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Preparing for War: Winter Hawk

The figure Preparing for War depicts Winter Hawk, a Younger Brother of the Golden Eagle Principal Clan, making ready to go into battle. Open to view at his feet are the contents of a war bundle. In his hand near his ear, is a war drum he is playing while singing. We should not suppose Winter Hawk’s song beseeches Grandfather to come to the aid of the Menominee in the forthcoming struggle for that would embrace too narrow a view and would be a concept rooted in the stereotypes of Western Civilization rather than Menominee culture. The Menominee treated war as a serious business, and we must approach it in their terms in order to understand it.

Through ceremonies the Menominee placed war in its proper position in their society. Their response to a call for war was carefully thought out and cautiously approached. They did not respond emotionally to the question of going to war but instead thought through the issue involved with much deliberation and great care as to the implications of such a weighty act. This is where the ceremonial functions played such an important role. Ceremonies permitted them the time to cool passions, provided a format to permit issues to be raised, and defined the principles to follow when they discussed war and its potential consequences for the tribe. Only as a last, bitter, act would they utilize force.

Ceremonies guaranteed a proper perspective for war. This did not in any way diminish their military prowess. When a decision for war came, the Menominee were fierce warriors, renowned in the councils of the colonial European nations as well as among Indian nations for their fidelity to principle and their bravery in battle.

We should also observe that modern Menominee society still observes this significant principle. The Menominee have participated in the Civil War, Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and in several minor wars. Their extensive contributions are remembered on the granite memorials to their veterans in Keshena.

Jim Frechette commented on this carving:

The resolution of conflict varies considerably among the different peoples of the world. Some cultures glorified death by war; some kept the beast in its proper place. The Menominee have always been a peaceful people. However, when necessary they field warriors equal to any. The Menominee always kept war and its consequences in proper perspective to the other more important aspects of the culture.

The Harvester: Moose

During the origin period of the tribe along the banks of the sacred river when the Moose Brother joined the Menominee Brotherhood it assigned him the duties of camp security, protecting of the wild rice beds, overseeing the crop harvest, and supervising the distribution of the finished product. The nutritious wild rice was a major food source of the tribe. It also had the ability to withstand months of storage. In the depths of winter, when storms and cold made the use of other foods difficult to obtain, rice sustained the people.

The Moose had to devise ways to meet its responsibilities, no easy matter considering the difficulty of the work involved in wild rice management and its importance as a tribal food source. To accomplish its mission the clan turned to the cultural aspects of tribal life.

As part of the creation, wild rice possessed a living force, a "spirit," not unlike the force within the Menominee. Accordingly, to approach the task of harvesting, the Moose had to begin with that knowledge of equality of man and rice in the world order. Thus there emerged ceremonies—songs, rituals, dances, traditions, stories, and so forth, to let the rice know that the harvest had to occur so that the Menominee could continue to exist as the creator intended, and to acknowledge to the living forces the generous bounty they had donated to the tribe. The Menominee truly appreciated the gift and ultimately repaid rice.

But in addition to revitalizing the relationship between the rice and the tribe the ceremonials had another purpose that we could easily overlook by concentrating on the details of song and ritual. The higher purpose was to organize the tribe’s activities around the harvest: the ricing activity could be defined in dance, the myriad questions of grain ripeness could be addressed, and the necessary procedures to follow so that this vital grain would be properly harvested could be reaffirmed.

The artist expressed his idea behind the carving:

The fall season brought with it much activity in harvesting, the maturing of berries, nuts, vegetables, and of course wild rice. That whole practice of harvesting and processing was formalized to the extent that the collection and preparation were carried out ceremonially. That is, it included the relationship of the people with the surrounding world and respect for its preservation.

The Dancer, Hulling the Rice: Raccoon

During the period of the great cosmic transformation, the Brothers adopted into the Moose Principal Clan four Younger Brothers: Raccoon, Elk, Marten, and Fisher. In addition to specific other duties some might have, they were to join with the Moose in his several obligations in the wild rice beds. Harvesting was an especially busy time. Before we can fully understand this assignment we must know some characteristics of the rice.

The wild rice is a thickly growing aquatic grass that thrives in clear, still, shallow water with its stems protruding sometimes five to twelve feet with the rice kernels affixed to the end of the stems. In a dug out canoe the Menominee pushed among the stalks to knock the kernels into the boat bottom. Since a hull tightly covers the wild rice kernel it must first be parched to dry and loosen it, and then processed and the covering removed. The Menominee removed the hull by dancing the rice which loosened the covering. Then they winnowed the grain separating it from the chaff by the action of the blowing wind.

In the figure the Raccoon dances on the sack of rice, supporting himself with a pole as he sings his song of harvest providing rhythm for the dance as he gives thanks to the Great Sprit for His gift. The pressure exerted by the shuffling movement of his feet on the sack loosens the hulls. In the open bag to his right, unhulled rice waits to be hulled. On the ground rests a birch bark winnowing tray. After the dancer has finished he will pour the farrago of light hulls and heavy kernels into the tray and toss them into the air so that the wind will blow away the light hulls leaving the kernels to drop back into the tray. The birch box on his left with its removable cap contains winnowed rice ready for washing and drying before use or storage.

The Raccoon wears one of three traditional Menominee headgear (roach, fur cap, and turban). The Menominee wove fibers of tree bark and plants—such as basswood bark or nettle—colored with natural dyes, into a sash often worn around the waist and tied with its ends dangling. Sometimes, as here it would be done up as a turban.

What we are seeing here in the hulling ceremony, however, is not mere, stark work in a mechanical sense, but rather, work with a cultural meaning. The action of hulling incorporated the prayers and acknowledgement to the creator that the whole of life was now in dynamic form with the Menominee receiving a great gift from the wild rice. In return the members had so harvested that the seeds for next year had been planted. They also had protected the rice beds from depredation during the year and would so in the next year. Thus, the Menominee aided the rice while the rice nourished the Menominee—a signal instance of the interrelationships that constituted this good earth.

The artist commented on this piece:

One’s awareness that they are part of a whole can be seen in everyday activity, from the greeting of a new day to performing tasks to insure survival. That relationship with the whole always meant that taking was always balanced by giving. This consciousness kept the harmony with all things strong and alive.

The Water Carrier-Washing the Rice: Elk

The Elk was the Younger Brother of the Moose Principal Clan where part of his obligations included the several activities associated with the rice harvest. When we examine the many phases in the protection, reaping, processing, distribution, and storage of this magnificent grain of the North Country we are struck by the time and energy that had to go into the fulfillment of his responsibilities. Seen merely as back-breaking, dirty work, the toil from sun-up to sun-down seems divorced from Menominee cultural forms and belong rather to the disagreeable portion of life. Yet, if we so assume we would be terribly mistaken, for the harvest firmly fits into the Menominee cultural whole.

Menominee culture fuses with the natural world. No distinct boundaries can be discerned, regardless of the direction one approaches it. Wild rice labor echoes nature. In the natural world, when we observe the great blue heron or the crane we find they are always busy—flying, wading, searching for fish and water food, building a nest, rearing young, and watching for predators. The same observation is true of the black bear who is constantly feeding, moving through the brush and forest, turning over logs, digging for mice, searching for berry patches, and patiently fishing In the kingdom of nature all creation is animated.

The Menominee are just one of the wonderful created beings on this planet, certainly not as magnificent as a wood violet, nor as strong as the panther, nor as long-lived as the sturgeon, but nevertheless possessed of their own significant special traits. When the creator incorporated hard effort within the natural scheme of things he likewise blessed the Menominee with this necessary element. Work is a positive quality and has a place in life.

Alongside work in nature one also witnesses a pride in accomplishments. If one watches the eagle finish its nest in the top of the highest pine tree and then for a few minutes perch motionless nearby, an understanding of the great bird’s satisfaction with what he or she has done flows into you. Similarly to observe a bobcat patiently stalk a feeding ruffed grouse impresses you with the sense he must possess of himself able to hunt so well.

With the Menominee a respect for what one does is part of the creator’s plan of nature. Only through hard work will that arrive in one’s life.

As Jim Frechette has said of this piece:

There was a natural rhythm in the community life processes. Great Grandfather saw to it that the Menominee had work to do. He did not want them to be without pride and accomplishment. He wanted the people to place value on things in proper perspective