In order to go forward, we had to go back to our old ways

Mr. Owen talks about spiritual transition and solidarity with other Native nations.

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DL: Would it be fair to say then, that the old ways, as you describe it, the old spirituality, the old Dakota ways could blend with the newer ways? You learned about the Christian faith, you were Episcopalian; your mom brought you up that way. So the two of them somehow can…

RO: They started melding, yes. Jesus wasn’t around – I mean, he probably was, and not to offend Christians, but we didn’t see him. Or, he wasn’t making a stop here. And we were watching the life expectancy and the pain, sickness, death and stuff like that. The Grandmas were dying one right after another. I think we lost like seven in one year. In 1969 I think we lost 20 of them; there was a funeral every week. And a few of them just went ugly. Where’s Jesus, you know? They had such a hard life and they fought and then at the end they just died. That’s not right. Then they wanted to do the traditional wake and they wanted viewing. My dad, with the elders, after everybody left, did songs. I remember some of them; they were chanting and stuff like that. We were in a transition, kind of going back to the old way and just empowering ourselves to deal with death, loss, mourning, grief, whatever – that was part of that. They were the ones, the elders were the ones that were saying we had to go back the other way because we couldn’t live like we were living, we couldn’t survive like that; we had to go back. In order to go forward, we had to go back to our old ways.

DL: So, going back to the old ways, did it make a difference then?

RO: Oh yes, I mean – I’m sorry, where were you from?

DL: Fond du Lac [Reservation].

RO: Fond du Lac. Most of the Ojibwa tribes got all the funding for housing, water, The BIA divided us. They said, “You have to keep up the Chippewa wars. If you guys want funding, you guys have to get mad at the Chippewa, not us.”

We said “You’re the BIA, this is the funding, this belongs to everybody.”

And they were like, “You have to take it up with them.”

Then my dad just crossed the [metaphorical] bridge and went to Roger Jourdain [Red Lake Nation, northern Minnesota] and the guys up there and was told, “Oh no, these guys, they’re playing divide and conquer and they’re pitting us against each other.” So dad and Roger Jourdain and the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe backed the BIA into a corner and made them accountable. That’s when we got most of the housing and stuff like that. Most of the funding [hinged on] sit up and beg, roll over. And then [Dad and others] said, "No more, we’re not doing that no more." That’s when the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and the Minnesota Sioux tribe met at the Mille Lacs Reservation and in Duluth, had morning prayers and a tobacco ceremony and [asked others to] join us. And some responded by saying, “You guys are worshiping Satan.” And we were like, “No, no we’re not.” You can’t change your mind if you’re that narrow-minded. We were empowering ourselves.

DL: The Ojibwa said you were worshiping Satan?

RO: No. The BIA, you know, the guys that wanted to keep us separate. We said: "No, we’re not separate, we’re the same. We’re relatives." [Later] they were all at one of the bars up there, all arm-in-arm, an Ojibwa, a Dakota, Ojibwa, Dakota, Ojibwa. And they were asking “Hey, why is the BIA guy running like that down the street. He doesn’t want anything to do with us.”

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Raymond Owen Interviewer Deborah Locke made in Welch, Prairie Island Community, MN | Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. In order to go forward, we had to go back to our old ways July 22, 2024.

Viewpoints: All viewpoints expressed on this website are those of the contributors, and are not representative of the Minnesota Historical Society.