Indian Millennium: Renewing Our Ways for Future Generations
To Have A Home
Banishment was the strongest punishment my tribe,
imposed on a member unable to abide the tribal ways.
Without realizing it, I had banished myself from my tribe.
persons lifetime is a relationship between the time our
life covers, and the space our bodies occupy. There have been
countless lifetimes within my tribe and many to come. My lifetime
as a tribal member is where past, present and future exists for
me. This view allows me to put imposed tribal definitions aside.
For example, in our language we are Pikuni; in English speaking
America we are the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana. Today many tribal
names are not their true tribal language name, but one imposed
on them. One of the horrors Indians endure is having outsiders
define us based on one-dimensional studies. It is better we define
our tribe, and ourselves.
am one of many lifetimes existing in Pikuni time, and therefore
am part of the tribe once and forever. The Pikuni language is
my teacher now, and is in my view the truth keeper for future
Pikuni generations. This is my vocation and belief. I believe
loss of tribal languages diminishes the truth of Indian ways,
and dishonors the lifetimes within the tribe.
should remember imposed tribal identification is insignificant
compared to the biological, linguistic, religious and historical
continuum tribal essence possesses. Understand this, and imposed
definitions of tribal membership become inadequate.
such as half-breed, full blood, mixed-blood, and the myriad of
others are fragmentary and inflammatory. Dont use them regardless
of any circumstance. Instead seek your home language and use it
for knowledge. Allegiance to tribal languages is at present hard
to come by, and many people have yet to find the way to embrace
the notion. It is difficult because allegiance must come to you
through the heart and mean something. Yet, it is the way home,
and can still be done.
circles divide Pikuni history into elementary periods such as
days of the dog; introduction of horse and gun, and reservation
days. It is a weak, biased method, since my tribe is not limited
to life in the dog, horse or reservation period. True Pikuni history
is identified by stories extending back (and forward) thousands
of years, and retold out loud in the tribal language. The archeologist
recounts thousands of years of Pikuni People, but only our language
remains the accurate recorder of our secrets. Learn the oldest
word in a tribal language to realize how it speaks the truth.
The true challenge facing future generations, as well as the present
one, is revitalizing our languages in order to keep our memory
viable for future generations.
languages contain the tribal genesis, cosmology, history, and
secrets within. Without them we may become permanently lost, or
irrevocably changed. I am a Pikuni and know why. In our language,
I am a nizitapiwa, a real person. It derives from how my language
treats the form for I or me spoken as "niz" a derivative
of nostum, or my body. When I speak Pikuni my body and spirit
speak to kizitapiwa, another real person. My Pikuni name is Apiniokio
Peta translated as Morning Eagle, and I belong to the Pikuni translated
as Far Off Spotted Robes. I know my family, chiefs, and heroes
names (both women and men) from long ago times. I know Apistokiwa,
the Maker, placed us on earth in what is now called Montana. The
reservation is what is left of our home ground, yet I take comfort
in knowing points off-reservation named in our language are part
of our hearts country. This is knowledge we should possess,
yet I was not fully informed until studying my tribal language.
one-room school I attended had a map of the world on the wall.
As a schoolboy I learned about distant places. In high school
one teacher repeatedly told us to move to one of these places
and stay there. He called it the American dream. A small number
of classmates and I did go to college, and learned of more distant
places. The United States Army drafted me into service in l966,
and sent me to a distant part of the world. In time I graduated
from Eastern Montana College, Harvard University, and Vermont
College. For years I lived and worked in what might be called
exotic places, and traveled a lot.
quiet weekend morning, in the hush confines of a tall city building,
I experienced a longing to go home. At first it seemed childish,
but the feeling moved deeper into my thoughts during the following
days. Banishment was the strongest punishment my tribe delivered
to a member unable to abide the tribal ways, and without realizing
it I had banished myself from my tribe. My pursuits up until then
had been a journey away from my people, my ways, and my quintessential
self as a Pikuni. On that morning I began a journey home. For
some it may be difficult to find where true home is, but it is
there. Relearning, or studying your tribal language is the ultimate
pathway home, and it is important to start before the first sign
of longing appears. You may misinterpret your feelings and miss
have been home now for many years. I share my happiness with those
I pray with at our medicine pipe and Okan lodge ceremonies. As
Pikuni we thank the Creator for our good fortune and luck, and
are glad to share it with others. I learned through language study
my original band was called Moxamini within the tribe, and is
translated as Those Who Camp By The Lakes. It is meaningful to
me since I live most of the year next to a mountain lake in a
home I built years ago.
still travel to many of those places school taught me about. Last
year I made a documentary in the remote mountains of Bulgaria,
and have visited the people of the Arctic Circle. This year I
filmed a documentary about an early day Pikuni campsite where
a city now stands.
first documentary, Transitions: Death of a Mother
Tongue, was about Pikuni children in an early day
reservation mission school. It was there our language was brutalized
and deemed worthless. It won national recognition, but was more
important to my tribes healing process and paved the way
for us to respect our language again.
my work in Native American Languages revitalization, I visited
over 30 tribes throughout America, and met with countless others.
Often at training sessions people were thrilled at speaking even
a small part of their language. They would recount when their
language resounded throughout the community, and emotion would
overcome many to the point of crying. The deep emotion came from
their love for those past lifetimes we wish to be part of.
also know when people relearn their language the first thing they
wish to do is pray in it. I have been at the deathbed of several
tribal languages, and know most are weak and fragile. On behalf
of the tribal languages of this earth, I share this dream with
you. The dream has a question in it, but I do not know the answer
except the one I gave years ago. The answer is in your heart,
and belongs to only you.
goes like this: you are walking in a place you know and love,
and come upon your grandparents sitting by the path. Do you pass
them by and abandon them, or stop; embrace them, and carry them
to your destination? It should be an easy choice, but it isnt
in this day and age.
Tribal languages are the grandparents in the dream, and only the
uncaring, unknowing, and those too busy pass them by. If you stop
and embrace them wealth and a kinder world will be bestowed upon
you. Tribal languages can be revitalized to sooth our childrens
hearts again if people stop long enough to embrace them. Our Pikuni
language, and yours, can produce healthy kids with choices, and
embrace our grandparents we designed the Pikuni Nizipuhwahsin
(original language) K-8 school for 50 children as our grandparents
home. No government funds were used to build or operate it. It
is the sanctum sanctorum, and sanctuary of the Pikuni language.
is a beautiful place, and I wish there were such places for every
Indian child in this land. Maybe you will build one for your children.
My language was a calling I heard years ago that I mistook for
loneliness. I cherish every word learned, and my prayers are to
be granted time to learn more. I learned a great deal through
this calling. I utilize the formal education taught me, although
it no longer dictates my definition of knowledge.
can only tell you this: You do not need permission to study your
language. Make your prayers to the Creator for strength, and trust
in what is provided. Do not debate with people who question your
journey. Make use of the process of self-discovery and follow
your Indian heart. It is a difficult, but truly rewarding journey
Darrell Robes Kipp