Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Piikani Blackfoot People and the K'tunaxa (Kootenay) People at Napi-Oochetaycots (Napi's River)

Barney Reeves
Nature Conservancy Canada

[Blog note:  This article by archaeologist Barney Reeves describes the myths of the Piikani Blackfoot and their friends, the K'tunaxa (Kootenay or Kutenai) in the area of the Oldman River [Blackfoot:  Napi-Oochetaycots (Napi's River)] .  It should be mentioned that the Piikani Blackfoot and Kootenay people should not be spoken of in the past tense, as they are vibrant living cultures.  The article speaks of the Waldron Ranch area, pictured above.  This area is now being acquired by Nature Conservancy Canada.  However, it was always part of traditional Piikani territory for thousands of years and was only turned into ranchland starting in 1883, after Treaty Seven.  According to the Piikani today, Treaty Seven was viewed by them as a peace treaty, not an agreement to cede sacred traditional territory.  In any case, it is good to see this beautiful landscape now being protected by the Nature Conservancy.]

The Piikani Blackfoot People and the K'tunaxa (Kootenay) People at Napi-Oochetaycots (Napi's River)

The Waldron was part of the core traditional over-wintering territory of the Piikani Nation, whose ancestors have called this region home for thousands of years. On the south lies the Oldman River, named by them after the Creator — Napi.

It is said that after completing the creation of the Piikani's world and his People and teaching them how to drive buffaloes over the cliff at Piskun (Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump), Napi journeyed up his river to the highest peak (known today as Gould's Dome). Here, he joined the Up-Above-People and continues to watch over his land and his people to this day.

In mythic time early after the end of the last ice age some 13,000 years ago, Napi and the K'tunaxa's creator met at the Oldman's Playing Ground and gambled to see who would live where. It is said to have been a draw, so the Piikani remained on the Plains and in the Foothills and Front Ranges, the latter of which they shared with their friends the K'tunaxa, who wintered in the Kootenay Valley to the west.

Many sacred "doings" occurred along the River — sacred headdresses, lodges and bundles were visioned and offered up by the Under-Water-People to the Piikani and Okans (Medicine Lodge). As recently as the 1850s, the most sacred of all the Piikani religious festivals were held along the river above what is today Maycroft. The Fish Eaters Band wintered here and a long time ago constructed a fish piskun (trap) downstream of the Hwy 22 Bridge over the Oldman, which proved crucial to the Peoples' survival in the 1880s when the buffalo and all the game were gone from their lands.

Further north, in the headwaters of today's Willow Creek (known to the Piikani as Ghost-Pound Creek after a big piskun on the east side of the Porcupine Hills, also a place name of Piikani origin) the Padded Saddles Band wintered here and north along Stimson Creek. Camps and winter bison kills occur at many locales, and places such as Chimney Rock and the Yellow Paint Place were and remain sacred to the Piikani.

The west side of the Porcupines was in the past a major route for travel along the Rocky Mountain Front, much like today. Here still can be seen in places the old fort paths and dog, horse trails cart trails that make up the Inner Old North Trail. North Piikani Elder Brings Down the Sun describes how in the late 1800s he received many of his visions in the Porcupine Hills — one of the favoured areas for Piikani Vision Questing. The Old North Trail extended from the Ever Winter/Frozen Water Land (Bearing Straits) north to the Ever Summer/Smoking Mountains Land (Mexico). It was used by countless generations of First Nations to travel throughout the lands, beginning shortly after the end of the last ice age some 13,000 years ago or more, when Native Americans people began to move northward from south of the ice sheets along this Ice Free Corridor.

This event is recalled by the Piikani in mythic time in Napi's recreation of the World, in which he travels from south to north along the mountains, putting it all back together again, gathering up the rocks and remaking Mistakis (The Backbone-Rocky Mountains) and every being back where they once were before the Ever Winter came, instructing his People the Piikani of the Sacred Relationships that exist between humans and other-than-human beings and telling them that they/we must always work at these and respect all of creation to ensure our world continues for all future generations to come.

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