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Blackfeet, Wolves and emblems of the Spirit

I just finished reading a wonderful little book by James Schultz.  Schultz lived with the Blackfeet Indians starting around 1880 and took an Indian wife.  He learned their language and soon, as a very young man who came out from the east coast, became accepted into the tribe as one of their own.  He, along with his friend George Grinnell, helped advocate for Glacier to become a National Park, and wrote many books about his life among the Indians and the wilds of Northern Montana. He’s providing me with a vivid sketch of life in Montana at the close of the 19th century, the final days of the free lives of the Blackfeet , as well as the last days of the Buffalo. With the recent delisting of the wolves of Montana and Idaho, and the hunts that are now taking place there, here’s a little gem of a quote from Blackfeet and Buffalo: Memories of Life among the Indians: “The big, bad wolf?  No indeed!  I once had a pet wolf, as good a friend of mine as any dog I ever owned.  But before I tell of him, I must say that, so far as I can learn, the wolves of North America never attacked human beings.  There was good reason for it:  game animals and birds, were everywhere so plentiful that they had no need to attack their great enemy, man.  The Indians have no tales about big, bad wolves.  They frighten their children into good behavior by threatening them with the bear.  Until the late 1870’s wolves fairly swarmed upon the Montana plains; their long-drawn, melancholy howls were ever  in our ears.  But lone hunters, both Indian and white, when caught out at night and far from home, lay down to sleep without the slightest fear of them.” On of the most intriguing observations about the Blackfeet is contained in the following quote: “The Blackfeet  Indians, and perhaps many others, have a peculiar habit of going up on high hills and bluffs conveniently close to camp and sitting there motionless and rigid as statues for hours.  Near the close of the day seems to be the particular time for indulging in this practice.  Why they do so is a mystery.  I have often asked them the reason, and have invariably received the reply, Kis-tohts, meaning “for nothing.”  Sometimes I have hidden myself in the coarse rye grass which grows so tall and luxuriantly in the river bottoms, and with the aid of a powerful field glass have closely scrutinized their countenances, but  to no purpose.  The expression of their faces never changed.  Their eyes had a far-off dreamy look which could not be interpreted.” Schultz speculated that maybe they were thinking about the passing away of the life they once knew.  But I have a different notion.Weather Living so close to the earth, these people keenly observed not only the animals and their movements, but the whole non-human processes–the weather, the sky, the stars. All was observed in a contemplative disposition of openness.  In their deep observations of animals, they not only learned about them for their hunt, but noticed their simplicity and ease of contemplation.   Animals were direct representations of spiritual communications and powers and so they were highly venerated and used ritually and contemplatively for various purposes.  They were emblems, doorways to Spirit.  In fact, they were a unique display of what was beyond the human, rather than lesser than human as we rate the animal world today.Deer in velvet Going and sitting on a hilltop, motionless at dusk, was a form of communion, as natural as the elk lying in the grass still and silent, or the spider who patiently sits in its web.  It was setting aside time, after the safety and the needs of the body were taken care of, to drop into contemplation.  Living with the Land as they did, there is a natural rhythm and pulse that overwhelms the body and mind when it’s still.   I believe they were just responding to that natural pulsation of contemplation that was everywhere around them, including in the animals. This is the kind of sensitivity we need today in our conversations about our ecosystems, the wolves and bears, the elk and deer and the whole animal world, including ourselves.  We are upside down.  We are not the ‘managers’.  Animals and plants are not just ‘resources’ to be exploited and managed. At one time, 100 years ago, the idea of game management was a necessity when we almost slaughtered much of our animals to extinction.  We saved our game by setting land aside, establishing hunting regulations, careful management, and educating generations of biologists. But it is a new day and a new paradigm is needed.  I don’t know the answers, but I do know where we need to begin from.   Our conversation needs to start from the assumption that all life is conscious.  That’s not an airy fairy granola eating notion.  That’s the logical application of Einsteinian physics.  And looking at animals as emblems of the sacred is a good place to start.Bison