There is no concept of “creator” in Blackfoot ideology. The modern creator concept is a consequence of colonization and the residential school system. Christian missionaries came to “the new world” with the intent to convert indigenous populations of the Americas. With the concept of an omnipotent monotheistic God; the colonists also brought the concept of the Devil. Often, the monotheist creator concept is adopted and used by contemporary First Nations individuals, and often those who use the concept have little or no idea that it is essentially a Christianised view of reality. They often do not realize this, because the assimilative practises of the colonists were insidious, violent, and for the most part effective. To really appreciate where First Nations perspective is from, one must appreciate that First Nation’s locality. This paper will not focus on or speak for all First Nations in Canada and the United States, but rather that of Blackfoot People. Blackfoot territorial boundaries are at the North Saskatchewan River in the north, to the Yellowstone River in the south, from the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, to the confluence of the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers in the east. This territory is roughly the size of Great Britain, and this territory is where one must begin.
Blackfoot People did not name themselves “Blackfoot.” There is an extensive nomenclature for the people who live within the territory, the main tribe being Apaitapii. Apaitapii literally translates to “The White Robe People.” However; there came a mistranslation by colonists, who saw the people wearing red paint during a ceremony. “Apai” is close to “Apaan” in pronunciation, “Apaan” translates to “Blood” and the colonists, seeing the red paint, figured that the people were covered in blood. Due to the appearance of the people, and mistranslation, the name of the tribe was then known officially as “The Blood Tribe.” The other tribes are Aamskaapipiikanni, Apatohsipiikanni, and Siksika. Originally, Aamskaapipiikanni and Apatohsipiikaani were one tribe, but as they were separated by the Canada/U.S. border they became two different tribes. Each group has their own dialects of the Blackfoot language. Each group is connected by their speaking of the language, the territory they are in, and the ceremony that they practise. Each group has their self-referential names; but each group falls under the categorization of “Blackfoot,” as the Crown has a particular system of organization and categorization that is hierarchical. The name “Blackfoot” was given by the enemies of Blackfoot people, as every season Blackfoot would burn the grasslands of their territory in controlled burns. As they walked through their territory their footwear became blackened by soot. From that controlled burning and venturing forth, they earned their name from their enemies.
Prayer in Blackfoot ceremony begins by calling on four main entities, which together make up a fifth concept. Blackfoot prayer begins often enough; with variation depending on the one praying: “Aiyo Napi Naatosi, Aiyo Ksahkkomitapii, Aiyo Kipitaaki Kokomikisomm, Aiyo Iipisoowaahsi, Aiyo Ihstipaitopiyopah.” These in order are “Calling upon the Old Man Sun, Calling upon the Earth Being, Calling upon the Old Lady Moon, Calling upon the Morning Star, Calling upon the means by which all life exists.” The first four entities are the Sun, Moon, Earth, and Morning Star. Each is considered to be an entity onto itself, though altogether each have their stories and parts to play in Blackfoot mythology to make up the fifth concept of Ihstipaitopiyopah: “The means by which all Life exists.” This concept can also be called “The source of all Life” and most recently due to Christian infiltration; has been mistranslated as “creator.”
Prayer in Blackfoot ideology is not necessarily ritualized; ritualized as treated in the Abrahamic faiths; such as the “Hail Mary” of the Catholic Church. Prayer is often public in Blackfoot ceremony, and there is no one form or one correct way in which to give prayer. The spoken prayer is in the form that the speaker sees fit with no set time or time limit in which to speak it. Though prayer is not ritualized, the daily life of a Blackfoot person is inundated with moments of prayer especially before the taking of resources. Every part of a historical Blackfoot person’s life from food, shelter, and clothing was taken from local resources. Pre-colonization these resources were plentiful, and were not taken lightly. For example, there is the use of the “forked stick” in ceremony. If one were to look in museum collections of Native American artifacts the “forked stick” is unique to Blackfoot people, as they were the only ones to use it. This is a giveaway to the trained eye as to what artifact belongs to what people. If a “forked stick” is included with the piece or pieces then it is most certainly Blackfoot in origin. The stick is made from Saskatoon berry shoots. The person searching for the particular shoot will be in the river bottom, find an area to where Saskatoon’s grow, and see if a forked shoot is growing on one of the branches. Only someone with a transferred rite can take the shoot and make a “forked stick.” He would then most certainly pray before he cuts the shoot out of the main bush. As he prays he would leave an offering of Tobacco. Prayer is given in reciprocity before the taking of any resource that is to be used; and exchanging that resource with an offering of himself which is often Tobacco. The Tobacco is an offering in place of himself. This is the closest to ritualized prayer that a Blackfoot person would take part in. The purpose of the “forked stick” is to take coals from the fire, and “smudge.” “Smudging” is taking a coal from the fire, resting the coal in the centre of a mound made of raw white clay that was taken from a badger hole. The mound of clay is always on the western side of the lodge, between the fire and the sleeping area of the lodge owner. Once the coal is on the mound, sweetgrass is placed upon it and prayers are spoken into the smoke, and the speaker then using their hands bathes themselves in the smoke from the smudge. Since one needs coals for this process, one needs a forked stick to take them from the fire.
There are some 6000 uses for a single Buffalo by Blackfoot people. Not all of them will be listed, but one of the main uses are for the hide is to cover the lodge. The hides are elegantly tanned, sliced, and sewn in a particular fashion to make a lodge. The lodge is made of the buffalo hides, and 21 poles of Lodgepole Pine that are skinned and dried. Four main poles make up the base and are tied together to create a quadropod. From this point five “ribs” are rested at the top in a particular order on the north and south sides of the structure. Then, the front and back door poles. Once this structure is raised it is called the “skeleton.” From here the pole with the hides attached at the top of the main pole is raised and rested on the “skeleton” and this is called the “spine.” The “skin” which is the Buffalo hide is wrapped around to the front and buttoned shut. Then the “skin” is pegged to the ground, as tight as a drum that one could actually hit the skin of the tipi and it would resonate like a drum if it were put up correctly. The whole process of putting up a lodge can take fifteen minutes to an experienced person. To finalize the process there are two poles on each side of the lodge that are placed through flaps at the top called the “ears.” Once the outside structure is finished, the liners are attached inside. These liners are tied to a rope that is wrapped around each pole, about five feet above the ground. At the top, the liners are tied, and at the bottom they are tied to the pegs on the outside. All Blackfoot lodges face the east, to face the rising Sun. If the wind is blowing from the west, then the “ears” are open and pointing east. If the wind is blowing from the south, then the northern “ear” flap is open and pointing north, and the southern “ear” flap is closed and pointing north as well. The “ears” in tandem with the liners create a vacuum inside the lodge that takes the smoke from the fire up and out of the lodge. The fire place is in the centre of the lodge, and is made of a circle of stones. Seven stones arranged from the east from largest to smallest on the north and south end of the hearth are arranged, and symbolize the big and little dippers, as well as the circle of the fire symbolizing the Sun. Even at night, the Sun is in our presence. Fuel sources for the fire were often Poplar branches that had fallen, or dried Buffalo dung. It is said that if a lodge is raised correctly, then the strongest wind will not blow it down. Recently there was a flood in Southern Alberta, and many areas along the Bow River were overtaken with water. Houses were lifted off of their foundations and washed away. Interestingly enough, there were Blackfoot lodges in Siksika along the river bottom that remained in their place the entirety of the flood as houses were washed away.
There is no funeral ceremony for Blackfoot people. There were however, steps that could be taken by the loved ones of the deceased. If a spouse died, the surviving spouse would cut their hair, and cover their clothes in ashes. This would begin the grieving process, which was finished when their hair grew back to its former length. Perhaps in a year. During this time, they would not go to social functions such as dances, feasts, or ceremony. They would remain mostly in their own company and mourn their loss. When a person died, their body would be cleansed, and they would be wrapped in an Elk robe made of tanned Elk hide. Then, their possessions such as clothing, weapons, pipes, war honour trophies, and other personal items were taken to their burial site. Now, the word “burial” does not refer to the act of being buried in the ground. Blackfoot people buried their dead in the sky. The wrapped body would be left atop a scaffolding made of cotton wood logs, on top of a high hill. Or, and most often, they were left with their possessions in the branches of a sturdy tree in the river bottom. The purpose of this is a practical one, as birds need to eat as well. A self-referential name of Blackfoot people is Kakotositapii, literally translating to “Just a small Sun being” but meaning in English “Star Being” or “Star Person.” As we say in Blackfoot: we come from the Stars, and when we die, we go back to the Stars. This is also a reason for sky burials, though not the main reason. After colonization, the people built “burial lodges,” replicas of their own cabins on a smaller scale, where they were laid out with all of their possessions. However, as the colonizers were Christian, they imposed their burial practises upon Blackfoot people, by burying the dead in the ground. This is not explicitly for hygienic purposes. This practise is Christian in origin, as they believe that Jesus will return, so the body must be preserved and laid with the head to the west and feet to the east. For when Jesus returns, he is coming from the east, and they will rise from their graves in order to look upon him when he arrives.
Robert Hooke was the first scientist to observe the microscopic structure of what we call today “The Eukaryotic Cell.” Hooke observed the structure of the eukaryotic cell and found it akin to the cell of a monk. A wall, a bed, a table, and a chair are generally what could be observed in a monk’s quarters to which he bestowed the name unto what he was observing. Hooke observed what were later identified as the cell membrane, a phospholipid bi-layer. Encased within the membrane is cytoplasm, an electro chemical conducive protoplasm which is mostly water. The various organelles such as the Golgi Apparatus, the Smooth and Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum, and Mitochondria all perform various tasks that when associated together and are mutually beneficial to the metabolic process. Then encased within the Nuclear Envelope is the Nucleus. The eukaryotic cell is performing various functions and interactions within itself in order to maintain homeostasis. Within these basic intercellular interactions and processes operate Ribosomes and Lysosomes. Lysosomes digest a plethora of “waste” materials and breaks them down to structural components of simple molecules. They are fundamentally the recycling system of the cell. Ribosomes, alternatively, build proteins. Their main function is protein synthesis within the cell, where there exist in tandem Free Ribosomes that travel anywhere in the cytosol and perform their function anywhere in the cell, receiving information from mRNA to build proteins. The Ribosome is found within every eukaryotic cell. The cytoskeleton is part actin and microtubules that are the micro fiber protein structural foundation of the cell, surrounded by cytoplasm. These fibers interact with the Cell Membrane, and their detailed structure is not known.
Reflective of the continuum of life, one can establish the relationship between the eukaryotic cell, and that which we call human. The cell membrane is reflective of our skin, the cytoskeleton is reflective of our skeleton. The various organelles of the cell are reflections of our organs, the heart, liver, pancreas, spleen, intestines (large, small, duodenum etc.). Like all of the components of the cell working together to maintain homeostasis and metabolism our organs work within our bodies to do the same. The organs function cooperatively in order to maintain homeostasis and metabolism, they cooperate and conspire to maintain our Lives. It is intuitive to reason that humans as being part of the continuum of life are much like the simplest structure of their manifested bodies. That is to say an expanded expression of the eukaryotic cell itself. The structure of the human body then is reflected in its smallest living component. We can then view the eukaryotic cell as reflective to that of the entire systems of the planet. The cell membrane is akin to the atmosphere and water, the organelles are reflective of the various continents and land masses, the ribosomes and lysosomes are reflective of the plant and animal species all living in tandem to maintain the homeostasis and metabolism of the planet.
A fundamental difference in worldview exists between colonists and Blackfoot people. This worldview can be illustrated by how water is viewed and interacted with. Water, as treated by Blackfoot people, is an entity unto itself. Water is all connected as one being, from the rivers, lakes, oceans and rains. Water is such a central part of life for existence on the plains, that in a particular Blackfoot ceremony while praying, water is offered to the earth to drink. In prayer, the person calls upon the Sun, Moon, Morning Star, and Earth to protect water. The prayer is often spoken to the effect that water is always clean, that water is always present. This is not a deification of water, but an acknowledgement of how important water is to all life in general, and of its importance to ourselves as Blackfoot people. From the colonist’s point of view, water is a single molecule, H2O. Therein is the illustration of difference. To the colonist point of view, water is treated as an unconnected singular molecule with a mathematically based chemical description. To Blackfoot people, water is one connected entity throughout the entire world and all that lives within it.
The point of the sharing of information of Blackfoot people in this paper is to illustrate fundamentally different methods of living between Blackfoot people and the colonizers. Burning the territory before the snow falls encourages new grass growth, and hearty grass growth for the following year. In turn, the Buffalo will be more attracted to venturing north to pasture. This practise also encourages growth of various plants. Practically, this burning encourages biodiversity to the plains as the Buffalo would migrate, bring seeds along with them, and other fauna to follow their path. California Condors were at one time a common sight on the plains as they followed the Buffalo, however, after the Buffalo were intentionally exterminated by colonists, the Condors ended their migration pattern.
References to Blackfoot prayer in this paper is to illustrate two points, that quite literally for this planet the means by which all life exists is the Sun and to illustrate reciprocity for the taking of resources. Our planet is in just the right place to be held by the Sun. There would indeed be no life without our Sun. We pray not to worship, and not to be unworthy before the Sun, but to acknowledge that our life is not made possible otherwise. The Tobacco is prayed with and left as offering to first show respect for the process. That the plant being taken is a living being in as much as we are as Blackfoot people, and that plant serves a function to us as Blackfoot people as well as to the environment as a whole. To ensure that not too much is ever taken, there is always something left behind from the one taking the resource. This offering is left not only in gratitude, but also as a psychological gesture of maintenance. My Kokom (grandmother) was a doctor for her tribe. She knew of many plants and their medicinal uses, and taught my Sister a way of plant collecting. She said “When looking for a plant you need, never take the first plant you see. Look around further and find another. The first one you see might be the last of its kind.” This practise, along with the reciprocity of offering Tobacco, encourages a culturally inborn maintenance of the environment. A constant awareness of the fragility of life, as all life from the very beginning has been fragile.
The Blackfoot lodge is a reflection of the body, and serves to illustrate for this paper the connection between the territory, the people, and the universe. The resources for the lodge are taken locally, and the lodge itself is named in structure for parts of the human body. The hearth is the connection to the Stars and Sun. The Blackfoot lodge illustrates the most efficient way of living with minimal resources, respectful of the flow of energy available to the people. The lodge is not considered the home of Blackfoot people, it is a climate controlled temporary shelter for survival. The home of the Blackfoot people is their territory.
The burial practises of Blackfoot people are written to illustrate the acknowledgement that everything must return to the Earth, and everything must survive. To hoard resources is a considered a character flaw among Blackfoot people, and that extends even into death. The birds need to eat, and nothing is permanent. This practise is documented here as well to show the fundamental difference in worldview. Now, the argument for burial in the ground is made for the purposes of hygiene, though the practise is Christian in origin.
The passages in this paper regarding the eukaryotic cell are written to illustrate where me must collectively go as a society. Taking modern science and its worldview of discrete mechanical processes and analytical dissections, while at the same time illustrating the grander interconnectedness between them. This is viewing the information of cell biology with a Blackfoot heart. That indeed, reflections of the connectedness of life are in the very basis of the eukaryotic cell, all the way up in scale to the Earth as a living entity. That all of this is on one grand continuum, that not only extends from the smallest portions of that which we recognize as living, but to the planet and entirety of the universe as a whole. Eventually, there will be a time when the universe is recognized as a living entity, though modern scientists at this point struggle to even recognize the Earth as a living entity itself. Our society, if it is to survive, needs to undergo a fundamental worldview alteration and redirection. No longer can we take from the Earth without reciprocity, no longer can we view the Earth as discrete mechanical abiotic parts of an abiotic thing. To appreciate our lives, we must extend them outwards into the environment, into the planet, and into the universe. That we are reflections of the universe, the Sun, the Earth, and the environment. That we are the biggest little beings that ever could be, because what we collectively decide to do, can make or break life itself.
Anything relating to Blackfoot people and/or ideology in this paper is either taken from first hand knowledge, or oral history passed to me by my Father, and various other Elders which over the time of my life are either too numerous to name, and quite frankly I don’t remember who told me what. All of the information regarding Blackfoot people’s history belongs to Blackfoot people in common.
The science relating to the eukaryotic cell and its various processes was given to me in biology classes in school over my life, and this science as it is, belongs to the people as well.