Category Archives: History

Holding On to A Racing Tradition

“Indian Relay, a type of bareback horse racing practiced by Native American tribes in the plains states, blends heritage and danger. For one family, it’s a shared passion that means everything.” V. J. Blue, The New York Times

Richard Long Feather, left, with his sons Jace, in white shirt, and Jestin. Credit- Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Excerpt: Holding Tight to a Racing Tradition, Photographs and Text by Victor J. Blue, The New York Times

“Richard Long Feather is searching for his son Jace among the bareback riders as they storm toward the grandstand at the Crow Fair. Stepping away from the rail and onto the dirt of the track, Richard raises his arms above his head as a signal: In one motion, he is telling Jace where to aim and warning Jace’s horse to slow down. Before Jace even reaches his father, he leaps from the back of his horse. Hitting the ground bounding, Jace grabs a handful of mane of a second horse, held by his brother, Jestin, and swings himself onto its back. Jestin slaps the second mount on the rump, and it fires back onto the track. Richard hands off the first horse to a fourth teammate and braces for the next exchange. Dust swirls. The crowd cheers.

This is Indian Relay.

For the Long Feathers, races likes these are both a family undertaking and a deep-rooted passion, a form of competition practiced and sustained by Native American tribes in the plains states. In Indian Relay’s traditional form, one rider completes three circuits of a track, changing his mount after each loop.

Richard, who works as a maintenance supervisor at a local hospital, loading his horses into his trailer after an evening of training.

Each race features up to eight teams consisting of a rider, three steely handlers and three horses. The competitors ride bareback, using only reins and a whip to stay on. As the rider approaches the starting line for each successive lap, he leaps from a running horse onto a fresh one. It is dangerous, athletic and intensely competitive.

Richard Long Feather, the head of his family and his team, was born in 1963 on the Standing Rock reservation, which straddles the border of North and South Dakota and which is home to the Hunkpapa band of the Lakota to which he belongs. Raised by his grandparents, he spoke only Lakota until he was 5. The first horse he rode was yoked to his grandfather’s wagon as it delivered water and provisions to isolated families…As a teenager, he began entering so-called suicide races — unofficial cross-country competitions on improvised courses. After his uncles recruited him as a rider for their Indian Relay team, he built a reputation as a tough rider and dependable breaker of colts.

Richard’s thoroughbreds, failures on the racetrack, now carry his son in Indian Relay races.

As an adult, he and his wife, Virginia, settled their young family near Fort Yates, N.D., where Richard taught his children to ride. The Long Feathers entered their first Indian Relay in 2013… Training for relays is a constant said of the 6 a.m. agility workouts that fill his winter months…Conditioning for the horses starts early, as well. ‘This year we started and there was still three feet of snow on the ground,’ he said. ‘Make ’em jump through those big snow banks. It just builds ’em up.’ In the springtime Jace and Jestin move to the track to train the horses in pairs, working on their exchanges. These split-second handoffs are the key to Indian Relay success. The top relay teams all have quality horses, but every competitor knows a relay is won or lost in the exchanges: If the two transitions are not performed flawlessly, it will not make much difference how fast the horses are…It isn’t just the riders who have to be skilled athletes. The setup man who holds the next mount as the rider circles the track — on Richard’s team, this is Jestin’s job — has to be a great horseman, too. ‘t’s impossible to hold a horse still for longer than a minute,’ Real Bird said. ‘You’ve got to let a horse be a horse.’ And the catcher — Richard, on Team Long Feather — who must stop the speeding horse that arrives has to be fearless. ‘He’s going to get run over,”’Real Bird said, ‘and he’s got to be O.K. with that.’

Richard blessing, or “smudging,” his horses with sage before a race at the Crow Fair.

As post time nears, Richard fills a can with dried sage and lights it. While the boys wrap the legs of the three horses they will run — Cabaret, Mr. Coke Man and Runaway Cal — Richard makes his way from stall to stall, wafting the gray smoke over the horses’ backs, half-singing prayers in Lakota for speed and safety in the race.

Ken Real Bird, a Crow horseman, calls the races at the fair. He has seen the sport grow from a bush-league pastime to a high-stakes competition, with purses worth tens of thousands of dollars. No one knows for sure when Indian Relay began in its modern iteration. The Shoshone Bannock Tribe in Idaho claims to be the originator of the sport, but Real Bird notes that the first Crow Fair, in 1904, had horse racing.

The first heat goes well for the Long Feathers. The exchanges are smooth, and Jace runs hard for second place but is caught at the wire and finishes third. It is good enough to secure a spot in the Sunday’s championship race, but Jace knows it won’t be easy. Teams are getting better every year. ‘Two years ago, you could be good and win anywhere,’ he said. ‘Now, you’ve got to be good just to keep up.’

Richard Long Feather feeding his horses.

The Crow Fair races offer unsatisfying results for the Long Feather team: Jace finishes in fifth place, though the family still heads home with a check.

Richard Long Feather’s horses grazing after competition.

As the sun rises the next day, Richard pulls into his driveway and unloads the horses. Restless after hours in the trailer, they sprint off over the prairie. In minutes, they are out of sight.”

The Miccosukee Indians Still Wrestle Alligators!

“At the edge of the Florida Everglades, the Miccosukee Tribe has carved out a culturally rich life that centers on the natural environment. Each year they celebrate with a day-long festival that exhibits the best of what they have created in what some might label an inhospitable swamp. And part of that natural environment is gators, big chomping toothy-grinned gators.” S. Hale Schulman, ICT

Excerpt: Gator wrestling? Miccosukee American Indian Day showcases airboats and yes, alligators, by Sandra Hale Schulman

“In the expansive grounds in front of the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming on a steamy 93 degree September 28th there were airboat rides, craft exhibits, exotic swamp foods of gator tail and frog legs, and the main attraction, judging by the crowds, of an alligator show. According to members of the tribe, If it wasn’t for the Native Florida villages and also the help of other eco-friendly gator farms, the American Alligator would have been extinct 30 years ago.

In a large tent, families packed the bleachers around a fenced-in sandpit to watch the spectacle they put on hourly from 11 am to 5 pm.

Miccosukee American Indian

‘I’ve been doing this for ten years,’ says gator show host Jessie before a show, whose calloused bare feet and scarred arms show the hazards of the job. ‘I started as a volunteer at the Native Village down the road and pretty soon I was General Manager. We keep the gators there, about 20 of them, in a pond. I started training with the baby gators, then the bigger teenage gators. You have to work your way up. After about 7 months I felt ready to do a show with the full-grown ones. The first time I was terrified but I wasn’t narrating. Four months later it was time to take the show over.’

‘Gators are misunderstood and need to be respected…When I narrate I have to really slow down and focus. I talk about the fear factor and how if you get attacked it’s never the gators fault, always the person’s fault. You shouldn’t be in their environment and if you are you better know what to do.’

Jessie shows the result of one of his faulty encounters, a large swath of heavily scarred skin on his right arm that went directly into the mouth of a 12-foot gator ironically named Lunch.

‘I wasn’t paying attention and he grabbed me straight on,’ he says grinning at the memory. ‘I was in the water with him and he was flipping me around like a rag doll. He rolled me a few times and as I pulled my arm out he peeled the skin clean off. In the ambulance I was in shock, they needed to do a skin graft from my leg. A few weeks later I was right back to it…’ They now have a booming tourism business with fishing licenses, National Parks and airboat rides that take visitors deep into the sawgrass swamp to see the flocks of birds and gator nesting grounds.”

“Dennis Banks, American Indian Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 80”

“Dennis J. Banks, the militant Chippewa who founded the American Indian Movement in 1968 and led often-violent insurrections to protest the treatment of Native Americans and the nation’s history of injustices against its indigenous peoples, died on Sunday night at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He was 80.” R. McFadden, The New York Times

Mr. Banks in 2010. He was the 2016 vice-presidential nominee of the California Peace and Freedom Party, which identified itself as socialist and feminist. Credit Chris Polydoroff:Pioneer Press

Excerpt: Dennis Banks, American Indian Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 80 -By Robert McFadden, The New York Times

“Mr. Banks and his Oglala Sioux compatriot Russell Means were by the mid-1970s perhaps the nation’s best-known Native Americans since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, who led the attack that crushed the cavalry forces of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in the Montana Territory in 1876.

The American Indian Movement leaders Dennis Banks, seated at right, and Russell Means at a news conference in July 1973. CreditUnited Press International

Mr. Banks, whose early life of poverty, alcoholism and alienation mirrored the fates of countless ancestors, led protests that caused mass disorder, shootouts, deaths and grievous injuries. He was jailed for burglary and convicted of riot and assault, and he became a fugitive for nine years. He found sanctuary in California and New York but finally gave up and was imprisoned for 14 months.

He once led a six-day takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, and mounted an armed 71-day occupation of the town of Wounded Knee, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Wounded Knee was the scene of the last major conflict of the American Indian Wars, in which 350 Lakota men, women and children were massacred by United States troops in 1890.

While his protests won some government concessions and drew national attention and wide sympathy for the deplorable social and economic conditions of American Indians, Mr. Banks achieved few real improvements in the daily lives of millions of Native Americans, who live on reservations and in major cities and lag behind most fellow citizens in jobs, housing and education…His severest detractors, including law-enforcement officials, said he let followers risk injury and arrest while he jumped bail to avoid a long prison sentence and did not surrender for nearly a decade.

Mr. Banks and Mr. Means first won national attention for declaring a “Day of Mourning” for Native Americans on Thanksgiving Day in 1970. Their band seized the ship Mayflower II, a replica of the original in Plymouth, Mass., and a televised confrontation between real Indians and costumed “Pilgrims” made the American Indian Movement leaders overnight heroes…Mr. Banks was the 2016 vice presidential nominee of the California Peace and Freedom Party, which identified itself as socialist and feminist. The party’s presidential candidate was Gloria La Riva. As a single-state ticket, they won 66,000 votes.

In recent years, Mr. Banks lived with some of his children in Kentucky and Minnesota. He was an honorary trustee of the Leech Lake Tribal College, a two-year public institution in Cass Lake, Minn. Mr. Means, who also appeared in movies and wrote a memoir, died on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2012 at age 72.

‘Maybe we opened up some eyes, opened some doors,’ Mr. Banks told The Los Angeles Times. ‘And it was at least an educational process here. Fifteen years ago, there was no newspaper here, no radio station. Now there’s more community control over education.’

In 1990, both men joined a ceremony at the Pine Ridge Reservation commemorating the centenary of the Wounded Knee massacre.”

Category: History

Debunking the Myth: Natives Never ‘Sold’ Manhattan!

“The squat clapboard house overlooking the Hudson River in the West Village might not seem like an obvious place for a Native American prayer center. Its graffiti-strewn facade faces the busy West Side Highway, with a city bus stop out front…The house’s ground floor now sits directly on Manhattan soil, said Jean-Louis Goldwater Bourgeois, 76, a wealthy activist who bought the property in 2006. He says he is essentially donating it back to its original owners: the Lenape Indians…Mr. Bourgeois said he had always been troubled by the well-known and not quite accurate legend that, four centuries ago, the Lenape sold Manhattan to Dutch settlers for the equivalent of $24 worth of goods.‘It’s quite offensive,’ he said. It’s a form of conquest.” C. Kilgannon, The New York Times

Jean-Louis Goldwater Bourgeois, right, wants to turn a house in the West Village into a prayer center. Anthony Jay Van Dunk, left, a former chief of the Ramapough Lenape Nation.Sam Hodgson NYT

Excerpt: Giving Back a ‘Stolen’ Property to the Original Manhattanites, By Corey Kilgannon, The New York Times

“Mr. Bourgeois pointed to a hole recently jackhammered through the thick concrete flooring of the house, which left black soil exposed underneath. You can actually touch Manhattan soil — the idea is to be in touch with Mother Earth, he said, adding that the plan was to remove the concrete and simply have a dirt floor. Anthony Jay Van Dunk, a former chief of the Ramapough Lenape Nation, a tribe based in Mahwah, N.J., is Mr. Bourgeois’s choice to start a prayer house, or a Pahtamawiikan, as it is known in one of the languages spoken by the Lenape.

A hole in the house’s concrete floor exposes soil underneath. You can actually touch Manhattan soil — the idea is to be in touch with Mother Earth. CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times

Mr. Van Dunk, 54, a Brooklyn woodworker who is active in Native American issues, pointed out that, if such a transaction had taken place, the Lenape might have meant it as a good-will exchange for sharing the land, and not as transferring ownership, especially because the tribe did not believe anyone could own land or water. The Lenape tried to embrace and share, Mr. Van Dunk said. And in return, they got everything taken, even their lives.

Mr. Bourgeois said he bought the squat clapboard house, at 392 West Street, in 2006 for $2.2 million. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Now, of course, Manhattan — whose name comes from the Lenape tongue, meaning roughly ‘the land of many hills’ — has been developed to the hilt into a center of global commerce…Mr. Bourgeois said that he bought the building, 392 West Street, in 2006 for $2.2 million, and that it had probably appreciated in value to about $4 million. With three floors and less than 3,000 square feet, it is one of the last wood-frame buildings along the Hudson waterfront.

Ramapough indians enter the powwow by john st john photography

Though some documentation describes the house as being built in the 1830s, Mr. Bourgeois said he believed it may actually date to the 1770s. Over the centuries, it has been home to a saloon, a gambling parlor, an oyster house and a pool hall, Mr. Bourgeois said, and in recent decades it housed bars. He said that when he bought it, there were peep show machines inside, which he had removed. He said he initially hoped to turn the house into a museum dedicated to clean water issues that would include a seven-story waterfall installation designed by his mother.

If Lapowinsa, the Lenape chief (seen here in a 1735 portrait by Gustavus Hesselius), were alive today, he could look forward to hanging out on Weehawken St. at the future Lenape West Village H.Q.

It would also have a waterless composting toilet restricted to people who ate only organic food. He admits now that the plan was ‘a bit too utopian. Mr. Bourgeois lives half a block from the house in an apartment filled with files and books related to his activism. He recently returned from several weeks in North Dakota protesting a proposed oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

The Ramapough-Lenape gathering is the bridge that guides us back to our bond to the earth. Photo Credit- Marire Longo

He said that he donated about $1 million to the campaign against the pipeline, and that he hoped the prayer house would be a way to celebrate and promote Native American ideals and political empowerment.”

Category: History

Wampanoags and Harvard: Ties from Way Back

O’siyo. By now many people know that it was the Wampanoag Tribe who had first contact with the Mayflower pilgrims. But not many know about the historical relationship between the Wampanoag and Harvard University dating back to the 1600s. Harvard University recently honored members of the Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag tribes by hosting a dinner to commemorate the long-established relationship between the tribes and the university. Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, a member of the Wampanoag tribe, was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College, in 1665.

Pictured, from left, are- Aquinnah Chairman T. J. Vanderhoop, the Rev. Jonathan Walton and Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell. ICTNM

Pictured, from left, are- Aquinnah Chairman T. J. Vanderhoop, the Rev. Jonathan Walton and Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell. ICTNM

Excerpt: Wampanoags and Harvard Celebrate Historic Ties by G. C. Toensing, ICTMN

“Harvard University hosted the leaders of the Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag tribes at a clambake at the Harvard Faculty Club February 7 to honor the longstanding relationship between America’s first institution of higher learning and the indigenous people of the territory on which it is built. 

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and Harvard University have ties that go all the way back to the university’s earliest days, Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell said in a statement. It’s important to celebrate that connection and look for ways that we can work together in the future.

Portrait of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, a member of the Wampanoag tribe, and the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College, in 1665. Photo- ICTNM

Portrait of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, a member of the Wampanoag tribe, and the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College, in 1665. Photo- ICTNM

 T.J. Vanderhoop, chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), is a 2008 graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. While I was at the Kennedy School, I cherished the opportunities and knowledge that I could then bring back to my community.

The university’s relationship with Natives goes back to its earliest days. Harvard College was founded in 1636 and struggled financially in its early years until the English Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England stepped in, raising money and granting funds for the education of Indian boys at the university, according to a Harvard website. The Society’s funds were also used to construct the Indian College, Harvard’s first brick building, in 1655.

Tiffany Smalley was the first member of the Wampanoag Tribeto graduate from the College since Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck in 1665. Photo courtesy of Millicent and Jay Smalley.

Tiffany Smalley was the first member of the Wampanoag Tribeto graduate from the College since Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck in 1665. Photo courtesy of Millicent and Jay Smalley.

The College, in turn promised to waive tuition and provide housing for American Indian students,” according to a Peabody Museum at Harvard website. 

Smalley and Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe accept a posthumous degree from the university in the honor of another Aquinnah Wampanoag, Joel Iacoomes, who died in 1665. Photo- Ivyashe.

Smalley and Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe accept a posthumous degree from the university in the honor of another Aquinnah Wampanoag, Joel Iacoomes, who died in 1665. Photo- Ivyashe.

Two Native students attended Harvard sometime during the 1650s: John Sassomon, and James Printer, an apprentice in the production of Eliot’s Indian Bible, according to the website.

The portrait of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, a member of the Wampanoag tribe resides in Annenberg Hall.  Photo- Harvard Crimson.

The portrait of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, a member of the Wampanoag tribe resides in Annenberg Hall. Photo- Harvard Crimson.

Native students who attended the Indian College included John Wampus, who departed before graduation, and Joel Iacoomes, and Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, both members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Martha’s Vineyard. Cheeshahteaumuck was a member of Harvard’s Class of 1665, but Iacoomes died just before graduation.”

“Without the Wampanoag, Harvard would not exist today. We actually saved Harvard,” ~ Tiffany Smalley~ Wampanoag Tribe.

Kudos to the Wampanoag for their strength and courage! Kudos to Harvard for honoring the promise.


Category: History

Mandela: “Indians are the First American Nation”

O’siyo. We mourn the passing of the iconic South African leader Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Mr. Mandela A Xhosa, born to the Thembu Royal Family in South Africa, was a Prince, Scholar, Political activist against apartheid, Prisoner,  President, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and  spokesman on the behalf of all aboriginal people and the injustices they face.  During his speech in the Oakland, California stadium in 1990, Mr. Mandela recognized  Native American Indians as “The First American Nation.” The following excerpts are from Native American Indians who remember hearing Mr. Mandela speak that day.

Mandela met with a delegation of Inuit and others at climate talks in South Africa in 2000.

Mandela met with a delegation of Inuit and others at climate talks in South Africa in 2000.

Excerpt: Iconic Nelson Mandela…Sympathized with American Indians By Levi Rickert – Native News Online.

“Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison and after his release became the first black South African president died Thursday. He was 95 years old.

The anti-apartheid revolutionary’s death was announced by South Africa Jacob Zuma just before midnight on Friday in Johannesburg.

In 1990, Mr. Mandela held a rally in the Oakland Coliseum where he referred to American Indians as “the first American nation.” American Indians were pleased Mr. Mandela spoke out on their behalf.”

Words of Wisdom.

Words of Wisdom.

Nelson Mandela (1990):

Mr. Mandela said he had received a number of messages from the first American nation, the American Indians… “I can assure you they have left me very disturbed, and if I had time I would visit their areas and get from them an authoritative description of the difficulties under which they live.”The New York Times 7/1/90

Words of Wisdom 2

Nanette Bradley Deetz (Cherokee/Lakota), who still lives in the San Francisco Bay Area:

“I was there at the Oakland Coliseum. I had just moved to the Bay Area and went to hear Mandela speak. He mentioned American Indians and I felt so proud, I know that many American Indians from the entire Bay area also attended. In fact,  I think I remember seeing a delegation in their regalia. This may have been the group that was planning on presenting Mandela with robes or something, but it never happened. I know that he did mention the American Indian Movement and did thank all of us that were involved.

I do remember that he mentioned the contributions and struggles of American Indians during his speech. I felt so proud and happy to be there on that day. It really did feel like something quite historic.”

A child looks up at a giant bronze statue of former president Nelson Mandela, on Mandela Square in Sandton, Johannesburg, Friday, Dec 6.2013.Photo- Athol Moralee.

A child looks up at a giant bronze statue of former president Nelson Mandela, on Mandela Square in Sandton, Johannesburg, Friday, Dec 6.2013.Photo- Athol Moralee.

Anna Rondon, Navajo who works for the Navajo Nation and lives near Zuni, New Mexico, wrote on a website on Mandela’s birthday this year;

“As a Dine (Navajo) woman, I recognize that Mr. Mandela has always spoke out on the injustices of apartheid over the many decades.

When he was born, American Indian Nations were still fighting our battles over land and resources. In 1913, the Mescalero Apaches were released from Fort Sill Prison after 26 years of incarceration. Our histories share the horror and today we still see the subtle yet, deadly genocidal indigenous policies. Mr. Mandela, you gave us resisters, protectors of water, land, air and fire the strength to fight for justice here in the United States.”

Nelson Mandela. Photo- CNN

Nelson Mandela. Photo- CNN

Leonard Peltier Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians has been in prison for 37 years. Here are his thoughts on the passing of Nelson Mandela:

“Greeting my relatives, friends, and supporters: It saddens me to hear that a great man like Nelson Mandela has departed from this lifetime. He was a man who was truly inspirational and showed us the possibilities of how a continued struggle by indigenous people could manifest itself in levels of freedom that have been marred by centuries of oppression. Our Native people suffered the same types of oppression many times. It is not as overt and as easily distinguished as in some places; “ NativeNewsOnline.

 An Icon...Photo- ABCNews


“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”

~ Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela~ (July 18, 1918-December 5, 2013)


The world has lost a true Hero…

atsawesolvsdi wigedohesdi dohiyi…wado.

Rest in Peace Mandela.


Category: History