Roaming Chief and the Cosmic Journey

Tilton Collection Photo Lot 89-8

It must have been circa 1910 when the priest of the Pitahawirata Bear Ceremony chose Siriresaruku to serve as one of the four Leaders of the ritual.  And on the sixth day, the Morning Star rose.  And Siriresaruku handed a bear robe and claws and an eagle feather to another ritualist, and he spoke of how these should be worn when the man set forth to find the special cedar tree.  And Siriresaruku said, “Mother stands in the timber with our spirits, dreams for us, and sends the stories for us.”  And the Bear men found the tree.  And in the ceremony Siriresaruku sang two songs – songs about a man who long ago became lost in the fog, and he heard a woman singing in a cedar tree, and she became the tree, and the man dreamed of her, and he became a leader of the Bear Society.  And in the ceremony of the Bear Society, the man sang about the woman, the singing cedar tree who dreams for us.  Mother Cedar Tree who sends us the stories that we tell.  Many years later in 1998, the Pawnee Nation Education Department got in touch with me to pose an interesting question.  When Siriresaruku died in 1919, he was known by two names, one of which seemed incorrect.  “Roam Chief” versus “Roan Chief.”  Which was right?  I thought I knew the answer.  But now… I’m not so sure.  We can identify various names he held through his life.  Robert Bruce’s 1932 publication on the Pawnee Scouts included a photo of “Roam Chief” with this caption: “Known as ‘Koot tah-we-coots oo pah’ (literally hawk, red – commonly Red Hawk) on the last campaign of the Pawnee Scouts with the North brothers…”  Kútawikucuupahat means “tail-big-red,” referring to a red-tailed hawk.  This name appeared on an enlistment roster dated October 9, 1876 when Red Hawk was a young man.  Bruce added, “Roam Chief was over 7 feet in height…”  Red Hawk apparently changed his name while in the Pawnee Scouts – two undated letters in Roam Chief’s allotment file at the Pawnee Agency deny him a veteran’s pension.  These gave his name as “Lah-lah-we-ra-koo-lah-sah, now Roam Chief.”  This suggests that Lah-lah-we-ra-koo-lah-sah was the name he held when he was mustered out of service in 1877.  During the fifteen years that followed, all the Pawnees received Americanized names.  The various protocols that guided this process are not completely clear to me, but I have the impression that several Pawnee translators worked closely with American officials, and the final stages of this momentous change in Pawnee culture unfolded under the guidance of Helen Clarke, a Blackfeet woman who had charge of Pawnee allotment.  In the midst of allotment, during the 1892 Jerome Commission hearings, several Pawnees served as translators and an unknown person transcribed what they said.  Both this transcript and the list of Pawnee signatories to the 1892 Agreement included “Room Chief,” a likely error for “Roam Chief.”  It might have been in July 1893 that Helen Clarke allotted “Roam Chief,” age 41, born about 1851-1852.  He was married in those days to Eva Sitting Bull (Chaui) and Rebecca Richards (Pitahawirata).  These records imply that by 1892 he held a Pawnee name that could be translated as “Roam Chief,” but I have seen no transcription of this name in Pawnee.  In February 1902 he visited Washington DC with a Pawnee delegation, and De Lancey Gill took a photo of him, and the National Anthropological Archives attached the name “Ray-Tah-Cotz-Tay-Sah (Roaming Chief).”  The 1902 Pitahawirata Pawnee census and the 1903 Pawnee census both list “Roam Chief.”  And in 1904 George Dorsey and James R. Murie recruited him to join a delegation of Pawnees to attend the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.  According to Hannah Facknitz, one newspaper reported his name as “Roan Chief,” and a list of Pawnees attending the Exposition identified all the members of his family under the name “Roan Chief.”  Photos taken by Charles Carpenter at the Exposition likewise identified him as “Roan Chief, chief of the Pitahauerat and Pawnee.”  Dorsey and Murie’s 1906 The Pawnee Mythology included two stories told by “Roaming-Chief, hereditary chief of the Chaui.”  A February 25, 1907 “Affidavit As To Lawful Heirs” said that William Bishop and “Roam Chief” had the same great-grandfather.  An anonymous report about Pawneeland was published on March 28, 1907 in a Washington DC newspaper, together with a photo of “Roaming Chief, Six feet four inches tall.”  The archives of the Field Museum of Natural History contain a circa 1907 manuscript, a narrative “Told by Roaming-Chief (Chaui).”  The 1912 edition of a book by Frank Cooper about Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill published a photo captioned “Pawnee Bill and Roan Chief, Finest Specimen of Manhood Living.”  James R. Murie’s 1914 Pawnee Societies mentioned “Roaming-chief.”  And Murie’s Ceremonies of the Pawnee – edited by many hands – included mention of “Roaming Chief” with a photo of him captioned “Siriˑreˑsaruˑku They Are Making Him A Chief.”  Siriresaruku died in 1919.  People remembered him as Roan Chief; others said Roam Chief.  Martha Blaine noted in Some Things Are Not Forgotten (p. 251 endnote 4): “Garland Blaine said ‘Roan Chief.’  I have heard this as well as Roam Chief used.  His name translated from Pawnee as Roaming Chief.”  A 2013 obituary for Lucille Davis Long noted: “As a young child, she lived with her… step-grandfather, Roan Chief (as she always called him)…”  This chronology shows that he held various names during his lifetime, and one name was a source of confusion, difficult to explain.  The man known to us as Roam Chief / Roan Chief surely understood that people around him used both of these names.  But his Pawnee name was Siriresaruku, They Are Making Him A Leader.  A comparable situation occurred with another South Band man, Ruling His Sun / Ruling His Son.  He was asked about when he received his name, and he replied, “I do not know.  It is hard to tell but it was after I came here from Nebraska and they put me down for my allotment as Ruling His Sun.”  He did not seem to care whether Americans called him Ruling His Sun or Ruling His Son.  His Pawnee name was Pásaasiʾ, Osage.  We can guess that Siriresaruku felt the same way.  I have the suspicion that for whatever reason, he did not trouble himself to set people straight – maybe he even made use of both names.  “Roan Chief” might well have reminded him of his first name, Red Hawk.  It also remains possible that he held the name Roan Chief at some point.  If so, we would look for Asaapakspaharesaru or Ritkutareeʾusresaru; but to date, I have not found any version of that Pawnee name in any record.  For that matter, I have yet to find the name Roam Chief / Roaming Chief set down in Pawnee.  But we can assume that he did hold this name at circa 1890.  Whatever the name might have been, it got translated as Roam Chief and this was misheard on occasion as Roan Chief, and when he realized what was happening with his new American name, he apparently decided that both names worked just fine.  The name “Roam Chief” would most likely be written as Rakawariresaru or Rakaawarii Resaru.  Many variations are possible, with differing meanings, but the word “awarii” was surely an element in the name.  This term holds much meaning in both Pawnee dialects, referring to things in motion, to ritual movements.  Douglas Parks has pointed out that when kaawarii is used in a personal name, it refers to a person wandering under the heavens.  And among the Skidi, awarii served as the name for an annual spring ceremony, referring to the sentient energy that fills the world with motion and life-force.  And “resaru” arises from an equally fascinating cultural context.  It came to be typically translated as “chief,” but it refers to such ideas as “esteem” and “regal,” and it also obliquely invokes the celestial life-force as a creative divinity.  The philosophical context for “resaru” is that leaders of the earthly realm are supposed to emulate the divinities in the celestial universe; what happens in the heavens is to be echoed on earth.  To cultivate a disposition to benefit humankind, leaders should hold the meditative sense of these meanings at the center of their selfhood.  This traditional quality long ago guided Pawnee leadership.  A long ago understanding of resaru might loosely translate the term as “Regal Community Leader.”  But to reflect a wider circle of traditional meanings, we could speak of a more esoteric translation: “Sovereign With Divine Celestial Blessings.”  We can suggest that Rakawariresaru might best be translated as Ruler Roaming Under The Heavens.  In this case, both “ruler” and “awarii” connote movement in a straight line.  Along the way, the celestial realm resonates with the distant motions of stars and planets and the moon and the sun – sublime echoes flow down to all the living things that move across the earth, and we wish for mysterious heavenly powers to send us both dreams and stories.  Exploring the names held by Siriresaruku, we glimpse the occult ethic of leadership and selfhood that once shaped Pawneeland.  And through the 19th century, “Resaru” diminished in meaning, humbled from regal cosmic significance into the more mundane “Chief.”  And slowly Siriresaruku wandered in the world, the tall heir of a royal lineage of the South Band Pawnees.  Roaming across America, he sometimes posed for photos, and they called him the “Redskin Giant,” and they said he was six feet four inches… he was six feet eight inches… he was seven feet – they finally said he was over seven feet tall.  And in Pawneeland he bore his great names lightly under the heavens, and one day he related a story.  He told how the priest of a long ago ceremony spoke to the people, saying, “…our father stands before us clothed with power, sent down from the different gods in the heavens.”  And that priest of olden days told the people, “When we leave the lodge we shall go out as if born anew, then we shall pass around the north side of the village as children.  Then we shall pass around the south side as old men, and then we shall enter the lodge to show the people that we die again and are put under ground.”

Tilton Collection Photo Lot 89-8

Photo by Charles Carpenter, “Roan Chief,” 1904, National Anthropological Archives

When Elmer Echo Hawk Ran Away

Elmer Echo Hawk in the spring of 1918

Elmer Echo Hawk in the spring of 1918

Between 1880 and 1920 the first generation of Echo Hawk family members attended various race-based boarding schools in the United States.  Today we retain only random glimpses of what this experience meant in their lives.  But the social narratives that interpret the history of Indian boarding schools signify much in the contemporary practices of racial Indianhood.  Recounting tragic tales of Indian boarding schools, racial Indians want accountability for the wrongs of an assimilationist history, but they are really building public spaces for racial bonding.

This narrative is mythic; it is an origin story of pro-race pedagogy in the academic world.  Progressive white Americans of the late 19th century and early 20th century deployed race to encircle racial Indians as a group.  They then used the preferential ranking systems of racism to justify the imposition of their own value-driven notions of social engineering in Indian Country.  As a racially designated educational system, Indian boarding schools affirmed the defining status of race in Indian Country.

Race made life real in America.  Racial identity was not optional; it was inevitable.  For this reason, racial Indians responded to progressive white social engineering by embracing even tighter the clasp of race.  And race had a proven record of generating social power.  Perhaps this power could be useful to racial Indians in pro-race America.

Indians were expected to defer to the storytelling bestowed upon them by progressive white intellectuals.  But through the 20th century racial Indian storytelling about boarding schools took shape and gathered momentum.  These accounts questioned the social engineering devised by progressive whites – the thinking that built Indian boarding schools as a social project.  Pro-race Indian intellectuals took the empowering ingredients of racial bonding and crafted among themselves their own pro-race texts that justified an Indian racial bonding experience and validated the concurrent social polarization of race versus race in America.  Enjoined to embrace the American race project, racial Indian boarding school students set their feet upon many diverse paths in life.  But all these paths took them deep into the production of a pro-race narrative in the American social contract.

With the rise of racial Indian boarding schools, a ceaseless flowing of racial bonding reshaped public life and personal identity in racial Indian communities.  Racial bonding is useful as a practical source of social power when it establishes and exploits socially polarized racial oppositions.  But racial bonding always involves the escalation of rigidly polarized certainties about the nature of life and humanity, as well as a consequent diminishing of useful ambiguities about the nature of humankind.  In the history of race as an idea, the gathering of power through race always means that someone is about to get dehumanized.

Race was freely embraced throughout Indian Country.  It is also arguable that the promotion of race as a cultural system came at the expense of traditional lifeways, and that it is not coincidence that so many community cultural traditions withered among Indian tribes during this period.  Formal acts of white suppression of racial Indian lifeways were common in that time.  But Indians also made their own choices to selectively shape their lives and their cultural worlds.  Resenting the way race operated in their worlds, racial Indians nevertheless often made the choice to further the making of race.

The founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial Institute was Richard Henry Pratt.  Growing up in pro-race America during the mid-19th century, Pratt absorbed and completely accepted a dominant conception of race in his day.  This was the idea that the human universe of social circumstances could be sorted and ranked in comparative cultural terms.  Racial white people bestowed upon themselves a special status as inventers of superior “civilized” lifeways.  But they ranked the cultural productions of racial Indians as inferior, as “savage” lifeways.  Drawing from this view of culture, Pratt’s social project at Carlisle helped to perpetuate a stereotype of racial Indian cultures as primitive, trapped in an unsophisticated timeless stone-age past.  This portrayal lingers still in American society.

Pratt felt less amenable to a closely related major theme of raceology of the late 19th century.  This was the idea that inherent racial biological characteristics accounted for the human cultural spectrum, and that racial whites enjoyed biological advantages that racial Indians lacked.  In this model, racial Indians were a naturally doomed folk.  They were locked into inferior social circumstances, unable to ever escape their primitive savagery.  In the history of Anglo-American racialism, some practitioners of race-belief took this conception to mean that racial Indians could be categorized as subhuman or near subhuman, comparable to the Irish, ranked just above racial blacks.  Before Pratt’s birth in 1840, this interpretation of race helped to justify US Indian removal policies.

Pratt questioned this bioracial theory of human character.  His progressive view was that racial Indians had the intellectual and moral capacity to escape their impoverished cultural chains.  He set out to prove that racial Indians could usefully partake in the uplifting benefits of white civilization.  Founding Carlisle, Pratt successfully implemented a national education project to demonstrate that racial Indians were not intellectually limited by any biological imperative of racial inferiority.

Pratt’s agenda called for erasing racial Indian culture to facilitate assimilation into white America.  This pro-race project attracted wide support in American society because the Gilded Age idea of Americanization similarly promoted social conformity by calling for rigorous adherence to American mainstream culture for all immigrant groups.  This required acceptance of race as a belief system.  All would believe.  All would embrace the tenets of the American race project.

Pawnees of the early 19th century embraced race.  But this was necessarily a situational option of variable meaning – Pawnee identities remained centered on other non-racial social signifiers in the Pawnee world.  By the end of that century, however, belief in race was pervasive in Pawneeland.  Imported from Europe and the United States, race slowly became indigenous as pro-race Pawnee Indians became fully entangled in the American race project.

Race was not forced on the first generations of Pawnee boarding school students – their parents and grandparents handed down to them the basic tenets of racial Indianhood.  All the Pawnees of the late 19th century absorbed race from their new racial Indian neighbors in Oklahoma, from the rise of pan-Indian religious movements like the peyote religion, and from American boarding schools.  Racial Indianhood re-mythologized race and gave it a past, as if it had been invented in ancient times by Indian philosophers.  With this inheritance in hand, the first educated Pawnee Indians aimed at becoming literate in American culture, learning the narratives of racial identity that defined the American social contract.

Elmer Echo Hawk was a teenager when his father sent him to Carlisle Indian Industrial Institute.  There Elmer was a student from September 1907 to September 1910.  The sparse records of his performance in school indicate that he did well enough, with ratings of “good,” “very good,” and “excellent” in such categories as “Conduct” and “Scholarship.”  A story by Elmer, titled “The Horse and the Buffalo,” appeared in a 1908 school publication:

Pawnee Indian say that at night when the star are shining bright you can see two white lines cross the sky.  They say that is where the horse and buffalo had a race.  Indians say you can see lines which look like dust.  One line which buffalo made is shorter than the other one.  The shorter line was one made by buffalo and long one by the horse.  The horse beat the buffalo and that is why there are more horses than buffaloes.

The story is a variant of a Pawnee cosmogonical portrayal of the Milky Way and the mystery of human mortality.  Elmer’s mention of “two white lines” seems to reference the Pawnee name for the Milky Way.  It is notable that in this short text the word “Pawnee” appears once and the word “Indian” appears twice; by this time Elmer was a committed practitioner of race.  The story sounds like an ancient Pawnee tradition, but in moving from a meditation on life and death to a race between a horse and a buffalo, the story has been adapted to appeal to a racial Indian audience.

These sparse surviving records of Elmer’s life at Carlisle seem to point to a positive and constructive experience for Elmer at boarding school.  But school records also list Elmer as a “deserter” who “ran” in July 1909.  The details of this incident are not known.  It occurred during his annual summer “outing” when he stayed with a local household – in this case, a man named John Philips of Titusville, New Jersey.  So Elmer did not escape from Carlisle Institute; instead, he “deserted” from his assigned summer job.

After leaving Carlisle in September 1910, Elmer briefly worked as a tailor in Oklahoma City.  There he married Alice Jake on September 21, 1910.  Their first child was a daughter named Minnie, born July 29, 1911.  According to family tradition, the next year Elmer paid a man to build a house south of the town of Pawnee on several hundred acres of land, where he raised poultry and owned horses and farmed.

Elmer Echo Hawk household

In the summer of 1912 Elmer obtained a photograph of his new home and family and he sent it to Carlisle.  The photo shows Elmer, Alice, and Minnie, and another young man standing nearby – this was probably Elmer’s brother, George Echo Hawk, who was age 12 in the summer of 1912.  The accompanying letter is signed “Elmer Echohawk” (in 1924 and 1929 he signed his name as “Elmer Echo Hawk”).


The fact that Elmer took the time to send his school this photograph seems to indicate that he did not feel particularly resentful or bitter about his experiences at Carlisle.  Elmer passed down into family tradition just a few glimpses of his experiences at Carlisle.  Elmer’s wife, Alice Jake, also attended Carlisle – her oldest son told me in 1982, “She said that she enjoyed the East and its culture.”  There were surely some unpleasant experiences for both Elmer and Alice, but family tradition preserves very little, either good or bad, of those days.  The full narrative of their lives, as it was handed down to me, appears below.

Elmer Echo Hawk and Alice Jake Echo Hawk

Told by Owen Echo-Hawk Sr to Roger Echo-Hawk, January 2, 1982

My dad was born in 1892
and he went to Indian school here
in Pawnee
and he went to Carlisle
where he was a schoolmate
and friend of Jim Thorpe, the famous athlete.
Elmer himself
was one of the best ice-skaters at Carlisle.
He used to talk about an incident
where he and several of his friends
swam across the Susquehanna River
just having fun
and the white people marveled at the sight
because nobody had ever done that.

Elmer joined the US Army during World War One
a division or regiment
called the “Cactus” division, possibly the 101st
Texas division.  They would form up
in the shape of a cactus
and stick their bayonets out to look like thorns.
They were getting ready to go to Europe
when the war ended
and Elmer fell sick
as they were preparing to go
so he did get a pension.
During the lean years of the Depression
we lived on that pension.

Elmer also farmed his place
and he was a good farmer.
he was a good hustler
all the way through the Depression.
He was a gambler
and he would be gone and he would come back
with money.
He got thrown in jail for bootlegging.
He was a real hustler!

Elmer Echo Hawk

He was also mean
and he didn’t care much for white people.
He’d fight them at the drop of a hat.
One time in Pawnee
he whipped the city marshal.
Elmer said to him: “I can whip you
if you take off that star.”
The guy said, well okay
and he took off his star
and dad whipped that marshal
causing him to lose his job or something.
Elmer used to get in fights quite often
with the city police force.
Whenever he started acting up
none of them would take him on alone
they would call for help.

An old lady used to live around here.
She saw Elmer fighting
in the courtyard with three policemen.
She told my mother, Alice,
and I was there
She saw him fighting
there in the courtyard.
They kept hitting him in the head with clubs
but they couldn’t knock him down
and he was knocking them down.  One of them
would come up behind
and hit Elmer on the head and he would turn
and go after him.  She said
Elmer about went crazy!
Foam even came out of his mouth.
They finally got him down
and hauled him off to jail.
The old lady told my mother,
“One thing about that family
the Echo Hawks
they are blessed by what we might call a ‘crazy wolf.’
Things like that you just can’t kill or subdue
very easily.  These people have that power.”

One time a man was visiting George Echo Hawk
here Out West,
and he said to George
“The thing about your brother, Elmer
was that he was fearless.”
The man told this story, he said

All of us Indian guys
were sitting on the chutes.
Some white guy came out there
about half-drunk, he said
“I got to whip me an Indian today.
I have to whip me an Indian.
It don’t make any difference
which one!”
So he went down the line of those guys
sitting there on the rails.
Elmer was last and he jumped down
and was waiting when the white man got there.
The man said,
“I’m going to whip me an Indian!”
Just as he said that
Elmer flew into him.
They rolled around & everything
and by the time it ended
your brother was up
& the white guy was crawling off
with Elmer kicking him
in the butt & ribs
and the guy was hurrying to crawl
into the chutes where they kept the horses.
All the other white guys
were yelling at the man: “Go ahead
get yourself an Indian!  Whip him!  There he is!”

Elmer was a pretty rugged character
until the last ten years
of his life.
He went to Arkansas City and the doctors
told him he had Bright’s Disease
or something like that
a terminal illness.
They told him to go home and die.

There used to be an old man around here
Old Man White Owl.
White Owl told me
he watched Elmer go around
trying to get well.
White Owl finally went up to Elmer and said
“Now you’ve tried everything.
I want you to follow me
and see what we can do for you.”
So Elmer became a peyote man.
He quit drinking and didn’t
run around anymore and raise hell.
He became a good beadworker
after he settled down.

When Elmer died in 1942
he had the name “Big Crow,” the name
I now have: “Kaka Rarihuru” or “The Big Crow.”
He took that name
after my grandpa Echo Hawk died.
He took it
because he was the oldest son.
The old people say
it is a respected name in the tribe.
Before that Elmer had another name
right after he got married
his name was “Siriritawi”
which means “They All Know Him.”
And when Elmer was younger
his name was “Tawihisi”
or Head of the Group.
I remember my mother had some relatives, old ladies
and they used to call him by that name.
I wondered about it.
So I asked them and they said
“Well, that was Elmer’s name
when he was younger
about 18.”

My mother was Alice Jake.
She was from Pitahawirata, East Band.
She had a lot of relatives out there
but only one close relative, a sister.
When this sister died
she was married
to Henry Shooter.
None of her descendants are living today.
My mother was the younger sister
and she took it pretty hard
when her sister died.  According to the old ways
women showed they were in mourning
by cutting a patch of hair short
where a man’s scalplock would be.
If you saw a woman
with a circular patch like that in her hair
you knew not to joke with them or talk to them.
Alice did that when her sister died.

Alice’s mother had died when she was just a little girl
and she was raised by older relatives.
She also attended Carlisle
and finished 8th grade
which was equivalent
to our high school.
She stayed with a Dutch family
for a couple summers
in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
When I was growing up
my mother used to write letters to one of her teachers.
Alice was well-versed in New England poetry:
Hawthorne, Longfellow, Whittier, Whitman.
She said that she enjoyed the East and its culture.

My mother also respected the Pawnee way of living.
During the winters
she used to tell stories
about the women’s side
of tribal life.
I remember she told about Old Lady High Eagle
and her Pawnee pottery.
Immediately after High Eagle died
someone went down into their cellar
and stole their pottery.
This pottery had been made in Nebraska
long before
and her family had brought it down from there.
When it was stolen
the old lady suspected some white people.

Alice was a pious woman.
She could quote the Bible
at length.  In the spring
when she planted her garden
she would offer a prayer
for every seed.  When the first fruits appeared
she would take us out
and go around and pray and bless
each one of us – especially when the corn came up.

She had a lot of patience.
I don’t understand how she managed
to get along with my father
but she always said
he was a good provider.
Sometime around 1930
she died of pneumonia
still young.

I was born June 26, 1914
Crip, July 17, 1917;
Delray, May 1, 1920
Brummett was the youngest,
March 1, 1923.
My mother said she had a child
before me
a girl who died in infancy.

Elmer Echo Hawk household, summer 1912

Elmer Echo Hawk household, summer 1912

Our Origin Stories

When we Pawnees ponder the origin stories that shape life today, what do we ponder?  To understand the contemporary Pawnee world, I think we should look at the cultural narratives that actually empower and explain the daily circumstances that the Pawnee people value – the unifying narratives of our time.

It is my contention that the pre-American ideological structures that long ago shaped Pawnee life have gotten displaced by the origin stories of racial Indianhood, Americanization, Christianity, and secular science.  The narratives that advance these cultural systems are the origin stories that matter today in Pawneeland.

The Pawnees today are Americans – many are very patriotic Americans.  A likely majority of Pawnees today are Christian.  A likely majority accept the fundamental tenets of science.  And as far as I know, every Pawnee except one identifies as a racial Indian.  Americanization and race most broadly define Pawnee identity today because these entwined ideas are so pervasive as a condition of both social and personal identity in Pawneeland.

For the Pawnee people, these are new ideas about selfhood and the world.  The roots are long for some of these changes, but they eventually became established in Pawneeland and together formulated the basic notions that Pawnees today accept about the cosmos.  More traditional Pawnee ideas didn’t entirely vanish; some aspects of traditional ideology fused with the new.  And some traditional ideas continue to shape selfhood for many Pawnees.

But the basic foundations of traditional Pawnee identity systems have slowly eroded and have been toppling for generations into a future that no Pawnee living in 1750 could ever imagine.  In just a few short generations from that date, a massive remaking of Pawnee culture occurred.

The door for these changes opened with the coming of race into Pawneeland.  This was the first ideological import from Europe that the Pawnees embraced.  The idea of being “Indian” was not forced on the Pawnees; the Pawnees enthusiastically embraced race.  The origin stories of race became so powerfully integrated into Pawnee lifeways that Pawnees today treat racial Indianhood as an artifact of selfhood born in time immemorial.

The integration of Pawnee political structures into the American system occurred through the treaty-making period of the 1800s.  Trade and military alliance concerns brought Pawnee leaders to accept entry into the American empire.  Having already embraced the tenets of race, the Pawnee Confederacy found it perfectly acceptable to become a federally recognized Indian tribe in the pro-race American system of governance.

The third sweeping cultural change came with Christianity during the late 1800s.  It is arguable that some younger Pawnees of that time had little choice about accepting Christianity, but all Pawnee Christians today are Christian by choice.

The origin stories of science arose in Pawneeland as Pawnees attended schools and colleges during the 20th century.  But Pawnees today – like all Americans – have a choice about how and when to embrace the tenets of modern science.

These four ideological super-structures powerfully shape the Pawnee world today.  None are unique to Pawnee culture.  I would argue that those ideas which are truly “unique” to Pawnee culture today are emblems of identity that Pawnees greatly treasure, but are ideas that have been assimilated into one or more of these other vast conceptual frameworks.  (To illustrate: Pawnees used to get names; now we get “Indian names.”)

Pawnee identity today is highly contingent upon cultural systems that are not by any stretch of the imagination “Pawnee” in nature.  But to what degree has this observation always been true of “Pawnee” culture?

Pawneeland is a frame of mind.  It is an inherently multidimensional frame of mind that has taken shape through the visible and invisible processes of history, and there’s nothing simple about it.  It is arguable that other cultural systems have just as much importance to Pawnee life as the ones I have discussed here.  But these four systems of culture nevertheless sit at the center of the Pawnee world today.

I do not regard the analysis above as truly debatable in any useful substantive way.  In my view, these four circumstances do shape the Pawnee world.  But the act of imagining Pawnee selfhood ought to also permit the coexistence of both complexity and ambiguity.  The complexity is self-evident, but discerning relevant ambiguities – and what they mean – can be a very personal enterprise.

With both complexity and ambiguity helping to shape the story of Pawneeland, we have access to diverse ways of being ourselves.  In the end, if we wish to know ourselves, we must look for the actual paths of selfhood that unfold beneath our feet.  This will help each of us to see better where we might wish to go.

Symbols of Pawnee Selfhood