Tag Archives: Native American?

Serrano and Cahuilla Dragonfly Song

Main Piece:

I: It’s called the Dragonfly Song, it’s like a lullaby kind of song– so you sing it, and like if your heart is good, and it’s like– you don’t have anger or resentment or like bad feelings, or revenge, or any of those things– but like basically if you have good intentions like a good heart and you sing it dragonflies will come to you and they’ll sit on you. And like it’s really neat to like see it happen, like– they’ll fly around you and then they’ll come fall on you. And, they’ve never like… landed on me because (indicates that she is referring to the good intentions) but like I’ve seen like them go to other people. And so it’s like a really neat– I think people do it with hummingbirds too, but like it’s– so, it’s a lullaby that repeats the 4 verses over again, but the lullaby verses are like “Ooshkana ooshkana oh oh, ooshkana oosh” (these lyrics are typed out phonetically). And it repeats in different variations four times and you have to sing it in verses of 4.

Background:

My informant is a good friend from high school. She is a part of the Cahuilla and Chippewa Indigenous Nations and explains that she learned this Dragonfly Song from a Serrano elder, though it was not the first time she had heard it. She believes that her mother might have sung this lullaby for her when she was a baby. She explains that her parents were actively involved in Indian Country, working with Native children in the community, and her father was the director of a foster care agency that was specifically for Native Youth but also worked with rehabilitating families. She says it was probably during one of their group sessions with the youth where Ernest Siva, the Serrano elder, was a guest and sang this song. This song is meaningful to her because of the symbolism of the dragonfly as a messenger from the spirit world.

Context:

This is a transcript of a conversation between my friend and me over the phone. I have talked to her a few times about my folklore class and explained the collection to her. She was happy to help and talk about some of her traditions.

Thoughts:

My friend and I have talked often about our respective traditions with each other, but there are so many that we have not talked about in detail. This is the first time I learned about the Dragonfly Song and thought it was beautiful. She explained to me that in Cahuilla culture, the dragonfly is thought to be a messenger from the spirit world, and thus, is the connection of the physical world to the spirit world. The need of having a good heart and good intentions in order to attract dragonflies when singing this song illustrates how the spirit world is regarded in Cahuilla culture: healing and nourishing. Its purpose as a lullaby also indicates the importance of children and the youth, as being able to sing this song and attract dragonflies (proof of having a good heart and good intentions) to soothe a child transfers the positive energy and intentions to them.

For more on the Dragonfly Song, see:

Siva, Ernest. Voices of the Flute: Songs of three Southern California Indian Nations. Ushkana Press, 2004.

The Spirit of Chipeta

Background

The Ute Native Americans are in three reservations in Colorado and Utah: Unitah-Ouray, Southern Ute, and Ute Mountain. They have their own sovereign nations that have their own tribal leadership. Within reservations there are different bands of Ute Natives. The story told takes place in the Ute Indian Museum Montrose, Colorado. There Chipeta and her brother John McCook are buried. Chief Ouray, Chipeta’s husband, is said to be buried in Utah.

Chief Ouray was designated chief by the U.S. since he spoke English. He was Apache and Ute, he belonged to the Uncompahgre Band. He had one child with his first wife Black Mare, however she passed away unexpectedly. Since Ouray spoke English, Spanish, and Ute, the U.S. government decided to make him the proxy for treaties, regardless of how the Ute governed themselves. Nevertheless, Chief Ouray always strived for peace.

When gold was found in the San Juan Mountains, settlers began to encroach. The lands of all natives got smaller and smaller. The Utes were moved to what is now known as Montrose County. A settler was ploughing land near the reservation assigned to the Utes. The young Utes, as accustomed, raced their horses. However, they had raced on some of the ploughed land. This dispute eventually exploded, but no one knows who shot first. The incident did lead to the involvement of Nathan Meeker, the Indian agent at the White River Indian Agency that managed the Utes. Meeker did not care about the culture and customs of the natives, he was predisposed against Utes. The small dispute led to more conflict and eventually Meeker called on federal troops. The Utes viewing it as a threat rebelled, and took Meeker’s wife and daughter. After, finding out what had occurred, Chipeta wept for Josephine Meeker and her daughter. She showed kindness. The U.S. successfully negotiated to have them released and they went to Ouray and Chipeta’s ranch.

However, the Utes were forced to relocate, after a final battle, to Utah and further away from their lands. Chipeta didn’t have children, but she loved them and adopted many. Chief Ouray was blamed for the relocation of the Utes, and labeled a traitor, but given U.S. history, Ouray also saved his people from genocide, he saved the children of the tribe and their future.

It is extremely important to recognize that the entities and spirits in the Ute Indian Museum are not malicious

The museum has been here since 1956. It closed down in 2015 to remodel, and expand the museum. The original structure is still present. The staff has reported viewing orbs of light and shadow-people. When they watch the cameras, they move around quickly. They move around real fast, and trigger sensors, so they do get a police officer. He was scared of coming out to the museum.

The Story

We sat in CJ’s office at the Ute Indian Museum. Flute music played in the background. Photographs of the museum and her children lined the walls, along with Ute artifacts. Two words describe CJ, spiritual and calm.
My name is CJ Brafford. I am the director at the Ute Indian museum, I am Ogologo Lakota. I was born on the Pine-Ridge Indian Reservation and have been the caretaker of the Ute Indian Museum for 24 years. When I came here for the job, the doors to the museum were locked, and no one gave me a key. I wandered the grounds and met Chipeta. I didn’t know yet, who she was.

Being Native I have been around many things, and seen many too. I have been here for 20 years and I have traveled and researched the Utes. So, I think I about gathered as much information as I can. I have seen many archival records, but one day a community member of Montrose called. She wanted to see me and share something with me. When she arrived at the museum she came in and she showed me a picture. I had not seen this picture, and I got so excited, like oh my gosh, I’ve never seen this picture. Chapita is buried here, she died in Utah in 1924 but she was brought back to Montrose in 1925. The Ute were removed in 1881, but nonetheless Chipeta is here today. On the museum grounds next to her brother John McCook. So, when she came in, I thought she was showing me a picture that she found at the archives or found somewhere else. It’s a picture she took just the night before on the museum grounds. She wanted me to identify the person in the picture. She knew it was an Indian woman, but I knew it was Chipeta.

Another time, I was at the front desk when somebody in the gift store said, “I don’t want you to think I’m kind of strange, but Chipeta’s standing right behind you”.

Questions

After the story I had two questions, why is Chipeta still on the grounds and why is Chief Ouray not buried beside her, CJ provided answers.
Chief Ouray went to go sign another treaty, but he got sick and passed away in Utah in 1880 away from his home. The Southern Ute did not allow his body to be taken back with the agent from the White River Indian Agency. A year later, two Ute bands in Colorado were forced to relocate to Utah. The Ute at that time placed their deceased in caves. Chief Ouray was placed among other chiefs. Chipeta was with Ouray when he passed, and she knew where he was buried.

A federal troop account said that they saw Utes and a horse with a body over it. It is believed that Chipeta brought him back and buried him in a disclosed place. Utes have come by and said he is in the Black Canyon. There was an attempt to bring Ouray to Chipeta’s burial ground, and Chipeta to Ouray’s.

CJ heard was that after the Ute bands were removed, Chipeta would travel from Montrose to Dragon, Utah through train. Chipeta befriended a wealthy man, who had the first car. His employers would pack Chipeta a picnic lunch and he would drop her off here. She would sit here to do her choosing, and she would cry. I think part of her spirit is still left here, even when she journeyed over. This was her home, and up there it was foreign. The place given to them was barren, we had mountains. There was greenery here, they were given a desert.

Chipeta is a guardian, consoling all who are tied to the land where her history is in the landscape. When it was taken from the Utes, she came back to Montrose, rueful that many of the Utes would not return.
Chipeta and her brother John McCook remain buried in Montrose, Colorado.

Sources
CJ Brafford Ute Indian Museum Director
Platts, Henry. “Ouray.” Colorado Encyclopedia, https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/ouray. Accessed 29 October 2020.

Jingle Dress Origin

Main Piece:

Informant: So the story behind the Jingle Dress dance is about a girl who was really sick and her dad really wanted her to get better. And he had a vision or a dream, one of those two, and if you put a 100 shells on a dress, cause that’s how they used to make them, and if she dances for 21 days, or something like that, then she would be healed. And he did exactly what, uh, it told him to and she was healed. Not they call the jingle dress dress dance a healing dance. But, that’s just like one of the different stories of why it was like that. There are multiple stories and things like that. But that’s the one I heard.

Interviewer: What other variations are there?

Informant: Well, that’s the only one I know, but other people say there are more.

Background:

The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade. She is also an Old-Fashioned jingle dress dancer which originates from the Ojibwe people. It is referred to as a healing dance and can be seen at Native American powwows across the United States and Canada.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. I asked if she could describe for me the origin story behind the jingle dress dance. 

Thoughts:

One of the greatest gifts given to mankind was movement. Along with the ability to think, we are able to actively engage with our environment. As Albert Einstein said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” Dance has long been a part of human culture, and in many cases, a key component in ritual and prayer. The jingle dress dance emphasizes the healing properties that dance can have on the mind and body. There are many variations of this story, such goes folklore. The jingle dress dance comes from the Ojibwe people and can be seen at powwows across the United States and Canada.

Native Version of “Hansel and Gretel”

Main Piece:

Informant: Ok, so there is like a legend and you know how Natives, they travel? Like, when one place kinda dries out or doesn’t have any buffalo or food, they move to the next place.  Well, that kinda like happened. There was these children and their mom asked them to get berries before they left. They kinda got distracted when they were picking berries. And when they came back they had already left. So they went and said, “ok, maybe this is the way they went.” They went and found a small cottage and, so this is kinda like a Native story of Hansel and Gretel. So they knocked and the lady welcomed them in and got them food and stuff. And then that night when they went to bed and the lady thought they were asleep she started singing a song about eating them. And then they secretly got out of their beds and slowly looked and when the lady, when they were sure the lady got into bed they saw their little sister in a cage. So they had to quickly get her out of it. And they escaped, but the witch was coming after them, because they heard her. But the end of this story can change either way, like they got home safely, or the witch ate them. But the good way is that they got out to a place where the witch couldn’t go and the witch was blocked off by this force field, or something like that. And then they went safely looking for their family and their tribe. And the bad way, is that she got them and ate them.

Background:

The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. My sisters and I were sharing stories one night when I asked if she recalled any old stories she heard.

Thoughts:

I have heard many variations of this story growing up. I’m curious to know how much it has evolved over the years, especially after European contact. It was interesting to hear my sister’s take on it. It shares many similarities with the Hansel and Gretel story; children lost in the woods who stumble across the home of an old woman. She takes them in and is later revealed conspiring to eat them. The villainous hag is a common trope in stories worldwide. In folklore, a crone is an old woman who may be disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in nature. She often has magical or supernatural abilities which can make her either helpful or obstructing. It is also a reversal of the nurturing and protective role a women traditionally plays in a child’s life, though historically, the most power person in a child’s life is the mother, so perhaps it is just a pendulum dynamic.

Whistling at Night

Main Piece:

Informant: Throughout my childhood, I’ve been told you’re not supposed to whistle at night. So of course, I didn’t believe them and would whistle at night. One day I was at my grandparents house and my cousin and I were at the window and it was night time. We were bored because there’s not much to do out there. It’s a small community called Stand Off. (Laughs) My cousin and I, we heard someone whistling in the distance. So, they whistled at us (whistling sound), so we whistled right back. Then they did it back again, so we did it back again. Then we started making patterns with our whistling and the other person started making patterns with their whistling. And the person began coming closer and closer and the still kept laughing. And then we got busy, the person was so close, but we got bored and something happened in the kitchen, but we left the window open. As we were in the kitchen, all of a sudden we began hearing banging in the bedroom we were just in. And we went walking towards the bedroom. And the door began swinging BACK and FORTH, BACK and FORTH, BACK and FORTH (emphasis on her voice as she said these words). My cousins began to get freaked out and started screaming. So I grabbed a broom and was like “Wait, stop. NO.” And I went running into the bedroom and the door just stopped. Our window was still wide open, but our cat was standing on the window seal looking down. And that was it. So, to this day, I don’t whistle at night, because I’m told it calls the spirits.

Background:

The informant is a Native American woman in her early forties. She is part of the Blackfoot and Lakota Nations and grew up on the Blood Reserve up in Canada. She currently resides in Tennessee with her husband and children.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my mother. We were in the kitchen preparing supper when I asked her why she doesn’t whistle at night. She recalled an old incident that had happened.

Thoughts:

In many cultures it it thought that whistling or making whistle noises at night will attract bad luck, bad things, or bad spirits. In the UK there is the belief of the “Seven Whistlers” who are seven mysterious spirits or birds who can foretell tragedy or death. Some believe that if you whistle indoors it will bring poverty or bad luck. In any case, I have been warned many times of the danger of whistling at night. It is something I heard quite often growing up. It is interesting how this plays into the larger idea of being spirited away or being kidnapped by the little people; that whistling is a way of communicating with the supernatural.