- The Assassination of Hole in the Day
Throughout the middle years of the nineteenth century, the Ojibwes in Minnesota endured numerous challenges and changes to their traditional way of life. A variety of outside influences, including traders, merchants, missionaries, and the US government, forced the Ojibwes to adapt. This nearly constant state of flux also allowed some Ojibwes to take advantage of the situation to gain more control and more power over their neighbors.
The Assassination of Hole in the Day vividly illustrates the changes that took place among the Minnesota Ojibwes between the 1830s and the 1860s. Anton Treuer, professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University and author of numerous works on the Ojibwes, uses the examples of Hole in the Day (Bagone-giizhig) the Elder and his son, Hole in the Day the Younger, to explain how these two men were able to change the role of power and leadership in their communities. Many of the changes they helped usher in benefited them individually rather than the people they claimed to lead. [End Page 389]
Traditionally, leadership among the Ojibwes was clan-based and hereditary. Furthermore, there were lines drawn between military, civil, and religious leaders. As the nineteenth century progressed, the author points out, not only were these lines muddied, but also the clan system stopped being the most important aspect of who was to lead. Both Hole in the Day the Elder and the Younger took advantage of these changes to rise to power, although it is important to note that both men encountered stiff resistance to their claims of leadership. Furthermore, both men claimed to represent geographical regions, whereas previously, someone only claimed leadership to a specific community.
Treuer carefully explains how the two men were able to circumvent traditional power structures to gain positions of leadership. For example, all of the sources indicate that both men had well-developed powers of persuasion: “Bagone-giizhig was powerful, in part, because he was perceived to be powerful” (76). As those powers more fully developed, Hole in the Day the Elder basically invented the position of chief of the Ojibwe Indians, although no such position existed traditionally. He passed this position to his son upon his death in 1847.
After he assumed leadership of the Ojibwes, Hole in the Day the Younger made many enemies. His father did not have a wholly secure grip on his claim to leadership, and his son never would either. However, it appears that the son surpassed his father regarding powers of persuasion, fame, and influence. One way he attempted to secure his position was in the way he dressed. Treuer includes photographs of Hole in the Day that show a man wearing items that encompassed all aspects of Ojibwe leadership—religious, military, and civil. If someone encountering Hole in the Day the Younger did not know better, he or she would automatically assume that Hole in the Day the Younger had great power. As his tenure in a position of leadership progressed, Treuer notes, that would have been a correct assumption.
Hole in the Day the Younger immediately set out to establish the legitimacy of his power and leadership not only to other Ojibwes but to the American government as well. As Treuer describes throughout the book, it was his interactions with the government that eventually earned Hole in the Day the Younger so many enemies that they eventually carried out a plot to assassinate him. He consistently used treaties with the US government to improve his life, and he went too far during an 1867 treaty by adding a provision that he and his heirs receive a one-thousand-dollar stipend annually. Furthermore, he added to his growing feud with merchants and traders, the majority being of mixed white and Indian heritage. Hole in the Day the Younger stipulated in the same 1867 treaty that mixed-blood and “half-breed” people could receive no money from annuity people unless they actually lived on a reservation. This was an obvious slap...