It’s so awkward for me, a white woman (napi yahkee), to comment on someone like Jesse DesRosier and you shouldn’t continue reading what I say without watching this YouTube vid.
I knew Darrell Robes Kipp, from when he was a senior in high school in Browning and I had just been hired to teach junior high. Dorothy Still Smoking was in my all-girl speech and drama class where I got in trouble for writing a play about a girl’s reformatory without having any idea it would be taken as being residential boarding school.
In those days Roy DesRosier — Jesse’s grandfather/greatgrandfather? —was the town pharmacist, a red-head of formidable intelligence. He was white, but I think his genes traveled to blend with Blackfeet. I wish I knew more about him. In particular his female descendants are brilliant. One is a doctor in Heart Butte. He should not be just discarded, so I’ll stick up for him, but politically I’m on the wrong side of the blanket.
Jesse thinks the first Piegan Institute was in an abandoned house, but he’s thinking of the earlier Blackfeet Free School and Sandwich Shop, a precursor that was started by Bill Haw (white) in the abandoned commodities warehouse. I put some of this in “Bronze Inside and Out.” It had fizzled by the time Piegan Institute started, but it left an imprint. In some ways, these two ventures presaged the Blackfeet Community College. “It CAN be done,” the experiments said. One organization was part of a whole movement.
When Darrell and Dorothy first began surveying the rez to see whether people would support a program to teach the language, they were startled that people said “certainly not”! In their childhood these adults had been severely punished for speaking Blackfeet and they were determined that their children should not be exposed to such hurt. By now, decades later, the story has reversed and people feel the language should be learned.
Luckily, the Canadian Treaty 7 parts of the Blackft nation were allowed to keep much of their culture and they were a reservoir of teachers and ceremonies. I want to pick up on the “Cree Speaker” name. For Blackfeet, “Cree” is sort of the equivalent of “French” for the English. Cree Medicine family members worked for us, but I didn’t tease them about it. (Carl could be formidable.) “Cree Medicine” is meant to be little witchy, a little sexy — powerful. Louise Erdrich knew that when she named a novel that — the title was later changed to “Love Medicine” which is roughly the same.
Jesse’s vid is terrific. He’s done others. I can’t find a copy of “Buffalo Runner” yet but I’m still looking. I haven’t check Vimeo yet.