I never expected things to go this way. I’m scared.I’m always wary but usually of things like a bad winter or even a rise in sea level due to a warming north pole — two things that are evidently connected.I say “evidently” because that’s what the evidence tells us.But that’s not really what is disturbing my sleep now.
I agree with Ken Olbermannwww.gq.com/story/watch-the-closer-keith-olbermannHe is evidence-based and sums it up accurately. Even the local Flat Earth Society, even the people who keep their tin hats handy in case the aliens kill another cow, are feeling uncertain now. They thought that, once elected, Trump would drop his disguise and become rational.
The most thoughtful people in town (women) defended Trump, mostly because they despised Hilary and her pant suits (they wear jeans). Now they’re trying not to think, binging on housework and holding family close, using medicinal chocolate. I don’t bring up the subject.
We have met the enemy and he looks like a kewpie doll and has the mentality of Clem Kadiddlehopper. I have two thoughts: one is gratitude for my neighbor who almost secretly shoveled out my snowed-in driveway — never asking for gratitude but going ahead as the people here have always done to help each other. The other is that Trump has got to be the dorsal fin of the shark to have gotten to this position of President Elect. There must be a lot more holding him up than some kind of neurotic compulsion of the population.
I don’t think the choice ever was change versus the status quo. Change was murdered in its cradle by the global Status Quo Board of Directors. And something is fiddling with my internet connection.
This time of year people make lists of blogs in Montana. They are always political, always from the high-pop mountain cities, and often written by people under forty who didn't grow up here. When I first came back in 1999 I was writing under the radar because everyone thought of me as an historical extension of Bob Scriver. Then I got his biography written. (Which was ignored because as one veteran told me, books are only bought by distributors if a salesman comes and tells them what is important, and anyway this book was published in Canada and I only wanted people to read it because I’m a bitter old woman.) At least I’ve never worn a pantsuit. Amazon shows the covers of my other published books.
Then came blogging. Wheeee! Amazon links to my main blog. But I’m still under the radar. Rather glad of it, actually. Because I write scary. I’m not bitter: I’m reckless. And I’m reckless because there is less and less to lose by speaking out, joining “The Resistance.” I wish Olbermann weren’t sponsored by a men’s magazine focused on style. It’s too easy to brush him off. (He wears pantsuits but at least they're not three-piece.)
But I should stop defining people by their choices of identification. For instance, one of the most intelligent and connected-to-reality publications on the Internet is called VICE and came to my attention because of an exposé of “law and order” on the rez at its worst. The report was accurate and a reporter came here to see, instead of depending on second hand stuff. But it also prints material that matches its title.
The wind is rising, as was forecast, and the work of my neighbor in shoveling my driveway out is being erased by larger forces, the global east-flow jet stream among them. So do I go see if I have mail, bundled up in my down rancher coat, or shall I just hunker down and wait until tomorrow? At the moment I vote for hunkering.
But when it comes to Trump, I think that’s the wrong choice.
This is less than my self-imposed quota of a thousand words, but I need to go dig around to see if I can find some chocolate, since I won’t be making it to the store until tomorrow.
It’s such a pretty theory, that thing about inside and outside the theologically defined circle: inside are the believers, outside are those who study them. The problem is that, like a human cell, inside the circle are all sorts of smaller circles, each with its own function and self-definition. They can quarrel with each other over their relationship. They can become more complicated and active than the hoops of a pow-wow dancer.
So there is the diaspora of Blackfeet across the continent; the reservation-dwelling Blackfeet, each of the five major towns in its own circle but the river communities as long strips; the whites on the rez as a kind of internally dispersed group, the same for other self-designated circles like maybe gays or veterans or elders, each of the schools (Heart Butte, East Glacier, Browning and Babb plus the small independent schools) — you get the picture. A terrific labyrinth of experiences, each with its own narrative truth. Unique unless pressed into the terrible need to make expectations into confirmation, which seems to be a brain function, keeping reality out.
This is exactly what a writer loves to see in terms of material. I love all these sorts of complex circles, but some more than others. I’ve always been attracted to the self-defined communities and the experience of seeing them come apart into Venn Diagrams, not as destruction but as analysis. The UUMA more than the UUA. “Leathermen” more than generic gay men. “Method” actors more than others. And so on. The ones I find most interesting are the ones who are more secretive, who tread more closely to the forbidden — like messing with people’s minds — who are transgressive and therefore go where no one has gone before, sometimes barely intelligible. Those who have been through annealing ordeals. Those who walk the edge of the glacier while it melts, finding the strange artifacts and occasional person’s body that have fallen into the crevasses centuries ago.
The Blackfeet and their cohort are endlessly intriguing and most of what is written about them is simply incomplete, by necessity, but usually pretty absorbing even if you don’t know much about the writer. It’s dangerous for anyone to describe the People too accurately, not because of witchcraft but because they get angry and they can get their hands on you, politically if not physically. (You realize I’m only saying “Blackfeet” as a figure of speech, a “part-for-the-whole.”)
The sequence in the transition from oral culture Indians to today’s Ph.D.-holding as-well-as-enrolled theorists is that the point-of-original-contact NA person tells (in Blackfeet) a white person what he wants to say, hoping for some kind of accuracy in translation, which is not likely. Later, the NA ESL English-speaking person tells a white person the story and can tell if his interlocutor is getting it right, which it never quite is. Then the NA educated person who speaks English and has studied, accepting as normal the Euro conventions about writing, maybe with an MFA, writes and is praised by white people. Eventually the NA person, possibly without much traditional background, takes off into experiment-land with his own heartsong.
This is where we begin to get into trouble. Publishers and editors, who control public access to most info, rarely know anything about all the possibilities. They only know what they already know. Thus, ceremonies are supposed to be secret, so describing them is enticing. There’s always sex and violence. And people go around in disguise, like Central Casting in Hollywood who thinks that Cochise is Italian and never realizes that their cinematographer is a full-blood. Etc. Bring your favorite issue, but don’t get your publisher in trouble. (Trouble means spending money on legal counsel.) On second thought, says the publisher, maybe it’s not smart to publish books about indigenous people.
There’s another dimension I never hear discussed or read about. It is how “cute” NA children are and the motivations that adorability brings to the surface. Some of them seem so irreproachable, adopting the child from an abusive or poverty-stricken family with full knowledge and approval of the court. But without any understanding of what that child is really like or really needs. Just being turned on by the slender necks, the huge eyes, the clever restless hands. (Which disappear as they grow up.) At the other end of that continuum is the predator who sees sex and violence as the same thing and murder as equivalent to orgasm.
Or perhaps the children are considered en masse through mailed-out photos of groups at the mission or on the retreat or maybe in a mini-pow-wow wearing dresses that dance with fringe and bells. “Send money” pleads the mailing, and whole groups, whole church congregations, pledge without ever checking them out, without ever anyone knowing that the kids spend hours at tables stuffing those envelopes or maybe snapping together little plastic knickknacks to mail in appreciation. There’s more than one way to steal the children.
But in the midst of all this messy muddle, an occasional stand-up comic named Napi shouts “Follow me!” and they do and they go down a path and along a stream and finally to a hill top where there is an ancient cairn with little satin bows and calico packets of holy things in the nearby aromatic trees.
That’s all very pretty and if you say not all poetry is so pretty and not everyone who follows is going along for a good reason, you will make everyone angry and you will never work there again, which is pretty awkward if you’re a member of that tribe.
Writers make everything into a story everyone can remember so they can tell it. But as Greg warns, some stories are told in the evening, some are told at midnight, and the most dangerous (and true) ones are told in the darkest hour when everyone has gone to sleep except the oldest grannies, who sit by the campfire embers and review the plot points and try to figure out who is whose biological child and whether it matters anyway. When the sun comes up, they draw their smoky blankets close and dream.
Do you see what I did here? It was writing tricks. Take ‘em low, take ‘em high, take ‘em to some place they want with all their hearts. Just take ‘em. They want it.
Okay, let’s get really technical and talk about blood and DNA. All this info is very recently discovered, which means that all the talk about “blood” in relation to the American indigenous people is NOT about blood at all, but about a kind of metaphor for genetic relationship across generations.Honest scientists will say that there is no way to determine tribe by genotyping, though the African descent people have been pursuing “marker” sections that tend to be associated with certain tribes.
You’d probably do about as much good by searching through face recognition software for the way you look. Indigenous people to the north look more Asian and Inuit than plains people and indigenous people to the SW look more like SE Asia people. (“Boat theory” instead of land bridge theory.)
This is from Wikipedia and I'm leaving in the links because it's so technical you may need the definitions. I did.
“Homo is the genus that comprises the species Homo sapiens, which includes modern humans, as well as several extinct species classified as ancestral to or closely related to modern humans—as for examples Homo habilis and Homo neanderthalensis. The genus is about 2.8 million years old; it first appeared as its earliest species Homo habilis, which emerged from the genus Australopithecus, which itself had previously split from the lineage of Pan, the chimpanzees. Taxonomically, Homo is the only genus assigned to the subtribe Hominina which, with the subtribes Australopithecina and Panina, comprise the tribeHominini (see evolutionary tree below). All species of the genus Homo plus those species of the australopithecines that arose after the split from Pan are called hominins.”
It turns out that modern humans have interbred with Neanderthals as well as Denisovans, particularly in the SE of Asia. Small percentages of typical DNA signatures for certain groups are detectable. It’s possible that American indigenous people have a good deal of Altai Neanderthal and Denisovan code in their DNA, because they are the closest to the land mass (not just a bridge) that once connected Asia with America, but it’s hard to know because we don’t have enough evidence, not just in fossil terms but also in surveys of American tribes, who have been exploited and bamboozled so much that they shrink from anyone knowing anything about them. If anyone found out that the Indian Health Service had been providing blood for DNA analysis, there would be an explosion. Not that it would stop them doing it, but stop them from letting it become public.
The people who should really worry are pygmies, who carry the DNA code for surviving ALL the kinds of AIDS. The recently announced vaccine only works on ONE kind of HIV. I’m unclear whether this is the same strain that evidently mutated recently and made the virus able to travel so far so fast. But that’s a branch line of thought I’ll leave for now. I'd hate to see the small pygmy people drained of blood for research.
The main thing we know about American Indian blood is that all of them have blood. The living ones, anyway. DNA does not make blood — it makes proteins and the interacting proteins create the blood cells. In fact, blood cells have no nuclei and therefore have no DNA, which is the defining characteristic of a nucleus. They are the only human body cells with no nucleus.
Many men learned about their blood types when they did military service, because it was stamped on their dog tags in case of wounds that required transfusions. “Human blood is grouped into four types: A,B, AB, and O. Each letter refers to a kind of antigen, or protein, on the surface of red blood cells. For example, the surface of red blood cells in Type A blood has antigens known as A-antigens.” The blood types were not about DNA at all, they were about antigens, which are “a toxin or other foreign substance that induces an immune response in the body, especially the production of antibodies.” You don’t want to be allergic to your transfusion. But this information was not known when the rules about blood quantum were made.
Okay, so now let’s go back to DNA, which functions like a huge keyboard or symphony sheet music to determine what should be “played.” They interact so that one bit might not do the same thing if another bit is not present. They operate like musical chords.
Beyond that is the epigenome, which can silence specific genes by attaching a methyl molecule to it. Recently we discovered that methylation can persist somehow across the generations. This discovery was made through study of Holland during WWII when many people were starving to death. The grandchildren got fat because their protein molecules were set to save calories. Most Plains Indians starved when put on reservations with no buffalo. In contrast, vulnerability to over-reactions to alcohol is evidently an Asian characteristic in the actual genes, carried to American ten thousand years ago.
This is not simple stuff. The “microgenome” of the tiny inhabitants of the gut help with digestion and can send quite different molecules through the blood. Even the isotopes of the soil in different places, when taken into molecules, can make them subtly different. That’s your mineralome, a link to place.
At first the assumption of the governing bodies of the USA was that all the indigenous people out there would either marry white people or assimilate their culture into the “clearly superior” Euro-version. They should have had a long talk with the Hudson’s Bay Company, which knew a lot about cross-fertilizing colonies. The result is often a third “new” kind of people with great strength and strong relationships on both sides.
So the US feds, when they realized this, got out of the “blood” metaphor business and delegated it all back to the tribes. Even if one were able to get a DNA readout that showed a likelihood of descent from a specific genetic group (probably created more by place and food than anything mystical), the next step would have to be compliance to the political decisions of quite different tribes. Some rich, some poor; some numerous, some few. The Cherokee trimmed their rolls by throwing off all the slave-descended people they had so generously included earlier. Uproar.
Once the differences between an oral culture and a writing culture are allowed for, everyone can write except for a very few dyslexics and even they can probably write with a little extra help. A VERY few families have been found whose mutation of DNA has eliminated some crucial element of the brain that allows the writing process to be blocked.
WHAT people write comes mostly from what they read and what their cultural memes are like. What do people notice? What do people want to know? What do they care about, beyond survival? The variations are infinite. What kind of sense does it make to say that only a certain social category of people can write about that category?
We need to go to a concept from religion. There are two ways to consider a specific unified set of beliefs: from the inside which is inhabited by believers and from the outside where observers see in a different way. The boundary is a blurry line in most cases; some days even the true believers are challenged and feeling a little skeptical. Some days the believers are so enchanting, so alluring, so promising, that the “objective” outsiders want in. That’s the dynamic we’re struggling with through the narrow gate of publishing.
I wept all the way through it, even though they were Sioux, Blackfeet rivals mostly because they are so similar. A matter of maintaining separation. It wasn’t any ideas in the movie that brought the tears, it was the felt meanings of horses on the snowy prairie, calm men with strong purposes, and the land, the land, the land. Pay no attention. Tears just happen. They’re not an entitlement.
There’s a lot of testifying in this film, much of it full of tears, but instead of reacting to that, listen to the music of the voices, the phrasing, the rhythm. When in my teaching years I asked for writing, I often got the lyrics of songs. Spoken, sung, shaped words because the kids were from an oral culture. Our young people feel it. Globally.
This ride is not a reenactment or actually a memorial in a normal sense. It is something forming that doesn’t depend on anything an anthropologist wrote. There’s no “theology,” no rubrics, just the felt meaning of “doin’ it” and the dream. It is a uniting ordeal. There would probably have been deaths except for the need to protect the horses. The best description is Tillich’s principle that the sacred arises from the midst of the people. You don’t think it up, it’s not a matter of effort, it’s just gradually there. A dream.
My attachment to these prairie people was created when I spent my young adult years, the years when one’s brain is making the final connections and forming the abstract abilities that I’ve used ever since. They are sense memories of laughter, smudging, old old objects of significance, light flooding across the prairie. The sound and smell of horses.
38 is this many: tttttttttt tttttttttt tttttttttt tttttttt There were so many that they were hung close enough together to reach out and join hands while they died. No, now that I’ve seen the act filmed, they had their hands tied behind their backs. The whites filmed it. Cold-blooded, almost proud, defiantly assuming they were right, and yet themselves recording a crime, a sin, an act of hubris. There’s a kind of blood lust that seizes people when they are scared and emboldened like fish or birds, taking their cues from the next guy over, so that thousands of normally law-abiding church-going people could stand there and feel good about people dying. Maybe some didn’t like it, but didn’t dare say so.
My Scots father was born on a homestead near Faulkton, South Dakota, which was part of the designated Brule Sioux lands for a while. His family came in to raise potatoes where the buffalo had been. They were humble, modest, educated Scots who had no consciousness at all of what was happening. Part of it was just not having the facts, part of it was a kind of denial that is a darkness in the brain. I mean, they were working for survival every day and their reading was often about New England. Only the youngest son saw military service in WWII. Because he was big, he was a pilot in the “B” for bombing and “C” for cargo airplanes and saw no combat. I’m just making a link. My cousins don’t want to think about it. His children do not communicate with the rest of us.
There’s an enormous amount of overlap between those who died long ago and today’s veterans, spiritually dead from PTSD, addiction, combat trauma and memory. Coming back from those chaos experiences is like thawing from frostbite, painful and damaging. I have my own sense memories from being out in blizzards, even on horseback, even on closed highways, but none are about atrocities. I’ve been shot at, but never been present when someone was shot. Just animals. Not very dramatic. But I would share the experiences with some of the ranchers and their wives.
When I go onto the rez and meet people I know, I get great big soft hugs from the women. The men are still a little shy, slipping back into their high school years. Kids just stare. They know nothing about me and are split between wary and defiant, just in case I might give them a reason for either. I’ve been the celebrant for Blackfeet funerals, but no marriages. I served the Blackfeet Methodist parish for a year.
When I talk to Valier people about the rez, or about NA history or books, I get a strange resistance to certain ideas. It’s not exactly racism, and not conscious resistance, but a kind of seeping cloud that sometimes bursts into the pinwheeling eyes of not-computing. I’ve felt that myself on the inside, but not usually in regard to Indians. I’m not sure exactly what the triggers are, but I know that it feels like fear as well as non-comprehension. Maybe I felt it sometimes in the U of Chicago years. Those highly educated important people are so sure, so powerful, so locked, so different. But they don’t know it.
The prairie tribes, among the last to be cleared and confined, understood horsemen riding in fast, on the attack. They knew how to do it. This was part of their world like the Janjaweed in Africa or the Mongols in Asia. So those Sioux knew how to die well, even put a Christian reincarnation spin on it. American soldiers have lost a bit of that, which makes the trauma much worse. But I was impressed that when it was time for a talking circle on this ride through blizzards, there were men who spoke openly about how they recovered from abuse, addiction, and violence. This is not a matter of theology but of felt redemption. The land spread a cold white blanket over them.
When “publishing” was first devised as a category of commerce, it was meant to be something like becoming landed gentry, that is, a source of income that didn’t mean having to go work in a field. The publisher harnessed the energy of writers rather than horses or oxen but tried to make everyone believe that it was an honor to be published, like the duke awarding you a medal at the Downton Abbey Fair.To make books saleable objects they provided elegant bindings, as though announcing a man’s identity by engaging a bespoke tailor.
But now publishing is quite different. Maybe I can make the point with a joke I learned in seminary but could never use in a sermon. A traveler checked into his motel room and looked around. There was no television for his favorite kind of movie, the kind he couldn’t watch at home, but there was a curious little slot in the wall, evidently lined with some kind of fur or fuzz, and about as high off the ground as his zipper. It was labeled, “your wife away from home,” and it appeared to be a little like those coin-operated “magic fingers” that make the bed vibrate.
The man had never seen anything like this before and was hesitant, but it seemed harmless. So he stuck his dick in there and put a quarter in the money slot.
In a second he was feeling the most awful pain in his penis, making him scream and struggle, but couldn’t pull out until finally the traitorous slot let him go and he staggered back, bleeding. There on the end of his dick was sewn a shirt button.
Publishing is the equivalent of sewing a button on the end of your cherished writing. A misunderstanding.
The foofaraw about who can write about indigenous Americans is starting up again. This time it’s about Joseph Boyden who is basically presented as an historical writer who has tribal blood from early days. A representative critic, Hayden King says, “The themes that push this narrative are a portrayal of Haudenosaunee peoples as antagonistic, the privileging of the Jesuit perspective, and a reinforcing of old story-telling tropes about Indigenous people. These themes work together to convey the message that the disappearance of the Huron and the loss of their orenda was destined to happen.” “Hayden King is Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation on Gchi’mnissing in Huronia, Ontario.”
I notice two things: Beausoliel is a French word and both the author and his critic are handsome, prospering young men. France is the home of the post-colonial thought that is so valued in academic circles. I don’t know how to say “beautiful sun” in Haudenosaunee or what the cultural implications of the phrase are. I think there are some in French, like the “Sun King.”
A friend who blogs as whisky prajer (preacher) atwhiskyprajer.blogspot.com sent me a copy of “The Orenda” months ago and I confess I read half of it, found it was work, and set it aside for a rest, which hasn’t ended yet. It has the markers of young men’s plot forces, like brave and competent men having to manage supernaturally gifted and rebellious young women (Buffy is as tough as the mythical Indian brave.) while contending with male v. male competition. “Game of Thrones” stuff, suitably grim, a marker of serious young men with educations who want to explore and hope to be significant.
These following remarks are meant to be ironic rather than disapproving, but they are thoughts that are painful. I’m after what’s in the wall, the mechanisms of flesh-based sewing, the source of the button, and where the coins go.
Haudenosaunee and all other indigenous “writing” in America is oral and can only be written in print by using phonetics. This must be done by someone with enough education (assimilation) to know how. Novels by indigenous people are usually written by people using English or French and educated enough to compose a story in the Euro way: presenting problem, rising action, crisis and resolution. The writer must be able to present the assumptions of one culture, dominated after first encounter, to the dominating (reading) culture without baffling or alienating the reader.
This is much helped by a religio-philosophical Romantic movement in Europe (esp. Germany) that gave high value to the idea of an immanental God and the subsidiary idea that “natural” people are closer to God. But books about the indigenous often have a character who is a “Blue Duck,” unnatural and therefore evil. He’s often Machiavellian and enjoys the practices of torture, as in the Spanish Inquisition except that he is assumed to serve the Devil.
On the other hand is a pattern established at the World Fair of 1897, a sort of “pop-up” United Nations in Chicago that celebrated what they considered to be “religion,” meaning institutional or organized (euphemism). Simon Pokagon was an activist Potawatomi who grew up in Michigan. He made a lot of extravagant claims about his education and his eloquence sounded as though it were influenced by a progressive Victorian Christian lady, probably his lawyer's wife. This set a sort of criterion for popular writing by redeemed “Indians.” Pokagon is worth researching.
So publishing was done by colonials in pursuit of righteousness, in the bourgeois interest of making money by flattering readers who respond to European “Christian” values. Venture capitalists are making objects for sale by using paper, ink, and fine bindings to capture Euro-type stories in a Euro language. The ethnic origins of the authors are meant to be sales points. In fact, these days what is sold is often more the persona of the author than the content of the story. This is not just true of Indians but has been true from Robinson Crusoe and “Fanny” forward.
Indigenous authors, those who write in a Euro language for a publisher who sells to American readers passionately ambivalent about books by “Indians”, assume that they are selling well because they are writing about a privileged culture or perhaps a targeted and suffering culture. They feel that inheritance is the only way to tell authentic NA books, thus excluding “Laughing Boy,” “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” “When the Legends Die,” and a host of other beloved examples. They feel that publishing those books about NA’s will exclude them the true indigenous, as though there were a quota for books about indigenous people, like the quota for immigrants. Indeed, this culture treats the original inhabitants as immigrants. (“Quota” and “quantum” come from Latin. Military originally. Something like a tax or tithe on a conquered community.)
Quotas are a European idea, as were the original lists of members of groups of people traveling together and speaking the same language (possibly at heart an extended family that included captured women and children). They were written on paper, documenting what became the whole original legal membership of a tribe only a little more than a century ago. Unverified, because unverifiable. (Then, of course, after establishing membership in a tribe, the tribe must be recognized by the feds, so it’s not much use to be a certified member of an unrecognized tribe.) Provenance is a Euro term of value that originally developed to describe the worth and origins of domestic animals. Today it often describes the value of art or antiques. “Provenance” is also a Latin word, meaning place of origin (Hereford cows come from Hereford, England), but most tribal people have been displaced.
On the Blackfeet reservation there are two cousins about the same age, both male, both intelligent, good-looking and well-connected. One stays in the state and takes video classes (oral culture). He “writes” a vid about rez dogs that everyone loves. He is “enrolled.” so should have gotten some money from this status last week. The other one goes farther afield, is not enrolled but has an MFA and is recognized as an outstanding writer of the “Indian” kind. No tribal payout for him. It’s always money in the end. So which one is the one a publisher wants? No one publishes vids. Nor do outsiders edit vids, but they are often group projects.
Adrian Jawort is the guy who gets it. “Off the Path Press” is his publishing house. If indigenous writers want to be published in all their aspects and worldviews, there must be indigenous-owned publishing houses, not Manhattan publishing houses owned by German soup corporations who have 19th century druid ideas about indigenous people.
I’m going to pursue this a little farther. I’ve done a lot of writing about Blackfeet people and I’m going to continue, but they may not be Blackfeet as you know them or as they think of themselves. I refrain from being published, since I can blog for free without being edited. Anyhow, I have no appendage suitable for attaching buttons.
I’m white. Scots-Irish. Born that way. Nothing I can do about it. Came to Browning, Montana, the Blackfeet Reservation in 1961 to teach high school English. No one said that since I was white I couldn’t teach Indians. In those days "Indians" was what everyone called them, including them. But they told me if any student called me “Napi Yaki” I should take them to the Principal’s office forthwith. Actually, the Chief of Police took me to the Superintendent’s office because I let the kids speak “libelous” angry words about the cops beating them up. The Superintendent backed off the Chief by saying that the defense for libel would be proof that it was true, and therefore the ticket the chief proposed to give me would trigger an investigation of the beating of local kids by police. Likely, there would be media stories.
At the time I thought that was very clever. Now I think there was something wrong that none of the three of us immediately started that investigation. Why was the focus on the handling of the information instead of on the clearly criminal and immoral acts?
The angst about white people writing about Indians is beginning again. I’m not going to discuss the principles. Instead I’ll tell you how I wrote a book about Blackfeet.
The first thing was that a book called “Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069” (1992) by Neil Howe and William Strauss was getting a lot of attention. I thought, “Why shouldn’t this part of the world be looked at this way?” The authors had separated their time period by twenty years and then given each doubledecade a motif, a little symbolic focus. So I did that, but I only started with the formation of the US.
(1742 - 1766)
(1767 - 1791)
(1792 - 1821)
(1821 - 1841)
(1843 - 1859)
(1860 - 1882)
(1883 - 1900)
(1901 - 1924)
(1924 - 1953)
(1953 - 1969)
(1969 - 1991)
Then I got out the history books and made notes of what happened to the Blackfeet in those intervals. That’s how I got the titles and theme.
1742 - 1766: THE HORSE
1720: Some say guns and horses got to the Blackfeet this early. 1730: Blackfeet knew of horses from the Shoshone.
1739: Trading posts established at the forks of the Saskatchewan River. 1754: Anthony Hendry, guided by Cree, meets Pikuni Blackfeet in Alberta or Saskatchewan. It’s a little dubious since the Cree called them “Archithune” which means strange/enemy/slave.
1769: First recorded contact between Blackfeet and white men: de le Verendrye in
II. “Eats Alone”
1769: First recorded contact between Blackfeet and white men: de le Verendrye. 1772: Mathew Cocking of Hudson Bay Co. describes Blackfoot and their allies.
1774: Cumberland House trading post established on the lower Saskatchewan River. 1778: Continental Congress signs the first Indian
treaty. It is with the Delaware Nation. The Articles of Confederation state as one purpose to regulate trade with the Indians. 1780: The population of the Blackfoot Nation is estimated to be 15,000. They occupy a broad area that stretches over the top half of Montana and the bottom halves of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
1781: Devastating epidemic of smallpox. The Shoshoni's flee their country. Smallpox
91 spreads to the Blackfeet after they raid a Shoshoni camp.
1782: Snakes and Shoshoni tribes leave Bow River area. Major smallpox epidemic among the Pikuni. Possibly 50% mortality.
1784: Congress grants the War Department rule over Indian Affairs. Hudson Bay and NorthWest Fur Co. are competing for Blackfoot.
1787: David Thompson winters with the Blackfoot on the Bow River. "Dog Days" old men (those who remember pre-horse) say they came from the Northwest. Blackfoot war partygoessouthtoSantaFe.Stealshorses from Spanish miners.
1788: The winter when the stars fell. III. “Two Medicine”
III. "TWO MEDICINE"
1792 - 1821 BLACK ROBES
1792: Peter Fidler approaches Chief Mountain through Canada. 1794: Blackfoot trade at Fort George on the Saskatchewan River.
1795: Kutenai offer horses to the Blackfoot to get passage to Fort George, but the Blackfoot say no for fear of the Kutenai getting guns. 1796: On July 14 Chief Mountain is identified and named by whites.
1799: Northwest Fur Company builds Rocky Mountain House at the mouth of the Saskatchewan River.
1800: Trappers LeBlanc and La Grosse of the Northwest Fur Company come to live with Kutenai. Pikuni group are masters of the Plains from N. Saskatchewan River to tributaries of the Missouri River, Battle
River to the Rockie Mountains.
1801: McKenzie, explorer, estimates the Blackfoot warrior class as 9,000 men.
1804: On March 10 formal ceremonies in St. Louis finalize the Louisiana Purchase, the drainage of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. In May Lewis and Clark start west to
see what the U.S. has “bought.”
1805: Lewis and Clark approach Blackfeet country. Francois LeRocque finds twelve lodges of Shoshoni living with the Crow and identifiesthemasremnantsofalargergroup destroyed by Blackfeet.
1806: Captain Lewis and men has a skirmish on the Marias after leaving Camp Disappointment at the junction of Two Medicine and Badger. He- That-Looks-at-the- Calf is shot and one other Piegan Blackfeet is killed.
1807: John Colter makes his famous stripped “race for life.”
1809: David Thompson founds a post at Thompson Falls, visits Flathead Lake. Henry submits this population count: Piegan, 350 lodges and 700 warriors; Blackfoot, 200 lodges and 520 warriors; Blood 100 lodges and 200 warriors. 200 whites in trading posts.
1810: Thompson sends McDonald, Michel Bourdeaux and Batist Boucher with many Indians over Marias Pass. They battle the Blackfeet near Skyland Siding on Bear Creek. Andrew Henry and Pierre Menard are driven out of Three Forks by Blackfeet. Joseph Howse may have a post near present Kalispell. Blackfeet have first contact wiht U.S. soldiers. Robert Stewart skirts Blackfeet territory and charts the Oregon Trail.
1818: 49th parallel becomes the US/Canada border. 1820: Hugh Monroe is living with the
IV. “Horse Healer”
1821 to 1841: FORTS
1823: Blackfeet attack Henry near Great Falls.
1828: Kenneth McKenzie and James Kipp found Fort Union.
1830: McKenzie sends Jacob Berger to win over the Blackfeet for trade. Berger meets Blackfeet on Badger Creek. Blackfeet agree to traders but NOT trappers. Worcester vs. Georgia: this Supreme Court case recognized Indian tribes as foreign nations with the right to govern their own internal affairs. Severe winter: many Blackfeet perish. In summer they go on the warpath to capture women and children to recoup the losses.
1831: McKenzie arranges a peace between Blackfeet & Assiniboine. 1832: First steamboat reaches Fort Union, bringing George Catlin, who says the Blackfeet are “perhaps the most powerful tribe on the continent.” The tribe numbers 16,500 people.
1833: Prince Maximilian and Alexander Culbertson arrive upriver. (Fort Benton) Maximilian estimates 18,000 to 20,000 Blackfeet. Stars fall, which is taken as bad luck. On August 28, 600 Sioux and Assiniboine attack 20 Blackfeet lodges outside Fort McKenzie. Bodmer witnesses and depicts it. Blackfeet push Sioux and Assiniboine back to the Marias River and east past the Bear Paws. There is a total eclipse of the sun. 1834: Bureau of Indian Affairs is formed in the War Department. First governmental official designated to meet with the Blackfeet. Fort McKenzie lists their intake: 9,000 buffalo hides; 1,020 beaver; 180 wolf; 19 bear skins; 390 buffalo tongues; 40 otter; 2,800 muskrat; 200 red fox; 1,500 prairie dogs.
1836: Hugh Monroe sees the St. Mary Lakes. Smallpox pandemic along the Missouri. The Mandan are exterminated. Pikuni/Piegan suffer grave losses. 6,000 Blood and North Peigan perish. Estimated 7 - 12 thousand
Blackfeet perish in the U.S. No life from Fort Benton to Three Forks. Horses and dogs dead. Some evidence of deliberate infection. (Clothes and/or blankets infected.)
1837: Smallpox in all tribes north of the Sioux. Alfred Jacob Miller estimates 40 to 50 trappers killed by the Blackfeet. Americans blame the British for inciting killings.
1839: Kutenai War
1840: DeSmet visits the Small Robes band of Blackfeet.
1841: DeSmet founds St.MaryMission in the Bitterroot Valley. Point and Manuel visit the Blackfeet. On December 25 the first five Blackfeet are baptized by FatherDeSmet.
1844: Harvey and his men massacre Blackfeet at Piegan post and ruin trade. 50 lodgesofSmallRobesbanddestroyedbyan invasion of Crow. 160 women and children captures. Small Robes are down to 20 lodges. Smallpox strikes again.
1845: Culbertson makes a new peace with the Blackfeet. (His wife, Natawista, is Blood.) Monroe camps with Kutenais at St. Mary. DeSmet approaches Waterton/Glacier area from the north.
1846: Fathers DeSmet and Point (Jesuits) visit Piegan and make a map. Chief Victor (Flathead) helps the Small Robes (now 12 lodges) defeat a superior force of Crow who strike in retaliation for 1844. In September 2,000 lodges of Piegan, Blood, North Piegan, Gros Ventre, Flathead and Nez Perce attend a mass by Father DeSmet. All wish to learn the “Black Robe” medicine.
1847: Fort Benton is built. Paul Kane hears the Big Horn battle story. (Custer)
1849: BIA transferred from the War Department to the newly formed Department of the Interior. Blackfeet wipe out a 52 man Assiniboine horse-raiding party.
1850: Treaty. Negotiations begun by Isaac Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory, to provide for a transcontinental railroad route. Alfred cumming, head of Central Indian Affairs Superintendency in St. Louis, came to incorporate the Blackfeet and Gros Ventre into “The Peace of the Plains” because they were not in Fort Laramie in 1851 when the others signed. Part of this treaty was the allotment of $15,000 for the instruction of Indians in proper agricultural skills. Annuity goods were delivered through the Chouteau Company (Successor of the American Fur Company).
1851: Cholera epidemic on the upper Missouri. LaramieTreatyCouncildefinesthe hunting grounds of the various Plains Indians.
1853: Isaac Stevens meets with the Blackfeet to prepare a treaty meeting. He remarks that the “quantity of buffalo is unbelievable.”
1854: Lieutenant Doty and Monroe explore eastern Glacier Park area. Crow forgo their Laramie Treaty annuities for fear of the Blackfeet.
1855: Isaac Stevens makes the Judith Treaty (AKA“TheLameBullTreaty”). $15,000gift to the tribe. This is the first treaty between the Blackfeet and the U.S. Government except that Congress didn’t ratify it. No more Small Robes band is left.
1856: Edwin Hatch appointed first agent for the Blackfeet Agency. He was present for five out of the next nine months. Lame Bull, chief signer of the Judith Treaty, is killed when his horse is run over by a large bull during a hunt.
1857: “The Slipping Year” -- the area is covered with ice. Alfred J. Vaughn is the next agent and establishes the Sun River farm. He has worked for the Office of Indian Affairs for fifteen years and is married to an Indian. He complains constantly about the bad quality of annuity goods. Smallpox strikes again.
1858: Thomas Blakiston explores Waterton and northern Glacier Park. He estimates there are 7,000 Blackfeet.
1859: Jesuits accept Alfred Vaughn’s invitation to build a mission among the Blackfeet.
1860: Boundaries of the reservation surveyed. Bull Society (the big powerful men) dies out. First steamboat makes it to Fort Benton.
1861: Henry Reed is the agent, described as “weak and inept.” That same year the Blackfeet annuities supposedly burned with the steamboat “Chippewa.” Chouteau offered to replace from his own stock. Reed put Malcolm Clarke in charge of the problem: suggestions of graft.
1862: Mullen road is in progress. Finally the annuities came with no proper bills of lading and 20 boxes were missing.
1863: Reed goes home to Iowa. 18 month gap with no agent. James Vail is the supervising farmer. An eclipse in summer.
1864: Montana Territory created. Gad E. Upson is agent. He is inexperienced and more interested in private mining. Whiskey trade booming. Goods arrived late, damaged, and incomplete.
1865: Fort Benton is the Blackfeet Agency. Meagher attempts an unauthorized treaty with the Blackfeet which precipitates hostilities at Fort Benton between the Blackfeet and white settlers. Another reservation boundary push- back, moving agency to Fort Shaw. Fort Benton men attack Bloods who then retaliated against wood-cutters. (Steamboats used great quantities of wood.) Annuities were suspended. Upson died on his way to Washington, D.C. DeputyAgentHiramUphambecameaclerkto Indian Trader T.C. Power and Co.
1866: Little Dog and son were assassinated. George B. Wright is the agent. He rents warehouse space from William J. Clarke, a business partner of the late Gad Upson.
Wright does a lot of traveling and is accused of selling annuity goods. A five year war between Blackfeet and Gros Ventre now ends: the Gros Ventre are starving.
1867: Acting Governor Thomas Francis Meagher issues a proclamation for volunteers to join the war against the Blackfeet. Idea terminated when Meagher evidently falls into the Missouri in the middle of the night and is never seen again. The new Governor, Green Clay Smith, is ex-officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Montana. He asks for the Indian goods money to be deposited in cash in his own account, but “can’t keep track of it.” Uses Indian money to pay his debts and gambles some of it. Agency is moved to Teton River and then Milk River. Special Agent Nathaniel Pope finds the situation corrupt and recommends reform.
1883-1900: NEAR- EXTERMINATION
1884: January 23: Starvation Winter Oct 12: Buffalo virtually exterminated
Oct 13: Last Piegan buffalo hunt near Sweet Grass Hills
1885: March 12: Agency moved to Willow Creek
Nov 12: Blackfeet reduced to 2,000, few adapted to US farming concept
1886: Horse raiding ceased.
1889: Aug 24: First Blackfeet sent to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania
1890: Sept 15: Blackfeet agency moved to Browning
1892: Sept 1: First boarding school at Willow Creek
1893: Nov3: CompletionoftheNorthern Transcontinental Railroad through the Blackfeet Reservation
1894: May 18: Town of Browning established.
1896: July 10: Blackfeet Indians sold Glacier National Park to US 1897: March 21: Medical clinic established in Browning
1899: May 13: Post office at Durham relocated to Browning.
VIII. “Cutnose Woman”
1901 - 1924: ASSIMILATION
1903: April 4: First Tribal Council elected 1904: Sept 5: Boarding School on Cut Bank
Dec. 6: Finished fencing off the reservation 1907: March 5: Reservation was surveyed and land parceled out to individual members 1909: April 1: Fence around the reservation was gone.
1910 : May 11: Glacier Park created 1919: Dec 1: Election betwen Browning and Cut Bank for County Seat
IX. “Gay Paree”
1924-1942: WARRIORS RETURN
1924: February 22: US Chief Justice John Marshall made the decision that Indian tribes were “Domestic Dependent Nations: subject to the US Congress but not to state law.
1934: June 18: Indian Reorganization Act, the right for the Blackfeet to establish a government.
1941: June 24: Museum of the Plains Indian opened to the public.
1953: Alcohol becomes legal on the Blackfeet Reservation.
X. “Basketball Warrior”
1953 - 1969: RE-EMPOWERMENT
1969: Nov. 19: Occupation of Alcatraz Island by Indians of all tribes.
1972: February 7: Pencil factory begun. November 3 - 9: Trail of Broken Treaties occupation of the Washington DC BIA building
1973: March 18: Percy DeWolf was elected as President of Montana State Senate
XI. “Sweetgrass Hills”
1973 - 1991: RECONNECTING TO LAND
1976: Nov. 8: Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act
1977: Sept 16: Forest Gerard confirmed as the first Indian Assistant Secretary of the Interior for the BIA
1978: July 15: Earl Old Person made Chief of the Blackfeet Nation, first since Chief White Calf.
1981: July 12: Renaming of Trick Falls to Running Eagle Falls
1983: October 14: Ground breaking for new Blackfeet Medical Center Nov 10: First National Bank of Browning closed.
XII. “The Sun Comes Up”
1991- now: A BRIGHT FUTURE FORMS
1994: Nov 15: National Congress of American Indians organized.
2005: Blackfeet go in teams to help New Orleans.
There's more. Using the book above which was privately published by Bob Scriver to make a permanent record of the Scriver collection of Blackfeet material culture, I started writing each story by choosing an object from these images. I debate with myself whether I should tell you what page each image in on or whether I should let you find them for yourself. I'll compromise. The object in "Whiteout" is the big boulder, which is not in this book, but is still on the road out to Heart Butte. The object in "Horse Healer" is a little black wooden silhouette of a horse. The objects in "Sweetgrass Hills" are the rattles, but also the hills themselves. Then I cut loose my imagination to roam among people and animals I knew, places I'd been, ideas from listening to historians, possibilities I didn't think had been considered by anyone else.