Rosalyn LaPier

Rosalyn LaPier, wife of Dave Beck and niece of Valentina LaPier, a noted artist, arrived at Piegan Institute as a major reinforcement of the idea that the institution could expand the intellectual and cultural ownership of the Blackfeet/Blackfoot heritage. (The word being translated is Siksika, which is neither plural or singular though English forces the choice. The US chose plural, joking that most of the tribe had two feet, and the Canadians chose singular.) LaPier is currently a professor at the U of Montana and has a major accumulation of awards.


Her work to organize summer seminars at the Cuts Wood School, pulling in expert indigenous scholars and inviting local whites as well as the tribes, resulted in gestalt-shifting concepts for adults as well as higher status for the school. The original notes are posted at Academia.edu. The document is 59 pages long and begs for reform, so I’ll redact severely..

Examining Blackfeet Concepts of Peace (and War)

I have a video tape on which Bob Morgan, Helena artist, says that Charlie Russell loved Indians because he loved their “gentle ways,” their small household graces and courtesies. It’s not a side often explored, but today at Piegan Institute we were treated to a demonstration of “Innaihtasiiyi” during “An Examination of Peace (and War.)”

The Cuts Wood School building itself is a pleasure to enter with its high ceilinged light-well and many-doored meeting room standing open to the yard. Rosalyn LaPier and Shirlee Crowshoe had taken many small measures, like providing each of us with a sachet of sweet pine tied up in calico with a ribbon.

THEODORE BINNEMA, U of Northern British Columbia, is the author of “Common and Contested Lands.” Ted’s formal topic was “The Significance of Peace and Warfare in the 18th and 19th Centuries among the Blackfoot.”

Ted identifies two schools of thought among people who work with this material: one is romantic and claims that what happens (for instance on the high prairie) is because those people in that place and time are essentially unique. The Plains Indian wars will never be replicated. The other point of view is more practical and assumes that humans in different times and places often share characteristics that make their study useful for the management of our own lives. How do we create stable, peaceful societies? What are the social structures that encourage good behavior for the whole society? (Think marriage, rule of law, the protection of marginal individuals, networking groups, religious beliefs.) Ted says he belongs to the latter group.

HUGH DEMPSEY, Chief Curator Emeritus, Glenbow Museum, is one of the premier historians of the Blackfoot Confederacy and has written many books. Basically, he explained that treaties were of many different kinds and often quite utilitarian. A tribe would ask for safe passage to trade at a fort on another tribe’s territory or for a summer’s amnesty in order to hunt buffalo. The Kutenai, for instance, would come over the mountains to hunt and be granted that privilege. A man from the Kutenai tribe might approach by stealth in the night, sit on a ridge overlooking the camp, and wait to be discovered. If the Blackfoot tribe was willing to deal, someone would ride up and escort him down to the chief’s lodge for tobacco and talk.

JAMES DEMPSEY, son of Hugh Dempsey and also a Ph.D. level historian at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, gave a talk with overhead illustrations from his impending book, “Warriors of the King: Blackfeet War Art.” His wonderful material source was histories painted on robes or on cotton canvas banners. He was able to interpret these and connect them to the historical records of battles, surrenders, and relationships. He remarked that one of the important tropes for war was gambling, a continuing preoccupation for Native Americans (as well as many others), which meant a high awareness of risk but a willingness to plunge onward no matter what the cost because of the possible rewards. This can be empowering.

NICHOLAS VROOMAN, U of Montana, lives in both Helena and Missoula because he is in transition between being a folklorist and being a professor. What this means is that he does not see the incoming “Euros” as a monogroup, but is very aware that the Orkney Islanders recruited by the Hudson Bay Company were so often invaded by Vikings that they used much Viking vocabulary and technique, while the later refugees from the Highland Clearances were Celtic resistors of the original Roman empire and quite different in their concepts and strategies.

NARCISSE BLOOD, Red Crow College, Alberta, and CYNTHIA CHAMBERS, University of Lethbridge, brought a DVD. The theme was making peace with the land itself, so this went to the definition of peace as harmony, reconciliation, healing, and love. Sacred places in Alberta were explored through the images left on stone or through stories or through the memories and emotions of individuals.

SHIRLEE CROWSHOE gave the beginning prayer in Blackfeet. Narcisse Blood gave the prayer before lunch. They are both Canadians but their accents differ. Still, they used the same words and concepts — the formal structure of Blackfeet prayer was still there.

ELDON YELLOWHORN is Piikani, born and raised on the Peigan Reserve, now known as the Piikani First Nation, in Alberta. (The spellings are different because the Canadian and US translations of Blackfeet have never been reconciled.) His undergrad degrees are in geography and archaeology, he has an MA in archaeology from Simon Fraser University and a Ph.D. in anthropology from McGill University. He is now a faculty member at Simon Fraser in Vancouver, B.C. He has published in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology, Native Studies Review and Plains Anthropologist. He is a co-author of “First Peoples in Canada,” from Douglas & McIntire. None of this captures his personality, which is exceptionally lively and friendly.

WILENA OLD PERSON (mother was a Running Crane) is a 1998 Browning HighSchool graduate and has a U of Montana Bachelors from 2004, proceeding on to a Master’s in Archeology and has done work at the Battle of the Bighorn plus now in Glacier Park where a team is re-locating campsites originally found by Barney Reeves so they can be marked with GPS. Much of her talk was photos of that work.

BRIAN (BARNEY) REEVES, is an emeritus professor at the University of Calgary, now at Lifeways of Canada. His work has been paleoarcheology and he’s a great favorite among the Blackfeet because he is providing the back-story to contradict David Thompson’s notion that the Blackfeet had moved to this area from the Great Slave Lake. (Once a theory like this is propounded, it is repeated again and again because of the academic emphasis on documents instead of raw evidence.)


Si’naaki 8–23–08

The Piegan Institute presented “Si’naaki,” the images of the Blackfeet people. First some time-lines. This is the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Piegan Institute. It is the fourteenth year the Blackfeet Immersion School has existed. (Eighty percent of the students on the Browning High School honor roll have been students in the Immersion School.) And this is the eleventh of the these mid-August history conferences organized by Roselyn LaPier.

The first speaker was DAVE BECK, who is delighted to be married to Roselyn, esp. in view of their terrific daughters who always get pressed into service at these events in the same way that Blackfeet kids have always been aides to hospitality, even at old-time ceremonials, though these girls do not keep tobacco pipes lit, which used to be an important duty of the orderlies. Dave was addressing the famous Edward Curtis photographs, which are now available online at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/award/iencurt/ ct06/ct06toc.html and other places. The question is “Was Curtis presenting cultural images or was he reinforcing stereotypes?” The answer is both.

BILL FARR’s presentation was about Walter McClintock, but he listed some other early photographers: Charles Stevens (or Stephens?) in the 1890’s, Fred Kresler (sp?), Roland Reid, and Thomas B. Magee who was local.

After lunch of buffalo meat and fry bread, DARNELL RIDES AT THE DOOR presented what she called “Indians in a Box,” which was a wonderful overview of her own family from the early days via a box of photos. We saw a portrait of John “Grover” Ground (1890 -1953) at Carlisle Indian School. (This was the grandfather of my friend Leland, who uses the name of “Eagle Calf,” John’s name.) We saw William Langdon Kane’s painting of Old Painted Lodge (1833–1930) the father of John Grover Ground, who was sometimes called “Go to Ground” — Leland says “Jumps Down to the Ground” because he got off his horse to fight. He was an interpreter and interlocuter.

The last presentation was an overview of the life’s work of VALENTINA LAPIER. Much of her work can be found in images on the Internet by using Google, but it was moving to hear her tell about the pain and despair in her life and how she had found her way back out by painting and other art work. Her work is abstract but iconic, using patterns from traditional clothing and decoration, and stylized horses and trees that have personal meaning for her. This is skillfully done, so that the images are suggestive to anyone and don’t have to be explained. She spoke about going to France and sitting alone in Monet’s garden on a slightly rainy day, totally absorbed into the living colors and shapes.




A conference exploring the history of Glacier National Park.

SHAWN BAILEY, Student, U of Montana, where his Ph.D. will be in environmental history. His earlier degree was from Notre Dame and he and his sister, Shannon, who came along, are clearly Irish Catholic in origin. Shawn pursues the approach of the “hermeneutics of suspicion” in a mild way by proposing that Glacier National Park was created by plutocrats for the benefit of the upper classes, both those who felt it was more patriotic to take vacations in American places instead of the usual Alps or Mediterranean and those who wanted to built a railroad empire.

JOSEPH GONE is a Gros Ventre who grew up in Kalispell and has made many forays into Glacier Park. He is Assistant Professor of Psychology and American Culture at the University of Michigan. Though his subject was not directly related to Glacier Park, it was an important counter-balance to the sometimes obsessive preoccupation with a tragic past and also related to the interruption of the spiritual renewal sources in the Park.

LOUIS S. WARREN, W. Turrentine Jackson Professor of Western US History, University of California at Davis, is often a member of the never- ending seminar on Darrell Kipp’s porch in St. Mary. He also appealed to me because of my love affair with the book by Daniel Justin Herman called “Hunting and the American Imagination” which suggests that America was founded by men who wore imported English hunting caps with their American fringed buckskin jackets. Half came to America with the intention of becoming landed gentry owning protected hunting grounds in the way Robin Hood so resented in Sherwood Forest, and half came to America with the intention of eliminating all landed gentry and letting all men hunt equally, esp. for subsistence instead of as a point of superiority and privilege. An awkward number wanted to achieve both. This meshes with the oxymoron: “noble savages” in which Indians are supposed to be privileged but free.

Mostly he was speaking about the 1895 Agreement about the “Ceded Strip” that was added to the Park when gold was detected there.


7/17/10 IMITAKS



Erin Trombley had been a veterinary assistant at Grasswinds Veterinary Clinic and though she doesn’t work there anymore, she was so conscious of the many dogs brought in, sometimes hurt, and how they were all accepted by Dr. Ethel Connelly until a home could be found, that she has continued the work. Ellen Woods is the town librarian who volunteered to help with the spay/ neuter clinics. Debbie Nikou is a nurse at the Indian Health Service hospital and has rehabilitated and rescued animals for decades, including horses. Debbie administers a small grant account at Grasswinds.

MARTIN EAGLE CHILD, Kainai Elder and Cultural Leader, is a handsome older man carrying a big old-fashioned briefcase containing his papers. His iron-gray hair is in braids, his earrings are the big round shell kind, and his Burt Lancaster wraparound smile is brilliant. Martin is both a Kainai (Many Chiefs) Elder and a Catholic server of communion. He is one of those Blackfeet men who naturally includes the spiritual of any kind in his life. His talk went back and forth between English sentences and Blackfeet sentences, each explaining the other. He often comes to Cuts Wood School to interact with the kids and is used to giving the audience questions to answer.

DR. ELDON YELLOWHORN, Professor at Department of Archeology, Simon Fraser University. Eldon brought along a slide show to illustrate his talk and used his own dog as an example but it was hard to imagine his dog pulling a travois: it’s a Yorkie! He says the dog was intended to keep his wife company while he out-of-town, but the dog decided to be his — though he has to be careful not to step on it. His name is “Omi,” the Japanese word for rain.

TOM SHAWL, Professor of Assiniboine Language, Fort Belknap College.Tom Shawl’s father was Assiniboine (Crazy Bear) and his mother was Blackfeet (Lone Walker). He came to Browning to get to know his mother’s family and ended up falling in love with a Blackfeet woman and marrying her. He said he had asked Darrell to provide a couple of husky bodyguards for him because through history the Assiniboine and Blackfeet clashed hard. His specialty was accumulating stories about a real person named “White Dog.”

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.