The Soldiers' Council
Dennis Boyer's Introduction
Soldier ghosts are widespread in American folklore. Reports on such
ghosts start with the French and Indian War and continue up to today.
Wisconsin is home to a number of military ghosts stemming from the War
of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and the Civil War. We also know from the
Sioux warriors of Strawberry Island that battles in Wisconsin left ghost casualties.
The warrior, the soldier, and the veteran all occupy an unusual niche
in American Indian culture. There is a sense of dignity and honor that
seems unconnected to nationalism and politics. Visitors to powwows soon
discover that powwow grand entries are led by veterans, that there are
special veteran songs and dances, and that only veterans can recover
fallen eagle feathers.
In a way it is not surprising that an American Indian soldier's ghost
story would be told at a powwow. It is even less surprising that it
would be told at a Lac Courte Oreilles powwow. "LCO" is vlewed by many
Ojibwe as the current center of Anishinabe culture.
The setting is the center drum arbor on the powwow grounds. It is
morning and the air is laced with the smells of coffee and fry bread. A
small group is gathered to listen to an Ojibwe World War Two veteran.
He talks generally of the soldier's proper role in a community. Then
Leman surprises them with a ghost story and a prophecy.
The Story From Leman
Our warriors of the past are still with us. Our passed away veterans
seem drawn to this powwow ground. I've known that for years and heard
the older veterans-the World War One fellows-talk about things like
that. They recalled that the old warrior ghosts were right there with
them in the trenches in France.
The old fellows called these ghost gatherings the soldiers' council.
The ghost veterans would try to lend their expertise to their
descendants. This council is made up of our best fighters. And I don't
just mean from here at LCO. I mean from all Anishinabe. From the
Canadian tribes, the Three Fires, and the Cree and the Cheyenne.
They are veterans of all the wars. The ancient ones and the modern
ones. From the earliest warriors fighting the windigos, to the
doorgunners on helicopters. The council even includes Mudjik'wiss, the
first son of our people. Son of Winona and Grandson of Nokornis.
Mudjik'wiss was our first warrior, the first of our people to make sure
that the villages were kept safe.
You must seek direction from the old ones like Mudjik'wiss if you want
to understand what it is to be an Ojibwe man. There is more to this
than war and fighting. It is about respect. Respect for the earth, for
your people, for your leaders, and for your comrades.
When I have been allowed to listen in the soldiers' council in a vision
or a dream or when their ghosts have come here, I learn that the
warrior's greatest task is to learn how to seek peace. These spirits
tell me that there is much honor in protecting and serving our people.
But their wisdom also tells us that much fighting comes from pride and
These spirits are powerful here in this place. But you can call on them
anywhere. Call them in prayer. Offer tobacco. Or hold your eagle
feather. You can seek their counsel to help with the questions you face
as men. We Anishinabe and other native people have ways to help our
veterans and our soldiers. To help them heal and make them whole. The
Europeans and others don't.
The warrior spirits tell us that war is an imbalance in the creation.
It is not what the Creator wants. So no matter how just the cause or
how much honor is found in protecting the people, there is a need to
bring the warrior back to harmony and balance. ~
When a war is done there are dead and disabled. There are widows and
fatherless children. There are insane people and drunks and drug
addicts. Sometimes even the earth itself is wounded.
I have learned from these warrior spirits in this soldiers' council
that the Anishinabe people were given by the Creator the main things we
need to help bring back harmony and balance. We have the medicine
lodge, the pipe, and the drum. The stories of our people tell us how
these gifts of the Creator were given to us. But the warrior spirits
can tell you how to use these gifts for strength, healing, and
When you go into the sweat lodge, go with a pure heart. Ask the lodge
conductor to help you with your prayers. Let him know what questions
you seek answers to or what kind of help you need. In this way you may
come to see the warrior spirits yourself or someone else in the lodge
may see them for you. You can use tobacco and the pipe to draw on the
warrior spirits' knowledge. Many of the pipe carriers are veterans who
are on the right path. Remember that the rising smoke carries the
The drum is used sacredly to ask permission for things. You can ask the
warrior spirits for things this way too. The drums also are used to
honor veterans. They are used for the dances that show the continued
strength of the Anishinabe.
When I see these warrior spirits in their soldiers' council it is not a
scary thing. They sit in a circle as equals. They wear their best
ceremonial clothes. Most of them have many eagle feathers. Many are
from long ago. Some like Mudjik'wiss are from the beginning of our
people. These spirits are here for us. To help us learn to protect the
people and protect the earth. Draw on their strength. Draw on their
Bad times are coming. Our people will need wise and strong leaders when
they come. Families will need strong husbands and fathers. Strong, but
wise and loving, too. In the bad times there will be a rising of evil
spirits to help the evil living people. The evil spirits will come to
push greed, disrespect for the Creator, and hatred of the people who
love the Earth.
There will be a final battle of good and evil. The evil spirits and the
living evil people will fight the good spirits and the good living
people. It will be a very dangerous time and it will test us and all
earthloving people like never before. It may not be exactly like a war.
It may be something else, something worse.
But if we make it through, there'll be a good world to live in. A
cleansed world like the Creator made in the first place. I know these
things from the warrior spirits. A-ho. It is good that you listen to
them. Meeg-witch. ("Meeg-witch" means "Thank You" in Ojibwe)
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