Blackfeet and Chief Crowfoot

Blackfeet and Chief Crowfoot

In 1997 we took three grandchildren camping from Idaho, through Montana, and into Canada.  The Museum of the Plains Indians, Browning, Montana, gave us an excellent introduction to Blackfeet (or Blackfoot) art, artifacts, and culture.  A bonus was the picnic area where we and the children watched gophers ducking in and out of holes–a nuisance to groundskeepers, but an attraction for us.

Blackfeet Chief, ink drawing by Ernest Marceau, Jr. © Ernest Marceau, Blackfeet

We spent the night at The Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village where we were given our first taste of pemmican which we liked, but
the grandchildren didn’t.  They weren’t at ages when new foods are part of the adventure.

The night was made unforgettable by Curly Bear Wagner, Indian historian and tribal storyteller, who sat by the fire in our tipi and told us legends of Naapi.  One we remember is Naapi becoming too warm while walking, so he took off his coat and laid it on a rock.  Toward evening, he was getting cool, so he retrieved his coat.  However, the rock also felt cold and objected to being uncovered.  Naapi insisted on keeping his coat and the rock rolled down the hill after him.  (We don’t remember how Naapi escaped the rock).   That story explains the strange position of a large rock–one we would now call a glacial erratic.  Curly Bear joined his ancestors in 2009, so is no longer here to tell stories.  I hope they have been recorded.

The drawing of the Chief is our special souvenir from that trip.  Paintings by that artist, Ernest Marceau, are available in Browning galleries and also on line at https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/blackfeet-art/shop.

On that trip, also, I met Chief Crowfoot.  I didn’t meet him in person because he died in 1890, but I purchased his biography by Hugh Dempsey, Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet, brings Chief Crowfoot and his times alive.  The man was a wise and honest leader during the worst of times and I admire him greatly.

A revealing incident:

A chief from the Bloods (a related tribe) requested a trading party from Fort Edmonton, but when trading started, one of the Blackfeet chiefs incited his warriors to steal the goods and kill the traders.  The chief who had invited them tried to stop the violence.  Several others, including Crowfoot, formed a protective barrier between the trouble-makers and the traders, and escorted the traders back to the fort.  Crowfoot was the only Blackfeet chief who spoke out against the violence.

Crowfoot learned quickly which white men he could trust, and those men in turn trusted him.  Crowfoot foresaw  the end of the buffalo, realized that his people could survive only with dramatic changes in their way of life, negotiated for supplies, tools, and food for his people, protested broken promises and fraudulent dealings.  He co-operated with the Mounted Police and Indian Department officials, not because he could preserve the Blackfeet way of life, but because it was the only way to help his people.

“Crowfoot expected justice from the whites and demanded it from his own people: he was willing to risk his life for it.”

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