Short second road trip to Browning to deliver a box of books I’m "de-accessioning". Also I wanted to check out the School District #9 project for selling books: “Blackfoot Papers” www.blackfootpapers.com is the lead offering. It is Adolf Hungry Wolf’s lifetime accumulation of materials about the Siksika, who are called “Blackfoot” on the Canadian side and “Blackfeet” on the US side. Adolf lives in a cabin in the mountains near Skoocumchuck, B.C., so his books use the Canadian spelling.
Adolf is one of those fiddle-footed people who is always moving on. His work in this instance is done. What to do about this extremely important set of materials, essentially an entire archive in four books? All the media stories — those inspiring movies that are our guides about writers — spend their plots on the struggles to complete the manuscript. Then there’s a bit about being “published” — that legendary state — and everyone goes off smiling. Fait accompli. But that’s not the end at all.
Those who know estimate that someone must spend about as much time promoting, publicizing, and distributing the book as was devoted to creating it in the first place. It’s true that now with the Internet there need not be a paper-and-ink book manufactured, stored, and shipped out. But the rest remains necessary before the manuscripts get to the readers.
There is an exception. School District #9 has an archive of historic photographs that could be put online, either free for researchers or available to buy, actually printed or for download. The inventory or its development are not up-to-date. Maybe the Montana Humanities people would make a grant.
John Rouse is the current superintendent. Things have gone relatively well for his four years, but his wife and son are in Missoula and he would like to join them now, so he has resigned as of this summer. I spent what was supposed to be five minutes with him, which became much longer when I saw he was grasping and appreciating what I was trying to tell him. He saw I wasn’t being critical but trying to help by supplying a crucial set of missing information, the whole thing about marketing books.
The School Board had asked an individual to take care of the job, but unless one is pretty deep into that backstage world, one is the victim of the famous “unknown unknowns.” That is, few people are out there in the world are looking for a fabulous archive about the Siksika (Blackfoot Confederacy) because they don’t imagine anyone creating such a thing. They are victims of seeing everything in terms of what they already know, which has always been John Ewers book, and several other modest contributions, like Napi stories.
The archival materials, including photo illustrations rarely if ever seen and usually unidentified instead of contextualized as they are in these volumes, are unimaginable in advance. Every major library or university or museum I’ve visited in Blackfeet country and whose books I’ve looked at has listed Adolf on the checkout card. Even before xerox and computer downloads existed, he acquired rare materials — not by taking a razor to cut and smuggle out pages of old books, but by cherishing and understanding them, sifting through auctions and second-hand stores, gathering it all into these careful four volumes. How does one convey that to a public that still thinks rez people live in tipis?
John Rouse said that when I sent him the post about Thomas Magee and his photos, he relayed it to the school system, and soon Dawn Magee called, all excited because she is Thomas’ great-great-granddaughter and hadn’t known about Paul Seseequasis’ project to gather photos about northern peoples.
You’ll remember that I made a trip to Browning earlier without checking the calendar so that I found everything at Blackfeet Community College locked up and deserted. http://bfcc.edu/ This time there were students, cars, people working on the buildings, and doors swinging. I always make the mistake of drinking coffee just before I leave, so I can tell you honestly that the bathrooms in the schools are new, clean, and supplied with both paper and soap. It wasn’t always that way.
The clerk who took my box of books asked me to fill out proper documentation. A descendent of Leroy Bear Medicine, she has already earned two degrees, one in business from BCC and a bachelors in anthropology from the U of Montana in Missoula. She is catching up her debts and family until she can return for a masters. We had a fascinating visit — this woman knows what she’s talking about and it is positive. The present librarian is a LaFromboise, the daughter of Mary Ellen and Conrad, both of whom could tell you stories about me from the old exciting AIM days.
The hills are green now, though the grass is short, and at the bottom of the steep coulees the streams are full. The meadowlarks are using opera to stake their territories. Eloise Cobell’s homestead is looking shipshape — they never did build a big fancy house, but there’s a very respectable barn. You can spot it because her fences are painted white, Kentucky-style. She and Turk loved those race horses.
I stopped at the tribal grocery store which was pretty impressive. I half expected it to have run down a bit, since it’s a couple of years old, but it was in better order than a lot of Great Falls stories. One of the secrets is that as in Great Falls, the groceries are paid for with internet debit checks, directly taken out of one’s bank account. That means that there’s no worry about cashing checks from travelers and no struggling with bouncing checks.
There is even a section of glossy magazines. I remember the first time I took some of mine to classes in Heart Butte because I was through with them. A copy of Vogue shocked the girls because of the models, half-nude and skinny. But it was the Cowboy Art magazines that got read to pieces. “Where do you get these things?” they asked. That was twenty-seven years ago.
At 78 my face is smooth because I never smoked and am mostly an indoor person, so John Rouse thought I looked young. But I’m diabetic and I often ache in a wandering way. I begin to forget. My eyes fail. When I began to name the reservation leaders who had been my students, John began to believe my age.
The truth is that I almost preferred those tough old days, when things were simple and weather-beaten. Money was a pocket of jangling silver dollars. The old people then had been born in the 19th century and they did not have smooth faces because they lived on the grass out under the sun, even if they had a cabin. Before I go to bed at night, I often look through Adolf’s books so their faces will show up in my dreams. If you had the books, you could do that, too.