I am Indian! I am from the Wea Indian Tribe. My Ancestor’s Great Nation was alive and flourished from the dawn of time until 1846 when they were forcibly removed, and herded like rotten cattle from their beloved homeland of Indiana. They were driven west to Kansas and left there in that foreign deserted wasteland to starve and to die.
You are thinking that this could not have happened. That this didn’t happen. That this is only in the movies, or in storybooks. Maybe you are thinking that another human race, another religion, another heritage could not possibly do this to another group of different, but human, people. BUT you are mistaken! The lives and stories of my ancestors are real. The pain, degradation, humiliation, and genocide of their, of MY, people are a fact of human history.
Missionaries discovered the Wea Nation in the late 1400’s to the early 1500’s; but they were not widely known about by others until the early 1600’s. Three French brothers ran fleeing from their homeland of France during the French Revolutionary War. They escaped with only their lives and came to Canada, becoming what we know today as French Fur Traders. One of these brothers by the name of Jacques Godfroy decided to leave Canada and go explore the vast unknown wilderness that we know of now as the United States of America. The Godfroy’s were from a well to do aristocratic French family whose line bore royalty. Godfroy traveled into the upper Great Lakes Region and eventually came to Indiana. He made his living selling furs that he trapped and other goods to the Indians in the area. He married into the Wea Indian family, and like most French Fur Traders of that time, he preferred to live peacefully among us with our customs.
Several generations went by that mixed the French Godfroy’s with the Wea Indian people. This mixture produced my 5th Great Grandfather, Chief Jacco Tachkeketah Godfroy. He was the last Great Chief of the Wea Nation. He lived from 1777 to 1854. He became Chief at the early age of 25 or 26. Jacco was the Principle Chief of the Old Orchard Band of Wea in present day Terre Haute Indiana. He was married to a Wea Indian woman named Nancy MorningStar Hunter, and they had 5 children. Their children being full blooded Wea. Their eldest daughter, Mary Godfroy was my 4th Great Grandmother.
Jacco had a sister named Mary “Beautiful Shade Tree“ Godfroy. She had a son, with a French man (Ambrose Dagenette), named Christmas Noel Dagenette. Christmas became the last Chief of the Wea after Jacco. Christmas’ descendants, and my cousins the Dagenette’s, live today in Kansas. Jacco signed about 6 Treaties with the U.S. Government. Eventually having enough of their lies in their treaties, Jacco rebelled against the government. This resulted in the Government declaring they would forever and permanently wipe Jacco and all his descendants off the records, leaving them forever unknown and without payments or their due annuities.
The Wea believed that everything put on this earth by the Creator had a soul, and was alive. From the trees, grass, water, sun, moon, animals, and to the smallest pebble, to the largest mountain. Everything had as much right to be here as we did. Everything was sacred to us and we respected all life forms. Our culture was based around the people, the family unit. Children were our gifts and our future. We hunted for meat and clothing but never taking more than we needed never killing for sport, and never killing off the whole race of an animal species. Before a kill we asked the animal for its life. If the animal gave his consent then we killed it. After the kill we thanked the animal for giving its life for us to survive. We thanked the Creator for sending this animal to us. During the feast of that animal we honored it with dance and ceremonies. When we gathered wild plants and herbs for food and medicine we never took all the plants that we found in the same area, allowing some to remain so they could grow back the next year. We thanked the plant as well as the Creator for our herbs and plant life, for the too had a purpose on this Earth Mother, they too had a soul.
Our Villages were well organized in much the structure as your cities and governments, but ours were simple and within nature. There were several Chiefs to a village each with their own role and duties to follow for the good of the people. We had a War Chief, a Civil Chief, a Village Chief, and so on. The village Elder Women were behind the men and okayed or changed a decision the men made as they saw need. The children of the village were everyone’s responsibility, not just the parents who bore them. Anyone in the village had the right to teach and discipline your child. Until a certain age children were left free to roam and play, but were always taught respect, gentleness, and love. Indian children didn’t act up as some do today for they did not have neglect, ridiculed, isolation, abuse, or other such elements to deform their minds and bodies.
Now don’t get me wrong; sure we had troublemakers, thieves, adulterers, and murderers but not to the extent of today's’ world or even the whites of the time. In the Indian society these types of people were not tolerated. No discord was allowed among the people. The whole village would stand behind a Chiefs decision. If one were found to be a thief, for instance, he would be placed in the center of the Village for all to come out and see. He would then have his hand cut off at the wrist for stealing. The next time he got caught or caused any kind of trouble he would be cast-out from the tribe. Thus meaning he would be summoned into the center of the village again by the Chief. He would be given food supply for about a month, a fur or blanket, a knife, and a bow and arrows. The Chief and all the others would then point out into the wilderness and he would be told to go and to never come back. In a while the other tribes would get word that one was an Out-Cast and they too would not allow him in to join their tribe. Thus forcing the thief to live forever, or die, alone in the wild.
With time the English, British, and others came to the New World. They changed not only the lovely natural landscape of my people, but they changed their lives forever. With the white man’s greed also came their need to control and dominate everything and everyone into their ways and beliefs. Because of this my people suffered, were killed, and died off in large numbers. We did not want to conform to their ways and beliefs and for this we were different, we were hated, and we were destined, in their eyes, to vanquish.
At first the whites tried to act friendly toward us under the disguise of obtaining our land and goods. When that didn’t work out very well they conducted bribery with us in the form of Treaties designed to be a formal hang-mans noose and threat. When the Wea Indians finally saw through the white mans lies it was too late. They were already here in large numbers with great killing machines that we were unfamiliar with. When we retaliated and made war against them the whites only became more aggressive towards us. They were not happy sharing our beautiful lands with us, they wanted it all. They wanted us out of their lives forever!
The whites sought any means possible to take our culture and our lives from us. They burned our crops and food sources. They killed our women and children in hopes to eliminate our race. When they could they raped our women and young girls; they beat our old people and tortured our warriors, our men. They used nasty tactics that we were unaware of, such as the Small Pox disease, firearms, and armies with great gallant machine guns.
I would bet that most of you do not know that the famous act of scalping a person was not invented by the Indians, but by the whites. They started the demoralizing act of scalping for a trophy sport. The generals of the armies told their men to bring back scalps of all the Indians that they killed for proof in a tally of the kill. The men with scalps were then paid money or goods from the U.S. Government for each Indian scalp they brought in. Again in retaliation my ancestor started to use the white mans war tactics on the whites themselves. This is when the dirty deeds of scalping were made public as an act of Indian torture. How the lies twist and turn.
It finally got so bad that genocide (a killing off of a race of people) was the white governments only project and concern. When, after more than 100 years of this treatment toward the Wea did it finally began to pay off for them. We were now reduced to small numbers living in reservations that they made for us, in a poor state of quality and life. This was right where the whites wanted us.
At last, the whites were not satisfied with this reservation life for us. They found our lands to contain things such as gold, coal, silver, iron oar, fertile soil, sandstone, and other such things that they wanted. By the early 1820’s the whites devised a plan to remove all Indian tribes out to barren and hot, or marshy and wet, wastelands of the west. Out of their way, out of their minds, out of their world!
Christmas Noel Dagenette, nephew of Chief Jacco Godfroy, was the last Wea Chief. He faced the grim task, under the laws of the white mans government, of taking the remnant band of 350 Wea west to Kansas. We were tired, worn-out, weak and depleted. Over hundreds of miles we traveled. For weeks and weeks we were herded. On this journey over 100 of my people died. Arriving at Cold Water Grove Kansas the Wea that remained thought they could finally have peace. That they would hold up their heads, take what has been dished out to them and make the best of this new world and their nation for the well being of their children, their future.
For a few years just that happened. However, slowly the white world started expanding west. There was not only more free land for the taking out west, but also gold and other minerals. Again the government wanted our lands. They cut the reservations in half, then in fourths until finally they had it all. We were left homeless and destitute. Some of the Wea people traveled back to Indiana, hiding their heritage and passing as whites to live on their homeland once again. Other Wea choose to remain out west in Kansas and try to make a go of it farming or some other such labor.
Why, you may ask, was our land, our homeland so important to us?
Because the Wea believed in the Creator, God. The Creator made us like all things natural on this earth. We were the keepers of the lands, animals and plant life. We were to cherish them, preserve them, and only take from the earth what we needed to survive.
When we saw that the whites didn’t want to be content with just living off the land we were in great alarm. We saw how the whites raped the land, destroying the vast forest and natural waterways. We watched them abuse and murder their own kind and others. We saw them in drunken arguments over material things. We knew that if we didn’t try to hold onto our lands and protect them we would one day see the destruction of our people and our culture, and eventually the Earth Mother herself.
Because of all this and more the Wea Tribe of people have lost their culture, heritage, our language, customs, life style, legends, and stories. My son nor I will never see the beautiful lands that my ancestors walked upon. We will never learn to speak our native tongue correctly. We will never be in harmony and balance with nature as our souls were made to be. You will never understand our pain when the “spirits of our ancestors scream” in our veins and plead with us in our minds. You will never understand how their blood still runs through ours, how, now in the 20th century, we long for our original homelands. How lost we feel, how incomplete we are because of what has happened to our ancestors.
There is a good ending to this saga for the Wea Nation is NOT EXTINCT. We are ALIVE! We are still here today! Maybe our customs and life styles are changed, but we are still here on this planet the Creator gave us. Slowly but surely we are reforming as a Tribe, as a People, as a Race. We are reinstalling our ancestor’s knowledge and customs back into our children as best we can. We are slowly telling the world of the Wea Peoples. Those of us who remain, over 400 known, are strong, proud, and determined to keep our ancestors ALIVE within each and every one of us who survive the upcoming 21st Century.