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February 1: A Visit to an Indian Council

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This month in 1891, “The Student,” the monthly student publication of the University of North Dakota, printed this story:

“We had visited the soldiers' quarters, wandered around where the soldiers parade, and even visited the store, which is just outside the fort. Then longing for new fields to conquer we wondered what we should do next. At length someone suggested that we visit the Council Room of the Indians, and having learned that they were holding a council that afternoon, we sallied forth.

“The walk was a short one, but it seemed long in the scorching heat of the sun. The room in which the Indians were assembled was on the second floor of a large frame building. We reached the room by means of stairs built on the outside of the building. These stairs were lined with Indians, probably too young to take any part in the questions of the day. They made way for us to pass, uttering the peculiar guttural 'How!' the all expressive word of salute and welcome.

“As we entered the door we were nearly suffocated by the fumes of tobacco that filled the room. At the other end of the large room we were given seats on a long bench. We then noticed the other occupants…. Near us sat the Indian Agent and two soldiers. With these exceptions, we were the only palefaces. Around three sides of the room the Indians were seated, tailor fashion. Several pipes of curious manufacture were being passed around, from which each one took a whiff and passed the pipe to his neighbor, We were informed that they were smoking the pipe of peace.

“Then our attention was attracted by a tall brave who occupied the middle of the room and seemed to be the orator of the day. … He was speaking in a language unknown to us, but the words fell from his lips so smoothly and were so musical, that we longed to become masters of the mysterious language...”

Despite the rampant stereotyping from that era, these UND students greatly admired the sound of the language. Their understandable curiosity stood in stark contrast to contemporary federal policy, which sought to destroy indigenous languages.

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel


  • “A VISIT TO AN INDIAN COUNCIL”, The Student (Grand Forks: University of North Dakota, February 1891, pages 6-7.
  • Richard Henry Pratt, “BATTLEFIELD AND CLASSROOM: Four Decades with the American Indian, 1867-1904” (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1964), page 269.
  • Brigadier General Richard Henry Pratt, “The Carlisle Indian Industrial School: Its Origin, Purposes, Progress and the Difficulties Surmounted” (Carlisle, PA: Hamilton Library Association, 1908), page 23.
  • Carlisle Indian School was founded in 1879.
  • Ibid., title page and page 16.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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