Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Homemade Blackft History Textbook

Back in 1969-70, G.R. McLaughlin, Browning High School history teacher and later principal, decided that Blackft history and culture ought to be taught. Undaunted by the lack of material, especially anything gathered into one volume, “Mac” and his students composed their own. It is an inch thick so I won’t try to replicate it, but I will try to give you an idea of what was in it.

First we should note who composed this book. Students included Ron Crawford (artist), Viney Kennedy, Sadi Ann Fisher, Kyla Scarborough, Kathy McLaughlin, Frank and Jim Glaze, Jessie Hall, Leonda Croff, Virgil Salway (artist), Pierre Pepion (artist), John Onstad, Don Oscarson, Dennis Juneau, Matthew After Buffalo, and Robert DesRosier and others who were not recorded. The elders consulted included Mary Ground, Peter Red Horn, Francis X. Guardipee, Agnes Mad Plume, Dan and Gertie Crawford. Also illustrating was Vernon No Runner. Lynda Morrison typed the formidable pile of material. G.R. McLaughlin himself compiled the actual selections.

There are seven chapters: History, Culture, Religion, Indian War Stories, Indian Stories, Myths and Legends and a Conclusion. Extras include a glossary, a bibliography, and lists of books, movies, tapes and maps available.

Mac doesn’t tell exactly where he gets his information on history except that he includes Bear Head’s version, word-for-word, of the Baker Massacre plus a second version from another source. In most places he seems to be using Ewers or McClintock, the two main Blackft history experts.

In the “Culture” chapter, there are pages of pictographs, some vocabulary and some sign talk. “Indian Hunting” includes piskuns, which he calls “impoundment,” and trapping eagles as well as gathering plants and how to cook what you get. The lodge, the horse, the dance, the equipment are included, along with anecdotes such as Richard Sanderville finding an old camp near Buffalo Lake where a large boulder (“boulder erratic”) adjoined the tipi circles of an old camp. On the west side of the boulder was a buffalo stone, an iniskim, which Sanderville meant to convey to the Museum of the Plains Indian.

The chapter on “Religion” describes the familiar Sun Dance, Medicine Bundle, Beaver Medicine, Medicine Pipe, Painted Tipi, Medicine Shield, and Indian Burial. Some of this material sounds like James Willard Schultz. The obituary of Charles “Crow Chief” Reevis is included as an account of the life of the last Medicine Man.

“Indian War Stories” are six: general strategy, Three Sun’s war record, counting coup (By Joseph Jonas with Tom Kapwitz translating), a Kootenay/Blackfoot duel, a Schultz story, and one about Running Eagle (the female warrior) which also sounds like Schultz. At one time Browning High School had its own small collection of artifacts and a complete set of all James Willard Schultz books.

“Indian stories” are five: The story of Culbertson and Natawista, Heavy Collar and the Ghost Woman, the legend of Chief Mountain, Running Fisher’s retrieval of his brother’s bones, and tale of the Sacred Buffalo Horn.

There are twelve “Myths and Legends, which lead off with “Concept of Peace,” an Iroquois story.

One of the most interesting sections is the conclusion, which includes what computer geeks call “FAQ’s” or “frequently asked questions” and some legal considerations like the ten major crimes and land ownership on a reservation. The Constitution and By-Laws of the Blackft Tribe, as of May, 1969, are included. A separate document is the “By-Laws of the Blackft Tribal Business Council of Montana.”

The list of “Indian movies” are all documentaries from the Montana State Film Library. One wonders if they’ve been translated to video or DVD, especially titles like “Piegan Medicine Lodge,” 24 minutes long. Likewise, dozens of sound tapes are listed as belonging to Browning High School, including one by Earl Old Person on the “Duties and Responsibilities of the Tribal Council.”

There are 37 books in the bibliography but all that is listed is their titles and authors rather than the traditional scholars’ form. They appear to be a mix of standard books and smaller unknown books, probably paperbacked. Deciding what to use and adapting it must have been an enormous task that gave the students involved an invaluable insight into doing research. None of the short pieces are attributed to writers, so the whole enterprise was flying just under the copyright radar. Of course, the writers as historical as McClintock would have entered the public domain anyway. A few pieces are evidently written from oral material offered by living people.

I didn’t go back to teaching until 1971, which was just after this book was produced, but I was aware that the newfangled tape and earphone machinery had just arrived for the language lab, where Terry Sherburne was teaching French. He was open to the idea of teaching Blackft and was joined by Katharine Grant, who was a Blackft speaker. They would have made teaching tapes, but I don’t know where they went. Katharine’s son, Marvin Weatherwax, now teaches Blackft at Blackft Community College. Terry left teaching a long time, partly because the “culture police” came down on him for being a white man dealing with Blackft materials.

The only shortfall I see is in terms of natural history and geology. The terrain of the Blackft range, and especially the fact of being on the East Slope of the Rockies, had a lot to do with shaping their society. Today many Blackft are working for the tribe to manage natural resources, so the relationship continues.

There is a mountain of material like this on the Internet. The more one experiments with terms on Google, the more one can find. Digital documents are easy to print out for a class so a teacher or student can easily make their own textbook in the same way that McLaughlin did with a lot less effort. Kinko’s or some version thereof will laminate covers and bind pages. It is not illegal to create one copy for one’s own use. A person should be much more careful about sources and copyrights than McLaughlin was. He was not a patient man -- he believed in results and he got them.

The list of “Indian Values” in this homemade textbook says, “Patience: To have much patience and to wait is considered to be a good quality.” It also says “The respected member of many Indian cultures is the one who shares and gives all his wealth to others.” That’s where G.R. McLaughlin shone.


Anonymous said...

RE: Prairiemary; Thursday, June 16, 2005
A Homemade Blackft History Textbook

I am interested in finding out about this book. Is it available anywhere to purchase or read?


prairie mary said...

Ron, these blogs are following pretty much the same terrain as Mac did with his homemad textbook. If you download the history entries and take them over to Kinko to be bound, you'd have roughly the same thing. Otherwise, you might put a classified ad in the Glacier Reporter, Browning, Montana, to see if anyone has a copy they'd give you or sell you.

I'm going to post quite a big more stuff, especially about the middle period covered by the Foley Report and some other newer textbooks.

Prairie Mary