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We Come From Right Here
For many years scholars theorized that the Blackfeet migrated east-to-west from the forests of the Great Lakes sometime in the last few hundred years. This was based on analyzing variations in Algonquin dialects (the Blackfeet language is classified by linguists as Algonquin) and concluding that we must have taken the language from east-to-west. Explanations for the Blackfeet’s supposed migration ranged from the introduction of the horse and gun to conflict with other tribes.
But scholars write books and give lectures and huff and puff about times in which they never lived, worlds into which they never stepped foot, and languages they can never hear spoken by the ancients they study. As an example of how little is really known about Indians in the pre-Columbian period, experts can’t even agree if the population of the Americas was 8 million or 112 million. If they know so little that they can’t get within an order of magnitude of each other, why bother guessing about anything else?
Why, if it is generally agreed that Indians came across from Asia 12,000 or more years ago (which naturally means migration would occur north-to-south, and west-to-east) would anyone claim the Blackfeet must have migrated east-to-west?
In any case, anthropological theories aren’t interesting to the Blackfeet. We know who we are and where we come from. We come from right here. We know, and have always said, that we have forever lived next to the Rocky Mountains. And we are right: recent archeological evidence shows that for thousands of years we have lived where we now live. There is a nearby buffalo jump that has buffalo bones mixed in with our bones that are over 6,000 years old.
Not that we needed any proof: Our Creation Story, handed down through a hundred generations, takes place at Badger-Two Medicine, a sacred place next to what is today the Blackfeet Reservation and Glacier Park. If a scholar wants to tell us that somewhere in the dark and distant mists of prehistory we walked from Asia, or came by raft across one ocean or another, we will listen and smile, because we like our Creation Story better.
From the time the white man came, and in fact because the white man came, our population has varied wildly, from perhaps 20,000 in the early 1800s, to possibly fewer than 2,000 in the 1890s, to over 16,000 today. Our grim mortality rate has been due to countless collisions between our tribe and non-Indians (Indians waged war on each other from time to time, but not necessarily to kill, and never with the aim of extermination). This is another way to say that left to our own abilities and able to make our own decisions, even in the most unforgiving of environments we have always flourished.
In 1837 smallpox was unwittingly brought by white men. Just ten days after visiting Fort McKenzie, Montana, the Blackfeet awoke to terrible and incurable symptoms of an unknown horror that quickly raged through the entire tribe. We lost 6,000 --half our tribe.