Sauk, American Indian Tribe

Sauk, American Indian Tribe

The Sauk, also referred to as the Sac people, belong to the culture group of the eastern woodlands Native Americans (Hodge et al 00). These people are today found in Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas and they are believed to have had a developed as a well defined cultural group along the St. Lawrence River. The Sauk people are an Algonquian languages speaking people and they are believed to have been derived by external forces such as other tribes such as the Iroquios league to migrate to Saginaw Bay, found in Michigan today. They also called themselves to the “yellow-earth” people due to the yellow-class soil that is found in this region (Debo 13). There were also other neighboring tribes found in this region such as the Ottawa and Ojibe people, and they referred to the new comers as the Ozaagii, which meant “those at the outlet”. The French people translated this into “Sauk” and the English men later referred to these people as “Sac”; hence their reference to date. The Sauk people were later to move south to today’s northern Wisconsin and Illinois after there were conflicts with the French, the Huron tribe and the Anishinaabe. The Huron were trying to acquire region supremacy and stability and they had even been supplied with guns by their French allies, and they did not like the fact that the Anishinaabe tribe kept expanding and they perceived this as a threat.

The Sac people had no quarrels with the French people until around 1734 when they protected a closely allied tribe, the Meskwaki tribe also known as the Fox people who were resisting French encroachment (Hodge et al 00). The fox took refugee with the Sauk people after having fought and lost two wars with the French armies in September of 1730, where hundreds of their soldiers died at the hands of the French military that was well equipped with guns (Hailey 76). When they Sac welcomed the fox people in their territories and offered them protection, they became subject to French attacks. The sac and the fox people merged and continued migrating west to Kansas and Iowa with their leaders accepting that their continued loss of land was acceptable. Their once calm settlement became an unstable region with security and socio-economic uncertainties since the French were occupying this region with the continued rise of the fur trade.

As earlier mentioned, the sac people spoke the Algonquin language. There was also the wakashan lingua among the people of the Southern Great Lakes that allowed them to communicate with their neighboring native tribes. When the Sauk people merged with the fox, they became virtually identical and also were closely related to Mascouten, Kickapoo and thee shanawee.

Although when the Sac people took in the fox people it they almost became one tribe, the two maintained separate chiefs and separate traditions (Mattern 126). The French perceived these two tribes as one and this was apparent when they made the two tribes sign a similar treaty at the insistence of the United States. However, they also recognized that these two tribes were independent and distinct and even offered two different sets of signatures. The French documented that these two tribes were “war like” and individualistic. However, the “war-like” part continues to surprise the whites who later settled in Iowa for they have lived in peaceful existence with these people for the last 130 years (Sanchez 99-100). The individualistic part was a perfect description for these two tribes have maintained different cultures and they always identify with their different cultures and always endorsed different tribal identity even after they merged. It was because if this tribal identity and their cultural pride that made the French find them very difficult to control.

Today, the sac and the fox closely resemble other native Algonquin tribes of The Great Lakes. Theiir descent can also be traced through their well established patrilineal clans such as the deer, bear, fox, fish, potato, ocean, snow, wolf and thunder. In terms of political organization, the fox and the sac people had more centralized forms of government as compared to the other Algonquin tribes and this can be supported by the many wars they fought with the French although they kept losing due to the weapons supremacy (guns) of their opponents. The Sauk chiefs enjoyed considerable authority and their tribal councils were also highly regarded by their tribes’ men.  According to Hodge et al (00), the Sauk chiefs fell into the categories of civil, ceremonial and war. The civil positions were hereditary while the other two were dictated by one’s ability to lead or spiritual power. The fox and the Sauk were agricultural people with beans, corn, and tobacco and squash providing most of their diet. Their women were considered as the owners of their fields. The main difference between other Algonquin tribes and the fox and they Sauk people is that they maintained large villages especially during the winter season (Sanchez 153). During the other seasons however, their housing was typical for the whole region regardless of their tribe. Additionally, after these tribes acquired horses in the early 1960s, they used to do communal buffalo hunts more so during fall and also for meat during the winter season.  However, Hodge et al (00) says that the dish of choice for ah honored guest for the Sauk and the fox was dog meat just like for any other Great Lake Algonquin tribe.

As earlier mentioned, the Sauk people had a patrilineal clan system where inheritance and the descent of an individual was traced through the roots of their father. Under patrilineality which is also known as the agnatic kingship, spearside or the male line, an individual’s family membership is traced through the father’s lineage. This mainly involves if aspects of inheritance of property, rights titles if names that relate through the male kin. The Sauk clans included the thunder bear, fish, potato, ocean/sea, snow, fox, beaver, deer and wolf. The Sauk tribe was under the leadership of a council of sacred clan chiefs. There was also a three head of families, the war chief and the warriors. Under the Sauk traditions, it was only the civil position which was hereditary while the other positions were determined by one’s ability to lead or through some sort of spiritual intercession. However, the United States disrupted this tradition in the 19th century when it started appointing leaders through their agents into leadership through the fox agencies found at the reservations these tribes reside in today (Cipolla 74). This was to change in the 20th century when the tribe adopted a constitutional government that is in line with that of the United States of America where they now elect their chiefs through a democratic system.

The Sauk people are religious people. Their mythological religious beliefs are filled with anthropomorphic beings as well as beast. Their principle myth is more concerned with their god of life who they refer to as Nanabozho more so in the cognate tribes. They also belief that Nanabozho is responsible for restoration of the earth, and that he has the ability to control natural phenomena like floods (Hodge et al 00). The Sauk people also used to belief in numerous social and religious ceremonies. Today, there are two main religious ceremonies that are still in existence among the Sauk people. There are the secret rites of the midewiwin and also the gen festivals, or the medicine society. The gen festivals are usually held twice in every year during spring which thanks are giving ceremonies where the Sauk people offer gifts to the manitos for beginning of a new season and also during the summer period when their fields ripen (Cipolla 193). The midewin is held once a year during spring and it is only conducted by man and women who are bound together by vows of secrecy (Hailey 83) The manitos is a terminology used to refer to supernatural forces that the Sauk people belief has power and magic that protects them from the evils of this world. Young children are taught from early age to get into personal relations with some manito through the practices of vigil and fasting so as to secure his genius or tutelary.

The traditional social organization of the Sauk people was rather complex. In the past, research shows that the tribe was much larger than it is today; hence there were numerous gentes involved (Mattern 119). Today, it is believed that there may be as many as 14 gentes that are still in existence and they include; bear bass, eagle, bear-potato, fox, elk, grouse, great lynx or fire dragon, sturgeon, sea, thunder, swan, wolf and trout. Marriage was specifically restricted to man and women of separate gentes. These marriages were attended with exchange of presents between the families of the couple. Women had to be courted formally before marriage, and in case of death a man could inherit the sister of his deceased wife while a widow could be inherited by the brother of her dead husband. The Sauk people allowed polygamy although it was not common. It was a privilege that aligned with social prestige and the wealth of an individual.

The first European people to come into contact with the Sauk people were thee French at Chequamegon Bay, Lake Superior (Debon 53). The Sauk people were then described by Jesuit missionary Claude Jean Allouez who was the vicar general of Quebec when he said that this tribe was more savage and “war-like” than any other people he had ever met. Before then the Sauk people had been living in southern Great Lakes region with no outside interference although they had lived in constant wars with other Native American tribes. The French came into contact with this tribe when their new colony in the Americas was established in the area of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

As earlier mentioned, the sac people today live in trust lands or reservations. These people have their own laws, government, services and even peace keepers/police just like a small country. However, they are also American citizens and they must obey the American law (Sanchez 59). The sac people are still being governed by a council that is elected by all adult members of this tribe. However, their socio-economic status is not as developed as they rest of the Americas. Their healthcare system in these reserves is also not as well developed as the rest of the United States of America. This is facilitated by the fact that the Sac people who are a part of the American Indians and Alaska Natives have limited access to employer-sponsored coverage. This is because they have a very poor employment rate and the ones who are working are in low-wage jobs that typically offer no health care coverage. Additionally, less than 4 people in every 10 (36%) Native Indians and Alaska Natives tent to have private coverage as compared to 62% of the overall nonelderly population (Mattern 62).

Statistics also shows that there are more than 5 million people who identify themselves as American Indians or Alaska natives, or people who are in combination with some other races in the US (Hailey 191). Health care issues among Indian Americans and Alaska natives are not just because of unlimited access to healthcare because these people also live in a deplorable state. Research done during the 2010 U.S census shows that most of these native Americans live below the third world’s poverty line even after the so called assimilation method introduced by President George Washington (Debo 78). This is more than unfair bearing in mind that the European settlers who took their land passed it down to us and yet we still cannot provide basic services such as health care to these people. In terms of unemployment, research done in 2005 showed that in every 10 Native American adults, five to eight of them were unemployed (Cipolla 169). Many of the employed ones are not even in the minimum wage category for they earn meager wages. In fact, a 2008 research showed that Native Americans living in reserves poverty line is as high as up to 63%. However, all the Native American poverty line when combined with those living to other places came to 28% (Cipolla 181).  These are disheartening facts to see this tribe and other Native Americans living in this state while this was their land to start with, and our ancestors took it away from them. It is time that our government realized the mistakes that our ancestors made and did something about it.

Works cited

Cipolla, Craig N. Becoming Brothertown: Native American ethnogenesis and endurance in the modern world. University of Arizona Press, 2013.

Debo, Angie. A History of the Indians of the United States. University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.

Hailey, J. “Blood, Guts and 50 million Acres to Spare.” (2014).

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906. Web. 18 April 2016.

Mattern, Joanne. Native Americans and the US Government. Mitchell Lane Publishers, Inc., 2013.

Sanchez, John. “Indian Voices: Listening to Native Americans (review).” The American Indian Quarterly 36.3 (2012): 377-379.


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