Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dakota Brave

Father Hennepin was a helpless prisoner. Running up the Mississippi into central Minnesota, he was dragged through swamps hardly standing, beaten by rogue Dakota ruffians and fed scraps of meat rarely on days, if any at all.

Upon reaching Lake Mille Lacs area, Hennepin was greeted by an old man and "weeping bitterly, hje rubbed my head and arms seeing me so tired" (107). Unable to help himself, Hennepin recalled that "I was so weak that I often lay down on the way, determined to remain there to die rather than follow these Indians who kept walking at a speed far beyond the strength of Europeans" (104). His experience in a sweat lodge to expel body fluids served as a cure. Losing his robes, Hennepin faced shame and humility until he learned the hot stone glare in a buffalo-hide covered tent.

But, Dakota affection was not to be lost. They smoked Hennepin's prized tobacco and admired his compass for its technologically mystical powers. Even more gratifying was the Dakota's realization of the symbolic intellect as an extension of man. As was ritual, Louis was often cordially greeted with the camulet, offered as a smoke. Solidarity and confidence stood in such an exchange. Far from the lifestyle trappings of France, Hennepin learned from the Dakota and grew to love and respect Chief Aquipaguetin and the members of the Dakota near the great waterfall, St. Anthony of Padua.

Hennepin's debout nature shines through his accounts. One of his most stirring descriptions involves the first Dakota child he baptized. However, while the Sioux acknowledged Father Hennepin's dedicated faith, they did not necessarily agree with it. The Dakota even at the point of execution, forbade it upon his arrival to the clan. One instance, while attempting to pray, Hennepin noticed that "when they saw my lips move, several of them said to me in an ugly tone, Ouackanche" (96). Hennepin would eventually disover that word symbolized a "bad spirit".

However out of control his destiny was among the Dakota, Hennepin (along with French scouters Michel Ako and Picard du Gay), were scooting their own trip in the spring down the Mississippi to the Wisconsin River to redezvous with other Frenchmen, notable representatives of the explorer LaSalle. Presenting the location as a hunting spot for Aquipaguetin's people, Hennepin believe his suggestion would form an agreeable solution. However, revealing Hennepin's naiiviety, the request was easily an affront to the Siouans who usually headed 200 miles west to hunt the ever-abundant Plains buffalo. Not only did Hennepin not think of the tribal practices, but also disregarded the spiritual importance of the early summer buffalo hunt. Nonetheless, Aquipaguetin sent 250 warriors with Hennepin down the river. Becoming more of a nuisance than a help, Hennepin spent the hunt in peril, he stayed by the river while the braves went to game. It was later discovered another Dakota group which went west "killed up to 120 buffaloes at various times" (122). Yet, no emissary of LaSalle was found and they returned up the Wisconsin River back to the Hiawakthpa.

Hennepin later left the Dakota in fall of 1681, ultimately returning a year later to France where he wrote the novel Description of Louisiana. While at not all times he understood the lessons taught, he remained capable of growth and reconciliation. His deeds, show a man of great care. In return, the Dakota presented the Frenchman with a spiritual piece of their own lives. For a moment, benefactors were both of the worlds, and the sun and snow alternated their contrasts of eternal woe.

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