Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"CREATING LIFE ON STAGE" by Marshall W. Mason


Early adulthood is when human beings are programmed to form deep and searching relationships with peers that will sustain one through life. In historical periods when people died at age thirty, that was about all the time there was to get things figured out and organized anyway. Friendships that form at fifty or seventy are quite different, deprived of the shared and often intense experience of college, military or... the stage. Maybe if I’d gone to seminary at age twenty instead of forty, I would have formed that crucial team-feeling with fellow-clergy, but as it happened I was in college “doing theatre” in those crucial years and then in Browning, Montana, intensely involved in reservation life.

Now I’m looking back to pick up some of the threads of Northwestern University and life at Annie May Swift Hall, a sort of temple for some of us. I google names from then and thus found Marshall W. Mason’s new book, “Creating Life On Stage: a Director’s Approach to Working with Actors.” I haven’t seen Marshall since 1961, but his name has come up in the larger media and among friends. I still feel the tie.

It occurs to me that I know a number of directors from that time period. Stu Hagmann went to Hollywood and became rich as a director of television and commercials, but that’s different from being a stage director. The three stage directors-to-be that I knew were Marshall, of course; Laird Williamson who has been both an actor and director at the Ashland Shakespearean Festival in Oregon; and Rollie Meinholtz who has also been a professor at the University of Montana in Missoula. They are quite different from each other. Marshall was a tall, wound-up Texan in those days. Laird has become almost monk-like in his intellectual focus and drive towards essentials. Rollie -- an open, intelligent, penny-whistle player who often works with his wife -- is just over the Rockies in Missoula.

But this is supposed to be about Marshall and his book. If I were either to be directing high school productions or teaching a college class in “how to” direct, this book would rarely leave my hand. It’s full of check-lists and specific advice about very detailed matters, plus many cautionary tales of successes and failures -- each explored with good humor and honesty in order to make a point. It’s what I’d call a “grace full” book in theological terms: that is, grace comes with forgiveness and inspiration, preceded -- of course -- by hard work and experience. Grace meaning those fabulous “highs” when the play rises up into intensity and transformation beyond anything the actors and director had hoped for.

Marshall divides his plays into “beats,” meaning coherent scenes with a natural beginning and ending, usually related to someone entering or leaving the set. He stages and rehearses in terms of these “beats.” This is a concept I’ve used with liturgy except that I’ve called them “elements” and emphasized the importance of “articulation,” meaning how one gets from one element to the next. It’s also useful in terms of “rhythm,” another of those terms that is meaningful across art forms but most often thought of in terms of music, like “beats.” I’m just beginning to understand how to use these in writing, both in the logical steps of nonfiction and the narrative flow of fiction. I see very little writing about this basic consideration, either in criticism or in “how to” books.

But what strikes me more than anything else in this book is the emphasis on just plain decent behavior: not abusing or berating people, keeping people aware of what’s going on, making sure the rehearsal space is sanitary and that people have enough time to eat their lunch. Because Marshall has worked in a repertory company which he founded and guided, he knows the importance of good will, relaxation and trust. Esp. in the movie world, these are often replaced by money, power, and extortion of one kind or another.

In a play the focus is on the text. The performance is guided and evaluated on the basis of whether it supports and illuminates the text that it uses. In a movie -- esp. lately -- much is invested in audience expectation, actor personality, violent moments, extremism, and “bits” that might be “beats,” if anyone had it straight in their heads about the sequence, emphasis and transitions, which are often supplied months afterwards by a film editor who wasn’t included in any other part of the production. Dyslexics who don’t shine in the theatre world, might get along great in the film world.

Marshall, Laird and Rollie are all deeply literate. Beyond that, their elemental decency has been developed over the years into wisdom about human nature without them being contemptuous of those early years back at NU. Marshall refers to his earliest directing experiences. I was in “Trojan Women,” the second play he directed. He was concerned that I only looked Very Worried when I ought to have looked devastated. Today, if I were directing that play, I think I would dress the cast in chadors, totally veiled, because we have seen so many faces paralyzed and distorted by the rictus of war outrage and sorrow that nothing could really compare onstage -- maybe masks. (He doesn’t say anything about me, who was a very minor character anyway, but mentions that play as attracting him because of the anti-war theme.)

The MAJOR MESSAGE of this book is that profound creativity doesn’t come out of the chaotic, traumatic, nearly insane emotional mess of life -- which has preoccupied us since the assassinations during Marshall and my college years -- so much as it does through clarity of focus, trusting and supported risk, and the commitment of community. We learned this at NU from Alvina Krause. She anchored us in certainty and example and it has not just been theatre people who learned. These principles of Art actually work in Real Life.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Small grain -- not corn -- occupies my thoughts quite a lot, which is part of the reason I wrote “Demeter and her Daughters.” (See but that’s not surprising considering that I’m living in prime small-grain country. “Hard” wheat for bread grows all around Valier, as well as malting barley. I don’t know anyone who grows oats on purpose, but “wild oats” is not just a phrase and they’re never completely eliminated in spite of ferocious weed chemical weed killers (one of the dark sides of living here).

I didn’t really register until I began reading the local “ag rags” just how much variety there is within kinds of grain. Some grow tall and some grow short; some have solid stems and some have hollow “straws” for stems; some have long and some have short “beards” and some have black beards, which some people think is “against nature.” The genome seems relatively plastic, even if one isn’t making alterations in a lab but simply through cross-pollenizing. Of course, our modern grains were prehistorically created by hybridizers and selectors working with wild grasses. In the process over the centuries sometimes qualities are lost. Breads from one wheat can taste quite different from breads made of another line.

Grain is the keystone of urban culture -- a food that can be stored and that is concentrated enough that a few people (they say only 3 or 4% of the population these days) can raise enough to feed everyone else so that we have time to write books, split atoms, direct traffic or whatever. Those who constantly break into Egyptian pyramids and bring out seeds have told us for a long time that those seeds are often still viable and will grow.

Now I’m quoting from the “Prairie Star,” once published from Valier but sold to Great Falls. “In 1949, U.S. Airman Earl Deadman received 36 kernels of grain from a friend claiming they were from a stone box in an Egyptian tomb.” He sent the seeds to his father in Big Sandy, a grain farmer who planted the seeds and grew 1,500 bushels of the grain. The proper name for this ancient durum wheat is Kamut (Ka-moot), sometimes called “giant wheat” because the kernels are twice as big as modern wheat. Deadman grew the wheat for ten years, feeding it to his cows. Now and then he’d try to develop it as a novelty.

But it was as an organic wheat that it caught on finally. The Kamut Association of North America was formed in 1990 and the European version was organized in 1994. It’s a summer wheat, grows well in this area -- in fact, does better if not fertilized and if the summer is relatively dry. Growers rotate the wheat crop with pulse crops (peas) and the like so as to break any disease cycles. People who are allergic to modern wheat can often tolerate Kamut wheat, but those who are allergic to gluten will still be allergic to Kamut.

Montana and North Dakota farmers mill their Kamut in Fort Benton where it is sold mostly for American whole wheat cereals. Kamut grown in Alberta is milled in Calgary and goes to Canadian markets. Saskatchewan Kamut is milled in Radville, Saskatchewan, and goes mostly to the European Union. Italy loves using it for pasta. There’s a website: There are recipes. Sometimes I wish I had a milling machine -- if it’s good to have freshly ground coffee, shouldn’t it be good to have freshly milled flour?

One of the persisting images in my head is the “Gladiator” walking through his fields and brushing his hands against the heads of his grains. I suppose not many people have done that these days, felt that soft near-fur of wheat beards or rolled a few heads in their palms to crush off the husks and then chewed the kernels for a while. My paternal family grew more potatoes and my maternal family cultivated small fruits and orchards, but our family best ceremonial china was decorated with wheat. I always cut a handful to stick into a stoneware pitcher in season.

I really ought to begin baking bread. I thought my mother’s Triple-Rich Co-op Bread recipe had been lost forever, but I found it online at Cornell University, so I COULD do that. I have soy powder and wheat germ. But maybe I need a sack of Kamut flour.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


One more followup to the panel on “Dancing on his Grave” and “When Montana and I Were Young,” two books that addressed gravely abusive men from the viewpoints of their young female victims. I’ve been curious to hear about such a man from “inside” that man. Lacking a powerful novel, the closest I’ve come is a website called If Barbara Richard’s diagnosis of her father as a “narcissistic sociopath” is correct, and I think it is, what does that mean?

Here’s what Sam Vaknin says: “He is intimate only with his False Self, constructed meticulously from years of lying and deceit. The narcissist's True Self is stashed, dilapidated and dysfunctional, in the furthest recesses of his mind. The False Self is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, creative, ingenious, irresistible, and glowing. The narcissist often isn't.

“Add combustible paranoia to the narcissist's divorce from himself - and his constant and recurrent failure to assess reality fairly is more understandable. The narcissist overpowering sense of entitlement is rarely commensurate with his accomplishments in his real life or with his traits.

“When the world fails to comply with his demands and to support his grandiose fantasies, the narcissist suspects a plot against him by his inferiors.

“The narcissist rarely admits to a weakness, ignorance, or deficiency. He filters out information to the contrary - a cognitive impairment with serious consequences. Narcissistic are likely to unflinchingly make inflated and inane claims about their sexual prowess, wealth, connections, history, or achievements.”

Sam goes on and on, page after page, accusing himself of the worst traits while all the time covertly assuring us that he thinks he’s perversely brilliant. The trouble is that he IS, if not brilliant, certainly impressive. So he sees through himself and he does NOT see through himself, both at the same time.

Sam’s TEN DO'S
How to Make your Narcissist Dependent on You If you INSIST on Staying with Him [or her]

1. Listen attentively to everything the narcissist says and agree with it all.
2. Personally offer something absolutely unique to the narcissist which they cannot obtain anywhere else.
3. Be endlessly patient and go way out of your way to be accommodating, thus keeping the narcissistic supply flowing liberally, and keeping the peace (relatively speaking).
4. Be endlessly giving. This one may not be attractive to you, but it is a take it or leave it proposition.
5. Be absolutely emotionally and financially independent of the narcissist.
6. If your narcissist is cerebral and NOT interested in having much sex - then give yourself ample permission to have "hidden" sex with other people. Your cerebral narcissist will not be indifferent to infidelity so discretion and secrecy is of paramount importance.
7. If your narcissist is somatic and you don't mind, join in on endlessly interesting group sex encounters but make sure that you choose properly for your narcissist. They are heedless and very undiscriminating in respect of sexual partners and that can get very problematic (STDs and blackmail come to mind).

8. If you are a "fixer", then focus on fixing situations, preferably before they become "situations". Don't for one moment delude yourself that you can FIX the narcissist - it simply will not happen. 9. If there is any fixing that can be done, it is to help your narcissist become aware of their condition, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, with no negative implications or accusations in the process at all. I
10. FINALLY, and most important of all: KNOW YOURSELF.
What are you getting from the relationship? Are you actually a masochist? A codependent perhaps? Why is this relationship attractive and interesting?

The Greek myth of Narcissus is that a beautiful young man falls in love with his reflection in a pool and gazes so long that the gods turn him into a flower (narcissus). The companion myth is about Echo, the co-dependent who cannot do anything by herself. Sam defines himself as a “malignant narcissist” and shows a painting of a young man gazing at his reflection in a pool of blood.

The suggestion of how a narcissist is created is that the mother assures the child of its perfection, its entitlement, its endlessly rewarded demands on her; but the father -- who normally sets limits and reserves some of the mother for himself -- is absent or uncaring. Such people often are capable of amazing accomplishments, often with the help of others who feel they then participate in the accomplishment. The culture rewards this and reemphasizes it again and again. Think of “famous artist” stories about “geniuses” like Picasso and Pollock, how they storm and demand and abuse -- then how they are admired as fabulous and their wives are valued as saints. Of course, every narcissist believes that they are the only person like themselves.

If they only go around bragging at cocktail parties or in bars, if they only lie about themselves and get mad if the lies are detected -- all that is one thing. If they set violently upon defenseless beings -- whether little girls, animals, milder men, or wives -- something more has got to be going on. Rage attacks are not about structure but about some kind of near-physical response that is beyond emotional. Barbara Richard’s father complained of migraine, which implies some kind of brain wiring problem. That makes us hope for a surgery, a medicine or a therapy that could solve the problem.

In situations -- like war or poverty or confinement or addiction -- where violence becomes acceptable, many people receive brain injuries (I’m talking blows and wounds here) that can affect their behavior. Strokes, infections, or maybe even something congenital can also impair the reflexes in the brain that would otherwise tamp down violence or make a person see the consequences. Of course, when the brain-damaged strike out, they often strike at the heads of others. My brother, my father and my uncle all had brain damage that caused their behavior to change, mostly in the direction of being more impatient, more exaggerated, and more physical.

None were on the scale of Barbara Richard’s father, but my own father would jump up in a rage and spank every kid in the room -- sometimes we knew why and sometimes we didn’t. He was just tired or worried or already angry about something else. My mother seemed to accept this -- in fact, she was hot-tempered herself. But I often wonder about HER father. He was a Protestant Irishman from Illinois who never quite seemed to cope with life -- made bad choices and was enraged about it, even paranoid. So maybe some of this is inherited. Red-head behavior.

Still, I think that violence, even a bad temper, is something different than sociopathic narcissism. It’s just when the two converge and then are reinforced by the people present and the culture’s permission that the result is Dear Abby’s list of the traits of abusers. She publishes it every five years or so. I always cut it out and file it. I always recognize myself a little bit. (I’m both a bit Narcissus and a bit Echo.) But check out Sam “Vac” for a far more dramatic version.

Friday, May 25, 2007

"DANCING ON HIS GRAVE" by Barbara Richard

At the Valier library there was no copy of “Dancing on His Grave” by Barbara Richard, but the librarian immediately sent a borrow order to the Glacier County Library. The librarian there tucked in a sticky note: “Tough reading but well worth the time.” Now that I’ve read it, I agree.

The book is really written by every female in the family, to the extent that each of them could remember through concussions and repressions -- they had tried to block this stuff out of their minds for a long time. The mother, struggling to keep plowing along through life no matter what, had kept journals which she finally put into safety deposit boxes along with instructions to her lawyer and daughters in case her husband killed her. There was some hint that he had killed his own mother -- possibly by accident -- when he was living with her as a young man. At least she was found dead from a blow to the head: “from falling and hitting her head on the stove.”

Many people around here die rather mysteriously and there is no interest in how, often because -- as Alberta Bair says on tape as a very old woman about some man who had been killed -- her dad’s opinion was he “needed killing.” And some men believe that all women “need killing,” but especially those who are defiant or sexy or both. If this book were written about an Indian family, I wonder what the reaction to it would be. Barbara Richard, growing up white in hardscrabble High Line circumstances, had no tribe. Some of the neighbors half-knew what was going on, but were too afraid of this raging man to interfere. (One family who offended him -- with no intention of doing it -- had their house entirely trashed.)

In some ways, it’s surprising that more and worse things didn’t happen. The family fully expected to be killed and accepted that, except that each little girl felt the obligation to protect the others and especially their mother. Sometimes they succeeded in diverting and soothing the monster. The oldest girl was sexually abused for years until she graduated from high school. The father even took her on hunting trips with other men who never intervened, though they must have realized something was fishy. She escaped into a not altogether satisfactory marriage to another older man on an isolated ranch. What did she know about happy marriages?

The women never even considered going to the police. Evidently the neighbors also didn’t complain to authorities. When I was teaching, turning in a case of suspected abuse would guarantee that your contract would not be renewed. When I was ward clerk in a nursing home, turning in a case of actual abuse got about the same reward. In both settings, it’s against the law NOT to turn in suspected abuse. When I was an animal control officer, people were terrified to turn in an animal torturer for fear of violence being turned on them. When someone did turn in cruelty complaints, the complainant was likely to be female and old.

Often the cruelty complaints were unfounded. Because that’s the other side of this: if a person has been subjected to cruelty or has realized how much of it is free-floating around, it’s easy to see ghosts. Our culture is full of jokes like the one the library client told me and the librarian while she filled out the borrow order.

The FBI is looking for agents with nerves of steel who will do exactly what they are told. They have three possible recruits and are giving them the final test, which consists of sending them into a bullet-proof back room where their spouse has secretly been brought. Two recruits are male and the other is female.

The first possible agent is sent into the back room with a gun. There is a long silence. He comes back out with his face covered with sweat. “I just can’t do it. She’s such a good woman and I love her.”

The second man is given the gun. He goes back there and again after a wait he reappears. “Keep your job,” he says. “I don’t want it that bad.”

So the woman is given the gun and she goes into the back room. There are shots. Then there’s a lot of screaming and pounding. The woman comes back out. “Goddammit!” she says, “You gave me a gun loaded with blanks. I had to beat the SOB to death with a chair.”

Why are there so many jokes like this one in our culture? (Clue: jokes often are a way to tell a truth.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Leni Holliman is a humanities producer at Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana.

Every October she manages the taping of all the Montana Festival of the Book presentations in Missoula and then, after editing them, presents them on Thursday nights at 9PM MDT. They can be accessed on any computer by streaming audio. Often the panels are far more striking when concentrated like this but, even better, if you were there but had a schedule conflict, this is a second chance to hear a presentation. I had missed the one I’ll describe here.

A panel of Montana High-Line women gathered to address the issue of domestic violence on the Montana High-Line, specifically a book called “Dancing on his Grave” by Barbara Richard and another called “When Montana and I Were Young: A Frontier Childhood” by Margaret Bell. Barbara was there on the panel and Margaret (deceased) was represented by Mary Clearman Blew who edited the manuscript when it was found among the papers of Grace Stone Coates by Lee Rostad, an outstanding Montana historian. Also on the panel was Judy Blunt, an eloquent describer of High Line hardships (Her book is called "Breaking Clean.) and editor of Barbara Richard’s book.

These thoughtful women were addressing a topic that is so difficult and painful that most people don’t want to hear about it from anyone is who not wearing a white coat. At the same time, as Barbara Richard pointed out, four out of every hundred people is an abuser and out of that percentage a minority are women. They are with us.

Both Barbara Richard and Margaret Bell were victims of men who were psychopaths -- not psychotic since they knew very well what they were doing -- but men who habitually used near-fatal violence on every animal and small child -- esp. girls -- they could dominate, as well as their wives, who defended the men as their only shelter. These men saw their family as livestock, not individual human beings. How they came to this perversion is not known, but they were lacking any empathy for other living beings, which can be an organic defect of the brain -- either lacking from birth, never developed, or destroyed by lesions or substance abuse. (The American Humane Society is an eloquent voice linking animal abuse and violent people.)

The almost equally damaging side effect of this abuse is the need for secrecy and separation, so that the abuser (who must then know at some level that he or she is doing wrong) will not be found out and restrained or punished. Thus the victims are denied chances to be healed or comforted by other people and the perpetrators are neither punished nor treated.

When I was serving a Canadian congregation in a tough part of the prairie, not unlike the High Line, the clergy were asked to attend a workshop presented by provincial mental health authorities. The more conservative preachers had evidently been urging abused wives to return to their husbands and “be obedient” as their religious obligation. This had led to some deaths, of both women and children. The presentation that impressed me most was about how an abuser draws a circle around his target -- maybe puts limits on their household money, which seems reasonable. Then draws another, tighter, circle around them -- maybe forbids them to shop alone. The restrictions get tighter and tighter until certain friends and family are forbidden, certain clothing must not be worn, the telephone is locked, and so on until in the most extreme cases people are locked or chained in closets. In other words, the theory is that abusers have control issues -- cannot control themselves and become intent on controlling those closest to them, maybe to prevent them from leaving.

Very few people have not felt this dynamic from someone else or within themselves but in mild terms, which is why one does not recognize the abuse until -- like the frog that doesn’t feel the water getting warmer -- it’s too late. Often the abuser presents him or herself as needy, deserving of help, or a stormy genius, which “hooks” people who want to be helpers. “Co-dependent” is the term for people who base relationships on their help to others and then get caught by people who are basing their relationships on control, often to make up some deficit like alcoholism or economic failure.

In those Canadian years I belonged to a “sharing group” or “growth group” or whatever you want to call it, which was only open to female counseling professionals -- women naturally inclined to be co-dependent but hoping to help people in a responsible way. One woman had left an abusing husband but had been forced by the courts to give him custody of their small son. After she had left, their house in the country burned and for several days the man let her believe that her son had died in the fire. With all her training, it didn’t occur to her earlier to call the RCMP to get the facts. She was stunned and paralyzed, as is often the case. Her suffering was not physical but it was intense.

Mary Clearman Blew asked why this kind of abuse seems to be more common in the tough Montana back country. Is it seen as being macho? Does the conservative culture feel that it is somehow justified? Is it from constantly handling livestock in a rough way? Feeling that they “own” living beings? How much of it is sexual? Why do people balk at knowing about it? Or do rural people in fact find out about it more often? Barbara Richard ended up self-publishing her book. “It won’t sell,” said the male editors. Why is it only a woman’s issue?

The two men described here were maniacs, stringing up small naked daughters to the rafters and whipping them unconscious. Shooting horses to death while the daughter stood among them, expecting to receive the next bullet. Beating a horse in the head with a fencepost until its eyes popped out or leaving a horse with a broken shoulder to die after days of suffering. But I know of lesser abusers, some of them admired Montana writers or artists or spiritual leaders. A few have repented and changed their ways. Some have found a strong co-dependent who got a grip on them as they aged and weakened. A few are wandering urban streets drunk, living in flophouses, an accident or illness away from death. Nice people pretend they don’t know about all this stuff, as though it were contagious.

If a man writes a convincing book about being confined, tortured and controlled by an abusing woman, will it sell? (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?”) Why in a society as coarse and raunchy and celebratory of extreme violence as this one is, do people balk at knowing their neighbor is beating his children? Or idly burning his dog with cigarettes?

When I was living in Portland,OR, I intervened with neighbors three times. Once I knocked on a door where a couple was fighting and asked if I could call someone to help them. They quieted, then moved. Once I heard a man in the apartment below me threaten to kill the woman who lived there. I was indignant enough that time to go down and knock hard, then tell the guy he had twenty minutes to clear out before I called the police. (The sleazebag was a two-bit drug dealer.) The small boy in the room was gleeful and the guy did leave, thank God.

The third time I walking home on the street at night, already angry about something else, and came upon a man jerking an Asian girl around by the wrist. I demanded that he let her go. He wouldn’t. I hit him with my briefcase, which was a soft nylon one and didn’t impress him. I was yelling, “Call the police!! Help!! Murder!!” Suddenly the girl yelled to the man to run with her and he did. They jumped on a bus and escaped. An undercover cop pulled up -- a woman -- and I told her about it. Eventually I found out what had happened. The girl had sold the man a stolen car and had said she would send the title later, but naturally did not. He saw her on the street and was hanging onto her to make her explain.

I suppose that from his point of view I was an abusing, violent woman. If so, I did a lousy job of controlling him. In fact, our whole society seems a little out of control.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Primordial Forces created the Ground of Blackfoot Being

Human beings and their culture are created by the land on which they live, which present the conditions under which they must shelter, eat and tell their stories. Forces that shaped this planet and the continents floating on its surface are still having impact on lives today. As one drives through the reservation, the traces that record millenia long gone can still be seen.

The east side of the Rockies are a long gradual incline from east to west and the reservation also goes from the foothills of the Rockies (5,000 feet and more) to the flats (3,500 feet or less). This means that the area is an “ecotone,” shading from one ecology to another. The high side next to the mountains is good for grazing in summer and supports evergeen timber as well as aspen groves. The low side is flat, though dotted with prairie potholes in some places, and suitable for grasses such as small grains. The high side has access to cold swift snowmelt and the low side is mostly dry. Ranchers and farmers here, sometimes unable to drill a well, must sometimes depend upon underground cisterns for domestic use to which they haul water from town systems. Crops are dependent on rainfall or irrigation canals.

The consequence of this difference is that when the old-time Blackfeet were forced to stay on a reservation, they preferred to be close to the mountains where there was still game and summers were more pleasant. Winters were even survivable so long as Chinook winds, warmed by their compression to get over the mountains, blew fairly often. The young Blackfeet were willing and able to go down to the flats and learn to deal with a bank or other lender in order to get and operate machinery. They tended to be of mixed blood, so this intensified the political differences of the two sub-groups of the reservation. When the original Dawes Act allotments were made, some people had split entitlements with homesteads on the hillsides or in the river valleys, but another acreage on the flats which turned out to be impractical.

A. Inland Seas
At one point the whole interior of the continent was slightly below sea level so that it formed a shallow sea full of marine life of various kinds. When the water drained and evaporated entirely, the land was bitter with alkali, colored with copper and iron concentrated by colonies of sea vegatation, and seeded with “buffalo stones,” the remains of little creatures rather like octopi or squids whose bodies were tucked into spirals (ammonites) or cornets (baculites) of shell. When the petrified sediments inside the cornets erode and separate into segments, they look uncannily like small buffalo in graduated sizes. This attracted the attention of the early Blackfeet who always felt that there was a connection between things that seemed similar, and who told a story about how these small stones, if protected and rubbed with fat, might “call” real buffalo to eat. Today it’s possible to buy baculite and ammonite remains in rock shops, such as the Trexler shop in the old church in Bynum, but the historically owned ones are protected as Native American artifacts and removing found examples from the reservation is illegal.

Other more local seas formed when the glaciers intruded onto the land and trapped melt water along their southern edge. Lake Great Falls put the present location of the city underwater by 600 feet, though it is built on the crest of the Sweetgrass Arch, a formation of rock bowed slightly upward. These lakes rivaled today’s Great Lakes. Icebergs broke off from the edges of the glaciers and floated out onto the water. Since they had rocks -- sometimes huge boulders -- embedded in them, when they melted they dropped the rocks in piles or singly. When the lakes dried up, these boulders became welcome scratching surfaces for itchy bison and perches for hawks who encrusted the top with their droppings. The circling bison wore small trenches which became moats when it rained. Small mammals dug their burrows under the the rocks, especially appreciating the jumbled piles of smaller rocks.

Under the surface of the land, whereever there were gravel beds and limestone with watercourses worn in it, exist aquifers. These underground lakes, which wells try to tap, move water -- over thousands of years and miles -- from mountains to lakes. Most of the water under Montana seems to be moving from the southwest corner of the state to the northeast corner and on up across Manitoba to the major lakes up there. That is, regardless of what the surface water is doing, the drainage of the state is generally towards Hudson’s Bay.

Giant Springs is a place where the ground is broken up enough that the aquifer underneath breaks through to the surface. In early days people had no concept of the limitations on underground water and if they punched a hole in the surface, they let the results flow freely or even, in the case of artesian rise in a fountain, whether they needed it or not. Today we are exquisitely aware that this water can be exhausted and projects have sought to find and cap the many wells now unused.

On the surface the Blackfeet Reservation has three drainages which meet in Glacier Park at Triple Divide Mountain. One drainage goes north to Hudson’s Bay, one goes east to the Mississippi River and one goes west to the Columbia River. It is the southern edge of the Hudson’s Bay drainage, largely determined by the southern edge of the glaciers, that determined the northern boundary of the United States when Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Purchase.

B. Marine Sediments
The huge limestone deposits that accumulated from the skeletons of many small shelly creatures when the land was covered with sea are white and when eroded can take fantastic shapes. Lewis & Clark as well as modern boaters are always impressed by the “White City” castles and battlements along the Missouri River where limestone is exposed.

Marine fossils of many kinds can be found throughout the state whereever the land is eroded enough to expose the layers of the land that were once underwater.

C. Volcanic Sediments
Even when Mt. St. Helens exploded in 1980, the fine silvery dust sifted down in Montana. When the Cascades were catastrophically erupting as volcanoes, the results must have clouded the skies. This is the origin of “gumbo,” a sticky expanding and contracting soil that makes wheels useless. Sometimes called “caleche” or “bentonite,” some of it is pure enough to be valuable as a saleable commodity if one could get it to market cheaply. It is often used to block wells, rolled into dry balls and dropped down the wellshaft, because when it gets wet, it expands greatly and plugs up the space efficiently.

Wet, the stuff is extremely slippery and slimy. Some have suggested that the way the pyramids were built was by using caleche as a lubricant to slide the huge blocks of stone up inclines. Sometimes it’s hard to stand up in gumbo. Even harder is walking, since it is as sticky as it is slick, and in a few steps one’s feet weigh fifty pounds each -- whether or not one’s footgear stays on.

The practical consequence of gumbo is that the village of Heart Butte was for many years only accessible when the weather was dry in summer or frozen in winter. The roads were impassible when the the gumbo was wet. Since the small settlement tended to be old-timers, their children were not anxious to attend school past Heart Butte grade school graduation when they could legally quit, but if they did want to attend high school, they would either constantly be making up absences or would have to attend a boarding school somewhere -- maybe far away.

When the road to Heart Butte was built after the Flood of 1964, which nearly erased the small cluster of houses and forced many residents out, people were suddenly able to return home while still commuting to jobs and school in Browning. Heart Butte became a housing center in the Nineties but since its infrastructure didn’t keep up, times were chaotic. Now it is somewhat defined as a “satellite agency” with a medical clinic.

D. Aeolian Sediments
People visiting the Blackfeet are always impressed by the wind and the amount of dust it carries. Some of the dust has been traced to its origins as far away as China, and it comes high enough and in big enough amounts to affect the climate by screening sunlight.

In the millenial geologic times when the east side of the Rockies has been so dry that nothing could grow, wind has removed all small particles and left only a stony pavement, which has become the gravel beds that carry today’s underground water. When rain allows vegetation to return, the silts and particles once more built up into topsoil.

More recently, plowed soil can create brown-outs so complete that traffic must stop; roads are closed. Since the terrible Dust Bowl of the Thirties in the midwest, people have become more cautious and take steps, like strip plowing and no-plow seeding, that prevent so much dust from blowing. When one looks at these strips, the green planted crops are obvious and so are the brown plowed strips. Gold strips are those left fallow with grain stubble and silver strips are those being “chemical fallowed,” which means that the vegetation has been killed to prevent weeds. It remains to be seen whether dust or herbicide is worse.

E. The Eruction of the Rockies
Underneath the continents, floating in huge plates or islands of the sixty-mile thick lithosphere, are mammoth sections that carry the continents like froth as they move around the planet. At one time the west edge of the Rockies was the coast of North America and was underlaid by a crack between plates. Then the crack, which earlier had pulled China and Mongolia away from Montana so that land once continuous and still similar was separated by the Pacific Ocean, reversed itself but now was pushed under the edge of the land that became the Rockies. Where layers of sediment had quietly built up, the land was now forced on edge and even into somersaults, clearly visible now in the various colors of the sedimentary rock.

The raising up of these mountains, which stretch all the way from Canada down through both North and South America, had profound consequences. “The Backbone of the Continent” formed a palisade against which the Blackfeet could take their stand against the rising tide of cultural change that trapped them there. It was the height of the Rockies that created the “katabatic” warm winds. They provided a refuge for game. In the years when there was good snowpack, they fed the streams that cross the reservation from west to east.

F. Cretaceous Swamps: fuel and fossils
All along the edges of the huge lakes and small waterways left by the inland seas and glacial melts, were swamps, The depositor of today’s fuels and dinosaur fossils. Dead animals and especially vegetation lived and died along those fertile places and added their carboniferous remains to the land in lodes of peat which became coal and then gas and oil. Gas and oil will ooze upwards, since they are lighter than stone, and accumulate where they are trapped in places like the Sweetgrass Arch.

Discovery of oil and gas along the higher grounds of the reservation greatly increased the value of the land as well as the corruption and dissension that always follows big money. Early on, the effect of the wealth split the reservation population again between those who wanted to make quick money and those who wanted to learn how to manage their own assets. More recently the split has been between those who see the land as sacred and inviolable and those who want to aggressively explore. The first wave of exploitation has ended but there is always the hope that there are other reservoirs of wealth.

G. Glaciation: The Old North Trail
At various times when the glaciers withdrew or formed, they left a passage down the east slope that was not covered by ice for long periods of time. These grasslands became covered with a kind of braided trail that people and animals have used ever since. Traces of the Blackfeet travois are still visible in some places. Highway 89 vaguely parallels this extremely ancient way.

H. Watercourses and Aquifers: Run-Off Country
Modern topography shapes a system wherein snow piled up in the mountains becomes streams feeding the prairies. The reservation is defined by rivers running west to east: the farthest north (Milk) and the farthest south (Birch) are shared by white irrigators and create political problems of international dimensions as water diversions age and tribal people become more willing and able to develop irrigation. The Winters Case has now determined that when the US Government creates some kind of land category -- whether it is a nature preserve, a bombing range, or an Indian reservation -- the legal presumption is that whatever its water needs are will take precedence over all state laws. But how does one determine those water needs when the population of the reservation has both grown and has changed its practices so that it needs far more water? This is a source of much anger and worry.

The Blackfeet Reservation is greatly gifted because it lies across the eastern drainages of the Rocky Mountains. Since state water law is based on who was using the water earliest and who is farthest upstream, the Blackfeet tribe is rich in water, one of the most basic necessities of life. At one time, the reservation included the Rocky Mountains, but at the turn of the 19th century when many people were starving to death on the reservation, the tribe was offered a million dollars to give it up. They asked for three million dollars, but in the end, in order to survive, they agreed on one-and-a-half million, thus creating Glacier National Park.

When the lines were drawn, a little piece just south of the Park boundaries ended up with ambiguous status. Today it is often referred to as the Ceded Strip, and its ownership is contested because of the possibility of oil or natural gas in that area.) This is the location of the proposed Badger-Two Medicine drilling site that has been vigorously opposed.

Though the original treaty describes the east/west interface between the Park and the Reservation as going from peak to peak of the mountains, if you are looking at an ordinary road map, the boundary goes roughly from the Canadian line to Babb to St. Mary, to East Glacier to Heart Butte.

Drainages formed when the overland glaciers withdrew to the north and the mountain glaciers melted back into the high country. A mighty valley like Two Medicine was formed by huge quantities of water which spread floodplains and carved cliffs that Blackfeet soon learned to use for piskuns (bluffs backed by flat land where bison could be stampeded over the drop-off, killing them, before there were any horses -- carbon dating shows that the oldest ones are the same age as the Egyptian pyramids) and winter campgrounds. Today there is still “run-off” from the Rockies, though the glaciers which are the remnants of the original sheets of ice, are much diminished and may disappear. Now this water irrigates crops and supplies the settlements.

The northwest corner of the reservation is drained by the St. Marys Lakes. (The earlier name for them was “the inside lakes” but there is a clear profile of St. Mary visible across the lake which beguiled early explorers.) Since the waters empty to the north, it has been natural for Babb and St. Mary to look to Canada. Cardston, Alberta, is the birthplace of many of the children because it is the closest hospital and in winter spares a long and risky drive over the Hudson’s Bay Divide. The ambulance EMT’s carry a key to the border gate. For some years, the children in St. Mary’s valley went to school in Cardston.

For a long time this was a quiet resort area which gave access to Going to the Sun Highway over Logan Pass, which is what many tourists think of as Glacier Park. Hugh Black and his descendents still run a resort hotel here and many reservation people have cabins in the area. The Thronson family has operated a small store and tourist cabins in Babb for decades. As the climate has warmed and the population has thickened, more and more people have begun to live in the valley year-round.

Hudson’s Bay Divide separates water in the St. Marys River, destined to eventually join Hudson’s Bay, from the Milk River complex (several forks combine) which drains east along the Canadian border, takes a loop into Alberta, and then, returning to Montana east of the reservation, finally rejoins what becomes the Missouri. Milk River country is broad and grassy, the location of many an old-time ranch and not a few outlaw hideouts. This has become a politically charged area when it was realized that though the branches of the Milk River arise on the Blackfeet Reservation, the treaty that addresses the water rights is only between Canada and the United States. Long ago an elaborate canal and siphon system was built that carries water far along the High Line to the east where communities have become dependent on it, but delayed maintaining. Now it is on the edge of catastrophic collapse but no one has the millions of dollars needed for repair.

In the central part of the reservation, Cut Bank Creek begins in forks coming out of Glacier Park. The south fork passes Kiowa Camp, a tourist facility on Highway 89. The northern fork goes east past Starr School, a little town originally populated by old-timers and anchored by the Starr School School [sic], and then passes the more recent Government Boarding School. Eventually Cut Bank Creek, before it reaches the Glacier County seat of Cut Bank truly IS flowing through cut banks.

Browning, the biggest town and the capital of the Blackfeet Reservation, is on Willow Creek, which is ironically one of the least suitable drainages for supporting a large population. Willow Creek is a modest stream. which continues east through Blackfoot before it eventually joins Cut Bank Creek and then drains into the Marias. In part, Cut Bank Creek marks the eastern boundary of the reservation.

Still crossing the reservation from west to east, but farther south, there are three major rivers, each paralleled by a road. One of the most powerful and various is Two Medicine, which begins in southern Glacier National Park in the Two Medicine Lakes, continues in spectacular fashion below Looking Glass Pass through the town of East Glacier, and then curves through foothills and into ranch country. By the time it crosses the southern reservation, it has carved a broad valley with bluffs for piskuns (buffalo jumps) on one side and cottonwood stands along the water. This is where the Holy Family Mission complex stood -- a little east of Highway 89 -- and grew good crops in the fertile flood plain. Only the small church remains. The river continues on until it joins the Marias.

Badger Creek runs roughly parallel to Two Medicine but a little farther south. At one time it was the Old Agency where it meets Highway 89. Further on, where it joins the Two Medicine River, is the corner where eastern Glacier and Pondera Counties meet. A section of the reservation here and another piece to the west around Heart Butte are both in Pondera County. All the rest of the reservation is in Glacier County.

Birch Creek is the southern boundary of the reservation, beginning at Swift Dam. In June, 1964, there was a terrific flood during which Swift Dam failed and sent a wall of water downstream that killed whole families, more than thirty individuals. Birch and Badger also turned into killer torrents and the St. Mary drainage was devastated. Two Medicine and Sherburne dams in Glacier Park also collapsed. These three dams were federal but had not been inspected or maintained. All highways in every direction were washed out. Decades later some of the rafted flood debris is still easy to identify, but the brush has grown back.

Another smaller stream, Blacktail Creek is just a little north of Birch Creek. It’s headwaters are just east of Heart Butte. Eloise Pepion Cobell, a descendant of trapper Polite Pepion and herself a banker who dared to take on the United States government to demand that they straighten out the mess they had made of Indian Trust Funds, grew up in a modest ranch house on this creek and still lives there.

Heart Butte is the farthest upstream community on Birch Creek and is quickly growing into a secondary agency. Just south of Birch Creek so it would be off the reservation, just a little west of Highway 89, was a rough community called Robaire (if you’re French) or Robert (if you’re not) in the early days, . Several saloons stood beside the Catholic missionary, who had been ejected when Congress officially assigned the Blackfeet to the Methodists. Today very little is left of the buildings but the memory is still vivid.

Considerably downstream on Birch Creek is Willow Rounds, circles of rocks that are the remnants of old Blackfeet campsites and which was the location of an early trading fort, and even more downstream is “Rock City” where Two Medicine and Birch Creek merge into the Marias, a main branch of the Missouri/Mississippi complex that was an important “highway system” in the exploration and development of the prairie West.

I. Fire, thunderstorms, grass and bison
The key to an ecology is the way the most basic forces balance each other, creating a constantly renewed source of energy that ultimately draws on the sun. Once the prairie was established as a sheet of grass, it was able to sustain huge herds of bison, which grazed intensively in one spot and then moved on. The kinds of grass evolved in response to this occasional “mowing and fertilization.” Thunderstorms played into this in two ways: the electrical charges of lightning created substances in the land that contributed to fertility and the fires the lightning set acted in somewhat the same way as the bison, removing old dead grass while carbonizing it so that plants could use the ash.

J. Volcanic Blisters
Not every volcanic upwelling from deep in the earth results in what we think of as a “volcano” with a top that spews lava and ash. Some magma extrusions never break through the overlying rock, but form blisters that raise the earth high into landmark “mountains,” which are navigational aids, storage for snowpack that feeds springs and wells, and -- in the time of the major glaciers -- “refugia” from the grinding ice. Even now they offer a welcome respite in hot weather and popular hunting locations. The Sweet Grass Hills strike everyone as special to the point of sacredness.

The name of the Sweet Grass Hills is a misnomer: the original Blackfeet word means Sweet Pine, which is balsam fir. Little sweetgrass grows in the hills, but sweet pine abounds. The sweetness of both is from coumadin which many of us know as a blood thinner. Holterman gives katoyisix (accent on the first “i”) as an animate (living) plural for sweet pines. McClintock used katoya to translate balsam fir, sweet pine or abies lasiocarpa. But he calls sweetgrass sipazimot(i) and says it is Vanilla Grass or sevastana odorata. Katoyis (accent on the “i”) is also the name of Bloodclot Boy or Monster Slayer. Old timers call the same formations “the Bloodclot Hills.” The forms of the complex of three major hills are about the same shapes a blob of clotted blood from a bison carcass might take.

These volcanic upwellings, depending on a number of variables, might carry valuable mineral deposits to the surface or even precious stones like the famous Montana sapphires. Gold (that monster creator) was discovered on the center butte in 1884 and almost instantly whites thought of a hundred reasons why the Blackfeet would have to give up those hills. The government didn’t care that it was the last holdout of the buffalo, who liked to calve in the sheltering folds of the coulees. Title changed hands in February, 1887, but it was not until late in the twentieth century that the compensatory “Big Claim” payout arrived in the hands of the tribe.

There was a little ghost town around the gold mine, but the local ranchers got tired of animals getting trapped in the buildings and prowlers coming to pry in the remains, so they bulldozed the place flat. Today’s threat to local people (How often do the ranchers follow the same paths as the Indians before them!) was the invention of cyanide heap leach mining: If one makes a lake, lines it with “impermeable” membrane, heaps up gold ore in the middle and pours cyanide over it, one can recover tiny traces of gold. Of course, there is NO membrane that doesn’t leak, and the Sweet Grass Hills (still full of value after the buffalo and gold are gone) is the watershed for wells for many miles around -- cyanide would poison them all. Even worse, by the time the whole butte is chewed up and “leached,” there would no longer be anything to which one can lift one’s eyes when in need of spiritual renewal.

A search engine such as Google is exceptionally rewarding if you look for “Sweet Grass Hills.” For one thing, there is excellent photography so that you can see for yourself the “signature” horizon line of these volcanic peaks. For another, one can make contact with the organization that works to block any more moves towards cyanide leach pads. Not least, students at Chester High School have posted essays about what the Hills mean to them. And John Holt, Montana writer, has written about the blue fire he claims to see there.

Spanish Basque sheepherders also lost their hearts to the Hills when they pastured bands of sheep there. They built tall stone cairns from the moraine stones that abound. But there are far more ancient and mysterious structures.

The U.S. Government, in the course of the Big Claim, tried to refute the claim of the Blackfeet that the place was sacred by saying that there was no church there, no altar or Stonehenge to prove that anyone ever worshipped there. This is a false notion, since to the Native American peoples all land and life was sacred. Still, a place so distinguished was a “power center,” a place a little more holy than others. And the “proof” turned out to be low stone walls just about the right outline for a man to lie down in and just about high enough to make a bit of shelter from the wind. They are for vision-fasting.

Monday, May 21, 2007


We’d all like to think that people get rich because they deserve it, but is that really where it comes from? “Just deserts?” (I’m talking about money wealth now, not the “equivalents” like good will or talent.) I’ll try making a list.

1. Inheritance. This might be the easiest way to “make” money but the evidence seems to show it’s a poor way to enjoy, preserve and increase it.

2. Hard work. The problem here is that the work may interfere with whatever enjoyment the money might bring, unless one really enjoys the work. Then the money is just extra.

3. Talent. Depends on a talent for what and the circumstances. A talent for playing the piano is no good if the piano hasn’t been invented yet. But perhaps the talents necessary for piano-playing are also good for something else. Let’s say manual dexterity. But then if one’s hands are amputated or damaged, the part of the talent that is in the brains, ears and heart will have to struggle to find a new expression.

4. Sought ownership. Like accumulating the works of a fine artist or land with rising value, so that one buys low and sells high.

5. Accidental ownership. It is one of the great wealth ironies that Indians were assigned to “worthless” land which often were discovered later to have huge natural resources: oil, uranium, water.

6. Cruel ownership. Slavery. Pimping (same thing). Exploitive wages or money saving on safety measures in something like mining or meat processing. Not paying people their entitlements, like the government never paying the Indians interest on their own wealth while they starved.

7. Paper constructions. The stock market or futures or many other speculative “bets” on statistics in buying and selling. “Rights” to production or art copyrights are along these lines. One could argue citizenship or certifications like education degrees. Permission to build casinoes on reservations.

8. Laws that impose requirements. My favorite example is the requirement that all bodies be embalmed, a regulation passed by undertakers. Or how about the requirement that all drivers must have insurance, though that hardly prevents the uninsured from driving anyway -- only prevents their victims from being compensated, an advantage to the insurance industry.

9. Regulations or Administrative Rules. These are sneaky because they are often below public consciousness or approval. This is the level that lets Bush sign a law, then write out a refusal to comply. They are sometimes capricious, unreasonable, and “waived” via bribes, another source of wealth.

10. Plain ordinary luck. “Found” money or advantages.

11. Good marketing. A man in Canada found a pocket of baculite fossils that still had their nacreous mother-of-pearl covering. These were marketed as “the most precious organic jewel in the world,” set into jewelry with diamonds. It happened that the timing was during the Banff Olympics. He should have made a LOT of money. I’ve bought the same fossils in rock shops for $10 or so. If they had had historical use as “buffalo stones” treasured by Blackfeet (rubbed with paint and put into cases), they would have been worth hundreds of dollars.

12. Cultural currents. Think of the careers created by television talent shows or survival contests. Could heavy metal rockers make money as ordinary singers? What about “modern art?”

This is probably not an exhaustive list. But you get the idea. Now add the swirling, dynamic quality of civilization -- much neglected when I went to school in the Fifties because everything was understood to be cut into stone except for some minor progress like the invention of vinyl records. Now sound reproduction has gone wild, roaming the airwaves and digital devices so quickly that I hesitate to invest in CD’s or an iPod. But at the same time, it circles back so that suddenly my father’s huge collection of ancient 78 rpm classical records -- that my mother sold for pennies -- is worth real money! This is the unexpectedness that caused a lot of “old worthless tribal debris” to suddenly become internationally valuable enough for Indians to seek entitlement. (And when the US government entered into and ferociously enforced a law concerning the feathers of eagles, which was meant to conserve a species being destroyed by DDT, they created a gold mine in trunks across every reservation and a whole new black market that drove up the prices of eagle feathers.) Think of the poor abortionist when abortion became legal or the bootlegger when drinking was legalized.

The dogma in the Seventies and Eighties was that the scarcity principle would drive up the value of art work so some aging and needy artists who seemed to be in poor health but really needed money were badgered by opportunistic art dealers who talked down the value of the work to their customers and stashed it. When they died, the next question for those dealers was how and when to market what they had stored up in warehouses, reversing their former strategy. Some did it by creating a kind of consensus cartel, maybe publishing a book illustrating and praising the work. Giving collections to noted museums. Creating a mythology about the artist him or her self. The actual quality of the art mattered very little since most people, including dealers, don’t really know “good” from “bad,” and anyway the main criteria is whether the stuff sells.

Right now medicine in the larger sense (including pharmacy) is on the upswing because the media has made us so conscious of the many capricious ways (and self-destructive ways) people die. The movies show terrible tragedies and miraculous recoveries until we all want to participate in such dramas. Likewise, the romanticization of travel causes people to lay out huge amounts of money in order to stay in dubious accomodations and walk up and down the streets and museums of places they know little about. Every summer here we make a lot of money from tourists who zoom through on the roads declaring the rez to be “depressing” and mountains to be “beautiful” -- all without knowing anything about them but the map of interstate highways. Of course, there’s always sex, the most built-up and most susceptible to disappointment of human activities.

The most intriguing dynamic of wealth is that it can be accrued both by being bad or by being good. This is the source of many books. Does being bad and rich eventually reveal to the person that the only real virtue is giving it away? Or does being good and poor cause one to eventually be rewarded like David Copperfield? I’m talking extremes here. No one’s very interested in people who just go along and have “enough” which they manage in a constructive way.

But it’s pretty clear that evil comes from sudden gradients between wealth and poverty: the development of Wyoming natural gas is destroying what used to be one of the wildest states in the Union, not excepting Alaska. The constant diminishing of Rocky Mountain glacial snowpack and headwaters streams it fed is causing the loss of family farms and the intensification of racial hatred.

One of the uses of government is to transfer wealth in an attempt to balance the scales. Unfortunately this leads to hysterical outbursts about what’s “mine” and who are getting undeserved “welfare.” If the gradient is allowed (as in New Orleans), the risk is social disorder that destroys everyone’s wealth -- riots, domestic terrorism, infrastructure collapse, the cessation of commerce. If the gradient is addressed clumsily, a sense of injustice undermines order. The task of legislators is to find the balance, and this is not a task they are necessarily able to understand or address.

These thoughts are prompted by late-night reading of “The Raj Quartet,” especially the chapter about Hari Kumar’s father.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


“Blogs” as a phenomenon have been around almost long enough for someone to take a look at them as having a “history,” a progression as time goes on. I notice that some of my favorites have faded out and fizzled as the writer runs out of things to say or finds a new job or has some other major life change. A few are people housebound by their health who have maintained an active online life through the Internet, but then either recover or find the challenge of getting through the day crowding out everything else. Some who were blogging have “graduated” to actually writing books. Team blogs have suffered the defection of team members. Politically based blogs must rise and fall according to the hot topics of the day.

When I first started out, I got quite a bit of advice and encouragement from other bloggers. The very first were Montana folks, karbonkountymoos and bitterrootandbergamot. But then the circle began to be international (esp. English), which was strange because I’d intended to be “place-based.” I was blogging about Blackfeet quite a bit, which brought contacts with anthropologists (the Blackfeet don’t much blog about themselves) and philosophy of religion professors such as Chas Clifton. Then someone thought they saw a condor here, which connected me with Steve and Libby Bodio, Matt Mullenix and Reid Farmer -- a whole circle of bird and dog people who also had ties to Montana. Book bloggers tend to be English.

I think it was Steve who introduced me to 2blowhards, which was at that time a “team blog” --“In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.” There were more than two. Fenster, pleading an overwhelming workload, had already signed off. Friedrich only posted occasionally, but his entries are brilliant and absorbing. Francis Morrone, who blogs also on “The Classicist,” turned out to share with me a deep love for American monumental bronzes, the Beau Arts sort. As he wandered off, I followed him. Michael is the heart and motor of the 2blowhards, the most dependable poster, and a media guy who is married to an eroticist. (None of this is secret.) He is also a terrifically generous person who read my book (“Twelve Blackfeet Stories”) and gave it a good review. He loves controversy that stirs up comments.

Then there’s Donald. His demographic indicators (age, place of birth, etc.) are almost exactly the same as mine, but his opinions and interests could not be more different except for his taste for “New Classic” paintings, which are much like what we see in the Western Art world, except that in his case the subject matter is never cowboys or cows. He has sought out and presented people, both dead and alive, who are wonderful to know about and I have a little collection of those websites.

But Donald got married and appears to be in Kirkland, WA, where I was an interim minister for the Northlake UU Congregation in the mid-eighties. The couple are seeking a church home and he blogs as follows:

“The minister of a liberal church I wrote about not long ago [Lutheran] seems obsessive about poverty.

“In a sermon he criticized "hard-core capitalists" (his words) for believing that poverty was inevitable. Apparently he thinks it should (and, presumably, can) be abolished, and world-wide at that.

“This brings us to the matter of how poverty is defined. Hard-core capitalist -- well, make that capitalist tool -- that I am, I take poverty to be a relative condition as opposed to some kind of absolute....

“As for abolishing poverty, as that minister mentioned above desires, the only solution I can think of is the establishment of a "classless" society. That would neatly take care of poverty as a relative condition. All we need to do is sally forth and stir up the peasants and proletariat, then Bingo! the age of human perfection dawns -- right?

“(By the way: can the concept of poverty as an absolute be made operational? My formal training in economics is sketchy, so I'm curious if any readers can supply examples.)”

The general comment consensus was that poverty, beyond the minimum necessary for survival (which varies in place and time) is always relative (more or less than one had before or aspires to or feels one deserves). No one had a formal “expert” definition to offer, though a few mentioned Jesus, a proponent of the second definition in my Websters: “renunciation of the right to individual ownership of property.”

The most amazing comments were the ones viciously attacking poor people. Clearly, in the opinion of this group, anyone who is poor is simply a loser. “Once again: There is no poverty in America. Everyone knows this. Some people have less than others and this is almost always the result of choices, decisions.”

“To be frank, I see poor morons just about everyday. The drunks and drug users; the dopes who buy shiny new things with money they don't have; the grasshoppers who never gave a moment's thought to putting away for the winter; the borderline animals who produce offspring sired by a different primitive every year; and so on....”

“Liberal politicians need the poor more than anyone. Letting educated immigrants into our countries would irk the government workers, as any self sufficient, educated person will not be using, or asking for more government services,
” says “Miss Carnivorous,” whose blog is called “pigmeat” and who links to Alijezeera.

Tatyana, one of those “educated immigrants,” is famous for her vitriol on almost any subject. She says about my decision to retire early on the absolute minimum SSI, “I can't believe an educated person will be so shameless as to flaunt her being a leach into our faces, as if it's something to be proud of - or even worse, as if it's OUR fault.” Much of her blog (“Where The Grass is Greener”) is in Russian.

A dozen years ago when I got my Internet start by signing on to Native American listservs, the tone they took was very much like this: angry, blaming, and terrified. I think there is a lot of bottled up emotion in the whole country these days. Those who put their bets on Bush and the Vulcans are pretty distraught, esp. since their fall came through incompetence, cheating, sexual blunders, and all the other stuff that they purported to be against. Mostly these commenters are against LOSING.

Those who have been concentrating on just getting rid of those losing politicians are now faced with the problem of what comes next? (Where to go to church?) CAN we eliminate poverty? Can we even stop the war? Can we find a competent president? This all shows up in the blogs and other media: trouble and opportunity, two sides of the same coin. Anxiety levels go straight up.

I’ve turned out not to be so place-based as I’d thought I’d be, though poverty in this village and on the reservation are sharp and real issues. What I try to do every day is to write a thousand word essay. I do not run out of subjects. Sometimes a particular essay is a chapter in a book, which I can publish on

The bottom line reaction I have to Donald’s post is wondering what would have happened if he and his bride had visited the Kirkland UU congregation on a morning about this time of year when we had a “frog festival.” It was a small, creative, artistic, educated, funny bunch of people so I took a risk in simply asking people to bring their favorite “frog” thing to the service. Frog teeshirts, frog poems, stuffed frogs, frog art, and one boy brought a jar of real frogs he caught in his neighborhood pond. We sang “Froggie Went a’Courting” and so on. I had a little homily about amphibians in evolution and they gave me a frog windsock, since I was soon to move on.

Everyone who was there remembers it fondly, though my frog windsock finally rotted so much I had to give it up. But when I read that one-third of the world’s amphibians will be gone by the end of the decade and I grieve and worry about what that means, I’m a little bit comforted by the wit, inventiveness and good humor of that Northlake UU Congregation in Kirkland.

See, the thing about poor people is that -- like frogs -- they live so perilously that they die all the time. Call it evolution. But what kills them is often subtle and unpredictable. Likewise, that’s what might save them. And us.

(I had this blog so carefully marked up with links, but somehow they went wrong. Therefore, check the links to the side instead.)

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Though DVDs are nifty and I love mailing them back and forth to Netflix, I still feel some loyalty to the 8-track of movies, the VCR. And it’s still possible to pick up used tapes at Pamida for only a few dollars. Sometimes they are stinkers, like the recent “Imaginary Heroes,” which starred Sigourney Weaver and bragged of special awards. The theoretical 14-year old Aussie boy who posts on loved it, but I thought it was the most cynical, empty little piece of social corruption I’d seen for a while. (Though there was another previous blind buy that was so totally nasty that I put it in the trash -- but that was a murder mystery book.)

Imaginary Heroes” was about an upper-middle-class suburban family where the mother has in the past had an affair with a married neighbor. We don’t know this at first -- we only know this is a seriously derailed family. The son, who sometimes seems to be the focus of the movie, tries going to bed with the neighbor boy -- son of a neighbor woman who seems to hate his mother (guess why) -- but doesn’t discover he’s gay. Instead discovers this is his half-brother. No one is who they seem to be and no one is honorable. This seems to be the big break-through philosophical message of the movie. Ugh.

But this last time -- for $4 -- I struck it lucky: “The Third Miracle,” directed by Agnieszka Holland. Ed Harris is the “bankable star” who plays a Chicago priest who specializes in debunking supposed saints in order to discourage the crass sentimentality of their exploitation. The REAL star of the movie is Armin Mueller-Stahl, born in Prussia in 1930. Harris is excellent, but it is the flint of Mueller-Stahl, who has the formal job of “Devil’s Advocate” from Rome, that lets Harris strike fire. Mueller-Stahl is elegant, sophisticated far beyond the local high church officials (Charles Haid is lots of fun as the Chicago bishop.), and entirely believable. He presses Harris harder and harder over his own faults as a cop’s son who became a priest in a young man’s bargain to save his father’s life -- he thought. As soon as Harris had committed to the priesthood, his father had died, plunging him into emptiness.

This is grim stuff. We’re relieved that the saint has a ditzy daughter played by Anne Heche, who is entirely anchored in reality and rather inclined to seduce the priest. She’s a bit of a gimmick, but she’s fun.

In my opinion (which is theos-resistant) all religions are projections on the mammoth kuppelhorizont of the Cosmos -- we see ourselves and what we value, but on a scale almost beyond our own comprehension. The Old Testament religion comes out of desert imagery and tribal experience. The theos there is a tribal chieftan who is becoming the king of cities as agriculture begins to create cities and nations. But it can be a cruel and oppressive kind of reign, over-invested in control and loyalty. So the New Testament, born in turmoil and resistance, changes the focus to the human family: the theos is the father. This change means that the religious kernel can be exported anywhere there are families but it has some real weaknesses.

The main one is in the nexus between father and son, all that confused love and resentment. A big part of it goes by the name of “theodicy,” which is summed up by Archibald Macleish in his enduring play, “J.B.”, this way: “If God is good, He is not God. If God is God, He is not good. Take the even, take the odd -- I would not live here if I could except for the little green leaves in the spring and the wind on the water.” (Why isn’t someone reviving this play on Broadway right now?) In other words, the church constantly emphasizes that God is a loving father who will protect us, even as we suffer unbearable cruelty and injustice.

One result of God’s seeming indifference and dirty tricks has been a turning to the “Mother,” who speaks to God on our behalf (presumably when He gets home from work at the end of the day) and sometimes manages miraculously to heal the pain. So this Saint, a woman and mother, has devoted herself to helping children while turning away from her own daughter. (“Well, I survived!” says the brave daughter.) The priest’s mother died when he was small, which is not irrelevant though not emphasized.

The first miracle is that through this saintly dead woman, a small girl who has been abused by her own mother and who has lupus, prays to a statue of Mary (which always seems to have an immaculate white fantail pigeon on its head!?) and the statue weeps real blood which cures the girl’s lupus.

The second miracle is actually earlier, in the childhood of the “saint,” when she prays to Mary to turn away bombs during WWII and succeeds. Can’t tell you much without spoiling the plot.

But Rome needs a third miracle. The implication of the plot at the end is that human grace -- babies, reconciliation -- are also great miracles even if we don’t pray for them and Rome doesn’t list them. The movie could have been dreadful but isn’t because it dilutes the sweetness with a bit of vinegar and the bitterness with genuine warmth, often from fellow religious.

A sub-plot is the deplorable tendency of all establishments, including established religion and particularly the Roman Catholic bureaucracy to constantly spin reality “for the good of the people.” Covering up, lying, denying, re-interpreting, suppressing -- we know all about it these days. So did Martin Luther. In this version most of it is fairly harmless, or at least motivated by care for the good of the whole. The luxury of the “Eminences” is rather ridiculous -- Charles Haid excuses his comic mud bath and massage on grounds that the body is a temple for the soul. But a bit later Harris as priest makes a convincing, if brief, defense of married sex for saints. (Of course, the saint’s husband took seven years to die of cancer and she was totally devoted to him.)

This movie doesn’t really resolve the problems of theodicy or bureaucratic corruption at the top, it relies on sentimental First Communion images a little too much, and it has some mushy spots in the plot. Just the same, it sketches out the main issues in a dignified and charming way and the real magic was done by inspired casting, including that pristine pigeon.

Friday, May 18, 2007


A friend came to visit and wanted to know about Blackfeet. What he insisted on knowing specifically was whether their language were “Algonquian,” meaning was it classified with that big category of languages developed by linguists when they tried to group Native American languages into “families” that somehow echoed the European languages of French, Spanish, and so on. I kept resisting telling him what he wanted to know, partly because I think the assumed idea that if you knew what language a group spoke then you could assign them to some “nation,” meaning some territory that could be called their “homeland” so you could say they “belonged” there.

Actually Blackfeet IS assigned to the Algonquian family, but that category covers the entire North American continent from coast to coast, as far north as the subarctic and as far south as South Carolina and includes more than thirty recorded languages -- who knows how many went unrecorded or what constitutes the defining differences between one version and another? Here’s a sentence to think about (from “The Encyclopedia of North American Indians”): “Reconstructed Proto-Algonquian terms for various animals and plants indicate a homeland for that language in the region between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario.” “Proto-Algonquian” is supposed to be between three thousand and twenty-five hundred years old. What did the People speak before that? Where were they before that? What was “Pre-Proto-Algonquian” like?

If the original theorists about the paleo-days of the continent are right, the first languages should have come with the first people, who seem from the genetic evidence to be Asian. So the languages should have spread from west to east, right? Or did everyone speak some kind of “dawn Chinese” until a proto-Viking landed on the east coast (in search of cod fish) and started a back wave of new words. But do the Blackfeet have a word for codfish? Does this have anything to do with the old-timers’ prejudice against fish as dangerous food?

Languages develop the capacity to mark with prefixes or suffixes whatever qualities are important to the speakers. So Algonquian languages don’t distinguish between male and female in the way the Romance languages do, but they distinguish between what is animate and what is inanimate. These nouns are usually animate: persons, animals, spirits, large trees, some fruits (raspberries but not strawberries -- no one knows why), some body parts (Napi’s rear end is always talking to him), feathers and tails, pipes, snowshoes and kettles. There is a third category: the sacred. This encyclopedia entry doesn’t address it.

Edward Sapir, a major linguist, says that Algonquian words are “tiny imagist poems.” Certainly the words invented to describe new phenomena are this way. Earl Old Person says that the word for “post office” is “the place where you throw things in.” In other words, the letter slot or box where you stuff the outgoing mail. I wonder what the word is for where you get your incoming mail back out, but probably in the days when the major language was still Blackfeet, one’s mail was simply handed to one, so the name of the postmaster was all a person needed to know.

The more one pays attention to the things in the environment, the more one develops words to describe them. At present the growing edge of the language is in physics and the computer world. Many of the words are playful and derived from previous vocabularies and phenomena that are assumed to be culturally shared, in the same way that the planets were named for the Greek mythological gods. I’m waiting for something to be named for Napi. Maybe a fumarole in Yellowstone?

What used to be “the fairgrounds” just west of Browning, which was improved and named “the Blackfeet Stampede Park” (maybe after the Calgary Stampede, a famous rodeo?), has just been reclaimed again and renamed “Charging Home Park.” It’s often used for horse races. "Fairs" featuring 4-H and "best of crop" are from the old ag world that had only a temporary impact on Blackfeet culture.

I’m working on maps of the rez and thinking about neighborhoods in Browning. One is named “Chinatown” because the overhanging upper stories reminded someone of Chinese houses. Another is “Hell’s Corner” because a notorious bootlegger lived there and his clients got in fights. "The White House" (which is white stucco) is where you can buy cocaine. “Knot’s Landing” is a loop of houses where the occupants got into naughty behavior reminiscent of the TV series on which the plot consisted mostly of sexual entanglements of each other. “Palookaville” is a spot out by Heart Butte where the sheep shearers used to put up their tents and corrals once a year in the days when Blackfeet raised more sheep than cattle. A sheep shearer was called a “palooka.” Usually these invented names are rather rude, which makes them funny and more likely to catch-on.

Names come from a history of interaction. “Kristy the Wordsmith” has developed a career from recovering the origins of words -- she has published a book and does a daily spot on public radio -- and there are a number of word-meaning daily email services. In my youth, the Reader’s Digest published a word list for vocabulary expansion.

Today the emphasis in many schools is not vocabulary development, but proper grammar and usage. The high value is conformity, rather than creation -- uniformity rather than innovation. This is because those in charge believe that success in the world depends on fitting in, lookin’ good, belonging. But does it?

As soon as proto-Algonquian formed, it split out in at least ten directions as the speakers looked for new lands and new ways to live. Prairie people needed words for grass and prairie fire. Coastal people needed words for surf and whales. New language goes with new places and lives, new times.

So when I finally gave up and admitted that Blackfeet was an Algonquian language, what did my friend gain by knowing this bit of taxonomy? Could he speak the language? Could he see the land around us in new ways? Or are such pigeonholes only important to people in libraries?

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Richard Stern, much-praised novelist and blogger (and for a while a professor of mine) says:

Those elements of the past which form parts of what we call our identity--family, religion, ethnic background, class, biological being including gender, strength, and health, our place in the communities of which we're a part--almost surely lead to internal as well as external conflicts in the course of our life. Perhaps only those who never feel such conflicts can be called inauthentic and unreal. One talent of the dramatist and prose fiction writer is to stage the conflicts, that is, to so isolate or exaggerate one or more of the conflicting elements that it upsets the status quo of the drama's beginning and begins its drive toward another status, tragic, comic, or some rich combination of them. The bliss of the audience or readers is to get swept up in this two- or thirty-hour transfiguration in such a way that our own reality is enriched with what we've seen, heard, or read. The work of very powerful dramatists and novelists will in time alter, indeed, become the culture, that is, the very "reality on the ground."
-- Richard Stern
May 14, 2007

Every time I sift through my American Indian materials, as I’m doing while I compose “A Guide to the Blackfeet Reservation,” I’m struck by the issues Stern is addressing above. The truth is that our lives are controlled by an illusion composed of brute strength, economics, political happenstance, impersonal global events like earthquakes or hurricanes, and inertia. That is, the Blackfeet Reservation or even the concept of “tribes” exists only at the “pleasure” of these forces. Those tribes petitioning to be defined as nationally recognized entities will know what I mean. Always underneath Indian negotiations are the not-so-hidden threat to “terminate” reservations and all privileges and payments connected to them. A national emergency like terrorists or, better yet, global warming and the water shortages it creates, might be exactly the excuse needed.

Even the larger nation or the “united” part of what we know as the United States if America is only a convention that could be ended by internal collapse or external threat. That this is coming to consciousness now is demonstrated by the wave of books comparing the state of this country to the decline and fall of the Holy Roman Empire.

Under the concern for the continuing existence of this country is the even larger question of what it means to challenge religion, including the taken-for-granted assumptions of the Christians who put that “Holy” in the Roman Empire (after defeating the assumptions of the pagan world). The nations who used the Pope (remnant of the Holy Roman Empire) or God Himself as the authority for establishing their constitutions and kings must ask what it means today. We fear the whole globe may have to be re-negotiated. Indeed, it does -- it is happening. Books challenging religions are right there alongside those challenging the continued existence of our nation.

Not just our religion and our nation are frail, but also the actual ground on which all human nations and religions are built. Quite aside from church and government, science is saying that human life is endangered by our constant erosion of the environment. Bird flu, the disappearances of frogs and bees, chemical contamination of Inuit breast milk, the drowning of polar bears -- there seems to be no safe haven. BB’s are being put on the scale daily and we have no way to know which one will be the tipping point that dumps us off, but we suspect it won’t take many more. If Darwinian fittingness for life is based on intelligence and self-discipline, then we’re in big trouble.

We need depictions of the new reality that are so convincing that we will feel that we’re “seeing” the truth in a compelling vision that will change our behavior. The problem that Blackfeet, a microcosm of this dilemma, struggle with in their subset of this challenge is (as in the larger world) two-fold: one is the conflict among themselves and the other is dissonance and opposition outside of themselves. Inside, there is the same old push/pull between “full-blood identified” -- that is, people who claim entitlement because of their privileged provenance as descendants of the original tribal groups -- and “progress identified” who accept at least some degree of assimilation in the interest of economics and politics. Both are desperate for control in the interest of self-preservation, even willing to sacrifice the reservation if it will mean the survival of their own sub-group.

Outside, several ideas of who Indians are govern this nation’s tolerance and support for reservations. One is the romantic, usually educated (not always), liberal (not always) persons who believe that Indians are “natural” and therefore in some way more innocent and better than other people. (This plays into the “full-blood” ideas and reinforces them.)

At the other extreme is the remnant who still believe that Indians are degenerates, dragged down by primitiveness, alcoholism, and lack of education. (The extreme of the extreme was the early idea that Indians were a kind of animal. Now we are forced to admit that we are all animals.) This racist remnant is a component of those who date their own prosperity from ancestors who grabbed Indian land, grass, timber, gold or whatever. (If you want to hear examples, bring up the topic of irrigation in Valier. I think the locals themselves are sometimes a little shocked by what they say without thinking.)

In the middle are a lot of people (including a lot of Indians) who are confused about just how to think of tribes, reservations, entitlements, privilege, sovereignty and so on. How can we think about Indian rights when we aren’t even sure about our own? Certainly there is a growing governmental tendency to flatten everyone out into a giant database: prevented from crossing the border without identification, defined by income level, discarded if nonproductive, separated from family.

One of the genius safeguards of our nation is that the states themselves as entities, are capable of rising up and opposing such tendencies. Montana just rejected the idea of a fancy high-tech universal ID card. The federal revenge is to impose the need for a passport to cross the border, a requirement that will hurt the entire High-Line economy. At the very same moment, the Montana tribes were pleased that their tribal ID cards will be accepted by the state, as valid as the driver’s licenses that have become state passports.

In the next few days a television show will propose an enduringly transcendent work of history that shaped many minds about Indians: “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown. It’s an account of the Clearance of the Prairies for Euro-homesteaders, revealing how many “battles” were simply massacres of Indians. Not every small fact in it is true (at least not for the Blackfeet), but the shift of attitude swept the hearts of many people. The irony of bringing this to the TV (and then the DVD) is that the producers believed they couldn’t make it acceptable to a contemporary American audience without introducing white and white-assimilated characters who are not in the nonfiction book. Clearly they are reaching for the conciliatory tone of the earlier “Into the West.”

But we need something more, something so intense that it will speak to everyone everywhere. One talent of the dramatist and prose fiction writer is to stage the conflicts, that is, to so isolate or exaggerate one or more of the conflicting elements that it upsets the status quo of the drama's beginning and begins its drive toward another status, tragic, comic, or some rich combination of them. The bliss of the audience or readers is to get swept up in this two- or thirty-hour transfiguration in such a way that our own reality is enriched.

This depiction is not enough, but it might prepare the way.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Agreement with Blackfeet Indians of 1895

Sec. 9: Whereas William C. Pollock, George Bird Grinnell, and Walter M. Clements, Commissioners on the part of the United States, did on the twenty-sixth day of September, Anno Domini eighteen hundred and ninety five, conclude an agreement with the Indians of the Blackfeet Reservation, in the State of Montana, which said Agreement is in words and figures as follows (Senate Document Numbered One hundred and Eighteen, Fifty-fourth Congress, first session) to wit:

Agreement concluded September twenty-sixth eighteen hundred and fifty five, by and between William C. Pollock, George Bird Grinnell, and Walter M. Clements, Commisioners on the part of the United States, and the undersigned Indians, residing upon and attached to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, in the State of Montana, the same constituting a majority of the male adult Indians belonging upon said reservation, both full bloods and mixed bloods, the latter’s rights to participate in all business proceedings of said tribe and to share in all the benefits accruing to said tribes from a sale of land or otherwise being hereby recognized as equal to the full bloods, witnesseth that:


For and in consideration of the sums to be paid and the obligations assumed upon the part of the United States, as hereinafter set forth, said Indians of the Blackfeet Reservation hereby convey, relinquish, and release to the United States all their right title, and interest in to that portion of their present reservation in the State of Montana lying and beinig west of the following described line, to wit:

Beginning at a point on the northern boundary of the reservation due north from the summmit of Chief Mountain, and running thence south to said summit; thence in a straight line to the most northeasterly point of Flat Top Crag; thence to the most westerly of the mouths of Divide Creek; thence up said creek to a point where a line drawn from the said northeasterly point of Flat Top Cra to the summit of Divide Mountain intersects Divide Creek; thence to the summit of Divide Mountain; thence in a staight line to a point on the southern line of the right-of-way of the Great Northern Railway Company four miles west of the western end of the railway bridge across the north fork of the Two Medicine River; thence in a staight line to the summit of Heart Butte; and thence due south to the southern line of the present reservation.

Provided, that said Indians shall have, and do hereby reserve to themselves, the right to go upon any portion of the lands hereby conveyed so long as the same shall remain public lands of the United States, and to cut and remove therefrom wood and timber for agency and school purposes, and for their personal uses for houses, fences and other domestic purposes; and provided further, that the said Indians hereby reserve and retain the right to hunt upon said lands and to fish in the streams thereof so long as the same shall remain public lands of the United States under and in (accordance with the provisions of the game and fish laws of the State of Montana).


For and in consideration of the conveyance, cession, and relinquishment, hereinbefore made the United States hereby covenants and agrees to advance and expend during the period of ten years beginning from and after the expiration of the payments provided for in the agreement made between the hereto on the eleventh day of February A.D. eighteen hundred and eighty seven, and ratified by congress on the first day of May, A.D. eighteen hundred and eighty-eight, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior for the Indians, both full-bloods and mixed-bloods, now attached to and receiving rations and annuities at the Blackfeet Agency, and all who shall hereafter be declared by the tribes located upon said reservation, with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, entitled to membership in those tribes, the sum of One-Million-Five-Hundred-Thousand ($1,500,000) dollars.

It is agreed that said money shall be paid as follows: The first year after the expiration of payments under the Agreement of eighteen-hundred and eighty-seven (1887), three-hundred-thousand ($300,000) dollars, one-half of which shall be deposited in the United States treasury and bear interest at four per centum per annum, and one-half, or so much thereof as shall be necessary, shall be expended as hereinafter provided; and annually thereafter for eight years the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand ($150,000) dollars.

Provided, that any surplus accumulated under and remaining at the expiration of the Agreement of 1887, and any surplus that may remain from any annual payment provided herein, shall also be placed in the United States Treasury to the credit of said Indians, and shall bear interest at the rate of four per centum per annum. Such sums, or so much thereof as may be necessary in any one year, shall be expended in the purchase of cows, bulls, and other livestock, goods, clothing, subsistence, agricultural implements, in providing employees, in the education of Indian children, in procuring medicine and medical attendance, in the care and support of the aged, sick and infirm, and of helpless orphans, in the erection and keeping in repair of such new agency and school buildings, mills, blacksmith, carpenter, and wagon shops as may be necessary, in assisting the Indians to build and keep in repair their houses, enclose and irrigate their farms, and in such other ways as may best promote their civilization and improvement.


It is agreed that in the employment of all agency and school employees preference in all cases will be given to Indians residing on the reservation, who are well-qualified for such positions; and that all cattle issued to said Indians for stock-raising purposes, and their progeny, shall bear the brand of the Indian Department, and shall not be sold, exchanged or slaughtered, except by the consent of the agent in charge, until such time as the restriction shall be removed by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.


In order to encourage habits of industry and to reward labor, it is further understood and agreed that, in the giving out or distribution of cattle or other stock, goods or clothing, subsistence, and agricultural implements, as provided in Article II, preference shall be given to Indians who endeavor by honest labor to support themselves, and especially those who in good faith undertake the cultivation of the soil and engage in pastoral pursuits as a means of obtaining a livelihood, and the distribution of these benefits shall be made from time to time, in such manner as shall best promote the objects specified.


Since the situation of the Blackfeet Reservation renders it wholly unfit for agriculture, and siince these Indians have shown within the past four years that they can successfully raise horned cattle, and there is every probability that they will become self-supporting by attention to this industry, it is agreed that during the existence of this Agreement no allotments of land in severalty shall be made to them, but that this whole reservation shall continue to be held by these Indians as a communal grazing tract upon which their herds may feed undisturbed; and that after the expiration of this Agreement the lands shall continue to be held until such time as a majority of the adult males of the tribe shall request in writing that allotment in severalty shall be made of their lands. Provided, that any member of the tribe may, with the approval of the agent in charge, fence in such an area of land as he and the members of his family would be entitled to under the allotment act, and may file with the agent a description of such land and of the improvements that he has made on the same, and the filing of such description shall give the said members of the tribe the right to take such land when allotments of the land in severalty shall be made.


So soon as this agreement shall have received the approval of Congress the boundary lines described in Article I shall be surveyed and designated by two engineers, one of whom shall be selected by the Indians and one by the Secretary of the Interior; the said boundaries shall at once be marked by monuments, not more than one-half mile apart, the points at the mouth of Divide Creek and the westernmost extremity of the Lower Two Medicine Lake, after they have been marked, shall be fixed and remain unchanged, no matter what alterations may hereafter take place in the course of said creek, or in the level of said lake. The expense of such survey shall be shared equally between the United States and the tribes occupying this reservation, but the unskilled laborers employed in the work shall be hired from among the Indians residing on the reservation.

Such survey and the marking of the above described boundary lines shall be begun immediately -- not later than ninety days after the approval of this Agreement by Congress -- and completed as speedily as possible, and the ceded portion of the reservation shall not be thrown open to occupancy by the whites until after the new boundaries of the reservation shall have been established and marked.


It is further agreed that whenever, in the opinion of the President, the public interests require the construction of railroads or other highways, telegraph or telephone lines, canals and irrigating ditches, through any portion of this reservation, right-of-way shall be and is hereby granted for such purposes, under such rules, regulations, limitations and restrictions that the Secretary of the Interior may prescribe; the compensation to be fixed by said Secretary and by him expended for the benefit of the Indians.


It is further agreed and provided that none of the money realized from the sale of this land shall be applied to the payment of any judgement which has been or may hereafter be rendered uupon any claim for damages because of depredations committed by said Indians prior to the date of this Agreement.


The provisions of Article VI of the Agreement between the parties hereto, made February 11, 1887, are hereby continued in full force and effect, as are also all the provisions of said Agreement not in conflict with the provisions of this Agreement.


It is understood and declared that wherever the word Indian is used in this Agreement it includes mixed-bloods as well as full-bloods.


This Agreement shall not be binding upon either party until ratified by Congress.

Dated and signed at Blackfeet Agency, Montana, on the twenty-sixth day of September, eighteen hundred and ninety-five (A.D. 1895).

William C. Pollock, George Bird Grinnell, Walter M. Clements.

White Calf, Bear Chief (The Younger), Three Suns, White Grass, Bull Shoe, Running Crane, Mad Wolf, Four Horns, Eagle Ribs, Curly Bear, Wolf Plume, Calf Standing in the Middle, Little Plume, Running Behind Another, Big Plume, Wolf Tail, Tail Feathers Coming over the Hill, Mountain Chief, Heavy Breast, Bull Calf, Fast Buffalo Hose, Chief Crow, Tail Feathers, Striped White Calf, Takes Gun at Night, Yellow Wolf, No Chief, Horn, Short Robe, White Antelope, Many Guns, Spotted Eagle, Painted Feathers, Old Person, Tearing Lodge, Dick Kipp, William Upham, Strangled Wolf, Cross Guns, Shot First, Iron Breast, Joseph Tatsey, Baptiste Rosidiu [Robideaux?], New Crow, Owl Top Knot, Day Rider, Good Stab, Medicine Stab, Takes Gun On Top, Owns Heavy Gun, Big Moon, Sun: A Chief, Many Guns (No.2), Duck Head, Makes Cold Weather, Henry N. Bear, Calf Shield, Morning Plume, Rides At the Door, Arrow Top Knot, Charles Rose, John Monroe, Black Darcee, Lazy Boy, Chief Coward, Little Young Man, William Russell, John J. Gahert [Gobert?], Edward Crane, Heavy Runner, Blood Man, Shot In The Water, Big Head, The Bite, Red head, Calf Tail, Fine Bull, Big Lodge Pole, James No Chief, Adam White Man, Frank Double Runner, Takes Good Gun, Buffalo Growing, Calf Boss Ribs, Iron Pipe, Henry H. Guns, Lawrence Huber, Smoking Flint, Two Guns, Stabs By Mistake, TAkes Gun Alone, Took Gun For Nothing, Takes Gun on Each Side, Stingy, Got Badly Married, Bird Rattle, Big Beaver, After Buffalo, Double Rider, Bear Medicine, Iron Eater, Head Carrier, Chief All Over, Short Face, Weasel Fat, Mud Head, Cold Body, Young Man Chief, Cut Finger, Mike Berry, John Moccasin, Medicine Bull, Berry Carrier, Michael Boy Rider, Rupert Rider, Home Gun, Moves Out, Shoots Close At Night, Last Looking, Eagle Flag, Swimming Under Water, James White Calf, Moving Along On His Buttocks, Brave Piegan and Little Boy, Scabby Robe, John Kills Across the Way, Antoine, Red Fox, Old Man Chief, Old Person (#2), Bear Child, Tilew Ashley, Ride In Middle, Running Fisher. New Breast, Yellow Kidney, Carl Running Rabbit, Little Owl, Running Crane (#2), Slim Tail, Black Bull, Irvin Little Plume, Albert Mad Plume, Bear Shoe, Joe Skunk Cap, Charged First, Crow Eyes, Green Grass Bull, Narrow Body, Medicine Weasel, Long Time Rock, Took Gun in Morning, Little Bear, Morning Eagle, Bear Chief, John Shorty, Bear Head, Frank Monroe, Eli Rider, Buffalo Hide, Weasel Tail, Ambush Chief, Willie Smith, Jack Miller, Long Time Asleep, Alex Guardipee, Alex Marceau, Louis Marceau, Henry Choquette, Richard Sanderville, Frank Bostwick, Frank Guardipee, George Wren, Frank Choate, Tom Kiyo [Sanderville], Wiliam Therman, Albert Goss, Eli Guardipee, Ed Bi Videau, Joseph Trombley, Frank Vielle, James Osman, Charles Choquette, Peter Guardipee, William Lewis, Many White Horses, Bear Paw, Lazy Young Man, White Dog, Louis Champine, Peter Larb, Stinking Tit, Herman Dusty Bull, Frank Culfule, James C. Grant, Joseph Spanish, Frank Bow, Elmer Butterfly, Chewing Black Bones, Janis Billedeaux, John Hunsberger, The Boy, Frank Marceau, James Shorty, Ross White Grass, Big Wolf Medicine, Was Going to Move and Didn’t, Aims Back, John Vielle, Charles Iron Breast, Joseph Kipp, Split Ears, The Timber, Horn Medicine, John Cuff, Anthony Austin, Joseph Brown, Under Bull, Richard Croff, Jesse J. Damples, Everybody Talks About Him, No Runner, Black Horse Rider, Albert Buffalo Horse, Many Tail Feathers, Eagle Tail Feathers, Dwarf, F. Spearson, Cold Feet, Big Mouth Spring, Coat, Chief Elk, Jerry Big Plume, John Big Spring, Gambler, Ancient Star, Three Chiefs, William Brown, George Prairie Chicken, Young Eagle, Three Bears, George Pablo, Tom Two Stab, Paul Skunk Cap, Charles Guardipee, John Gordon, Night Gun (#2), Owl Medicine, Joe Wall, Will Not Stand Still In The Night, First Rider, Ear Rings, Black Boy, Took Gun in Middle, John Pepion, Owl Child, Boss Rib War Bonnet, Wipes His Eyes, Arrow Maker, Bear Leggins, Yellow Iron, Ancient Chief, White Man, Blackface Man, Bear Skin, Running Owl, Don’t Go Out, Eagle Child (#2), Rattler, Peter Cadotte, Bad Old Man, Prairie Chicken, Under Mink, Peter Kiyo, White Quiver, Joseph Kossuth, Wolf Head, Gloves, Gun Turned Over, Harry No Chief, Iron, Ground, Bobtail Horse, Black Bear, Running Rabbit, Boy Chief, Chasing Buffalo (#2), Came At Night, Coyote Old Man, Eagle, Took Gun, The Marrow Bone, Blackfoot Child, Last to Awake, George Horn, Peter Champine.

J.E. Webb
A. B. Hamilton
George Steell, United States Indian Agent, Blackfeet Indian Agency, September 28, 1895.

I, J.W. Schultz, hereby certify that I wrote the names appearing upon the foregoing pages, the same being those that were signed by the parties by making their mark; that the same was done freely and voluntarily, and the names appearing thereon are Indians, both full-bloods and mixed-bloods, belonging upon and attached to the Blackfeet Reservation. Given under my hand at the Blackfeet Reservation this the 28th day of September, 1895. J.W. Schultz.

We, Charles Simon, James Perrine, and Richard Sanderville, do certify that the annexed and foregoing Agreement by and between the United States and Indians, both full bloods and mixed bloods, residing upon and attached to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, was fully interpreted to said Indians and they made to understand the same; that after said interpretation the said Indians whose names appear subscribed to said agreement signed the same in our presence.

We further certify that said Indians are members of said tribe and reside upon said reservation, set apart for said Indians in Montana, and that said subscribers are male adults over the age of 21 years.

Given under our hands at the Blackfeet Indian Agency this 28th Day of September, 1895. Charles Simon, Special Interpreter; James Perrine, Special Interpreter; Richard Sanderville, United States Agency Interpreter.

I, George Steell, United States Indian Agent at Blackfeet Agency, Montana, hereby certify that the male adult population of the Indians belonging to the Blackfeet Reservation, both full bloods and mixed bloods, is 361.

Given under my hand at the Blackfeet Agency this 28th day of September, 1895. George Steell, United States Indian Agent.