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.