In 1967 Adolf Hungry Wolf showed up at Indian Days in Browning, Montana, with a white wife and an armored car converted to a camper. I hasten to say, in my white man’s competitive way, that I got here earlier (1961) encumbered only by the trunk that my father before me took to the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and about fifty whiskey boxes packed with books. Now I’ll shut up about me, because this is about Adolf.
Over the years many napi-kwans (white people) have come to Browning both to take and to give, but none have been quite like Adolf. Born in Austria, his birth name is hard to spell and can only be pronounced properly by people like Mary Eggermont-Molenar, translator of “Montana, 1911.” But unlike Uhlenbeck, the Dutch linguist who came to study for two summers, Adolf took on the life of the Blackfeet -- the 19th century Blackfeet at that. Remarrying to Beverly Little Bear Hungry Wolf (also an author and educator), they raised a family in a lodge -- not a hunting lodge but a real tipi. He’s one of the few napi-kwans to really learn to speak Blackfoot (It’s said singular on the Canadian side.) and to sing the old songs. He became a Bundle Keeper in the early days before the Neo-Traditionalists realized what they were. Of course, though he didn’t become Siksika (the Blackfoot name for their nation) he is now the father of more than a few of them. To do this, he has paid a high price in energy, emotion, and economic hardship.
But he never surrendered some of his Austrian qualities and training: high standards of historical scholarship, relentless research, tenacity, a certain stick-game attitude of mischief, and conservation of collections. He has supported his family by self-publishing and professionally publishing a whole tribe of books about the Piegan or Pikuunni (same thing) based on his research and acquisitions, which included more than 2,000 photographs -- each of which he showed to tribal elders to get good descriptions. The early books were locally printed, stapled together, and mailed out by the family. You can pick them up on Amazon or through the usual used book resources. Not very expensive.
Now comes something entirely new, a real jump in both Hungry Wolf’s production and in what is available in terms of Siksika research. Four big volumes, each packed with information acquired over a long period of time and checked by authoritative Siksika elders -- lots of stuff you can trust about the undivided nation that is located on both sides of the 49th parallel. I assume it is mostly 19th Century material.
Volume One: “Pikuunni History and and Culture” $70
Volume Two: “Pikuunni Ceremonial Life” $75
Volume Three: “Pikuunni Portfolio” $65
Volume Four: “Pikuunni Biographies” $95
These are available on the USA side only through the Blackfeet Heritage Center at 406-338-5661. The information is not posted on their website yet: www.blackfeetnationstore.com. I personally will call my bank for a loan on Monday and then drive up to get all four books. They are that significant. Any student of the Blackfeet, academic or not, would be a fool not to buy them before they’re all gone.
Adolf’s courage and imagination have allowed him to exist in a space he had to invent -- not just between Siksika and Napi-kwan, but also between institutional and personal. The academic world has been a strangling and strangled force, imposing outside values on inside cultures, so that anthropologists and linguists come only for a season and then are dependent on committees to recognize and publish their work -- often committees hostile or deaf to the work they have done or more concerned about budget than knowledge. Before the professors got here, it was the missionaries who at least tried to learn the language before they blindly set about extinguishing it along with its culture. Adolf is an “assimilated anthropologist,” who became what he studied, sometimes baffling enrolled Pikuunni who were struggling to go the other way: figure out the Napi-kwan and enter their economic world.
Naturally, this kicked up a lot of emotions and reactions among a broad spectrum of people. Some thought he was a nut, some thought he was a thief, some thought he was absolutely stone cold sincere. I’ve been converted to the last position.
Adolf never pretended to be a born Indian, though he wore braids and ribbon shirts. He never charged Germans thousands of dollars in order to include them in elaborate ceremonies. He never did a Sioux-style Sun Lodge complete with fasting and piercings. He never blathered on about "spirituality." Lots of others with his interests DID do all this and in the process moved many Holy Objects out of the Siksika world, let the ceremonies relax, and slipped around behind the scenes to make deals. (Well, maybe Adolf did a little of that last.)
When one goes into archives across the continent with the intent to study Pikuunni materials, maybe hoping to find something previously unknown, when you get the check-out card you find out Adolf was already there.
Just let me put this bug in your ear that’s about Bob Scriver, who built the building that now houses the Blackfeet Heritage Center. Before he sold his collection of Blackfeet artifacts to the Edmonton Royal Museum, thinking they would be protected there, he paid Marshall Noice -- a very fine photographer -- to photograph every object. His thought was that everyone could buy the book for $65 or at least go look at it in the library. Those self-published books now sell for $800. ("The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains".) The collection itself has been partially dispersed.
There is no immortality for things, people or even cultures -- but one can lend them time by making and keeping a record. Bless that Adolf -- on his own terms.