Tuesday, May 07, 2019

"WE ARE COMING HOME" by Gerald T. Conaty

Half a century ago in Browning, Montana, Bob Scriver began to have dreams about Bundle Keeping, a form of ceremonial that had swept many Plains tribes in older times.  No one knows when the form got to the Blackfeet, but the material Bundles that survive include 17th and 18th century items like glass beads, falconry bells, satin ribbons, and pipe stems made on rifling lathes, as well as pieces of gun barrel and bird taxidermy.  The embellishments are also traditional ermine, porcupine quills and the dewclaws of deer or elk.  Many skins of birds and animals were swaddled like babies with their heads sticking out, and then the whole was wrapped in a bear skin, an elk hide, and a Scots tartan shawl that some sharp Hudson's Bay salesman convinced them was sacred.

When I came in 1961, it was assumed that such things no longer existed, but in reality they were merely hidden.  Because the Scriver Studio became a crossroads for road merchants and scouts, we began to hear stories.  People had always sold the Scriver family intriguing bits and sometimes, as was traditional on reservations, put objects "in hock."  One big ceremonial drum just about lived in the Studio except for being borrowed back.  Gifts and purchases had brought other materials into the hands of Bob, his father and brother who ran the Browning Mercantile.  Finally Bob was the last living male Scriver and assumed ownership of everything, much to the bitter resentment of his niece.

Quite apart from that, Bob and I became ceremonial Thunder Pipe Bundle Keepers according to the old rules as taught to us by the eighty-year-old practitioners.  We paid and we were obedient.  We really meant it.

Then the politics heated up and the government began to seize all artifacts and skeletons to return them to the tribal people. The emotional energy for seizure mixed with the idea of the government impounding all guns.  The 19th century wars with tribes came alive in memory.  When threats began, Bob sold everything to the Alberta Provincial Museum in Edmonton, Alberta, where he had spent WWII in an Army band.

I had nothing to say about it but thought, read and wrote quite separately and quietly.  The marriage ended and I left for Portland and other adventures involving AIM.  What follows for a few blog posts is the retyping of essays I wrote back then on a typewriter.  Since then, Gerald Conaty brought a throughtful, open, inclusive approach to the soul-wrenching questions when culture change forces ceremonial decisions.  Gradually  the tribal people worked out what to do, as is recorded in this thoughtful book.

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