Skyteller coming to the Village

We are welcoming Skyteller Lynn Maroney to the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village on September 24th at 7:00 pm.  What an exciting evening this will be!

Lynn grew up in Oklahoma, a child of Chickasaw ancestry.  Many evenings were spent gazing in wonder at the stars and constellations as they glided across the evening skies.  She learned the Greco-Roman stories behind the constellations but it was the legends of her own people that brought her to the path she follows today.

Lynn has learned the stories of indigenous people from all over the world and, for the last 30 years, has shared them with children of all ages.  She has performed all over the United States, from the Smithsonian in Washington, DC to the Academy of Science in San Fransisco, California.   A citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Lynn’s Native American ancestry and pioneer roots are deeply woven into her stories.

Lynn has also conducted workshops for NASA Outreach, the Lunar and Planetary Institute, the International Planetarium Society, and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Local astronomy clubs will bring their telescopes to this event to share with visitors the wonders of the night sky.  This is going to be one spectacular evening!

For more information please call us at 605-996-5473.  Admission to this special event is just $5 for children, $8 for seniors, $10 for adults.  Group discounts are available.  We’ll have refreshments by the fire pit!

Where are the Teepees?

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I have been working with Native Americans in the tourism industry for two decades.  My first forays in this industry were in South Florida, home of the Miccosukee and Seminole people.  Today I work at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village in South Dakota, where the ancestors of the Mandan people lived.  Despite the huge geographical gap, there is similarity to how visitors imagine how these tribes may have lived.

The Miccosukee and the Seminole were originally from the area that became Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.  Pushed south by their enemies, they ultimately settled in the sub-tropical wilderness of the Florida Everglades.  They built simple houses, called chickees, on the teardrop shaped islands, or hammocks, on the River of Grass.  The chickees were open-sided homes with a palm thatch roof.  Beds and seating were elevated above the ground, a fire was in the center of the structure.  Temporary walls could be dropped when the weather got cold – a rare occurrence – or when foul weather threatened.

Everglades Chickee

The people who lived on the northern plains lived in lodges similar to the chickees of the Everglades Indians.  The walls were  permanent, however, made of daub, a mixture of mud, grasses and sticks, which hardened from the heat of the hearth fire.  The roof was made of sod.  One bed would be placed close to the fire in the lodge, reserved for a revered elder.  Everyone else slept on the ground, presumably on bison hides.These homes, like those of the Miccosukee and Seminole, were well adapted to the climate in which these people lived.

Full-scale replica of a lodge at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village

When we welcome to visitors to these sites, quite often the first question asked is “where are the teepees?”.  Literature, movies, and other media depict the First Americans as proud horsepeople who lived in great teepees.  Our visitors are always surprised to learn that teepees are a relatively recent building construction and did not come about until the horse was introduced to the First Americans.  Then, only a few tribes, most notably the Sioux tribes, used the teepee.  The horse enabled the nomadic Sioux to move about the Plains in search of the great herds of bison.

Most Native Americans did not live in teepees.  Their houses came in all shapes and sizes, from the simple iglu of the Inuit to the beautiful plank houses of the Chinook.  It becomes our responsibility to teach our visitors the ways in which these people lived.

A Story of Corn (or A Corny Story)

Corn is such an important part of our daily lives; we eat it, feed it to livestock, make fuel and oil from it;  it is a substance in plastics, papers, medicines and many, many other everyday products.  We forget its humble beginnings.

Primitive corn (Image from the University of Illinois)

Corn is a tropical plant, first domesticated about 7,000 years ago in what is now central Mexico.  The early domesticated corn looked much different from those giant cobs we enjoy on the 4th of July.  Small grassy seed heads fed countless people in Mesoamerica as the domesticated corn traveled from central Mexico to as far south as Peru and to the southwestern part of North America.  And, there it remained for thousands of years.

Just over a thousand years ago, Woodland Indians from the Ohio River Valley began to migrate west and north, following the great rivers through the plains.  They brought corn with them and settled along a small creek in what is now South Dakota.  Prior to their arrival at this location, corn did not grow much farther north than Missouri.  These people, the ancestors of the Mandan Indians, were able to do something that modern science has not improved upon: they were able to take this wonderful tropical food plant and adapt it to the very short growing season of the upper plains.  By the time Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World in the late 1400s, corn was growing as far north as southern Canada.

Although the inhabitants of the Prehistoric Indian Village had been able to adapt the corn to grow here, it was still quite small.  And that is what makes this story all the more impressive.  At any given time during the history of this village, there were up to 200 people living here relying on just a few basic food sources.  Hunters brought in game such as deer, bison, birds and fish.  The farmers raised several crops: beans, squash, sunflower, amaranth and, most importantly, corn.  The corn ears were not much bigger than a man’s thumb, yet these people had to raise enough to sustain them until the following year’s harvest.

This story, then, becomes one of not just a people who were able to develop a corn that would grow in such a short growing season but of a people who were growing corn and other crops on such a large scale that they could not be called “primitive” farmers.  While they did succeed for a time, ultimately they were forced to move on, perhaps after depleting this area of natural resources.

Why We Do What We Do

Enjoying an Evening of Storytelling and Friendship with Jerome Kills Small on the banks of Lake Mitchell at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.

This past weekend, my family and I traveled to Nebraska to visit the Ashfall Fossil Bed State Park.  What an amazing site.  Very similar in ideals to our own Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.  Located out in the middle of nowhere we were surprised to find it, much less to find as many people visiting it as there were on that very warm sunny Sunday afternoon.  I met with the founding paleontologist, Mike Voorhies, and the park’s superintendent, Rick Otto.  We shared stories of museum life and the trials of raising funds.  I had wanted to see how Ashfall succeeded since they are a State Park.  I learned that while Nebraska owns the land and the park it does not fund the park.  Much like the Prehistoric Indian Village: the City of Mitchell  owns the land, which is a designated National Landmark and National Historic Site, but does not fund the Indian Village.  We have to raise the funds ourselves to keep the doors open.  Why, then, are we all doing this?

Here at the Indian Village, we offer school groups and other groups an incomparable experience in learning about our distant past – one that is not taught in the schools.  Community programs, such as our recent Evening of Storytelling and Friendship and our upcoming Skytelling Evening, bring inexpensive and unique entertainment and Native culture to the residents of our community.  It is, however, an ongoing struggle to raise funds for these community events.  The events themselves are not designed to raise money but to raise community awareness; they are for the community to enjoy.  When the community enjoys what we do, they support us in our endeavors.  Most importantly, though, when the community enjoys what we do, we want to do more for the community.  It is the same for all other regional and small museums.

Not everyone can be a “Fairy Godmother” for their community museum.  But everyone can show their support just by visiting the museum, showing it to visiting friends and relatives, attending the unique special events and, if the community museum has a membership plan such as ours does, join the museum to show continued support.  A little from many will go a long way!

Paleoindian Artifact Found at Prehistoric Indian Village

Archaeologists working at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village last month uncovered an intriguing find, a Paleoindian point believed to be between 7,500 and 8,000 years old.  According to Dr. Adrien Hannus, principal archaeologist at the Village and director of the Archeology Laboratory at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, it is infrequent that such an old artifact would be recovered from a more recent site. The Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is 1,000 years old.

The spear point is fashioned from brown chalcedony and is flaked in a style typical of the James Allen or Frederick points.  These styles are more recent than the better known Clovis points.

What is puzzling is how the Paleoindian point arrived at the Village.  Was it an artifact handed down for generations?  Or, was it something a warrior or hunter found and recognized as something old and special?  We may never know.  What we do know is that it was reworked and fashioned into something like a pendant – jewelry or a shaman’s object?  Again, it is likely to remain a mystery.

Paleoindian Spear Point from the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village

An Evening of Storytelling & Friendship

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An Evening of Storytelling & Friendship

On July 30th, we will welcome master storyteller, Jerome Kills Small for An Evening of Storytelling and Friendship.  Mr. Kills Small is an instructor of Native Language Studies at the University of South Dakota, a recipient of the Distinguished Scholar of the Year award and a former Poet of the Year.  He is Oglala Sioux, a traditional storyteller and oral historian.  Jerome Kills Small tells the stories of his elders, and the stories they left for future generations. He tells of the memories of childhood, and stories for intergenerational history. Lakota oral tradition shows respect for animals, plants, the universe, and especially for the people. He sings songs with his elk hide drum to bring sounds of the heartbeat of all living beings, and invites the audience in a friendship dance.   This event is for “children of all ages” and will be held beginning at 7:00 pm around a campfire on the grounds of the Prehistoric Indian Village, 3200 Indian Village Road, Mitchell, South Dakota.  Refreshments will be served.  The fee is just $6 for adults, $5 seniors, $4 students and children under 5 are free.  for more information, please call us at 605-996-5473 or check out our website at http://www.mitchellindianvillage.org.