Why Language is Important?
For generations the Amskapi Pikuni or Southern Piegan, referred to today as the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana, have been where we are. Blackfeet ancestral territory extends along the east side of the Rocky Mountains from the Yellowstone river in southern Montana, north to the North Saskatchewan river in Canada.
As hunters and gatherers, both pedestrian and equestrian, we repeatedly traced familiar orbits, accumulated immense amounts of geographical, natural, and cultural knowledge that we encoded in the names we attached to particular places. After generations the landscape filled up with names, stories, songs. The landscape itself became a cultural text as to how the Blackfeet relayed information regarding travel, natural resources, creation and moral direction.
Settled in place, at home, the Blackfeet stayed put like few others. We have not moved. We have not experienced migration. Because we stayed put, we became intimate with our lands and the identity of our places became our own – replete with plants, animals, the elements, and the supernatural.
Stories and places, places and stories rendered both landscape and cultural identity intelligible in an anchored, non-abstract way. Both landscape and cultural identity could be learned through the names the Niitsitapi, the original people have given – in our own, original language. Here is power.
Today, the Blackfeet language is threatened. Piegan Institute is working to save the Blackfeet language from extinction.