interesting and informative.  It is a very short read (only about 100 pages), but a lot of useful information is packed in this book.  I think one of the most important pieces of this book is that it includes letters from parents, students, and administrators at the Flandreau School and the Haskell Institute to really help you understand what life was like at the boarding schools.

One of the most interesting chapters for me is titled “Homesickness”.  This chapter explains how the goal of the schools was to assimilate the students into white American culture and if the schools sent the children back home over the summer, the students would gain back some of their Native culture.  It includes countless letters of parents begging for their children to be sent home and the school would either not respond back or say they see no reason to send the students home.  The only reason students would be allowed to return home was if the family was struggling and they needed the child to work at home to help them survive.   Even in that case, enough money for the round trip travel had to be sent so that they paid for the travel and ensured the students would return to school.  It really showed the hardships that the children and families faced during this era.

I have not used this particular book in my classroom with students, but I definitely think it could be useful, especially for older high school students, because of all the primary sources that are included.  It is also pretty short which makes it easier to use.  Even if you don’t use it in in the classroom it is useful for teachers to read and gain a better understanding of this terrible time in American history.  I know it was able to do that for me.



Child, Brenda J. Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940.

Lincoln: U of Nebraska, 2012. Print.

Dropping “Savage” from the Vernacular

Guest blogger: Eric Cameron, Mahtomedi Alternative Learning Center


Over the last three semesters, a new slang term arrived in my school.  Savage.  As in “dude, that was so savage” for a bold action.  When discussing the process that George Washington would have undergone to get dental implants, a student even remarked, “what a savage!”  He was taken aback when I responded by saying, “Actually, Washington probably wouldn’t have appreciated being called a savage.”  The room was silent.  Thus began my campaign against the savageness (Webster’s definition) of the term “savage” (Urban Dictionary definition).

The top definition of “savage” on Urban Dictionary is “Bad ass.  Cool.  Violent.”  Whereas Webster’s defines the term as “not domesticated or under human control,” “lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings,” and “wild, uncultivated, boorish, and lacking complex or advanced culture.”  Where the definition in Webster’s certainly does not match the tenor and style of General and President Washington, the Urban Dictionary definition could be applied to the specific example being discussed at the time.  This begs the question, should a word or phrase be barred from common parlance as a result of its historical usage, even if it has taken on a new meaning?  Contemporary appropriation of cultural and historical language and symbols is nothing new.  The most commonly thought of example of this in a history classroom is the swastika; originally used as a religious symbol in eastern religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.  However, once it was coopted by the German Nazi Party in the 20th century, the symbol is no longer used in Europe and the western hemisphere.  Should the word savage follow suit?  American Indians were derided as savages, as lacking culture, because theirs was markedly different from that of the European colonizers.  The term “savage” was used to justify and perpetuate a systematic eradication of American Indian cultures and racial genocide of American Indian peoples.  Just as at Adolf Hitler and the Nazis knew that if they could teach racial superiority the German youth they would be able to use that notion to perpetuate support for the Third Reich, the Euro-Americans knew that if they could destroy the culture of American Indian youths through Indian Boarding Schools, if American Indian youths were taught self-hatred and forced to live as Anglo-European children, they could be indoctrinated into a “more civilized” lifestyle based on settled farmland and Christianity.

  Stopping the slang usage of “savage” has not been an easy campaign, but after nearly a year of conversations with students about the history of the word “savage,” the term has been all but eradicated from the vocabulary of 916 Mahtomedi Academy students.  It’s possible that the term fell out of use due to changing cultural trends, just as past phrases such as “rad” and “hip” have fallen out of the popular vernacular, however, I would like to think that my continual reminders and reteaching the word’s role in American History played a part in its disappearance from my students’ vocabulary.  

My classroom and my school are small compared to the greater American culture, but perhaps if those who have the influence and ability to alter the shared cultural language of American society choose to do so, they can stop the common parlance of such derogatory, and frankly, inaccurate, phrases such as “let’s pow-wow on that”, “hold down the fort,” and “low man on the totem pole.”  As teachers, we have that power within our classrooms and schools.  And as history teachers, we can take it a step further and slowly rid our curriculum of the idea that Columbus “discovered” the “New” World, and treat American Indian history as a part of American History, instead of relegating it to sections on with titles such as “the first Americans” and “the Trail of Tears”.  America’s future history depends on us to do so.


Guest blogger: Gary Lussier, Sr., Minneapolis Middle Schools

American Indian students begin to understand who they are in the vastness of the universe.  I went into a ceremony as a young man and witnessed the humility exuded by the conductor of the ceremony.  Humility in American Indian culture is presented many ways in one’s life time.  In this ceremony the spiritual leader welcomed any the spirits and introduced his self as the humble being asking for forgiveness for being so forward.  I saw him explain to the creation how insignificant he was, a small being to be understood.  As a teenager this put into my spiritual perspective the greatness that surrounded me, a vast universe, and a vast cosmos!  The spiritual leader referred to his self as most likely the least important even insignificant on this earth.  I felt humbled by the ceremony.  I am grateful to have experienced that profound feeling over and over throughout my life.

I have read over the years why that spiritual leader did what he did in others’ writings.  Writers conveyed who we are in the mix of life on earth as the “good beings.”  Perhaps one the clearest illustration of our place in life is written in the introduction of the late Basil Johnston’s book Manitous The Spiritual World of the Ojibway.  The Anishinabe or the “good beings,” throughout history experienced humbleness as I did; today teaching this to Middle School students has been my honor.

Standing in front of class I explain how approaching the area of a red willow stand early in the morning with humbleness I offer a gift of asemaa (tobacco) to the spirit world for what I was about to take.  The red willow sticks in front of each student would produce asemaa (tobacco). Students would make it by scraping off the top layer of red bark and then scraping the second layer and that would be the asemaa (tobacco).  To help students to understand there is a unique story in Edward Benton-Banai’s book The Mishomis Book The Voice of the Ojibway who writes the story of the gifts of the four directions.  Asemaa (tobacco) is the first medicine.

The social atmosphere of the classroom is rewarding.  Student questions abound and eyes and ears want to know the more of our culture and small glimmers of humility can be seen when I look very close.


Basil Johnston’s book Manitous The Spiritual World of the Ojibway

Edward Benton-Banai’s book The Mishomis Book The Voice of the Ojibway

The Four Sacred Medicines

Red Willow / Asemaa

Road Trippin’ – American Indian Studies Style

Guest blogger: Christy Vosika, Century Middle School, Lakeville

There are so many ways to further investigate Minnesota’s American Indian roots and I feel lucky to live in a state that seems to embrace its history.  I am also fortunate to teach with someone that is willing to get her Minnesota Studies “nerd” on and go to these historic sites with me.   We even drag our poor children with.  We have both been teaching 6th grade MN Studies in Lakeville for the last four years and each year we plan a history-geek site trip.  For my blog post, I thought I would go over some past American Indian specific trips as well as some that we have been dreaming about getting to.  I hope you enjoy our pictures of our rowdy good times!

Past Trips

Jeffers Petroglyphs

“Amid the prairie grasses are islands of uncovered rock, where American Indian ancestors left carvings — petroglyphs — humans, deer, elk, buffalo, turtles, thunderbirds, atlatls and arrows. They tell a story that spans more than 7,000 years.” –

Lower Sioux Agency

“Established in 1853 by the U.S. government as the administrative center of the newly created Dakota reservation and the site of the first organized attack in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. A history center exhibit explores the Dakota story before, during and after the War. Self-guided trails take visitors to the restored 1861 stone warehouse and the Redwood Ferry crossing.” –

Brown County Historical Society Museum

“Built in 1910 as the New Ulm Post Office, this brick German Renaissance-style building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the city’s most architecturally distinct structures. Inside, you’ll find an exhibit on the history of the Dakota War of 1862, an expansive historical display of Brown County’s Century Farms, and items from our Sister City of Ulm, Germany, proudly presented in the Ulm Room…Outside, you can view a map of Brown County’s most historically significant sites and an excellent painting of New Ulm during the Dakota War. “ –

Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post

“The Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post includes a museum dedicated to telling the story of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and an adjacent restored 1930s trading post where visitors can find American Indian gifts from Mille Lacs artisans.”

North West Company Fur Post

“Step into a reconstructed fur post from the winter of 1804. Meet a French voyageur, a British fur trade clerk and visit an Ojibwe encampment. The visitor center houses an expansive exhibit gallery with a 24-foot birch canoe, a 30-foot tall stone fireplace and a gift shop. The Snake River heritage trails are open year round for hiking, snowshoeing and skiing.”


Road trip wish list

Bloomington River Rendezvous

“This wonderful festival is a chance to experience living history at the Pond-Dakota Mission Park in Bloomington, Minnesota. Its goal is to demonstrate the lifestyles of people living in Minnesota between 1830 and 1870 through story-telling and interactive, hands-on demonstration!”

Pipestone National Monument

“For countless generations, American Indians have quarried the red pipestone found at this site. These grounds are sacred to many people because the pipestone quarried here is carved into pipes used for prayer. Many believe that the pipe’s smoke carries one’s prayer to the Great Spirit. The traditions of quarrying and pipemaking continue here today.”

Blog post for the Minnesota Historical Society, teacher cohort on Native American history in Minnesota

Guest blogger: Kirstin Ruth Bratt, St. Cloud State University

January 29, 2017

In a nation that remains deeply divided politically, our understanding of current events is often reflected in our understanding of history. Our understanding of “truth” is often deeply dependent on our political viewpoints.

As a professor of reading and study skills, I was curious to know whether the treaties between the United States government and the Native American governments could provide a chance for students to read objectively. By objectively, I mean that students could put aside their personal viewpoints to read two treaties from the 19th century in a thoughtful and investigative manner, reflecting on both sides of each treaty to consider motives and claims and assumptions.

At the end of the fall semester of 2016, I asked my students to complete a rhetorical analysis of two treaties:

What I wanted to know from their analyses was whether or not students would be able, given a series of steps and guiding questions, to read the treaties in a thoughtful and complex way, as rhetoricians or historians or social scientists might read them.

Besides the typical reading questions about thesis, supporting details, transitions, inferences, patterns of organization, bias, tone, and purpose, I also asked students to think about the treaties in terms of benefits, promises, language, historical changes, assumptions, relationships, gains, and losses[i]

My students were split regarding the bias of the treaties. About half of the students believed that the treaties were biased toward the USA, while the other half believed that they were biased toward the Native Americans. Some students noted that the tone of the documents shifted in the years between 1837 and 1851, becoming friendlier over time, but they disagreed about why this may have happened. Some believed that the US government was becoming more conciliatory, while others felt that the US was becoming more manipulative. A few students noted that the treaties were written and signed in English, and that the use of English was unfair or signaled an illegitimate process.

About half of my students, those who focused more on the financial side of the treaties, believed that the treaties favored the Native Americans. The other half, those who focused on the land itself, felt that the Native Americans were being mistreated and that the United States was taking advantage of a more powerful economic position. Most students recognized that the Native Americans were being asked to cede land to the United States, but some students stated the opposite: that United States was giving land to the Native Americans. All students recognized that payments would go to Native Americans, but they had varied responses about this. Some felt that the payments were high, others low, but none had done any outside research to determine the value of the money or the land at the time of the treaties. A few commented that the Native Americans were between a rock and a hard place: they could accept the terms of the treaties and accept some payment for the land or lose everything later after further aggressions.

The results of my assignment are mixed, as might have been expected from a group of students in a diverse social context, and highlighted for me the fact that I need to teach rhetorical analysis with a variety of primary and secondary documents rather than just the two treaties in isolation. When students read the treaties, they accepted the words at face value rather than reading between the lines, and a lack of prior knowledge and historical context almost assures that a student will not be able to carry out an informed reading of primary sources.

[i] Questions asked included the following:

  • How can you discover the main point?
  • Is the main point explicit or implied?
  • What is the main point of the passage?
  • What are the supporting details? In other words, what details are being used to support and elaborate the main point of the treaty?
  • What are the transitional words and phrases used by the writer?
  • What is the pattern of organization used by the writer?
  • What inferences can be read into the text?
  • What is the purpose of the text?
  • What is the bias of the writer?
  • What is the tone of the manuscript?
  • What are the underlying assumptions of the writer? Provide at least three assumptions (or warrants). What are the claims of each side?
  • What are the benefits of the treaty for each signer?
  • What are the promises in the treaty?
  • What stands to be gained? What stands to be lost?
  • Find words that seem to have negative connotations. What are the words and their connotations?
  • Find words that seem to have positive connotations. What are the words and their connotations?
  • What seems to have changed in between 1837 and 1851?
  • How might you describe the relationship between the parties to each treaty?