Pay to Play Indian

Did you know there was a time when you could pay to be Indian? I’m not sure about the reliability of this information but it has become a common meme about pretend Indians (“pretendians”). 

It may be fashionable to play Indian now, but it was also trendy 125 years ago when people paid $5 apiece for falsified documents declaring them Native on the Dawes Rolls.

The Dawes Rolls were designed to be a definitive citizenship list for the Five Civilized Tribes (Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole). When the rolls became final the lands held by the tribes were to be divided among tribal citizens. Become an Indian, get some land.

‘What we had was simply white people claiming to be Indian,’ [Gregory Smithers] said. ‘They were early wannabes, just like we have today. Five-dollar Indian is just another term for that.’

The Lament of the Swan

The Lament of the Swan
Planctus Cygni
Anon, French, 9th century

Clangam, filii
Ploratione una

Alitis cygni,
Qui transfretavit aequora.
O quam amare
Lamentabatur, aridaSe dereliquisse
Et petisse alta
Ajens: ‘Infelix sum
Heu mihi, quid agam
Misera?Pennis soluta
Lucida non potero
Hic in stilla.
Undis quatior,
Hinc inde nunc allidor

Angor inter arta
Gurgitum cacumina.
Gemens alatizo
Intuens mortifera,
Non conscendens supera.
Cernens copiosa
Piscium legumina,
Non queo in denso
Gurgitum assumere
Alimenta optima.

Ortus, occasus,
Plagae poli,
Lucida sidera.
Nubes occiduas.’

Dum haec cogitarem tacita,
Venit rutila
adminicula aurora.
Oppitulata afflamine
Coepit virium
Recuperare fortia.

Jam agebatur
Inter alta
Et consueta nubium
Ac jucundata,
Nimis facta,
Penetrabatur marium

Dulcimode cantitans
Volitavit ad amoena
Concurrite omnia
Alitum et conclamate

Regi magno
Sit gloria.

O children, I shall sing
a lamentation

of a winged swan
which crossed the great waters.
O how bitterly
it lamented,having relinquished
the dry flowery land
and sought the high
crying: ‘Unhappy
small bird that I am,
alas, what may I do
in my misery?I cannot now
rest on my wings
all brightness dissolves
in the rain.
I am shaken by the waves,
buffet me hither and thither
an exile.

I am narrowly enclosed within
the canyons of the great waves.
Crying, my wings beat,
considering death,
not mounting above it.
I see abundant
good food for the fishes,
But I may not, in the deep
whirlpools, gather
this delicate food.

O East, O West,
O the regions of the poles,
give to me
the brightness of the stars;
demand of
that they flee and be forgotten,
these destroying clouds.’

While the bird fell silent, thinking on these things
Came the first blush of
rescuing dawn.
A whispering breeze assisted,
the bird received strength
and recovered more strongly.

now it was carried
among the high
familiar crowd
of stars.
and joyous
beyond measure,
it passed through the
streams of the seas.

Singing very sweetly
it flew to to the pleasant
dry land.
Join together, all
winged creatures, and sing together
all of you:

To the mighty King
be glory.

Translation by Kate Brown with the help of Isobel Preece