Before Charles Dye made the exciting video about Indian Relay Racing, he made one about contemporary Indians reflecting on their relationship to wilderness. That’s how he met Carol Murray, who put him in touch with the Relay people. Her grandfather, Francis Bull Shoe, had two strong interests: one was relay races and the other was education. These were cross-generational traditions. Francis Bull Shoe, 1910 - 1974, was born in 1910, to Joseph "Joe" Bull Shoe and Cecilia Bull Shoe (née Russell). Joseph was born circa 1879, in Montana. Cecilia was born circa 1882. Francis had 8 siblings. He married Lillian Henault, who lived to be 102. They had 6 children.
Carmen, June, Francis Jr., Doris, Joan
Lillian seated in front. This is probably in the Sixties.
The four “Bull Shoe girls” all became teachers in the local Browning or Heart Butte school system. Doris married Earl Old Person who is chief and often chair of the Blackfeet Tribal Council. Joan Kennerly was born in Browning on March 5, 1933, the third eldest of five children. The other teaching sisters were Carmen Marceau and June Tatsey. I knew them personally but I’m slightly younger. They earned Master’s degrees in the Seventies after I had left. All but June have gone over the horizon.
To get a bit of formal written history, I pulled out Adolph Hungry Wolf’s major biography book. John Ewers, the WWII era anthropologist who lived in Browning and did much basic research, wrote that Bull Shoe (after the death of Many Horses) was the wealthiest Pikuni and he remarked on his fine horses, the result of careful breeding. In 1921 Superintendent Campbell noted that the 43 year old “3/4 blood” Francis had the best house in the district, a log cabin with six rooms well-furnished. Campbell felt he was an excellent farmer. These achievements indicate the temperament and family pride that carry people through many bad times. What visiting journalists don’t necessarily see is how recent has been the culture shift or just how low people can go and still recover. I’ve seen the Bull Shoe girls at their best and at their worst — they lived life when it was both easy and when it was hard.
But I’m not an historian — more like a consciousness raiser. Part of that has been participation and part of it has been academic reflection. Feeling the immanental sacredness of the land can and has been justified by serious academic and historic tradition from the beginning. What do you think the Biblical Psalms are about? There is no need to see Blackfeet spirituality as separate and therefore either too mystical to think about or too primitive to take seriously. But maybe it is best addressed in images like Charles Dye's video: “Before There Were Parks: Through Native Eyes” about Glacier and Yellowstone. http://www.montanapbs.org/BeforeThereWereParks/
Part of what I’m doing in this post is to acknowledge that even the near mathematical theologies of the European Cartesian world support what Allan Pard called the “much more”, somehow perceived by our hundreds of specialized brain cells rather than the utilitarian five organ senses. And another part is to claim participation in the lives of the indigenous people on the sacred dimension and the ability of “whites” to contribute and feel it. (Allan Pard, who just passed this May — the time of Bundle-Opening —was the person to whom the Medicine Bundles in the Scriver Collection were returned after the Alberta Provincial Government had received them through the Alberta Royal Provincial Museum.)
This video by Charles Dye comes close to tracing the old indigenous ways in relationship to the new ways that are also indigenous to people who have spent a long time in direct contact with this land, maybe from birth. Both are holy ways of great human meaning and that is what is recognized when these lands are protected.
The Medicine Pipe Bundles that Carol describes and legitimately protects as a Keeper and Opener are like these videos. The ceremony in the first spring thunderstorms means dancing and singing with the skins of animals, mostly birds like the Thunderbird that lives on Chief Mountain. (That spirit may refer to the huge buffalo-carrion condors that used to soar on the prairie thermals. Or maybe the fossil bones of the pterodactyls that weather out of the ground.) The collection of wrapped skins is like a hymnal. But it is not simple because each song/dance is dependent on a knowledge of the animal represented by a particular skin. Regardless of one’s DNA, without the kindled ability to “become” that creature by making its sounds and movements, the spirit of it is not present. This is why it’s so important to get the kids out there weaving the land into their bones and blood.
Carol is an educated woman who can stand alongside academic anthropologists in a way that her mother and aunts could not because they lived in a time when such ceremonies were stigmatized and mocked as “hokey-pokey” with no meaning. They only partly believed that, but they were trying hard to be legitimate and certified people in a white state-controlled system. No such option as Blackfeet Community College existed in their time.
In Carol’s time, she has actually run the institution and traditionalists/ceremonialists have been welcome. Even the hair-on-fire zealots have attended to sit arguing together. Now Jack Gladstone plays his peace guitar-songs in the same space. The days are gone when such young men were sent off to semi-military schools like Carlisle Indian Industrial School where they studied idealistic white thinkers, were inspired, returned home and tried to form a “literary society”, but were banned because of white fear that they would “get ideas” about empowerment.
Ceremonies were punished, so they went underground, which is where Bob Scriver — guided by John Hellson who is also gone now — found them by dreaming. We were Keepers with the old people that Carol knows about but didn’t sit with in the circle. In those days the practice was shadowy, but Scriver was a City Magistrate, a Justice of the Peace, a local teacher, a respected musician, and the son of an early trader who ran the Browning Mercantile — as well as being a sculptor and curator of a wildlife museum. If he did it and was not struck by lightning, even spent thousands of dollars to do the Transfer properly, maybe the grandchildren generation ought to step in. So they did.
While Carol was working on BCC, her husband, John Murray, was fighting hard to remove oil leases from the Badger-Two Medicine. Now they are all gone but two. What worked was what this video shows: the felt meaning of a splendid fabric of land spread out before us to inhabit with care and eloquence.