Cultural Identity

In the Great Lakes area, the local groups have shared a regional culture and also developed variations on this culture. The principal theme of regional culture is reciprocity, the belief that it is necessary and morally right to give something to get something in return. This idea has been expressed in the value placed on sharing with one’s relatives and gift-giving with in-laws and allies. Reciprocity extends to relations between humans and spirit beings. Over time, Native peoples of the region experienced the fur trade, treaty era, federal assimilation policy, and a modern resurgence of the acknowledgment of tribal sovereignty. All these experiences shaped contemporary life, as basic indigenous beliefs and values became the basis of cultural identity today.

Cultural identity is anchored in a deep emotional bond with the homeland (or locally-used territories). The Great Lakes region is woodlands with many lakes and rivers that enabled the indigenous people to survive. They have always obtained subsistence by hunting, fishing, and harvesting rice, maple sugar, and the other native plants. In the late 19th century, the concept of “trust land” (Indian land to which the federal government held title) became culturally associated with economic security and tribal sovereignty, and these ideas persist in the present. In the homeland are many sacred sites that have meaning and evoke powerful emotions for Native people.

Subsistence by hunting, fishing, and harvesting native plants has never been merely a means to survive. These are religious acts and vehicles for social cohesion. Survival has always been difficult and individuals have not been able to count on being successful in the search for game or other resources. Sharing among family members and “gift-giving” (including feasting) between groups of non-kin worked as a form of social insurance. Relatives had to work cooperatively in many economic pursuits. The common view was that the natural resources belonged to all the people and individuals were only entitled to use rights. Today, tribal resources, including income from tribally owned businesses, are available to all. The game animals and plant resources also allowed the indigenous peoples to participate in regional commerce from the time of contact with Europeans to the present. Today, traditional subsistence activity is culturally associated with tribal sovereignty, and tribes own businesses, including fish processing plants.

LISTEN TO DAN STONE, LITTLE RIVER OTTAWA, EXPLAIN THE IMPORTANCE OF FISHING RIGHTS TO TRIBAL SOVEREIGNTY AND CULTURAL IDENTITY. Non-Natives express their reservations. Help

3:44 mi.

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And, these activities are culturally iconic, so that tribes are working to revive the technologies associated with subsistence activity, for example as part of educational programs.

LISTEN TO REGGIE CADOTTE FROM LAC COURTE OREILLES EXPLAIN HOW HE IS HELPING TO PERPETUATE TRADITIONAL RICING TECHNOLOGY AMONG INDIAN YOUTH. Help

3:22 mi.

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Fulfilling family obligations has always been central to identity, and “family” is defined in culturally distinct ways. With the exception of the Dakotas in Minnesota, clan membership is central to an individual’s identity in Indian communities. In Native belief, clans originated at the time of Creation, when the “Giver of Life” delegated power to various spirit beings, most of whom can appear in animal form. These spirit beings founded the original clans. Men and women belong to their father’s clan. Throughout the Great Lakes region, people from different groups could find allies among people who belonged to the same clan. Members of the same clan had a close bond, especially within a community.

LISTEN TO JOHN LOW, POKAGON POTAWATOMI, EXPLAIN HOW CLAN IDENTITY WORKED IN THE PAST AND PRESENT. Help

5:41 mi.

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In Ojibwa clans, for example, the close bond between one’s “brothers” extended to brothers and sons of one’s father’s brothers. Also, the several clans in a village owed each other certain duties, so the clan organization also worked as a political organization with particular clans providing particular kinds of leaders. Over time, clan duties have changed, and today in many communities clan identity is representative of cultural identity for individuals.

LISTEN TO ERNIE ST. GERMAINE, AN OJIBWA FROM LAC DU FLAMBEAU, EXPLAINING THE IMPORTANCE OF CLAN IDENTITY. Help

1:14 mi.

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Dakotas extend the kinship relationship to a wide network of relatives on both the father’s and mother’s sides, so that people in a community have many brothers, sisters, grandparents, and so on. Kinship obligations motivate people to cooperate and share.

Reliance on spirit helpers was important to the indigenous peoples of the region. Individuals sought visions to contact a spirit helper, and individuals had encounters with them in dreams. A relationship with a spirit helper meant that in return for gifts of food and tobacco, the spirit helper granted power to be successful in hunting, curing, and warfare. Group ceremonies, including the Medicine Lodge and Dream Dance worked on this principle. In recent times, peyote ritual provided a means to attain visions and prayers for success. Sometimes the acceptance of Christianity came as a result of a visionary revelation.

Beginning in the 1970s, there was a widespread social movement that promoted cultural “revival.” In every community, there were people (sometimes few, sometimes many) who still spoke the Native language, remembered important events in the past, and knew the subsistence technologies, songs, and ceremonies of their ancestors. They served as an important resource for individuals and communities seeking to re-energize cultural identity in the modern world.

LISTEN TO MILLE LACS OJIBWAS JODY ALLEN CROWE AND EDWARD MINNEMA DISCUSS THEIR LANGUAGE PROGRAM. Help

1:23 mi.

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Today, local communities or reservations devote resources to perpetuating oral traditions, their Native language, and activities they regard as traditional. They may introduce Native terms for their group to replace those terms used by Euro-Americans, for example Ho-Chunk rather than Winnebago, and Waswaaganing rather than Lac du Flambeau. Certain historical events may be reenacted as collective rituals of identity, as the Dakota do with a memorial ceremony for Dakota men executed after the 1863 Sioux Conflict.

LISTEN TO JOHN LOW, POKAGON POTAWATOMI, DISCUSS KEY SYMBOLS OF POKAGON IDENTITY: THE LEADERSHIP OF POKAGON, THE CATHOLIC MISSION, AND SUBSISTENCE TECHNOLOGY. Help

6:57 mi.

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One of the most important ceremonies where symbols of local identity are expressed and generate a sense of group distinctiveness is the community powwow. Here, there are gift-exchanges, the honoring of relatives, demonstrations of subsistence technologies, use of Native language, particular songs that have local meaning, and speeches that reinforce collective memory and cultural values.

LEARN ABOUT THE POKAGON POTAWATOMI COMMUNITY’S POWWOW. Help

9:04 mi.

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