BLACKFOOT ELDER BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Reg Crowshoe
My name is Reg Crowshoe. My Blackfoot name is Awakaaseena, which is Deer Chief in our language, and that was my grandfather’s name. I’m from the Piikani Nation in Southern Alberta. My father is Joe Crowshoe. And Joe Crowshoe was an Elder and a Bundle Keeper from the Peigan reserve for many years. He held onto the Short Thunder Medicine Pipe Bundle, and he ran the Sun Dances, and was instrumental in bringing back the Brave Dog Society, and the Chickadee Society. I think without his teachings, we would have lost a lot of our culture. I’m happy to be exposed to his teachings. We lost the old man a few years ago. He was about a hundred. He said he was born in 1902, but he wasn’t baptized until 1909. When he passed away in he was well into a hundred. So his knowledge is what I benefited from.
My mother’s side of the family was from the Nez Perce Nation in Idaho. When the United States army was pursuing the Nez Perce to put them on a reservation in the southwestern States, Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce didn’t want to go, and they had a battle. He fought the U.S. army all the way up to the Canadian border. So he brought his people’s children to the Canadian side, and he said the Queen and Indians from this side would look after the Nez Perce children. And then he went back across the border into Idaho, and picked up the battle, and he led the army east away from his children, until he gave up his rifle at Bear’s Paw battleground in Montana. Meanwhile, the children were taken in by the Piikani; our people were hiding these children now. And when the Indian agent asked who this new group of people were that were claiming to be Piikani, our people gave them the only name they could think of that they could relate to these children - they gave them the last name of “Warrior.” So today we still have that family name of “Warrior” in my mother’s family.
My parents kept the ways of the Thunder Medicine Pipe, the Sun Dance, and the Blackfoot Societies going. They held onto the Short Thunder Medicine Pipe Bundle, which has never seen the inside of a museum, at a time when all the other bundles were being claimed by museums or sold to the museum by the Indian agent. But the old man held it because of my grandmother wanting to keep our ways.
So I find strength in the ceremonies and teachings of my parents and grandparents. They passed on transferred rights, or traditional authorities, that I’m responsible for today. And I still run those ceremonies in the community: the Thunder Pipe, the Sun Dance, the Society ceremonies. That is my traditional lineage, my Blackfoot identity.
Within that oral Blackfoot Piikani system I’m acknowledged as a ceremonialist who will run the Sun Dances, or the Thunder Pipe ceremonies, or other ceremonies, such as those of the Brave Dog society. I’ve also had the privilege of caring for a few bundles that I’ve transferred on to new owners. Once you’ve transferred on a bundle, you become a ceremonial grandparent to that individual or to that group of individuals. And then you’re recognized as an elder, according to our traditional criteria. But I would call myself a ceremonial grandparent. In our traditional community that’s how I’m recognized. And I’m also a teacher, and I’m still facilitating our ceremonies.
For white man’s knowledge I was brought to the St. Cypriot Anglican Residential School on the Peigan Reserve when I was young. But before I went to school, I spoke my language, and I believed in my grandmothers’ and grandfathers’ ways. When I went to residential school, I was totally lost, because the system did not reflect my belief system in any way. But I have to admit that I got an education through the residential schools. I learned how to read and write, and that’s still helping me today.
The department of Indian Affairs education policies changed while I was a child, so I went to many different schools. Each time the residential school was shut, I went to school in the local towns, and when the policies changed, then we’d go back to the Indian schools on the reserve. And when the policies were changed to send all of the children out to get integrated to residential schools away from the reserve, I was sent there – so each time the policy changed, my education path changed. Anyway, I completed my high school and I went to the University of Calgary for a while, and from there I felt like I was running away from school. But I came back and I joined the RCMP. I ended up in Regina, and I worked on several reserves in Saskatchewan. And then our chief and council asked for permission for me to come back here on the reserve, so I was stationed in Pincher Creek. I moved from the RCMP back onto the reserve, and I started working with the Peigan band departments.
But all along, I was still learning from the old people, looking after the old people. I ended up working with the province developing Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, where I started working in policy and culture. I went on to work with the University of Lethbridge developing a cultural management course, and also developed courses with the University of Calgary.
I eventually co-authored a book, Akak’stiman, and other publications on justice and sentencing circles, with an author out of Amsterdam. These books were translated to Dutch. They’re still at the University of Calgary. I co-authored another book with the University of Colorado; its title is “Science in the Native Community.” After I left the province, I worked with the band, researching our culture. And eventually the University of Calgary honoured me with an honorary degree. So I guess that would be the extent of my Western education.
I would say I had a chance to learn on both sides, which allows me today to enjoy my dream job of speaking my language, listening to our stories, and extracting the systems and tools we need to give our young people today so that we can carry on our culture. My passion is cultural preservation, cultural protection and cultural renewal of our ways.
Geoff Crow Eagle
My name is Geoff Crow Eagle. I was given my great grandfather’s Blackfoot name, which translates as Crow Eagle. I’m from the Peigan, or Piikani nation, which is part of the Blackfoot confederacy. When I was growing up, our reserve was called Brocket, which is in the centre of the reserve. But the whole nation itself is the Piikani nation. About four years ago we took back the name Piikani here on our reserve, rather than Brocket.
In our territory we were all in a clan system. And as far back as I can remember I was in the Lone Fighters Clan. My grandparents were in that clan, many years ago. The Lone Fighters name originated from how they settled things within their clan. When people had family disputes, they would not take their problems off to different clans – they tried to solve their problems right in that clan, amongst themselves. That’s what I was told.
I started working in our community quite a few years ago when I really got back in tune with our culture. My grandparents were really fluent Blackfoot speakers. They were part of the Sun Dance and different societies that were happening on the Blood and Peigan reserves, and their knowledge was bestowed in us as kids. Many children growing up have kind of left that behind because of the boarding schools. It was about 1985 when I started getting back to it, and I started recollecting what my grandparents told me about life. I took it seriously because I had lost my identity. I had lived off the reserve, working in different white communities. And I went back to my culture because of the identity - because I wanted my children to see a good future. And I have to pave that way for them, the way my grandparents paved the way for me.
As a child, I was blinded because of the boarding school degrading our culture. And I didn’t want to know it, until I grew up and started to realize the importance of those ways, and values like Ikinapi, which means being generous, and humble to other people and in yourself. And once I found the trail, I knew I was on a good journey, and was able to teach my children about life, about our native identify, our culture and language. I never lost those things; I just kind of put them on the back burner. So it was easy for me to re-capture what a lot of our elders taught me. And what really inspired me to move on into this was joining the different Blackfoot societies, where I was helped to better understand our teachings.
With the help of my grandparents’ knowledge and wisdom, I had picked up teachings, but in order for me to hold those rites, to obtain a pipe, and to pave that road for my children, I had to join Blackfoot societies; I had to get that right transferred to me. In this way I’d be able to talk to our community with a better understanding. When I got into those societies, I was really inspired, and I started realizing how important it is to be in our culture, to live it and to understand it. I didn’t want to play a guessing game with our culture; I wanted to know the gospel truth. And that was my credibility: to be able to say I was in the Brave Dog Society. And I worked at Sun Dances. And if somebody asks me, “Were you given a transferred right to be able to talk about that?” I can say, “Yes I have.” So they’ll believe me, because I worked it and I was involved in that.
My wife and I joined the Brave Dog Society here in the Piikani nation. And we took that Bear Bundle and carried it for 10 years, until somebody approached us for the transferred rights, and we transferred it on to them. And those 10 years in the Brave Dog society were 10 years of schooling; we really learned a lot. And what I’ve learned, I teach the new society members. So I’m recognized as an elder in our community because of that. I also joined the Sacred Horn society, and I was with them for seven years. And I also transferred out that bundle.
What I do know was shared with me by my elders that held these bundles before, including the ones that have passed on. They were bundle holders, and I was very lucky to get my teachings from people like that.
For the last five years, I worked with the Old Man River Cultural Centre, researching our traditional ways, gathering stories, attending and taking part in many ceremonies. I also went out to the museums in Edmonton and Calgary to listen to tapes from way back, records of Elders that talked about our culture and our practices. And my job was to collect the data from all these different museums and elders. And we found that all these sources had four important aspects: they all had their own venue, action, language and song. So those are the most important things we see in our culture. To make things legitimate, you have to have those four aspects in a transferred rite.
My grandparents are my inspiration - their kind wisdom and knowledge and encouragement to understand my culture more. And to understand the culture, I have to go into different societies. I have to go to school more or less, and that’s where I picked up a lot of knowledge by taking advice from different elders that have gone through that transferred right.