Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Otsi, the beloved mummy

Glaciers melted back enough to reveal Otsi.  "Ötzi (German pronun­cia­tion: [ˈœtsi] (  listen); also called the Iceman, the Similaun Man, the Man from Hauslabjoch, the Tyrolean Iceman, and the Hauslabjoch mummy) is a nickname given to the well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived around 3,300 BCE, more precisely between 3359 and 3105 BCE, with a 66 percent chance that he died between 3239 and 3105 BCE.  The mummy was found in September 1991 in the Ötztal Alps, hence the nickname “Ötzi”.  He was from the “Copper Age,” the transition between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age.  

Otsi has provided a story with details like what kind of grass he packed into his boots to keep his feet warm and like what he had eaten, mostly hunted meat.  He was “exsanguinated” by an arrow and had only unfinished arrows with him.  Found lying on his face, he was rolled over which tore off his frozen-down penis, because the earth has a strong grip, though we flinch to hear about it. 

Kennewick Man is the name generally given to the skeletal remains of a prehistoric Paleoamerican man found on a bank of the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington, United States, on July 28, 1996.  It is one of the most complete ancient skeletons ever found. Radiocarbon tests on bone have shown it to date from 8.9k to 9k calibrated years before present.  

Earlier than Otzi, K- man was a Stone Age man thought to have re-inhabited the northern North America  at the end of the most recent glacier.  The Pleistocene (pronunciation: /ˈplaɪstəˌsiːn, -toʊ-/ often colloquially referred to as the Ice Age) is the geological epoch which lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the world's most recent period of repeated glaciations. The end of the Pleistocene corresponds with the end of the last glacial period and also with the end of the Paleolithic age used in archaeology.  

Both of these men told stories with their remains which we “flesh out” with both scientific information and our ability to empathize, even fantasize.  This is what it means to be human.  But there are living men and much more recent men (and women) who also bring us stories — in early days by telling the tales around a campfire, then after the invention of writing making marks, and now simply speaking into a video camera and embellishing them with images.

From a Piegan center of reference, I note some of these men.

Clarke Wissler, John Ewers, and other anthropologists were Euro-style “soft-science” people working with institutions and publishing to establish baselines of understanding accepted by the main routes of academia.

There were others who came as individuals, seeking, trying to transform, looking for new worlds.  The earliest probably came up the Mississippi/Missouri waterway that was a highway to the center of Blackfeet country.  More recently, industrialization brought the railroad and the resource developers who tried to carry the pre-existing country away and in large part succeeded, and have still not ceased from trying to find more and more, though now the resource is wind and the despoiler is the high tension pylons of electrical transmission.

“Why Gone Those Times?” plaintively asked James Willard Schultz, who got here just at the end of the first encounter-focussed story-storm about warriors and grizzly bears.  Charlie Russell went to images to tell his version.  There were others who chucked stories into the vacuum between what people wanted to see and what really was.  Then began to come the Real People.  Darrell Kipp, Stewart E. Miller, Curly Bear, Narcisse Blood, John Murray — the only one of these five who is still living.  They were my students and friends.  I try to tell their stories and mine about them.  But I forget things now, even how to operate this computer which becomes more complex and guarded daily.

Penucque", http://ronaldthomaswest.com/  records on his blog the many stories from Heart Butte acquired during his years there, as well as other rez tales.  He is one of the broadly educated and worldly (sometimes traumatized) men who walk between cultures but also are not afraid of the terrifying depths of demonic destruction that haunt all people, especially now that we realize the truth of species extinction  includes us, because of us.  My cherished co-writer is one of these, but not with a Blackfeet center.  

Adolph Hungry Wolf, John Hellson, Paul Raczka, and Bob Scriver all dwelled in Blackfeet lands and handled their materials, sometimes with honor and other times not.

Currently, Paul Seseequasis, a Cree from Saskatoon, is looking at the photographic legacy of Blackfeet, Cree, Inuit and the combinations of these northern people.  We consult because of my modest archive of books and papers and my fifty-year familiarity with the “doin’s” of the People here.  (I came in 1961 and returned for good in 1999.)  I’m rereading Walter McClintock’s “Old North Trail” which is such a good place to start, and thinking about Thomas Magee’s body of work which is at the University of Lethbridge.  Paul is also exploring the photos of Tom Kehoe with the help of his wife, Alice Beck Kehoe, an anthropologist.  I know the Kehoe family, once curators at the Museum of the Plains Indian.

As part of the post-colonial period of the Blackfeet people -- which still continues and which I consider a valid and necessary unfolding -- though it is extremely uncomfortable and even unjust, there was much rejection of white people having anything to do with the lives of the indigenous folks, partly as a matter of identity and partly because casual observers who don’t know the publishing scene became convinced that there’s a lot of money to be made by creating books of Napi stories.  If not that, then by stealing sacred materials and exploiting them.

There was truth to the accusation.  When Bob Scriver and I accepted Bundle Keeping, Harold McCracken and Paul and Star Dyck invited themselves to the transfer and later published about it.  Because of these sort of things they created the “expertise” that made them profitable connections with the Cody Buffalo Bill Historical Center, where Paul Dyck’s collection came to rest.  https://centerofthewest.org/explore/plains-indians/paul-dyck-collection-blackfeet/

On the other hand, though both Bob Scriver and I are local and once teachers in the Browning Public Schools, we are invisible to many people, especially and ironically, white people.  I just now made contact with John Rouse, the superintendent of the Browning Public Schools, which is something I’ve meant to do for a long time.  

Materials about the Blackfeet are available on the school’s website, which shows up on Google as “Blackfeet Heritage Books” but has the url of https//www.blackfootpapers.com
Adolf Hungry Wolf’s four volume “museum in a box” with that name is raw materials he gathered over decades from libraries across the continent, as well as research from visiting with old folks at pow-wows and every other event he could think of.  Just reading the books takes days and there are many old photographs, some of them from what were called “cabinet photographs,” mounted on heavy cardboard to file in cabinets.  There are many other books, written by the People themselves.  All can be purchased from the School District.  

As I shared with John Rouse, what is needed is a central clearing point for all the materials on both sides of the 49th parallel.  Something like the Thomas Magee photo collection at the University of Lethbridge, which they have published online, is highly relevant to the Piegan but hardly known.  My own work, even this blog, is not particularly known on the rez.  (In truth it’s not always about Blackfeet or this area.  Maybe I should separate it into a more defined blog.) and “Penucque", Ronald Thomas West) is almost a secret, though it is free for the downloading and full of pithy thought and memory.  

When I talk to kids on the rez and they figure out how long I’ve been around, they ask me, “What was it like in those days?  Did you know my grandmother?”  And usually I even knew their great-grandmother.  The kids express longing for their stories, entirely legitimate, world-making.  Otzi Man and Kennewick Man are important, but so are the local and recent People.

(Wikipedia is the source of the italicized quotes at the beginning.  No one knows who wrote them.)

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