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Dance of the Water Carrier: Elk

The old time Menominee spent most of their time in ordinary work broken only occasionally by highly complex and unusual phenomenon. Consequently, their cultural forms developed a highly sensitized appreciation of the simple things in life.

Tasks differed. Many of the activities of the Menominee involved hard, back-breaking labor. These might include crafting a drum from a hollow log and buffalo skin, digging out a log to make a dugout canoe, hauling the fishing nets out of the water, paddling against the current of the river all day in order to reach one’s destination. Other tasks demanded mainly skill and patience, such as memorizing a story, fixing an arrowhead on a shaft, keeping crow watch over a corn field, and mixing herbs for a medicine potion.

No act stood in isolation, but fit within the whole of the culture where its meaning was defined. Even when talking late at night, the fire flies winking their tiny yellow-green lights in their countless thousands across the grasslands brought into play the great relational web of earth and person that ran through the heart of the Menominee and built respect for the wonders of nature. No Menominee was born with this insight and ability to find meaning in the simple, but obtained it as he grew to adulthood and learned the importance of these things in the life of the tribe. The tribe, moreover, did not leave this to chance.

The Menominee culture contained several attributes to enable a tribal member to express the meaning in the ordinary things of life. This could take the form of a dance celebrating the harvest of the generous gift of the sturgeon, it could be a ritual followed in the process of putting a newly crafted canoe in the water, or it could be a song sung in unison in witness to a natural phenomenon whose beautiful harmony captivated all who sang or heard it.

Of the Elk with his sweeping antlers and birch bark water containers, the artist said:

All people have sadness, seriousness, and happiness in their lives. Sometimes we sing and dance because we are sad. Sometimes we sing and dance because there are serious things in our lives. Then there are those times when we just sing and dance to celebrate our happiness.

Speaker of the People: Bear

When one examines the social structure of The People of the Wild Rice from the perspective of a totality, one soon obtains a sense of an organic entity. Within the society, primary duties were clearly set forth with each principal clan performing its obligations. Each clan who had assumed special duties also pursued them. As each major and minor unit moved toward its end, other units assisted them by the fact they pursued their own ends.

Thus, when one selects any point within the functioning whole of the tribe, whether it be an Eagle Clan warrior casting his vote in a clan meeting, or the Fisher Clan surveying the growing rice beds, or Old Squaw Duck Clan members building a weir, one can easily trace interrelations to all other parts. A sense of a community acting as one suffused the life of every participating member. A member knew that his act contributed to the ongoing life and he also knew that his act as well as all acts by other members were modified, defined, and organized by the acts of others.

In describing the Speaker of the People, the artist remarked:

The decision making process functioned a lot like a person’s body. It was made up of different parts. There were parts that performed specialized tasks. For example, the arms and hands, the legs and feet, the brain, and the mouth of a person. The mouth has no power of its own. It can only express thought or consensus of the decision making mechanism. It does not dictate to the body how it is to function, though some of us may act that way sometimes.