Sunday, February 26, 2017


Raczka's book about Winold Reiss

The formal obituary of Paul Raczka is appended, but there are some other remarks to make beforehand.  One is that he wrote two published books that were well-received and are still available with high-value.  One is “Winter Count: A History of the Blackfoot People” and the other is about the artist Winold Reiss (above), whose portraits of the same tribe were made famous by the Great Northern Railroad.

Paul was one of a half-dozen contemporary men who married women from the Blackfoot tribe and lived half-in/half-out of tribal life, while making a living in the ambiguous area between art about Native Americans and actual NA material culture, sometimes new and sometimes old.  This particular group, mostly based in Canada, included Adolf Hungry Wolf and John Hellson, who collected not just objects but also ceremonies, songs, and stories.  They learned the language and created unique archives within themselves that the actual enrolled tribal people didn’t have, but the men didn’t hoard the these traditional materials.  They taught them to others, particularly young tribesmen.  If they hadn’t done it, the materials would likely have been lost.  

Paul became the object of legal scrutiny over eagle feathers.  A man named Deming owned a 48 feather golden eagle headdress that had belonged to Geronimo and had been given to the Deming family, who simply kept it for decades.  Deming was a lawyer who realized late in life that the artifact must be valuable and tried to sell it --  until an FBI SWAT team invaded his hotel room in Philadelphia, brandishing assault weapons.  His first thought was that they were criminals who had come to steal Geronimo’s headdress and, in a way they had.  Their idea of what they were doing was enforcing the Migratory Bird and Eagle Protection Act  (There are a number of versions if you Google.)

It’s hard to understand why the FBI overreacts this way when they could just as well make an office appointment.  Partly they become inflamed about Indians because of Wounded Knee II.  Partly they identify with both the Indian warriors and the cavalry of the 19th century who tried to kill all Indians, which leads to very confused thinking.  Partly they buy into the symbolism of the feathers themselves while actually valorizing their value by making them illegal.  (Blackfeet on the US side gift an eagle feather to their youngsters who serve in the armed forces.  But if the young person is not formally enrolled, they might be subject to arrest.)  Deming was a lawyer so what was at stake was not just a fine or even jail time, but his practice of the law.  He negotiated a settlement that was low profile.

The actual case that endorsed the federal law was Andrus v. Allard, 1979.  Allard is an auction house based in Saint Ignatius, Montana, that funnels Native American materials.  Part of Bob Scriver’s estate was sent to Allard for dispersal.  (  The parallel law to the eagle feather act but about artifacts is called NAGPRA, meant to stop grave-robbing.  These are the US federal laws that caused Bob Scriver to sell his Blackfeet collection to the Royal Alberta Provincial Museum in Edmonton to escape US law, though he made a photographic record of it for a book before it was sent.  

This book records the Scriver artifact collection.

Paradoxically, when Raczka was prosecuted for having a headdress, a case that was finally dismissed on a technicality, he moved to Choteau, Montana, to escape the politics of Alberta.  I didn’t know him very well since Bob and I had divorced before Raczka moved. 

Now almost all these collectors/entrepreneurs who lived in shadow are gone. They were young in the Sixties and Seventies when the US and Canada were trying to reshape the world through enacting regulations and treaties, and instead created a no-man’s-land of contentious race relations mixed into history, criminality, secrecy, creativity and spirituality.  The mediating force, as always, was money.  But also identity pride that demanded control, either of private property or of public permission.

This might be the time to publish a little directory with some careful essays — certainly another post — about those times and those men who came through, dropping by Scriver Studio as though it were a stage stop.  Some were as patrician as Paul Dyck, whose collection was partly acquired by the European Van Dycks, his artist ancestors; and some were as low brow as John Flaherty, who died in jail in Great Falls.  Raczka was among the more honorable.

Paul M. Raczka Pii-takit-si-pimi (Spotted Eagle)

Paul M. Raczka, Pii takit si pimi (Spotted Eagle), also known as Api si pis to (White Owl), 74, passed away suddenly on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017 in Choteau at the Medical Center, with his wife, Albertine Crow Shoe, at his side.

Services were held Thursday, Feb. 16. Visitation was at the Stage Stop Inn in Choteau. A burial is planned for a later date. Arrangements are in the care of O’Connor Funeral Home.

Paul was born on Dec. 29, 1942, to Eugene and Irene Raczka in Buffalo, N.Y. 

Paul was a known historian, a Blackfoot Piikani knowledge leader and ceremonialist. 

In 1963 Paul enlisted into the United States Army, joining the Special Forces 101st Airborne Unit and serving through 1966. He then went on to the University of New Mexico, where he started the “The Singing Wire” Ripples through Life on the KUMN radio station.

In 1972, he left New Mexico and moved to Alberta, Canada, with his previous wife Elaine and two young daughters, Jennifer and Denise.

He was adopted by Laura Crow Shoe Buffalo and Ed and Ruth Little Bear. Paul was one of the people instrumental in reviving the All Brave Dog Society, as well as the Blackfoot ceremonies on the Piikani Nation. In 1977, he was transferred into the All Brave Dog Society, where he was transferred the Bear Dog Bundle. Over the years Paul, held many bundles and obtained numerous transferred rites and he was a current Beaver Bundle owner. Paul was a Piikani at heart; his true passion was Niitsitapiipatapiisiin Blackfoot Ways of life from ceremony, song and spirituality.

Paul was committed to helping the younger generation in teaching them sacred cultural protocols. His heart has been with the Piikani Peoples, Elders, clans, sacred societies and his holy children. He was a keeper of sacred songs from past ceremonialists and received many cultural transfers over the decades. He was humble and would not boast about his achievements. He followed the ways of his traditional elders and teachers whose stories he shared kindly. 

Paul was closely connected to many clans throughout “Indian Country”, which he established life-long relationships. He adopted many children and grandchildren, establishing a large spiritual family of who attended Paul and Albertine’s Beaver Bundle ceremonies. 

Paul traveled to art shows throughout the western United States and Canada buying, selling and appraising art work. His friend David Levine said it best, “Paul was an example of how one can become what one embraces. He became what he willed himself to be.”

Paul is survived by his daughters Jennifer (Eric), and Denise (Jackie); his wife Albertine; sons Josh and JT; grandchildren Keon, Brittany, Karson and Kylee; brothers Ken (Mary) and Tom; and numerous nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his parents Eugene and Irene Raczka.

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