We gathered in the wind on the lawn of the Museum of the Plains Indian so that the front porch could act as a stage.
The conference had been in the planning for years, sponsored by the Friends of the Museum of the Plains Indian. It’s strange that on the Blackfeet reservation energy and visions come in from outsiders who want to be insiders and who throw themselves at specific goals like creating the Museum of the Plains Indian in the Forties and now like the “Friends” group which is trying to keep it open and in some kind of repair. The old square brick building took bad hits in the 1965 flood. Museums need constant work, even the ones that don’t change exhibits much. The active and growing edge of this museum is the contemporary art.
There are two websites that will tell you the core information about this conference: https://pislresearch.com/ and www.fmplainsindian.org I’m going to just note some of the other people in attendance. I sat by Bob Doerk and his friend Bruce from Fort Benton, who are examples of a “type” that I used to know well. They are history fans and aficionados who keep up with every organization, book, personality, conference, and restoration of in Montana. Traveling a point-to-point itinerary, they visit in person these places. There used to be more of them, but they are slipping over the time horizon and displaced by web-surfing. What I appreciate about Bob Doerk is that he always reminds me of his name, which is why I can’t remember Bruce’s last hame -- he doesn’t do that. The edge of me that is aging most quickly is my name-remembering function.
But I never forget the name of Marvin Weatherwax, who was an early student of mine, one of the best writers. His mother, working with Terry Sherburne, the high school French teacher, was one of the first formal teachers of Blackfeet language and Marvin has followed her example, working through the Blackfeet Community College. This is a parallel development to the Piegan Institute, which has worked internationally to develop indigenous languages while also maintaining Cuts Wood immersion Blackfeet Language School for elementary kids. I never met a Weatherwax who wasn’t smart, handsome and lively. Marvin will be in the new movie now in production about George Devereaux and Everybody Talks About. Marv's grandson was helping him out.
Another outstanding family is the DesRosiers: medical doctors, county commissioners, ranchers and leaders, they were, like the Scrivers and the Sherburnes, key early developers of Browning. What I didn’t grasp was that F.C. Campbell, arguably the best agent the Blackfeet ever had and the only one in historic times who managed to stick for a while, was a patriarch of this family. A tall red-headed man on the model of George Washington and William Clarke, he had a lot of good ideas and is also remembered for being the principal of the Fort Shaw School when they fielded a female basketball team that wiped up the boards with victories. In fact, he was the coach. Mike DesRosier, who runs a tour company, http://www.glaciersuntours.com/ gave us an eloquent and detailed talk about the unfolding of a family. This one has included Blackfeet, unlike the Scrivers and Sherburnes who have pretty much dispersed now.
One of the other notable ancestors of Mike DeRosier is Richard Sanderville, one of two brothers with Mexican ancestry, who acted as interpreters for the old timers who didn’t speak English and therefore were handicapped in negotiations. I blogged about these two earlier. “Dick” claimed the name of “Chief Bull” and stayed in Heart Butte while his brother went to Starr School, the other old-timer community. "Dick" was a key negotiator in the creation of the Museum of the Plains Indian during WWII.
James Sanderville, grandson of Chief Bull, is an activist who doesn’t live here. His mother was Klamath and thus went through the trauma of that reservation in Southern Oregon being terminated, the money from the property being dispersed -- which was soon converted into the trauma of misspent transactions, so much so that the reservation was reinstated. James is an old-fashioned orator who is glad to have found ears, though he is conscious he is too intense for some.
The descendant of Strange Owl was present. Also called Strange Owl, this Cheyenne man was a good example of how much affected by the Vietnam War the Plains Indians were. He walked “point” for his platoon, being considered a natural scout. He showed us the sign language he used to warn the men behind him. Wearing bits of camo, he didn’t mind telling us he had taken scalps. He sang for us on a drum he had made: first an honor song and then what he called a “round dance” but what I know as a “49,” which is a combination of the old sentimental country songs with Plains Indian styles.
There was another Blackfeet group, wearing big old cowboy hats and roping cuffs, looking as though they came out of some early photo, that signed Christian songs and prayers. The sign for Jesus, Apistatoke, is upraised hands, then crossed forefingers, then the gesture of the nails being driven into the palms of the hands. I failed to capture their names.
Darrell Norman is another enrolled Blackfeet who grew up off the rez. An artist, he runs a gallery and a tipi village for tourists to stay in. He is the president of the Friends of the Museum of the Plains Indian and at the interface between the earnest history buffs and sustainers in the larger world and those who live here. Jeffrey Davis, a professor at the University of Tennessee, was also a strong force and brought along two American Sign Language experts who know the closely related language for the deaf. Lin Marksbury and Adam Romero accompanied everything with ASL signing. http://web.utk.edu/~jdavis49/bio.html Some will know the deaf language community is no more peaceful than an Indian community.
These tumbling, weaving, broken and mended threads go through human culture around the world and they attract the attention of many thoughtful people. I’ll go on to blog more about Alice Kehoe, who started her professional life as an anthropologist in this museum. I hope to learn more about Steve McArthur from MIssoula, who knows some of the territory about brain function and organizational design that preoccupies me. None of us ever remember to pack enough contact cards, so my pockets are full of scribbles on scraps of paper. The consequences of this three-day conference will work themselves out over months. One could call them "footprints in the sands of time," except that on the prairie the ocean is of grass and quickly removes human sign. Then again we find ancient traces.