Wednesday, January 09, 2019


A friend in Calgary sent me this link to this episode of "This American Life" because there was a brief vignette about a Blackfeet woman visiting the "Medicine Spring" library at the Blackfeet Community College.  She wanted material about the Motokeeks, a women's society that had high status among the People and who performed a crucial ceremony in the year's cycle.  The librarian is descended from Conrad LaFromboise who was in one of my high school English classes.  He was always serious, idealistic, and a good student.  His wife, Mary Ellen LaFromboise, was the same.

This is what I know about Motokeeks.  Other people know about it, but maybe they don't write a blog.  I haven't seen this ceremony which has been out of use for a long time.  Agnes Mad Plume used to wear her Motokeeks headdress when she pulled a travois at the North American Indian Days parade in the early part of July.  Collectors value this highly -- the serious ones who know what it meant, though it is unique.  I don't know what happened to this one on Agnes' death.

Many indigenous ceremonies are patterned by the observation of natural cycles in animals.  This one is about female bison behavior and fertility.  Doing the ceremony meant partitioning off the women of the tribe by erecting a wall of travois frames around an area.  Then the women entered the space and enacted the grazing and resting of the female animals.

In a while a man arrived and acted out a bull buffalo breeding cows.  (In some ceremonies there is actual coitus with an important man, who was sometimes so old that the couple had to pretend, so they did the act far enough away from the others that no one could tell.  One can imagine how the prudish missionaries felt about this.  Anthros described it in Latin.)

Then the "bull" left and the women acted out pregnancy and birth.  The idea was to show the buffalo how to do what was wanted.  The fertility of the animals was the keystone and motivation of the society.

This ceremony shows how important access to the actual animals is over a year's worth of observation.  How else is a person going to know how to do a convincing enough performance to make a cow buffalo feel sexy?

If others have info or comment, please add as you please.

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