23 June 2008

Ai'tamaaksikkohpi'wa Naapioyis

llll ) llllllllllllllllll Ai'tamaaksikkohpi'wa Naapioyis…

I just returned home from meetings aapatohsoohtsi when nitohtsipaapao’kaa a request for niisto ki ki’naksaapo’p to travel saatoohtsi, to aid a family living high above a glacier-fed niitahtaa. It is an aakii who asks us to journey there, following a winding, wooded route we are assumed to already know. As we meander through the miistakiistsi, I observe our vehicle from above, as if I'm gliding somewhere in the skies. When I find myself in noistomi again, we have arrived at a house precariously nested into the steep slopes of a canyon. We enter, accompanied by a host that I cannot remember clearly. Ki as I look out bay windows, omi naapioyis begins to roll laterally, detaching ki finding renewed anchor on the cliffside. Again ki again it turns, tearing one corner loose from the rock, pivoting, ki crashing back to land, threatening to spill eventually into the clear ribbon of aohkii streaming far below. Somehow, I feel that this is as much nookoowa as it is that of the family we’ve been called to visit. Annimayi iksista’pii.

Nitsipookaki feeling scattered, confused. The events of nipaapao’kaan seemed at once familiar ki distant, purposeful yet random. Perhaps, I thought, it was speaking to the inattentiveness of my daily life of late. After the profound clarities experienced during aapistsisskitsaato’s, the light of the present ki’somm seems far more dim, broken by cloud-cover, beaming to the surface of nottaka only in disparate patches....

A few sleeps earlier, nitsitaapatoohpinnaan omi omahkoyis, where we had planned a meeting with asinaikoaiksi to explore a dialog on shared ki contested aitapisskoistsi. In the morning hours, we visited mi’kkakato’si at the Royal Albert Museum. It had once resided on a hilltop adjacent to that of the Viking ribstone. When the evangelical movement reached kitawahsinnoon, it was Reverend McDougal who thought he might take advantage of our relationship to mi’kkakato’si by stealing it into his church, ki thereby attracting potential converts. The ploy didn’t work. Soon mi’kkakato’si began to move around in the naapiikoan world, eventually landing at the Royal Albert, where it now greets visitors to the First Nations exhibit.

About a dozen of us assembled in the museum that morning, sitting in two rows of chairs set up in front of the meteorite. We asked a kippitaisinaakii to greet mi’kkakato’si on our behalf, ki then called upon the elders, one by one, to testify as to their knowledge of our shared relationship to it. Nitawa’tstoohp most of what was shared. I was too distracted by the unfortunate context. Iiksiiyiko, visiting aitapissko in a museum. Tourists milling about. Announcements blaring over the intercom, “Come visit our newest exhibit. Find out if you’ve got what it takes to be a dragonologist.” How can one expect to dialog in this kind of context? Museums, classrooms, interpretive centres… to me, none of these even approximate a learning environment. All assume a passive audience to knowledge. It wasn’t until Vince Steinhaur picked up his drum, kneeled beside mi’kkakato’si, ki sang one of its songs, that I finally felt as though we had connected. Afterward, Vince would tell me, at the beginning of his song the meteorite was pleading with him, “Get me out of here. Take me home.” But in the second half of the song, its message changed. Aaniiwa, “Don’t worry about me. I’m a rock. I will remain a rock long after this building ki this strange way of life are gone.” Nitomai’tsihp what Vince heard mi ikskanaotonni was so important. Iiksskonata’pii, the gift that mi’kkakato’si extended to us. Patience.

When we left the museum, it was to drive a short distance west of the city, to a place now called Lac Ste. Anne. Omahkaatoyiikimi. There, we assembled at a place that shared qualities with mi’kkakato’si, both in that there is said to be a twin meteorite beneath the waters there, ki in that the site itself was also co-opted by the oblates in an attempt to lure niitsitapi converts into their church. Annohk ksiistsikoyi, every summer, it is host to a massive gathering of the devout, who travel there on pilgrimage to enter the aohkii for purification ki healing. Our group walked down to the lake’s edge ki sat together to share stories of the place. As a non-Christian savage, it was my first time there. I sat quietly, listening. Just off-shore, a massive school of minnows rolled like a cloud. I’d never seen anything like it, ki wondered if this was not the camouflaged body of a soyiitapi coming to greet us. Above, passing closely on occasion, flew paahtsiiksistsikomm, her paint just like that of the curious ayinnimaa nitsipapainoaa. Was it exactly the same? Although developed around nearly the entire perimeter, I could imagine the lake’s appearance in the past. Quiet, wooded, its shallow waters often clear ki still. Each time I looked directly into it, the aohkii seemed to rise, beaconing. Others must have felt this too, because when it was decided that we should depart nearly all of us removed our shoes ki socks, hiked-up our pant-legs, ki walked out into the lake. It was strangely warm, ki so shallow that I was able to go quite a distance from shore ki still not immerse above my knees. Each of us carried pisstaahkaan, ki used this as an offering, extending aatsimoyihkaan to omahkaatoyiikimi, soyiitapiiksi, ki all akaitapii who had travelled there in the past, ki whose shadows return still today.

That night in my hotel room, nitaatowopii. An interesting, sprocket-designed crop circle had emerged in a field near Barbury Castle, in England. Ordinarily, I have no use for contemplating such things. The crop circle phenomenon has nothing to do with kippaitapiiyssinnoon, ki the messages – if that is what they are – do not come from kitawahsinnoon. They are not meant for me. Yet this particular circle was interesting, ki one of the groups that I discuss spiritual practices with was asked to consider it. The sprocket design, emanating sunwise from a central circle, was clearly coded to reflect the mathematical sequence of Pi, carried out to ten digits. We’ve seen formations ki images that apply similar sprocketed configurations, but never has it been so clear that information in these circles may be coded. Early speculation suggested that the Barbury circle might offer a key for reading other designs. My curiosity was teased.

I began the session by extending an awarness of noistomi outward onto its reflection in nottaka, ki then morphing the latter into the form of mai’stoo. Ki annimayi I flew, singing, aamitoohts… crossing miistakiistsi, ami’tsssokimi, then over land ki out to the islands of Britain, looking for a circle near a castle. When I eventually found it, I landed in its center, shuffling my feathers briefly, then cocking an ear to listen for its voice. My immediate sense was that, no matter the physical mechanics of its emergence, the design had been inspired by something that was very deeply a part of that place. I tried to connect with its spirit… nothing… nothing. Then suddenly a barrage of clarity. Intrinsic to the design are at least three widely-recognized features – the circle itself, the mathematics of Pi, ki a coiled serpent. All three index a quality we refer to as the infinite or immeasurable. It is the relationship between surface meaning ki the depths of what lies inside. The message at Barbury was indeed a key for a greater reading of other phenomena, but not in the sense of an abstract language, a set of symbols that human beings have created to represent the measurable. Rather, what this design intended was to bring us toward an appreciation for that which cannot be coded, that which must be engaged as a living being, in all its complexity.

This realization, for me, was enough. Despite the sensation that there was more to hear, I was ready to return home. Still in the form of mai’stoo, I spread my wings ki tried to lift. But I couldn’t move. Not vertically anyway. I didn’t feel as though there was anything wrong with my body. There was something else disabling me. I started to get concerned. Why couldn’t I leave? This had never been part of my experiences before. The only thing I could think to do was to move around in whatever manner I still could, to walk. I followed the lines, expecting the order of Pi to play out, hoping that when I’d reached the end I could gain lift ki return to noistomi. But as I walked - in the fashion of mai'stoo, hopping along - it seemed as though the sequence of the design had changed. Instead of ten sprocket jumps, there were only four. Ki from what I could discern of their distance, they might be read as 3.191. I had no idea whether this number was of any significance. At the moment, I couldn’t care. All I wanted to do was leave, ki finally I was able to do so, although my flight felt sluggish, heavy.

A few nights later, I shared this experience with one of the members of my naatowopii discussion group, a man who has been practicing for more than forty years. He too made efforts to visit Barbury, ki came away with a similar impression, that the design is meant to “imprint us with a sort of music, as a way of helping us get started on the non-language, or hyper-linguistic journey.”

The night after my session, nitsokso’kaa. Ki the next morning, nitattaamsskapoo, stopping on the way at Penhold where a rancher I know was slaughtering three iinii. Free of charge, he let me take their hides ki heads, which piipiiaakii ki sipioo intend to tan. So, with a rear hold full of bloody cargo, I drove home to sikoohkotoki.

I did not stay long at nookoowa before again heading aapatohsoohts. In fact, just a single night. My next destination was Siksika, where I was to meet with a planning committee from FNAHEC, to help design a distance curriculum that could be brokered to local universities, introducing naapiikoaiksi to the First Nations public they will undoubtedly encounter during their stay in kitawahsinnoon. Omi kanoohsin was scheduled for two days at soyopaawahko. Miiksi asinaikoaiksi who had been at omahkoyis were there, ki together we worked toward our common ends. Most of the significant planning was conducted on the first day, when we arrived at the consensual agreement that what we needed first ki foremost was a curriculum that would immerse naapiikoan learners in a niitsitapi cosmological world. We would focus on akaitapiitsinikssiistsi, each of our communities selecting four or five of our most fundamental stories to share in a journey that would link key socio-spiritual values to the environment ki major land features. In the long run, we hope, the students of this course will no longer be able to travel anywhere in our territory without at least partially identifying with the land as we do.

After the meeting, I drove to omahksaahkohtopii, accompanied by aahsi’takiyaakii. Although we’ve not identified it, aahsi’takiyaakii ki niisto are conscious of some shared purpose in our lives. Beyond the fact that we are both involved in First Nations adult education, ki so naturally encounter one another at various work-related functions, there seems to be a deeper familiarity between us, one that compelled us to make quick alliance when we first met, a few winters past. It is not in the manner of romance, by any means. We’re both happily married. It’s something else. There was an immediate recognition, perhaps residual from the parallel paths of nottakaannaaniksi. Or maybe it’s that we are meant to manifest some future turn of events that we cannot possibly portend at present. In either case, there’s something to our peculiar relationship, ki so whenever there’s opportunity, we make an effort to visit, curious as to when the meaning of this sensation will reveal itself. On this occasion, we drove to omahksaahkohtopii, walked its circle, hiked down into the coulees below in search of iinisskimm. We talked a lot… I relating a few akaitapiitsinikssiistsi ki some of my work with naatowopii, aahsi’takiyaakii telling of her remembrance of experiences prior to choosing her parents ki entering oistomi. We passed a few hours in this manner, but the mystery between us remained hidden.

Returning to sikoohkotoki ki nookoowa, I felt extremely road weary, ki sadly disconnected from the seasonal happenings unfolding around kainaissksaahkoyi. I decided to take a much needed walk in omi kaawahkoistsi of naapisisahtaa. It was hot outside. The onions were already going to seed, ki ma’siksi were not far behind. It looks like it will be a good season for okonokiistsi, ki all the other miiniistsi as well. Miiksi kitsisomahkokataiksi were enjoying themselves nibbling on the fresh greens. I had meant to find somewhere to sit ki engage with my surroundings for a bit. But instead, I just walked.

That evening, immersed once more in aohkii, steaming at an almost unbearable heat, I extended my attention to nottaka, ki again adopted the form of mai’stoo. I wanted to revisit the Barbury circle, to learn if there was anything more I could hear from it, ki to face the frightening experience of whatever had disallowed my departure from there during my earlier visit. As mai’stoo, I sang my way there, landing again in the central circle, pecking the ground four times, introducing myself, then standing quietly. There was, almost immediately, an exchange through visuals, cloudy to the memory afterward. It was an inquiry. Why was I there? I tried to create images, to convey something of my purpose… that I was training, that I was attempting to develop my practice such that I would be prepared to help others when inevitably called upon. Everything went quiet. The presence seemed to withdraw. I stood there, feeling foreign. Then a rush of clarity, again in images. Aohkii. Unhindered, it comes together in the form of a sphere, like a raindrop. At it’s surface, strongly bound, one molecule to the next. But within, fluid. The many millions of constituents comprising one drop, all indistinguishable. Their cycle, like our own, like the crop design, begins in such a body… then courses, streaming along, connecting with others indivisibly along a shifting path. Each that comes in contact with the next binds in the same manner, with surface strength ki inner fluidity. Moving on, then pooling, pooling, pooling. First into larger collectives, then smaller as the surface continually dissipates, evaporating into nothing. Re-gathering at the center. Something in this cycle speaks to my life, my relationships with others.

I fly away, singing the songs of mai'stoo. Unlike the prior visit, it is no trouble at all to lift ki sway with the wind. As I cross the ocean, ki soar above the Americas, I begin to sense my entanglements with those below. All of the places I have stayed. All of the people I’ve known. Boston. New York. I don’t want to go home yet. Instead, I make my way over miistakiistsi again, ki waft down the Columbia River Gorge, then into the Valley Willamma. There’s someone I need to see, my brother. I sing to find ookoowa in the densely populated hills of West Salem. I land on the wooden deck of his back yard, pecking four times on its surface, ki hopping up to look inside the sliding-glass door. I can see into the living room. My sister-in-law sits on their couch, with both children beside her. My brother lays on the floor, watching television, distant. She loves him, this man who cannot commit. She’s waiting for him to love her back, but her hopes ebb considerably. My brother moves ki I begin pecking at the window, cawing four times. He notices me there, ki I look up at him with one eye cocked. Concentrating, I attempt to speak into his thoughts, to tell him to quit being blind, that nothing else matters so much as his little family, that all he has striven for is surface, that he must try to appreciate what is inside, in the love of his wife, the trust of his children. I speak this, without words, admonishingly, then fly.

Down the Willamma, up the Columbia, to the headwaters here in kitawahsinnoon. I’m hurrying back to noistomi. But wait. Something is familiar. Below, in the high canyons of miistakiistsi, a house nested on the cliffside. It is the same from nipaapao’kaan. Still teetering. Still rolling horizontally across the rock surface. As I circle it in curiosity, it changes my song. This house has its own dangerous music, which I give voice to, stuck in a repetitive, nonsense pattern. It occurs to me that mi naapioyis has some correlation with the lives of my relatives downriver, that it is a reference to them. It speaks to their threatened persistence, precariously clinging to canyon walls, ready at any moment to tumble. I’ve not been able to help them. There is something here I don’t understand.

09 June 2008


llll ) lll Misamsootaa…

Back in sync, so far as miksi ki’sommiksi go. As ma kipitaakii waned into invisibility, annimayi misamsootaa iitsito’too. Annohk we are in the midst of its classic weather, piipiiaakii ki niisto at home in refuge. But the longer it’s sustained, the more strongly I feel the call to get outside ki experience all that’s going on, all I’m missing. This is the season that tends always to throw me off track. So much unfolding at once, I can’t seem to keep up. The rain deters us from continuing our early harvests. Keeping mostly indoors, I occupy myself with nita’po’takssin, a prolonged X-Files marathon (all twenty-four episodes of season three), ki continued practice in naatowopii. It’s the latter, of course, that’s most interesting.

One evening, early in saommitsiki’somm, nitaipi’kssaapi. It was one of my earlier experimentations with attempting naatowopii while immersed in aohkii, ki nottaka travelled downstream to omi sspopiikimi. There, my awareness was drawn to a certain dense clump of bullberry bushes, in the floodplain behind the main ksisskstakioyis. Ki nitainihp a peculiar ikitstakssin. It was different than any I’d ever seen before, constructed in a manner similar to what’s commonly called a “big offering”… but shrunk down in size. Its body was of red willow, draped with the spotted kerchief I’d been using to cover my eyes at the time. It had braids of sipatsimo for hair. Ki instead of the seven large black-tipped feathers radiating from its head, there were six delicate ki’naksaapo’pistsi. Behind omi ikitstakssin, in the brush, I sensed another presence. Something watching nottaka, making itself known, yet remaining hidden, invisible. My initial suspicion was that perhaps it was pokaitapii, ki when I later conferred with mi’ksskimmiisoka’simm about the experience, that was his intuition as well. It probably had something to do with the planting of naawahko’tsisi. Niiksi pokaitapii were showing me what kind of offering they wanted. So I determined to build it.

The red willows were easy enough to gather. I already had the kerchief ki sipatsimo. What I needed were mistsi ki’naksaapo’pistsi. At that point, I just happened to bump into piitaikihtsipiimi, who thoughtfully asked if I needed anything for nitomopistaan. I told him that I was looking for six ki’naksaapo’pistsi to make the ikitstakssin I’d seen, ki by that very afternoon he brought me not only what I’d requested, but also a piitaominn to use as a fan. I brought all of these materials home, ki there they sat… through the remainder of saommitsiki’somm, through aapistsisskitsaato’si, ki annohk into misamsootaa. My naawahko’tsisi seeds had already been put in the ground, ki hadn’t been growing very successfully. I thought it was time to quit procrastinating, to make amends with the pokaitapii ki give them what they’d asked for.

It took all of an evening to construct nitsikitstakssin. The following ikskanaotonni, nitsipanaipookaki ki brought it to the bullberry bushes, just as I’d seen. It had rained overnight, ki was still darkly overcast. All at sspopiikimi was quiet. Deep inside the brush, surrounded by great polypore mushrooms, I found a clear spot where a deer had slept, below a large mamia’tsikimioyiiyis. It looked right. I planted the post end of nitsikitstakssin there, took a picture (because it looked so nice), then spoke to the pokaitapii ki relinquished it to them. As I walked away, into the poplar forest ki back toward the truck, my sense was that the whole place pulsed with energy. It was not gratitude, this energy, but something more like recognition. They had communicated to nottaka, I had finally responded, ki they were letting me know that my gesture had been received, that the dialog might now continue.

A few sleeps after this experience, I prepared for travel to akaitapisskoistsi in the south. Aamsskaapiipiikanikoaiksi have been negotiating a reimbursement for the theft of their unceded waters. Rather than asking for money, which would likely take decades to negotiate, they’re hoping to hurry things along by requesting land titles currently held by the federal government. They hired an archaeological team from Arizona to help them prepare data for their legal case, ki are now beginning to survey areas they might want to recover. I was lucky enough to have been invited – along with ki’naksaapo’p, mi’ksskimmiisoka’simm, naamaahkohkommi, ki iniipotaa – to travel as an interlocutor with a group going to survey katoyiistsi ki sites along the headwaters of Sun River.

Before we left, I made this journey the subject of my evening naatowopii session. I posed the question, what might we encounter? Then I tried something new. I drew my attention first to noistomi, then cast it similarly toward nottaka, which I perceived as a kind of mirror image before me. Holding in this manner to both moistomistsi, I allowed my sense of connection to expand via aohkii throughout kitawahsinnon. Approaching the exercise in this way, I began to receive visuals. The first was of three niitoyiistsi, lined up beside each other. I could see that all were painted, but could not completely distinguish their designs. What I was able to perceive, however, was that the two outer niitoyiistsi had black-covered tops, while the one in the middle was a brilliant white. Then the visual shifted, ki I found myself looking down a grave. It seemed to be dug into the ground, ki rough wooden planks had been positioned as lining around the walls. There were at least two bodies in the grave, both dressed in buckskin. I couldn't discern their gender, nor if there were more than two of them. But it felt as though something wrong had occurred, perhaps a massacre, or a murder. These people were killed by an enemy who were now burying them. Then the visual shifted a third ki final time, ki I felt myself to be standing on the rim-rock of a deep canyon. There was something significant to be found there, seemingly just out of view behind some boulders by the cliff edge. I tried to move in that direction, to see what was there for me, but I couldn’t. I knew somehow that this was all I was going to be shown, ki so I contracted my awareness back to nottaka ki noistomi, abruptly ending the session.

Two sleeps passed before we began the actual survey. We started out from a hotel in Cut Bank ki drove east toward katoyiistsi. Along the way, iniipotaa directed us to stop at a site where he knew of a stone effigy. It was located on a flat, halfway down a ridge that overlooked a wide grassy valley. The effigy was comprised of a sizeable circle of stones, with lines radiating out to five small cairns at points around its perimeter. The place had been severely weathered ki disturbed. It was difficult to make out what all had been intended in its design. Nearby, in a saddle of the ridge, there was a large glacial erratic, likely an iinisskimm. Ki there were other momma’piistsi nearby… some quite wide. What most fascinated me, however, was an old grave overlooking the main effigy, obviously placed there for that reason. It appeared to have been a typical, early reserve-era death-house, a wooden crypt of sorts placed above ground. A forced compromise between Christian burials, ki the scaffold offerings of kippaitapiiyssinnoon. There were a few remaining remnants of wooden planks ki some human bones still scattered about. It was impossible to figure out, from what was left, how many people might have been set to rest there. My feeling was that there could have been more than one body in the death-house, as there often was, ki that probably some of the momma’piistsi were left with the dead as well. Certainly this place seemed related to what I had seen while practicing naatowopii. Ki given the sense I’d felt then, I speculated that this might have been the remains of a camp that had suffered a devastating bout of smallpox... that the momma’piistsi had been left with their dead, ki that subsequently the U.S. Army or some other government faction had continued to place deceased smallpox victims there.

Our next stop was piinaapohkatoyiss. Before we got there, I privately told mi’ksskimmiisoka’simm what I’d seen during naatowopii. When he heard about the three niitoyiistsi, anniiwa that katoyiistsi had been known as such in the past. Aamiitohkatoyiss was naato’sioyis, tatsikiohkatoyis belonged to iipisowahs, ki piinaapohkatoyiss to kipitaakii. Watching as we drove toward them, there was dark shale above the tree-line on all three, but at times the clouds parted to cast iipisowahsi ookoowa in light. When we finally parked at the eastern base of piinaapohkatoyiss, our group split into factions ki went exploring. We had heard a recent story about a cave called the Devil’s Chimney. A couple of naapiikoaiksi had descended into it, ki there found a mask decorated with abalone shells. They’d tried to take the mask back home with them to Canada, but it had been seized ki now was in a museum somewhere… probably with the Montana Historical Society. In any case, mi’ksskimmiisoka’simm ki niisto wanted to see if we could find this so-called Devil’s Chimney. From our position on the east face, we spotted an odd tower of rock sticking out of piinaapohkatoyiss like a horn about a third of the way up, ki to the north. It seemed as likely a place as any to find a cave, so we set off in that direction, with one of the archaeologists joining to take note of our observations.

In order to get to the rock tower, we had to ascend a ways, then hike up ki down a few coulees. We were surprised at how much running water we found coming down the hillside. From a distance, katoyiistsi seem to be nothing more than dry buttes. Up close though, there are significant streams of spring water coursing through ki feeding narrow forests of poplar ki birch. I saw none of the katoyiss miistsiiksi which these places are known for, but rather great hillsides of ancient pine, weathered ki stunted by the extreme conditions. When we eventually reached the rock outcropping, there were no chimney caves to be found. What we did see, however, beside the tower, was a massive stone slab that rested upon another boulder so as to create a kind of lean-to shelter. We ourselves used it to get out of the rain. Ki on its ceiling there was carved, quite deeply, the crescent of ko’komiki’somm.

From miistsi katoyiistsi, we travelled the Choteau, had dinner, ki slept in another hotel. That night, nitsipaapao’kaa. It was not entirely clear. I know that parts of mi paapao'kaan involved flying. But the most vivid aspect was a young man who seemed angry with me, confrontational. The reason he was upset, he said, was because I was always so negative. All I ever did was find fault in people. He felt betrayed. Aaniiwa he was not going to bother with me anymore, he’d found someone else who was more pleasant to be around. Just then, a magnificent dark-grey hawk flew down toward us. It was immense, easily the size of ourselves. There was a white stripe extending across its forehead ki back along its temples. It might have been a goshawk, but in spirit form, more brilliant than any bird I’d ever seen in waking life. The young man indicated that this was his new ally, the one who would replace me ki was obviously so much more worthy. When I woke up from anni paapao’kaan, I was struck by how true the young man’s criticism was. It was depressing to be challenged with such accuracy, but represented an opportunity as well.

The next ikskanaotonni, nitsipanaipookakiihpinnaan ki drove out to the headwaters of Sun River, accompanied by piitaikihtsipiimi ki a group of forestry personnel. We went first to a cliff just below a massive concrete dam. I’d been there once before, last summer. On that cliff, ki also on a slab of stone just a short walk downriver, there are a number of pictographs ki wide areas painted ki hand-printed with maohki’saan. Among the pictographs is something significant, that we’ve not been able to interpret yet… a horizontal line above a circle, all painted with iihkitsiki’saan. There are also various human figures, ki one small image of a mountain sheep.

After surveying this area, we descended further downriver to a grassy flat beside the cliffs, where the forestry service had put up a few log cabins. The flat itself had a number of momma’piistsi still evident. Ki along the cliff behind ki downriver from the cabins there was a shallow cave with more paintings… one that looked like a large bird, one of iiniiwa, another humanoid, ki an image of two circles (perhaps naato’si ki ko’komiki’somm) beside a constellation of kakato’siiksi or hailstones. I didn't know what to make of all this, other than to say that these places were important for some reason, ki that we would have to continue to visit them if we wanted to learn more. This vague explanation, echoed by all of us as interlocutors, may not have been fully appreciated by the archaeologists accompanying us. On the drive out of the canyon, they divided themselves up so that at least one of them was travelling in each vehicle, ki proceeded to ask us a series of questions. What did we think of what we’d seen that day? Did we know of any stories related to those places? Why do we believe people would have camped there in the past? What animals or plants would they have used there? All of these questions seemed to arise from a perspective that assumed the most important aspect of the Sun River headwaters to be of a historical nature. In my car, accompanied by piitaikihtsipiimi ki naamaahkohkommi, we began trying to shift the discussion more toward presence. We told our archaeologist that the spirits at those places are the same today as they had been in the past, that we can still engage with them in the same way niitsitapi always have. At one point, after we hit the prairie, an awakaasii buck gauged our distance ki made straight for us. When we slowed, it slowed. When we sped, it sped. Finally, it stood on the road right in front of our truck, bringing us almost to a dead stop, before bounding off downriver. Piitaikihtsipiimi told the archaeologist that right there we’d had an experience, that she probably hadn’t even recognized it. Awakaasiiksi don’t chase ki jump in front of people like that. This buck had done it for a reason, perhaps to keep us from encountering danger up ahead, or maybe for some other purpose that we’d never know. What mattered is that he was communicating with us, ki we’d sing his song to let him know that we were grateful for this exchange.

That afternoon, our survey team parted ways ki returned, each to our respective homes. I was thrilled at how our encounters, particularly on the first day, had validated what I’d seen through naatowopii. The only visual left dangling was that of the canyon. The following evening, nitattsipi’kssaapii. I had left naawahko’tsisi offerings at each of the places we’d visited, ki annohk I wanted to explore further what we'd been shown on our journey. Expanding my awareness of connection to kitawahssinnoon once again, I was taken back to the image of the mountain sheep. Above this painting was a small mountain. I had climbed half-way up it the previous year, ki found veins of flint deposited within its rock. Annohk I was again feeling that something high above the painted cliff was of significance, that perhaps there was a place up there for itsiiyissin. Just then, I remembered that I’d once heard a story about an important mountain sheep robe that had been gifted to someone who fasted in that area. Ki the strength of this memory brought my session to a close. I know now that, when I return to that place in the future, I will do so with the intention of ascending that mountain again, this time climbing higher than before. Somewhere up there, I suspect I’ll learn more about the third visual I’d experienced, ki through this act keep the dialog going.

All of these recent experiences – from the energy I felt after building ki delivering ikitstakssin for pokaitapii, to confirming at least some of what I’d been seeing through naatowopii – reminded of how crucial it is that we reciprocate with those who are willing to communicate with us. It’s all too easy to dismiss attempts by non-humans to engage us in relationships, or to neglect trying to approach them from our side as well. It’s far less demanding to just continue going about our own narrow affairs as if nothing further mattered. Not unlike the archaeologists, we’re strongly compelled to turn a blind eye ki deaf ear toward others, for the simple reason that carrying-out any real ki prolonged exchanges with them would seriously threaten our current way of life. At this point, we’re all complicit-in ki reliant-upon mainstream consumerism. This system is founded on the premise that everything has been placed here magically for our sole benefit, ki that – if properly managed – these “natural resources” are fairly limitless. In short, everything is considered to be ours for the taking, gifts of nurturance from our benevolent father god ki mother earth. We alone are thought to be the sacred children, those with real spirit ki true creative genius. Oh, how dangerous ki naive this myth is.