Harvey Goodsky, Jr. lives in McGregor, Minnesota. As a part of the Sucker Fish Clan, he carries the responsibility of being the shepherd of the land. His priority is to keep that teaching and learning alive through his own seven children and their future generations. Harvey opens our interview with a message in his native language, Ojibwe.
We talked about his childhood and growing up as Anishinaabe, his connection with their land and learning the clan’s traditions. He shared the historical challenges that his ancestors have gone through and the contemporary struggles of today, losing touch with nature and lack of infrastructure in their community.
“I kind of took a seat and I’m watching all kinds of different news and seeing what’s going on in the world. And I see a lot of people with a lot of pain. You know, a lot of trauma. There’s a lot of pain and trauma in the world. And we have a lot of people that don’t understand each other because we don’t talk to each other and communicate. And that’s where I feel like we’re at in this world.
[There is a feeling] of hopelessness. The feeling of there’s not gonna be any change, or any change that’s gonna be made is not gonna be good.
I think that just comes from the history of what our people have gone through because our traumas live through our dna. Ancestrally, we go through these traumas that our parents, grandparents, great grandparents, they’ve all lived through. Like my father and my grandfather, they both served in the military. My grandfather was a Navy seabee. He did a tour in Vietnam. And my father was military police for the Army. He guarded the nukes and the missile silos. He did four tours, Greece, Austria, France, and Italy. So that’s where my background comes from. And the traumas that went through there was mostly like things with ptsd. You know, I’d wake up to my dad cleaning his gun before the sun came up, and ask him what he is doing.
“Just getting ready for the day.” You know, cleaning your gun isn’t something you normally do unless you’re a hunter or something. Right? But we’re living in Duluth in the city, so it was a little bit different.
We deal with all types of different traumas here. There’s not much infrastructure here. We have the necessities but that’s pretty much it around here for the longest time. I think here—localized—it’s the feeling of not having a place to say it’s your own. Because our ancestral homelands are right over there and it’s called a national wildlife refuge
That’s where we’re originally from and we got moved east. They made a couple dams, they flooded us out. We came this way just like they did the Sioux when they wanted to put infrastructure there on the reservations.
So my heritage is, I’m 117/126 Anishinaabe. And the rest of that is Sioux. The other ninth, 9/126 is Sioux.
Right in the next office is where we do our blood quantum things with our offices and our band member cards. That’s a form of authentication, is our blood quantum. No other people do it. Horses and dogs are the only ones that classify for blood quantum.
It’s a unique perspective for me because I am full blood. I’m a full blooded Anishinaabe man. My parents were full blood. The way they raised me was different from a lot of other people. People have stories of childhood baseball games and stuff. Well, I’ve got childhood stories of being out in the woods, sitting and watching the water, being a part of nature along with powwows and ceremonies.
My first sweat lodge was probably when I was about five or six years old. That’s when my dad and my grandpa brought me in and we prayed. We mostly prayed about the land, you know, hoping that our lands will always be there for our children. And that’s what got instilled in me at a very young age.
I have an Oneida uncle. Actually, it’s my dad’s uncle. He’s the one who gave me my second name and it means Warm Winter Sun. Because I was born in winter and it was the only warm day out that year. That’s why I was named that, Warm Winter Sun. My first name—I was named by my grandfather, who passed away last year on the 10th—he named me Waagosh, which meant Fox. And the reason why he named me that was because when he held me in his arms, I looked like a little fox. He said I kind of turned into one a little bit and showed him who I was. And that’s why he gave me that name.
I’m a Sucker Fish Clan from Bois Forte area by International Falls. That’s where my father’s from. I carry my father’s clan. So the Fish Clan, we have the duty to be the teacher and learners. So we teach and we learn. That’s our responsibility in life. And I try to do that as best as I can every single day and I’ve got my seven kids to practice on. You know, hopefully I’m doing it the right way.
I’m kind of in duress right now. I’m kind of worried because of the power that certain individuals have over countless lives.
I’m responsible for seven lives and then after that I’m responsible for however many lives they make. That’s my family. That’s my tree. Taking that responsibility to the fullest, I need my whole family to know the right way to be in this world. And I’m worried because the right way might not be the way that these certain individuals I’m talking about want it to be, because of our treaties, because of our history.
That’s what I really want out there, is our history. Us. We’re not violent people. Some of us have screwed up. I myself, have screwed up. I’m on probation for being in a place I wasn’t supposed to be in a time that wasn’t supposed to happen. I’m on my second year of probation for being on a place where they were clear cutting for the pipeline. They were already working on a pipeline two years before they got the permits.
I was trying to be the voice. I was trying to say, “Hey, here it is.” But I got mixed up with the wrong people and they did some bad stuff. [I] was caught into it, too. Tied into it. My footprint was there.
We all make mistakes, you know, But as for what I want you to know about me is that, the treaties are still there. The United States government never formally got rid of any treaty that they made with us as Anishnaabe. On my tribal ID, there’s a signator of the Treaty of 1837 and the Treaty of 1855. The Treaty of 1837 is what outlines what the Indians get and what the white man gets. See, when they were squaring off these counties to clear cut for the logging needed to build the houses for the United States, they made treaties with us because we still wanted our hunting grounds, our fishing grounds, our gathering grounds, where we get our medicines from. And it’s gone all the way to this, to where we’re squared off to roads and squared off to pipelines now.
And we’re getting boxed in each and every day compared to the original way that we used to live. These treaties that my ancestors had signed to and agreed to, they ensured that I had a right to hunt, fish and gather among these lands. It didn’t specify which lands. It didn’t say this ceded territory. The only thing it said is they are taking this to this, to this. They only set out boundaries to where our reservation was. They didn’t say where we could hunt, fish and gather. And those are treaties. That’s a binding law between two governments. That’s real deal stuff. And nobody takes that seriously.
I used to gather berries, but who can find a berry patch that’s not artificially made? A wild berry patch? It’s been so long since I have ever seen one. I used to go berry picking one with my grandma, but none are even available.
And what that means is that I’m never gonna be able to take my kids out berry picking naturally like my ancestors used to. I’m luckily able to go out wild ricing and teach my kids how to wild rice. And that’s the big controversy, is are they gonna be able to wild rice? Are their kids gonna be able to wild rice? And are those kids’ kids’ kids gonna be able to wild rice? Are they gonna be able to do the same things that we do, that’s in our treaties?
What happens when the hunting, fishing and gathering no longer exists for us? What are we? What’s in the treaty? What’s left? That’s what I would like to get across to the rest of the world because we’re only 1.78% of the world now. Indigenous people. 1.78% in the country. There’s only not that many of us. And we used to be the shepherds of this land. We used to take care of it. Everything that was here, we were here, too. And we took care of it. It was all here. All those glorious houses, all that glorious infrastructure was all right here until they dug it up, until they took it melted it made it into something else.
And what’s left for us, when we hunt, fish and gather? What’s left for my children to have as being Anishinaabe? Our language, our ceremonies. I only talk this way because I’m fully immersed into it right now. We’re in the middle of our drum ceremonies, our big drum ceremonies where we take out our drum, we sing, we dance, we share gifts, we talk, we tell people stories.
I belong on the ceremonial drum here that’s coming up on June 4th. And I’m on the drum as a singer. So I sing. I know certain ceremonial songs that are supposed to be sung. And the story that’s behind it, it’s a story of history. I sing a story about our people when we bring out our drum and we sing. I am also being put on another drum here, May 21st and 22nd as a drum warmer.
And I also know the songs to that drum. And I’ve been a part of it since I could hear the side stepping of the women, being a baby in my little rock chair. That’s what we’re right in the middle of. All I gotta do is cover up my sweat lodge and make a fire. Put my rocks—my grandmothers and grandfathers in—start the ceremony for sweat lodge. I do sweat lodge. I carry a pipe that my father had passed on when he passed on in 2006. Got his American flag in my house, from his service.
So I carry all these things for my family. And now I’m the top of my family. I have my mother on her side, but on my father’s side, that’s it. My grandpa’s gone, my father’s gone. There’s nobody else. So I gotta carry it all for my sons. Gotta be strong, you know.
It feels like I gotta learn. Gotta step up. I gotta learn so I can teach my kids. Learn all the things I need to know as being Anishinaabe. And then teach my kids how to be Anishinaabe, too. Because like I said, we do sweat lodge. That means each and every one of my kids have gone into sweat lodge already. Even down to my four year old daughter. She’s already been in sweat lodge. My six year old has been in sweat lodge. We’ve all prayed and we all pray for this line. We pray for the people, we pray for a lot of different things. We pray for the sick people that need help, need prayer, need that little something. And we send it out there in our ceremony. And when I smoke my pipe, I pray for everybody. I don’t just pray for myself or just my family.
And I think that if we all did that in whatever religion, if we all truly went and we prayed for each other, I’m pretty sure it would get a little bit better than right now. We’d get more involved. We’d start thinking the right way. We’re not gonna be in this chaos we’re in right now. And that’s what I really hope. It’s really naive to think that everybody could just change like that, but if a voice says it, they can.
I was homeless. I lost the custody of my kids, you know? And now I have my kids again and I have a full-time job working 40 hours a week, so it can happen. And all I did was say, “Hey, that’s enough. I gotta make a change here.”
My children…I really thought about what their life would be like if I wasn’t in it. And it scared me because I don’t know. The fear of the unknown of my kids being in some kind of care, because that’s my legacy. When history is written, those ones are gonna be there. If there’s any history of me ever.
So my kids are the ones that sing with me at home. You know, we sing all kinds of funny songs. We sing Loony Tunes, we sing Sponge Bob songs on the drum. There was songs made in a Native American way, and I think there was some copyright issues and lawsuits that went into it, but we sing it anyway because it’s a song for the kids.
That’s a good way to get them involved. You know, they see cartoons on TV and then you’re on the drum singing a song about the cartoon. It’s easy to intermingle it because it’s natural when you do things that they can relate to.”
“My oldest son, he had a lot of grieving going on. His grandpa was a part of the sweat lodge ceremony. There’s a guy, that head guy that does the ceremony and his grandpa was one of those guys that did it. And he always loved to come do sweat lodge with his grandpa. Well, his grandpa passed away. And now he’s grieving. The way that I’m getting him back involved is to cut wood. Like, “Here, man, I got a load of wood for you, if you feel like cutting that.”
And he is the one who brings in the rocks—the grandmas and grandfathers—into our ceremony as well. He delegates himself to that position, the one to be able to help. And he says he’s not ready to go back in and pray. Because in our ceremony, we give ourself when we pray.
I hope you know that I’m not going into too much detail because of security, culture reasons. So when we’re doing our ceremony and we’re praying for everybody, he’s the one that helps us keep the ceremony going. And that’s his choice to do. He could be in the house just playing on his phone, but it keeps him connected. And then he said, “One day, I’ll come back in there, but I’m just not ready right now.” I’m like, “Okay, that’s fine.”
But he’s still a part of it. He’s helping me. You know, it’s little, but it helps out a lot.”
“I believe that everything out there is alive. Trees are alive. The grass is alive, it’s breathing. The wind, that’s alive. It’s always moving. These clouds. Everything. Everything on this earth is alive. Even the rocks. You grab a certain rock, you put electricity on it, it’s alive, it’s gonna pull stuff towards it. It’s alive. Everything’s alive.
Our grandmas and grandfathers, we have this belief of spirits being even in rocks, even in the trees. I talk to my trees. I come off as a big hippie, but my tree is outside of my house. I come out, even if it’s like barely even windy, you’re sitting there waving and I say, “Hey.” And then they start moving a different way and then they relax a little bit.
Those little bitty things. You take that little bit of time and you pay attention. You listen, you look, you see those little bitty things that happen. That goes along with the sweat lodge. You bring your rocks in, you heat them up, you put the heat in there, and you make their sweat lodge ceremony first. When that fire is going, when you cover them up, that’s their sweat lodge right there. Their little lodge. And you light it up and those rocks are having their ceremony in there. You bring them in to help us pray to the Great Spirit, get you one with the Great Spirit. God, in other terms.”
“Well, where, where it all got started was the Sand Piper pipeline by the Enbridge Corporation. That’s what really scared me the most because that Sand Piper pipeline was originally proposed to cut down to the north end of the Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge, where I rice and go across County Road 30 down south here. And that’s what scared me. That’s what got me interested in the whole thing about infrastructure projects and what they’re doing to this land that we have to live on. Because I, myself, I can’t build a spaceship and go find a different planet to live on. I don’t have the money, I don’t have the resources. I don’t even know how to build anything like that.
We’re stuck here. So after they’re done taking their resources and getting what they want, what’s left for us? That’s my main concern because this is our ancestral homeland and they just tried to put a pipeline on the north end of it going right through the land.
We have a prophecy of two paths. One that’s scorched and one that’s green and lush with life. The prophecies that I’ve seen in my time are lining up. And when something like a pipeline comes through that kind of lets me know which path we’re going on. So I’m following along and I’m really hoping that my kids don’t have to go through this battle. I’m pretty sure they will. I’m pretty sure my grandkids will have to say, “Hey, my grandpa said that I get to hunt fish and gather. What’s going on here?” That’s scary, man.
I guess the thing that really is confusing is, what is the government exactly wanting from us? What does the government want us to be? They’re the ones that have the power to stop this or keep it going. What do they want us to be? Do they want us to be mindless robots roaming about doing things that we’re told? Or can we be ourselves? Can I be Anishinaabe and do my ceremonies and go get a deer? If I need a deer for someone that’s coming, a traveler from New York.
What are we? What can we do as a human being? It would be really nice if the government told us, “Hey, we want you guys to be this.” And then I’m pretty sure a lot of people would be like, “Oh, okay, well I guess we’re gonna be farmers on land that can’t even produce food.” Just like they tried to do in White Earth with the whole Indian Removal Act. When they tried to put us all in White Earth, you couldn’t farm there.
It used to be all trees. Woods. Trees were massive back in the day. I took a class in college that talked about how our trees from the state of Minnesota supplemented pretty much the whole East coast with wood for their houses. And that’s crazy to think about because my ancestors had to go through that. My ancestors had to be removed from their homes that we lived on in our first prophecy. We had to move.
We were up in the Victorian islands up north there in Canada. There’s these men that came over and they said that our people needed to travel. We’ll see a lot of things. We’re gonna make a lot of stops. We need to be where the food grows on water. That’s wild rice. So it was in our prophecy to come here, to be here for this wild rice. Old men told us a long time ago, “Come down here, there’s wild rice.”
I don’t know how they knew. I don’t know if they traveled down here first and came back and told us, “Go down there.” That’s where we were. That’s where we came from. And some people kept going, because during the travels things change. Opinions change. People say, “Well, maybe I’ll go keep going just to be sure. Maybe there’s more wildlife.” That’s ancient history.”
“I know that my thing is my ceremonies. I just gotta keep doing my ceremonies. I don’t even know how many Native Americans are out there doing it. I don’t know how many Anishinaabe are still doing ceremonies, so our culture’s dying out. I can talk more English to you than Anishinaabe and that’s bad being an Anishinaabe. I should be able to know my language, but I don’t, because I was teased about being Anishinaabe in school. The reason why I have short hair is because the white boys would pull my hair out. I would have chunks of hair missing because it would all be on the playground. I’ve gone through a lot of racism in my life.
My kids are my priority. To teach them to be the right way so that they know they’re good. They’re my world. I will try my best to make sure that they get to be normal human beings. To be able to hunt, fish and gather, to be able to be alive, to be able to feed themselves. To be able to survive in this world.”
-What are the ways you feel connected to the land?
-Do you know the history of the land you are on?
-Has your family experienced trauma?
-Have you seen trauma passed from generation to generation?
-Harvey talks about getting boxed in. What does he mean by that?
-Talk about your understanding of treaty rights? What are the rights and obligations that need to be upheld?
-Have you made mistakes? Have they defined you? What have you learned from them?
-How do you get your kids interested in your heritage?
-What are the traditions you hold that define you? Have you ever felt that they were threatened?
-Have you ever been picked on because of who you are?