Many Eagle Set Dance Song (Michif Song)
Description: This is the story of the "Many Eagle Set Sundance Song" as told by Folklorist and Author Nicholas Vrooman. A special thank you to Shane Belcourt and Tony Belcourt for graciously providing the School the video.
Date: December 8, 2020
[Visual: Animated white Canada School of Public Service logo appears on a purple background, pages turn, a maple leaf appears in the middle of a book that also resembles a flag, with curvy lines beneath.]
[Visual: A car drives along a country road, grassy country fields bordered by fences roll by outside the car's window.]
[Visual: Through the car's windshield, another car can be seen driving ahead, along the dirt road in the distance.]
North Dakota, August 2004
In 2001 the Métis Nation of Ontario and the Anishinabek Nation sought to make a Nation-to-Nation Alliance.
[Visual: Close up of the driver of the car, Nicholas Vrooman, an older gentleman with a mustache and glasses, in profile.]
Nicholas Vrooman: Yeah, this is the spot for sure.
[Visual: Through the car's windshield, another car can be seen driving ahead, along the dirt road in the distance.]
But first the Métis needed to find their song…
[Visual: A still image of a man with a wide-brimmed hat walking through a large field, with the shoreline of Buffalo Lodge Lake in the distance, slowly zooming in.]
This is the story of the "Many Eagle Set Sundance Song" As told by Folklorist and Author Nicholas Vrooman.
Nicholas Vrooman: It was early in the 1820's. Cree, Assiniboine, Ojibwe, Saulteaux, Chippewa, all the same there.
[Visual: Sepia-toned still image of an Assiniboine camp, with a group of teepees in the foreground on a grassy plain, with many more in the distance.]
Nicholas Vrooman: And Michif Métis folks came together at Buffalo Lodge Lake and what's now northwest North Dakota, but then it was open Indigenous buffalo pasture.
[Visual: Black and white still image of community members sitting together in a circle on a grassy plain, smoking pipes. Behind them, a group of wagons is parked.]
Nicholas Vrooman: They came to form one of the most significant alliances, uh, ever to occur at the centre of the continent.
[Visual: Map of North America, with the legend title "Cultural Areas," is divided into colour-coded areas, each colour (different shades of purple, green, and brown) showing a different area, "Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Great Basin, California, Southwest, Plains, Eastern Woodlands - Northeast, Eastern Woodlands - Southeast, Mexico and Central America," and in each corresponding area of the map, the names of different Indigenous Peoples are listed.]
Nicholas Vrooman: It was land that had been contested between the United States and England as belonging to, in their terms, either Louisiana, or Rupert's Land. It resides along the border region, um, that ranges from Manitoba, Minnesota, and Ontario, where they converge, all the way west to the Rocky Mountain Front.
[Visual: Map showing the American, British, and Spanish territories of the early 1800s, with the Louisiana Purchase highlighted in green. Exploration routes of 1804-1807 of Lewis and Clark are highlighted in black, and the route of Pike is highlighted in red.]
Nicholas Vrooman: Now referred to by people of pre-Euro-American nationalism as the Medicine Line. The political and economic circumstance at the heart of the North American landmass was volatile, unpredictable, and full of jeopardy.
[Visual: Atlas "Tribes, Cultures, and Languages" map page of the United States, slowly zooming in on the area around the Medicine Line.]
Nicholas Vrooman: New ways of working together needed to be crafted. Building new alliances became critical for the survival of the many individual groups then on the Plains. Common interests and shared heritage created the strongest bonds.
[Visual: Sepia-toned still image of a group of men, women, and children posing for the camera in front of a loaded wagon. A man stands alone nearby in front of a second wagon.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The Cree, Assiniboine, and Chippewas, were intermarried. The Michifs shared the blood of them each from their mother's side.
[Visual: A painting of a buffalo hunt. Dogs close in on a large buffalo who has an arrow in his side, while a hunter in snowshoes with his bow still aimed follows close behind.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The fur trade was trapping out in the woodlands by the late 1700's. Assiniboine, or Stoney Sioux, or Nakota, they had already split from their Dakota and Lakota relations to the south and east in Minnesota, and moved out to the west to become Plains People, many generations earlier.
[Visual: Painting of a lively settlement in winter. Dogs run between groups of people, some with hunting weapons, wearing snowshoes, and near them, children frolic in the snow. In the distance are the walls of a settlement, and a few buildings on a hill.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The Anishinabe, the Chippewa, Ojibwe, Saulteaux groups were pushing west from the Great Lakes, competing with the Sioux and forcing them out onto the prairie.
[Visual: Still black and white image of men on horseback wearing war bonnets, in front of a teepee, pointing at something in the distance.]
Nicholas Vrooman: There the Sioux formed alliance with the Cheyenne, who were then the inhabiters of the land between the Red and the Missouri Rivers.
[Visual: Sepia-toned still image of a woman standing, and a man sitting, in front of a settlement of many teepees on a grassy plain. To the right of the couple, a group of people sit with their backs turned.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The Anishinabe from the east had been coming out onto the plains for generations. Their Cree cousins from the northeast had been on the plains for a hundred years.
[Visual: Still black and white image of three parked wagons. Two men recline on top of the right-most wagon. On the ground below them, five other men rest, sitting and laying down.]
Nicholas Vrooman: Already by mid-18th Century, there was a distinct society of mixed descent, mixed heritage Peoples at the Forks of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers.
[Visual: Still black and white image of a family posed standing in front of a log cabin. A man rests his hand on his sitting wife's shoulder. Two other men stand on either side, one with his hand resting on the chair of a younger child. ]
Nicholas Vrooman: Some were called Bungi, the offspring of Orkney Viking fathers, who were the first employees of the Hudson's Bay Company, dispatched to the hinterlands after 1670.
[Visual: Sepia-toned still image of members of a community gathered on a grassy plain, in front of a covered wagon, beside a teepee from which two people are emerging. ]
Nicholas Vrooman: Others were French stock, descendants of La Vérendrye, his men, who came into the territory in the 1730's and 40's, and married within the same maternal groups of the country as the Orkney men.
[Visual: A black and white still image of a family, a man, woman, and child, standing posed for a picture in front of a teepee. The man is smiling and holds a gun, the woman holds a bundled baby in her arms.]
Nicholas Vrooman: A third group who would become the most numerous, and politically and economically savvy current within the new-forming mixed descent, mixed heritage society, were themselves a mixture of the Southern Great Lakes and the Mississippi, Missouri River Métis.
[Visual: Sepia-toned still image of a group of covered wagons parked on a grassy plain. People rest in a large group in the shade of the largest wagon, some smiling at the camera.]
Nicholas Vrooman: These Michifs were the descendants of the old French regime in North America, left dispossessed in the United States after the French and Indian War ended in 1763. Those folks had been mixing within the diverse tribal milieu of the Southern Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi, and among themselves, for the previous 150 years.
[Visual: Map drawing of the United States, with the disputed area of the plains down the centre highlighted in red.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The Assiniboine, Cree, Ojibwe, and the Michif were squeezed between the Sioux, and the Cheyenne in the south, and the Hudson's Bay and Nor'Westers to the north. By 1812, the Selkirk settlers had moved in. Then in 1816, the Michif had solidified their own clan-based society and national identity on the Northern Plains.
[Visual: Painting of the Battle of Seven Oaks, titled "The Fight at Seven Oaks, 1816." by Charles William Jefferys, depicting two groups with guns pointed, firing at each other. One group charges toward the other on horseback, and bodies lay prone on the ground.]
Nicholas Vrooman: This was following the Battle of Seven Oaks, Frog Plains.
[Visual: Sepia-toned photograph of a walled settlement in the distance, with a dirt road leading across the grassy plain toward it.]
Nicholas Vrooman: When in 1821, the HBC and Nor'West Company combined to become one, and the Sioux to the south increased their push on extending territory.
[Visual: Black and white still image of a grassy field, with many teepees in groups stretching off into the distance.]
[Visual: Black and white still image of a large group of men in front of a teepee, some sitting and resting, some standing and talking with each other, many with guns. Three wagons are parked behind the group of men. ]
Nicholas Vrooman: The need for a formalized alliance between the Assiniboine, Cree, the Ojibwe, and the Michif became paramount.
[Visual: Black and white still image of men laying on the ground next to a parked wagon and white tent. Buildings of a town are visible in the distance.]
Nicholas Vrooman: As the Ojibwe and Michif where the newest comers to the territory, they needed to be brought into the workings of the Great Mystery in that part of the world.
[Visual: Black and white still image of community members in regalia, dancing, many of their features obscured by smoke.]
Nicholas Vrooman: Already, to backtrack a couple of decades, in the 1780's, early 1780's, there was what's called the Pox Americana that had brought the smallpox to the Northern Plains, and created incredible devastation.
[Visual: Sepia-toned still image of a camp in a grassy field. The field of view zooms in slowly, many wagons and horses are parked in front of the settlement.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The Cree and Assiniboine who had already had their alliance, and was called the Nehiyaw-Pwat, the Cree Assiniboines their confederacy. They had asked the Michif and the Ojibwe to join them on the plains to eat from the same dish, to fight the same enemies to become Plains People at that point.
[Visual: Black and white still image of a walled settlement in the distance, with a dirt road leading towards it, and a white fence bordering the road.]
Nicholas Vrooman: But here we are now, a new assault, a new external threat in the monopoly that the HBC and Nor'West Company merger had caused, and the Sioux becoming stronger and stronger, and pushing further north really caused the need for a reaffirmation of this confederacy.
[Visual: Black and white still image of two men in war bonnets looking out across a field, on horseback.]
[Visual: Sepia-toned still image of a sun lodge in a grassy field.]
Nicholas Vrooman: A Thirsty Dance was called, where the ceremony would be given to these younger brothers, the Michif, and the Ojibwe.
[Visual: Painting of canoes landing at a settlement of tents near the water, on the edge of the woods. Four canoes are being pulled onto land, each by a group of people. Three other canoes are rowing towards shore.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The Ojibwes were Midewiwin out of the Woodlands, and the Michif were Romish, but now they also needed to have the medicine power of the Plains, their new home.
[Visual: Black and white still image of two women standing with three young children in a field, with buildings in the distance. ]
Nicholas Vrooman: Some were to take on both traditions inclusively, with many Ojibwes holding onto the Midewiwin well into the 20th century, and Michif remaining strong in their Folk Catholicism.
[Visual: Black and white still image of a group, some on horseback, watching others working to erect a large sun lodge.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The Buffalo Lodge Lake Thirsty Dance would form a bond between these people that would create a unified front when dealing with any of their Indigenous enemies to the south and west, as well as the HBC, and other Euro-American fur trade outfits.
[Visual: Black and white still image of a busy settlement with many teepees. Many people of all ages are walking or running around a group of individuals seated in a circle. Behind the circle, a group of men dressed in war bonnets are standing next to grazing horses.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The singular impetus, and defining incident that crystallized the need for an alliance between these four distinct, yet mutually supportive and integrated groups, was the mass murder of the women and Elders, and kidnapping of the Ojibwe children, while Michif and Ojibwe families were away hunting.
[Visual: Black and white still image of a multi-generational group of men, women, and children of various ages posing for the camera in front of a wooden fence around a settlement.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The Sioux, after a starvation winter where they lost most of their children, were forced to seek youngsters to build back up their tribe. Children were the most important resource in sustaining a future for any and every tribe, or group of people.
[Visual: Sepia-toned still image of a Plains settlement with many teepees with wagons parked beside them in the distance, slowly zooming in.]
Nicholas Vrooman: Word went out to the four alliance members, the Cree, Assiniboine, Ojibwe and Michif, that if this can happen to one of them, it could happen to each of them. There was a call to gather at Buffalo Lodge Lake to solidify the unity of the People.
0[Visual: Sepia-toned still image of a large group of people erecting a sun lodge in a grassy field.]
Nicholas Vrooman: Many Eagle Set was the Cree leader of the Dance. He is said to have called what is now referred to as the largest Sun Dance ever to occur on the Northern Plains. There were 14 centre poles, and 1,500 dancers comprised of the four groups.
[Visual: A sprawling settlement of teepees glow in twilight, in the distance, with horses grazing the foreground, under a starry, cloudy sky.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The Song came to Many Eagle Set from the Creator through the Thunder Beings. It symbolizes for all time the historical bonds among the four distinct Peoples and allies, and commemorates the transfer of the Thirsty Dance to the Chippewas, and the Michif. The Song is sung, and the story is told every year on the Turtle Mountains, commemorating the alliance between the Cree and the Assiniboine, the Ojibwe and the Michif, which has remained intact since that dance at Buffalo Lodge Lake in the 1820's.
[Visual: Still image of Francis Eagle Heart Cree, sitting in a chair, in front of a gathering of people.]
Nicholas Vrooman: That Song was sung to the People there, and lives on through a man named Francis Eagle Heart Cree, who was born in 1920. He's a Thirsty Dance maker, and a spiritual and cultural leader of the Turtle Mountain People, remembered well.
[Visual: Francis Eagle Heart Cree and Nicholas Vrooman stand in a field next to a car, looking out over Buffalo Lodge Lake.]
Nicholas Vrooman: Say hello.
Francis Eagle Heart Cree: Okay.
Nicholas Vrooman: (Laughs) Are we ready?
Nicholas Vrooman: All right.
Francis Eagle Heart Cree: Well, I'm glad that you people are here from the north, to come and see the Buffalo Lodge Lake. See, this lake is like an island, it's very- it runs way along here. Now, see, (unclear). He brought his group right here. When I was a small boy, when I was about four years old, my Grandpa gave me a horse, a colt, and a pair of dancing clothes. And helped me. My uncle gave me (unclear), I got magic in the Sun Dance. He got it from uh, Many Eagle Set.
[Visual: Close up of Francis Eagle Heart Cree, wearing sunglasses, and a blue ball cap, standing in a field in front of Buffalo Lodge Lake.]
[Francis Eagle Heart Cree singing, clapping rhythm.]
Francis Eagle Heart Cree: Yeah?
Crew and Nicholas Vrooman: Hey! Oh! (Laughter)
[Visual: Still image of Nicholas Vrooman, Francis Eagle Heart Cree, and Tony Belcourt standing in a field in front of a sun lodge.]
Nicholas Vrooman: On the morning of Wednesday, August 11th, 2004, a rare and magnificent ceremony took place on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, right on the Manitoba line, at the International Peace Garden.
[Visual: Still image of Tony Belcourt and Francis Eagle Heart Cree amidst a smiling group, posing for a picture at a traditional Elders and Youth circle gathering at Buffalo Lodge Lake, marking the occasion of Francis Eagle Heart Cree teaching Tony Belcourt the Song.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The events celebrated the transfer of the living legacy of Many Eagle Set's Ceremonial Song of the Alliance between the Peoples at Buffalo Lodge Lake, the Keeper of the Song, Francis Eagle Heart Cree, formally gave the Song to Tony Belcourt, holder of the international relations portfolio of the Métis National Council at the time, and who was at the time President of the Métis Nation of Ontario.
[Visual: Close up still photograph of Tony Belcourt and Francis Eagle Heart Cree, sitting, smiling, with others present at the gathering walking around behind them.]
[Visual: Tony Belcourt and an older woman wrap a blanket around a younger man standing inside a ceremonial space, and many flashes of pictures being taken mark the event.]
Nicholas Vrooman: This event was the culmination of a two-year search by Mr. Belcourt for the traditional Michif song that he could bring to the ceremony to commemorate the Nation-to-Nation relationship, which had recently been forged between the Métis Nation and the Anishinabe Nation.
[Ceremony participants applaud]
[Visual: Francis Eagle Heart Cree sits wrapped in a blanket, sitting near a group of other community members at the Buffalo Lodge Lake gathering, looking intently towards the camera.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The Song transfer was also part of the life work of Francis Cree, to protect the Song, and perpetuate the stories, and meaning of the original alliance made at Buffalo Lodge Lake - that distinct and separate Peoples are only made whole through the unity shared by all people who live by the tenants of love and respect. That the Métis of Canada would seek out a song to bring to an alliance ceremony with the Anishinabe…
[Visual: Still image of Nicholas Vrooman, Francis Eagle Heart Cree, Tony Belcourt, and other community members at the gathering, posing in a field in front of a sun lodge.]
Nicholas Vrooman: then find their way to the Turtle Mountains to be given a song that already exists, and symbolizes that age-old relationship between Peoples, that was now finding need to being reaffirmed in contemporary life. It is too much to be coincidence, for Francis Cree, who is of Ojibwe, Métis, Cree, and Assiniboine heritage and speaks the languages of each.
[Visual: Still image of Francis Eagle Heart Cree, Tony Belcourt, Nicholas Vrooman, and another man posing in a field, in front of a sun lodge.]
Nicholas Vrooman: This is proof of the Unified Theory of Existence, and the medicine power of the Song.
[Visual: Slow pan around circle of community members standing inside the Round Hall, preparing for a ceremony, talking to each other.]
Nicholas Vrooman: The recent transfer of the Song took place at an old-style ceremonial log structure named the Round Hall, north of Dunseith, North Dakota, on the west side of the Turtle Mountain Reservation. In the traditional manner, Nicholas Roman made welcoming words for the visiting Michif.
[Visual: Still image of Tony Belcourt, Nicholas Vrooman, and another man, smiling broadly, standing in a doorway.]
Nicholas Vrooman: There was a traditional telling of the origins of the Song, and the meaning of the Buffalo Lodge Lake Alliance by Braids LaFramboise. He's from both Rocky Boy, Montana, and Turtle Mountain heritage, who is the son-in-law and right-hand man of Francis Cree.
[Visual: Close up of Francis Eagle Heart Cree singing, concentrating intently.]
Nicholas Vrooman: Francis passed the rights of the Song by the Giving Ceremony to Tony Belcourt, and those present, including members of the Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario. On the next morning, Francis Cree took the Canadian Michif group to Buffalo Lodge Lake, southwest of the Turtle Mountains, about 50 miles, as the crow flies.
[Visual: Slow zoom in on the Sun lodge (Thirsty Dance lodge) in field at Buffalo Lodge Lake.]
Nicholas Vrooman: There, Francis related the story of Buffalo Lodge, told the genealogy of Many Eagle Set, and how Francis had received the Song, and rights to the Thirsty Dance. The group stood in the presence of the Thirsty Dance Lodge that Francis had put up the year before, fulfilling a lifelong dream to have the dance return to Buffalo Lodge Lake. It was the first time the Thirsty Dance had been performed there since the alliance of the 1820's. That afternoon, the group travelled to the Many Eagle Set Thirsty Dance grounds, in the Turtle Mountains.
[Visual: Community members sit in a circle on the Thirsty Dance grounds, lighting a pipe.]
Nicholas Vrooman: Where a pipe was shared, and Louis Cree, Braids LaFramboise, Gordon Henry, Two Dog, and me assisted the Canadian Michifs in practicing, and gaining full usage of the Song.
[Visual: Close ups panning around circle, of ceremony participants in circle, watching and participating in the singing of the Song. A man plays the rhythm on a shaker]
(Ceremony participants sing, man plays the rhythm with a shaker.)
[Song ends, ceremony participants talk quietly to each other]
[Visual: Still image of Elder Francis Eagle Heart Cree standing in field at Buffalo Lodge Lake, with Nicholas Vrooman.]
In Memory of Elder Francis Cree (1920 – 2007) and Nicholas Vrooman (1949 – 2019)
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