Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Drum of the Brothertown Nation

The February 21st, 2010 issue of The Fond du Lac [Wisconsin] Reporter featured the photo you see above (taken by Justin Connaher). In case it is too small for you to read, the caption below it says:

Native American drummers kick off Saturday's Celebrate CommUNITY event. This is the third year that Gordon Williams of Shawano and his drummers, as representatives of the Brothertown Nation, welcomed the flags of all countries during an opening ceremony. The annual celebration is sponsored by United for Diversity and draws more than 1,000 spectators to enjoy ethnic food and dance, and cultural crafts.

Monday, February 22, 2010

John Neihardt's Black Elk

The cover of a book that I haven't read seems like a perfect visual for this post.

This series of posts about Black Elk is designed to promote Michael Steltenkamp's perspective. However, it would be a mistake for me to go negative on John Neihardt in a broad sense. Overall his Black Elk Speaks remains important and largely accurate.

Admittedly I have been disappointed at Neihardt for not including anything about how Black Elk was a Christian for the last 40-plus years of his life, but I can understand that his book would have been less powerful if he actually showed how well his indigenous subject adapted to a 'white man's religion.'

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lucy Looks Twice

I first mentioned Michael Steltenkamp in a recent post. While Steltenkamp lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation he ran into an old woman in front of the Holy Rosary Mission. The woman turned out to be Lucy Looks Twice, the only surviving child of Black Elk (page xviii).

At that time, Michael Steltenkamp was a teacher at the Red Cloud High School and he wanted to learn more about Black Elk in order to share it with his students. His talks with Lucy Looks Twice led to a research project that ultimately produced Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala,the book upon which this post is based.

Steltenkamp's first interview with Lucy Looks Twice got off to a bad start because he asked her questions based on the famous books Black Elk Speaks and The Sacred Pipe. Lucy made it clear that she had never read the famous books about her father but knew enough about them to be aware that "her father was being misunderstood and that people were using the material from his books in a way he never intended"(page xx).

Black Elk's daughter had a complaint about John Neihardt, a poet and the author of Black Elk Speaks (pages 20-21):

My father related to John Neihardt an addtion to his book, but they never put it out. Afterward, he realized this and wanted the last part of his life also told - his life as a Christian man praying. My father wanted it known that after he quit his medicine practice, he became a catechist. But this man [Lucy pointed to a picture of John Neihardt] really believed in the Indian religion....

Many people have already read about my father's life as a medicine man in Black Elk Speaks and The Sacred Pipe. So, I'd like to tell about the rest of his life- the many years not talked about in either book. The greater part of his life was spent as a Catholic catechist whom I knew as [my] loving father.... My father would have wanted me to do this.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bill Miller and Janice-Marie Johnson: The Stockbridge Mohicans' Grammy Winners

My thanks to Wenona Gardner for posting a Shawano Leader article to her Mohican 7 e-mail list. The article, Bill Miller Wins Third Grammy is a good read.

A lot of Bill's music has been posted on YouTube.
Since this blog is about church history, I decided to embed a song of his called "I Believe."

Possibly even more famous than Bill Miller is Janice-Marie Johnson, a member of "A Taste of Honey" the group that won their Grammy for Best New Artist in 1979. Their number 1 song was called "Boogie Oogie Oogie." You could actually sing those kinds of words in the 1970's and become rich and famous doing it. Or, maybe not just anybody could, but Janice-Marie did.

A Taste of Honey's big hit "Boogie Oogie Oogie" can be viewed on YouTube.

Read the Wikipedia article about A Taste of Honey.

No doubt about it, Janice-Marie can still rock.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Steltenkamp's Black Elk

There's a good chance that you've already heard of Black Elk, the holy man of the Oglala Sioux. I don't think that I can introduce him better than Professor of Theology Dennis Hamm did writing for the Center for the Study of Religion and Society in their Fall, 1993 issue:

Black Elk (1863-1950) may well be the most famous native North American. That he is even better known than Crazy Horse, Red Cloud and Sitting Bull is due mainly to the achievement of John Neihardt. The Nebraskan poet interviewed the Oglala holy man when the latter was 68. Out of those sessions he published, in 1932, the now classic Black Elk Speaks, which presents a stunning portrait of Black Elk as late 19th-century visionary and medicine man. Out of another set of interviews during the winter of 1947-48 (three years before the subject died), Joseph Epes Brown published The Sacred Pipe (1953), which gave the world further material from Black Elk's 19th-century medicine-man years. These two books are responsible for most people's picture of the man. Curiously missing from this portrait is the latter and longer part of his life-the fifty years lived in the 20th century, including his conversion to Christianity in 1904 and his long and productive career as a Catholic catechist.

That's right, for the last forty-five years of his life, Black Elk was a Christian.

In the preface to Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala, Michael Steltenkamp reminds us of a 1970's television commercial in which an Indian (apparently a Sioux) sees litter and starts to weep. That romantic notion doesn't match one of Steltenkamp's experiences as a schoolteacher on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Steltenkamp was giving a ride to a friend of his who was a very traditional Indian. The young man didn't understand why Steltenkamp didn't want him to throw a soda bottle out of the car window.

<--- author Michael Steltenkamp

Steltenkamp's point in bringing up that incident (which I greatly shortened), is that we modern Americans have a lot of romantic (and false) notions about traditional Native American Indians. Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks remains an important book, but it left us with some assumptions that are - fortunately for us - cleared up by Michael Steltenkamp.

Stay tuned for more on Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala.