Testimonial of W.A Blackburn Circa 1960
THE STORY OF LAKE CHIPPEWA
Trading Post 1916 Wisconsin-Minnesota Light & Power Company officials and other interested parties camped out for meeting with LCO Headmen
It was my privilege to attend the council of Chippewa Indians of the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation at the Old Trading Post Indian Village now submerged by the waters of Lake Chippewa. This council was called by the Chief Men of the Tribe to consider the proposal of those interested in the construction of the dame below the junction of the East and West Forks of the River and in exchange for the Tribal Lands to be flooded, the offered to lay out a new village on high ground on the shores of Lac Courte Oreilles, grade streets, install a water system, electric lights and sewers, and to construct a modern dwelling on a fenced 2½ acre lot for each tribal family.
Attending the council were quite a large group of the head-men of the tribe, Chief Potac presiding. There were quite a few of these interested in the erection of the dam present, among whom were Mr. Davis & Mr. Coffin of Eau Claire, A.J. Edmister and Frank Nash of Holcombe, D.J Arpin and J.Z. Arpin of Grand Rapids and Atlanta, also representatives of the Wisconsin Minnesota, Power Co., and the writer.
When the head-men of the tribe had concluded their deliberations held under a clump of great white pines near the trading post, Chief Potac, through and interpreter, invited us to the council, had us seated in a circle and went from one to the other of the dam representatives and shook hands after each greeting, stepping back and with his right hand, extended palm outward, said, ‘How.’ Completing the circle, he stepped to the center of the circle and bowed in each direction, and then turning to the interpreter, he commenced his statement in the Indian language. This was a reply to the proposal submitted. After each sentence, he bowed to the interpreter to make the translation in English.
Some forty years have elapsed but I shall try to cover in the main the answer given by Chief Potac, and unlettered Indian, to me at least, changing my previous conception of the red man had been formed from reading only the white man’s story of the cruelties and massacres of the early settlers and their simple minded beliefs and fantastic scalping of their enemies.
He said, “The men of the great cities come to the Indian with a proposal to exchange lands here at this sacred spot… These lands given us many years ago by the Great White Father at Washington…” Here waving the treaty, he said further, “This land is the land the white man then did not want… It had no value in the white man’s opinion… It was much swamp and water… no pine timber grew on it of any value… It was rough, hilly and sandy, of no use for the farm of the white man… It was far distant from all the white man cities, without them any possibility of access by roads for the white man’s wagons or carriages… Most of these disadvantages to the white man were in a sense of value to the Indian… In its swamps, the huckleberry and cranberry grow, and the partridge and the deer mated, hatched and foaled their young… In these hills, we could bury those called by the Great Spirits to the Happy Hunting Ground… Here, far from the haunts of the white man, the Indian, his squaw, and family could live in peace and content… Now the white man wants this land which has become sacred to the Indian, where his fathers and forebears lived and died, and their spirits still hover over our cabins and wigwams… Wants to build a great dam to flood this sacred land and submerge the graves of these forebears… Now, what does the white man really want this land for?… It is to develop the white light for his streets and homes, its great halls and ballrooms where his squaws come painted and half undressed to consort with other white men in semi-darkness and half nakedness… To drink much firewater amid much disorder… The Indian needs no such white light… He lives as the Great Spirit intended, by the light from the great sky above, rising at dawn and going to rest at the close of day, wrapped in his blankets and furs, in peace with his brothers, and without desires for embracing the squaw of his good brother and Indian friend… Therefore, our council rejects the proposal of the white man for the following reasons… It is not our land wholly but that of the spirit of our fathers who live here too, invisible to our weak eyes… It is not good that the white man acquires this land for their purpose, to use it is not good… Our answer to your proposal therefore is No, No, No…”
Later through further parleys with the head-men individually and the efforts of the Indian Affairs Department, the council action was set aside and the village was constructed by the dam interests on the shores of Lac Courte Oreilles.
It is unnecessary for me to say that I, and all the rest of our associates, was greatly impressed by the address of the old chief and the manner of its delivery. In the years since that day, I have often thought of the truth of the words of this simple red man and how much better off we might be if we would profit by many of the attributes of the red men – less prone to drive ourselves in frantic effort for money and power – to live more simply and sanely, shortening our days in this mad scramble of greed and envy – battling for so-called success within our villages and cities and tragically in foreign lands where the best our youth are dying in like desire for national power and prestige.