By Brett Larson, May 18, 2015
Marie (Sam) Gudim is a living bridge to a simpler time, when Indian people lived off the land in close-knit communities, when wise men knew how to gather medicine from the woods and use it to heal.
Marie grew up in the Chiminising community near Isle in a tar-paper shack built by her parents, John and Maggie Sam. She and her siblings — Amelia, Doris, Leonard, Earl and Bennie — learned the old ways from parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
The community was like an extended family, including Ole and Marge Sam, and Frank and Ida Sam. “Everyone was poor,” she recalls.
Families hunted for food and made money by trapping and by selling birch bark baskets along the highway in the summer. The game wardens looked the other way if her father or the other men killed deer out of season. “They didn’t do anything to my dad when he got a deer because they knew he had a family to feed.”
They would sell meat to tourists from the Cities, and also make money from the fur of muskrat, mink, beaver and weasel.
The men would also net fish. “Even when they couldn’t, they did,” she says. “The game warden didn’t bother them.”
When someone got sick, they’d go get John Mink, the Indian doctor. He’d pray and swallow bones, sitting on the floor of her parents’ home. “He made people well,” Marie says. “I don’t know how he did it, but he did. They’d get well, the ones he was doctoring.” People would come all the way from Wisconsin for John Mink’s healing medicine. John Mink and John Sam were the last of the great healers, Marie says. They didn’t readily share their knowledge of medicine, so it was lost when they died.
“This is the old sugarbush,” she says, remembering her mother, who would boil the sap into sugar and sell it to Herb Nyquist, the grocer and missionary from Isle. Herb was reluctant to buy the sugar, but Maggie would tell him, “If you don’t buy my sugar, I won’t buy your groceries.”
Herb Nyquist also bought the wild rice Marie picked. “He always came after our rice because he said we were good pickers. They were always after us to get our rice because our rice was never dirty.”
Marie’s favorite memories are of ricing in the fall. Marie was a champion ricer — a skill she learned from her mother.
“I used to rice in Rice Lake refuge,” she says. “I riced there for years. I was the top picker there.” Her secret? “Just work hard and don’t stop. You gotta keep going.”
They would camp at the lake with Indian people from all over the state. Some years the others didn’t want her there. “They were pretty stingy,” she says with a grin. “They kept me out for a while because I was a good picker.” She remembers picking 500 pounds with her brother and making a thousand dollars for a day’s work.
They harvested rice from Lake Onamia to Ann Lake, from Garrison to Glen.
Her son James would jig it barefoot, and they would bring it to a man in Glen for processing.
“After ricing all day they’d go home and clean up and then dance around the drum,” Marie says. “I wouldn’t do that.” She would sit on a bag of rice, saving her energy for the next day.
One year Marie and Oliver went to Canada to rice, on a trip organized by Sherman Holbert, a local businessman who profited from Band members’ ricing and syruping efforts.
Although they were told to speak English when they went to school in Isle, Marie and her siblings grew up speaking Ojibwe at home,. She still knows the language, though there aren’t as many people around to speak it with.
She graduated from Isle in 1955, then raised her family with Oliver Benjamin. Oliver worked for the highway department. “I didn’t let him sit around,” she says. “I made him work. Marie worked, too, in the schools and at the factory where the casino is now.
In the 1980s, she ran for District II Representative and won. She enjoyed her time in the Band Assembly. “I had my own car,” she says. “I would go to where the people were and talk to them.”
Marie lives now with husband Jack Gudim in a home in the Chiminising community. They raised their children — Jacklyn, Julie, John and James Benjamin — in the community she’s lived in all her life, where her ancestors had developed a close relationship with the land. It’s a relationship she still feels and celebrates.
“I could do it again today if I had to,” she says. “It’s hard to rice, but I liked it so it didn’t bother me. Those were the good old days.”