From Järva Teataja July 8, 1997, p. 5
Estonians have acquired a perhaps too exotic notion of Indians on the basis of adventure novels. In fact, the redskins of today live much like the white man: they have jobs, watch television and munch chips.
The Indians of the Canadian Cree tribe who performed on the Horse Day of Roosna-Alliku spoke to Järva Teataja of their ordinary life.
The group of mostly young Cree Indians living on Sturgeon Lake Reserve in Canada was brought to Estonia by the society for culture exchange named Thunderbird, headed by the well-known Indian researcher Omar Volmer.
The Indians toured Estonia in a big bus about Estonia from Midsummer and gave the final – the sixth – concert at Roosna-Alliku.
According to Volmer, the Cree (in their own language the kenistenoag ‘the first people’) are one of the largest Canadian tribes who in the good old days were woodland Indians but after the acquisition of horses took up buffalo hunting. They have not fought the whites but have waged war on their neighbouring tribes. By the way, Cree women are considered very beautiful and diligent.
Järva Teataja got the chance to talk to one of the eldest members of the group, Terry Daniels. He earns his living at home as the school bus driver and a social worker. For him, as for the rest of the company of the redskins, this trip was the first time to visit a foreign country.
‘We live just like ordinary people,’ said Terry, who has two coal-black pigtails and wears a cowboy hat. He is wearing a shirt of Native design and a red jacket that has been printed just for this year’s tour. In his ordinary life, the Indian can be distinguished from his light-skinned countrymen only by his red countenance and his eagle eye.
Terry lives along with a thousand other Indians on the reserve, another thousand of the tribe live in the nearby towns. There are nineteen different families and as many last names. Within the territory of the reserve, every family has a piece of land and a house at their disposal. The houses belong to the respective families but the land is the common property of the tribe. Terry admits that it can be considered a kind of communism.
Indians have all kinds of jobs, working as mechanics at wood-working factories, as teachers or social workers at schools and so on. ‘The only thing that distinguishes us from the white is our culture,’ nodded Terry. The tribe gathers for a special event and everyone wears their colourful feathers every weekend. Thus the dances performed in Estonia are not a part of the Indians’ everyday life but merely a hobby, just like (Estonian) folk dances are for Estonians. ‘That is one way not to drink alcohol or use drugs in the spare time,’ Terry said.
When the journalist tried to explain the Indians that the ordinary Estonian pictures an Indian as a true savage who makes a fire in the evening and goes hunting in the forest, Terry did not at all raise his eyebrows. It is true that there are still some Indians who live like that even today but they are in the absolute minority. Terry named a tribe whose name sounds like the cry of a wild bird and who live in a forest camp all year round.
‘We abandoned that kind of lifestyle since it did not give us the possibilities equal to those of other people to survive and manage,’ said Terry. ‘We had to cope with diseases and famine.’ So that one may love one’s culture but should not become its slave. Culture is no dogma. Terry claimed that the Indians still dwelling in the forests do not at all consider their urbanised kinsmen traitors.
In the ancient times it would not have been possible for an Indian to get on an airplane and to fly, for example, to Estonia. The money for the trip of Terry’s group was allocated by the Prince Albert region First Nations Government Chief – there are special funds for the Indians’ culture exchange visits to foreign countries. The Estonian side did not pay the Indians any fees.
The Indians who have toured Estonia for more than a week were most amazed at the fact that our language is so viable and strong that the majority of a people so small speak their own language only. Many Estonians were unable to communicate with the Indians in English.
Indians have not been able to keep their language that well and their homes have become bilingual. Children do not want to communicate with their parents in their own language since they have to speak mostly English at school.
‘We might well be the last generation speaking Cree,’ Terry added sadly. ‘We are a changing people whose only serious problem is our fading national language. That is also our greatest concern.’
During their visit, the Indians had to admit that Estonians are very beautiful creatures. Terry found it nice that people here still believe in nature like the Indians. At least so it seemed to him. He has heard that Estonians gave offerings to the forces of nature before Christianity became dominant in Estonia. ‘This is our greatest similarity,’ he deemed, ‘for we still do so. We do not have a god of our own but we are not Christians. We believe that there is one God, the God of all. Above all, we believe in our culture.’ At whiles, an Indian goes into the forest by oneself and just prays there.
The domestic life is much like that of the Americans. Wives have jobs and husbands help them with housework. Both parents are responsible for the raising of children but often grandmothers look after the children too. There are five children in an average Indian family.
‘We would not like to admit it but even our women have abortions and are unfaithful to their husbands,’ said Terry. ‘Divorces also occur. But it is not a part of our culture.’
Indians usually marry at about twenty. Nothing much remains of the old customs of stealing or buying the bride by today but the custom that the youth has to ask for the permission of the father of the maiden for further dating after the first meeting can be considered the last remain of these traditions.
As a rule, Indians are not rich, rather the opposite. Many of them depend on the social security system and social benefits. ‘I do not know what you mean by rich,’ shrugged Terry. ‘We are not rich in the classical sense. But we can manage. Every family has a car and most of what one needs at home. There are businessmen only among our leaders.’
When asked whether the Indians were happy, Terry considered the matter for some time and replied: ‘Yes, I am happy. But many of us are unhappy. Thinking it over, even about half of us might be unhappy.’