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The Sioux and the Ojibwe

A summary of Densmore's field work.

Agency Office

An essay by Densmore on Indian music, 1915.

Densmore and Indian Beadwork SI

DENSMORE DID HER BEST WORK - in both depth of research and interpretation--working among the Sioux in the Dakotas and the Ojibwe in Minnesota. The BAE supplied money and encouragement. As she approached the age of 50, Densmore undertook her most rigorousfield expeditions.

Densmore spent most of her summers in the field . In the early days, travel to remote reservations was often complicated. She traveled by train, automobile, wagon and canoe. Densmore's bulky equipment consisted of a phonograph, typewriter, camera gear and necessary supplies. On many reservations, Densmore lodged at the home of the local Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agent-a white man. Sometimes she stayed with the head of the local Indian boarding school. Occasionally, she stayed with Christianized Indian friends. In rare circumstances she camped in a tent. But, unlike her mentor Alice Fletcher, Densmore cared little for the rustic charms of "roughing it."

Ever the Victorian scientist, Densmore sought out singers with solid reputations among the local whites and Indians. She flatly rejected the growing trend among American anthropologists to mingle widely with their subjects.

I do not [obtain material] by pretending to be one of them and eating out of the same dishes. I have seen people who use this technique and did not find out very much. There is no use trying to be a social climber among Indians. If you begin at the bottom you will probably stay there. I start out at the top and make friends with the professional men-the chiefs, doctors and tribal leaders. I stay at the Indian agency and have some sort of office to which the Indians come.11

Densmore usually paid her performers 25 cents per song. Her interpreter was typically a local tribe member of good reputation and education. In addition to the recorded cylinders, Densmore made photographic portraits and collected tribal clothing, musical instruments and other artifacts.


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