We paraded through Browning followed by horses and their riders who were raising money for cancer research. Every rider had lost a relative. The workshops were a great success and most of the children tried each of them. The show was exactly right for the people who came to see it. The only thing I can add is photographs.
Today Joannie gives her workshop on storytelling through quilts. The quilt’s story — her story — is based on her parents’ internment as Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. “Were they well treated?” someone from our groups asks. She replies “All of a sudden they had nothing. Can you be well treated in a situation like that?”
The two Pauls (project moving force Magid and project photographer Anderson) and Chris (project documentarian) go off to visit the Bison with Tyson, a member of the tribal business council. Last summer, Brooklyn, our Nez Pierce friend and mentor, spoke about what the land means to the Nez Pierce. “The land shows us how to live, how to be good people,” he said.
The Bison have been central to Blackfoot culture for thousands of years. Before the Blackfoot acquired horses in the Seventeenth Century (traded from the Nez Pierce among others) large dogs were used to transport the tipis as they followed the herds. A Blackfoot woman could take down a tipi, travel miles and put it up again in a day. Like Brooklyn and the land, Tyson tells Chris he learns from the Bison (iiniiwa). He saysthey teach him by how they move, how they socialize, how they treat their families. The herds are estimated 30 million before the European invasion. Bison were the custodians of the prairies, keeping the grass healthy by grazing, providing an environment for prairie dogs and birds, providing food resources for important other bio-engineers like grizzlies, and wolves, and supporting unknown numbers, certainly thousands and thousands, of human beings.
The Blackfeet’s Bison have been bred to return their DNA to what it was before bison were almost eradicated as white settlers moved across the continent in a policy stated as “every dead buffalo is a dead Indian.” The largest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, settlers reduced the species to a thousand bison by 1900.
The eradication didn’t end there. This winter, authorities at Yellowstone National Park sent hundreds of bison to slaughter in what they said was an attempt to control disease. In doing so, they ignored the quarantine shelter built and paid for by the Sioux and Assiniboine nations, called a “slap in the face” for Montana’s Fort Peck tribes. The reason given for the slaughter is that Montana ranchers are afraid the bison might transmit a disease that would cause their cattle to abort. No such transmission from bison to cattle has been documented. Ranchers’ cattle and bison graze the same land, and some have suggested this might be the real reason for the complaints and the decision by the park authorities to act as they did.
In the late afternoon, the dog — the one I had my meltdown about, the one who has been at our door since the first day — is off for a rabies shot. Leta and Caraway are going to take her, first to Canada and then home. All goes well. She doesn’t panic in the car and she doesn’t bite the vet.
While we wait for the paperwork that will allow her to enter Canada, a large woman with short curly hair starts a waiting rooms conversation. Her dog, she says, is called Isadora after Isadora Duncan, her cats are Rasputin, Nickolas and Alexandra. “You must read a lot,” I say. “Yes,” she answers. She’s a history teacher and in Browning, her dog Isadora is also a Browning rescue. The children she teaches are the best behaved she’s ever taught she says. “I think children are important here.”
The talent show is a children’s event except for three intrepid adult Chautaquans: Aritis on spoons, Kym on guitar and vocals, Donna on vocals and drum. It has the best of all possible outcomes: every child wins a prize. When the grand prize winner gets a bicycle (donated by the bicycle shop in Port Townsend) his mouth drops open. I miss the shot.
When it is late, when almost everyone but us has left for home, there are two women and four children still sitting on chairs outside. One continually looks at the phone in her hand, the other keeps watching the road. It is cold, they aren’t warmly dressed, the children are young. I ask them to come inside. Chris drives the women with the phone to pick up her car. He reports that she goes into a casino and comes out with keys: shades of the earlier conversation about casinos on reservations mean.
PS I am no longer in real time with this blog, but thought I should finish my account of what happened in Browning. As Pom says in his letter from Brocket, Alberta posted below, Chautauquans are working hard. gofundme.com/handsacrosstheborder
We have NEWS! Pom went to Alberta and sent a letter back.
Explanation: I — Carole, original blogger — decided not to go to Canada. I will continue to post the scraps I wrote from our last days in Browning (the posts that I echo on my own site astrangeanddistantpeople.com might delineate that decision). But I do want to say that not going had nothing to do with the people (Chautauquans and Blackfeet were wonderful) or the project which I believe was the right move (although in a Left-ish direction) for Chautauqua.
Yesterday we spent the day with the HAB tour folks in Brocket, Alberta. It was sunny, lovely cumulus clouds whipping by in a wind which is relentless. The HAB camp is nestled in a hollow between hills, affording a little shelter from wind but apparently most all the tents people tried to set up were unequal to the task. So most everyone is nestled down at night in tipis provided by the tribe. Lest I forget, there are wild flowers everywhere, huge rafts of them in the endless green. the prairies in springtime are an experience to behold.
But by time Kathi and I found the camp the group was already in town, Brocket, setting up garden beds for a homeless shelter, a repurposed oil camp barrack, whose roof actually blew off in the wind last year. This is a community with 80% unemployment. Grock that. Brocket doesn’t even have a highway sign to tell you you are there. It seems it has been a continual struggle with the authorities tJo gain official recognition as a tribe. Yet wind, one of the areas biggest resources, has spawned countless wind turbines. The tribe apparently sees little of that revenue.
As for our intrepid HAB ineers. Dirt digging yesterday was sandwiched around a service show and workshops for local kids, and later a mini show as a warm up for a Pow Wow. I got to sit in with my euphonium, which totally made my day. Yesterday was National Indigenous People’s day in Canada. There were Pow wWows being held all around apparently. Indeed on our way over, crossing the Montana, British Columbia border, the local Kootenai Salish band was doing a march through the border, their own HAB event. That is another tribe divided from their homeland by the US/CA border. Indian county seems to be waking up, a new generation, to the injustice of their status.
Our group is holding up well despite lots of hard work and challenges. Kristin is managing to keep everyone in good food. I don’t know how she does it, as she is also everywhere else, encouraging one and all with that gentle voice and smile. The energy is great although I can see people’s batteries are running down just a bit. Quite understandable, maybe just that relentless wind.
Anyway it has been a great honor and a privilege for us to have these experiences with the Pikini Blackfeet people, and with our own little tribe of Chautauquans.
I love you all. Keep the peach and shave the world.
We begin the day with a dirge and end with a dance.
Bill — housing activist, festival organizer, sousaphone player — is 64. To the tune of the Volga Boatman, we sing the happy birthday which begins “Death destruction and despair…” ands is graced with verses such as “May the candles on your cake burn like cities in your wake, Happy Birthday” and “Your servants steal, your wife’s untrue, your children plan to murder you, Happy Birthday.” The twenty-one verses are all in this vein; we stop at seven. A good time is had by all.
Today is the first of our service projects. We are asked by our hosts, the Blackfeet Business Council, to help a local Manpower crew clean Willow Creek which runs through Browning. When we are told about this before we leave, I see the waterways of Cairo clogged with the detritus of urban living. Why else would they want our help? I don’t make it to the clean-up, but I see the pictures, grassy green banks with the snow capped mountains in the background. They look more Switzerland than Egypt but a truck of trash is removed.
At the Stick Game Arbor where we live and hold our forums and workshops, hola hooping continues, boys circle the room on skate boards, Erin has a workshop for kids that makes fashion from junk and Chautauquans learn to play the stick game.
The street dance begins at 7 in a parking lot. There is a DJ, a snow cone stand, a table on youth addiction and a truck with free meals for kids. Matt, a young local man who hangs out with us, says they do them every Thursday night. “They try to get families to do stuff together.”
Bringing together the fractured parts seems to me to be thematic in a lot of what we learn is going on in the community programs. It would be. At the heart of Blackfoot culture were theBuffalo. The “white father’s” conquerers destroyed the Buffalo in order to destroy the people who lives were built around them.
At the dance, there is a horse race with hobby horses, the music is hip hop and pop and, in terms of bringing people together, a good time is had by all.
In the way of things, especially Chautauqua things, it is the fun and games that get the crowds. People do listen to Blackfeet community workers on historical and domestic trauma, traditional medicine practitioners meet and exchange, we are ready to present on the topic treaties and the border. But it is juggling, hula hoops, and clowning that draws us crowds. What we seed is joy.
Hand Across the Border’s day of forums and workshops are the destination of a local school trip. Other children come. The children seem, in the best possible way, to be without paralyzing shyness or false modesty, dignified, if that is not too heavy a word for a child to carry. A boy whose name I never get (it is one of the many moments where my quasi-deafness breaks my heart) shows me how he can hula hoop arm to arm after his first workshop. Matt (with me all names are provisional) invites me with pride to look at the lodges (tipis) that have gone up.
A crew chops meat for half the day for the potluck dinner and a superb musician starts playing at 6 pm. Nickolas Crawford and his group (look them up, Crawford Bros. Band have a Facebook page and are worth hearing) have a huge, wonderfully played repertoire. Unfortunately, it is while they are playing I have my Chautauqua moment. Early for a tour, I admit.
Chautauqua moments — for some floods of tears, for just about everybody a sense that they can’t continue the tour — come to almost everyone on almost every Chautauqua. Mine is floods of tears on my sleeping mat, back-patting from a dear friend and some confessional about everything that is the matter with my life.
Joannie, a co-founder of New Old Time Chautauqua and a prime force for this tour, says that Chautauqua moments pretty much come with the package. We are, she points out, stripped of the “cupboard cup loyalties” that get us through: our books, our place to sleep, our room with a door if we are lucky.
My Chautauqua moment ‘s catalyst is a stray dog. A young, lovely creature whose tail wags and who rolls on her back in friendliness. She is thin and hungry. Short of taking her back to Ireland with me, I feel I can do nothing substantive for her. If I feed her she will get into trouble for coming into the Stick-Game building (which happens and she does). If I/we don’t feed her, she will be hungry. Perhaps I wouldn’t have had a meltdown if she were the only one but a local tells me there are packs of hungry strays throughout the town. I take to rummaging through the bins after meals to retrieve anything dogs might eat. Besides our constant companion other dogs come to the door, close not too close, ears forward, tails down, ready to run. I think it is the combination of hope against hope and the constant fear that breaks my heart.
When I finally stop crying and eat at the potluck and dance, I sit between two women. One of them, Loretta, is wearing a shirt with a patch commemorating a pow wow. “How do you feel when you go on a pow wow I ask. “You know what feels like when you go to church?” she answers. An older woman with an easy smile, is a grandmother, eight grandchildren by blood, three others who have adopted her. She tells me a story about one of those. She was cooking one day. A little girl she had never seen before was watching her. A very little girl; she is wearing a diaper Finally she asked the girl if she was hungry. She was. They fed her and she was little enough they thought it a good idea to follow her when she left. She got home all right, but came back and is now one of the grandchild group. I ask her if the casinos help with the poverty; I’ve always hoped they do. She hesitates. Yes, but gambling — as we know — is addictive, as addictive to some one from the Blackfeet as to others. There are neglected children, she says. She works with them. It is hard.
“Do you ever think about leaving the reservation,” I ask. “Oh before I met my husband I traveled. I lived in many places. This is where I want to live.”
It’s 5:30 in the morning. We’ve been packing till midnight and beyond; we’re tired; it’s chilly; breakfast will be cold; there’s no hot coffee.
The eleven of us climbing on to the Blue Bird bus, the two in the U-Haul pulling the horse trailer turned kitchen are feeling pretty good. After ten months of planning and more than a little help from our friends, Hands Across the Border, a new New Old Time Chautauqua project, is ready to roll.
There is a certain irony that we are setting off in a bus that was originally used in the first Iraq war. A war about which an American general declared his troops were headed into “Indian Country.” So are we.
And there is a certain satisfaction in using a discarded artefact of war on a mission of reconciliation. Almost everything else is unknown.
We are on the way to two nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy: The Blackfeet of Montana and Piikani of Alberta. This confederacy, followers of bison and riders of horses, had a territory that stretched Calgary to the Yellowstone River and from the Rocky Mountains to what we now call North Dakota. Archaeology is finding evidence of their presence there for at least seven thousand years.
Their first encounter with nascent America was a foretaste of what would come. A small group of young Blackfeet men encountered Lewis and Clarke on their 1804 expedition to map the Louisiana Territory. According to Lewis and Clarke’s account, they told the young men the land now belonged to “The Great White Father.” There was an altercation and two of the young men were killed. There followed a history of loss of land, starvation, massacre, poverty, the division of their people by international borders, and broken treaties.
What a group of jugglers, mime artist, spoon player, brass band, assorted people of good will and an aspiring banjo player with a beautiful voice can do about past and present injustice is a guess. Our goal, says Paul Magid, juggler extraordinaire and a main reason we have climbed on to the bus is to “shine the light of truth onto actual conditions.” No pressure there.
Pressure or not, we bear up well. On the 700-mile, nineteen-hour trip, to Browning Montana, we sleep, make rose bud necklaces, pole dance and get to know each other.
One conversation in the getting to know you category:
Our photographer Paul Anderson asks Donna — tribal member of the Haida and Tlingit, teacher of small children, practitioner of traditional medicine and a fulcrum of the horse trailer kitchen — if she has any hobbies.
She answers “I have three jobs, I basket weave; I make native regalia; I smoke fish; I make salve. I do respite care for the mentally challenged. I teach. I make jewellery and I clean houses for 20 bucks an hour.”