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Indian Style (I)
By Calvin Tatsey
November 1, 2008


The article is also published by http://theblackfeetreview.blogspot.com/.

 

Below, is a Picture of my Nawtoo (Holy) Ohtikunni (Medicine Chief) and Brother-in-the-Indian-way. It was taken on February 24, 2006 by my wife. He's pictured near his home at the time, the small-trailer. He's since moved up-in-the-World, and doesn't occupy the residence full-time anymore. Watch over him EstipatipeeSaturdayophe (God, Holy Spirit, The Power, The Source Everything, etc.). Thank You.

 

 

Saturday, January 7, 2006 began as the day before that and the day before that, except for one thing: a powerful sense of angst, or excitement, I couldn’t decide which one, overwhelmed my personal psyche from the second I’d gotten out of bed, causing me to believe that something serious was about to happen. It was similar to déjà vu, in a sense, when you encounter a person, situation or location and receive that fleeting bit of insight, causing you to believe that you could have predicted the moment, then quickly lose that place in your consciousness where intuition, or what many call the sixth sense, hides.

That was my first day-off and halfway through breakfast I’d begun to worry because of the feeling’s intensity, thinking that maybe I’d made a mistake and it wasn’t, I checked my schedule -- it was my day off.

Following breakfast, I got my sweet grass and smudge bowl, smudged, and subsequently, my outlook improved a little, so I drove downtown to get the newspaper and have coffee.

The waitress took the order and left to get the coffee. I opened the paper and read a short article concerning an accident where a child had been severely injured. At that time, our son and his two small children were living with us. The article, my grandchildren, and the feeling which had by then, returned in full force, in the form of an ugly-nagging sensation, combined to trigger some sort of paranoia. Consequently, I left a dollar on the table before the waitress had returned and exited the restaurant. I walked to my vehicle and drove directly home. At home, everything was fine and all were alive and well.

I poured a cup of my wife’s excellent coffee and sat down to read. I read, but failed to absorb the articles’ contents. I finally flipped the pages until I came to the horoscope section. I didn’t believe in horoscopes, however, I thought that whatever was going on had to be paranormal because of its sheer intensity and weirdness. My horoscope told me that it was a good day and that I should be preparing for a long trip. I laughed to myself when I thought about what was currently in the air, a trip, of sorts, yeah, sort of like an LSD trip.

By noon, agitation had me uncharacteristically-walking the floor and receiving strange looks from my wife. After falling to think of a logical explanation for my predicament, I decided to inform her of the premonition. Not wanting to cause alarm, I told her that it felt like something good was about to happen, or someone was coming and I couldn’t put a name to what or who it was, when in all actuality, I had no idea, just that it was extremely disturbing. If anything unusual was about to happen, I’d wanted her to know that I’d known, beforehand – part of the Male Ego, I guess.

During the early evening, our dogs, Barkley, Sparkly, Home-Dog, and most of the neighborhood dogs began to howl for no apparent reason. By that time my nerves were frazzled and the dogs’ continuous drone sent chills up-and-down my spine. Looking out a front window I saw a female making a fruitless attempt at attaining order; she shook her broom and yelled. Her intimidation tactics failed to bring about a satisfactory result – to her satisfaction, or mine -- so she re-entered her house, shaking her head in disgust.

At approximately 7:00 P.M., my family and I were watching television when our dogs, who’d been quiet for a short time, suddenly started to howl again. Approximately five seconds later, someone knocked on our front door and the dogs’ howling ceased, which, by that time, didn’t surprise me at all.

I knew that whoever had knocked hadn’t visited our home in the past seven years, because we’d used the back door only, for that length of time. The front door’s shed had a freezer, shoes and assorted family items filling it up – not too fire-wise I know, but that’s the way we’d lived.

My wife immediately got up from where she’d been sitting and went to the kitchen window, to advise the visitor to go to the back door, where she’d either extend an invitation to enter, receive a message, or a ride or phone request – Indian Style.

Agitated and tense, I followed behind her. From the window I saw that it was one of my childhood friends, C-----n A----------t, whom I hadn’t seen in years. He was accompanied by two small boys. Glad to see him, I leaned over my wife and told C-----n and his people to go to the back door.

I shook C------‘s hand and he introduced his nephews, P-----p and N--k, I said hello and invited them into my home. While we walked from the back door to the living room, the lights blinked several times. Something that hadn’t happened in more than ten years of my family’s living in the Blackfeet Indian Housing Authority residence, and the dogs resumed howling. Strangely, the howling, which had been so terribly exasperating, had the opposite effect after C------’s arrival. It soothed and replaced confusion, with certainty, fortitude and calm – crazy but true.

When we entered the living room area, my wife stood near the television, looking up, as if she were waiting or listening for something. She said, “That’s strange, the lights were blinking off-and-on like somebody was flicking the switch…”

I had an eerie sensation, and began to suspect that C------’s visit was the reason behind the premonition I’d been experiencing.

We sat, ate, drank tea, sang Indian and visited all night – Indian Style. C------’s knowledge of songs seemed endless; my contributions were limited to what I could remember, and that consisted of bits and pieces. He’d sing two or three, I’d do what I could, and we’d stop to tell stories pertaining to the ceremonies and cultural events that we’d attended or participated in while growing up, which were many, because that was our childhood; our place to escape hunger, hardship and pain during our youth.

Our talks repeatedly came back to the hardships and experiences we’d lived through during childhood. I listened to C------’s stories and told mine, finally realizing that he had a lot to share, so I asked him if he’d be willing to come back and talk, while I wrote. He agreed and we decided that we’d begin our project after he’d gone home to rest. It was approximately 7:30 A.M., and cold, the Sun was just beginning to lighten the sky to the East.

C-----n gently-shook and called his nephews, waking them. They had fallen asleep, one at each end of the living room couch. I watched the gentle, respectful and courteous attitude with which he handled his nephews, and I realized that I was proud to have him as a friend and Brother.

On Sunday, January 8, 2006 at approximately 11:15 P.M., C-----n returned, alone. He brought my family large several pieces of roasted meat, all wrapped in tinfoil. I didn’t question where the meat came from, or ask who had prepared it, that’s not customarily polite, besides, I knew that coming from him, it would be safe to eat. He did tell me that his family had received it from relatives, who’d been visiting from The Blood/Kainaa Tribe, Alberta, Canada.

I asked my family, who were all in bed by then, if they’d wanted to feast. No one responded. I cut a large piece and offered it to C-----n. He declined, saying that he’d already had “plenty”. I grabbed a piece of my wife’s Nuh-pei-in (bread, the way it sounds to me), some onions, hot peppers and salt, and feasted near my computer until I couldn’t eat another bite. All the while, we remained quiet. The only noise came from my feast and intermittent sips from our Mason-jar-tea-cups – Indian Style. That was some good meat; it tasted like Moose.

After we’d gotten cookies and a tea refill, we began our project. His discourse, told throughout the night between breaks, follows my short introduction.

 

C-----n is a fifty-year-old, contemporary-Blackfeet Medicine Man, who believes that because of their unique upbringing, similar training and knowledge, he and F-------k H--n are the only “true” children on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. He says that growing up as a child, he: “…sat with and learned from Indians who still remembered the Horse Days; Indians who remembered riding horseback to get commodity rations; Indians who had a direct connection to The Buffalo Indians; and Indians who still wore moccasins, braids and couldn’t talk English.” He remembers going to Standoff, Alberta, living with the B------e family, and J-m B-----s — called him “Gumoothes”, means thief, steal or take in the Blackfeet language. C-----n holds the biggest, holiest bundle of the Montana Blackfeet. They call it The Chief Bundle; The Natoas; The Sun Dance Bundle. He said that it was the only bundle transfer ceremony that was done properly in the last thirty years. C-----n is one of the last fluent speakers of the Blackfeet Language. He has been taught, retains and practices every traditional ceremony of the Montana, Blackfeet.

“Ah, was all-ceremonial, I remember my grandpa, ‘D---y’ B-------g M-------------s, and that’s where all the community ceremonies were held, we started in the afternoon and went all night, until morning time. I remember going to ceremonies like Feather Games, Ghost Dance, Holy Smokes, Black Tail, Shakin’ Tent, doctoring ceremonies and Thunder and Beaver Bundle ceremonies.

My Grandparents, P-----p and M----e A----------t raised me. P-----p was the Medicine Man of the Blackfeet Tribe. My grandfather, P-----p knew all the roots and knew all the songs to every ceremony of the Blackfeet culture. He was the owner of the last Blackfeet Medicine Horse Bundle. He also had the Crow Bundle, Thunder Pipe, Ghost Bundle and the Tobacco Bundle.

I grew up with the last of the Buffalo People. As a child I was always herded to the ceremonies. This didn’t give me much time to play with other kids. They call us gima-da-poka, pitiful babies or grandma babies. Growing up was just like that. It seemed like the school teachers knew. Somebody was telling them something.

I wasn’t an observer. I was on the inside of the circle because I was P-----p and M----e A-----------‘s grandson. P-----p A----------t was the last owner of the Blackfeet Horse Bundle. Because my grandpa and grandma were medicine people, just because they were medicine people, I was permitted to sit up front and participate. The other kids all had to go in the other room or go outside and play, but I was treated differently. Some of those old people would wait for me to show up and they would have a piece of candy or carve me something; they would almost fight over me; they would sit there and sing to me. The first years of my life were almost all ceremony.

Growing up, I’ve been around Indians who have talked about the past, when they would get shot on sight. Those were happy times [Growing up, not getting shot]. People would sing at night time, everybody was happy. That was before the flood you know, took away all that stuff [The 1964 Birch Creek, Swift Dam Flood]. I remember them old men and them old ladies’ clothing. Everybody used to bring something to the ceremonies, different foods, for a feast.

When I was growing up there would be about twenty medicine men and women, all sitting in one house together. It seemed like everything was really secretive, outsiders weren’t allowed, outsiders had no interest in these things, we were Indians.

Back then you know, ah, there was respect, honor, you never heard ‘cuss’ words, and even these other children that would come around once in a while, they would whisper and talk quietly and respectfully.

Back then, they still had a few ‘real’ Blackfeet chiefs. How do you say, tribally appointed? You know you always had those in the middle [The Chiefs].

Everybody used to bring their own medicine to the ceremonies. You weren’t allowed to step over smudges. They had an Alter. The bundles would sit there and they would use one at a time. I remember them using holy paint, painting faces and wrists. I remember when that spirit, when these animals and birds in the bundles would come alive. You’d see them flying and moving around in there. Weasel, skunk, otter and gopher, the animal skins in the bundles would come alive and the women would watch, become excited and show great fear, although they’d seen it all before. The Bundle’s medicine would go to work. Whatever sickness’ they had, the medicines would go to them and eat whatever sickness they had and then they’d go back to the medicine man and lay back down in their place. These things were done in broad daylight, with the lights on. That’s how supernatural these events were.

Everybody would bring their own bundles, whether it would have a wooden bowl with holy rocks in it; root medicine; plume medicine; paint medicine; eagle bone whistle medicine or rattles and drums. Everybody had their own song.

They made a lot of noises in these ceremonies, like horses running; or pounding under the floor; or in the ceiling, you would hear scratching; or a lot of people talking outside, like a lot of people, but you’d go outside and there would be nobody out there.

The air in there would shift, like one moment it would be laughter and fun and the next moment it would be all eerie and quiet.

I did these things from Standoff [Canada], to Heart Butte; to Starr School and right to Browning [Montana].

The way these medicine men worked, some days they were weak and they’d ask another medicine man to take over and they used to always say that the other medicine man was stronger. They used to build each other up, for the sake of the people and the ceremony. There was great respect for each medicine and other.

My first Sweat Lodge, I believe was in fifty eight or fifty nine, probably nineteen fifty nine. What I remember about that was all them old ladies were sitting on the hill and all the men were down there sweating. I was splashing around in the creek and they told me that I could go in there and sweat with them. What I remember about that ‘sweat’ was when everything was closed [sealed, so that heat could not escape] and when they splashed the water on the rocks, a breeze blew through.

Growing up with spirituality, I thought it was normal to smell burning sweet grass when there was no sweet grass; to smell sweet pine when there was none; to hear someone singing Indian when nobody was there; to see Indians appear and disappear; to hear drums and rattles when there was none.

I saw my grandma smoking with a spirit.

My grandma would leave me sometimes for four days at a time. I was three or four years old at a time. She’d tell me, ‘I’m going to Canada,’ but she’d leave me with a spirit. I’d go to sleep at night and wake up and my clothes would be off and folded. Now it would scare me, but back then it was a normal part of life, spirituality.

One time I was about seven years old, this Indian guy, I was home alone, he come knocking on our door. I opened him up and let him in without thinking about it on my part. I listened to him talk to me without moving his lips, by thought through his forehead. He asked me where everybody was at. I gave him tea and made him a sandwich. He smelled like sweet pine. He sat down and sipped his tea. I could hear him making noises while he drank. You could feel his kindness; he seemed like a kind old man. Back then I was used to having elders in the house, so I thought nothing of it. I stayed on the floor playing with my toys. When he was done eating and drinking the tea and sandwich, he got up and said, in Indian: ‘C--f S---t C---f (my Indian name) I’m done, good, those old people said they love you.’ He then walked out and that’s when I felt something strange. I went to lock the door; instead I opened it and peeked outside. It was broad daylight outside. I looked down and there was no tracks in the snow at all, coming to our door or leaving. Over my lifetime, this same man has visited me four or five times. Sometimes he lets me know he’s coming by the smell of sweet pine. It seems like he comes when things are hard, and times are tough.

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Oki Niscunnie (Hello my Friend). My name is Calvin Tatsey. I am fifty two years old. My Indian name is Big Gun Sees Good, which represents Power and Wisdom, according to my name giver. I am the father of four and the grandfather of eight. I am an enrolled member of The Blackfeet Nation of Montana. I have resided on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation throughout my entire life, with migrations to attend school, training, work and to experience different cultures, people and places. I have experienced every Blackfeet ceremony, except for The Sundance; however, I have assisted with the preparations of and observed several throughout their durations. I have worked at several occupations, e.g., cowboy, farm-worker, tree planter and thinner, logger, lifeguard, store clerk, police dispatcher, police officer, jailer, correctional officer, casino surveillance supervisor, heavy equipment operator, building constructions, chemical dependency counselor, etc...; and through all that, I've been a Writer first-and-foremost! My life-and-work experiences are vast and many; my cultural experiences are the same; my writing -- Fiction -- involves and draws from both, relating and applying to Native American issues, news and first-hand stories pertaining to culture, ceremonies, language and Native American life; some are short and some are long, but all are interesting and entertaining. I am an addictions counselor with a degree in Human Services (minor in Psychology) and a CDC Certificate and I have worked in the field professionally; however, my love for writing now requires most of my time, so I am no longer in the field. I am currently in the process of enrolling-in Montana State University’s 2008 fall semester: Mass Communications, (journalism) program. I have graduated from two Law Enforcement Academies: the Montana Law Enforcement Academy and Corrections Corporation of America. I am a versatile writer who writes compelling stories and articles that grab attention and connect with people; a marketing writer; a copywriter; a poet, and a well rounded professional. I have over thirty years of writing experience.
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