Saturday, April 30, 2005

Those Guys Are Like That

The Blackfeet were a nomadic people who constantly moved over their range in relatively small groups, mostly affiliated by family ties. Far from wandering randomly, the groups followed a rough pattern that was mostly seasonal (and therefore varied if the weather did) harvesting camas here, gathering sarvisberries there, and always on the lookout for small bands of buffalo (not unlike their own bands) that might be conveniently close to a nice steep cliff where they could be panicked into stampeding over. That way even stone knives could make them into dry meat.

The small family groups, over time, developed personalities and reputations or had some leader with a quirk worth noting by others and then used to indicate which band was being discussed. Thus, “Never Laughs” or “Eats Alone” became the names of bands, rather like surnames. Here is a list someone in the past made of the bands at that time. (They would, of course, change as they merged, spun off parts, or died out.) The translations are not much good, so look for a Blackft speaker to give you the REAL names.) They’re not always flattering because jokesters invented the names -- not the band themselves.

Siks-uh-kah (Blackfoot) from
Siks-i-nuts (black) + uh-kuh-tehit (foot)

Puh-ksi-nah-mah-yiks (Rotten bows)
Mo-tah-tos-iks (Many medicines)
Siks-in-o-kahs (Black elks)
E-ma-ta-pahk-si-yiks (Dogs naked)
Ah-ki-stan-iks (Much manure)
I-yo-mo-ki-kan-iks (Sliders)
Si-yeks (Liars)
I-sik-stuk-iks (Biters)
Sin-ik-sis-tso-yiks (Early finished eating)
Ap-pe-ki-yiks (Skunks)
Is-si-sak-wi-ah-wat-op-iks (Meat-eaters)

Ki-nah (“Bloods” or maybe
Many Chiefs from Ah-ki-nah)

Siks-in-o-kahs (Black elks)
I-yo-mo-ke-kan-iks (Sliders)
Ah-uo-nis-tsests (Many lodge poles)
Ah-tut-o-si-ki-nah (Behind direction “Bloods”)
Is-tse-Ke-nah (“Bloods”)
In-uhk-so-yis-sum-iks (Long tail lodge pole)
Ne-tit-skihs (One fighters)
Siks-ah-pun-iks (Black blood)
E-sis-o-kas-im-iks (Hair shirts)
Ah-ki-po-kaks (Many children)
Sak-se-nah-mah-yiks (Short bows)
Ap-pe-ki-yiks (Skunks)
Ak-o-tash-iks (Many horses)

Piegans or Pe-kun-i (spotted tan, a robe that has hard spots on it after being tanned.)

E-nuk-s-iks (Small)
Ap-pe-ki-yiks (Skunks)
Ke-me-tiks (Buffalo manure)
E-pok-se-miks (Fat roasters)
Ah-pi-tup-iks (Blood people)
Ne-tyu-yiks (One eaters)
Kut-i-im-iks (? Laugh)
Sik-ut-si-pum-iks (Black moccasin soles)
Sin-ik-sis-two-yis (Early finished eating)
Me-ah-wah-pet-seks (Seldom lonesome)
Mo-twin-iks (All chiefs)
Isk-sin-i-tup-iks (Worm people)
Me-oh-kiu-i-yeks (Big tops)
Sik-o-pok-si-miks (Black fat roasters)
Mo-kum-iks (Mad campers)
Ne-tot-si-tsis-stum:iks (Bulls come close)
Sik-oh-ket-sim-iks (Black smoke holes)
Mo-tah-tos-iks (Many medicines)
Ne-takus-kit-se-pup-iks (One will their hearts)
Ah-ki-ye-ko-kin-iks (Many loose women)

I asked Darrell Kipp, the Harvard Indian, which band his family had claimed. Without hesitating, he said, “Camps by a lake.” He said the phrase in Blackft somehow includes a reference to the blue heron, who is often seen along a lake. This pleased him since his cabin in the St. Mary’s valley is indeed along the lake. The people liked that location because first thing in the morning they would plunge into the lake to wake up and start the day clean.

Last summer Piegan Institute, of which Darrell is a founder, sponsored a summer history seminar where the presenters included a team from the North Piegan tribe far north in Alberta. They arrived a little late: wide straw hats, slim hips in jeans, hiking boots, packs, dark skin, white smiles -- walking easy. They’d been covering the prairie all summer, mostly on foot, with GPS instruments, looking for the ancient camping spots. Once they found the first few it was pretty easy to know what they were looking for and how far apart they would be. Not only were there subtle signs of old campfires and shelters, but also it became apparent that the Old People were packing plants or seeds along to establish in each spot, so they would be growing there when needed. Sometimes they did a little cultivating to help their favorite things grow. Might be tobacco, though it was more likely to be in hidden spots so no one else would harvest it. Could be sweet grass, which doesn’t spread well by itself.

When the team found one of these places, they noted it on the GPS and when they got back to their tribal college, they put the information into a huge computer-driven map-drawing machine that traced it all out on paper. Two “trails” were very old, camps about as far apart as a person and a dog could comfortably travel in a day on terrain where a dog could drag a travois. That meant gradual slopes to riverbeds and around big brushy patches. Then there was one newer trail, for horses, where the distances were greater, not just because they could travel farther but also because the horses needed more water and lots of grass.

When the reservation system forced everyone to stop moving around, the bands settled as they could, some in favorite places and others in not-such-happy places and today they are still associated with those places. Individuals might move to Browning or go to Canada for a year, or even travel out to a city for a while. But they remain attached to the place they grew up and don’t miss moving across the prairie to follow camas or buffalo as their great-great-grandparents did.

Today it’s the white people who restlessly move back and forth over the continent, looking for work.


RH said...

Mary, I love your blog! Were individual names always bestowed by other tribal members, or were they ever bestowed by traders? Would a Blackft have accepted a name given by a trader? I'm thinking of tribes far to the east, Mohawks, Senecas, and so forth, where the names of some individuals who dealt with Ohio Company traders were entered in the books as Suck, Cod mouth, Elk prick, Ugly, Crap, the Earl of Hell. These seem to go beyond joking to the perjorative.

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