Friday, July 13, 2012


Most of this blog post is known to the older Blackfeet who live on the rez, so this will be mostly for those who are young or from away.  It is about artifacts but it is also about society and about change and about “things.”  The Scriver Artifact Collection was the accumulation of objects in the ownership of T.E. Scriver, Harold Scriver and Robert Scriver.  I note that at no point were any of the objects considered the property of any of the Scriver women:  Ellison Westgarth Scriver, Hazel Scriver, Laurel Scriver, Betty Lee Scriver, Margaret Paul, Mary Scriver, Michelle or Charmaine DeSmet, or the two daughters of James Scriver.  Nor were James Scriver or Laurel’s two sons considered owners.  
This was true until Lorraine Scriver, Robert’s fourth wife, inherited everything in his estate, except the objects sold to the Royal Provincial Alberta Museum in Edmonton.  At that point there was a lot of swapping back and forth.  In a few years Lorraine died and everything went to the Montana Historical Society.  Again, there was a lot of swapping back and forth.  Some objects were returned to Canadian Blackfoot people and some were returned to American Blackfeet people.  As far as I know, the tribal entities were never involved, only selected individuals.  Some of the objects were not artifacts but rather a gun collection and a collection of historic RCMP uniforms.
This accounting is from a European point of view which gives precedence to actual possession and to male dominance.  From a Blackfeet point of view, those women who participated in ceremonies become connected to them -- you might call that “ownership” or you might not.  These people would be myself, Lorraine, and Michelle.  Unless there was a ceremony I don’t know about, I am the only woman who had the Thunder Pipe Bundle formally transferred to me (when Bob acquired it) and in fact he could not have had it transferred without a wife.  Richard Little Dog was the ceremonialist.
Complicating things even further, Bob Scriver’s artifacts included many objects, including his painted Badger tipi, that were ceremonial and created by him in the Blackfeet way according to dreams.  (He had these dreams when I was with him, married to him and sleeping beside him.)  So are they native American artifacts or are they Scriver art?    People, especially white people and even museum anthropologists, find it impossible to tell which of the newer objects were created by Bob and which were made by Native Americans.  He himself mixed them.  He also commissioned things like buckskin suits and head dresses to wear as the leader of the Blackfeet Tribal Band in the Fifties.  Cecile Horn made most of these things.  Are they sacred tribal artifacts or commissioned items, bought and paid for?  
The next step is that Bob as a sculptor portrayed the ceremonies in sculptures and included portraits of those old people who accepted them, including George and Molly Kicking Woman, the youngest of the circle as we first knew it.  Now that Joe Old Chief is gone, I may be the only living member of that group.  Bob replaced my portrait with Mary Blackman and himself with Charlie Reevis.  
Margaret Many Guns acted as surrogate wife for Richard Little Dog which meant she and I exchanged clothing.  I still have the dress and moccasins she made for me: they are quite plain and the only artifacts I keep.  I do not participate in the ceremonies.  What I DO have is a closely written account of the whole process and the things I have learned, which propelled me into a career as a Unitarian Universalist minister, a ceremonialist rather than an anthropologist.  
The Thunder Pipe Bundle that was ceremonially transferred to Bob and I has been missing since his death.  It never went to Edmonton in the collection because he was opening it annually and kept it smudged and “alive” in his studio.  There were many theories and suspicions about what Lorraine did with it.  She was intensely hostile to me, refusing to communicate, telling the Blackfeet that the Pipe Bundle was “dead” and therefore none of their business.  In the end “we” meaning myself and Blackfeet friends, concluded that an artifact as dynamic and self-determining as this Bundle is capable of going where it wants to.  When it is so inclined, it will re-appear. 
In the meantime the larger culture, in particular two sub-cultures -- those who acquire and trade in NA artifacts and those who pursue the traders on behalf of the federal government -- have collided with such ferocity that many artifacts disappear at the US borders.  Criminalization with huge threatened fines and incarceration have caused a series of suicides.  In my opinion, if whites are involved on any of this, there is no high ground on which to stand.  It is a swamp battlefield, much of it underground and corrupt on both sides.  The magic word is “eagle.”  The control of dead eagles is the high card, even as wind turbines convert the living birds into eagle pieces.  The concerns of tribal members are sort of peripheral.
And so are museums because they are ordinarily not dynamic enough to turn a profit.  However, the National Museum of the American Indian ingeniously capitalized on the value of the popular “Twilight” films by displaying the Olivella shell necklace, a paddle necklace, a drum and a dream catcher that Jacob gives to Bella.  Quileute Werewolves as depicted in the Twilight movies aren’t all phony. There is some basis of truth. The National Museum of the American Indian investigates further the rich history and culture of the original Quileute people and their relation to the wolves.  In the exhibition, “Behind the Scenes: The Real Story of the Quileute Wolves”, the artwork includes wooden whaling harpooning tools, wolf headdresses, replicas of props as seen in the Twilight films and other objects of the like. The Quileute ancestors were renowned whalers, craftsmen, and huntsmen.”  The display ended in May.   
Secrecy and hiddenness go with artifacts and ceremonies at their core.  They carry entitlement.  So now the movie props for the “Twilight” series have added popular charisma to traditional ceremonial value.  

Actual objects also carry entitlement, which motivates acts of restoration, repatriation and return.  Thus, the premier of Edmonton restored the Bundles in the Scriver Collection to Blackfoot and Blackfeet owners, and recently a headdress was restored to a descendent of Richard Little Dog.  This bonnet is no longer seen as a Parade Indian accouterment (it is a Sioux bonnet, made contemporary) but as a sacred object.  I do not object to any of this.  I no longer value physical possession of things.  (Except for books.)  I’m glad for Forrest to have that bonnet regardless of where it came from. 
Before Bob let the Scriver Collection go to Edmonton, he had everything carefully photographed for a book that he paid to have made.  The bonnet being handed to Forrest in the Glacier Reporter photo is not pictured in the book recording the Scriver Collection, so it may have had another source.  Perhaps it belongs to Flaherty, whose belongings were stored together with the Scriver materials at the Montana Historical Society.)   
You can find copies of “The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains” by Bob Scriver on the Internet used book websites.  The cost goes up and down.  It is now the only “real” Scriver Collection, since the actual items have been separated and distributed.  The printer (who was paid by Bob to print the book, though the man called himself a publisher) never returned the computer files to Bob in spite of pleas and threats.  He could print more of these books,   Bob’s lawyer omitted the disposition of rights to self-published books from the will, so the Montana Historical Society has ambiguous control.
The only rational response on my part is laughter.  I have the story and the memories.  I’ll just wait to see what that Thunder Pipe Bundle might do next..


Lynn Scribner said...

i help bob docmentate his collection many photos were takin of me as a young boy iwas 15 years old wearing a buffalo socity headdress and a bearclaw neckless porkepine breach cloth i saw beaver bundles medice

n pipes we spent months in the basement going threw box after box so many eagles i saw and held in my hand things that were so rare and pricelesss i will never forget thank you bob and jack and john wow sure would love to see them photos .im 42 years old now any feedback sure would be nice my name is lynn kyle scribner ilive in sf ca usa thank you.--- r.i.p.bob-- p.s sorry about miss spelled words.

PARSONS said...

As a cultural surviving quarter breed grown up on a ranch west of Browning (very near Bob's and Harold's more recently purchased land), I can only feel the Scriver clan as part of the encroaching whitemen, coming into pikuni territory to steal whatever they might get their hands on.. and as for traditional sacred objects being transferred to them such should be considered the malaise of a people feeling so dominated, to being compelled to share.

Neil tall-eagle Parsons (omahk-pita)

Lynn Scribner said...

R.I.P.John c Hellson I will always remember you and your teachings Thank You.I love u...Lynn K Scribner