Seven Council Fires and the Seven Council Stones

Looking Back Woman with Council StonesThe Seven Council Fires are the mainstream Dakota national government, and traditionally the seven seats would have been held by: 4 Dakota; 2 Nakota and 1 Lakota.

Since these sub-national bodies are split today between Canada and the US, it would be thought, to take a representative body drawn from all of them to legitimately reconstitute the Seven Council Fires. (Dakota contacts there regard the Lakota as at best only 1/7 of this body, regardless of how many people they actually are today.)

(Note that the Cannunpawakpa elders caution that there would have been some dissembling in order to protect vulnerable individuals, but the overall structure should be right.)

IF this group was patriarchal as many traditional Dakota elders maintain, then this body was composed only of men. However, Carver's testimony from 1767-68 is very clear that there was a council of women elders because his treaty negotiations had to be ratified by them as well.

When the Assiniboine seceded from the Seven Council Fires they lost their seat, and the redistribution gave the Yankton Nakota one seat, and the Yanktonai Nakota one seat.

(Frank Brown, a Yankton, wants to make it very clear that the "Assiniboine" are a political separation and not an ethnic one, and so there may never have been a clearly defined border. Families would have been divided.)

Three Affiliated Tribes

Refers to the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara consortium and so it was international in its own right, but did not apparently belong to the Seven Council Fires. (But as was discussed, the Mandan and Hidatsa are clearly Tetuwan (Siouan),so the overall Tetuwan(Siouan) civilization is bigger than the Seven Council Fires.)Also today, any Mandan or Hidatsa within our province have been reabsorbed back into the Manitoba Dakota.

Council of Seven Stones (also called Council of All Nations)


Some informants (mostly the non-Dakota ones) refer to this body as a government. Dakota traditional elders however maintain that it was a trade organization, and not a government as such. Cree scholar William Dumas says it was an international government. Dakota scholar Frank Brown characterizes it as a Chamber of Commerce. There is no doubt it existed, although its exact role probably changed over time.

Frank Brown states that it may have started out as purely a trade organization. However, trade required peace treaties and so it would inevitably have been drawn into treaty negotiations — a government function. The local lore around Turtle Mountain Manitoba is also very clear that at the end of the "Indian Wars", say 1850-1900, the Council of Seven Stones assumed the role of a Refugee Relief Agency either because it had international representation and/or the regular government bodies among the Dakota had collapsed and could not deal with the scale of the problem.

The tradition is quite clear that this body was composed equally of men AND women. Each nation appointed one women and one man as their representatives, and a criteria for full membership on the council was that you had to be married to someone from one of the other nations (not your own.) So whereas the Seven Council Fires patriarchal tradition might limit the government to "pure bloods" as it were, the Seven Council Stones tradition was almost the reverse. William Dumas also maintains that except for the cross-cultural marriage clause, each member nation would have had its own method of appointment -inheritance, society, or whatever.

Bill Moncur (1910-2001) maintained that the seven men and seven women intermarried with each other, that must have been the ideal and it is realized is that no actual system ever fully meets its stated objectives.

The membership of the Seven Council Stones prior to 1800 appears to have been: Mandan; Hidatsa; Ojibway; Cree; Dakota (7 Council Fires); Blackfoot and possibly Assiniboine as a separate entity.

By the time it adjourned in 1944, the Council had altered somewhat with the Blackfoot replaced by the Turtle Mountain Chippewa as distinct from the other Ojibway. The Mandan and Hidatsa were consolidated into one seat, and the remaining seat was left "for everyone else".

According to what we've been able to reassemble from the oral history, each member took a title/name which evoked some meaning of "Rattle" and/or "Sitting Eagle." (George Bryant, master carver from Pipestone, Minnesota, as "Standing Eagle” is probably a good candidate to have belonged to this body, but it is not known for sure.) It's also unclear whether there was any rank or functional difference between Rattlers and Sitting Eagles.

The last known (male) members on the incomplete list were:

other nations – possibly Bill Moncur (but he said himself this was stopgap and he did not become a full member.)Mandan/Hidatsa – unknown Ojibway – Little Shell II Cree – (Sitting Eagle)Dakota – Charlie Chaske "Wamdi Iyotaka" (Sitting Eagle)Turtle Mountain Chippewa – unknown Assiniboine/Stoney – John Hunter (Sitting Eagle.)

It's much harder to reconstruct who the women were as they tend to fade into the background. It is certain however that Charlie Chaske, the last Dakota Sitting Eagle, was ritually married to a "Mrs. Sitting Eagle" who was a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa band. It is also known for certain that the last Cree Sitting Eagle was married to a Dakota "Mrs. Sitting Eagle."

It is not known who Little Shell II and John Hunter were married to, but Bill Moncur was certain about their membership as he met both at their meetings.

When you're reading the history of the Dakota-Ojibway War I, you'll see how important the mixed blood Dakota-Ojibway people such as Wanatan and Wabasha are to negotiating peace and trade. If they weren't members of this council, I suspect they are the pattern on which it was based.

The traditional Dakota position, is that the Stones themselves are beings in their own right, and that they (not the humans) are the original members. In this view, the 14 men and women would be assistants to the Stones themselves.

Bill Moncur said that all fourteen members of the Seven Council Fires were pipe carriers, so that's a lot of pipes that would have to be made/replaced as occasion demanded.

There is only one pipe from this group surviving in the museum collections here but it is assumed that there must be others. The one here, a clay one with the Thunderbird/Weeping Eye motif wrapped around the bowl, was according to Bill the pipe which represented the entire council.

The impression is that the Rattlers tended to be more like heralds, but it is not known for sure. In 1800 Matche-go-whe-wub (Many Sitting Eagles) was apparently chairman of the board at that time and was also called Le Sonnant (the Rattler) so he must have used both titles interchangeably. (He signed the Selkirk treaty in 1817 with both names, and was painted by Karl Bodmer in about 1840.)

Charlie Chaske took the Dakota name Wambdi Iyotaka (Sitting Eagle) when he joined the council in about 1914-1916. However, his grandfather who preceded him on the Council took the name Hadamanie (He Rattles As He Walks.)

As for eye witnesses: Bill Moncur met all of them in the 1920s, but could only remember Charlie Chaske (and his wife), Little Shell and John Hunter specifically. Gordon Wasteste recalled Charlie Chaske and John Hunter.(Wasteste by the way is part-Ojibway and probably a descendant from this group.)William Dumas trained under the last Cree Sitting Eagle.

Frank Brown, seems to be of the opinion that if you met the criteria for membership in the Seven Council Stones, it would pretty much rule you out for being part of the Seven Council Fires.