An Interview with Ruby Diebold

November 30, 1969

Ruby Diebold is about 45 years of age. She is of Seneca-Cayuga descent and a prominent leader in the tribe. She is an expert in the language and is now conducting a class at the Seneca Indian School at Wyanootte, Oklahoma on the Seneca language. Mrs. Diebold is the leader of the ceremonial committee, having inherited this position from her mother. She is very active as a leader of the “Pot Hangers” and both she and her brother, Robert White, who is assistant ceremonial chief, have visited the New York Seneca reservations to brush up on the history and language of the Seneca tribe.

 

INTRODUCTION OF INFORMANT:

(This is Velma Neiberding. I am at the home of Mrs. Ruby Diebold, a prominent leader of the Seneca-Cayuga tribe. She recently returned from New York, from the Seneca reservation — the Six Nations Reservation, it’s called in Canada. She is an expert in the language—interpreter for her tribe and presently is conducting a class in Seneca-Cayuga language. Today is November 30, 1969.)

 

What is your name?

My name is Ruby Diebold.

 

What is your tribe?

I am a member of the Seneca-Cayuga tribe. My mother’s name was Amanda White Wing Turkey.

 

CEREMONIES – DANCES

She was the leader of the ceremonial committee of the Seneca-Cayuga tribe. And she passed away on June 1, 1951 and from that time to this date, I have been as hereditary privilege in her position as the ceremonial leader of the Seneca-Cayuga tribe up to now. The ceremonial committee of this Seneca-Cayuga tribe are—consists of six men and six women and they participate in the religious part or tradition — age old tradition of the Seneca tribe. We have–in the beginning–the spring of the year, we have the Sun Dance. Which at that time we give thanks to our Creator for the beginning of the spring season, for the sunlight, the growth of vegetation, the fertility of all animals and in fact, it is a worship to God for creation of everything he put on this earth, and as well as our spiritual well-being and all. And then we have the Strawberry Dance which we give thanks to God for our first fruit of the season—we use the wild strawberries. Again, we thank God in our own way as God gave us as Indians to worship Him in our language for what He has given us. Then we come to the month of July, we have the Blackberry Dance–we honor the moon at that time. Because God created the moon to watch over us at night. And as the dew is spread on the ground to dampen the earth for us, and the stars that shine at night, also. We give our thanks to Him for those things in the month of July. Yes, that is ourgrandmother the moon, which we call Tse-sute (?). Then comes the month of August when we have our annual Thanksgiving—in the white man’s language and to us it is the same, or the harvest of the crops that we have asked God to bless us with for the spring of the year. And that includes also, the naming of the babies of Indian heritage. And they are christened with an Indian name, which they carry all through their life. But in the Indian ways, they also have a clan, belonging to some fur-bearing animal or bird.

 

CLANS

The clans are the — on the north side, would be the Turtle, and the Snake, and, the Beaver, the Wolf, which can go either way, north or south. For the south side, it is the Deer, the Snipe, and the Bear on the south side.

 

PEACE-SEED GAME AND HARVEST DANCE

The following day was our Peach Seed Game. And it is a game of amusement to our Creator as one of His gifts to us to think of Him in a sociable way. For one thing as they have always taught us, when we play a game, whatever it is, is to remind us also that the temptation of anger is something that we have to overcome. And we play for one day or maybe, for several days, according to His desire. The following — the peach seed game is the Sun Dance again, which is concluding the years religious ceremonies. At that time again, we ask God and thank God that He has blessed us for that year for the sunlight of which is a great neccesity to us. Now the Long House on the day of the Harvest Dance, we have partition on one part of it of which any individual who has a feeling of thankfulness in their heart for what they have been blessed with during the year, regardless of what it is, are welcome to put any vegetables –as we use vegetables at this time for our harvest, in the Long House in this partition. And it is all put together there and blessed. And after our religious ceremonies it is passed around to those participating there. As we always invite and welcome anyone that wants to come and participate in those ceremonies with us.

 

PICTURES AND RECORDINGS NOT PERMITTED IN CEREMONIALS

(Mrs. Diebold, I’ve been to a number of the Seneca ceremonies, and I noticed that you don’t permit any pictures, you don’t permit any recordings in the Long House and I’m also interested in the use of tobacco. Could you explain these?) The older people of our tribe have always objected to the taking of pictures and recordings of songs, to us, as they have spoken many times that so many times songs are commercialized. Pictures are also. To them this is a very sincere belief. And it is, and I believe, that they were sincere in their belief of thankfulness to God. I imagine that their way of thinking, in forbidding pictures and recordings, were that you come there, you participate or you only come as a visitor. And whatever you see, remember it within in your heart and in your mind of how this was — or how you saw this and understood it. I suppose that is the reason why that they have never accepted anyone taking pictures or recordings.

 

TOBACCO SACRED IN CEREMONY

The tobacco is sacred. In the talks made by the older Indians –my uncle was a speaker for many many years. The sacred tobacco is one of the leaders that God had given to us as Indians. As their speaker makes his talk and preparation for a prayer, they always say that the tobacco is the leader. If you are in need, if you are in doubt, if you are sincere and want help, the sacred tobacco is your way. And that is what we call ‘Ya-in-guawa (?). The names that we have for God, the first one would be Ha-wan-e-u (?). The word Ha-wan-e-u (?) means “Many Voices.” As we know when God created the earth, there are many nationalities — there are many races of people, everyone with a different language. So we use the word Ha-wan-e-u (?) for one. The other is Hot-ne-hat-kes-ne-gre (?), that means “Father who lives on High.” Another is (Seneca word). That is the one who made us, or our Creator.

 

(What is your Indian name?)

My Indian name is Skini (?). And I am a Deer Clan. That means “Tracks in the Sand, or the –”

 

(Who is your ceremonial leader of all events at the Long House — what is his name?)

Ernie Whitetree is our first speaker now at our Long House. And my brother, Robert White is our second speaker. They are the ones that when we make our preparations for our ceremonies, they are the ones that we relate to of when we are finished and ready to begin our ceremonies. They are the ones who give the talks –the instructions that we should have, and the prayers.

 

GREEN CORN DANCE

(Mrs. Diebold, some of your dances during the Green Corn are social, aren’t they?)

Our Green Corn Dances, the first day to begin with, is our Harvest Dance and Thanksgiving and the evening is our Seed Dance of Thanksgiving again. And following that, we have social dances in between. During the time we have our ceremonies, there are social dances also. All tribes that are visiting and camping with us –of which we camp at that time, are all welcome to participate.

 

(What is the name of your camp ground?)

It’s called the Bassett Springs Stomp-Ground. It’s tribal ground and it’s located northeast of Grove, Oklahoma–nine miles to be exact.

 

(How long have you been there?)

Almost a hundred years to my knowledge from the different people that I have talked to, and the older people also.

 

LANGUAGE CLASS

(Just start in and tell about your language class and then turn that on.) O.K. We started a language class in November of 1968. We discontinued for two months during the summer and we have begin again. So the members that are attending this class have learned more than six hundred words and they are learning to make sentences and we interpret speeches made by different ones. At this time, we have a speech by Ernie Whitetree, would you like to hear it?

 

SPEECH IN SENECA BY ERNIE WHITETREE AND INTERPRETED BY MRS. DIEBOLD

(Indeed I would.) (Irrelevant conversation for about one minute. Instructions give to speaker by Mrs. Diebold. He has been instructed to talk Indian.) Ernie Whitetree: I want you to listen. Words she gave me. Of great importance. Thankful she’s well today. At the beginning, everything should be in the right way, in the way the language that he has given us. We should have our faith as well as in our voices a language that He has give us as our Creator. He wasn’t playing, as the great thing as he has made us, and created us and give us our lives. He wasn’t playing importance again, that he created us. We have our language to talk when we see one another, is the reason that we should continue day after day (static) — has created us as Indiands that is the way I believe as myself. At this late date, I ask Father on High to help me to keep well, (static interference). So many things have interferred, I ask to think of us day and night. As it is true we are experiencing what few there are left of us. That we may be well, that we believe He gave us our life. It is true whatever it is, whatever the reason, why we are here on earth as of yet. This reason I say again is of great importance in His mind, no doubt He is helping us. That is why we are still left here ever day. That is why I say that we should ask Him every day. It is true for Him to make us, to help us to be well as well as other people of the different nationalities. At this date I am still asking Him to think of us individually as He made us as human beings, our Father on high. As well as our children where they are falling—where they are fighting. I ask again to ask our leader if he should stop and think to help them to pass this crisis of what so many things are interferring and the waste of young boys becoming soldiers where they are fighting. That is why I say we should think again of our Father on High. It is You who has given us the way of the earth and it’s creations.

 

(Thank you very much, Mrs. Diebold.)

 

(End of interview)