From Pühapäevaleht (June 29, 1997 pp. A2-A3)

The Redskin Blowing an Eagle-Bone Whistle

by Piret Tali

Once again, an Indian summer has begun in Estonia. Nineteen Cree Indians from Sturgeon Lake Reserve are awaited onto a Country Carriage: they will be performing in Harku, Toila, Viljandi Kuressaare, Põlva and Roosna-Alliku. In addition to that a story-telling session will be held in the Open Air Musem at Rocca al Mare this weekend.

Indians of indefinite tribes can be met everywhere in the world at any bigger supermarkets, not to mention a narrow marketplace in Poland or a cathedral in Florence, Italy. Their only profession is to be an Indian. Stupid white man taking fake feathers and 'Euro-Indians' for genuine ones is the best customer for such people. Genuine Indians who have surprisingly much in common with our Finno-Ugric roots can be found, from time to time, very close to us - for example, in Estonia. But they do not always wear feathers and seldom wield tomahawks.

'We call these street musicians fake Indians,' says Wes Stevenson. 'They have lost the ties with their nation and thus also their identity, they have no right to speak for all the Indians.'

So let red people of another kind, Indians who are never met in a supermarket with a reed-pipe, have a word. It is seldom possible to meet them outside their home.

Wes travels about Estonia in the company of nineteen redskins wearing red jackets bearing the text Estonia Tour 97 and decorated with the maple-leaf flag. These Indians come from Sturgeon Lake Reserve in the north of Canada and belong to the Cree nation.

'It is important for us to learn something from the Estonian people about which people in the rest of the world know very little and whose experiences are similar to ours. It helps us to understand the world better, for otherwise we would be concentrating only on ourselves,' says Wes.

Never seen a MacDonald's

'They are very Indian,' says Wes. The MacDonald's restaurant caused excitement in the young Indians mainly because they had never seen or visited one before. In Estonia they go there every day. For them, Estonia is Europe, complete with night clubs, the Old Town and folk culture.

The First Americans' Festival brought huge masses of people to the Open Air Museum last year. Some of the Indians who visited Estonia then were friends of the Urb brothers (two locally well-known Estonian musicians) from Arizona, the rest came from the south of Canada. They built a sweat lounge in Estonia and taught making silver ornaments, ceramics and medicine bags in the Estonian Academy of Arts. 'We would not have expected so many people,' says Kärt Summatavet, a renowned metal and graphic artist, assistant professor at the Academy of Arts. The Indians were nearly run over by the crowd.

Kärt is the main organiser of the Indian summer along with the Thunderbird society, which unites Native Americans and Estonians. The thunderbird is the bird that has a similar meaning to all the Indian nations. The researcher of Indian cultures Omar Volmer is also a member of the society but the initial idea of inviting the First Americans into Estonia comes from Vahur Laur of the Estonian national television company. The members of the society use their personal contacts in order to make Estonians and different First Americans closer.

We are united in our background of an apartheid regime as well as in our difficulties in preserving our identity in an environment where the mass culture of a throwaway consumer society is imposed upon us.

History written by red man

Wes is the Executive Director and a professor at Saskatchewan Indian Federated College. The college is one of the few Indian colleges and is about to become become one of the first Indian universities this autumn. During this summer, the construction of a new college building with an estimated cost of forty million will be begun. Nearly three quarters of the lecturers at the college are either M. A.’s or Ph. D.’s of First American origin.

Saskatchwan Indian Federated College is run by learned men as well as a council consisting of 72 reserve chiefs. There are altogether 22 Indian colleges is Canada and 27 more in the United States. 150 years ago a treaty was signed by the administration of Canada with the chiefs of Indian tribes depriving the Indians of 98 per cent of their lands. Today the Indians use their knowledge and the money left by the white people to tax-free Indian casinos to get back their lands. Most inhabitants of the reserves are citizens of Canada from the year 1958.

SIFC is distinguished from the conventional universities and colleges by the fact that one can study five Indian languages, history from an Aboriginal point of view and Aboriginal law at the college. 'History has always been written by the white, Europeans who have come to Canada from the East and it is our business to give the history a Western perspective,' says Wes.

Naturally, the history written by red man does not start with Columbus's voyage of conquest. That is only a detail of what has happened. A white man who has come to visit the reserve for three weeks cannot understand an Indian ritual but is likely to record an exaggerated reflection thereof into a book or a film. Indians just sell better than the Celtic peoples or the Inuit.

Kärt is interweaving Finno-Ugric roots with Indian roots

'When a white man asks me why don't Indians learn at the traditional colleges,' says Wes with a smile, 'I will ask him whether they would attend our colleges in a situation where Indians were a majority and the white people a minority. We have a long history and we teach people how to live.'

People usually go to the concerts for the show. They want to see the drums, the feathers and everything else exotic. One mustn't participate in the ritual hastily - you have to follow it and listen carefully. You will understand it only when something happens inside yourself.

'We have forgotten respect and ethics in the Estonian culture,' says Kärt Summatavet. Last year many people rushed onto the scene hoping to get God knows what. Some demanded feathers from the men in jeans. 'I would like to be certain that there is enough of respect in us so that the harmony of the ritual would not be broken.'

Many of us are influenced by so-called enlightening printed matter, be it then Buddhist, Krishnaist, astrological or something else, and are forgetting the things that are our own and with the help of which we could be stronger.

'Indians avoid identifying themselves with mass society and sustain the old traditions they have,' says Kärt. 'It gives them strength. Indian culture remains alive in you as long as you are a part of it.'

Terry is the master of ceremonies

Terry Daniels is the M. C./elder at Sturgeon Lake. Estonians like him when they see him walking in the town and smiling. He delights in seeing people happy and smiling. He can tell many stories, legends and tales - Terry is like a writer except that he works with his mouth.

'We receive the white people who come to our rituals with delight. We greet them and ask them to sit down with us and to participate. We like guests,' says Terry. Terry has an eagle-bone whistle. It mustn't be blown without a good reason to do so - it is holy. It even has a role in the Sun Dance. Once you have blown it you have to tell a story, e.g. about someone being ill.

In the meantime some young redskins are rehearsing near Terry. Most of them do not speak Terry's Cree language. Four of them are beating a big drum and singing with guttural voices, one hand on the throat. The sound of the drum can be heard from far away and it resembles the sound of a great heart beating. Usually ten people beat the drum.

'When the child is in the womb, the safest thing for him is the rhythm of the mother's heart beating. When the child falls and is hurt, the mother will take him into her lap, quite near her heart, and the mother's heart will comfort him. The drum is like a heart, too,' says Terry.

People dance and sing to heal someone, either physically, emotionally or spiritually.

'When we hear the drum, we know that we are worth something, that we are alive and well. When we have lost everything, the drum will give us back our strength,' says the master of ceremonies.

Drumming as well as dancing was forbidden for a long time by the government. Despite that, they have managed to learn anew most of their dances, such as the Sun Dance, the Grass Dance, the Chicken Dance, the Ghost Dance.

'The songs change. The changes are brought about by a dream or a thought, hearing a bird sing in the forest, seeing beautiful people or the beauty of nature. The drum group sings about how beautiful the dancers are, how well they dance, they tell us about beauty and love and the ability to be alive.

'Touch the ground, it is alive under your hand, as well as the trees. The drum makes the heart of the earth beat. It is like a mother.'

I put my hand to the ground and feel that the earth, the trampled grass behind the government office building is really alive. I feel lighter and better. How did the redskin know all this about our land?

Translated by Ott Heinapuu. Any comments or suggestions welcome to

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