Saturday, April 29, 2017


Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning, MT

There are remarkable individuals on the rez of two kinds, which sometimes join together.  One is the person who steps into a situation and makes it gel, so it finally works.  (A precipitating crystal is a little molecule that can be dropped into a test tube to make the process kick in through the whole solution.)  The other is a person who walks on the edge of the issue or group, half-in and half-out, never quite irrelevant but never quite committed, often a good source of insights and communication.

There is a second way to look at a different two kinds of people.  One is the outstanding enrolled person produced by the organic circumstances within the group (tribe, rez, family, institution).  The other is the total outsider who brings a whole new outlook and who may be sent or even imposed by a bigger group.

Then there are sequences of people in a specific individual role, like the agency head, the school superintendent, the priests and doctors.  Consider, for instance, the anthropologists at the Museum of the Plains Indian.  John Ewers founded the museum during WWII with the idea of it being a source of inspiration for crafts persons creating distinctive NA objects for sale, on the model of handmade quilts from Appalachia.  He did not allow for the dimension of sacredness.  Today much of the sales in the little gift shop is SW silver and turquoise jewelry, not Blackfeet or Cree.

Ewers was not as early as Clark Wissler and his informant, David Duval.  Their work is revived now and then.  “Amskapi Pikuni was pulled into print by Alice Kehoe, who found this history in Wissler’s papers.

Claude Schaefer was a serious scholar who used the museum as a base for research.  Tom and Alice Kehoe were also academically trained and particularly focused on buffalo jumps.  Raymon Gonyea was the first NA anthropological curator, a Menominee aware of post-modern thought, and he was the last credentialed anthro.  Today there are academically credentialed Blackfeet anthropologists but the effective work at the Museum would be fund-raising and repair of the buildings.  This is formally institution maintaining.  Ewers and Alice Kehoe wrote books  — Schaefer and Gonyea did not.

Outside of any institution and often outside the reservation is a completely different set of hunter/gatherer entrepreneurs who dealt in material artifacts, both new and old, and information.  Some are amateur anthropologists of great accomplishment.  Adolf Hungry Wolf, who was married to Beverly, a Blackfoot woman, whose children are therefore enrolled as Treaty 7 members, has made a family enterprise of home publishing small booklets alongside more formal books.  Adolf is often a nomad, attending ceremonies and auctions around the continent.   His books are available on the internet through School District #9,  The four volume set of his archives is invaluable.  If you can buy it, act now.  More will probably not be printed.  It is first generation resources.

Adolf's best friend, Paul Raczka, recently died.  Paul’s book is actually the catalogue accompanying an exhibit of portraits by Winold Reiss at the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls.  Reiss ran an art school in St. Marys where he made his portraits under the sponsorship of the Great Northern Railroad.  Raczka operated a trading post in Fort Macleod, Alberta and taught Native American Art History before moving to Choteau.  Both Adolf and Paul were Bundle Keepers.

John Hellson, now deceased, was a pugilist from Cornwall, England, who followed something like the same pattern as the men above and was also married to a Treaty 7 woman so that his children were enrolled.  He published only one book on botany.   Self-taught, he was particularly focused on ceremonies and occasionally appropriated materials.  These men are controversial.

Ace Powell   and Ned Jacob   were always interested in NA materials but not so much the sacred aspects.  As representational artists, they were collectors of stories and accoutrements and were friends with many indigenous people and picked up a lot of lore and context, which they were happy to share, though they were primarily artists.  They were close friends of Bob Scriver.  

Dick Flood followed the same trails but was more a hustler than a friend.  There were others, with a concentration in Kalispell.  Van Kirke Nelson used the profits from his ob-gyn practice to establish Glacier Gallery .  He was one of the first to realize the shift from galleries to auctions, which are now the main way that both art and NA materials travel through sales.  The offspring of these men sell at the March in Montana auction that coincides with the Russell Auction on CMR’s birthday.

As soon as one moves from formal anthropology to art, whether “about” or made by Native peoples, there is an avalanche of materials and individuals, who often move in and out of academic worlds, in and out of respectability.  The more valuable things are, the whiter the operators usually are.

Darrell Kipp, full-blood (whose son Darren now carries on his work) along with Dorothy Still Smoking and Ed Little Plume, founded Piegan Institute which was conceived as both an immersion school for elementary school kids to learn the Blackfeet language and as a depository for serious academic study materials, like doctoral theses.  These latter are often created with great effort and value, but never sent back to the rez for lack of a proper place to store them.  

The Museum of the Plains Indian library has been the victim of such political upheaval that an enrolled Blackfeet scholar studying at the U of Montana was denied access for fear of her somehow damaging the materials as a protest, while her white professor was allowed to research there.  And yet some decades ago all files relating to white people were taken to the dump.  

Ronald Thomas West, a Vietnam veteran and scholar of international matters, was a dynamic contributor to the fight to save the Badger/Two Medicine as a sacred place.  He took on the Chevron corporate dragons and was endangered by it.  His writing can be accessed online at  His extensive writing about Blackfeet follows the innovative practice of creating an online body of work, rather than traditional venture capital “dead tree” publishing.  Once a person goes to this new frame of thought, many caches of material can be found.

There are more people with connections to this rez and I'll try to pick up on them, but these are people I know.

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