Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hennepin's First Impressions of the Dakota

When Father Louis Hennepin first journeyed up the great Mississippi in spring of the year 1680, his discovery of the "strange tribes" of the Dakota, (or who he called shortly-put "Sioux"), halted any previous assumptions made of the Indian people in the Louisiana territory. Instead of the openly friendly, war shelter-seeking people of the Illinois and Miami, he stumbled upon an unruly bunch of loving but closed people who burst at the seams with emotion.

As Hennepin was willing but still unable to decipher the new tone of the people of current-day Minnesota, he was reduced to complete subservience to the Dakota, and in some cases, even captivity. This subservience demonstrated the quick reversal of fate for the once tribe-controlling "gray robe".

However, despite the multiple occassions upon journeying up the Mississippi where he almost became a sacrifice and roadkill for an intensely spiritual clan, Hennepin managed to survive. The Dakota even refused to allow Hennepin to whisper prayers, well-knowing the spiritual power of such actions, and remained highly suspicious of the Frenchmen's activities. Hennepin's attempts to sneak into the forests for refuge for seeking the Lord's blessings even brought more hostile and deprivatory actions on account of the Dakota.

Yet, despite the hardships Hennepin had to endure, and the privation he survived, the Dakota knew best for his own well-being. In completely taking the Franciscan into their care, they were imparting their own America into his, often without his recognition.

But Hennepin remained highly praiseworthy of the Dakota and wrote copiously on their ways. Hennepin describes the deep sorrow in which the Dakota chief, Aquipaguetin, would wring his hands upon Hennepin's head, sobbing uncontrollably, wailing unto the sky. There are further accounts of the preparations of the Dakota, the immersion in which they rubbed themselves with bear and buffalo fat. Their spiritual and ritualistic moments are noted as death ceremonies and customs would extend weeks even years in the case of Aquipaguetin's slain son-warrior. But, sure enough their swift and speedy canoes as well as their ability to launch attack on unsuspecting riverside prairie buffalo exhibited the Dakota's forthright meaning of existence. The industry of the Dakota puzzled and amazed Hennepin at the same time. And while he remained unaware of the reasoning behind such customs, Hennepin would sojourn forward with his often retalitory hosts until real captivity would find Hennepin upon Mille Lacs Lake in north-central Minnesota.

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