Blackbird (Mack-e-te-be-nessy) was an Ottawa chief's son who served as an official interpreter for the U.S. government and later as a postmaster while remaining active in Native American affairs as a teacher, advisor on diplomatic issues, lecturer and temperance advocate. In this work he describes how he became knowledgeable about both Native American and white cultural traditions and chronicles his struggles to achieve two years of higher education at the Ypsilanti State Normal School. He also deals with the history of many native peoples throughout the Michigan region (especially the Mackinac Straits), combining information on political, military, and diplomatic matters with legends, personal reminiscences, and a discussion of comparative beliefs and values, and offering insights into the ways that increasing contact between Indians and whites were changing native lifeways. He especially emphasizes traditional hunting, fishing, sugaring, and trapping practices and the seasonal tasks of daily living. Ottawa traditions, according to the author, recall their earlier home on Canada's Ottawa River and how they were deliberately infected by smallpox by the English Canadians after allying themselves with the French. Blackbird finds Biblical parallels with Ottawa and Chippewa accounts of a great flood and a fish which ingests and expels a celebrated prophet. He includes his own oratorical "Lamentation" on white treatment of the Ottawas, twenty-one moral commandments of the Ottawa and Chippewa, the Ten Commandments and other religious material in the Ottawa and Chippewa language, and a grammar of that language. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft appears in the narrative in his role as an Indian agent.
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