John Charles Hellson (1932-2016) was a pugilist in Cornwall, he told us, and that was the reason he had no teeth. He had a bushy beard and we got used to a Cornish accent, rather hairy but toothless. When he showed up one day with a full set of teeth, we hardly recognized him. He never did explain how he got from Cornwall to Alberta — at least not that I heard. If you google him, you’ll find a New York Times article about him stealing artifacts. http://www.nytimes.com/1981/09/27/us/california-museum-caught-its-thief-but-us-institutions-are-vulnerable.html
About the time of Native American empowerment in the Seventies, the material culture of the Blackfeet/Blackfoot on both sides of the Medicine Line shifted from being interesting bits of local color to being Sacred Objects carrying the deep identity of the people. Many were called “Bundles” and suddenly came to consciousness among the people themselves. A small group of people born about 1880 were still practicing the ceremonies on the American side. More were on the Canadian side.
John got off easy with only a jail term: others have been harried to the point of suicide. In the Sixties it was like water rising — at first the white people who had beaded shirts and feathered headdresses hardly noticed that anyone objected. By the time they were taking them from wall displays and hiding them in trunks, it was too late.
Bob Scriver’s and my understanding of the spiritual world of the Blackfeet came in part from John’s teaching. He was married to a woman from an important ceremonialist family and was a participant, though not to the degree that Adolf Hungry Wolf was. The two were often compared, but were quite different. Adolf’s background was totally different (Austro-Hungarian family and strong academic background in California) but they were both white men married to aboriginal women, making their livings by trading and interpreting material culture. John had a specialty in plants which resulted in a book: “Ethnobotany of the Blackfood Indians,” (1974), a respected reference. Adolf’s historical work is massive and the copyright to the monumental “Good Medicine” 4-volume set of books is owned by the Browning Public Schools on the US rez.
There is a blog entitled: “John C. Hellson North American Indian Artifacts and Culture” at johnchellson.blogspot.com but it has no posts.
http://vindication-for-a-worthy-scholar.blogspot.com is testimony from a San Francisco black man who admired John. (Font and italics added, capitalization original.)
“I had the very distinct honor and privilege as well as unique learning experience to be associated with Dr. John Hellson in the early 1980's. I had personal and direct awareness of the legal difficulties Dr. Helson found himself in at that time and I am gratified to now have the opportunity to state for the record that he was a victim of many circumstances at the time. Although eventually Dr. Hellson and I both had to account for and be responsible for our collective and individual culpability in this matter (If you don't know what I'm talking about...it really doesn't matter now!), but if you are, I can tell you what was at the center of that dark time in our pasts was greed! Pure and simple greed... Greed by University Administrators of taking advantage of scholars work product and production, greed of collectors and investors, greed of reservation inhabitants willing to put a price on items of extreme cultural and ethnographic importance, and a system that 20 years later probably still has not learned from the lessons of UC Lowie.
“But what no one could deny at the time, and time has proven, Dr. John C. Hellson was THEN AND REMAINS TODAY THE ACKNOWLEDGED SCHOLARLY EXPERT OF IMPORTANT AND VALID NATIVE ARTIFACTS AND HAS BEEN ABLE TO DOCUMENT AND PRESERVE SUCH ARTIFACTS AND PUBLICATIONS THAT NO OTHER SCHOLAR OR "EXPERT" HAS COME CLOSE TO MATCHING. HE ALWAYS HAD THE TRUST OF THOSE ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN THESE ENDEAVORS AND MOST IMPORTANTLY THE TRUST AND CONFIDENCE OF THE NATIVES THEMSELVES.
“FINALLY….I FEEL THE NEED TO PUBLISH THIS "NEWS" AND HOPE IT GETS THE ATTENTION THE UC LOWIE INCIDENT RECEIVED AND THE ABSURDITY OF THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST DR. HELLSON AND MYSELF.
“I AM GRATEFUL FOR THE FIRST HAND KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE DR. HELLSON ALLOWED ME.
“FYI: I AM AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND THIS EXPERIENCE MOTIVATED ME IN MATTERS OF EVENTUAL RESEARCH AND APPRECIATION OF OTHER CULTURES AND PEOPLES. THAT'S WHAT DR. HELLSON'S WORK ALSO DEVELOPS, AN APPRECIATION OF THE TRUE "AMERICANS" IN THIS COUNTRY.
“THANK YOU DR. JOHN C. HELLSON
John Hellson passed away on Thursday, May 5th, 2016 at the age of 84. A Graveside Service will be held at Canon Stockton Cemetery (Siksika Nation, Alberta) on Tuesday, May 10, 2016 at 2:00 pm. To view and share photos, condolences and stories of John please visit www.choicememorial.com. Arrangements entrusted to the care of Choice Memorial Cremation & Funeral Services (403) 277-7343.
Condolence From: Daren Hellson
Condolence: I never knew that being fatherless would make me feel so aimless, worthless, powerless, heartless and helpless. It hurts to think that you are not here anymore. Although I can’t help but smile with tears in my eyes to think of how we cherished each and every moment of our lives together when you were alive. I Love and miss you dad.
Monday September 12, 2016
Condolence From: Oliver Troy (Sikimiokitopi)
Condolence: Ive been thinking much about what it means to live and lead an exceptional life and I have been fortunate enough to have had but few in my life that have. John was and is certainly an exceptional man. Many want to live long enough for their lives to make a point and mine has begun to. I was deeply saddened on the 5th of May after speaking with my oldest friend Daren Hellson about the passing of his father and my dear friend John. John Charles Hellson was an exceptional man and a father to me in the Blackfoot way. He inspired curiosity, wisdom, and great spiritual significance in my life. It was because of my dear old friend John that I learned to see the world with a magical fascination. He had instilled in me a hope that there was so much more to living than what is often times viewed as "the norm!" John was a symbol of transcending the rights and wrongs, the suppose to's and the not suppose to's and the should's and shouldn't's. He was perhaps the most educated man in so many way's and area's of wondrous pursuit that I have ever met. I have witnessed the self proclaimed and the arm chair intellectuals sit in silence after the introduction of John to others that fancied themselves as knowledgable. I know that it is very important to alway's consider what experience can teach and I learned so much from my dear friend John in ways that no school could have ever taught me. I believe that one has to be interested if one is going to learn that which is being taught and I was always very taken by what John had to say. I can only hope that I paid back enough in my heart felt sentiment toward him and that my old and dear friend John considered me a friend as well and a part of his family. Good bye for now my dear old friend and may we one day meet again in the sand hills. "Thank you for stopping by".
There’s quite a lot more to say, which I’ll get to in future posts. I wanted to establish these personal materials first. For a while when John’s granddaughter April was in high school she and I corresponded by email, mostly swapping doggerel. These are real people with families.